Heading home…

The Tulip Room in Prague

The train for Prague left at 9:35 am so I had plenty of time for breakfast and to check out.  I bid farewell to the staff at Nossek, who really had been very gracious and friendly, and set off for the Meidling train station.  I got there early – around 8:25 am – and had to wait till my train came up on the Departure screen (they usually only show about an hour’s worth of trains) so I could see what track I was leaving from.

After about 10 minutes, it came up and listed Track 5.  It also said that it was delayed twenty minutes.  Rats!  If I’d know that, I wouldn’t have left so early.  Regardless, I headed out for the track and plopped myself down on a seat to wait for the train.  Around 9:55 am, it finally pulled in and everyone got on.  It was quite a crowd and I was a little worried that I wouldn’t find a seat.  I hadn’t bothered to get a seat reservation, but I finally found one (plus an empty one next to me), and settled in for the long 4+ hour ride to Prague.

The scenery was pretty but relatively uneventful except for the occasional glimpse of some ruins or a pretty church.  Mostly I read or worked on my journal.  We made a few stops and at one point, a Czech man got on and sat next to me.  Luckily, it was only for a brief time as he stank of stale cigarette smoke.

Finally, we got into Prague around 2:30 p.m. and everyone piled out into the station.  This was the first time I’d been to the Prague train station, since I’d flown in before and we left by bus, so I had to look around before I found the Metro.  I bought my ticket (plus one for the next morning), validated it and soon found myself on the way to Lesser Quarter, where I had booked a room once again with Castle Steps.

This time, I was in the Tulip Room.  It was not as big as the Buttercup Room, and didn’t have the enormous bathtub, but it WAS at the base of Nerudova Street, which means I didn’t have to climb the hill.  In fact, it was right off the square, so it was very convenient to the tram.  It was in an apartment, and my room was on the second floor.

View from bridge

Once I got settled, I headed out.  My sole goal was to spend the remaining 300 Czech crowns I had (courtesy of Pat), and to eat dinner.  I was tired after a long travel day, and all I wanted to do was rest in my room.  So I headed for Manufaktur, a very nice shop that only sells items made in the Czech Republic, and bought a small gift for my daughter.

Having divested myself of the Czech money, I took the tram to Cafe Savoy in New Town and had a nice dinner of sausage, ham, cabbage, potatoes and wine.  Afterward, I indulged with an apple/cheese tart and Cafe Savoy’s house coffee, which had cinnamon and chocolate in it, and paid with a credit card.  I still had Euros left, but those can always be used again on another trip.  I wanted to get rid of the Czech money because I wasn’t sure when or if I would be back here.

Finally, it was time to go.  I walked back over the bridge and looked out at Prague in the evening dusk.  I could see the castle sitting high on the hill above the city, and had a brief spurt of melancholy that I was leaving this beautiful area.  But truth be told, I was ready for home.

View of castle in distance

When I got back to the Tulip room, it was blessedly quiet and peaceful.  I did some hand-laundry, worked on my blog and finally got everything packed up and ready to go.  The bed was huge and very comfy and I was soon fading away….

The next morning, I was up early as I had to catch a tram, metro and bus to the airport, and I wanted to make sure I was there two hours before my 10:35 a.m. departure.  Since I wasn’t going to be able to eat breakfast at Castle Steps, I stopped at Bohemia Bagel and got a couple of bagels and a cup of coffee to take with me. The bagels are great – just like American bagels – but the coffee was pretty weak.  However, it was hot and had caffeine, so I drank it down.

I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  I usually fly just with carry-ons but because of the gifts I was bringing back, I had to check a bag. So even though I had checked in online, I still had to go through the check in process. There was a moment of panic when I saw a huge line at the Delta counter.  However, I noticed the Business Class section (which only had a few people) allowed all classes of Medallion members to check in – I’m silver class. I was able to get my bag checked in record time.

Cafe Savoy

As I made my way back to the assigned gate, I noticed that I had not gone through any security lines, which seemed very strange. I was just starting to wonder if I’d accidentally slipped past them when I realized that the Prague airport has the security lines at each individual gate.  It certainly makes it a lot easier and convenient.  I’m curious whether it’s cost-effective for the airport to do it this way.  On one hand, you can move personnel from one gate to the other, depending on flight times.  But on the other, you need a lot more equipment for each gate.

At any rate, I made it on my flight and joined the rest of the passengers as we taxied out of Prague Airport. The flight home was incredibly long, but the man sitting next to me was very nice.  He spoke with an American accent, but several times, a young high school boy came up and talked to him in Czech.  I assumed it was his son, but he told me that the young kid was actually a Czech pitcher who just turned 17 and has just been signed by the Philadelphia Phillies.  My seatmate was a scout for the Phillies and was bringing the boy (his name is Marek Minarik) over for instructional training in Florida for a month.  Then he comes back in the spring for actual spring training.  Marek was very tall (probably 6’1″ or 6’2″ and the scout said that he is still growing.  He was very cute, though, and obviously very excited about coming over.

We finally made it to JFK, where I had the pleasure of a six-hour layover at the world’s dirtiest airport. But finally I was on my way home to CVG – and already planning my next trip!

Day 14 – my final day in Vienna…

Originally, I planned to see Schonnbrun Palace, the ornate summer palace of the Hapsburgs, located on the outskirts of the city.  But I had a change of plans. I was tired of palaces and luxurious rooms, and wanted to just wander around, seeing what took my fancy on my last day in Vienna.

Hoher Markt clock

Since it was early, I walked down through the Stephansplatz area and picked up a cappuccino to go.  Caffeine in hand, my next step was the clock at Hoher Markt.  This must be my trip for seeing clocks – the Astronomical Clock in Prague, the clock at Marianplatz in Munich and now this.  The clock at Hoher Markt is very large and gold and shows the time by famous figures who pass across. All of them go through at noon, but since I wasn’t going to be here then, I had to be content with the 9 am viewing, which showed just one figure parading across.

