Saturday, July 19, 2014

Belgium (Bruges, Brussels)

Since we were flying out of Brussels, we had no choice but to end our trip here and we were left with only 2 days! We decided to pick Bruges and Belgium for our visit. I had thought we can spend a couple of hours in Ghent on our way back from Bruges, but we just couldn't leave that town. Bruges takes the crown for being my favorite city from now on!

Here is our brief itinerary:

Day 0: Arrive late night in Brussels
Day 1: Day trip to Bruges. Evening in Brussels
Day 2: Half a day in Brussels. Fly out

We flew out of Brussels airport (BRU). Brussels airlines had really good connections to the US. Getting to airport is also very convenient from the city. Public transport is really well connected. In Belgium, we stayed at the Queen Anne hotel in Brussels and there was nothing wrong with the hotel itself, but the heat and humidity without an air conditioner made us a bit miserable. And it seems, air conditioners are not really common here. 


The most photographed spot
Walking around
We bought a round trip ticket to Bruges from Brussels. We reached Bruges in about an hour or so. We got off the station and picked up a map from the tourist information center. As we started walking towards the town center, we couldn't believe that a town could be so pretty. Cobbled streets, very beautiful European architecture and no crowds. As we walked through the town towards the Grote Markt, we took many many pictures. Everything was just so pretty, right out of a book. I remember saying this to Sumit, "This town is so pretty, look at the streets. Only if there were horse carriages around" And there they were, I could here tuk tuk of the horse shoes! The old town area is itself very small. We walked around for an hour or so, through narrow alleys, in the market. Stopped at one of the burger joints for lunch. Almost 30-40% were chocolate/ice cream shops. Any way, we walked around and got to the most photographed spot in Bruges. Then walked towards the old palace crossing the small bridges. We didn't want to visit any museums or any palaces, we just wanted to walk around the city.

Tuk Tuk
We landed in the Grote Markt square after roaming around. We were thinking whether to do a boat ride or a horse carriage ride and of course we picked the latter. It lasted about 30-40 minutes and our umm, driver?! took us through those small streets lined up by the shops, towards the Begijnhof Convent. Here we got down and strolled for about five minutes in the gardens and lakes with beautiful swans. By the time we got back to the Grote Markt, where we had initially started, the map of the old town was embossed in my memory :D It is such a small town!
Madonna of Bruges
We could have gone to the Hospital of St. John's and a few other churches, but we picked the The Basilica of the Holy Blood for Michelangelo's sculpture and a vial here, which is supposed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ! Well, next pick would have been the St.John's hospital and the chocolate museum. But, we ditched it and decided to shop around. After shopping, we went to a Godiva's store for my Belgian chocolate shake. Initially we had planned to spend half a day here and half a day in Ghent, but we were so mesmerized by Bruges, that we decided to spend the entire day here and head out to Brussels in the evening.
After we got back from our vacation, we watched the movie In Bruges and totally understood why would anyone want to visit this place one more time before they die. The movie is excellent by the way. And I am sure by now you know I am totally in awe of this place.
More: Climb the top of Belfry tower. Visit St. John's hospital, Chocolate Museum and the brewery. Definitely spend at least a couple of days in this pretty town. Here is where you can get all the information.


Manneken Pis
We didn't have much time here. But from whatever time we had on our hands, we walked around the city to see the Manneken Pis. I was looking for it somewhere high up, where as it was tiny tiny statue at a street corner with a flock of tourists taking pictures. From here, we walked towards the Grand Place. Since it was evening and all the buildings had lit up, it was a perfect place to just sit down and take in all the beauty. The square is surrounded by very old buildings of different styles and the square is very lively with singers, musicians, sketch artists and street hawkers. 
Excellent views while walking around
From here we walked toward Mumtaz, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant. It wasn't that great, but the walk gave us some really nice views. We then took a metro back to our hotel. 
Since this was the end of our trip, we decided to just relax, eat and ditch visiting the typical touristy places.
More: We ditched going to the Atomium Park and the Mini Europe which were next on our list, for a few hours of extra sleep. 

What more?

