Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eastern European 9 day Vacation to Prague-Vienna-Salzburg-Budapest!

Wow! What beautiful cities. The first words that come to mind when I think of them are amazing architecture, breathtaking views, charming streets, proud history, great cappuccino, cool trams and subways, nice people, relaxed atmosphere, interesting food, lively nights, peaceful parks, unexpected beauty......
In fact all three cities we visited had a river running through them with bridges and banks where one could spend hours, days, weeks, months with a camera.

So here is my  itinerary for an 9 day Eastern European Vacation:
Prague 2 nights, Vienna 3 nights (including a day trip to Salzburg), Budapest 2 nights, Prague 1 night again and back home. 
Hope you enjoy reading and maybe try and plan the same trip for yourself some day. I promise you will have a great time.
We left from Atlanta on a Friday evening and arrived in Prague at 8 am on Saturday.  A taxi is recommended form the airport. You can choose to do a bus+subway combo but it takes over an hour so we opted out.  There are two main taxi stands/companies as you exit the airport.  The cost was about 700 CZK (1 Dollar = 22 CZK) so around $32.  If you buy a round trip the return is 47% discount or 480 CZK ($22).

DAY 1: PRAGUE Saturday Aug 4
We stayed at the Sheraton in Prague located in Charles Square.  The first day (Sat) we walked around, rested and just discovered Old Town.  In old town, the main attraction is the Astronomical clock. Every hour on the hour, it chimes and the skeleton representing death kicks off a few minute music routine accompanied by the peeking on certain creatures through the windows.  Little strange but more of a tourist thing.

The best part was just walking around the square. It was also where I tried the Trdelnik . From here we walked to the Charles bridge. You can't miss it. There are a number of statues of different saints as you walk along. This is where you will see people trying to touch the St John statue for luck.

We took a little boat ride that was quite nice. Seeing the city from the river gives a whole new perspective.  On the boat they served us beer and the most delicious soft cookies filled with orange jam. I spent the next few days looking for these cookies but couldn't find them.

We then walked along the river and arrived at a great park by the hotel. A lot of people were relaxing, having wine, taking naps, playing with kids or dogs, reading, and simple catching up. I decided to lay on the grass and take a small nap -- this was so much fun. The grass was clean and cool and I got to rest my feet and revitalize my senses.  My husband preferred walking to the bridge and taking pictures.

For dinner we decided to find a local place and ended up going to Svejk Restaurant U Karla which was right by Karlova Namesti tram/subway stop (Address: Kremencova 7, Prague, Czech Republic). Svejk by the way is a character depicted in the The Good Soldier Švejk, an unfinished satirical/dark comedy novel by Jaroslav Hašek (there are cartoons/images of Svejk on the chairs of the restaurant)
On the menu -- roasted duck with red cabbage slaw and potato dumplings. Interesting and pretty good if you are adventurous and like trying the local fare. It is off the typical tourist path, simple and czech style, the food is good, the prices reasonable and the beer is Pilsner. Pilsner Urquell is the local favorite beer brewed in the Czech Republic.
I highly recommend trying the local snacks -- this is one of my favorite things to do. The potato sticks and peanut covered in paprika goodness were yummm!  Also the gelato and ice cream stands are literally at every street corner. And it was only 1 Euro -- what a good idea for a treat. Our personal favorite of course was the cappuccino.  The seriously did not taste anything like American coffee and I mean that in a good way. It was simple delicious and refreshing.

DAY 2: PRAGUE Sunday August 5
The next day we decided to go to the Prague Castle.  On recommendation from the hotel concierge whose recommendations we took only with a grain of salt, we took a Tram # 22 from Karlova Namesti to the stop across from the Royal Gardens.  I have about a 100 pictures of the trams because I fell in love with the trams.

We walked through the gardens, crossed over the moat to the castle and then covered all the highlights within the castle walls. These were Golden Lane.  We then walked down the steps to the Little Quarter -- I loved this walk. We stopped in a restaurant to get a sandwich and it turned out to be so delicious -- just bread, emmenthal cheese and salami. So simple but so delicious -- it is probably the quality of the bread and ingredients.  The restrooms in the restaurant were like that in a modern 5 star hotel!

I was overall really pleased with all availability and cleanliness of restrooms. In fact the worst restroom of our entire trip was at JFK during our layover (how interesting is that). Now I should mention that a lot of restrooms charged 10 to 20 CZK. But totally worth it in my opinion.
We shopped for some souvenirs and then came to Malostranski Namesti square and sat at our favorite cafe right by Church of St Nicholas. We had a new beer Staropramen and coffee and hung out for quite a bit watching the trams, people and taking in the sights and sounds.

For dinner we set out pretty lat -- around 1:30 and realized that all the restaurants were closing down. So we ended up in a Chinese restaurant which was the only place to accept us.  We didn't know what to expect and ordered some egg drop soup, schezuan chicken and fried rice.  To our surprise, it was easily the best Schezuan chicken we have had -- better than India and New York. It was authentic, spicy, tasty and light. So much so that we will definitely go back to it when we return to Prague (yes we will go back!).

DAY 3: DEPART FOR VIENNA Monday August 6
We left for Vienna by train on Monday afternoon.  I booked the train tickets at  Instead of the eurorail pass, I found it was better to do confirmed rail tickets with seats. The tickets were sent to my home by free shipping through UPS.  We took the 10:42 Hilvani Nadrazi to Wein Meilding.  Most trains from Prague to Vienna go to Wein Meilding.  The train ride was about 4 hours and the coach ticket was about $60. This was an OBB train -- nothing fancy but very comfortable. We had the cabin to ourselves most of the time because the other two passengers got off early in the ride.  There was a restaurant car on the train but best to pick up a sandwich or croissant and water at the station.

