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Old 4th November 2017, 17:05   #1
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Default A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary

Disclaimer: 1. I like unconventional angles for photographs - kindly bear with me. 2. I am not associated with any of the firms/services mentioned in the post. This post is about me and my wife's experiences - good or bad using those services. 3. This is a long post. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed the trip and subsequently penning everything down

I have tried to make the post as informational as possible so that it can help prospective travellers. We learnt a lot of small things while on this trip and will try to pass on those learning in this post. Any question/query is most welcome.

Photography was done using:
1. Nikon D7000 + Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 + Nikkor 50mm AFS f/2.8G
2. iPhone 7
3. iPhone SE

(Never wanted to say this but the 2 iPhones at times outperformed the bigger more capable DSLR. Guess that is where the world is headed)

The Planning

"Sometimes it is the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination" - Drake

A trip to beautiful continental Europe together had been on my and S's mind from the time we were friends (that is a long time) to the time we started dating and then onto the time when we started sharing our lives legally. Every time we planned (as with most grand plans), some other grander event would take precedence to stop us from executing it. In 2017 however, the stars aligned themselves for our maiden Europe voyage together by means of a professional commitment. The time for our visit was fixed during our Diwali break from work - 9 days starting October 14, 2017.

With the dates fixed, the main challenge was to arrive at a set of countries/cities of mutual interest. What made the matter even more challenging was the fact that S is a mountain person and yours truly a cities person. We agreed on the fact that the only focal point for the trip that allowed us to cover most of mountains and cities is Vienna. Several options were discussed. Some of them are:

Option1: Mumbai-Munich-Salzburg-Innsbruck-Vienna-Prague-Mumbai
Pros: Get to be at both Innsbruck and Salzburg in such a short time
Cons: Too long and difficult to do justice to Vienna, Prague and the mountains at the same time.

Option2: Mumbai-Milan-Tirano to Chur in the Bernina Express-Interlaken-Zurich-Vienna-Mumbai
Pros: Get to board on the famous Bernina Express and spend quality time at Interlaken.
Cons: Only city with "European architecture" is Vienna. Switzerland is very expensive and pushed our budget to regime beyond our limits. However, for the longest time, this was our final plan just for the Bernina Experience. There were several variations of this plan, including, one where we just cross Switzerland in train and stay for most duration in Austria (Salzburg/Innsbruck).

Options 1 and 2 ended up as 13 sheets on a spreadsheet. Evenings and nights would go pouring over travelogues and vlogs till S came across the website of Turkish Airlines and something called Touristanbul. If you have a layover at Istanbul for more than 6 hours and you are flying through with Turkish Airlines on a single PNR, you are eligible for a FREE (yes totally FREE) tour of the city with complimentary meals taken care of by Turkish Airlines. It took us a few minutes to read and re-read this as it seemed too good to be true. Next few minutes went browsing through Turkish Airlines schedules from Mumbai. Like everything in our lives so far, our first Europe trip together seemed to be making its own plan for us - different from everything we had imagined so far and something that both of us instantly knew was the best option. Thus was born the option that life had selected for us - Option 3. On hindsight, we could not have asked for a better itinerary.

Option3 - The Wild Card entry: Mumbai-Istanbul-Vienna-Salzburg-Budapest/Prague-Vienna-Mumbai
Pros: Best of both mine and S's worlds. Additional bonus of Istanbul (more on that later).
Cons: We could not decide between Budapest and Prague.

Flight tickets were booked instantly from Makemytrip (which had a cash back offer with Citibank cards). The countdown had officially begun. Only one issue - We were still not decided between Budapest and Prague. If one of us on a particular day wanted to visit Prague, the other one had a sudden liking for Budapest. We were this close to trying out a 'best of 3' coin toss method when we decided to look at the obvious - which was the easier to travel to from Salzburg (the plan up until Salzburg was fixed). A direct train from Salzburg to the Hungarian capital sealed the deal (much to my dismay on that particular day) for Budapest.

With the skeleton in place, we then looked into the finer details - local transportation, accommodation, things to do etc. For things to do and not do, we found Wolters World extremely helpful - highly recommended for travel to Europe. We always believed that that best way to experience the culture is not by staying at fancy hotels but by staying with locals and places set up by locals to stay. We started conversing with various AirBnb hosts during this time and short listed the apartments based on reviews, our experience interacting with the hosts and most importantly the location of the apartment. An apartment in a good location can help you squeeze in a few more sights and that is always a good thing. What more, for crazy foodies like us, that liberates some of the budget that can be spent on trying out the local cuisine. For travel between cities (Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest) we had booked OBB's RailJet brand of trains. The extra 20-30 Euros for the first class is worth every cent especially for trains originating in countries like Hungary.

With our Schengen visas in place(from Austrian embassy for S and my existing Swedish Schengen), forex in hand (part in cash, part in ICICI Euro Card and part in HDFC Regalia Forex card) we were all set for the voyage. It was important to note here that Hungary (HUF) and Turkey (Turkish Lira) did not use Euro which made us consider the HDFC Regalia forex card which is a USD card but has no inter-currency conversion charges (ATM withdrawal fee is higher than market average). We got ourselves 30 days Turkish e-visa online. There are several fake websites, be sure to get the visa from the real one (link attached). The visa cost us INR 2858 per head and can be availed only with a valid Schengen Visa in place.

Before we set foot outside our homes, we made sure we had everything in place, including big maps showing the public transportation network of the cities. We had listed our priorities in terms of sight seeing. What more, we even looked up on the internet and listed the food items and restaurants to try. All in all in the cab to Mumbai airport, S jokingly said to me, "With the amount of research that we have done, we might end up being underwhelmed on seeing the actual things." I hope the subsequent posts on this thread will help me establish how wrong she was on this occasion.

