Two new cities in one day

Trip Start Aug 16, 2009
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Where I stayed
Old Prague Hostel

Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Sunday, September 6, 2009

This morning I arrived in Viena on the overnight train from Venice. I got to see some lovely countryside before we arrived at 8:30 am. There were rolling hills with farm fields and it reminded me of England. And then there were actually some real woods scattered among the hills. It made me realize that I hadn't really seen any woods the entire trip. And I also realized that I missed seeing the trees. Seeing trees in a city park just isn’t the same thing. The woods made me feel very calm and relaxed. So maybe I won’t consider moving away from Seattle after all.

Anyway, my first task of the day was to get to the other train station in Vienna to leave my bags for the day (I will spend the extra time & money to do this because it really sucks carrying around the backpack). I arrived at the Westbahnhof station and was leaving from the Sudbahnhof station tonight for Prague. So I took the U-bahn (i.e. metro) and then the S-bahn (above-ground train). I easily found the luggage lockers and then took the tram into the center of town. This was by far the easiest adjustment I’ve made when arriving to a new city. Usually it takes a while to figure out the public transport, but this was a breeze.

When I got to the city center I went on Rick Steves walking tour. It started at Vienna’s world-famous opera house and then went to a lovely square. There was a church there that had the coffins of all the Hapsburg emperors and it was neat to see them. They were all metal, but some were more ornate than others.

I next walked to the main square in town, Stephansplatz. There was a huge church there called St. Stephen’s cathedral, but I couldn’t see much of it because they were about to have Sunday Mass. So I continued to walk down the prettiest street I think I’ve seen in Europe. It's called the Graben. It’s hard to describe, but the buildings in Vienna just seem really elegant. And everything seems really crisp and clean, whereas Venice and Florence kind of had a dirty feel to the streets.

I made my way over to the Hofburg Palace complex, which was amazingly large. I went to see the Imperial Apartments, and also a porcelain museum. The museum was actually pretty cool, there were some really ornate serving dishes.

The Imperial Apartments started with a little museum dedicated to the famous "Sisi", the wife of Emperor Franz Josef. She has become a beloved icon of the city, and the audio guide described her life and why she became so beloved. Because she actually wasn’t liked while she was alive, it was only after her death by assassination that people romanticized her. In life, she didn’t enjoy the public life of being Emperess and spent a lot of time away from court, travelling to try and take her mind off her unhappiness. She was well known for her beauty and small figure (21 inch waist at age 50). And she tried lots of diets and had a daily exercise regime that “horrified” the palace servants. But then while she was traveling in Italy, an anarchist decided to assassinate her. And because of the way she died, people began to idolize her afterwords.

You can probably tell, but I really enjoyed learning about her. And then I got to go through all of the palace rooms. It was weird because I’d actually seen some of them on a Rick Steves TV show, and at the time I didn’t think they looked that impressive. But in person they were very lovely. There was lots of red carpets and white ceilings with gold decorations.

There were some other museums at the palace, but the audio guide had taken so long that I didn’t feel like doing any more museums. So I decided to do Rick Steves tram tour of the Ringstrasse, a ring of roads that circle the historical center of town. I hopped on the #2 tram, which was supposed to go around the ring counter-clockwise. But about halfway around, as we were going along the river, the tram suddenly veered across the river and away from the ring. So apparently the #2 tram no longer circles the ring. I got off at the next stop and walked back to the ring.

I was directly north of Stephanplatz, the main square, so I decided to just walk back rather than try and catch another tram (they weren’t running very often because it was Sunday). So I didn’t really have time to do anything else before I needed to get back to the train station. My train really was leaving at 5 pm tonight.

I made it to the station with my slimmest margin so far—only 30 minutes. But that was plenty. And this was my first experience using my rail pass without a reservation. I didn’t have any kind of ticket, I just had to put today’s date on my pass and get on the train. Plus, I could sit in the first class car, which had bigger seats. There are 3 seats across in first class, whereas second class has 4 across. And it was pretty empty too.

It was a 4.5 hour train ride, but it went by fairly quickly. I worked on blogging and pictures for a long time. And then I read up on Prague and what there was to do there.

When we arrived in Prague, I went in search of the ATM that was supposed to be near the metro entrance. The one unique thing about the Czech Republic is that they have not converted their currency to the Euro. So I needed to get some Koruna so that I could pay for the metro ride to the hostel. It was only a 10 minute walk, but I didn’t feel like finding my way through the dark streets.

So I walked around and around and couldn’t find an ATM anywhere. I went into a store and asked someone if they knew where the ATM was, and the guy said there wasn’t one and that it was a “problem.” That was an understatement. So I had to walk after all. I was a little worried because Rick Steves suggested buying a detailed map of Prague, but the map in guidebook was quite good on its own.

I finally found the hostel, which was supposed to be a good place for “older” people to feel comfortable at. It was made from old apartments, so the rooms were bigger and more open than other hostels. But when I got there my room was right beside a common area, where there was a distinctly “younger” crowd talking very loudly. I knew there was no way my earplugs would drown out the noise, so I stayed up catching up on more blogs (I've been a little behind).

My three roommates finally showed up and they turned out to be three guys from Australia. Most of the hostels I’ve stayed at have had same sex rooms, but a couple have been mixed.

Someone from the front desk finally came up about 12:30 am to tell people that the common room closed after midnight, so it thankfully got quiet after that. And I promptly went to bed.

So now I have the next three days in Prague, before taking another evening train back to Vienna. Tomorrow I plan to take my time and start exploring the city.

I don’t remember the word for goodbye in Czech, but goodbye!
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