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Trip Report yk's trip report to Vienna (with a 24-hr stop in London) Nov 2006

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Hi Fodorites-

DH & I returned yesterday from a 6-day trip to Vienna, with a brief stopover in London. It'll take me a few days to finish my trip report, but I'll start by saying that we both love Vienna! We wish we had more time there, and certainly plan to return to Vienna in the future.

We love art and classical music, and Vienna (as well as London) certainly does not disappoint. To whet your appetite a bit, we went to quite a few art museums and exhibitions:
- Velazquez exhibit at National Gallery in London
- Holbein exhibit at Tate Britain
- Kunsthistorisches Museum, Belvedere, Albertina in Vienna

We also attended the Royal Opera in London, Staatsoper in Vienna, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Musikverein.

On the downside, I got sick on the day we arrived in Vienna and puked nonstop for about 7 hours...

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    Welcome back. I've been wondering how your trip went.

    But what an "exciting" way to begin your trip! I'm glad thought that the rest seemed to have gone much better.

    I'm also curious to see why you love Vienna. I think that city doesn't speak to me despite my interests in art & music.

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    For those who don't know me (or hadn't read my trip reports before), DH & I are in our early 30s. Both of us have been to London before, 3-4 times for DH, and 13th time for me. But Vienna is a first for both of us. We are budget travelers, though we don't mind spending money on attending classical concerts.

    Initially, I was going on the trip alone, as DH didn't think he could take the time off from work. I have been wanting to visit Vienna for over a year now, but getting there from Dallas can be rather challenging. After looking at plane ticket options, I decided to buy 2 separate tickets [DFW-LGW r/t on AA; LHR-VIE r/t on Austrian] with staying in London both ways. This ticketing option cut down the time in Vienna, yet was almost $500 less than a thru ticket from Dallas to Vienna.

    I had planned a very hectic traveling schedule for myself, and wouldn't have done so if I had known DH would eventually go also. DH prefers trips to be more relaxing, with time to "smell the roses" so to speak. 3 weeks after I had made my plans, DH found out he could come afterall, so we booked him on the same AA and Austrian flights as me, and change our Vienna hotel reservation from a single to double room.

    In the back of my mind, I know I won't be able to hit as many sights with DH coming along. In the end, with the complicating factor of me getting sick, we went to about 1/3 of the Vienna sights I had planned on.

    Apart from the usual stuff - checking opening times for sights and museums, it was very important to me to be able to attend the Vienna Staatsoper and Vienna Phiilharmonic. Tickets are hard to come by. In the end, I was able to get tickets for both.

    For the Staatsoper, I got tickets online exactly one month prior to the performance, with getting up at 3am CST (10am Austria time).

    For the Philharmonic, I called the ticket office exactly one week prior to the performance at 2am (9am Austria time).

    For London, I bought tickets to Royal Opera in advance, as well as tickets for the Velazquez exhibition at National Gallery.

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    Day 0
    Dallas to London

    Our AA flight was scheduled to leave at 5:05pm. We got to DFW over 2 hours early and had plenty of time to spare. We had a leisurely lunch at one of the eateries in the new Terminal D (opened about 1 year ago).

    This AA flight is a 777, with 2-5-2 seating in Economy. We had seats 22F/G, which is the 3rd row of economy, on aisle of the middle 5. I knew the flight was quite full, and we were so relieved when only 22C was occupied (22 D/E remained empty).

    Our flight took off on time. After dinner service (edible beef or chicken), I took a Advil PM and went to sleep. I sat in 22F and was able to stretch out quite a bit. The Advil PM worked - to a certain degree. It has a benadryl component to it, which made me slept pretty much the entire trip. However, the sleep was not of good quality and I woke up about once an hour. Also, the benadryl caused some seriously dry mouth effect on me. I must have drank 6 cups or more of water and still felt very thirsty.

    DH, OTOH, was unable to sleep at all. He probably dozed off for no more than 1 hour on this 9+ hour flight.

    Apart from the usual meal service, there was no offering of any additional beverage during the flight. Everytime I needed some water, I had to walk to the back of the plane to ask for it.

    We arrived a few minutes early at LGW.

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    Day 1
    LGW to Hotel (Millennium Gloucester)

    LGW was surprisingly empty. Maybe because we were the only flight to arrive at that hour - which was just around 8am. Since we were sitting towards the front of Economy, we got off the plane relatively quickly. The line for immigration was very short.

    After picking up our luggage, we took the connecting train to S. Terminal to catch the Gatwick Express (GEX).

    Even though it was 8:23am by then, the 8:20am GEX hadn't departed yet. We jumped on and the train took off a minute later. The GEX train was completely packed, so we had to stand for the 30-min trip.

    [Money-saving tip: I found a promotional code for GEX and bought r/t tix online with a 25% discount. With such discount, the final cost came out to be £37.50 for 2 r/t tickets. The slower-Southern train costs £9pp each way, so it would have come out to £36 total. If I hadn't found the 25% discount, I would have opted for the Southern train.]

    We arrived at Victoria station at 8:53am. I couldn't believe that we made it from LGW to Victoria so quickly, considering our plane landed just over 1 hour earlier.

    This unexpected early arrival sort of disrupted my plan. By the time we made it to the Tube station and lined up for tickets, it was about 9:15am. I opted to be cheap and bought the off-peak 1-day travelcards, which means that we had to wait around at the tube station for 15 minutes before we could get on.

    Finally, we took the District line 3 stops west to Gloucester Road station. The Millennium Gloucester is 1/2 a block from the tube station.

    Check-in was quick and we were delighted to find out our room was ready! We were offered a twin room only. No double rooms were available. After a nice hot shower and change of clothings, we were ready to head out at 11am.

    [The Millennium Gloucester is a Priceline win. I will write a hotel review at the end of the trip report.]

    More to come: Velazquez at NG, Holbein at Tate Britain, La Boheme at ROH...

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    Day 1 - continued

    National Gallery (Velazquez & Cezanne)

    We arrived at NG just before 11:30am. I had purchased advance tickets for 11:30am slot. When we arrived, they were selling tix for 12noon.

    The Velazquez show is held in the main galleries, instead of the basement of Sainsbury wing. I read several reviews of the show and all the reviewers perferred the current location. Natural light does better justice to the paintings than artificial light.

    I am not a big fan of Velazquez, and don't know much about him. At the entrance to the show, one can get a free booklet guide which has narratives to each painting, so that viewers don't have to crowd around each painting to try to read the wall description.

    Even though there are limited timed tickets, the place was packed. The show is organized chronologically and divided up into 4 rooms. We found the paintings in the first 2 rooms (earlier painting) rather dull. Colors were dark and muted - lots of brown and dark green.

    Beginning in Room 3, the paintings are now the portraitures he's famous for, and they are much better - both in color and in technique. We particularly like the several portraits of Infanta Maria Teresa.

    I also noticed that one of the paintings is on loan from the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas!

    We were done with the exhibit in about 45 minutes, then we swung by the Cezanne in Britain exhibit. The name is somewhat deceptive, as Cezanne had never set foot in Britain. The show is actually on paintings by Cezanne that reside in the British Isles. We went through it quickly, then headed off for lunch.