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(Image 1: Things to come)

Last edited by feluda86 : 4th December 2017 at 00:12. Reason: Added Photo and some details
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Old 5th November 2017, 14:55   #2
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"Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Henceforth, I will mostly let the pictures do the talking. Text will be there only to highlight important observations.

Day 1: The Beginning

With our lightly packed bags we set off for Mumbai from Pune. We booked a cab from Trimurthi travels for our onward journey as I have had good experiences with them earlier. One main reason for not booking an Ola or Uber was the fact that we would be traveling through the night and we did not trust how fresh the cab drivers would be. An independent cab company ensured a fresh driver.

The flight was uneventful for most parts and in the background Mr. Murphy was working overtime. The one thing that had to be on track for our "TourIstanbul" went off track and the flight landed 30 mins late and we missed our Istanbul tour by a whisker.

As with most things in our lives, this was not a deterrent. Had it not been for the delay we would have missed out on the most awesome experience at Ataturk airport. After bouncing off several of the restaurants and asking locals on the best place for a snack, we landed up at Selamlique on the second floor. It is a small open seating restaurant next to the smoking terrace with view of rest of the airport. We had the most awesome Baklava (desert with its origins in the Ottoman empire) and some strong medium roast Turkish Coffee as shown in Image 2.

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(Image 2: Strong Turkish Coffee and Baklava)

The "cherry on the top" experience however came when the gentleman serving our table came up and in an almost embarrassed manner, thanked us for visiting his country and the restaurant. We were both taken aback. He figured out our reaction and went on to explain that he is a big fan of India and wishes to visit someday. He watches several Bollywood movies and his favourite song is the famous Kishore Kumar-Rajesh Khanna number "Chingari Koi Bhadke". We thanked him and later when we looked for him for a chat he was nowhere to be seen. Even the other employees of the restaurant did not seem to know about him. It seemed that the entire exercise of the flight landing late, us bouncing off restaurants to land up at Selamlique was to facilitate this short sweet meeting. We spent rest of the time at the airport in the Priority Pass Lounge on the second floor. Food there was good and we met up with a couple of friends there who were on their way back from Barcelona.

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(Image3: Sunset at Turkey)

The flight to Vienna was uneventful as usual. Turkish Airlines had some of the best movies as well TV shows we had seen on an airline. As mentioned earlier, we had gone with AirBnb for all the locations. We had communicated with our host for our late arrival (around 11 PM in Vienna) and she had promptly suggested that she book a cab who is aware of the roads to get us to the apartment. Immigration in Vienna was a breeze with only a handful of non-European Union passports to check. To top that, the immigration officer did not hide his excitement on seeing Indian passports. We reached the apartment at around 1130PM and called it a day.

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Old 11th November 2017, 17:40   #3
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Day 2: Walking around musical Vienna

"The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt" - Karl Kraus

With lists of restaurants, sights to see, roads to take and events to attend on ourselves, we set off early next day on foot. We decided to walk as much as we can to soak in the culture of the city - destination Karlplatz (house of one of the biggest cathedrals in Austria, Karlsckirche). We saw some breathtaking architecture en route (Image 4). Even regular buildings (Image 5) seemed to be straight out of the history books.

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(Image 4: Billa departmental store housed in a building that can easily be mistaken for an Opera House)

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(Image 5: Public school in Vienna)

One of the places recommended for food with hassle free service is the Aida chain of restaurants where we had our breakfast. Disappointingly, the much hyped Sacher Torte did not live up to the expectations. The coffee however, was the best that we ever had - dark, black and strong (S's description: "Can bring the dead back to life, ala, Stephen King").

Located just outside the Ringstrasse of Vienna, Karlplatz is one of the most well connected places in Vienna. The first sights of Karlplatz had us spell bound - we did not know where to look and what photos to click, everything was so beautiful. Street musicians everywhere spontaneously changed to playing "Jeena Yaha Marna Yaha" on spotting us (Image 6-8). We over shot our time line captured in the culture of Vienna. Time stopped for us (not for the last time) at the sights of the small pool, the live street music, all at the foot of the majestical Karlskirche with its near perfect ellipsoid dome (Image 9-13) - Vienna had us hypnotised.

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(Image 6: Shutter friendly street musician near Karlplatz in front of TU Wein)

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(Image 7: Musician in his own melodious world)

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(Image 8: Donkey masked musician fond of Indian Bollywood music)

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(Image 9: Almost perfect ellipsoid dome of Karlskirche)

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(Image 10: Karlskirche from Karlplatz)

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(Image 11: Karlskirche with tourists near its foot)

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(Image 12: Karlskirche with a natural halo)

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(Image 13: Kalrskirche overlooking Karlplatz)

The love between Vienna and us (especially S) was so mutual that when Vienna asked S for a token of remembrance, she happily left her cardigan at the foot of Karlplatz only to realise when zapped out of the hypnotic nature of the city .

After unceremoniously abandoning S’s cardigan, we headed towards Stephanplatz, which is named after the 13th tallest church in the world, Stephansdom. A majestic spire towers over the central structure of the church and we had to nearly sprain our necks in trying to see the top. Unfortunately, the church was under renovation during the time we visited and that prevented us from taking good pictures (Image 14-16). The square in front of the church is small and littered with small restaurants serving delicious Austrian cuisine and souvenir shops. You will also find several salesmen dressed as Mozart selling tickets to classic music concerts (Mozart and Strauss) performed by the Royal Orchestra of Austria. Attending a classical music concert in Salzburg/Vienna had been one of our bucket-list items. After several uncertain moments, we decided to risk EUR 64 on concert tickets bought from an unknown salesman on the street (more on that concert later). The salesman was kind enough to guide us to a good “Austrian” restaurant called Porterhouse (Image 17). The restaurant is located right behind the church and has seating arrangements on the footpath. We ordered the famed Weiner Schnitzel (with turkey). Served with boiled potatoes as sides, it was one of the best EUR13, that we spent on the trip (Image 18). A walk around the narrow alleys around the church is a must – every street here has a different character (Image 19,20). If we did not get the concert tickets, we would have loved to walk and get lost in the alleys of Vienna.