From there, I tried to find the Niehardt frescoes, which are supposed to be very interesting and are at the Wien Museum.  I thought I found the right place and paid my four Euros to get in, but found out it was a clock museum.  The clocks (mostly cuckoo and grandfather clock types) were very old and quite lovely, but they weren’t what I wanted to see.  Finally, I found the correct building and rang the buzzer to get in.  I was admitted but then wandered around for several minutes looking for the inside entrance to the museum.

Ruprechtskirche

Interior of Ruprechtskirche

Sadly, I never found it, and when I tried to buzz again, no one answered.  I figured it was not to be and made my way towards Ruprechtskirche (St. Rupert’s Church), the oldest church in Vienna.  It was only a few blocks from the museum, but hard to find as it was tucked into a little corner and up some stone steps.  I looked all around and couldn’t find it.  It was only when I looked up that I saw it.

This church had none of the glamor and grandeur of the other Vienna churches – it was very small and all stone and plaster with some dark statues tucked away in alcoves.  But the sheer age of it was enough to warrant a visit.  Although the exact date is unknown, it is believed to have been founded between 796 and 829, although most of the building was rebuilt after a fire in the 13th century.  One of the stained glass windows dates from 1270.

Statue of St. Rupert

There was no admission charge but I stuffed a few Euros in the collection basket.  On the way out, I noticed a statue in a small outside alcove.  It was St. Rupert, dark and partially covered over with ivy and other greenery, who was the patron saint of the salt merchants of Vienna.  After I left the church, I passed down a side street and saw a beauty salon, and a dog sitting in a basket outside.  Evidently, a customer had an appointment and brought his or her dog along.  I have noticed that Vienna is VERY dog-friendly.  People bring dogs on the subways, trams, into restaurants and shops.  Most of the dogs I’ve seen have been very well-trained.

Inside the MAK

Next was the one museum I decided to visit – the Austrian Museum of Applied and Contemporary Art, otherwise known as the MAK.  This houses a very eclectic collection of pieces – ancient Oriental porcelain, modern furniture like Biedermeier and others, textiles and other decorative items.  The building alone was worth the price of admission as it was absolutely exquisite.  It was built in 1871 as the Imperial and Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, and gradually evolved into what it is today.

Interior of the MAK

The color and design were beautiful.  I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take photos of the building (I was sure that I couldn’t photograph the exhibits themselves) but decided to sneak a couple without the flash.  No one said anything, but one docent started following me around for a while, so I’m sure they were suspicious that I would go crazy with my camera.

Art nouveau inside the MAK

I was glad that I had bought a 24 hour public transportation pass, because my next stop was out of the city.  Ever since I found out that Beethoven was buried here, I had been wanting to visit Zentralfriedhof, or the Central Cemetery; the largest and most ornate of Vienna’s more than 50 cemeteries.  Many other great musicians are here — Johann Strauss, Brahms and Schubert.  I also thought it would be nice to see a bit of green.

I took the U-bahn to Simmering (the end of the line) then waited for a number 6 or 71 tram to Tor 2 (Gate 2) of the cemetery. Tram 6 came first and I jumped on.  About 5 minutes later, we were at the right gate.  There were two huge white stone structures on either side of the gate.  I walked right in and kept going straight, past two brick arcades on either side of the path.  The musicians’ graves are in one area all together to the left past the arcades in Group 32A.

Me and Beethoven

As I walked, I noticed a group of people who had been on the tram with me.  They were talking as they wandered around and it was obvious that they were looking for the same graves I was.  I told them to follow me and led them to the graves, which were were right where they were supposed to be.  There was even a little side off the sidewalk that said “Musiker” (German for “Musician”).  The first grave I found was Ludvig von Beethoven’s.  He is one of my favorite composers (I have the third movement of the Eroica Symphony as a ring tone on my cell) and I really wanted to see his grave.

Johann Strauss grave

The group of people who rode the tram with me (who turned out to be from Ottowa) had tagged along so I asked them to take a picture of me with his grave.  Plus I planned to send the photo to an old college friend of mine.  During college, my friends used to call me “Beethoven” (it’s a long story).

After Beethoven, I checked out the graves of Brahms, Strauss and Schubert.  There is also a memorial stone for Mozart, but he is not actually buried there.  He was buried in a pauper’s grave at St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna, and no one knows where his bones really lie.  In fact, several of the above composers were not originally buried in this cemetery, but were moved here later when this cemetery was built.

Ornate grave at cemetery

There were many other attractive graves around – some quite plain and others very ornate.  Most of Vienna’s (and Austria’s) major politicians are here, along with other local celebrities. I wandered around for a bit, enjoying the sun and trees and marble stones.  I like cemeteries – they’re quiet and peaceful and are a nice respite from sightseeing.

Hotel Sacher

When I had my fill, I took the tram/U-bahn combo back to the city center. I was done with major sightseeing and wanted to get in a little shopping.  As I headed towards the shopping district, I passed the Hotel Sacher, a very old and famous Vienna hotel known for creating the “Sacher Torte.”  They still make the torte today, but I didn’t relish fighting the multitude of tourists who were standing in line to buy.

I was hungry by this time, though, so I stopped into Trzesniewski, another old establishment that is known for their open-faced little sandwiches.  They have an array of items, such as grated carrot on egg, mushroom, ground liver, etc., that are served on small pieces of bread.  You go through, pick the ones you want, pay for them, and grab a table and eat (or order them to go).  I got three “bites” and a small beer and they were delicious.

