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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Opera House, Vienna, Austria
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 8,192,880 Area: 83,870 sq km Gov't: Federal Republic Religion: 73.6% Roman Catholic, 4.7% Protestant, 4.2% Muslim View Map
Opera House, Vienna, Austria, October 2, 2003  

Austrian Flag AUSTRIA


October 1. VIENNA  (Austria doesn't actually fall within the Visegrad region but for the convenience of this journal we are including it here.)  Catching the 6am bus to Cesky Budejovice felt very early indeed.  We hiked over to the local bus station in the dark.  The bus station didn't look alive but as we wandered around looking for the right bus we noticed a bus or two coming and going.  We inadvertently caught the slow bus to C. Budejovice instead of the express and when we realized this we worried that we might miss our connecting bus but the distance wasn't far enough to really matter.  We had less time to transfer but it was still fairly painless.  Another few hours along we had another transfer to catch the bus en route from Prague to Vienna.  The ticket agent at out of the way station didn't speak any English and it took a couple of exchanges before I realized that she needed our passports to book the ticket, since it was an international route.   It was a cold wait for our last bus but it arrived on time and we were finally off to Vienna.   

We arrived in Vienna around two in the afternoon.  The border crossing has been a non event.  We were impressed with Vienna as soon as we drove into the city but since Austria wasn't covered in our Eastern European guidebook we weren't sure what we were going to see. Some Internet print outs that we got in Krumlov gave us only a superficial look at the sights.  We expected to roll into a bus station and find a handy tourist information office but we were wrong.  For the first time in our bus riding experience the bus didn't terminate at any kind of station, it just ended next to the university in downtown Vienna.  There was only a bus stop sign and that was it.  We watched a few fellow backpackers get off the bus and head in different directions and it was our luck that a solo Australian traveler  lingered around and let us tag along with him to the city's West train station.  He was going to a hostel in that neighborhood and we were hoping for a tourist office at the train station. 

The train station didn't let us down.  We found our tourist information center.  It wasn't flowing with free information but offered a hotel booking service and a small Vienna guidebook for a few Euros.  For a fee a stuffy little man behind the counter, that seemed like more of a caricature than a real person, found us an inexpensive pension not far from the station.  We preferred that to the hostel as we were still leery of the party crowd.   The man very curtly provided us with directions and waived us off.  When I asked if there were a Citibank in Vienna he looked at me with a shocked face and replied that they just had German banks in Vienna.  (Well, excuuuuse me.) He was put out to tell us which train station had trains departing for Bratislava, Slovakia and looked downright appalled at having to discuss the option of bus travel.  He didn't even know where the bus station was! His directions to the pension were crappy as well but we were at least pleased when we finally found it.  The construction across the street was an initial worry but the double-paned glass windows solved that problem for us.  We had an enormous room with a double bed and a single.  The room had a sink with a shared toilet and shower in the hallway.  It was all immaculate and in perfect condition.

After settling into the pension we set off to see some of central Vienna, taking the subway to the Opera House. (We found the nearby tourist information - only marginally more friendly than the guy at West Station but they at least knew where the bus station was located.)  At the start of Kärtner Strasse, Vienna's most fashionable shopping street just behind the Opera House, we treated ourselves to a Sacher Torte at the famous Sacher Cafe (across from a Starbucks!).  The Sacher Torte is, in fact the world's best and most famous torte, created by a young Franz Sacher in 1832 and still a secret recipe.  If you didn't already know that it was proudly noted in the tourist guidebook.  The Sacher cafe was a zoo and we had to stalk a table to get a seat.  Our waiter, John from Scotland, brought us two slices of Sacher torte and two coffees.  The dark chocolate torte with raspberry was delicious.  For a small ransom you could even have one air mailed home.   

We strolled down Kärtner Strasse, past a collection of fine stores (and a McDonald's) to St. Stephen's Cathedral.  The facades of the old buildings were nicely maintained but many of the storefronts had been modernized giving the street a mixed look of old and new.  The 13th century Romanesque cathedral, rebuilt in Gothic style in 14th and 16th centuries, stood in a spacious square at the end of the street.  It was full of milling people, cafe seating, street entertainers, and touts dressed like Mozart who were trying to interest people in a classical concert.  From the clock we just wandered the nearby area of more classy shopping and cafes.  Our walk took us over to get a night view of the opulent Hofburg Palace, residence of Habsburgs and seat of the Holy Roman Empire until 1918.  We wound back around as far as the Anker Clock, an Art Nouveau clock from 1911, and found ourselves back by St. Stephen's once again.  A quick and inexpensive pasta restaurant caught our attention across from the cathedral so we stopped in for dinner before heading back to the pension.

POLAND Warsaw Sept 16-17 Krakow Sept 18 Sept 19 Sept 20 Sept 21-22

CZECH REPUBLIC Prague Sept 23 Sept 24-25 Cesky Krumlov Sept 26 Sept 27-30

AUSTRIA Vienna Oct 1 Oct 2

HUNGARY Budapest Oct 3 Oct 4 Oct 5-6