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(Image 14: Tall Stephansdom)

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(Image 15: Tourist filled square in front of Stephansdom)

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(Image 16: Sun setting over golden Stephansdom)

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(Image 17: Potterhouse in Vienna)

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(Image 18: Half of a Schnitzel finished before I realised I had to take a photo)

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(Image 19: Narrow alley leading to Stephansdom)

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(Image 20: One of the lanes around Stephansdom)

With the tickets to the concert bought, our day which started off as a relaxing walkaround the city turned in a hectic time bound affair from here onwards centred around the concert at 8:30PM (at University of Vienna). After deliberating on a few different options, we decided the best way to spend the day would be to head over to Praterstern across the Danube canal. Praterstern is a small amusement park that houses one of Vienna’s most popular sightseeing locations – the Vienna Ferris wheel (Image 21). At this point it is important to note that we had with ourselves a EUR7.60 per head 24 hour Vienna city travel pass with us (procured from Stephanplatz underground station). This is a highly recommended pass if you are planning to travel around the city. This pass allows free unlimited time bound access to all the city’s public transport – underground, train, bus and tram. This is extremely economical and convenient. The Ferris wheel ride which cost both of us EUR 20 had the perfect view of the city from a height (Image 22). I would recommend this over the Danube tower as this gives you more room to move around. Danube tower on the other hand houses a restaurant at the top and that restricts the movement slightly. However, a romantic dinner on top of the tower with the sun setting over Vienna would be something awesome.
Since, we could not get enough of the city roads, we decided to walk around the canal banks (Image 23) for some time before heading off to University of Vienna for the concert in a tram. The ethereal beauty of the city was amplified several folds during the sunset. University of Vienna itself is a beautiful building and you are greeted by a podium featuring Nobel laureates from the university on entering. Interestingly, Erwin Schrödinger did not have a photograph honouring him. Fittingly a question mark stands over his name instead of his photograph. I could not think of a better way to pay tribute to the man and his works at the university (I was half expecting a cat to crop up somewhere though – but that’s the idea, right?) (Image 24). The concert was held in one of the many auditoriums in the university. Though not of the highest quality and targeted at entertaining non-Austrians, the 90 minutes’ concert was fun affair. If short on time and you want to experience a classical concert, you can try this out. However, you will be disappointed if you an expert (Image 25). Cameras are not allowed during the performance, so it would be better to keep them someplace safe before heading out for the performance.

(Musicians outside Praterstern)

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(Image 21: Vienna Ferris Wheel)

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(Image 22: View of the city from top of the Ferris Wheel)

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(Image 23: Well lit streets of Vienna)

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(Image 24: Erwin Schrödinger missing - or is he?)

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(Image 25: Curtain call)

Thanks to the excellent night time public transport system of Vienna, we did not have any problems reaching our home at 11PM. With this we concluded our first leg at Vienna on this trip. We left with a heavy heart but knowing we would be back in few days brought a smile to our faces.

Next Stop – The mountains, castles of Salzburg and beautiful lakes of Hallstatt!

Last edited by feluda86 : 4th December 2017 at 00:02.
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Old 28th November 2017, 23:31   #4
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Days 3-5 – Salzburg, Untersberg and Hallstatt

"Music is not in the notes but in the silence between them" - W. A. Mozart

We arrived at Salzburg by Rail Jet RJ 640. Travel time is just over 2 hours and the ride was fast and pleasant (Image 26). Food on the train is surprisingly cheap and good. If you are in first class, you will be served at your seat while second class passengers can walk over to the pantry cart for food. At Salzburg, we stayed at Merianstrasse, which is about 10 minutes on foot from Salzburg central station. Since we were staying for 3 days here, we got the 24 hour Salzburg card, though 48 and 72 hour cards are also available. The card was EUR 27 per head. This card allows you free entries in to most of the public attractions in and around the city apart from access to public transport in the city. If Vienna was a man-made wonder, Salzburg is all Mother Nature (Image 27). Our Airbnb host was extremely helpful and sat with us after we reached to explain what not to miss and how not to miss them. His few minutes helped us maximize our limited time. Here is how our 3 days at Salzburg looked like:

Day of arrival: Trek up to Imberstiege, walk around the Salzach river, visit Getreidigasse (the historical centre of Salzburg), Mozart’s house and have an Austrian meal to round things up for the day

Day after the day of arrival: Salzburg castle (Festung Hohensalzburg), Untersberg, Mirabel palace gardens, walk around the city

Last day: Hallstatt and Lake district

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(Image 26: Fast train from Vienna to Salzburg is seriously fast)

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(Image 27: Beautiful boulevard outside our apartment)

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(Image 28: Cozy apartment in Salzburg)

Day of Arrival:

