[This was the first vacation
we planned with online resources. We found and booked our hotels
and flights online, and researched other options there. The rail tickets were
baffling, but once we were in Vienna we found the answer – there are several
train stations and you need to know which one to leave from in order to reach
your final destination without travelling all over Europe.]
Finally, off on our much-delayed visit to Vienna and Prague!
Passports and visas in place. Clothes packed and reservations made. Research
We're flying BA, which seems a comfortable way to go.
We took advantage of Lorrie's "Park & Fly" service [ie we left
our car at her house and she drove us to and from the airport], so arrival at
TIA was uneventful.
5711 km is the noted distance we'll fly in the next 6 hours, 45
min. to Heathrow. We're taking off at about 6:35 pm and arriving there at 6:24
am. Then a few hours later, on to Vienna.
Arrived London Heathrow quite pooped, having dozed a bit on the
flight. Dinner was lamb,
and I pouted so much they brought me beef from business class!
We navigated from
4 to Terminal
1 with no problem, though there were line-ups for shuttle busses and security.
It's easy to see why they allow lots of time between flights. We both slept most
of the way to Vienna. On arrival we bought our 3-day Vienna Cards (WeinCarte),
but still took a hotel shuttle to avoid navigation hassles. Pension Arian is
very nice, up a lift that was built in the 19th century, I'm sure, from a narrow
passage between old buildings. Lots of space, newly furnished, very comfortable.
After sleeping for about 3 hours we set out on foot. The ring is several blocks
from the hotel, so we walked there and along a few blocks through the Museum
Quartier, near the Hofburg. We wandered into a small restaurant and had a lovely
meal -- weiner schnitzel, swein something with noodle/dumplings finishing with
apfelstrudel. Wonderful. On the way back to the hotel we joined briefly into a
celebration of the re-opening of part of the museum -- food, drink, singing.
Awake by 8 for a very nice breakfast at the hotel. Afterward we
chatted with the proprietor and the concierge, and arranged to be picked up for
a city tour, and to go to Wachau on a cruise on Sunday. The city tour was a
great way to see where everything is, and included a tour of Schonbrunn Palace.
We had a half hour there to wander the gardens, which are gorgeous, with a huge
fountain. Much like things we've seen in Ireland and France. The tour dropped us
at 1 pm right outside the Hotel Sacher! So we had lunch there, on the sidewalk.
Delicious, including of course Sacher Torte for dessert. We had just been seated
when a familiar-looking man came in and sat down at the "reserved" table at the
end of the café. I couldn't place him, but when he left, Larry said he thought
he was Steven Spielberg. He asked our waiter, who replied that he was unable to
say who it was, but that he was staying at the hotel, and that table was always
reserved for him. I can report that he had Sacher Torte and mineral water. And
excellent service. [I visited the bakery in the hotel, and arranged for a Sacher
Torte to be delivered to Joanie in Toronto as a belated birthday gift. It's her
From there we hopped on a tram and went to Hofberg. We toured the
Schatzkammer, where the Imperial Treasury is -- or its remains. The highlight is
the Imperial Crown, but it's an interesting collection overall. From there we
went to the silver and porcelain display. Those Habsbergs really set a fancy
table! Thousands of pieces are on display. From there we moved on to the
Kaiserappartements, where we saw more of how they lived. The Habsbergs inhabited
both Hofberg and Schonbrunn for several centuries, 'til they went into exile in
Just after lunch, we encountered costumed city employees selling
concert tickets for tonight's performance of the Vienna Mozart orchestra. We
bought balcony tickets. A chance to dress up and mingle!
It was a very good concert, with a small orchestra, a pianist
and 2 singers. At the end, the conductor even conducted the audience. We
travelled to and fro by subway which Larry is becoming adept at navigating. The
weather has been nice, bright and warm, but tomorrow promises to be cooler.