We were short on time in Belgium, but from what I know Antwerp and Ghent are towns which are tourist worthy in their own right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Delft, The Hague)

After Italy, Amsterdam was the only other place that was always on our list. And the reason we booked our tickets from Brussels was only because we wanted to go to Amsterdam. It did live up to the hype and it is a unique town in itself. We also visited a few other towns close by while driving to Rotterdam to board our train to Brussels.

Here is our brief itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Amsterdan around noon. Sightseeing rest of the day.
Day 2: Bike around Amsterdam.
Day 3: Drive to Zaane-Schans --> Utrecht --> The Hague --> Delft --> Rotterdam. Train to Brussels.

Getting in: 

Climbing bunk beds
We took an overnight train from the Prague main station to Amsterdam Central. It was a 15-16 hour journey in a private cabin for two. We had our own personal washbasin and two bunk beds. Very very comfortable and I just relived all my childhood memories of train travels with my parents. Only things I missed were the cutlets and chai. They did serve us boxed breakfasts in the morning, but well cutlets win over croissants any day. Our route from Prague to Amsterdam was through Germany and it had many lakeside tracks and some German city train station stops. It was a whole lot of fun and I highly recommend doing an overnight train trip in Europe :) 

This might help:

  • Rick Steve's city walk and red light district walk are helpful. Since I was bored of listening to him by this time, I usually read the script before I left and marked the route on the map.
  • Bike. Bike. Bike. Amsterdam is a biker's paradise. This is the best and the quickest way to see this beautiful biker friendly city.
  • Google maps to the rescue for public transportation yet again.
  • We got a 48- hour pass to use the public transport. Super convenient and economical.
  • We had to wait to get our tickets to the Van Gogh museum and hence skipped the Rijksmuseum as well. Get your tickets in advance, especially for the Anne Frank Haus.


Day 1

We reached Amsterdam Central station at around 9:30 in the morning. We took our 48 hour day passes and took the tram to our hotel. Our hotel was conveniently located very close to the central station. We realized we wouldn't be able to check in until 3 pm or so, so we freshened up and decided to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Since we hadn't made any advance reservation, we waited for about 30-40 minutes in the queue to get our tickets. But this was one of the better museums I have been to. Very interesting and beautiful paintings. I was amused as to how this guy was obsessed with making his own portraits! Anyhow, once we were done, we headed back to our hotel for a quick nap to energize ourselves for the evening.
Around 6 we left our hotel and took a tram to the central station. From here we just walked till the dam square and spent some time in the beautiful weather looking at people and all the hustle bustle. Then we took a tram to an Indian restaurant, Taj Mahal. After we were done, we took a tram back to the Dam square and decided to visit the Red Light district. I followed the script of the Rick Steve's tour and we stopped at the shop with the famous brownies. It was very crowded though and looking at all the display models was becoming cumbersome while jostling with the people all around you. It took us about a couple of hours to walk the entire area and once we were done, we headed back to our hotel.

Day 2

Tandem biking
We wanted to do the village bike tour, but unfortunately they did not have any tandem bikes. As I am bike challenged, we had no option but to find out a company which offered tandem bikes or tandem bike tours. So, finally, we rented a tandem bike from Rent-a-bike. We got our bike map and decided to bike the city. This was the first time I was tandem-biking and seeing the city on bike. It is so much fun that I would definitely do it all over again. In no time, we were near the Rijksmuseum with the famous "I amsterdam" sign and stopped to take pictures. We skipped visiting the museum as it would have taken a lot of time to get the tickets and visit the museum and biking was so much more fun. From here we biked to the Anne Frank Haus and the Jordan neighborhood. After seeing the long queue at the Anne Frank Haus, we thought we'd come back late in the evening as it is open till 9 pm. So, we biked back to the Dam Square and had lunch at Koh-I-Noor.  
Dam square
From here, we just biked south and figured we were almost out of the main city area as the streets had become wider and there were more cars than bikes! We also saw a couple of bridges open up to let the ships pass. I was excited to have seen that as I was seeing fridge magnets for those all over the city. Next, we were in the Rembrantdplien area where we stopped for pictures. Then we reached the flower market and back to the Dam square on our bikes. Mind you, we got lost and re lost on our bike rides. But it was all the more fun as we were going to totally unexplored areas. 
Boat cruise in the evening
Then we returned our bikes and walked to the Dam square and to the Anne Frank Haus. This place deserves a visit by one and all. It makes you realize what the family went through and it was all real. I still haven't watched the movie, or read the book, but it is on my list now. Getting inside the house took about 45-50 minutes as the queue was very very long, but once inside, it takes another 45 minutes or so. Once done, we walked around and reached the main station and got tickets for a boat ride around the city. Not as much fun as I had thought, but some views were great and got us some nice pictures. 
Bascule Bridge
After the boat ride, we went to a Thai restaurant, Bird Thai and had excellent Thai food. With our tummies full, we decided to catch a live show in the Red Light district. Online suggestions didn't help much and it seemed Casa Rosso was the only choice pretty much. It was exorbitantly expensive, but then you wouldn't wanna miss this when in Amsterdam. So, we got our tickets and the show wasn't fun or titillating or enjoyable. We walked out after 10-15 minutes and headed to our hotel to call it a day and get recharged for the next day. 
Amsterdam was a  lot of fun, but typically touristy.