    Lunch in Chinatown
    I wanted to have Chinese food, so we set off for Chinatown. After checking out numerous restaurants, we settled on China China (3 Gerrard Street).

    P ordered Chicken and Fried Pork over rice. I had a beef brisket noodle soup. We shared a plate of stir-fried vegetables (yau choy). Total came out to £16.

    After lunch, we walked over to Covent Garden to pick up our tickets for that evening's opera - La Boheme. Then to the tube station to Pimlico station to Tate Britain.

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    can i ask how the cezanne in britain was? i was really hoping to make it before it closes, but I don't think I'll be able to, and I'm wondering what I've missed. I love impressionism but have never been crazy about cezanne's landscapes.

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    What a coincidence that we're all from Dallas and are going (or have gone in our case) to London/Vienna. Where else are you going on your trip?

    Anyway, like I said, we breezed through the Cezanne exhibit. Even though I like Cezanne somewhat, we were both quite tired at that time and were starving. I don't recall seeing any particular gems that really stood out. So no, I doubt you're missing anything major.

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    BTW, are you talking about the Van Gogh show at the DMA and the "Cranach to Monet" at Meadows? I've gone to both and was underwhelmed. Not bad, but of course one can't compare them to blockbuster shows in London/NY.

    I'm looking forward to the Matisse show early next year, which is a combo show done by DMA/Nasher.

    Even though you like mainly Impressionism, I'd still highly recommend the Sugimoto photo exhibit at the FW Modern. It is absolutely stunning and should not be missed!

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    Day 1 - continued

    Holbein at Tate Britain

    Just to recap - We flew overnight to London and had minimal sleep. We hit the ground running, and by now it's 2:15pm and we're practically zombies.

    We weren't crazy about Holbein at all. However, we recently saw a photo exhibit by Sugimoto where there were photos of wax sculptures of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. These wax sculptures (Madame Tussaud) were based on paintings of them done by Holbein.

    [Money-saving tip: The Holbein exhibit charges admission £10. However, one can print out a 2-for-1 coupon on for this. It's valid with any train ticket - we used our 1-day Travelcard.]

    There were no lines for tickets, and the show was not nearly as crowded as Velazquez. However, it was still a lot of people. I didn't realize majority of the exhibits are drawings instead of oil paintings. Given our exhausted state, I got tired of looking at the drawings. I also didn't have a chance to read the reviews in detail ahead of time, so I didn't know what to look for specifically. Anyway, we were happy to see the Jane Seymour portrait, as it normally resides at Kuntshistorisches Museum in Vienna.

    Towards the end of the exhibit, I found myself falling asleep while standing up! It's a sign it's time to go. We only spent about 45 minutes there. (One of the reviewers wrote that it took him 3 hours to go through the show.)

    We hurried back to our hotel via Tube and were so happy with the sight of our beds! We set the alarm clock for 6pm and slept soundly for the next 2.5 hours.

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    Day 1 (final)

    Royal Opera at Covent Garden

    Our alarm went off at 6pm, and yes, we were still very tired despite a 2.5-hour nap. We freshened up, changed, and headed to Covent Garden.

    Our seats are not together, but 6 seats apart, because I had bought my ticket first when initially I thought DH was not coming on the trip. Anyway, we were too polite to ask others to move, so we just sat apart. Our £50 tickets landed us still on the top level, but center seats with a great view of the stage.

    The opera that night was La Boheme, which surprisingly I had seen at the ROH twice before already. The current production dates back to 1974, so that's nothing new there. I wonder when ROH will stage a new production for it?

    Despite having seen it numerous times, it was still a wonderful production. This is especially true for DH, as he had never been to a first-class opera performance before (he's only seen operas in Philadelphia, Dallas and Fort Worth).

    During intermission, we had the requisite ice-cream (£2). It is made exclusively for ROH and apparently recipient of many awards.

    The opera ended at 10:30p, and we ventured back to Chinatown again for dinner. This time we picked HK Diner (22 Wardour Street). DH ordered a fried ho fun noodle with shredded pork and vegetables. I had a century egg and pork congee. DH also ordered a beer while I had an iced yin-yang, which is a mixture of coffee and Hong Kong-style milk tea.

    The food is good and we certainly will return there in the future. "Good" in the sense that it's authentic Cantonese-diner cuisine. Don't expect anything fancy. Dinner came out to £16.

    HK Diner
    22 Wardour Street
    020 7434 9544
    Opens 11a - 4am

    By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was 12 midnight. We collapsed in our beds. Our alarm is set for 3am the next morning.

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    It reminds me that I've yet to write about Holbein, but I guess I probably won't have the time to do it. I actually didn't have time to see the drawings really so focused on the paintings. I think that the best of them can basically still be seen in public museums anyway. There's one beautiful female portrait -- but that's in London's National Gallery.

    I remember three portraits of Erasmus, and the largest and what seemed to be the most elaborate one is actually in a private collection (one came from the Louvre, can't recall about the last one).

    What I find astonishing about this exhibition is how much the Queen lent to it. In that sense I think that it really was a unique experience that could only be experienced at Tate Britain.

    That -- and what most reviews have pointed out -- for the first time in about 450 years, the portraits of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour and their son Prince of Wales are reunited. But of course, all three paintings normally reside in public museums.

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    Day 2

    London to Vienna

    Yes, our alarm went off at 3am. Our flight to VIE leaves at 6:15am and I had scheduled a car service pick-up at 4am at the hotel.

    I had reserved Just Airports, which I had read many rave reviews here, but also a few negative ones. I was actually somewhat worried using them after the negative responses here. But compared to some other car service, I think Just Airports have the best price.

    To my relief, our phone rang at 3:55am and the driver was waiting downstairs. We hurried down, checked out, and got on the car. The driver was very curteous and professional. His driving was very safe. I would not hesitate to recommend Just Airports here based on our (one and only) experience.

    Without any traffic at all, we arrived at LHR Terminal 2 just after 4:20am. The cost for the service was £25.

    I initially thought we arrived too early for our flight, but changed my mind once we got inside the terminal. The place was full of travelers already and seemed chaotic. We found Austrian Airlines and there was already 3 different lines forming, each line was about 20 people deep.

    The check-in counters, OTOH, were not open yet. They were scheduled to open at 4:30am.

    Instead of the usual way of lining up here in the US - with one line only for multiple counters, the Austrian check-in has 4 lines for 4 counters. Of course, we ended up in the slowest line. The agents finally began check-in at 4:40am, and the agent in our line took 15 minutes to check in one pax. I really don't understand why on earth it could possibly take so long, and the 2nd pax was taking up just as much time.

    Finally, DH and I moved to another line which moved faster. We got our boarding passes at 5:10am.

    Next, we joined the long line through security, which took another 20 minutes. We had a few minutes to spare, so DH got some coffee which I had about 1/3 of it.

    By the time we boarded the plane, I wasn't feeling too well. I decided it was due to being tired and lack of sleep, so I got out my eye mask and neck pillow and rested.

