Just shy of 3 hours after leaving Salzburg on the train, we arrived in Vienna. Things started off on the right note with a good upgrade at our beautiful hotel, the Le Meridien Vienna. Finally, a real suite – no more of this “junior suite” nonsense. Now, we’re talking.
After settling in at the hotel for a bit, we charged out into the afternoon to explore Vienna.
We started with a walk down the pedestrian plaza Kartner Strasse, past stunning St. Stephen’s Cathedral and toward the Danube River. The plan was to buy tickets on the 9:45am Danube Hydrofoil to Bratislava for the next day and then take the train from Bratislava to Budapest. And it’s a good thing we did go buy tickets early because the 9:45 was already sold out, we had to settle for the 8:30am – more sleep gone.Read More
After a delightful stay in Austria, we got up early this morning for our Danube cruise to Bratislava Slovakia (called the “Twin City” of Vienna). I’d decided to visit Bratislava on the way to Budapest because I’d heard good things about the city’s historic castle and quaint Old Town area and it was an easy stopover between Austria and Hungary.
From Vienna, you can take the train or the hydrofoil to Budapest – each makes a stop in Bratislava. We chose the cruise for the first hop (it was more expensive than the train) and then the train for the longer distance on to Budapest.
The cruise was a terrific way to see the Danube and very scenic the entire way. The hydrofoil boats do go at warp speed so it’s a little uncomfortable to pass the time on the deck with all of the wind. We spent some time on the deck but most of the 90 minutes in the comfort of the glass-enclosed main cabin.Read More
So, it turns out the train route from Bratislava to Budapest is hugely popular with the “backpacker” set. (There was a gigantic music festival going on just outside Budapest this week that may have had something to do with it.)
Now, most of you who are familiar with my travels understand that I do not usually travel in the same circles as the backpackers. I never tried the “backpacking through Europe” thing as a college student but judging from the looks of these folks, I would have hated it. Think dreadlocks, dirty clothes, obscure body piercings, large heavy packs and – apparently – very few opportunities for showers. Ick.
(Simple Disclaimer: If you, yourself, are a backpacker or have family, friends, business associates, Twitter followers, etc who are backpackers, I am sure you are all lovely people and I mean no offense. Perhaps I am just jealous that they are spending their 20’s traveling the world while I spent mine broke, working 80-hour weeks, getting a masters degree and starting a business.)Read More
After another flawless Air Berlin flight (my new favorite European discount airline) from Budapest, we landed in Krakow at 4pm local time. It was a very tourist-friendly airport and we had no trouble catching the free shuttle to the train station and then the very quick and efficient train into the center of town.
When we got off the train, it was easy to get our bearings thanks to plenty of large “you are here” type maps on every corner. (It is my personal belief that all cities should do this…sure would make my life a lot easier!)
After two days spent traipsing around a massive city like Budapest, the quaint, small town of Krakow was a welcome change of pace. It was an easy walk to our hotel, the Sheraton Grand Krakow, and we were delighted to discover another well-stocked club lounge – more free food and drinks (and another great use of Starwood points)!Read More
The next morning we woke up early in Krakow, had breakfast in the lounge and headed down to the lobby to meet our tour bus at 9am. Now, I’m not sure I’ve addressed this subject before on these pages but, in general, I despise group tours. I never, ever do them. I think it’s just my independent streak – I mean, it certainly can’t be that I’m antisocial, right?
In previous travels, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid taking a group tour or even being in the vicinity of one. In China, I hired a car to go to the Great Wall at 7am knowing that tour groups didn’t get there until 9am – I had it all to myself for an hour. In Egypt, I hired an Egyptologist to take me around the pyramids, again avoiding the mass of tour groups and getting some quality alone time with another ancient wonder of the world.
It’s not that there’s anything specifically wrong with tour groups, I know a lot of people enjoy traveling that way and learning the history in each place from a knowledgeable guide – I do see the benefits. I just much prefer to get a book on the place or an audio tour and see it at my own pace. It allows you to focus on the parts that most interest you and skim over the parts that don’t.Read More
To get to Prague from Krakow, we decided to take an overnight train – hotel and transportation in one! Since we are cheap, but not that cheap, we elected to splurge on a 2-person sleeping compartment so at least we could get a little rest without worrying about our belongings (something that is apparently an issue on trains in this area).
And since we both enjoy an evening cocktail, we decided to buy a bottle of wine for the ride. The train departed Krakow at 10:15pm and was scheduled to arrive in Prague at 6:54am. Plenty of time for sleep, we thought! We had no idea what to expect from our sleeping compartment – the last time I slept on a train was in Vietnam and that was a mostly unpleasant experience so I had low expectations.
But we were pleasantly surprised to discover that our little cabin had two bunk beds each with soft pillows and duvet, a little closet and a small vanity with a sink. The bathroom was just next door in the hall. All in all, not bad. Not fancy, but comfortable and certainly very functional.Read More