Day 3

Zaanse Schans Windmills


Forty minutes north of Amsterdam is a small neighborhood of Zaanse Schans. The windmills here make a picture perfect view of Holland for you. Only constraint was that the parking was free was first hour and then you were charged for 24 hours irrespective of how long you stayed. So we made a quick trip to this place and didn't get inside the working windmill. They are old and historic windmills that you wouldn't wanna miss. 


Bell Tower
Utrecht is a small university town about an hour south of Amsterdam. We found street parking just outside the city center and took a bus to the city center. Here we walked in quite neighborhood full of small shops. We ended up at the Dom Church and the tower. By now we had been to so many towers, that we gave this one a miss and decided to have lunch at one of the small restaurants close by. Live music in the street made the atmosphere all the more lively. We ate at Taj Indian restaurant and the food was good. We enjoyed sitting outside in a true European style. Then we walked back to the main bus station and took a bus back to our parking spot. There is one main canal in the city and the bus route was along the canal. It was fun to see people kayaking and tubing in the canal. 


Our next city stop was The Hague. So we parked on the street and decided to explore the city on foot. This was another hour from Utrecht.We walked towards the main square or The Plein, as it is called. The roads were lined up with shops and boutiques and we spent some time shopping here! The square had a statue in the middle and was surrounded by some historic buildings with great architecture. Then we walked around this historic area taking pictures and landed in the Chinatown. From here, we walked toward our car and stopped at mall to shop again. This was one of the bigger cities after Amsterdam that we had stopped at. I am sure there is much more to see, but we had to just get to Brussels that night! 


Delft Old Town
A few minutes away from The Hague, this would be the last city on our list as we were running out of time. This is also a small town full of canals. Since it is much smaller and less popular, this place was truly fun because of less crowds. Since parking is limited and restricted only to parking lots, we took about 30 minutes just following the directions and getting to a parking lot. Anyhow, when we finally managed to park and get out, we had landed right in the middle of the city. We were in the pedestrian only market area close to the old church. We walked along the canals, explored some shops and took a lot of pictures. We had parked very close to the Old church, but it was closed I think and we couldn't get in. By the time we were done walking around, we got hungry! We ate at Pure Funky Burgers and I highly highly recommend this place. The best veggie burgers I have ever had. Do not miss them. We got back to our car from here and headed to our next city, Rotterdam.

Mini Amsterdam

Getting out:

We drove to the Rotterdam airport from Delft. Returned our car and took the bus to the central train station. We reached pretty late around 8 30 pm or so. There wasn't anytime to explore the city so we headed straight to the ticket counter. These were the only inter city tickets we hadn't bought and as Murphy says, if there is anything that can go wrong, it will. The ticket counter was taking horrendously long time to service the customers, so we decided to buy the ticket online and to our surprise the last train to Brussels was at 9 pm and it was already 8 50 or so. There was one train change at Roosendaal which gave us only 3 minutes, but we were hopeful of using our running skills and making the connections. Anyhow, we bought the tickets and ran towards the platform. The screen showed next train to Roosendaal from platform number 6 and we got on to the train. While on the train we realized that this train would never make it to Roosendaal on time, in fact it would take 30 more minutes. Confused we asked the staff and they told us there were two trains to Roosendaal. A quick transfer plane on platform 7 and a slow transfer plane on platform 6. We didn't read the screen after platform 6 -Roosendaal. So, we were on the wrong train. This meant waiting till 5 am for the next train from Roosendaal to Brussels. 
So we got off at the train station and went the Best Western right outside the station. Here the receptionist suggested we take a cab to Brussels which would take less than two hours. We liked the idea and decided to take the cab and there we were, late, very late in fact and very very tired, but in Brussels, finally!