    Breakfast was served and I had no appetite at all. Then I began to feel nauseated. I thought maybe it was from motion sickness. DH was eating a piece of bread, and I took a small bite hoping it would help settle my stomach. Instead, up came a cup of gastric fluid mixed with coffee. Thank goodness there was an air sickness bag in the seatback pocket!

    I managed to make it through the flight without throwing up more. The following details were a bit fuzzy...

    I threw up one more time at the immigration hall. After picking up our luggage and went through customs, we sat down on a bench in the arrivals hall. I was feeling too nauseated to even get up and walk, let alone taking the train to get to the city.

    I ended up lying down the the metal bench for the next 2 hours, while throwing up every 30 minutes or so and having shaking chills. Towards the end, not much was coming up. DH had to go to a store to ask for a plastic bag for me.

    Finally, I decided that lying on this bench at the airport is not the solution, and I would be better off lying in a bed at the hotel. Poor DH had to drag both our luggage, while I was holding up the plastic bag to my face.

    I vomited a few more times on the CAT (City Airport Train, €16pp r/t) which took us to Mitte station in just 16 minutes.

    [The CAT is much more expensive than the slightly slower S-Bahn, which also stops at Mitte. But because I was feeling so poorly, I felt the splurge was justified. OTOH, I didn't want to take a taxi directly to the hotel as I was worried the motion of the taxi would make me fee worse.]

    Instead of switching to the U-Bahn at Mitte, we took a taxi instead to our hotel, Pension Suzanne, which is located near the Opera House. Taxi fare was €10 (tip-included).

    By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was after 1pm. Luckily, our room was ready and I collapsed in the bed.

    DH got directions to the nearest supermarket, so he set off to get himself some lunch as well as some drinks for me.

    I was somewhat worried about myself. I hadn't eaten or drank anything all day and I could tell I was getting very dehydrated and lightheaded. If I continue to vomit, I may need to go to a hospital for some iv fluids. Of course I didn't buy travel medical insurance this time!

    Fortunately, by the time DH returned with some juices, the worst seemed to have passed and I was able to keep the juice down.

    After DH finished his lunch in our room, I sent him off for more errands - picking up our Staatsoper tickets and Philharmonic tickets at their respective offices. I slept some more while DH is gone.

    By 5:30pm, I was finally feeling better and able to function. DH finished his tasks also, so we freshened up and headed out to make the best of our "wasted" day.

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    BTW, I'm not looking for any sympathy here by describing my illness. I know for sure it is because I ran myself down with this hectic schedule and got sick when my body is exhausted. I did try to drink lots of OJ before and during the DFW flight to London, but I guess it didn't help much.

    Anyway, this was a valuable lesson learned. I have to come to terms that my body is not like it was when I was 18, and it really needs its rest. In the future, I won't be making such crazy schedules.

    It is ironic afterall. The reason I booked us on the 6:15am flight was so that we could get into Vienna early and still had a good number of hours left to go sightseeing. Instead, the lack of sleep got me in trouble, and the day ended being unproductive.

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    Sorry that the first day was so awful. Could fatigue really have caused this? Were you already under the weather when you took off for Europe? (You mentioned Benadryl.)

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    I'm pretty sure it was due to exhaustion which made me susceptible to any virus. I acutally felt fine up until I got on the Austrian flight. I felt well when I got up at 3am, and during the ride to Heathrow. I was very surprised by how quickly this illness striked and how debilitating it made me in such short time. Thank goodness, I got over it as quickly as it hit.

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    Day 2 - continued


    There are a few tourist attractions that open late. Mozarthaus is one of them. We left our hotel at 6pm and walked down Karntner Strasse towards Stephansdom. It took us some effort before we located Mozarthaus (Domgasse 5).

    Previously known as Figarohaus, Mozarthaus is the only building in Vienna still exists where Mozart had lived. He lived there with his family for about 3 years, during the highest point in his career. He wrote the opera Marriage of Figaro while living there, and hence its old name.

    Admission is €10 and includes a free audioguide. The house layout spreads over 3 floors, and the exhibit begins on the top floor. We found the long-winded audioguide exhausting. There isn't much artifact to see actually.

    Back on the first floor, we actually see Mozart's apartment and some period furniture. We spent about one hour there and left at 7:30pm.

    [Compared to Mozarts Geburtshaus in Salzburg, I prefer the Salzburg one where visitors get to see instruments played by him and manuscripts.]

    I didn't do any research on restaurants or dinner options for that night. As I was still not feeling well, I didn't want to eat at a formal restaurant and then had to throw up. We spotted a Nordsee - which is a German chain seafood restaurant - right on Karntner Strasse. This ended up, not surprisingly, the worst meal on this trip.

    I had a salmon dinner, which has 2 salmon fillets, baked potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms in cream sauce. The salmon was dry, broccoli was more yellow than green. DH ordered seafood paella, which was somewhat better. Dinner plus a beer and a water came out to €22,80.

    We were in bed by 9pm that night.

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    Day 3

    A Late Start

    Despite going to bed at 9pm the night before, we didn't wake up until 9:15am! We quickly got ready, had breakfast (included with room rate), and set off for some real sightseeing. I have completely recovered from my illness the day before and was ready.

    Our first stop was Kuntshistorisches Museum, which is one of the greatest Western art galleries in the world. It was a nice 15-min walk there from our hotel.

    Admission was €10, and audioguide is extra. We decided not to get it. I came equipped with a 10-page Rick Steves' guide to KHM, which is surprisingly useful.

    Currently, there is an exhibition on display - Bellini, Giorgione, Titian - which was shown at National Gallery of Art in DC earlier this year. The show took up several of the main galleries of the museum, which threw us off a bit based on the map and listings of paintings in the RS's guide.

    The layout of KHM is somewhat confusing. The large galleries (with large-format paintings) are towards the center of the building. Smaller galleries line the periphery. One can easily skip 1 or 2 small galleries if one doesn't pay attention, and may miss some gems in those small galleries.

    Anyhow, we enjoyed the Bellini exhibit, but that wasn't the reason we went. Next up is the Bruegel Room. It was just an amazing sight, to see all these beautiful paintings side by side. The best part? The museum wasn't crowded at all, unlike what we encountered in London. One can spend 5-10 minutes in front of each Bruegel without being crowded upon or pushed to the side. Even DH, who isn't a fan of Bruegel, was very impressed. It was just great to look at the actual paintings and see all the minute details instead of looking at reproductions in books.

    There are plenty of other gems, including a beautiful Raphael (Madonna in the Meadows), Mantegna, several Caravaggios, Rembrandts, Vermeer, Bosch, Cranach and Durer etc.

    We also came upon 2 small portraits done by Jan van Eyck. The details on the portraits face are so fine and meticulous. One of the portrait is of a goldsmith named Jan De Leeuw. I thought he has a strong resemblance to DH!

    [A few other famous paintings, mainly the Velazquez and Holbein ones, are on loan in London.]