For the next hour or so, I wandered through the streets.  At one point, I passed the Staatsoper (State Opera), which is world-renowned.  I would have liked to attend a performance, and briefly thought about queuing up for standing-room only tickets (regular tickets are astronomically priced), but just couldn’t face the thought of spending that much time and energy. For that matter, I would have loved to see the Spanish Lipizzaner stallions or the Vienna Boy’s Choir perform, but that only takes place on Sunday and I would be gone by then.

Dog waiting for owner outside hair salon

I did find my way to Julius Meinl, a large gourmet grocery store in Stephansplatz (I later found out they have several locations in Chicago).  They have everything here – a huge selection of meats, cheeses, dairy, prepared foods, coffee, chocolate, wine and beer.  I bought some chocolate and a few other items to take home with me.  I would have loved to buy some sausage (especially my beloved Landjager), but U.S. Customs is stringent about bringing in meat, so I figured it was a lost cause.

Eating outside at Fratelli's

After heading back to my room to rest and recoup, I decided to go out for a nice dinner to celebrate my final night in Vienna.  And I did, although I wound up celebrating with Italian food rather than Austrian at Fratelli’s, an Italian cafe near Stephansplatz.  The service was great, and the waiter recommended a glass of a terrific red wine (that I cannot remember the name of, unfortunately) to go with my pasta and salad.  The evening was perfect as I sat at my outdoor table, eating and sipping my wine and watching all of Vienna walk by.

I hated to leave, but all things must come to an end.  Soon, I headed back to my hotel and my last night here.

Tomorrow – back to Prague and then home

Day 13 – cruising down the Danube…

Today I got up, ate breakfast, then headed over to the Westbaunhof (train station). I planned on getting out of the city and touring some of the towns along the Danube by boat.  The cruise started in Melk, so I needed to take the train there. Using the automated machines, I quickly got my ticket (€15.70) and headed out to the track.  There was a train sitting there but I wasn’t sure if it was mine, so I asked a couple (in German) sitting on a bench if this was the train to Melk.

City Shuttle train to Melk

Evidently, they could see through my disguise because he responded in English.  We started talking and it turned out they were from Atlanta.  We all boarded the train together. It was a “City Shuttle” and had both lower and upper seats. After getting seats on top so as to have a better view, we chatted all the way to Melk.  We introduced ourselves and Jill and Tommy told me that they were heading to Prague the next day.

So I told them about some of the places Pat and I enjoyed in Prague, and they told me of their favorites in Vienna. Once we got to Melk, we split up and I headed up to Melk Abbey, for which the town is renowned.  To get to the abbey, you have to walk through the Aldstadt (Old Town), then uphill and further up a series of old stone steps, as the abbey sits high above the town.

Melk Abbey

Church altar at Melk Abbey

But it was worth the walk – I bought my ticket and wandered through the complex, which included rooms containing vestments that were hundreds of years old, a library filled with incredibly old books and literature, and of course, the church, which was as ornate as any I’ve seen (and which also contained some glass-coffined skeletons).  Part of the tour led us outside to a large stone balcony, which showed a beautiful vista of the town below.  I wandered down beautiful stone hallways that were cool and silent.

After leaving the complex, I walked back down the hill towards town. I still needed to buy my ticket for the boat, so I asked for directions and was guided a short way away along the river.  The company was the DDSG Blue Danube and the boat ticket (from Melk to Durnstein) was 20 Euros.  I could have taken the boat all the way to Krems, but I read that Durnstein was very charming and so I wanted to take some time to explore it.  The river here was lovely, with swans lazily swimming around and a bike path that ran along side it.  This is a very popular spot for bike tours, and a bike path runs along most of the Danube at this point.

Danube River at Melk

Having bought my ticket, I went back to town and had a sandwich and some coffee at a sidewalk cafe while I watched my fellow travelers walk past.  After about an hour, it was time to head for the boat.  The boat had not arrived by the time I got to the dock, so I sat on a park bench to wait.  Pretty soon, a couple of women joined me and we started talking.  They were four friends from Seattle, California and Australia.  The woman from Seattle had swapped her house for a condo in Vienna for two weeks.

When the boat arrived, we all got on board together and sat next to each other on the upper deck.  The boat was like many other ferry boats I’ve been on, with an enclosed lower deck and an upper deck.  The weather was a bit chilly, but nice enough for outdoor viewing.  Each pair of seats had a table, and the staff came around for orders, so I and my new friends all ordered large beers and enjoyed the cruise.

MS Prinz Eugen

The boat soon took off and we were drifting up the Danube, lazily watching the pretty scenery unfold on either side.  Occasionally, a voice would make an announcement about the various buildings or ruins on either side and everyone obligingly got out their cameras for photos. We passed many quaint little wine-producing Austrian towns, which this area is known for. Along the way, I saw Jill and Tommy from the Melk train.  It turned out we were both getting off at Durnstein (my other friends were staying on the boat till Krems).

View along the Danube

After about an hour or so, we went around a bend and the ship’s voice announced that we would be pulling into Durnstein. It called our attention to a large stone ruin sitting on the hill above the town, known as Durnstein Castle. Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in this castle for more than a year before finally being ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Site of Richard the Lionhearted's imprisonment

I said goodbye to my four friends and followed Jill and Tommy off the ship.  The first thing we saw as we got into Durnstein was a church.  Jill and Tommy decided to pass, but I went ahead and paid my 2 Euros to get it.  It was small but very pretty, and contained the ubiquitous glass coffins again.

After I left the church, I headed up into the town of Durnstein.  Oh. My. God.  All I can say is that this town is one of the most charming and well-preserved towns I have ever seen.  It beat Cesky Krumlov and Rothenburg, mainly because it was so small and quaint and had so many picturesque spots.  It certainly wasn’t as crowded as them. After taking a quick look around, I wandered over the river to the train station.  I still didn’t have my ticket back and didn’t even know what the schedule was.