A relatively longer stay meant that we had to stock up on groceries for the apartment. Once that was out of the way, we walked down to Imberstiege. It took us a while to find the stairs up to the top. The climb is steep and can act as a good early morning cardio exercise. It is fair to note here that we were both put to shame by an Octogenarian who climbed up faster than us and then stopped to look back at us. However, the view was worth the assault on our hearts. One can get a panoramic view of both banks of the river Salzach with the castle looming in the back ground (Image 29, 30). Salzburg is a smaller town when compared to Vienna and one can walk around the city if one has the time and patience. We feel walking is the best way to experience this historical city. We crossed over to the Old town using Staatsbrücke, the principle bridge of the 13 bridges (Image 31, 32) that provide passage across the river. Staatsbrücke was constructed by French and Soviet war prisoners and a modern-day tribute to those whose hands shaped this bridge can be found near the foot of the bridge. Although initially commissioned to cater to the innumerable number of cyclists that ply in the city, this bridge was later opened to traffic. Getreidigasse is a narrow street in the Old town. For people like me who love narrow streets (for artistic pleasure), this is a street where one can walk along for ever (Image 33). This street houses the famous building where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed most of his master pieces (Image 34). Lined with shops and small restaurants, one can find all the ingredients to enjoy the perfect Austrian evening here. We had dinner at a small Austrian restaurant called Gasthaus Wilden Mann. Amusing incident that took place here – the proprietor of the establishment warned us when we entered that this place is not for Indians as we may not like the way the food is cooked here. We insisted that we wanted authentic Austrian food. Reluctantly he let us in. We ordered hot rolled pork and pork schnitzel (Image 35) which was the best food we had on the entire trip. At the end of the meal, the owner walked up to our table surprised and exclaimed, “You finished! And I had a bet that you cannot finish this food!”. We then told him how much we enjoy European food and he cleared the plates with a big smile on his face – despite losing money. The place also served great home made fresh beer. As with all other days, we decided to walk back to our apartment (about 25 mins from the restaurant) soaking in the cool breeze by the river and the lovely view of the lit-up castle overlooking the city.

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(Image 29: A panoramic view from Imberstiege)

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(Image 30: A crude attempt at Tilt-Shift photography from top of Imbersteige)

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(Image 31: One of 13 bridges over the river)

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(Image 32: View from Staatsbrücke)

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(Image 33: One of most beautiful streets in Europe - Getreidigasse)

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(Image 34: Mozart's house on Getreidigasse)

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(Image 35: Wonderful pork schnitzel)

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(Image 36: Wonderful graffiti seen in an underpass near the Old Town)

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(Image 37: Traffic signal in Salzburg depicting one of the many forms of human love - such signals can be seen all over Austria)

Day after the day of arrival:
With a long day planned, we did not want to waste any precious time. We had breakfast at home and left as early as we can. We took a bus from the central station and got off at Salzburg Justizgebäude as per the map we were carrying. Following signs that pointed towards Festung, we arrived at the Funicular stop at the base of the Hohensalzburg castle. The Salzburg card allowed us a free round trip on the Funicular. The ride which lasted around a minute was exhilarating for newly initiated ones and entertaining to say the least for the already initiated ones. The funicular took us to the top of the castle and left us in front of the Festung restaurant (the panoramic restaurant at the top of the castle). The view from the top took our breath away (Image 38). It was straight out of post cards (Image 39, 40). The glimmering alps near the distant horizon, the green valley extending from the foot of the castle, domed buildings and the river separating the Old town from the modern, it all seemed like a confluence of man, nature and time. Where the Old town stands frozen in time, the new modern part of the city pays homage to the heritage of the city at every step. All this under the protective view of the mountains and an aged castle. The pictures say more than I ever can.

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(Image 38: View of Salzburg from top of the castle)

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(Image 39: Another attempt at tilt shift)

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(Image 40: Mountains, sky and the valley - A confluence made on Earth)

We had a second breakfast at the panoramic restaurant – Mozart coffee (served with chocolate liquor) and the famous Sacher torte. We were so enchanted by the view that we overshot our stay at the castle and had to rush out. We took a bus from Salzburg Justizgebäude and headed to our next destination – Untersberg. The main attraction at Untersberg is a cable car ride to the top of a hill and the view from atop (Image 41). The travel time from the castle to Unterberg is about 30 mins. The cable ride is again complimentary for Salzburg card holders. The jittery cable ride is not for ones with a weak heart. The ride lasted for all of 9 minutes and was full of moments worth ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’. Once on top we were greeted by the magnificent mountains closer to us than ever. The blue skies and grey mountains converge to meet at a mountain top restaurant with the view of a lifetime (Image 42). A meal here or atleast a visit to the gigantic cross on top of the hill is a highly recommended activity if visiting Salzburg. For nature lovers, there is no better place in Salzburg. Words again fail me, and I will let the pictures do the talking (Image 43).

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(Image 41: Map of Untersberg)

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(Image 42: Restaurant on top of Untersberg)

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(Image 43: Snow clad Alps in the distance)

The ride down was less dramatic. Once back in the city we narrowly missed the river cruise which was included in the Salzburg card. We walked across on Makartsteg, otherwise known as the Love locks bridge. Lovers from all over the world come here and put a lock on the bridge a demonstration of their love for each other. We however, were not able to demonstrate our love for each other by this unique way as potential damage to the structural integrity of the bridge forced the tradition to be abandoned. The existing love-locks however are still on display with names of lovers etched on them (Image 44). Determined not to lose heart, we decided to hike along the road which runs by the river (Müllner Hauptstraße) in search of a restaurant (food and a walk always calms us down). Bärenwirt, a highly recommended place on the internet is where we landed up. Home brewed beer with salad along with a sausage and apple strudel is what they provided us. The place is worth every one of those 4.6 stars that a local site gave it. Excellent food and wonderful people looking after the place. We can come back to Salzburg just for the food. Food at Vienna is good, however, at Salzburg, the food is just a level higher. The apple strudel at Bärenwirt was the best food we ever had. A walk on Kaipromenade by the river and watching the sun go down was everything that we could have asked for (Image 45,46), to calm ourselves down after the exciting day.