Sunday, September 15
After another nice breakfast at Pension Arian, we were picked up
by the tour company and whisked off to the Wachau. The bus took us through the
countryside and several small towns to a vineyard, which we walked through, down
to the edge of the Donau (Danube). We took a ferry across the river to Spitz,
where we boarded the Prinz Eugen for a 2 1/2 hour cruise upstream to Melk. At
Melk we climbed down to the village to wander for an hour or so. Beautiful
little town. Then the trek back up the hill to the Abbey for a 45-minute tour.
It has a gorgeous library and really beautiful church. It has been occupied by
monks for about 1000 years.
Onboard the boat we had beer, sausages and a roll on the sundeck
-- though it was raining off and on. There were many castles and other ruins
along the shore. Most disturbing were the evidences of the record-breaking
flooding about a month ago. The trees had high-water marks about 20' above the
water level and there was a lot of mud on the banks. In many places trees had
been toppled. We noticed at Melk that other historical sites that "restoration"
has been more like "renovation", with the result that nothing feels very old.
Nearly every place reports WWII bomb damage.
Monday, September 16
We're getting very adept at navigating by subway. Today we went
first to St. Stephen's and the area around it. These very old churches are
marvels of construction engineering and artistry. The streets are very narrow
and twisty -- and cobbled, with many interesting buildings and fountains in many
parks and squares. We walked to St. Peter's by way of the high-end shopping area
of Kartnerstrasse and Grabon, stopping at Movenpik for cappuccinos -- with sugar
in cute little tubes of many colours. The walk of fame here includes names such
For a break from churches and other serious sites, we headed to
the Prater and a ride on the Riesenrad -- a huge ferris wheel with enclosed
cars. Great views over the city! We lunched in the Casino and Larry lost .50
euros in a slot machine.
We then did a recce of our route to Prague. Took the suburban
train to Sudbahnhof and bought reservations and tickets for the train, and
figured out where we catch the train. Later on we also tracked down a bus that
leaves from near our hotel and goes directly to the station.
After that excursion we dashed to the Opera House in time for the
last tour of the day. WOW! The parts that were undamaged in WWII are gorgeous,
baroque style. The restored sections are modern and very plain. They still have
standing room, with good view, but only we think for the young and healthy!
From the Opera we walked to Karlskirche. It too is beautiful! However it is
largely covered inside with scaffolding. The parks around it are very lovely and
peaceful. After this busy day, back to the hotel and feet up! The plan for the
evening is take-out food and relaxation.
So much for good intentions -- we walked out looking for take-out
and instead found a restaurant nearby called Hoofbrau -- where we had roast pork
with kraut and dumplings and beer. Once more a delicious meal.
Tuesday, September 17
Our last day in Vienna and a full one. We slept late, but still
arrived at the Fine Arts museum before the doors opened. Once inside we wandered
through the Egypt section which is very impressive, particularly wall paintings
from a church in Faros that was inundated when the Aswan Dam was constructed.
After wandering through the coin collection, which features the Schilling-Euro
transitions we had lunch at the museum. We then finished off with the paining
gallery, where we saw all the great names. From there we headed to the UN
complex, which we admired from the outside only.
We then headed for the suburbs, Grinzing, to be exact. First we
went well beyond that town to a couple of smaller places where there are
fabulous views back towards Vienna from up in the hills, overlooking vineyards.
Back in Grinzing we wandered for a bit, but
soon our very sore feet demanded that
we find a table and refreshment. At a local heuringer, we had their own wine and
a real feast from the hot and cold buffet. We watched with interest as they set
up tables for about 50 people, with food laid out -- a busload we supposed. Then
about 45 minutes later they gathered it all up again. Meanwhile, we visited the
WC before leaving, and found musicians practicing in the hallway. They set up
and began playing just as we left.
Back at the hotel we began gathering ourselves together to leave
for Prague tomorrow. And ate roasted chestnuts we'd bought from a street vendor
-- as if we needed them!