    It took us about 3 hours to go through the picture gallery. We went downstairs and walked quickly through the Egyptian and Roman Antiquities section. Sadly, the Decorative Arts section is closed, where the Cellini Saltcellar ("Saliera") is kept.

    We decided to get lunch at the cafe inside KHM. DH ordered a sausage plate (2 frankfurters with mustard and bread roll €4). I had a potato cream soup with mushrooms. We then shared a truffle torte for desert. Above plus water and a latte came out to €22.

    After lunch, we stopped by the museum shop and bought some souvenirs and postcards. We finally left KHM 4 hours later.

    If there were only one place I could visit on this trip to Vienna, it would most certainly be KHM.

    It was a beautiful sunny day, yet we spent most of the daylight hours indoors. (It turns out to be the only sunny day we had in Vienna.)

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    Day 3 - continued

    We emerged from KHM at around 3:20pm. It felt like the sun was ready to set. We hurried on to Secession Building.

    I don't think I really appreciate the gold leaf dome, though I like the floral motifts on the walls and the mosaic flower pots (supported by turtles) at the entrance.

    Admission fee is €3,50 and we decended the stairs to the basement room for Klimt's Beethoven Frieze.

    I have seen many pictures and photos of the frieze, and I thought the real things was a bit of a letdown. I didn't realize there's so much empty space between the figures. There is a free brochure for one to read more about the story of the frieze.

    Next, we stopped by the Naschmarkt. It is one of the largest outdoor food market in Vienna. A lot of the stalls were closed as it was getting dark (even though it was just after 4pm), but we enjoyed what we saw.

    We then walked to Karlskirche but did not go in. We crossed the Ring and came face to face with Musikverein. We have tickets for the Vienna Philharmonic concert that evening. After a few pictures, we made our way back to the hotel for a nap.

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    Day 3 - final

    Vienna Philharmonic at Musikverein

    As I have mentioned at the beginning of this thread, I was able to get tickets for the Philharmonic by calling the box office 1 week before the concert. When I called, I was told there were Podium seats available for €22 each. I bought 2.

    The concert begins at 7:30pm. We left our hotel at 6:45 and arrived there in less than 10 minutes. We noticed at least 1 or 2 people standing outside of the hall were selling their concert tickets. I wonder if they sell them just at face value? (They look like regular folks rather than scalpers.)

    [We love the location of our hote, Pension Suzanne. Full hotel review to come at end of the trip report.]

    I began to wonder where these podium seats are located? They can't possibly be on the stage, can they? Yes, that's right. They are on the stage!

    We were awed by the sight of Großer Musikvereinssaal, aka Golden Hall. Only after we've seen it with our own eyes when we understand it's title. The entire hall sparkles in gold!

    The design of the hall isn't too fancy, it is basically a rectangle. But I guess it was the dimensions which made it one of the best acoustics concert hall in the world.

    Before we could get to our seats, we were stopped by the coat nazi. We were not let in until after we checked our coats. What kind of rule is that?

    Finally, we made it to our podium seats. Basically these are chairs put at the back 2 corners of the stage. Ours were on the left, so we sat behind the tympani. There were a total of 16 seats on our side, half of which were occupied by Japanese tourists. It appears that the right side held more chairs, and they are behind the double basses.

    I have to say, I think of these as "tourist trap seats." I doubt any locals would actually sit there, or want to be seen sitting there.

    The first half was Symphony No.2 by Brahms. I was surprised by how good the sound quality was even at the back corner where we were sitting. We were able to hear individual instruments with great clarity.

    The second half was a different story - R Strauss' Rosenkavalier Suite and Ravel's La Valse. Both pieces require lots of percussion instruments, including base drum, snare drum, trinagle, cymbals, gong etc. They were all we could hear!

    The conductor for that evening's concert, Georges Prêtre, was amazingly good. Since we were facing him, we could see his facial expression and his conducting. He looks remarkably good for being 82!

    The concert ended at 9:30pm. I wouldn't say the concert was the best experience (because of our seats), but at least I could say that I've "been there, done that." Would I have rather gotten standing tickets instead? Maybe. But the standing room loggia is quite crowded, and unless I could get myself in the front row, I doubt I could see much if anything at all in the back.

    We decided to go to Figlmüller for dinner that night. It was quite a walk but the evening was warm. There are 2 Figlmüllers which are just round the corner from one another. To be honest, I don't know what's the difference between the 2. The first one we went to was getting ready to close, so we were told to go to the other one (opens until midnight).

    DH ordered their famous Wiener Schnitzel, along with a side of gemischter salat (mixed salad). I had Spinach Dumplings. We thought the schnitzel was very good. Dumplings were ok, except that they came swimming in a pool of melted butter. Above plus beer and water came out to €32.

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    The Figlmüller we went to was at:
    Bäckerstraße 6 / 1010 Wien
    opens until 12 midnight
    Tel: +43 1 512 17 60

    Day 4

    After yesterday's disastrous late start, I made sure our alarm clock was set. We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, then set off for another day of sightseeing.

    We were planning on getting a 1-day transportation ticket (€5) for today (good for trams, U-Bahn, S-Bahn within the city). Instead, our hotel owner "sold" us 2 days out of his 8-day Day Ticket. It only costs €3 and serves the same purpose.

    We walked to the tram stop on the Ring behind Opera and took Tram D towards Belvedere Palace.

    My timing calculation was a bit off, and we arrived a little too early at 9:40am. The Belvedere opens at 10.

    We walked on the grounds and garden, though most of the garden is under construction. We took pictures of the Sphinxes. When we got to the entrance, we were taken aback by how long the line was!

    [We were relatively spared by the tourist crowd the day before, especially at KHM where most visitors appeared to be locals.]

    Fortunately, the line moved quickly once the door opens, and we headed upstairs to the galleries.

    The main gallery is organized chronologically, but DH made a slight wrong turn and we ended up in the last room of the gallery. But of course, we didn't realize our "mistake" immediately. I finally noticed that 3 rooms later, but by then, it seemed silly to go back and start all over again. This minor mistake by DH actually worked for our advantage. We got to enjoy the paintings in the last several rooms by ourselves, when other visitors were still stuck in the first few galleries.

    We were stunned by the number of Japanese tourists, and the speed they went through the galleries (no more than 15 minutes). Mostly they just stopped in front of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt.

    In the room where The Kiss is located, there is a small information panel mentioning the other 5 Klimts that used to reside there, but now returned to their rightful owners (and of course, now all auctioned off for a total of $327.7 million). All I can say is I wish I had visited Belvedere sooner so that I could see those paintings. After the auction, only 1 out of the 5 Klimts are on view at a public museum.

    [You can read more about the story of the paintings and the auction here]

    I enjoyed Klimt's Fritza Riedler which apparently was inspired by Velazquez's painting of Infant Maria Teresa. Also, Egon Schiele's Death and the Maiden.

    After the main gallery, we spent some time on a exhibition on portraits, then went upstairs for the Biedermeier collection. It was of little interest to us, so we left soon after.

    We emerged from Belvedere at 11:20am, decided to skip the Lower Belvedere. Instead, we took Tram D again back towards town.