  • Volendam is a good area for a day trip. Here you can visit the cheese factory and the shoe factory. But we skipped it as we had to go south towards Rotterdam instead.
  • Rotterdam is a big city and is a good place to spend a day or so I felt, but we didn't and left for Belgium in the evening.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Czech Republic (Prague, Cesky Krumlov)

On our long Europe holiday which we were starting in Italy and were going to Austria next, we were thinking where to go after Austria. Our final destination was Brussels since we had to fly out of there and we wanted to go to Amsterdam as well, so we had to pick either Germany or Czech Republic. We dropped Germany as it needs more time and we decided to visit it later. So here we were, heading out from Austria and going to Czech.

Here is out brief itinerary:

Day 0: Train: Vienna --> Prague
Day 1: Day trip to Cesky Krumlov
Day 2: Sightseeing in Prague
Day 3: Full day in Prague. Overnight train: Prague --> Amsterdam

Czech Republic isn't as developed as other European countries, but is charming and beautiful. They have their own currency, Czech Koruna, but are under the Schengen visa agreement. This place has a somewhat Russian feel to it, well, I have never been to Russia, but I felt so.

This might be of some help:

  • Rick Steve's walk through old town is a pretty good guide to walk around.
  • Check the days on which certain castles, museums are closed. We luckily did so, else would have missed Cesky Krumlov.
  • Best Indian and Thai food on my Europe trip was in Prague.
  • Take a day pass for local transport. The old town is pretty much walk-able though.
  • Google Maps are an excellent resource for figuring out public transport connections.

Day 0

Old Town
We arrived late around midnight. We had booked our K&K Fenix hotel through hotwire and it was pretty good. It was right in the middle of Old Town and a very short distance from the main train station, Praha hlavní nádraží. On our way, we saw a 24-hour Indian grocery shop which we explored later ;) Anyway, we reached our hotel and I luckily looked up online for day tours to Cesky Krumlov and it turned out that the tours don't happen on Monday, so we had only the next day as an option. We quickly booked out tour. I usually never take tours and such and prefer DIY trips, but driving in Czech was not recommended and public transport wasn't very convenient either with a few train changes and long connections. So, we crashed for the night ready to explore Cesky Krumlov the next day. 

Day 1


Cesky Krumlov
That's the bell tower in the background
We booked a day tour with a local sightseeing company. We left at 9 am and it took us about three hours to get to Cesky Krumlov. It was a very cute little small town with a small castle. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We took the tour of the castle and it wasn't as great as any of the palaces in Vienna, but still good enough to deserve a visit. The town was very pretty. Situated on the banks of Vltava river, the architecture is amazing and there are small shops that line up the streets. We strolled around the town and listened to some excellent local singers performing on the streets. Some crepes looked delicious, but we had to skip those, sadly. There was a bell tower next to the castle and we climbed up the stairs to get a view of the city from the top. The red-roofed houses and shops, along with the winding Vltava river made for a great view. 
Some people indulged in kayaking and rafting in the Vltava river as well, but we were tied to the tour and couldn't. Overall, I just felt that this tiny town was very different than all the other cities and town we had visited so far and the street artists and singer here were far better than I had seen anywhere else. Also, the famous Budweiser beer comes from a small town called Cesky Budweis, or so it is believed. I saw a lot of people trying the local beer here.

The central plaza

We returned around 7 pm or so and headed straight to the Lal Qila Indian restaurant, walking distance from our hotel. Superb find. Five stars. We ordered dal makhni and naan, with salty lassi. After we were done, we wanted to reach our hotels asap to watch the FIFA world cup final. On our walk back, we saw a lot of sports bars and clubs with big screens and flooded with people. The atmosphere was very exciting. We reached our hotel and watched Germany lift the world cup in a truly deserving win. Prague looks beautiful at night, when all the buildings light up. Definitely worth a long walk.

