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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Austrian Flag AUSTRIA


October 2. VIENNA Our pension came with "breakfast" which really just amounted to bread and jam and tea or coffee.  Breakfast was certainly an under appreciated meal in continental Europe.  Still, at least it was something and got us on our way in the morning and we had a nice chat with a young kiwi couple who were living in London.  With only one full day to spend in Vienna we headed straight for the Hofburg Palace and spent the morning devouring the Amoury.  It was touted as the best museum collection in the world, which is very subjective, but it did contain some exceptional and unique items. The history of the Holy Roman Empire and Hapsburg Dynasty are not easily equaled.  We were a bit skeptical of the slivers of The Cross and the thorn from Christ's crown that were on display but we will never really know, will we?  The last crown of the Holy Roman Empire, crafted in 962, was really impressive and, along with the enormous amethyst and emerald and opals that were on display, was worth the visit alone.  The exhibit featured the crown of the Austrian Empire (1602), a vast collection of crosses and other religious objects, a 500 year old narwhal horn that was once thought to have come from a unicorn, royal christening garments, and the baby carriage for the son of Napolean and Austrian King Ferdinand's daughter.   The audio guide that we were provided gave interesting anecdotes about objects and listening to just part of it kept us there for hours.  One interesting tidbit was about the christening of the royal babies.  Apparently if the child was destined to become King all of the members of the Order of the Fleece had to kiss his little nappies.

Feeling thoroughly musuem-ed out we decided not to see the royal apartments at Hofburg and instead went for lunch at Subway's and then headed over to catch a tour of the Vienna State Opera House.  Built between 1861 and 1869 the opera house was totally destroyed during World War II.  It was rebuilt according to the original plans and reopened in 1955.  Only a few original parts were salvaged during reconstruction.  Home of the Wiener Philharmonkiker, the musical directors have included Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, among others. Mozart's Don Giovanni was first performed in this Opera House and from September 1st through June 30th it runs almost 300 performances, with one every night.  In February they cover the stage and orchestra pit, remove all of the orchestra seating and host the huge Opera Ball, for the coming out of Vienna's finest debutantes.

The tour was very informative but the most interesting part was watching the stage crew setting up the stage for that evening's performance.  They moved quickly and made plenty of noise in the process. We could hardly hear our guide but were distracted with dissecting the layers of sets that were being carefully arranged on the enormous stage.  If only we could have stayed long enough to see a performance... 

After our Opera House tour we took a quick break at Starbucks and continued walking the old town area.  Horse-drawn carriages plied their way around the pedestrian populated center of Vienna, taking tourists on an atmospheric ride through the city.  We'd seen them in Poland as well but the odd thing here was that the didn't clean up after themselves.  It became an annoying pet peeve of ours during our stay.  In such a nice city it seemed incongruous to smell horse dung and have to watch your step as you walked.  After all this was the city of Woflgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Johan Strauss, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, and Otto Wagner!  Some of them probably saw more dung in their day but in modern day Vienna it wasn't a charming historical memory. Of course, it wasn't nearly as bad as the dog poop in Paris, another city with deep cultural roots and a high tolerance for soiled shoes.  Are poop-free streets really too much to expect in first world cities? Apparently not.  Clean it up folks!

If there was one thing to do in Vienna it was to eat deserts.  If we weren't wandering by Sacher's we couldn't avoid the shops selling the yummy Mozart chocolates.  We didn't make it far  before we plopped ourselves into another cafe on Kohlmarkt Street.  Demel was the former purveyor of the Imperial and Royal Court with a 200 year history.  We ate some cakes and sipped our coffee while watching a pasty chef in the windowed kitchen meticulously frost a cake and tile it with alternating white and black chocolate squares. 

At this point we were beginning to waddle from our two days of pasty overload but that didn't stop us from stuffing ourselves with some authentic Vienna schnitzel for dinner.  To set the record straight on Wiener Scnitzel, it has absolutely nothing to do with hotdogs.  Wiener is Austrian for a person from Vienna (Wien) and schnitzel is pounded and breaded veal (or pork) that is lightly fried.  We ate a the (again) famous Figlmüller Restaurant where the diameter of the schnitzel exceeded the size of the plates and certainly our heads as well.  This place was a veritable conveyer belt of schnitzel production.  Nobody left hungry and most left a good portion of their food behind.

Before returning to our pension we decided to investigate the bus options to get to Bratislava the next day.  We grabbed the subway to the station and found that the bus connections weren't very convenient so we would be going by train instead.  In the station we ran into a fellow traveler from Cesky Krumlov, a Japanese guy who stayed at Hostel Merlin.  It is a small travel world.  

To get to Bratislava and on to Budapest in one day meant we needed to get an early start the next morning but a good night's sleep was too much to hope for.  The party crowd had flowed over into our pension and we were kept awake late.

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