Church steeple in Durnstein

Durnstein

Once I got there, the station was deserted although there was a schedule posted on the while.  A woman who lived next door told me that I could buy the ticket on board, which relieved me somewhat.  After I left, however, I ran into Jill and Tommy again and Jill told me that I could buy the ticket at the tourist info place.  Originally, I was going to just buy the local ticket from Durnstein to Krems, since I figured I’d have to wait till I got to Krems to get the ticket back to Vienna.

Durnstein

Luckily, the woman at the TIC sold me a ticket all the way through.  So clutching my ticket, I went out and met up with Jill and Tommy, and we all decided to have dinner together.  The woman at the TIC told Jill about a few local Heurigers, which is a name given to wine-taverns, where wine-growers serve the most recent year’s wine.  The name literally means “this year” and it refers to the harvest from this year’s grapes.  And that’s where we wound up – at a Heuriger called the Altes Presshaus, eating from a platter of meats and cheeses and pickled vegetables, and happily drinking a wonderful white wine from the region.

Since the train to Krems only came once an hour, we finished our meal and walked back over to the train station.  At 5:45 pm, the train arrived – all one car.  It was kind of funny – we were expecting the long string of cars like most trains have, but this one was one short car.  And to get on, we had to walk across the tracks, as there was no boarding area.  Once we got on, it was a quick ten minute trip to Krems, where we boarded the train back to Vienna, arriving around 7:30 pm.

Altes Presshaus, a local Hueriger

When we got to Vienna, we said our goodbyes and we each headed off in the direction of our respective U-bahn station.  I got the metro back to Stephensplatz, but wasn’t really tired, so I grabbed the netbook and headed off to a cafe with wi-fi, where I enjoyed a late night cappuccino while I went online.  Finally, I made my way back to the Pension Nossek for the night.

Tomorrow – my last full day in Vienna.

Day 12 – sightseeing in Vienna

Today the plan was to visit a few more churches, the Hofburg palace complex and some shops.  First things first, however, and I headed up one floor to breakfast.  The staff here at Nossek was very friendly and immediately brought me coffee, which rated them high marks in my book.  Breakfast was good and very familiar, consisting of meats, cheeses, muesli and other cereals, fruit, yogurt and bread.

Michaelskirche

My first stop this morning was St. Michael’s Church (Michaelskirch), near the Hofburg complex.  I really liked this church – it was friendly and beautiful and had some amazing frescoes. The church is Romanesque and dates back to the 13th century.   Many years ago, it was the parish church of the Imperial Court – and very convenient, since it sits right next to the Hofburg Palace.

Hofburg Palace

And speaking of the palace, it was next on my list.  I headed on in and bought my ticket to see the Imperial Apartments, Sisi’s collection (the last reigning empress of the Austrian dynasty – she was assassinated in the late 1800’s), and the Imperial Silver Collection.  Winding my way around the various tour groups, I started off in the area that showed the various household items that were used to sustain a royal household.  Room after room showed vast arrays of silver, porcelain and copper dinnerware and kitchen items, not to mention the decorative items that every palace should have.

Sisi's bathroom

Even when a meal included just the immediate family, there was certain protocol to be followed, which included fine place settings, floral displays and a table that could seat twenty or more.

Next was Sisi’s area.  The audioguides discussed her life, which sounded somewhat tragic. There were several movies made about her, including Sissi, starring Romy Schneider in 1955 (the movie Americanized her nickname). Her son, Rudolf, committed suicide and she was unhappy as a monarch.  She was also somewhat vain and refused to have any portraits painted after a certain age, so that she would not be seen as any older.  The collection included several gowns, paintings, jewelry, and her rooms. Sisi’s hair was waist length and shampooing it took several maids and a whole day (the shampoo used was a blend of eggs and cognac).

The tour concluded with a walk through some of the other palace rooms and ended up (as every tour does) in the gift shop.  After I left the courtyard, I headed out and took a quiet relaxing walk through the Volksgarten, which lies between the Hofburg palace and the museums. Somewhere along the way, I stopped to pick up some gelato.  There is gelato all over Vienna and it’s as tasty as Italy’s.

Natural History Museum

There was only one museum I especially wanted to see – the MAK – and that was for another day, but I did wander through the museum area.  The Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History museum) was closed but the others were open and booming with tourists.  Interestingly, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Museum of Fine Arts) had an identical exterior to the Natural History Museum. They both face each other across the square.  The gardens in front contained large rounded topiary.

Spittelburg

Spittelburg was next on my walking tour.  This neighborhood, which consists of about six streets near the Museum Quarter, is much sought after by upper class Viennese. The area was charming, with cobblestone streets and leafy green trees adding shady relief through the narrow streets. As much as I enjoy the magnificent architecture of Vienna, it was a nice change of pace.

Habsburg tombs

After grabbing a quick snack at a local cafe (most offer pastries and cappuccino to go), I was ready for my next stop – the Kapuzinergruft, a crypt that contains the tombs of most of the Austrian royal family.  The crypt was in the basement of the Kapuzinerkirche, and contained tomb after tomb of royal names.  Some were fairly plain, but many were very ornate.  The coffin of Elizabeth of Bavaria (Sisi) was towards the end.  She lay on one side of her husband, Franz Joseph, and their son, Rudolf, who committed suicide, lay on the other.

Franz Josef, Sisi and Rudolf tombs

The Naschtmarkt was my next stop.  This is a huge open-air market that contains not only fruits and vegetables, but a wide variety of ethnic goods, restaurants, fresh fish and other odds and ends.  I bought some peppers and olives for later, and some spices to take home.  The market was packed with hundreds of locals and tourists and filled with heavenly aromas.