Wednesday, September 18
What a weird day this has been! We left Vienna with no problem
and arrived that the Sudbahnhof in plenty of time. Today at breakfast was the
first time the breakfast room was full and it was somewhat chaotic! At the
station I decided to pick up some food and drinks for the trip. Good thing, too
-- just as we were about to leave the station, there was an announcement that
there would be no food available on the train. We relaxed in separate window
seats and enjoyed rolling through the Austrian and Czech countryside. Some
lovely views but some very unsightly, apparently-abandoned factories and so on
too. Houses are tiny -- people live in what look like garden sheds sometimes,
but have small above-ground pools in their yards.
When we arrived in Prague, we were not at the station from which
Larry had planned our route to the hotel. After about 15 minutes of disarray, we
realized we could walk to the hotel in a very few minutes. We went straight to
Wenceslas Square but the street names and numbers are hard to follow and it took
some time to find the entrance to the court-yard of the hotel. It's a strange
set-up with reception in an internet service office. However, the young woman
who seems to manage it met us there and showed us to our temporary room. After
one night we must move. Something about repairs to water damage. We gratefully
dropped our bags and headed for the beds to recover from the trip. Mine
immediately collapsed! We fixed it, but it broke again, so my mattress is on the
floor. After a rest we headed out to see the town and have dinner.
We wandered the length of the square and through some side
streets. We found a restaurant with sidewalk tables where we had a Czech meal
(according to the menu) and pilsner. We also picked up Prague Cards (3 days of
public transit and free entrance to all museums, the castle, etc.). We wandered
across Charles Bridge after picking our way through some of the devastation from
the flood. Then we decided to hop a tram back to Wenceslas square. Easier said
than done! We realized it was the wrong one, hopped off and then got on the
right one, but going the wrong way. We figured we could do the turn at the end
of the line and come back, but it went into the barn. That meant walking several
blocks in search of a stop that would actually get us onto a tram going the
right way. Eventually we found one, waited about 15 minutes and rode back to our
Looking at the city map and the public transit map I still have
no idea how to navigate but Larry claims he does. That wasn't the end though.
When we got to our room, the key wouldn't open the door. When we went to get
help from the internet people, the elevator quit, so we had to walk back up to
the 4th or 5th floor. They guy had no trouble and afterward we could work it
too. Go figure!
I think that Prague would be confusing at the best of times.
There's English here, but much less than in Vienna and the Czech language is
less comprehensible to us than German is. The city is not anything like a grid,
with narrow winding streets in every direction. The street names aren't
well-marked, and the maps are hard to read.
Prices are hard to translate -- 20K to $1 CDN. I keep gasping at
the big numbers. Like 690 K for the Prague card. Forking over 1380 at one go for
something like that was starling to say the least, but since that only about $69
it's not so bad.
The room we have tonight is nice, with hardwood and ceramics, an
efficient little kitchen and 2 rooms plus the entry and bathroom. There are 2
other beds in the other room, so if I wanted I could sleep there. No phone, but
apparently many phones are still out anyway after the flood. TV, couch and 2
comfy chairs. We'll have to go out for breakfast, since it's not included and we
don't have food. We'll shop for breakfast things for the rest of the time,
tomorrow. Hoping Mom's feeling better. She sounded fine last night, but can't be
perfect or she wouldn't be in hospital.
We did better at navigating Prague today. Or I should say Larry
did. It’s still all a mystery to me! We took a few trams to get to the castle,
which is very interesting. The cathedral is gorgeous with a lot of modern
stained glass and some older too. We visited the crypt, which was not nearly as
spooky as the one in Vienna. I didn’t even write it up, but it haunts both of
us. It has several places where you can actually see heaped-up bones,
mostly from plague victims. The one here is quite sanitized with only one buried
vault which holds a neat array of important coffins.
The old Royal Palace is largely empty, but the Vladislav Hall and
the chapel are very impressive.
We took another tram to the area of Loreta, but it wasn’t
immediately evident where it was – a common problem here, where directions are
vague and names undecipherable. Maps likewise. We gave up and decided to just
wander a bit. Of course, we immediately stumbled on Loreta, which proved to be a
high point of the day. Lovely and tranquil with a most interesting treasury of
valuable and beautiful things, including the “Prague Sun” which has 6500
diamonds from the wedding dress of some countess. Some of them are real
doorknobs! The church and shrine to Mary are also most impressive.