    The tram passed by KHM, then the Parliament. We got off at the Rathaus. A Christmas Market is already in full swing at Rathausplatz, so we spent some time there.

    Afterwards, we headed towards Burg Theater. We went inside, but everything is roped off. A English-guided tour is offered daily, but not until 3pm. The Burg Theater has frescoes done by Klimt, but unfortunately we couldn't see it without being on a tour.

    From there, we walked towards Michaelerplatz and on to Kohlmarkt, passing by Demel. We decided not to go in, and continued on to Graben and then to Stephensdom.

    Entry to Stephensdom is free. Given that it was a cold, cloudy day, we skipped the Tower as we didn't think we would get a good view.

    DH needed to buy some stamps for postcards, so we headed on Rotenturmstrasse and to Fleischmarkt where the main post office is located.

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    Oh I feel for you! I've been sick on travel days and it's horrible. I do think it can be brought on by exhaustion. Once it happened to me after being awake for 36 hours traveling to Cambodia and the last time it laid me out for a day in Paris and I had to carry plastic bags with me on the train to Lyon!

    Thanks for the info on Vienna, I'll be there in March!

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    Great trip report yk. I'm planning on going to Vienna in May or June. The last time I was there was 1996, and I'm looking at hotels now and will be interested in hearing your review of Pension Suzanne.

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    Hm... The places you went to in Vienna are totally different from those in "Before Sunrise"! ;)

    Seriously, after your description of your VPO experience, I guess our parents' decision to see the costume-wearing Vienna Mozart Orchestra at the Golden Hall wasn't that bad after all. I mean, it wasn't any more "tourist trap" than you got, but at least they got to sit in the middle of the hall, and probably cheaper too! :)

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    Enjoying your report, yk.

    We were very fortunate to see the 5 Klimts at the LA County Museum just before they were sold.

    While I understand that justice was served it saddens me that I'll never see them in Vienna with the others.

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    Thanks for your response to my earlier questions, and your great trip report, yk.

    Those were the 2 exhibitions in Dallas I was thinking of. Sorry you didn't like them. I plan to visit when I am home over Christmas.

    I am currently studying in the UK so I can go into London easily, and I am traveling to Vienna next week before returning home for Christmas break.

    I have two Vienna questions:

    1) Were there any parts of the Belevedere that were closed? I seem to remember reading something on their website about impressionism not being open, which is what I most want to see!

    2) I have standing room tickets at the Musikverein. Any tips on when to arrive to get a good place? I figure I don't care so much about seeing the stage as I can hear the music just fine, but I would like to arrive in time to spend a few minutes looking at the room.

    I'm glad you liked the KHM. I hope to spend about 4 hours there, but I am sorry I will miss the Klimts.

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    Thanks for the trip report - am enjoying it so far! Vienna is one of my favorite cities; I've visited 3 times and always go to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Look forward to reading more.

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    Kristina - Yikes! I guess it's comforting to know that this happens to other travelers. I hadn't had any GI illness for so many years so this episode was quite shocking to me.

    Rachele - I won't hesitate to recommend Pension Suzanne. It's a basic B&B, but it's fine and the location just couldn't be any better. I hope to finish the report/hotel reviews by tomorrow. I also took pics of the hotel room, which I'll post in the next day or 2.

    rkkwan - Remember that I fell asleep during "Before Sunrise"? Maybe that's why.

    JoeTro - Glad to hear that you're taking advantage of your time in UK to visit various European places. I wouldn't say I didn't like the Dallas shows, but they're just not a "wow"!

    I'll try to answer your other 2 Qs:

    1) None of the galleries were closed at the Upper Belvedere; but at least 2 galleries were used for special exhibition. I'm pretty sure we went through the entire place, and we certainly did not see an Impressionist section (Sorry!). In the section where the Klimts & Schieles are, there are a few Impressionist paintings: 1 Monet, 1 Renoir, 1 Manet, 1 Cezanne. I think that was all.

    Having said that, I still think the Belvedere is worth visiting just to see the Klimts/Schieles/Kokoschka.

    2) I think if you want a spot in the front of the standing room, you'll need to get there when the doors open. I honestly don't know what time that is. When I checked out the standing room section, I saw lots of scarfs being tied to the banister (which seperates the seats and the front of the stadning room). I assume lots of people get there early, secure their "front row spots" with scarfs, and then take off to wander around. I suppose you can do the same.

    We arrived 30 minutes before the concert and that was more than enough time to check out the concert hall. (Plus, you'll also have time during intermission to walk around.)

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    I'm quite surprised that they had seats on the stage for your concert. For the concert I went to, that's more understandable -- Mozart & Salieri, small orchestra. But for Brahms and Ravel, the orchestras are much bigger.

    But I guess the seating capacity of the hall must be quite small. I wonder how many seats it actually has.

    I guess the nice thing about Vienna is that music is so accessible. While you may not be able to see anything with standing room, you can still hear. There's an egalitarian aspect to culture that's very reassuring.

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    111op- According to Musikverein website, there are 1744 seats and 300 standing room slots. I believe the # of "podium seats" vary from concert to concert, depending on how large the orchestra is that evening.

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    yk wrote: "None of the galleries were closed at the Upper Belvedere; but at least 2 galleries were used for special exhibition. I'm pretty sure we went through the entire place, and we certainly did not see an Impressionist section (Sorry!). In the section where the Klimts & Schieles are, there are a few Impressionist paintings: 1 Monet, 1 Renoir, 1 Manet, 1 Cezanne. I think that was all."

    I think there are two Renoirs, so you saw most of the Impressionist section. The Monet is the finest I have seen. I wanted to steal it.

    You don't mention the chapel in the Belvedere. Did you see it?

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    Thanks for the research. It has more seats more than I thought, actually -- isn't it just one level? I think that Carnegie Hall has at least 2500 seats.

    Interestingly the new Zankel Hall feels to me to be much bigger than Musikverein, but I bet the seating capacity is comparable. And it's nowhere as beautiful as Musikverein.

    I saw the recently auctioned Klimt paintings twice -- once at Neue Galerie and once at Christie's when they were on public view before the auction. Maybe my view is in the minority, but I don't think that those four deserved their price tags. And I don't think that you missed much by not seeing them. But the painting Lauder bought is indeed very special and can still be viewed at the Neue Galerie.

    Did you skip the Bosch triptych in the end?

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    Day 4 - continued

    Just a quick recap - we saw the Klimts at Belvedere, rode the tram to Rathaus and Burg Theater, then walked to Stephensdom, and now on Fleischmarkt in search of the Post Office Building.

    On Fleischmark, we ran into a pleasant surprise. A church with a beautiful facade came into view. It is the Griechisch-Orthodoxe Kirche (Greek-Orthodox Church) which has a gold-and-red brick facade.

    After a few pics, we noticed a restaurant next door serving Viennese fare. As it was lunch time, we ventured in. (I can't seem to locate the name of the restaurant right now, I'll see if I can find it later.) For the record, if one is facing the church, the restaurant is immediately to the Left.