Karlskirche

Karlskirch (St. Karl’s Church) was nearby.  I was starting to get a little “churched-out,” but hated to miss it, since it was so close and is one of the most ornate Baroque churches in Vienna.  And it was definitely ornate – the paintings and frescos alone were absolutely beautiful, along with the brilliant gold statuary.  I visited here for a while, looking at its beauty (and also the coffins – this church was another recipient of the cardinal’s skeleton collection).

Karlskirche altar

After that, I was beat – no more sightseeing for the day.  Besides, it was close to dinnertime, so I wandered up towards Figlmüller – a restaurant that is renowned world-wide (well, the New York Times wrote about it) for its wiener schnitzel.  If I was going to have wiener schnitzel (and I had to have wiener schnitzel in Vienna), I might as well go for the gusto.  I was a little worried about getting a seat, since most guidebooks recommended reservations, but I was in luck.  One of the staff told me that if I could wait a few minutes, I could share a table.

This is fairly common practice in Europe and I don’t mind – in fact, it’s a great way to meet other people.  The young man and woman who I wound up sharing the table with were native Israelians, and were in Vienna on business (they both worked for a small Israeli computer company).  They were very impressed by my German (I loved the compliment but felt the need to explain that my German only covered food, drink and directions).  At any rate, we all ordered the schnitzel, a salad and wine.

The schnitzel was delicious and huge – it covered the entire plate and then some.  It was served with some jam, which is used as a garnish.  The jam (which looked like lingonberries, but I later found out were tiny cranberries) was delicious with the schnitzel, giving it a wonderful salty/sweet flavor.  The salad was also good and consisted of warm potato salad topped with fresh greens.

The Israelis and I (I never did find out their names) spent the meal talking about their country and mine.  They have both traveled a bit, and the man told me that his best day ever was the day he stood on Times Square in New York.  I laughed, but he was serious.  New York is a big thing to a lot of people.  They were both born in Israel, but interestingly, the woman sounded almost American, whereas the guy had a definite accent.  I asked them about this, and neither of them knew why their accents were so different.

After dinner, we left at the same time and walked back together chatting until we split up and headed to our respective hotels…

Tomorrow – out to the countryside for a Danube river cruise!

Day 11 – on to Vienna

We both woke up at what felt like the crack of dawn, and started gathering up our stuff.  I took a quick shower and started blow drying my hair, but the hotel hair dryer gave a big kaput and died early on.  Other than that, we got our stuff together and headed down to check out and eat breakfast.  We paid the 85 Euros, stuck our luggage in a hall closet temporarily and walked down towards the breakfast hall.  Same breakfast – different day.  It was good, though, and we were happy that the hotel served breakfast early enough for us.

At 7 am, we grabbed our bags and headed off for the train station.  Once inside, we split up.  Pat was taking the S-Baun to the airport, and I was boarding a regular train to Vienna.  We hugged and wished each other a safe journey, then went on our own.  It’s funny – I usually travel by myself and will continue to do so from time to time, but I had such a good time traveling with Pat that I know we will do this again. We had our differences – as Pat pointed out at one point, we are two strong personalities that will sometimes clash, but the good times far outweighed the clashes.

I found my train right away but had a little trouble finding my reserved seat.  Four cars later, though, I was comfortably seated and with a table for the laptop to boot.  For the next four hours, I worked on my journal and lazily watched the scenery out the window.  The train was crowded, and I was glad I had spent the 3 extra Euros to reserve a seat as some people without were standing.

The train pulled into Wien (Vienna) Westbaunhof around 11:45 am and I got off.   I immediately looked for the U-Bahn station but couldn’t find it.  However, I just followed the hordes of other travelers and figured they would lead me to it.  Sure enough, it was across the street (there is construction going on, so evidently access to the U-Bahn is limited right now).

Stephensdom

At any rate, I went below, bought a single ticket and boarded the U3 line to get to Stephansplatz, which is close to my hotel.  Four stops later, I got off and headed up the escalator into the sunlight.  As I walked into the square, the first thing I saw was Stephansdom, the largest cathedral in Vienna.  I swear my jaw dropped – it was truly amazing.  Not just because of its immense size and height, but the sheer beauty of the architecture and the magnificent spires.  I couldn’t wait to go it, but wanted to get checked in first.

Pension Nossek (hallway outside room)

My hotel was the Pension Nossek at Graben 17, which is one of the main streets near Stephansplatz (and in Vienna).  I wandered down the street looking for the correct address between all the high-end shops on Graben.  I finally found it near the end of the street near Kohlmarkt, next to a high-end clothing store.

I rang the bell to get in and was admitted.  As I walked through the immense foyer, I noticed a plaque on the wall saying that Mozart had lived in this building for about ten months in 1781.  At the end of the hallway was a huge black wrought iron and marble winding staircase.  As beautiful as it was, I dreaded dragging my luggage up the four flights to reception.   Just then, I noticed an elevator right in the middle of the staircase.  Heaving a sigh of relief, I pushed the button and made my way upstairs in relative comfort.

Staircase at Nossek

My room is a single room – quite small, but fine for one person and only 62 Euros.  For a location like this – right in the middle of the Inner Stadt and close to everything, the price is great.  There was a flat screen tv as well, but so far I have not found any English-speaking channels, so I just ignored it.  After unpacking, hanging up my clothes and freshening up, I was ready to head out into the city.

By this time, I was starving but didn’t want to spend time in a restaurant so I headed for a Wiener Wurst stand nearby, and had the most delicious sausage, served with a piece of rye bread and mustard.

My first stop was, of course, Stephansdom (aka St. Stephan’s Cathedral), just a few short steps away. The square was bustling this time of day and there were crowds of people – not just tourists but locals enjoying the noon sunshine.  The church itself was relatively quiet.  Admittance was free although there were separate fees for taking the elevators up to the north and south tower, and going downstairs to the crypt.