Day 2


St. Vitus Cathedral
Our morning started with a 8 mile run along the Vltava river. It was  a great way to see the city. It got us out of the old town area and we were running along the river in a more residential area. The weather was perfect and it was a great way to see the city and to start your day. After our run, we lost our way back to the hotel and then after a few missed turns and asking around, we finally made it to our hotel just in time to stuff ourselves with some breakfast. 
Old Town Square
Now it was time to get ready and head towards the Prague castle. It is still the official residence and office of the Czech President. The queue for tickets was long, but we got tickets for 2 pm tour of the Vitus Cathedral. It may be worthwhile to get your tickets online beforehand.  Cathedral itself boasts of some great history and its Gothic architecture is very impressive. The cathedral was half built in Gothic style for many centuries and then the other half was finished in Baroque style. It is really beautiful inside. It is a working cathedral even though majority of the Czech population doesn't follow any religion. The Prague castle is huge and very majestic. We walked around the castle for a bit and took in some great views of the city from here. After spending about a couple of hours here, we took tram back to the old town. While hunting for lunch, we saw a Thai restaurant, Buddha Bar and decided to have lunch. Again, excellent Thai food. We ordered panang curry and basil fried rice.
Powder Tower
Astronomical Clock
It was around 5 pm and the weather was pleasant. We decided to take Rick Steve's walking tour of the old town. We walked around and saw the Astronomical clock, old town square, Powder Tower and other touristy stuff. The powder tower is one of the gates of the old city and it stands in striking contrast with all the other surrounding modern architecture. And it is called so because it was used to store gun powder. As far as astronomical clock goes, well, I couldn't figure out how it works, but it looked pretty complicated and all the tiny statues next to the dial have some significance, which I don't remember anymore.
The old town square was a perfect place to relax. You could see a lot of significant structures from here. We didn't step inside, but the Gothic Tyn Church is also quite popular. The square is centered around a very interesting statue of Jan Hus. From here we walked through narrow winding streets full of people and ended up at the Charles bridge. What beauty! It is a very old pedestrian only bridge. Close to the tower end of the bridge is the statue of Charles IV who was one of the great emperors of Czech and he was the founder of the famous Charles University. His statue is surrounded by four ladies symbolizing four subjects, arts, medicine, law and theology.
Making a wish with St. John

On the bridge, we went to the St. John's statue and made a wish, now I don't remember what it was., but a lot of people do so. There is a very interesting folktale associated with it. Look it up online. Then we decided to the climb the Charles tower and enjoy some views of the city. Also,don't miss the dancing building while you are walking around the city.
We got tickets for our evening boat ride on the Vltava river and decided to have dinner before that. So, we went straight to Lal Qila again and had sumptuous desi meal before taking a tram to the pier for our cruise.

Our cruise boat was really bad. Filled with spiders. So we had no choice but to stand outside on the deck and enjoy the views. The view were great , nevertheless. One thing I noticed in Prague was that there are spiders everywhere. All the statues, bridges, boats, castles had huge cobwebs. Anyhow, after taking some good pictures of the city at night, we headed back to our hotel to call it a day. Walking around the old town at night was fun too. Beautifully lit buildings, especially along the Vltava river, made for some great views.
Views from the cruise ship
The city of spiders

Day 3

Prague from the Petrin Tower
We had decided to visit Kutna Hora on this day. But we realized it might be too rushed, given we had to board the 6 pm train to Amsterdam and more importantly, we got lazy.
The mirror maze
We took a tram to the Petrin Tower. Google maps to the rescue again. It is like a mini Eiffel tower. You have to take funicular up to the base of the tower and that is included in your public transport day pass. We climbed up the tower for some amazing views of the city. We could see the old town as well as the castle and the monastery form here. Took some nice panoramic pictures and took a stroll in the gardens. Very well kept and all the tree shade was a relief from the hot and scorching sun. There was a mirror maze close by and it was nice but very small. Wasn't a maze either, just one passage. I would have been more excited had it been like Jantar Mantar and I would have had to find my way out of there. But I guess they wanted to keep things simple for kids.