    I ordered a consommé with semolina dumplings, followed by beef goulash. DH had the goulash plate, which comes with sausage, fried egg, pickles and potatoes. We liked the goulash except it was a bit salty. Together with a beer and a water came out to €35.

    After lunch, we made our way to the main Post Office (Fleischmarkt 19) and mailed out the postcards. From there, we walked out towards the river, Danube Canal. The Canal is not mentioned in guidebooks as a tourist sight, and we can see why. It is rather plain and ugly. Having seen it, we turned around and caught Tram 1 to go around the Ring back to the Opera.

    [Trams 1 & 2 both go around the Ring. Tram 1 travels clockwise, Tram 2 counterclockwise.]

    From the Tram, we saw the Ferris Wheel at the Prater from a distance, and a few other buildings, including the MAK (museum of applied arts, with works by the Wiener Werkstätte), and the Kursalon where balls are held.

    We got off at Opera and headed to the Albertina Museum. The entrance to the museum is actually on the second level, and there's a nice outdoor terrace there. It provides a good view of Hotel Sacher and the Opera House. We took lots of pictures there.

    The Albertina is somewhat disappointing. The layout is very confusing as well. We found ourselves in several old Imperial-style rooms where the drawings of Michelangelo, Durer, Schiele are hung. But these are all facsimile. I can only assume that the originals are too frail to be displayed.

    There is a large exhibit on the late period of Picasso. We were quite tired, so we went through it quickly. In that show, there're obviously lots of nude paintings. I just want to say that there were at least 2 or 3 groups of schoolchildren there looking at those paintings. [Reminds me of the controversy here in Dallas about a school teacher getting fired because a parent complained her child saw a nude sculpture during a school trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.]

    After the Picasso, we also saw a smaller show on Warhol. We left after about 1 hour there, at 4:30pm.

    Next is nap time back at the hotel. We have tickets for the Staatsoper that evening.

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    In retrospect, given the limited time we had in Vienna, I probably would have skipped the Albertina and gone to the Leopold Museum instead, where there are more Klimts and Schieles.

    Padraig - yes, we saw the Chapel. I don't honestly know how many Impressionist paintings the Belvedere owns, and obviously, we didn't go there for the Impressionists.

    111op - No, the Golden Hall has 3 levels actually (we could see it real well from our podium seats :) ) But I was surprised by its capacity. It didn't look that big afterall. And yes, we skipped the Bosch triptych, among many other things...

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    Okay, one more question, this time about Albertina.

    Were there any impressionist drawings that you remember?

    This report is great, as I hope to visit so many of those places next week.

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    Actually, you're right. Now that I think about it, I wandered into the middle part of the main level and looked up. There's more seating up there. I'd have thought two levels -- but I guess I wasn't way at the front near the stage, so maybe I didn't see so far back into the hall.

    It definitely felt small and reminded me a lot of the Concertgebouw.

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    I think that I can answer your question about Albertina, JoeTro, since I was also there in October. I don't recall seeing any Impressionist drawings, but maybe I just missed them. Albertina is famous for Durer, Rubens, Michelangelo -- and I guess Schiele. However when I was there many of the labels had the word "facsimile" on them. Still the drawings are quite remarkable. That Durer rabbit is world renowned.

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    Day 4 - final

    Die Zauberflöte at Staatsoper

    I bought these tickets exactly one month prior to the performance date - that's when the unsold tickets are released to the public. I bought the last 2 "full-view" seats online.

    The opera starts a lot earlier in Vienna, at 7pm, instead of the usual 8pm here in the US.

    We arrived about 30 minutes before curtain time, and basically we wandered into every room that we could. I'm pretty sure we stumbled into the Mahler Room where there are tapestries on the wall based on the story of The Magic Flute.

    We made our way up the staircase until the very top. Yes, our seats (€25) are in the last row on the top level, aka nosebleed seats. We thought we were home free until we tried to get to our seats. We were stopped by the coat nazi again. What is up with these rules in Vienna???

    Our seats turned out to be just ok - they're off to one side, so we could only see 2/3 of the stage. One nice touch about Staatsoper is the individual LCD screen (just like the Met in NYC). It even allows one to choose English or German subtitles!

    Right behind us are the standing room crowd. Since our seats are off to the side, there aren't as many people as the area right in the center of the hall. Nonetheless, the first few minutes into the opera was very chaotic. A number of standing room people tried to stand in the stairway or sit on the stairs, and in come the coat nazi who pulled everyone back to the standing room section. During the first act, the guy would come check the aisles and stairs every so often to ensure no one returned to those areas. We actually saw some repeat offenders getting kicked out of the auditorium by him!

    The acoustics of the hall was fabulous, as was the singing. Apparently, the orchestra is played by members of the Vienna Philharmonic as well. The Queen of the Night was excellent, unlike the one we saw at the Dallas Opera last year...

    The number of standing room people was substantially smaller for the second half. I suppose some are tourists who just wanted a taste of it. The coat nazi still continued to check multiple times, but his job was much easier this time. The opera ended at 10pm.

    For dinner, we decided to try the Viennese restaurant (Königsbacher) right across the street from our hotel.

    DH had pork medallions with Spätzle and a beer. I started with a Frittatensuppe (consommé with strips of pancake), followed by weißwurst and a side of sauerkraut. I liked the soup and the sausages a lot, but the sauerkraut was way too salty for my taste. Dinner was €32.

    Restaurant Königsbacher
    Walfischgasse 5
    Opens until 12 midnight

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    Day 5 - last day in Vienna

    Our flight back to London was scheduled for 5:15pm, so I figured we have half a day for sightseeing.

    After breakfast, we checked out of our room but left our luggage at the hotel to be picked up later. Even though I was trying to get to the Hofburg Palace by 9am (opening time), we didn't arrive until 10am.

    We first went to see the Imperial Apartments (admission €8,90 audioguide included). To get to the Apartments, one must first go through the Silver and porcelain section. Very impressive, but we didn't have time for it. We passed through it quickly, with stopping once or twice for some huge centerpiece.

    Following the route, we then headed upstairs to the new Sisi Museum which opened a year or 2 ago. It was quite interesting, detailing her life and her quest for beauty and what she did to stay thin.

    Finally, we reached the Imperial Apartments. There were lots of tour groups, and soon enough, DH & I got separated. As we each had our audioguide, I figured he was probably just 1 or 2 rooms behind me. I spent the next 30 minutes or so listening to the audioguide for each room (quite informative yet succint). It was interesting to see the stark difference in style and opulence between Franz Josef's rooms (he was frugal) and his wife Sisi's rooms (much more ornate).

    Finally, I got to the end of the tour and saw DH waiting for me! He actually thought I was in front of him, and he was rushing through the rooms to try to catch up with me. Moreover, he didn't even realize there is a "#" for the audioguide for each room. Basically, he just breezed through the rooms, while I was leisurely taking my time.

    We spent approx 100 minutes there. One can easily spend 2-3 hours in that section, esp if one likes silverware and porcelain.

    We emerged from the Palace, and went back inside the inner court. From there, we passed through the Swiss Gate and toured the Treasury.