Stephansdom altar

I contented myself with just wandering through the beautiful church, taking some photos and reading whatever literature I could find in English.  The church has an incredible history – it was first created in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 13th century when it was destroyed by fire.  The bells toll every hour – it was here that Beethoven realized the totality of his deafness when he could no longer hear the bells of St. Stephens.

Around the corner from Stephansdom is another gorgeous church, Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church), which has the most incredible acoustics I’ve heard outside Music Hall.  The day I got there, four young women were singing a capella in an impromptu concert, and the sound was mesmerizing.  I just closed my eyes and let the tones sound inside my head.  As far as the decor, it was beautiful, of course.  I really liked the inside of this church – it seemed a little friendlier and lower key than the big cathedral.  And it was so close!  All of these attractions in Vienna are right next to each other.

I should also mention that St. Peter’s also had skeletons.  Several altars contain martyrs from Roman catacombs that were donated by Cardinal Kollonitz in 1733. They were put on clothes from this period and placed in glass coffins. Nobody knew who they were, so they were assigned random names.  It was a little disconserting to see these glass coffins with the clothed skeletons inside — it reminded me of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl.”

Peterskirche

Leaving the church, I heard music playing on the square and saw a young couple ballroom dancing before a crowd.  I watched for a minute then continued walking around town.  Vienna is very compact and most of the main attractions are in or close to the Inner Stadt or Old Town, which is centered in Stephansplatz.  I headed towards the Hofburg Palace, the complex enclosing the winter palace of the Habsburgs.  I was saving this for another day but thought I’d walk through it since it was so close.

Like many of the other royal palaces, the complex was immense.  It included a huge courtyard surrounded by buildings on all four sides.  Leaving the complex, I noticed a large area in front that was somewhat walled off.  Moving closer, I saw a stone and brick foundation laying below the ground.  Evidently, this shows the earlier foundation of the city dating back to Roman times.

Glass coffin in St. Peter's Church

Old Roman foundation

Backtracking a little, I wandered back over to Stephansplatz and beyond, passing Mozart’s residence and a host of little restaurants and shops.  Since I was hungry by this time, I wandered into an Italian restaurant, where you ordered ala carte cafeteria-style.  Soon, I was happily ensconced at a table with a plate of pasta, a salad and some red wine.  I like German and Austrian food but it was nice to have a change of pace.

By this time, it was dark and I slowly headed back to my hotel, after stopping at a cafe with free wi-fi to get online.  My hotel has wireless, but it was on the fritz.  Vienna after dark is very different from Vienna during the day.  There were lots of people out – some eating and drinking, some just walking around, like me.  The evening was cool and it felt wonderful to be outside.

Couple dancing at Stephansplatz

Soon I was back at the hotel, and grateful for the elevator to take me up to sleep.

Tomorrow – more sightseeing in Vienna…

Day 10 – Munich and a trip to Dachau

The next morning was bright and sunny. We have really had extraordinary weather while we have been here. Other than one quick period of rain, it’s been very nice. We ate breakfast again, chatted with our Canadian friends and then checked out and hit the open road. We had until noon to return the rental car and the trip from Salzburg to Munich is only 112 km, but I wanted to allow for delays. Plus I wasn’t sure how much time it would take to find a gas station in town to top off our fuel tank. At least this time we googled the exact directions to get to the rental car return.

Lake Chiemsee view

The drive back was along the A8 Autobahn and was beautiful. We stopped briefly at Lake Chiemsee to take some photos of the lake and the swans, then headed back on our way. We got into Munich with no problem around 10 am, but then spent another hour looking for gas. Finally, we found a guy on a motorcycle who told us where there was a Shell station.

Luckily, the car rental return was near to our new hotel – the Hotel Eder. We would have stayed at the Uhland again, but it was full. Oktoberfest wouldn’t start for another week but there was evidently a convention in town, which was causing some hotels to fill up and raise their prices. We were fine with this place, though. It was much closer to the train station and we were both leaving the next morning very early; Pat to take the S-Bahn to the airport for Cincinnati, and me to catch the 7:30 am train to Vienna.

But in the meantime, we had plans for our last day in Munich. Dachau was only about 30 minutes outside Munich, and we both really wanted to visit there. We walked the few blocks to the train station to get our tickets for the S-Bahn to the Dachau station, and boarded soon after. Once we got to the station, we took a seven minute trip on a local bus to the concentration camp and headed on in. Admission is free, and walked over to the visitor’s center to pick up a map.

Bus to Dachau

Dachau was the first concentration camp started by the Nazis and the one that was the longest in existence. Many thousands of people died here. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this, and certainly wasn’t prepared for the emotional upheaval I felt while touring this once-horrific compound. Pat and I agreed to split up so that we could take it at an individual pace. It first hit me when I walked through the iron gates that say in German, “Work shall set you Free.” This is what the prisoners saw as they were led into Dachau.

"Work shall set you Free" (entrance to Dachau)

Beyond that was the large courtyard where roll call was held each morning, and the prisoners forced to stand at attention, sometimes for hours on end. To the right was the museum, which was held in the actual bunker. It showed various artifacts and many photos and stories of the camp prisoners. I think this was the most heartbreaking part of the tour — reading the stories of these individuals who were treated so inhumanely and for no rational reason at all.

I spent what seemed like hours in here, reading information and looking at photographs. I watched other visitors — they all moved slowly from one exhibit to the next, and I felt a deep camaraderie with them as we experienced this together. They were strangers but seemed like friends. It was a very different feeling than I am used to.

