This is the diary of a 15-day trip to Vienna which started on the morning of 8th September 2012 and ended on 22 September 2012. The main purpose was to go to Vienna for a reunion of Jane's colleagues from her days in IBM in a group called the International Operations Support Centre.
This was the fourth reunion.
Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps. If you just want to see all the photos as a slide show click here.
It's Jane's birthday so, as we are leaving at 7:30am, Jane opened her cards and presents yesterday evening. We drive to the channel shuttle. Stephen and Sophie sing Happy Birthday to Jane. Emma, Robin and the grandsons do likewise a little later. We arrive at Folkstone and realise we hadn't stopped at the Oakdene Cafe so we have a cheeseburger at the terminal. We arrive in France and drive in the direction of Rheims. On the way we stop for a bite to eat. We drive further and enter the village of Ambonnay in the Champagne district. The hotel we stayed at with Graham's mother 35 years ago no longer exists. We drive to the nearest hotel, ten miles away, but there are no rooms so we tour Epernay unable to find any rooms. We drive towards Chalons-en-Champagne and stop at an auberge and learn that there is a fair in Chalons and all rooms are taken. We drive to Verdun and book into the La Cloche D'Or (more...). We have a meal and retire to bed.
We get up and have a typical French breakfast. The sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky. We walk along the Quai de Londres and then climb gradually up to the Centre Mondial de la Paix (more...) which is situated in a grand building which started out as the Episcopal Palace. We tour the building and walk back down the hill to our hotel. We drive to Douaumont to visit the ossuary (more...). It is a huge long building with a tower sprouting from its centre. The bones of many World War I casualties are entombed in its basement. We watch a black and white film explaining the building of the ossuary. Next we visit Fort Douaumont (more...) and climb to its top from where we can see for miles. We return to Verdun through the woods where trenches still exist. Many villages were destroyed during WWI but are now marked by ruins or chapels. We have a late lunch on the Quai de Londres. As it is a Sunday there are no staff at the hotel so the evening meal is cooked by the owner.
It's another bright day. We leave and return to the A4 autoroute. We drive to Strasbourg and cross the Rhine at Strasbourg. We leave the autoroute and go on a scenic tour taking in Baden-Baden. We lunch in a pretty village and practice our German. We drive to Herrenberg where Jane had stayed whilst working at IBM, Stuttgart. She remembered it as a pretty town with an onion-topped church. The hotel she stayed in no longer exists so we stay at the Hasen Gasthof (more...). Our room is different from the usual rooms in hotels. It is on two floors. On the entry floor is a bathroom, settee and desk with chair. Upstairs is the double bed and television. We have free Wi-Fi as we've paid full price for the room. We eat in the restaurant. Wine in Germany is often sold in caraffes as a portion of a litre. We have half a litre of local red wine.
We join the autobahn just south of Stuttgart and drive to Regensberg. Near Regensberg we notice that there are acres and acres of solar panels all arranged about two feet off the ground. In the centre of Regenberg we find we are driving in a pedestrian area. Regensberg is a very old walled city and its centre is mainly a pedestrian area. It was deliberately not bombed during WWII. It is very embarrassing driving around the pedestrian area until we realise other cars are doing likewise. We are searching for the Roter Hahn hotel (more...). We stop and ask where it is. A young man hops in the car and guides us to it as it is not far away but difficult to get to as there are many one-way streets. We book in and go to explore the town. The cathedral is large and interesting with many colourful stained-glass windows. There is a very old stone bridge (c1160) (more...) which spans the Danube. We return to the hotel. The ceiling of the room is painted with an interesting feature. We eat in the restaurant. It's mushroom season so there are plenty of menu items containing mushrooms like pfifferlinge (chanterelles) and steinpilz (boletus).
It's raining and miserably grey outside. We check out and head for the autobahn towards Munich. It's not pleasant driving in torrential rain. We arrive at Bechtesgaden at the beginning of the afternoon and try a hotel mentioned in the Lonely Planet but it does not have a restaurant and Jane doesn't want to drive at night. We see a sign to the Intercontinental Resort hotel (more...) and drive up the Alpine foothills to it. They have a room which will cost us dearly but it's raining and Jane says it can be a birthday present for her from Graham. While Jane visits the spa and has a massage Graham reads his book. It's still raining and there is snow on the mountain tops. Graham is reading 'Berlin Diaries 1940-1945' written by a white Russian princess (more...) and describes her (Missie's) work in the German foreign office during the war and later as a nurse based in Vienna. It is fascinating. In the evening we have a very enjoyable meal.
