Hello from Vienna, Austria

Hello from Vienna, Austria
Sunday morning August 31, 2008 (ninth travelogue of this trip)
Last night we stayed in a great old hotel in the center of old town Vienna and did a rather special thing last night. I will report on that in the next blog (how is that for a teaser?)
I am, again, starting this travelogue on a train from St. Johann to Vienna. The train was scheduled to depart St. Johann on 9:58 and arrive in Vienna on 14.18. Turns out that the train did not depart until 10:29. We are so surprised about the lack of punctuality of the trains during this trip. .
I need to catch up on some details of our stay in St. Johann and make some more general observations.
Our hotel was Alpenlandsporthotel. While this was a hotel, we booked it as an exchange on our time-share condo. It turns out that most of the people at the hotel were also time share folks. Most exchange units have a kitchen, but this is a deluxe, adjoining set of hotel rooms. We did not need the kitchen anyway.
On our last time trip to Europe (2005) we were able to do two exchanges (Schilersee, Germany and Carnforth, England). Because of the “holiday” (vacation) season on this trip we were only able to do the St. Johann exchange. These exchanges tend to place you a bit off the beaten path. However, they have all been in great locations as far as scenery goes. With the Eurail pass, we can travel to most any location on day trips, albeit, the condo location can add an hour or more to the travel.
At the hotel in St. Johann, our balconies overlooked very beautiful and steep hill sides (see photo). If you look closely in the right hand side (about half way up) of the photo you will see a rather large RV campground. As is always the case, the photo does not do justice to the scene. The hotel is located at an altitude of 2,000 feet and close-by mountains are well over 6,000 feet
When we toured Slazburg, we came across a market place. There a lady was cutting a large wheel of cheese (see photo). The Europeans really love their cheese and it does indeed taste very good.
We have had just about every train experience you can imagine. Today our train was late and what appeared to be our train (next scheduled train) turned out to be a train to Innsbrook that did not appear on the schedule – we almost got on the wrong train. When we went to Munich we were on a train shown to go the Munich main statation. We got to a stop in a small town and the conductor informed us it was the end of the line (no problem, with Eurail we just jumped on the next train). At one train station (forget which) a train to our desired destination was quite late. Suddenly everyone started leaving the loading platform. Turns out they changed the departure track (did not announce in English). We followed everyone and made the train just fine. So far, the biggest issue with the delayed trains is concern about reading the schedule and making sure we understand what train we are on. In one case, the train delay worked to our advantage. It caused us to miss what we thought was the proper train back to St. Johann. It would not have gotten us there.
We were quite surprised to see smoking in the restaurants in Austria. We were told that smoking had be outlawed (as was the case in Germany), but they have chosen not to enforce the law.
We have eaten in some absolutely great restaurants. Some have been very fancy (expensive) and some have been small cafes with great food and relatively cost effective meals (still pretty expensive compared the the USA). Bill can’t get over paying $6.00 for a small cup of coffee {grin}. The good news is that the beer is not much more expensive that in the USA and is a darn site better!
A few nights ago we were eating outside at a restaurant close to the hotel (St. Johann). All of a sudden we heard what sounded like shots being fired. About the time we are all thinking about taking cover, we saw fireworks in the sky. It turns out the town was having some sort of beer festival and the rather extensive fireworks show was a part of the festival. They were right over the hotel. One of the folks in the restaurant said in very broken English “the Russians are coming” (jokingly). It was obvious that the folks in the restaurant were not aware that the show would happen.
The only English TV Channel is CNN. In the past, it was mosty UK commutators who sound very pompous to me. This time there is a large variety of reporters and the news coverage is great. We got to see some of the Olympics and the Democratic Convention was extensively covered (almost like we were in Denver).
This is a long train trip and I was able to review my travelogue from our 2005 European trip. It sure brought back fond memories. At that time I “published” the travelogues as emails to the family. As I have noted many times, our real purpose in writing these travelogues is that it creates a great diary of our travels. If folks want to follow along, that is great. It was very fun to “relive” that trip.
Two things stuck out from that travelogue. First was the horrible problems I had connecting to the Internet (including very high costs) and secondly the exchange rate at the time. At that time the Euro was worth $1.30. Today it is about $1.50. That is a loss of about 14% in the value of the dollar. When we started this trip, the exchange was at $1.60, the difference would have been 23%. The recent strengthening of the dollar has helped us a bit. While we have had some issues with email on this trip, it was not even close to the huge problems on the last trip. The problems were made worse on that trip by the fact that I was actively involved it a consulting case that required frequent connection.
The fact that we activated a cell phone for this trip has also made communication much more pleasant. The cost is high ($.99/minute), but we don’t have to deal with pay phones, calling cards (lots of numbers to enter) and exorbitant hotel phone charges. We will probably die when we get the bill.
As most of you know, the European electrical system is 230 volts/50 cycle. This does not present a problem for most electronic items. Almost all battery/computer chargers/hair curling brushes are dual voltage and the only thing you need is a simple adapter for the plug configuration. The amazing thing to us is that this is a two wire system. There is no safety ground and no GFI protection on any outlet. Kind of makes you a bit uneasy plugging things in, but we have not heard of any issues with electrocution {grin}.
Speaking of safety, an OSHA official would die of a heart attack the first day here. Construction sites are very open to the public, workers do not seem to use the same level of protection, electrical wiring seems to be very dangerously installed, etc.
Well, this has been a rambling travelogue, but I have been able to catch up on a lot of miscellaneous items.

View from our balcony in St. Johann

Cheese in Salzburg

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