The bunker at Dachau

At one point, I came across the shower room, where the Nazis practiced “pole-hanging” and hung prisoners on poles suspended from beams across the ceiling. Another room told of the horrible medical experiments practiced on the prisoners. One room held plaques, shrines and other memorials that people had sent in honor of those who died at Dachau. Finally, I headed back out into the courtyard. From there, you could see a couple of barracks where the prisoners were housed, and the foundations of dozens more.

After that, I walked towards the back of the compound. It was a long walk but I wanted to see the religious memorials and the crematorium. Along the way, I saw one of the security compounds, where prisoners were shot for coming too close to the barbed wire. At the back were four religious memorials – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox – each very moving and unique. Near the Catholic memorial is a Carmelite convent and I stopped into the chapel for a moment to let some of the horrors I saw wash away.

The gas chamber

Feeling a bit more at peace, I walked to the final section – the crematorium and ash graves. When the Allies liberated Dachau in late April of 1945, they found immense piles of bodies back here. Graves were labeled with memorial stones to signify the number of people whose ashes now lie in the ground at Dachau. There were two crematoriums. The original had only one oven, but when the body count started to rise, the Nazis built another building that held five ovens.

The crematorium

Walking into the newer crematorium, I came across the first room–the disrobing room, where prisoners were stripped and their clothes sent to the disinfection room. There was also a gas chamber disguised as a shower. Although Dachau, unlike Auschwitz, did not practice mass murder in the gas chambers, it was used to kill small groups of prisoners. After these rooms came the crematorium, which contained the ovens used to burn the bodies. Individual prisoners were often hung in front of the crematorium – evidently for the Nazis’ convenience.

Grave for ashes of unknown prisoners

I slowly and quietly walked back to the front area and let it all sink in. I think that the Germans have the right idea by opening this place and letting people see it. In fact, school children in Germany are required to visit Dachau or some other concentration camp as part of their school curriculum.

Once I got back to the visitor center, I met up with Pat and we headed back to the bus stop. We grabbed one that was leaving in a few minutes and were soon traveling back to the city. It was around 4:30, so we decided to have an early dinner and get back to the hotel. We found a place in Pat’s Frommer’s book that looked good, so we got off the train at the Hauptbahnhof, and transferred to the U-Bahn over to Goettestrasse.

From there, it was a quick walk up to the Cafe Beethoven on Beethoven Square. The Cafe Beethoven was absolutely charming – the outdoor cafe sat on a quiet tree-lined street, and had a variety of patrons. The inside held a grand piano, which is evidently used for evening music events, but we sat outside and enjoyed the mild sunny weather. The food was very good. We each ordered the same thing – pork medallions wrapped in bacon, served with dumplings and green beans. I had a glass of Rioja red wine and Pat got a huge cafe latte.

Cafe Beethoven

We savored the food and the setting and enjoyed our last night in Munich (and our last night before Pat left). After dinner, we splurged on dessert. Pat ordered cheesecake, and I got my heart’s desire – the best apple strudel I have ever had. It was incredibly delicious and came with a warm cream sauce. That, along with a cappuccino, made for a perfect ending.

We finally headed back to the hotel, and did our packing up and last-minute things. At some point during the evening, I pulled out my train ticket, which I bought online, and realized that the train left at 7:30 am, rather than the 9:00 am I had in my mind. I was very glad that I had checked – my ticket was only good for that particular time, so I would have had to buy another (and way more expensive) ticket if I missed my train.

Later in the evening we snacked on leftover chocolate and sausages and did some late-night email checking.  The last thing we did (or rather, that I bullied Pat into doing) was to call downstairs and see if we could get into breakfast early, since it started at 7 am, and that’s when we needed to leave. The hotel assured us that we could eat early (yay!), so we set the alarm for early and went to sleep.

Tomorrow – Pat leaves for home and I travel on to Vienna

Day 9 – Sightseeing in Salzburg

While spending two nights in a place seems like a long time, in reality it only gives you one full day.  This was a shame because I would have liked to have stayed longer.  But we made do with what we had and I was glad we decided to come.

At any rate, we woke early the next morning.  The sun was shining and I stood gazing out at our Alpine view.  We hurried down to breakfast, which contained the same items as most other places – meats, cheeses, cereals (including muesli), bread, rolls, and soft-boiled eggs.  And of course, coffee…
We met a young couple from Canada at breakfast.  They were on holiday from Victoria and told us how to catch the bus outside to get into town.  We decided that busing would be easier than driving, since it is difficult and expensive to park in the old town section.  The bus was a couple of Euros and the stop was right outside the pension. We were soon whizzing into the Aldstadt (old town) area.

Funicular heading up to fortress

The bus let us off by the river and we grabbed our map and started walking.  The first thing we saw was the huge Hohensalzburg fortress high on the hills above town.  We were going to try to get up there, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to, given my fear of heights.  Pat read that the funicular that goes up there runs at an almost vertical angle.  The other option was to walk, but it involved many many steps uphill, and I still wasn’t sure if I could manage the heights involved.

Musicians in Salzburg

There was still much to see and do, though.  We decided to just wander through the town and play it by ear.
The first street we hit was a charming cobblestone array of quaint shops and cafes.  Shopping it is!
Thirty minutes later I found a cute wool cardigan vest for Bjorn, and Pat bought some very cool hats – one for herself and one for a gift.
After that, we just kept walking.  The Allstadt is fairly small so we made our way through the Dom (Salzburgh’s cathedral), and several incredibly ornate churches. We also wound our way through the marketplace, which held an array of wonderful sausages, cheeses, breads, pastries and absolutely beautiful fruits and vegetables.  I snapped a few to show some of the people at Turner Farms, as they had some interesting berries and a pumpkin in a color that was almost coral.
Since we hadn’t had lunch yet, we picked up some sandwiches and sausages and stopped at a table to eat.  The sausage I got was juicy and tasty.  I am amazed at the endless variety of sausages that are offered.  There was one that I am addicted to (unfortunately, I forgot to write down the name).  I also had a Steigl beer, which is brewed by a local Salzburg brewery, and is quite tasty.