From there we wandered downhill, stopping to rest in a lovely
park, and strolling through tiny, cobbled, twisting streets on the way. Oddly
and without explanation we found ourselves back at the palace. Recognizing it
after only a few minutes, we continued down to the Charles Bridge. That
surrounding area was badly damaged by the flood with the result that many
streets are torn up and buildings are closed. The bridge, though, is fine. It’s
full of vendors and entertainers. We picked up a framed print.
Earlier in our wanderings we spotted some unusual wine glasses
and bought a couple. By the time we were out of the immediate area of the
bridge, it was necessary to stop for beer (Larry) and dessert (Jan). Reinforced,
we went in search of Friday-night opera tickets. Box seats, no less, for Aida!
Finally, we arrived back at our hotel, to discover that while our
bags had been removed from the temporary room, they hadn’t been delivered to the
new, “real” room. So we schlepped them – and of course, the elevator wasn’t
working. We decided to call in the owner’s rep and pay our entire bill, since we
wanted to be rid of the cash and not have to worry.
The new room is very, very nice. A loft bedroom over a main floor
living room, kitchen, entry and bathroom. We’ll check the bed for solidness
before we get into it! Oh yes – before coming to the hotel we did some grocery
shopping, since we have a kitchen. So we schlepped that, too. The grocery store
was in one of the subway access areas, at a place where there is still a lot of
water in the subway. Doesn’t smell great down there!
After a rest we strolled out for dinner at the hotel across the
street, then to the Internet service in our hotel to send off a message to the
family. Now it’s relaxation time. Phew!
Friday, September 20
A lasier day, with all three meals in our “room” – since it has a
kitchen and we’ve found a grocery store (Billa) what could be better? We walked
around Old Town Square again, watching the clock strike 4pm and all the little
animated figures doing their various “things”. We shopped at the street vendors
there and on Charles Bridge, getting a few small gifts and some trinkets for
In the morning we had wandered through an anthropological exhibit
at the Museum, and looked more closely at Wenceslaus Square. That, of course,
was followed by another wild goose chase on public transit. We haven’t mastered
that aspect of Prague yet!
In the evening we dressed in our best and went off to the Prague
National Opera, to see Aida. We had seats in a very good box, and one other guy
was in the same one, with 3 empty seats. He clearly knew more about opera than
we did, though we do both know the Triumphal March well enough to hum it
recognisably. Three people are very crowded in the front of a box, and it’s a
three-hour performance. But really, really impressive and beautiful. The
libretto was on a screen above the stage – in Czech only, of course. Didn’t help
us much, but we read the story in the program ahead of time. Quite thrilling,
and the theatre is beautiful. Dessert afterward in a cellar restaurant. They do
wonderful things with pancakes.
The area around the Opera is all cordoned off and guarded by
police and military carrying impressive weapons. What’s this about? We’ve
noticed barricades at different places around the city and lots of police and
military. No explanation that we know of. Some of it may have to do with the
flood damage. There’s so much repair work and construction going one, and
buildings boarded up. Pumps and driers running ‘round the clock.
Another lovely fall day. The leaves here are turning brown and
yellow, and many have fallen. I’ve been wearing a sweater, but often have tied
around my waist. Larry’s usually in short sleeves.
Today we decided that we had to explore our route to the airport
for Monday. There is an airport shuttle from Namesti Republiky, which is easily
reached by tram from very near where we’re staying. We tried it all out, checked
the schedules and are confident we can do it, as long as we can wake up by 5 am!
Satisfied with that, we visited the tour vendors and arranged for tours for
today and tomorrow. Then we strolled through the Josephov area. That’s the
Jewish area, with many synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is
closed because of flood damage, and it’s Saturday so the synagogues were not
open to the public either. We may have time to go back Sunday.
We tried to climb the powder tower, but I couldn’t do it – too
claustrophobic. So instead we sat in front of the building and surveyed the
activity on the square while we ate a leisurely lunch.