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(Image 44: Loves locks on Makartsteg)

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(Image 45: Salzach river and the castle)

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(Image 46: Imposing castle overlooking the city)

Last day at Salzburg:

The last day at Salzburg was reserved for the Lake District a couple of hours from Salzburg – Salzkammergut. Salzkammergut is a spectacular region of alpine and sub-alpine lakes. Hallstätter See, with its glassy clear waters flanked by soaring mountains, is arguably the highlight of the entire trip. The salt mines which were the backbone of the economy of this region, provides for an excellent trip down timeline. Bus 150 from Salzburg central station took us to Bad Ischl from where a train took us to the small lake side station of Hallstatt (Image 47). A ferry that crosses the lake every 20 minutes transported us to the small town of Hallstatt on the other bank of the lake (Image 48). Pointy rooflines, small huts, mountain houses, small fishing boats and playful swans is what greeted us during the boat ride. The town of Hallstatt, is painting brought to life – everything is pristine and perfect (Image 49, 50). Clear blue skies added to the beauty of the place. The town is small and must be for most parts covered on foot. The main attraction of Hallstatt are the salt mines and the Heritage View from atop a hill (Image 51). A funicular (EUR 16 per person) situated at the end of the town takes you to the top of the hill from where a short walk leads to the platform known for its majestic view of the mountains and the lake. Standing at the edge of the platform gives the impression of gliding through the air with a cool breeze kissing your cheeks gently. (Image 52) One can see the small town of Hallstatt jutting out in to the lake, the small boats ferrying across the lake and even the trains which come and go across the lake (Image 53). The salt mines are a short walk away from this platform. The funicular brought us down from the platform and the mines. Once back on level ground, S and I could not agree on the direction to go to and got lost. That was the most beautiful difference of opinion we ever had. Petite houses lines with gardens, narrow country roads and the only sound we heard were the chirping of birds and of the gentle lapping of the lake water – lost we were and lost we wanted to stay (Image 54). However, as with all good things. This also ended when we found our way back to the main town. It turned out that we had walked off to the residential block. We had a small meal by the lake and returned to the station by the ferry (Image 55). The return journey to Salzburg was uneventful and with that we drew curtains on the second act of this trip.

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(Image 47: Cute and small station serving the town of Hallstatt)

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(Image 48: Sign board pointing towards the dock)

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(Image 49: Hallstatt from the lake I)

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(Image 50: Hallstatt from the lake II)

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(Image 51: The view from the Heritage View point near the Salt Mines is breathtaking)

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(Image 52: The viewing platform juts out into thin air giving you the impression of flight)

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(Image 53: The small town of Hallstatt from the top of the viewing platform 0 notice the train line at the far end of the lake)

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(Image 54: Hallstatt police station)

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(Image 55: The dock servicing the town)

Next stop – forts, war-marked bridges and bastions of Budapest!

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Day 6-7: Budapest

"I have seen war. I hate war" - F.D. Roosevelt

As Budapest, had earlier trumped Prague as the 3rd leg of our trip, it had a lot of pressure to show its worth. It did not help that all through our train journey (RJ 61) from Salzburg to Budapest, we had an American family rave on about how beautiful Prague is and how it is the most beautiful city of Europe. An anxious 5-hour ride ended at Budapest Keleti railway station – a beautiful old construction (Image 56). The building was the first example of confluence of Eastern and Western European architectural style that we saw here and conditioned us for the rest of the trip. Keleti railway station or as it is often referred to as the gateway to eastern Europe (Keleti in Hungarian means East), can easily be mistaken from any one of the railway stations servicing Kolkata (Sealdah and Howrah). This was just the beginning of the similarities between Kolkata and Budapest that we say. Let say, had it not been for lack of maintenance and careless management Budapest is probably how Kolkata would have turned out. I will not digress any further and stick to the subject at hand, however, one cannot help but look and reflect at what could have been.

Keleti is the largest of 3 railway junctions in Budapest also houses the underground line 2. After some amount of searching we managed to buy a Budapest 24-hour travel card. Our apartment was near Kossuth Lajos ter metro station (named after a famous Hungarian lawyer) which also overlooks the famous Parliament building of Hungary (Image 57). Our Airbnb apartment was situated right next to the Parliament café across the street from the Hungarian Parliament. It is important to note here that Hungary does not use Euro as its currency. Hungary uses Hungarian Forint (HUF) as currency. We would advise you not to change currency at Keleti or the airport. We suggest you to use plastic money to get into town and then exchange currency. We got around EUR 50 (~HUF 15000) changed at a Western Union near the apartment. Since we arrived at Budapest late in the afternoon, we decided not to stress ourselves with sightseeing but just walk around the place to soak in the culture (Image 58, 59, 60). The Danube here is wide and the highlight of the core region is the perpetual stare down between Buda Castle on the Buda side and the Hungarian Parliament on the Pest side – tow majestic architectural wonders competing to decide who is more beautiful. A river cruise was something that we had planned for the following night but S got so fascinated by one of the cruise boats, we ended up spending our relaxed evening on a river cruise admiring the wonderful architecture of the twin cities from the river. The highlight of the cruise was the Parliament building – a lit us modern architectural wonder (Image 61). The Hungarian parliament is the third largest parliament building in the world and one of the most majestic. The cruise had lovely live acoustic music and had us transported to an era before EDM and rock. With a décor that is like what was shown in James Cameron’s Titanic, we were half expecting to hit an iceberg (the chill in the late October wind did not do us any favour). After a pleasant cruise, we had a lovely dinner at the Budapest Bistro behind the parliament and called it a day (Image 62).