We got back and for lunch we tried a new Indian restaurant, Bombay Express. Quick and good food. I don't remember what we ordered but it was nice. After this, we whiled away our time at a coffee shop and strolled in the streets of the old town. Very busy market full of people.
By evening, it was time to pack our bags and head out to the main station for our train to Amsterdam. It was an overnight journey and we had booked our private AC I cabin. It had a couple of bunk beds and a private wash basin. It was very comfortable and it was the highlight of our trip. Plus the washrooms were very neat and clean. Only thing was that till they turned on the air conditioners, it had become so stuffy and hot, that all the men in our bogie were shirtless. I am not complaining, lol.

What more?

  • We wanted to visit Kutna Hora on Day 3, but since we hadn't really planned it earlier, we ditched it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Austria (Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Melk)

Now that we knew our first destination on our three week trip was going to be Italy and the last one was going to be Belgium, we had plenty of choice on how to get there. But, we didn't want to go to south France or Switzerland, so the next choice was Austria! And it turned out to be my favorite one!

Here is our brief itinerary:

Day 1: Bus: Venice --> Klagenfurt. Drive: Klagenfurt--> Salzburg via High Alpine Road
Day 2: Sightseeing Salzburg
Day 3: Drive: Salzburg --> Hallstatt --> Vienna
Day 4: Sightseeing Vienna
Day 5: Half day trip to Melk Abbey. Train: Vienna --> Prague

This itinerary is a part of much longer 3 week trip to Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Holland and Belgium. I'll be updating the blog for other countries soon, or I might have already updated a few of them. Look at the left index for the blogs.

There is a lot to do and see in Austria. Three major cities, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna. We chose to see only Salzburg and Vienna as Innsbruck was quite west and wouldn't have fit our schedule. Hence, we decided to make these two cities our base and take day trips from here.

Useful pointers:
  • Austria has amazing public transport. We bought our 2 or 3 day pass and it was super convenient for local transport in the respective cities. 
  • For inter city travel, you can book using the OBB website. Remember to print your tickets and carry them with you.
  • Rick Steve's audio guides, mostly his city walks for Salzburg and Vienna were very informative. I either listened to his tour, or sometimes read the text before I wandered in the streets.
  • All the shops, except restaurants and bars will close at 6 pm, sharp! So, be mindful of that while planning your day.
  • We drove in Austria and I am glad we did. Their tunnels and bridges are engineering marvels and I think it is well explored by driving around.
  • There are plenty of websites to help you look for things to do in Austria. I got recommended JenReviews website. 

Day 1

We took a bus from Venice to Klagenfurt and this was the most beautiful drive ever. Majestic green valleys and winding rivers, just absolutely gorgeous. These were the Italian Alps. It took us about 3-4 hours. Now, we could have gotten down in Villach in Austria and rented a car from there, but unaware of this possibility, we took the bus right up to Klagenfurt, a small town east of Villach and rented a car from the Klagenfurt airport. 


Klagenfurt old town center
Our bus dropped us at the Klagenfurt hbf. We took a train to the Klagenfurt airport. Here, we rented a car to drive to Salzburg. We decided to stop by at the Old Town center in Klagenfurt for lunch. It is a quaint little town with a very European charm to it. We walked around and decided to have lunch at a Pizzeria. Tasty pizzas with a bottle of coke. Perfect. We spent about a couple of hours wandering about before we finally left for Salzburg. 
On our way to Salzburg we had planned to drive through the Grossglockner High Alpine Road after reading really rave reviews about it. The drive from Klagenfurt to Salzburg was anyway very beautiful. Austria looks and feels a lot like Switzerland, just less commercialized and less crowded. This was our planned route. Sadly, the weather deteriorated and we called to check if the road was still open for driving and it wasn't. So we had to skip this and head straight to Salzburg.


We reached Salzburg airport in the evening and dropped off our car. Then, we took a bus to our hotel. On our way, we were tired and dozed off on the bus. And at one of the red light stops, we saw an Indian restaurant. We were so hungry and tired, we just got off the next stop and headed towards the restaurant. After a not so good meal at Maharaja restaurant, we walked towards our hotel. We were staying at the NH Salzburg hotel and it was quite good.