It is still raining as we drive down the mountain towards Salzburg. We stop at a garage just inside Austria and fill up with petrol and purchase an 8 euro vignette which permits us to drive on the Austrian autobahns. The rain continues so we find the A1 autobahn and drive along it for a few miles before turning off it to join a road which takes us on a scenic journey to Bad Ischl. We take a room in the Hubertushof hotel (more...) close to the town centre and have lunch in its cafe. The hotel is like a rabbit warren. We borrow a hotel umbrella and walk around the town in the drizzle. We eat our evening meal in the restaurant and retire to bed.
The rain has stopped. We drive in the sunshine to Hallstatt (more...). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can visit its salt mine by taking a steep funicular train ride up a mountain side. We opt to walk along the lake to the old town. It is beautiful. Apparently a load of Chinese visited it and took photographs of all the buildings so that they could build a replica in China (more...). We walk back to the car and drive along more scenic routes to Mariazell (more...). We book a room in the hotel Grazerhof (more...). The church in the town centre is very large and has hosted the Pope. It is very curious that on a Friday afternoon service would be conducted in English. No one at the hotel can explain why. We eat our evening meal in the hotel. The manageress is dressed in a traditional Austrian costume including a dirndl.
We drive towards Vienna along a scenic route suggested by the hotel. On the way we make a detour to Eisenstadt where Graham had given a paper at a conference several years ago. It is a picturesque town and full of tourists. On the way to Vienna we buy two rolls filled with ham cordon bleu in a Spar supermarket and eat them by the side of the road. Vienna is encircled by motorways which we manage to negotiate and make our way to the Pension Suzanne (more...) which is fifty metres from the Opera House. With luck we park within a few paces of the hotel. Parking in the street is free till 9am on Monday. Pension Suzanne is an eight storey block of flats of which most have been converted to hotel bedrooms. Because we have arrived a day early we have been allocated a small room on the seventh floor. The lift is not working. Alex helps us by carrying our luggage up to our room. Whilst moving in we meet Jaap and Roeline who have just driven from near Toulouse in France. We arrange to meet at 6pm to join them for an evening meal. Graham wanders off to find some beer and water which he finds at the Billa supermarket which is not far away. At 6pm we meet Jaap, Roeline and Eva who has made all the arrangements for the Viennese reunion. Jaap's car is now parked outside the entrance to the hotel. We walk along the pedestrian street and dine at the Cafe Frauenhuber (more...) where Jane has fish and Graham has the Viennese speciality of boiled beef and carrots.
We eat breakfast on the first floor and prepare our luggage so that it can be moved to our new larger pre-booked room on the second floor. We wander the streets of Vienna, viewing St Stephen's cathedral and the Greek Orthodox church. At 5pm we meet up with the others who form the reunion, Bill and Joan (from Atlanta), Don and Slava (from Toronto), Larry and Betty (from Vancouver), Henk and Mieke (from Amsterdam). There are thirteen of us. We meet at 6pm to go for a walk. We visit the church of St Augustine where the hearts of the Austrian monarchs are stored in jars. The royal family was separated from the hoi polloi by being present behind glass-fronted boxes which overlook the choirs stalls. At the entrance to the Hofburg Palace we come across a procession which is being filmed. Apparently it is a celebration of St Mary whose day it is. The cardinal, who has two children, is accompanied by other church officials. The procession started at St Stephan's Cathedral and will end at the church we have just visited. We dine at restaurant Figlmueller (more...) whose speciality is Wiener Schnitzl made from veal or pork. Graham has the pork version which covers the whole of his plate. Jane opts for the sweatbreads. Henk is disappointed as he wants lobster (VBG). Since we have to pay for parking during the week we arrange it with the hotel. It costs €4.10 per day for a Tagespauschalkarte which we display in the car. It lasts from 9am to 10pm.