Salzburg cathedral

We continued on our walking tour through town, ogling at the beautiful buildings and sights and munching on chocolate.  I bought a couple of Mozart Kugles, which are round chocolate balls stuffed with marzipan that have been a specialty of the hotel since the late 1800’s.
We stopped and listened to wonderful musicians, including a four-man group that played very interesting folk music.  One had a large instrument that was held like a cello, but was large and rectangular shaped.

Musician in square

After that, we found a very cool old cemetery that was tucked away in a little side area.  Some of the stones were centuries old, but there were also much newer graves here.
Next we had cafe at the Cafe Thomaselli, which has been around since the 1700’s (and was visited by Mozart), then split up for a while, as I wanted to head back to Mozart’s birthplace.  It was a huge yellow building, but the family only lived on one floor.

Cemetery

It was somewhat interesting, but not really worth the 7 Euros I paid.  There wasn’t much to see, other than a few documents in German and a few miscellaneous items, so I left after doing a cursory walk through.
After that, I headed over to one of the many bridges by the river to meet Pat.  It was nice to sit and relax by the river and watch the people go by.  There were loads of bicycles around – both Germany and Austria are heavily populated with bicyclists, which is great.  I would love to come back and do a biking tour of this area.

Old gravestone

Once Pat joined me, we decided to take a break and head back to the hotel for a while.  We caught the no. 21 bus back to our pension and dumped our purchases in the room.  I wanted to check out the property so I headed back down and walked around back.  It really was beautiful – evidently the Ballweins did some farming, as they had a tractor in back and I could catch the scent of manure.  The pasture in back, which led all the way to the mountains, was the same rich green color I’d seen throughout Germany.
At this point, we had no internet access and also wanted to do some laundry, so we found a place listed in Rick Steves’ book that allowed both.  We grabbed the car and after some maneuvering, we found a parking garage nearby and parked the car then headed into Bubblepoint.  At that point, I realized that Pat didn’t need to do laundry and hadn’t brought any (she told me earlier, but I must not have heard), so I loaded up my stuff in the washer.  Luckily, there were instructions in German and English.

Tiny church in Salzburg

Bubblepoint offered computers and internet service, but since we had Pat’s netbook, we figured we’d just look for a place with free wi-fi while the laundry washed.  We found a cafe two places down with wi-fi, ordered a beer for me and cafe latte for Pat, and logged on.   It was nice being able to check email again, and publish my blog.
After the laundry was done and we had our fill of the internet, we left to go back to our car.  I found the exit signs (Ausfahrt) and headed on up.  When we got to the place where you exit, however, we ran into a problem.  There was no attendant, and when we tried plugging in the parking card we received earlier, a message in German flashed on the machine, none of which I could understand.
Finally, Pat noticed a call button, so I pressed it.  A woman’s voice came on in German, and I frantically said, “We are English and we don’t know how to pay to get out of the parking garage.”
There was dead silence for a moment, then the gate in front of us lifted and the garage door opened up onto the street.  We looked at each other, and I quickly yelled out “Danke!”, shifted gears and drove up towards the street before the gates came down again. Pat and I figured that it was easier for them to let us out without paying, then to try to explain to us what to do.  Whatever—we were happy for small favors.

Schloss Leopold (Captain Von Trapp's home in "Sound of Music")

On the way back to the hotel, I wanted to run by Schloss Leopold, which is now an upscale hotel and conference center, but decades ago was the site for part of the movie, “The Sound of Music.”  It provided the outside setting for the Captain’s house, including the party he had where the Baroness showed up.  We parked nearby and walked over, ignoring the signs that said that the premises were for guests only (yes, I can be a rude tourist at times, but it looked fairly quiet and I figured we wouldn’t disturb anyone).

Lake behind Schloss Leopold (shown in movie)

It was incredibly beautiful and just as I remembered it from the movie.  The back of the house (which is the part that was used in the movie) has a large balcony that leads down to a crystal clear lake.    We got as close as possible and took as many photos as we dared, then finally left as it looked like they were getting ready to start some sort of party or event in the back.
After dropping off the laundry at the pension, we decided to go to Augustiner Brewery for dinner. This is a huge brewery started by Augustine monks in 1621.  By this time, we were becoming an expert on Salzburg streets and drove there in no time at all.  It is a huge complex and we had no problem finding it.  We parked the car (Pat grabbed the parking ticket just in case) and walked in.

Augustiner Brewery

It was huge – the outdoor beer gardens were ablaze with lights and filled with people, laughing and carousing and waving their big beer steins around.  This is no “sit down and order” restaurant – instead you visit one of the many food stands scattered throughout the buildings, pick what you want to eat and carry it to your table.  If you want a beer (and most everyone does), you pay at the beer stand, pick up a large stone mug and take it to get filled from the large wooden barrel that all Augustiner beer is stored in.
It was a lot of fun and the food was good.  Pat and I each got a plate of ribs, served with a potato, sour cream and cabbage salad and headed outside to eat.  I also grabbed a beer and we sat and ate and watched the crowds around us.  It was Saturday night and was evidently a very popular spot, both with locals and tourists.  The buildings also housed cavernous eating rooms and there were lots of people eating inside, but the majority seemed to be enjoying the outside tables.
We finally left to go back to our pension.  This time, we decided to be smart and ask ahead of time how to pay for parking.  When Pat approached one of the cashiers with her ticket, he took it and stamped it and told us that it was free.  We were batting a thousand with the parking!
After that, we headed back to Haus Ballwein and sleep.  Tomorrow — back to Munich and a visit to Dachau concentration camp.

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