Day 2

Our big bright red umbrella and Residenzplatz
This was the day assigned for sightseeing Salzburg. We got up around 8 am and got the Salzburg Card from our hotel's reception. It proved to be quite economical for us. Salzburg has many attractions to see and the city center is totally accessible on foot, but be ready to walk. Here is a good one day itinerary. We picked up coffee and croissants for our breakfast at a newly opened cafe close to our hotel.
Salzburg Cathedral
We headed straight to the HohenSalzburg Castle. Our Salzburg card included the ride up the funicular and the entry fees. We spent some time at the castle and took the tour. Some amazing 360 degree views of Salzburg and the Wolfgangsee river from the castle. After we got down, we strolled around the area and listened to Rick Steve's city walk.
Trick fountains at Hellbrunn Palace
The best way to walk around the city is to just walk from one platz(square) to the other. They are sort of arranged in a zig-zag manner. We visited the Monastery, Salzburg cathedral and Mozart's house where he was born and grew up. We also stopped by the giant fountain, the chess board and Mozartplatz. We stopped by at a a bakery in AlterMarkt for lunch. There was a farmer's market close by and it made for a good stroll. Getreidegasse is good street to just stroll around and shop.
We decided to go see Hellbrunn Palace and the trick fountains. We took the bus #170 to the palace. The palace was good, but having seen some great architecture in Italy, this wasn't much impressive. We took the 5 pm trick fountain tour, this was fun. The fountains are really camouflaged you can't figure when and where they'll start squirting water. This was a lot of fun. We strolled trough the gardens and stopped by the legendary Sound of Music glass room.
Mozart's birthplace
Then we took the bus #170 back to the city center and walked to Mozart's residence in his later years. Not as impressive as his birth house, but well we had time. We skipped the Mirabell gardens though. The weather was amazing and walking around this city is the best thing to do. For dinner, we picked the Taj Indian restaurant close to our hotel and it was a good choice. Food was excellent and very filling. We retired for the night in our hotel to watch the Brazil-Germany semifinal of the FIFA world cup.
Tip: Salzburg is a very pretty city and beautiful landscapes. It is worth spending a few days here and going for day hikes and excursions in the nearby cities. Water sports close to the Wolfgangsee river and hiking in the alps would be on my list next time.

Day 3

Valley views
Our plan was to drive from Salzburg to Vienna on this day with some stop overs. The roads, tunnels and bridges are sheer engineering brilliance. The first thing to do was to rent a car, so we went to the airport, picked up our car and headed to our first stop, the Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves. Since photography is not allowed inside, you might want to see the website for some great pictures. To get here, we had to first drive up to the base station. It was an uphill curvy drive which offered some great panoramic views of the valley. After we reached, we got our tickets for the cable car and the entrance. To get to the cable car, we had to hike a bit uphill and then get in the queue for the ride up. After we got down, there was another uphill hike to get to the entrance of the caves. This was about a mile long hike and the elevation was quite a bit. I needed my jacket. Once at the entrance, we had to wait for the English tour which started after about 30 minutes. It was a 70 minute long tour. Once inside the caves, I started feeling really cold and after about twenty minutes or so, my feet went numb. I couldn't feel my fingers and decided to get out. I followed another tour guide who was leading his group out of the caves. The caves are completely dark and you need a lantern to guide yourself inside the caves. Sumit went ahead with the rest of the group. I am glad I got out, as I was wearing bad shoes and a jacket which was not at all sufficient for the ice cold temperatures inside. But for what I saw in those 20 minutes, they were magnificent and I wish I was properly dressed.

Hike up to the caves

Now that this visit to the caves took quite a bit of our time, we decided to skip going to Lake Fuschlsee and Mauthausen and head straight to Hallstatt.
Spot the winding trolley path
As we headed through the picturesque valleys towards Hallstatt, we decided to stop by at one of the valleys where we saw some kids coming down the slopes on a small car like trolley on a winding track. This is what it looks like: trolley fun Basically, you take gondola up to the peak and then, get on to this small single seat car-like thing with wheels on the bottom which go on a track. You can accelerate to decelerate it. It was super duper fun and we wanted to do it again and again, but sadly we were running out of time and had to get to Vienna in time. The place where we stopped is Abtenau Karkogel.


