Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Dec 21, 2012

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Flag of Austria  , Wien,
Saturday, December 8, 2012

Day 30 - Friday 7th December

This morning our new South African friend Ilsa (fiancee of Tiaan) and Ash departed the hotel lobby at 6am in the darkness for an early morning photo expedition to the Charles bridge. This time of morning meant that the bridge wouldn't be crowded with people (as it was yesterday) and we could capture the bridge in the early morning light. The -7 degree celsius temperatures were a bitterly cold, especially for Ash who forgot to bring gloves! The trip was worth it though, as we both got some nice photos of the bridge at sunrise. Not wanting to sing karaoke as a penalty for being late onto the bus, we hurried back to the hotel just before 8am and was able to grab some quick breakfast before leaving Prague.

Today we were headed for Vienna, capital city of Austria. The bus had morning at a small town of Kutna Hora, where we visited Sedlec Ossuary, sometimes known as the "Bone Church". Built on the site of a once very desirable burial site for the surrounding population of Kutna Hora during the black plague, the number of burials meant that this graveyard was becoming overcrowded. In the 15th century a church was built in the middle of this graveyard, and during construction thousands of skeletal remains were uncovered. In the 16th century, a half blind monk took these uncovered remains and arranged them into a huge arrangement of bones inside the church, in the form of four huge bells and a chandelier which is believed to be assembled from every bone in the human body. It's estimated that 70000 people's remains are stacked and arranged on display inside the church. It's somewhere you wouldn't want to be locked in overnight, very spooky! Afterwards we explored the township of Kutna Hora, and grabbed a coffee to escape the cold clear skies.

Onward we travelled towards the Austrian border, passing through a strange no mans land area between the Czech-Austrian borders. Here dotted amongst farmers paddocks were dodgy 24 hour nightclubs, casinos, brothels, duty free shops and a medieval themed fun park called Excalibur City, where we stopped for lunch. In this bizarre, deserted place there were all sorts of amusement rides and tourist stalls. For lunch we boarded an old passenger jet which is now converted as a restaurant, the inside redecorated with Australian mural of Uluru and kangaroos etc. A really bizarre place. After lunch we had a look around the adjacent Chinese markets where we could find some fake designer label clothing, remote control helicopters or knives, machetes, batons or pepper spray! The shop vendors didn't like us taking photos of the knuckle dusters either so we made a quick exit from here!

Continuing towards Vienna, the bus took part in the Contiki olympics where each side of the bus competed against each other in locating an object asked by Tour Manager, Lucian, which would be needed to be passed all the way to the back of the bus from seat to seat, and then all the way to the front of the bus, seat by seat. Items ranged from a sock to an iPod playing Michael Jackson to a ringing mobile phone. Very fun activity!

On arrival in Vienna, we checked into our accommodation for the next two days before the bus took us on a tour of the city along the Ringstrasse, the main ring road around the city centre. Here we passes along the Danube and past icons such as the statue of Mozart, the Opera House, the Rathaus and Votive Church. With a grounding of Vienna, we headed out for dinner at a traditional Austrian restaurant, where we sampled some goulash and apricot pancakes. Very nice indeed. Post dinner, we were free to explore the city with many visiting the Christmas markets for some local delicacies outside the Rathaus. The bus was able to drop us off back to the hotel at 10.30 later that night, thanks Laurens!

Day 31 - Saturday 8th December

Today kicked off with a walking tour of the main city sights of Vienna, which included an orientation of the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Spanish Riding School, Heroes Square and St Stephens Cathedral.

To rest our weary feet after the walking tour, we stopped off at Cafe Mozart, where the great man was said to have frequented for coffee during his time in Vienna. Here we had a great coffee and a slice of sachertorte, the famous Viennese cake which has apricot jam oozing within.

Back out on the street, we were able to get into St Stephens cathedral for a look at its impressive interior. Some were lucky to venture down into the crypts where the Hapsburg's are interred, and their organs preserved in glass containers for display! This may not have got the appetite going great, but we headed out for lunch with a traditional Viennese schnitzel in our sights. We were with friends Tiaan, Ilsa, Nicky, Cath, Steph, Aaron and Evan as we sampled some great chicken and pork variants of the crumbed meat meal.

Returning to our hotel for a rest was a good tactical move as we were soon headed for a tour of the Old Vienna Schnapps Museum. Operated by the Fischer family for over 70 years, Gary Fischer gave us a hilarious presentation and a fantastic understanding of the history of schnapps in Vienna, the distillation process, how different spirits are made including the dreaded Absinthe, and the hazards of dirty alcohol - methanol. To top it off, we were treated to a tasting of his products, and we're given the opportunity to purchase some of Vienna's finest Schnapps. We've got a bottle of orange schnapps which contains gold flakes - Gary's recommends putting 1 centiliter into a glass of champagne, and let the bubbles swirl around the small flakes of gold leaf! Looking forward to bringing the bottle out for a special occasion soon!

Raring to go after the Schnapps Museum, we were headed to the Schonbrun Palace to have a luxury dinner and then attend a Mozart and Strauss concert. The meal was superb, the signature dish of Vienna - chicken schnitzel. Afterwards we took seats in an intimate concert room and were treated to a wonderful Mozart and Strauss performance. While we do not know a lot about classical music, we were surprised with how many pieces of music we had heard by these two composers, including Blue Danube (think na na na na na, na na, na na). It was a fantastic experience to attend, especially here in the home of Mozart and Strauss!

To finish off our evening, the bus dropped off those wanting to further socialize at the club U4 (also the name of the nearby subway line). Being a Saturday night, the place was jumping and we enjoyed some dancing (or shuffling/swaying for some!) to some retro music such a greased lightning! Was a fun night and good way to say farewell to Vienna, as we headed to the capital of Hungary tomorrow, Budapest!
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