    Even though the Treasury is located inside the Hofburg Palace, it is under the umbrella of Kuntshistorisches Museum. Admission is €8, audioguide is extra, which we didn't get.

    The Treasury is where the Crown Jewels are kept. One of them dates back to the 10th century, which is the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.

    We finished our speedy tour of Hofburg by 12 noon.

    As we still haven't had sachertorte yet on this trip, we went to Hotel Sacher for lunch. Hotel Sacher has a formal restaurant, a formal cafe, and a informal cafe called Sacher Eck'. The latter was where we went, as we didn't feel dressed enough for the formal ones.

    Of course it is another tourist attraction. We waited for about 10 minutes before seats opened up. We sat at the bar. Apart from their famous dessert, the Eck' also serves light fare.

    DH ordered the Sacher sausage dish. It turned out to be frankfurter sausages. In fact, the dish looked exactly the same as the one he had at the KHM cafe. The only difference? The price of course. Sacher charged €7,50 vs €4 at KHM. I ordered a quiche which was ok. We then each had our own Sacher Torte (€4,80). Yes, like everyone says, it's dry! But again, it's one of those "been there, done that" thing. Next time, we'll go to Demel instead.

    Anyway, our lunch (sausage, quiche, 2 sacher tortes, 2 lattes, 1 melange coffee, 1 water) = €46. Our most expensive meal so far (wait until I tell you about our dinner in London that night)!

    We left at 1:30pm, and I stopped by the Sacher shop next store to buy some hot chocolate mix as a gift.

    We had about 30 minutes to spare, so we walked to the Ringstrassen Galerien for some window shopping.

    In the basement level is a small supermarket, which is where DH got his take-away lunch and juices for me on our first day.

    At 2pm, we returned to the hotel to get our luggage. Since it is quite a distance to walk to the U-Bahn station with luggage, we decided to take a taxi back to the Mitte station for CAT. Our return taxi fare was cheaper, only €7,50 compared to €10.

    We caught the 2:38pm CAT to the airport and arrived 2:55pm. We obviously were quite early for our 5:15pm flight, but given our experience with the lines at LHR, I decided it's better be safe than sorry.

    At VIE, it was a completely different scene. There were no lines at all at check-in counters for Austrian Airlines, and the check-in process took no more than 3 minutes. There also are no lines for security. Security check takes place at each individual gate - there is a metal detector and X-ray machine at each gate. We basically had 2 hours to kill at the aiport.

    The shops aren't particularly attractive at the airport, but we managed to spend our last few remaining € on chocolates and cookies to bring back as gifts.

    Finally, it was time to board. I made it through the flight without vomiting. In fact, I even ate the snack that was served!

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    yk - It sounds like you had a good time in Vienna and I'm enjoying your report! Sorry to hear about you being sick. When I did the backpacking thing for a month in 1997, I caught something that made me miserable and my visit to Budapest and Prague were a bit hazy. As for the food you ate over there, if you liked the food then you might want to try Jörg's Cafe Vienna in downtown Plano ( or his new 2nd site since you're in the Dallas area.

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    Okay, I found the receipt of the restaurant where we had lunch on Day 4. It is not the one that bettyk mentioned - I think that's the famous one. Instead, we ate at:

    Restaurant Marhold Erdinger Weißbierstüberl
    Fleischmarkt 9

    trafaelwyr- Thanks for the heads up. We rarely venture north to Plano, except for the occasional sushi at Simon's Sushi. But we'll definitely try out Jörg's Cafe Vienna!

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    Day 5 - final

    Back in London

    Our flight back to LHR left on time, but due to air traffic control in LHR, we had to circle for 15 minutes before given a slot to land. By the time we retrieved our luggage and got to the tube station, it was 7:40pm.

    After a 40-min ride on the tube, we arrived back to where we were 4 days earlier, the Millennium Gloucester. This is booked via a separate bid on Priceline.

    By the time we checked-in (again, no double bed available, only twin rooms for Priceline customers) and settled into our room, it was past 8:30pm.

    Initially, I had planned for us to go to Tate Modern to ride the slides, but since Tate closes at 10pm on Saturdays, by the time we get there, it'll be rather late.

    Instead, I suggested we take a walk towards Harrods to see the lights, and look for a place for dinner on the way. I read from the hotel magazines about Beauchamp Place where there are a selection of restaurants.

    The Hunt for Dinner
    We set off at 9pm, walked along Cromwell Road passing by the Natural History Museum and the V&A. Outside of the Natural History Museum is a Christmas Market and ice-skating ring. We reached Brompton Road and arrived at Beauchamp Place.

    We checked out the menus outside numerous restaurants on the way as well as on Beauchamp Place, then made our way to Harrods. The window display wasn't that exciting, just a theme based on the current James Bond movie.

    Then we turned around and decided to have dinner at a Pub on Brompton Road. But when we got in, we found it very smoky and loud, so we left. Next we tried a casual restaurant on Beauchamp Place, but we were told the kitchen has alread closed (it was only 9:30pm). Getting frustrated, we finally went to a Thai place on Beauchamp Place called Patara.

    The restaurant looks promising from the outside - it was quite packed, but we got a table nonetheless. The food smelled good from other tables. The restaurant called itself as serving Fine Thai Cuisine, yet the food came out as mediocre. It was just as greasy and salty as the mediocre Thai food we can get here in Dallas, for a fraction of the price! Worse still, despite the upscale and chic appearance of the restaurant, I saw no less than half a dozen of fruit flies on the wall next to our table (we were already eating our meals by the time I spotted them).

    Anyway, this is what we ordered: DH had lamb shank with curry, I had duck confit with tamarind sauce. We shared a plate of fried watercress. For dessert, we shared a coconut sticky rice with fresh mango. The dessert is absolutely the best I've had, and way better than the entrees. We also had 1 beer and 1 lemonade. Total came out to £57! That's over $100 for mediocre Thai food. We can get the same food for 1/3 of the price here.

    I know, I'm paying for London prices, as well as the rent given its proximity to Harrods. I wouldn't have complained if the food was better quality, as I'm happy to pay for good food. But not for mediocrity.

    9 Beauchamp Place
    020 7581 8820

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    Day 6

    Return to Dallas

    Our flight back home was scheduled for 10:25am leaving from LGW. We checked out of the hotel shortly after 7am.

    Given now that the tube costs £3pp each way (we don't have the Oyster yet), we figured it's not much more expensive to take a black cab to Victoria Station. The ride cost £10.

    [If I were traveling alone, I would most certainly have taken the tube. So having DH come along allows me to enjoy some luxury.]

    Note: It is not unusual for the GEX to run every 30 minutes instead of 15 on Sundays. We got burned last year when we were leaving fom LGW and almost missed our flight.

    We arrived just after 7:20am and got on the 7:30am GEX. Despite being early, the train was completely full. We finally found one empty seat which I sat on, and DH stood the entire way. And yes, the GEX was only operating every 30 minutes that day.