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(Image 56: Keleti station on Budapest)

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(Image 57: The Hungarian parliament greets you the moment you come out of Kossuth Lajos ter metro station)

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(Image 58: The parliament building from the Kossuth Lajos ter tram stop)

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(Image 59: Parliament building overlooking the Danube)

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(Image 60: Decked up Chain Bridge at night)

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(Image 61: The parliament building seen from the river cruise on the Danube)

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(Image 62: Traditional Goulash for dinner)

(Acoustic music on board the cruise)

Since the next day at Budapest was our last day before we return to Austria, we wanted to make the most of it. But we wanted to cover the most important thing first – breakfast at a traditional Hungarian place. We walked down a foggy by lane towards Hold Street downtown market as suggested by our landlord (Image 63). The place resembles a very small version of Hogg’s Market in Kolkata. Raw meat and vegetables sold on the ground floor and cooked food on the first floor (Image 64, 65). Here is where we had the unhealthiest meal of the trip and it was totally worth the wailing arteries (For reference, even after walking the entire day we ended up feeling hungry only at 5PM). Next stop was St. Stephen’s basilica (St. István basilica), which is a stone’s throw away from Hold Street. The cathedral dominates the massive square on which it is situated. Flanked by modern buildings on either side, St. Stephen’s cathedral reminds one of Dan Brown novels talking of confluence of technology and religion (Image 66, 67). This is one of the few places that we visited which had no entry fee – a small donation was HUF 200 was enough to get us in. The cathedral is small, dark and damp. The main attraction is that you can climb up to the spires of the structure and get a bird’s eye view of the city. The view is not the best that you can get in the city and the climb is tricky on some rickety stairs. However, this is the best view that is available from this side of Danube (Image 68, 69). Since the place is close to the parliament and inexpensive, we would suggest not to give this a miss.

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(Image 63: Hold Street downtown market)

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(Image 64: Fresh produce sold in Hold Street downtown market)

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(Image 65: Star Wars anyone?)

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(Image 66: St. Stephan's Basilica in Budapest)

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(Image 67: St Stephan's Basilica from a near by street)

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(Image 68: Pest side of the city from the top of the Basilica)

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(Image 69: Parliament as viewed from top of Basilica)

Next destination was the historic Széchenyi Chain Bridge which connects the Pest side to the Buda side. This was the first bridge to be constructed across the Danube in Hungary and dates to the early 19th century. The suspension bridge is one of the landmarks of the city and is guarded by status of hunched lions at the points of anchor on either side. Hungary reeled under the terrors of war when the Chain Bridge was blown up by retreating Germans during World War II. It is said that only the towers stood defying the great war. The bridge is a constant reminder of human resilience and determination. Today the Chain bridge is one of the busiest bridges in Eastern Europe. This is also the bridge on which the climax scene of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was shot. The Buda end of the bridge across the street from the popular Castle Hill funicular.

(Castle hill funicular)

The castle can be reached on foot if one does not want to spend on the funicular which is expensive by Hungarian standards. The climb up to the castle is steep but has a good view. Funicular on the other hand is fast and convenient. At the top we were fortunate enough to see the change of guard.

(Change of guard at Castle Hill)

Once at the top, one has the option of going to Matthias Church or the castle first. We decided to cover Matthias church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Depending on the time of the year, both these attractions are free to tourists and that is one of the reasons why during our entire trip we felt that summer in Europe is somewhat over rated. Autumn/Fall is the time to visit most places of Europe (baring Scandinavia of course).
Matthias Church is one of the largest churches in Hungary. Constructed in Gothic style of architecture, the church is adorned by a tall spire (Image 70). This church was apparently used as a shelter by German troops, and thus suffered significant damage during World War II. The newer Hungarian governments have in recent times managed to restore the structure to its original glory. We did not go into the church as we were more interested in the view from Fisherman’s Bastian (Image 71). The Bastian is located behind the church and commands a breath-taking view of the Pest side across the Danube (Image 72). The bastion is populated by local artists, budding chess players and musicians.

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(Image 70: Matthias Church on Castle Hill)

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(Image 71: Fisherman's Bastian as seen from Matthias Church)

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Image 72: View from Fisherman's Bastian)

Some of the towers of the bastion are owned by Hungarian business tycoons and they charge for entrance. However, the best view of the Parliament, the Synagogue, Danube and the several bridges across the Danube is available from just behind Matthias Church. We spent some time leisurely walking around the square (Image 73, 74) before returning to the central part of Castle hill for an ice cream and beer before heading off to the castle (Image 75). The castle houses a museum which available for visit with a nominal price. The view from the castle is even better than from Fisherman’s Bastion (Image 76, 77, 78). Having spent some time admiring the view from the castle panoramic view point’s we had traditional Mulled wine at Terrace restaurant on the castle (from Jab Harry Met Sejal fame - Image 79). Mulled wine is a cinnamon infused hot red wine which tasted fantastic.

A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary-photo2413.jpg
(Image 73: Matthias Church from narrow lanes on Castle Hill)

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(Image 74: Beautiful drain cover on Castle Hill - Can be seen all over the city)

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(Image 75: Ice cream and strong Irish Coffee at Var Cafe on Castle Hill)

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(Image 76: St. Stephen's Basilica, Parliament and Chain Bridge in one frame from Buda Castle)

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(Image 77: View from Buda Castle)

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(Image 78: St. Stephen's Basilica from Terrace restaurant)

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(Image 79: Terrace restaurant)

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(Image 80: Buda Castle)

Our last stop before dumping off our photographic equipment was Central Market Hall for souvenirs (Image 81). The market is smaller version of Kolkata’s New Market (yes more similarities) and can be reached from the castle by a short tram ride. On hindsight, we should have invested this time in visiting one of the ruin pubs of Budapest. This will remain one of the regrets from the trip. Keeping recent safety issues in mind we had decided to skip Budapest’s ruin pubs for this trip, and we are ready to go back to Hungary just to visit a ruin pub. After some more walking around the city, in small restaurant filled lanes, we took a tram and came back to the apartment to drop off our equipment. We then headed off to Heroes’ Square.