We meet at 9am by the Opera House where we clamber on to a coach. Eventually the coach leaves and drives south to a bus station where we transfer to another coach. A tour guide called Tanya joins us and we set off on a tour of the city which consists of travelling the complete circuit of the Opera Ring Road. Tanya points out all the interesting buildings. Some of our party point out the IBM building which is on the north side of the Donau Canal. When the circuit is completed we drive west to the Schonbrunn Castle, said to be similar to Versailles. Well it is big and has a large garden. Tanya guides us through the imperial rooms. We take lunch in a restaurant in the gardens. After lunch we explore the large gardens and the palm house. We take the U-bahn back to Karlsplatz and walk back to our hotel. Don and Slava are in a different hotel as are Henk and Mieke. We eat at the restaurant Plachutta (more...) which specializes in Tafelspitz - boiled beef, the preferred food of Austrian's monarch Kaiser Franz Josef. It comes in copper pans. Soup is ladled out first and then the meat is eaten. It is delicious. The Zweigelt wine is also very acceptable.
Since the Spanish Riding School horses are on holiday we have the day to ourselves so we wander around the city but we do see the horses returning from their holiday. We all meet up at 5pm to go to a concert in a park, a short walk from the hotel. We arrive early at the concert hall and have a four course meal. For the concert we have been allocated VIP seats in the front row. The concert is in two parts featuring well-known pieces by Strauss and Mozart. It is very entertaining. At half time we have a drink of sekt under the stars on the balcony. Towards the end of the concert Jaap and Eva are called up to dance. Jaap becomes an instant hero with the audience. The encore includes the theme from 'The Third Man' which was filmed in Vienna.
Rain is forecast but Larry and Graham wear shorts. We meet by the Opera House to catch a coach to the bus station to board a coach to Melk. Our guide speaks Italian, English and German. We drive westwards for an hour and board a boat at Spitz on the northern bank of the Danube (aka Donau). As it has now started to rain we sit inside. A young Taiwanese man quizzes Graham about life in England. The boat travels up the river through the Danube Valley. At Melk we get off and rejoin our coach which takes us to the monastery where we first have lunch. The Taiwanese man quizzes Jaap. After lunch we walk through the rain to the entrance. Our local guide has an antipodean accent and suggests we take bets on where she comes from. We are guided through exhibitions rooms showing the valuable objects owned by the monks including a re-usable coffin. We end the tour in the library where thousands of books line the walls. Our guide tells us she comes from London. We visit the church and are amazed at how much gold leaf has been used. It is OTT. We return by coach to Vienna. We say goodbye to Henk and Mieke who are flying back to Amsterdam and then on to Paris where Mieke has an art exhibition. Shortly after we walk to the Ofenloch (more...) and occupy a cosy room. We have traditional Austrian cuisine. We say goodbye to Don and Slava and Bill and Joan and Eva. Bill and Joan wiil be travelling with Jaap and Roeline to Prague.
After breakfast we say goodbye to Jaap and Roeline and Larry and Betty. Larry and Betty are flying to Dubrovnik with friends then drive to Budapest from where they will fly to Venice to stay in a villa as a party of eighteen. We leave before 9am to avoid paying a parking fee. We stop at a garage to fill up with petrol and check the tyres. The air pump is unusual. It is lifted off its fixture and is carried around the car. When replaced on its fixture it is refilled with air. We take the A1 autobahn to Linz and then on to Passau. We continue on to Nuremburg and take a room in the Deutscher Kaiser hotel (more...) in the centre of the old town (more...). We wander around the old town which is all pedestrianised. Jane buys two tons of candied mango and papaya. The store holder is very happy. We admire a street entertainer holding a puppet playing a violin to music. Jane peruses the stalls selling mushrooms. We eat at the nearby Bohm's Herrenkeller restaurant (more...). It is a very popular place and we were lucky we arrived early.
We leave Nurmeburg and set off towards Mannheim on the A6 autobahn. Shortly before Heilbron we are turned off the road. We are not given any alternative route. We make a long detour taking in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. We eventually end up at the Campanille hotel near the airport in Luxembourg. We show our passports for the first time on the continent. We have a jolly good meal and retire to bed and French television. Jane arranges to catch the shuttle a day earlier than we had booked.
We leave at 9am and drive to Calais where we arrive at about 1pm. We go to a Carrefour and while Graham buys wine, Jane buys chicory and coffee and tins of various things plus a quiche or two for supper. We arrive at the terminal early, have a burger and get the 3:50pm shuttle. We get home at 5:30pm and Graham sinks into his favourite chair with a glass of whisky and ginger wine for he has now got a heavy cold.
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