    We got to Gatwick, took the connecting train to North Terminal, and checked-in at the AA desk. It was 8:15am (just a little over 2 hours before our flight) and were surprised we were the first few pax to check in.

    It didn't take long to get our boarding pass, get through security. We found ourselves with plenty of time to spare. We went upstairs and had breakfast at EAT, then back downstairs for some shopping.

    We weren't as lucky on our way back. The flight was completely full and no empty seats for me to stretch out. But given it's a daytime flight, it didn't matter as much. We finally arrived back in Dallas 10 hours later.

    The immigration line at Terminal D wasn't bad at all, in contrary to what I've read/heard. But that was of no help because the luggage took forever to come out. Worse still, we got flagged by the immigration officer to have customs search our bag. So we had to line up for 15 minutes before it was our turn for the search. This is my very first time being flagged for customs and I'm not sure why. I always declare bringing back food (it's always chocolates or cookies; never anything remotely illegal) and never had to be searched because of that.

    It took almost 2 hours from the time the plane landed to when we reached our car at the lot at the airport! And we haven't even left the perimeter of DFW!

    That's all for the trip report. I'll post hotel reviews and a few thoughts on Vienna soon. [And hopefully a photo link.]

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    Thoughts on Vienna
    Both DH and I enjoyed our time in Vienna. What is it that we like?

    We like the ambience. Depsite being the largest city in Austria with 2 million people, it feels very peaceful and quiet; unlike the crowds in London.

    We like the ease in getting around and the layout of the city. Almost everything is within walking distance.

    We like the majestic buildings. Though not as beautiful as Paris, it reminds us of Paris.

    We like the lack of tourists. Yes, there were plenty of Japanese tourists, but nothing like what we encountered in Venice last year (the entire city is made up of tourists!)

    We like the offerings of arts and culture.

    We like the cleaniness of the city, and how safe we felt there.

    There were many other tourist sights on my list that we didn't make it to - Schonbrunn, Leopold Museum, MAK, Ferris Wheel etc. Oh well. Like what my dad always says, "If you visit everything on your first trip, you won't have an excuse to go back!"

    I was a bit sad that we didn't get to interact with any locals at all - of course except at museums or restaurants. But this is true to most big cities. It'll be nice to venture out to the countryside and Danube valley next time.

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    Hotel Review

    Vienna - Pension Suzanne

    Walfischgasse 4

    Okay. Let me say this one more time: the location of Pension Suzanne is perfect! It is half a block from Opera House/Hotel Sacher, 10 minutes to Stephensdom, 10 minutes to Hofburg, 15 minutes to KHM. 3 minutes to Tram station (at Opera).

    The Pension actually is located inside a residential building. It is on the 1st floor (aka 2nd floor for us folks in the US). The remaining floors of the building are apartments where locals live. I found that a bit odd.

    There is a lift to get to the "1st" floor. We actually only used it once, on our arrival. We didn't bother when we left with our luggage.

    When I emailed the Pension to request a room, I was offered the rate posted on their website. Later, I found a cheaper rate via the Vienna Tourist website:
    So, I emailed Pension Suzanne back and asked if they could match the rate, and they did.

    They have 2 sizes for double rooms, and I chose the cheaper one. Our rates came out to €87 for first 2 nights (Wed/Thurs) and €96 for 3rd night (Fri).
    [They initially quoted me €96 for all 3 nights.]

    The smaller double comes with twin beds only. It is small, but not as small as some other European hotels I've stayed in. The bathroom only has a shower stall, no bathtub. The heat in our room doesn't work too well, but the duvets in the room are adequate. Our room faces the back, so it is extremely quiet.

    Amenities are very basic: soap, hairdryer, and an in-room safe. There's also a TV (2 English channels: CNN & BBC) and telephone. [Fortunately, I had packed some travel-size shampoo and conditioner.]

    Breakfast starts at 7:30am. Selection is ok: 2 kinds of cold cuts, 3 kinds of cheese. Various kinds of bread. OJ, water, milk. Coffee or tea. 3 kinds of cereal/museli. Hard-boiled eggs.

    Staff is friendly and helpful, but not the kind that is overly friendly. There is a computer terminal in the office for guests to go online. DH used it once, I didn't at all.

    All-in-all, I'd say it's more like a 2.5* instead of 3* (like they advertise on their website). I'm sure one can find a similar pension for lower rate elsewhere, but we're happy to pay their price for its prime location. It is just extremely convenient - especially for us to go to Staatsoper & Musikverein, and easy to go back for a nap.

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    Hotel Review

    London - Millennium Gloucester

    We actually stayed here both on our way to Vienna and on our way back. I got both stays via Priceline. The rate was $85/night, which came out to $108 after taxes and charges.

    I initially didn't want to stay in the Kensington area as I'm not as familiar with it as I am with Bloomsbury/Covent Garden/Westminster. But I wasn't able to win any bids at those zones, so I accepted Kensington.

    The location ended up working ok for us, esp with traveling back and forth to LHR/LGW. It's a little of a hike to get to Covent Garden, but at least there's no need to change lines.

    The hotel location is good, just 1/2 block from Gloucester Road Station (served by Piccadilly, Circle and District lines). There is a Tesco across from the tube stop, as well as Starbucks.

    Both nights we were only offered twin rooms. Double rooms were not available (not sure if not available at all, or not available to Priceline customers).

    [BTW, I think the hotel has renovated 20% of the rooms; but I don't think PL customers will ever get those new rooms.]

    Both of the our rooms have the same layout. Room is quite large for London standard. We could not get the heat to work in either room.

    Our first room, on the 3rd floor, was quiet. No real complains.

    Our second room, on the 2nd floor, is right next to the elevators. At night, the staff closes fire doors (swivel doors) next to the elevators. So, each time someone gets off the elevator to get to his/her room, the swivel door gets pushed open. I was sound asleep so I didn't notice, but it kept poor DH up most of the night. So if you're a light sleeper, make sure you ask for a room far from the elevators.

    Our second room also has a funky (?moldy) smell in the bathroom. We didn't bother to change rooms.

    Bottom line: Okay hotel. I can't be picky when the final bill is less than £60/night in central London!

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    Photo Link

    You should be able to view the photos without having to sign in.

    Photos include views inside Musikverein and Staatsoper, as well as pics of our hotel room at Pension Suzanne.

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    Trip Expenses

    It came out being not too far off than what I had anticipated.

    Using €=$1.285 and £=$1.9

    Airfare $1633 (AA $1205, Austrian $434)
    Transport in London $181 (r/t GEX, Just Airports to LHR, 1 taxi, tube)
    Transport in Vienna $71 (2 taxi, r/t CAT, tram)

    London $216 (2 nights)
    Vienna $347 (3 nights)

    London $188 (1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 2 dinners)
    Vienna $244 (3 lunches, 3 dinners)

    London $68
    Vienna $150

    London $190
    Vienna $120

    Grand Total

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    London always offers some scary price tags. On a recent trip 2 cab rides total 34 pounds, and on a trip more than 2 years ago, I had a casual Indian dinner for 50 pounds. It really makes the set lunch at Gordon Ramsay seem like a bargain.

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