Heroes’ Square is the largest square in Budapest (Image 82). It houses the resting place for an unknown soldier flanked by iconic statues of important Hungarian national leaders (including St. István). The square is venue for many of modern political events in Hungary. It is said that the underground station behind the square is the first of its kind in continental Europe (I might be wrong here). The square is a large open space with a grave at the centre of it. Hősök tere (Heroes’ square) has two important buildings on either side of it – Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Arts, both of which had closed by the time we reached. The chill in the air near the open square and being in the company of several young(er) couples, we suddenly had the urge of capping the third act of our trip with a romantic dinner by the Danube with a view of Buda Castle (Image 83). With that and a final desert at Budapest Bistro we ended our last night in Budapest.

A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary-photo1665.jpg
(Image 81: Central Market of Budapest)

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(Image 82: Heroes Square flanked by Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Arts)

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(Image 83: Lit up Buda Castle from across the bank of Danube)

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(Image 84: War memorial on the banks of Danube)

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(Image 85: View of Budapest from Chain Bridge)

Next Stop: Back to the royal palaces of Vienna

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Day 8: Curtain Call – Vienna

"Will you cry? Will you miss me" - C.J. Roberts

The journey from Budapest to Vienna was largely uneventful, apart from random passport checking at Hungry-Austria border control (due to an incident at Munich a couple of days back). We reached an over cast and wet Vienna early afternoon. Our Airbnb apartment was just a couple of tram stops away from Wein HBF station and was just across the street from Vienna’s famous Belvedere palace. This was the best apartment of the lot, excellently maintained and well designed (Image 86). The landlord turned out to be an interior designer. He had left hand marked maps and important phone numbers (including home delivery for food) for us on the table. The kitchen was well stocked.

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(Image 86: Apartment at Vienna)

With so much to cover and so little time, we were beginning to feel the massive injustice that we had done to Vienna. Since S wanted to see the Schönbrunn Palace, we decided to head there first and then decide on what to do later. A couple of changes on the underground and we were at the palace a shade after 5PM. Unfortunately, on reaching the palace we were told that the tickets for the palace and the garden were closed for the day. We were also told that we were free to walk around the courtyard in front of the palace for as long as we wanted (Image 87) . Thoroughly disappointed, I start taking whatever pictures I can salvage. S, on the other hand was determined to not let go of any opportunity to enter the gardens (we were not interested in the royal quarters or Sisi’s room). What follows has two ways of looking at it. My view – what we did was borderline illegal, S’s view – the gates were open and we walked in, as no one stopped us, it was fine. We still do not know which one is correct thought. I satisfy my conscience by telling myself that we did not go in summer and during late October the palace ground were free to roam. The weather had cleared up by then and we were treated to a wonderful interplay of colours – orange from the setting sun and the dark blue sky, augmented by colourful flowers and gardens. Once inside we did not feel any guilt – everything seemed worth it (Image 88). The palace was the summer residence of the monarchs of the Habsburg empire. Walking up to the Gloriette at the end of the garden was pleasant and the views were nice (Image 89).

It was already dark by the time we had left the palace (Image 90). Unware of the timings, we decided to go to Donauinsel island in the middle of Danube. On reaching, we found it to be deserted. The only people there did not inspire much confidence about our safety. Freaked out, we took the next underground and return to Stephanplatz. We had a fine dinner in one of the restaurants in Stephanplatz overlooking the cathedral and called it a night for the final time on this trip. The return journey was uneventful and we took an S-Bahn (S7) from Renweg station near our apartment to reach the airport. Important to note here that the City Airport Train is grossly overpriced and we would suggest you to not take that under any circumstance. The S7 on the other hand, cost only EUR 2.80 for the both of us as we were in possession of a 24-hour pass.

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(Image 87: Palace from the courtyard)

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(Image 88: Palace from the gardens with beautiful interplay of colours)

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(Image 89: Gloriette from the gardens)

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(Image 90: Palace in the evening)

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(Image 91: Last of the wonderful meals at Vienna - this was at Schwechat Airport)

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(Image 92: "Will you cry? Will you miss me" - C.J. Roberts)

We reached Mumbai via Istanbul, early in the morning and an Uber to Pune ended the most fascinating trip we ever had.

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Small yet significant tips for travellers

1. While planning, and traveling on your own (not taking the help of travel agents) may not be everyone’s thing, but we would highly recommend it. This way you get to live in the city and making mistakes and getting lost are also part of the charm of exploring an unknown city. The most beautiful part of a city is often not part of a sightseeing list or travel blog but it is the small bylanes, the odd grocery shop, the unassuming roadside bakery or the quirky street musician that gives a city its soul and character.

2. If planning on your own, it is very important to do your research. Spend few weeks if not months going through videos, travel blogs and other information. Make yourself virtually familiar with the place you are visiting. You will be pleasantly surprised how much information is there on the internet. Planning for a back-packing trip can teach you a lot about life.

3. We booked every travel option that was available for booking while in India. This included flight tickets and tickets to long distance trains within the country/intercountry. This we believe gives the trip a skeleton (more like the chassis of a car). The rest of the trip can be planned around these few tickets. This also saves good money as most train tickets in Europe become expensive if they are bought very close to the travel date.

4. While Airbnb/homestay may not be every body’s thing, but coming back to home and having the option of cooking your own meal (if not feeling well or otherwise) is a flexibility that travellers will enjoy. You may not have the luxury of a fancy hotel, but it cost half the price and often gives you an option to explore the culture of the place. The best place in our opinion to soak in the culture of a country is by shopping for local groceries in a supermarket. With homestay/Airbnb you will not only explore the city but also live it. Needless to say, go for the best rated homestays.

5. Be prepared to walk a lot. That is the best way to know places. The nice road side eatery might be hidden in a small lane. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. If you know cycling would suggest that you rent cycles.
(Image 93).