So, we drove further up to Hallstatt. Cars are not allowed inside this small town and there are three parking garages. We parked at one of the garages and headed towards the town. We took a walk through their main street and took plenty of pictures. It is a small town and you can walk across the town in just 30-40 minutes. The landscape is as if it is right out of a postcard. Then we got some delicious burgers from a stall and decided to drive straight to Vienna. Here we had a choice to drive via Linz or Graz and we chose to drive via Graz for no particular reason. The drive was pretty and we made it to Vienna airport around 9 pm and dropped off our car. We were staying with Sumit's cousin for the night and it was time to do our laundry!
Tip: There is another set of ice caves, Dachstein ice caves, close to Hallstatt, so you can pick which ones to see. We didn't have time to stop by at nearby lakes and salt mines, but they might make for good day trips. I read that Linz is also a pretty little town worth a visit.

Day 4


Walking through Karnerstrasse
This was the day assigned for walking around in Vienna. It was raining which made the weather pleasant, but also a little inconvenient. Anyway, we had our rain jackets and a big bright red umbrella with us. We followed Rick Steve's directions and walked across the town for an hour, before we took a break at the Stephen's cathedral and spent some time walking around. Definitely stop by Cafe Korb to see the lovely cute dresses of the waiters and waitresses. This gothic style cathedral is pretty and has a lot of history to it, which Rick Steve's happily shares with you. Then we decided to head check in our hotel and take a break. We were staying at Mercure Wien hotel and the rooms were very pretty. It was little out side the city center, but we had our 48 hour Vienna pass which was super duper helpful and convenient for taking all the public transport.
Inside St. Stephens Cathedral
After a short lunch, we headed to the Schonbrunn Palace. We took their Imperial tour and I really enjoyed it. After Italy, this was the only palace that interested me. I enjoyed reading and learning about their Queen Sisi and her obsession with her weight in particular. What a crazy woman! Now the rains had died down, so we headed back to the city center and completed our city walk. Walking through Karnerstrasse was really enjoyable. We ended our tour with a slice of chocolate cake from the very famous Demel bakery. The best chocolate cake in Sumit's opinion. For me, I still prefer the chocolate cake from Hot Millions in Chandigarh ;) Vienna's Naschmarkt also makes for a good stroll.
I had initially wanted to go visit the Spanish riding school and catch one of their shows, but then I happened to see some videos on YouTube and realized it wasn't worth it. Now we were hunting for dinner and we stumbled upon this restaurant on yelp, Mughal Darbar and it was really good. With our tummies full, we retired for the night, wondering what to do tomorrow before we leave for Prague. Here is a good two day itinerary for Vienna.
Demel's chocolate cake

Day 5


Melk Abbey
We had two options for our Day 5 in Austria. Either, we could go visit some museum, or go to Melk, which we skipped as we chose drive via Graz and not Linz. We chose the later after reading some rave reviews about the city and Wachau valley. We booked our tickets online for a direct train to Melk and also for our return. The OBB site offers you a combined fare for the return journey and the entry ticket to Melk Abbey. We left at 9 am for our train ride to Melk. It took us about an hour and a half to get to Melk. Once we reached the station, there were clear directions for the Melk Abbey. We were just in time to take the English tour at 10:55 am. The other English tour is offered at 2:55 pm and would have been too late for us. The abbey itself is pretty and stands tall by the banks of Danube river. We strolled through the corridors and ended our tour at the church, which had some great woodwork and gold ornaments.
After we exited the abbey we strolled through their gardens and then walked through the narrow alleys of this small town to reach the banks of the river. We saw many cruise ships leaving for and arriving from Krems. We wanted to hike along the river, but didn't have time to do so. So we walked back to the town center and had Italian lunch at one of the local restaurants before boarding our train back to Vienna. I wish we could take the cruise, visit Krems and bike along the river. But well, we got to leave something for the next time.
View from the Melk Abbey
After reaching Vienna, we picked our bags from the hotel and left for the station to board our train to Prague! We bid adieu to Austria with a heavy heat, wanting to spend more time in this beautiful country, and making a promise to ourselves to come back some other time.
Tip: An ideal trip to Melk Abbey would include taking a train to Melk city, visiting Melk Abbey and taking Danube river cruise to Krems through Wachau valley. Then you could tour Krems and take a train ride back to Vienna. We couldn't do it since we were short on time.

What More?

  • We skipped visiting Innsbruck on this trip as it was a little out of our way and decided to visit it on our next trip
  • Biking along the Danube river from Melk to Krems via Wachau valley.
  • Water sports and hiking along Wolfgangsee river.