Afterward, we boarded a tour bus for Kutna Hora where we spent
the afternoon. It’s a quiet little city an hour or so away. It was a
silver-mining centre and the country’s official mint. It fell on hard times when
the silver dwindled, so is largely untouched. Steeply winding cobbled, narrow
streets. A wonderful church with a fantastic roof. Many sculptures, and the old
On the way back we stopped at an ossuary. How weird! Human bones
in great pyramids, and turned into chandeliers and wall decorations! We went
inside in spite of our “willies” over the crypt in Vienna.
Back to our room for a quiet, late dinner and restful evening.
Tomorrow is our last day. We are starting to look forward to home.
Having missed the Technology Museum earlier, we went there late
this morning – we had a slow start. It was interesting, but only for an hour or
so. We then found our favourite lunch spot on the terrace in front of the
Municipal Hall and enjoyed the passing scene for a while, before wandering back
to the Josephof area in hope of seeing some of the synagogues. However, it
appears that all are closed, since the crowds all seemed to be on the sidewalk
and no ticket office could be found.
It was time to get a last couple of souvenirs and pack for home.
After that and a brief rest, we headed out in the rain to find our evening tour:
Prague by Night. This consisted of a short narrated bus ride around the chief
attractions followed by a dinner cruise, with a jazz band. If we could have been
out on deck it would have been more interesting. However, we sat alone at a
table with Julia (Yulya) from Moscow. Her English (self-taught!) was very basic,
but we had a good conversation nonetheless. She was in Prague alone, having left
parents, sister, husband and daughter behind. It must be lonely to travel like
that. The food was OK, music very good, and when we braved the rain, the view
from the upper deck was also terrific. Then the walk back through rain-washed
streets from the river to our hotel.
Monday, September 23
As usual, the carousers of our building awakened us with
door-buzzing and talking and laughter around 4:15 or 4:30. Good timing, since we
had to be up and on our way. We left around 5:15, caught the 5:30 #14 tram to
Republic Square, then the airport shuttle at 6:00. We had to line up 4 separate
times: British Consular Services, BA counter, Czech exit and security. That took
a while, but we still had about 30 minutes in the boarding lounge.
On the shuttle we chatted with an Australian woman who was
visiting her daughter. The daughter has been at school in Europe for a year and
is soon leaving for a 4-month stay in Vancouver. They have both obviously
travelled a lot, as Australians seem to.
The flight to London was uneventful. Now we’re sitting at
Heathrow waiting for our gate to be announced. It’s nice to (more or less)
understand the PA announcements. It’s been a terrific holiday, and fuelled my
desire to see more places. The best part, always, is walking the streets,
sitting in the parks and cafés and seeing life go on in a strange place. Grocery
This morning, the 5:30 traffic around Prague was very
interesting. Many of the trams were full and there were quite a few trucks
(garbage, delivery) and pedestrians, but very few cars. Walking near the river,
we saw some buildings with all the stucco off the bottom several feet. We were
told that some parts of the subway will re-open by November, but others not
until January. Some lines are running, but none near the river. Passing anywhere
near the entrances to metro stations, the smell of flood is very strong. Since
most of the stations have shops, etc., there’s still traffic through them, but
much less than usual. Tram lines are running between metro stations, as well as
Since the city has such a non-grid layout – really spokes out
from randomly-distributed squares, navigation is tough. We were lost more than
once. Larry says “not lost” just in the wrong place. However, after a few days
even I got to know our main routes. I think I could master the system in a
couple of weeks.
Pictures - Vienna
ClickPic: Pension Arien
ClickPic: Getting Concert Tickets
ClickPic: The Wachau
ClickPic: St. Stephen's Cathedral
ClickPic: The Opera House
ClickPic: Local heuringer
ClickPic: More Upscale Czech home from the train
ClickPic: Charles Bridge
ClickPic: Technology Museum
Julia (Yulya) from Moscow
Pictures - Vienna
All Pictures - Prague
All Pictures - Prague