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(Image 93: This is how Fitbit summarised our trip)

6. Every major city has some form of a travel card that allows for freebies. Have a look at them and decide whether they make sense to you. For the cities, we went to:
Vienna: The travel pass (24,48 and 72 hour passes) are a must. The Vienna City pass (Yellow and red) make sense only if you plan to stay more than 3 days at a stretch.
Salzburg: Slazburg City Card is Extremely convenient and a must
Salzkammergut Card: Does not make much sense for 1 day
Budapest: City is cheaper than most European cities. Passes apart from the travel passes not needed.

Make sure to ask everywhere you buy travel tickets/passes if they have a combined ticket till your end destination. E.g. we could procure a combined ticket to Hallstat from Salzburg though the bus was only going to Bad Ischl. This saves a lot of hassle and time and some money as well.

7. For a city like Vienna which has a lot of sighseeing options, it is very important to prioritize and decide how best you can experience the city within the given time. Vienna is a city of meuseums, and S is a big fan of meuseums, but we decided to give them a pass this time as that would have significantly eaten into the time we needed to explore the city. Try not to schedule too many things in 1 day, it takes the fun away.

8. Comment on Eurail: For the countries, we visited, and for our travel schedule, EURAIL turned out to be more expensive than buying first class/second class tickets on OBB. Though EURAIL looks very lucrative, do your research and read the fineprints. Most European countries have their own railways like OBB for Austria, D-Bahn for Germany which offer as good if not better deals than EURAIL.

9. We got OBB tickets from India and reserved seats during booking. We used the official OBB app to book the tickets. The ticket prices during peak season are variable much like flight prices. Proper planning and pre-booking can save a lot of hassle later. Buy first class tickets on OBB if your train originates in the Eastern European countries. Second Class tickets are fine for Intra-Austrian trains.

10. We had equally divided cash/travel card expenses. We carried 2 travel card from 2 different providers just to be sure. We found HDFC Regalia Forex to have the lowest rates (apart from ATM withdrawal). ICICI Euro card is also good if all your spending are going to be in Euro. Keep in mind that you need to have good amount of cash in local currency wherever you go. In our experience, there are small curio and souvenir shops which will decline to accept cards now and then.

11. Our expense break-up (Yes toilets are expensive - Image 94)

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(Image 94: Our expense break up)

Other places not higlighted:

a) Museum Quarter in Vienna (Image 95)- It is an open square walled by different museums. Must visit for all museum lovers

A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary-photo7155.jpg
(Image 95: Museum Quarter in Vienna)

b) Mirabell Palace and gardens in Salzburg (Image 96)- One of the historice landmarks of Salzburg has a very beautifully decorated and maintained garden surrounding it

A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary-photo5314.jpg
(Image 96: Salzburg Castle from Mirabell Gardens)

c) Synagogue on Donahy Street- One of the largest and most famous synagogues in Europe which finds mention in Dan Brown’s latest novel Origin

d) Ruin pubs of Budapest- DON’T MISS THEM! Szimpla Kert is the most famous one

e) Classical music concert in Salzburg and organ concert in Budapest- Every concert has its own characteristics; attend one in every city.

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Note from Support: Thread moved to the Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!
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Fantastic and so much of useful information. It will serve as a great reference for a future trip, once I get the much needed leaves

Very nice read!

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Old 5th December 2017, 13:51   #10
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Default Re: A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary

Pic 1 -->

A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary-pic1.jpg

Pic 2 -->

A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary-pic2.jpg

I've marked the similarities in both the pictures in red - 1)tourist with the red jacket & 2) bunch of students/musicians getting their group picture clicked.

A closer look -->
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The only difference is Pic 1 is taken by you and Pic 2 was taken by me, which means we were at the same place, at the same time, on the same day and in the same month!!! What a coincidence.

Amazing pictures there buddy!!! It was like reading about my stay in Vienna all over again!

Last edited by Rehaan : 5th December 2017 at 18:04. Reason: Adding cropped-in version :)
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Old 5th December 2017, 14:33   #11
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Default Re: A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary

Originally Posted by Porschefire View Post
Pic 2 -->

Attachment 1702804

I've marked the similarities in both the pictures in red - 1)tourist with the red jacket & 2) bunch of students/musicians getting their group picture clicked.

The only difference is Pic 1 is taken by you and Pic 2 was taken by me, which means we were at the same place, at the same time, on the same day and in the same month!!! What a coincidence.

Amazing pictures there buddy!!! It was like reading about my stay in Vienna all over again!
That is awesome! Who would have thought that? Please put up a travelogue with your pictures. Would love to read about the places from your perspective.

I think I can see my arm behind the tourist with a backpack near the left bottom corner of the picture.
We should have coordinated our trips, but who knew?

Vienna is indeed a wonderful place. We have now decided that most of our Europe trips will start in Vienna. You just cannot have enough of that place.
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Old 5th December 2017, 16:17   #12
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Default Re: A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary

nice writeup and pics

I am planning a Europe trip for next summer. This will definitely help - I will PM you for more details

Edit:- Rated 5*

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Two of my favorite cities in Europe - Innsbruck and Salzburg! Old memories revisited while reading through your travelogue. Didn't find a mention of Swarovski museum which could be visited during Innsbruck stay.

Excellent pictures as well. Thank you for sharing.
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Old 5th December 2017, 17:21   #14
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Perfect light, wonderful camera\s and fantastically captured (both the snaps and write-up) - Tribute to your watermark

Most of the place names are even very hard to pronounce, how did you guys manage on the communication?
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Old 5th December 2017, 19:04   #15
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Default Re: A few blissful days in Austria and Hungary

Originally Posted by dre@ms View Post

Most of the place names are even very hard to pronounce, how did you guys manage on the communication?
Thanks for the kind words dre@ms.

Most of the people we interacted were happy to communicate in English. Broken German and few key words helped us when on road.
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