From Wein Meilding we took a subway to our hotel Le Meridien Vienna located in the Opera/Belvedere quarter very close to the Museum Quarter.  The was an excellent location and a top notch hotel -- modern art everywhere, cool lighting, new building and excellent service.  We would 100% stay there again.

We rested after the journey and set out to discover the city on foot -- we we shocked at the proximity of the museums and wonderful architectural marvels around us.  The atmosphere was lively and bustling. We stopped at a greenhouse Schmetterling Haus right by the Austrian National Library for dinner and read about the history of this city.  We had loved Prague but Vienna had so much to offer that we were excited all over again to discover a new place.

DAY 4: VIENNA Tuesday August 7
We decided to walk to the museum quarter right behind the hotel.  On the way we saw the Musem of Arts which was open but would probably take 4 hours to cover so we decided to skip it. The museum of Natural History was right across from it and that sounded very interesting but was closed. So we kept walking and ran into some guys selling tickets for Opera that evening at 6:30.  We ended up chatting with them about the sights and museums. They also recommended SiSi's palace. Sisi is the princess of Vienna and daughter to St Maria Theresa who was instrumental in developing the arts and encouraging music.

We bought 2 tickets to the Opera at the Palais Ausberg and decided to walk over to the Parliament building which was also close by. This ended up becoming Rashids favorite building -- we have a lot of pictures of it in various lights and from various angles.  Just past the parliament building was a park and we heard some music and saw some food stands. Turns out it was the Film Festival with vendors selling foods of 12 different countries/cuisines.  The Indian food looked so good that we decided to snack on something before walking the gardens across the street.

The opera was a great experience. It was about 1.5 hours total but had both Mozart and Johann Strauss pieces performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Ochestra.  There were dancers too and there was an intermission with a champagne service.

DAY 5: SALZBURG Day trip from VIENNA Wednesday August 8
I really wanted to do the Sound of Music Tour and so booked this ahead of time on  Luckily for me, my husband was along for the ride -- we watched the movie before we left so he was somewhat excited.  When we got on the bus and started going into the mountains, he was very excited.   We got to see the Alps and the countryside.  So beautiful!! The our also stopped at the beautiful own of Mondsee and we visited the yellow Church of Mondsee where Maria and the Captian Von Trapp got married in the movie the Sound of Music. We saw the fountain where the children played and the facade of the house where the Baron and the children lived. We also saw the top of the abby while driving by on the bus but the most breathtaking were the hills and there were really alive!! The bus tour played the songs from the movie and also clips from the movie. The main stop was the gazebo where 'you are sixteen going on seventeen' was filmed.

This was the only tour we booked and it was also my first experience booking with Viator. I was pretty pleased. I had the voucher via email that I was carrying but needed to call the local Panorama Tours number to reconfirm. When I did this from the hotel, they sent the train tickets and updated vouchers to the hotel room within 15 minutes.  That was nice and after that it was all very easy.
Here is the link to the tour itself $105 or $140 with optional walking tour in the morning. We did the latter.

This was an all day tour so fairly hectic but the train ride made it so exciting.  The trains were modern and we got to sit on the upper deck!  My husband was super excited by the journey -- the lanscapes were beautiful and the train was super cool.

DAY 6: Train to BUDAPEST  Thursday August 9
I booked this ride ahead of time from Super easy -- like shopping on amazon. Tickets were mailed to the house.  I recommend getting confirmed seats here.

Budapest is 2 hours from Vienna. the journey is not as pretty as the one to Salzburg but comfortable. iPad's came in handy for the train and plane journeys.  This was our quiet time to write, listen to music or just gaze outside. The train rides were smooth, comfortable, no hassle and on time. The cabins have good storage bunks on the top and sometimes in the middle of the car for bigger suitcases.

We checked in to the Le Meridien Budapest. This was an older, ornate, baroque era style furniture hotel.  Also comfortable and excellent location. We walked outside and started walking towards the river -- we figured, the riverwalk probably has the best sights.  There we met a guy selling tickets to an evening cruise on the Danube. We ended up chatting with him for a long time and learning of his favorite places.

We came back to do the cruise at 7 pm.  Good decision because it was only $35 and it included white tablecloth dinner seating, full buffet with Ghoulash, 3 meats, salads, potatoes, 4 desserts.  Also included were champagne and a glass of wine.  Besides we saw amazing views of the Parliament and the city from the Danube!! And there was a band on board!  The cruise on the river Danube at sunset is a must-do -- you get to see the whole city at a glance while enjoying a great dinner.

After dinner we walked down to the St Stephens Cathedral.  
There were bars, pubs, restaurants alive with people, the Olympics being shown on big screens and everyone enjoying food and wine. So we also decided to sit on the steps by the cathedral for some wine before we called it a night.
On the walk back to the hotel we came across several such after dinner hangouts near parks with big TV screens and people carrying wine and beer in the open and enjoying with their friends and families.

DAY 7: BUDAPEST Friday August 10
We had really wanted good pictures of the Parliament house but it was so big that it was impossible to get it all into the camera unless on a cruise or from the other side of the river.  So we decided to cross the river the next day.  Turns out the walk across the bridge was easy peasy -- 15 minutes at the max and we got to see the Chain Bridge up close and fall in love with it. We had a few things we wanted to cover -- Mathais Church & Fishermans Bastion (recommend by our friend we met on the boat ride), the Palace and the Communal baths (after I saw it on TV)

We walked the bridge per recommendation from our friend. He was right -- this was the best and quickest route to Mathais Church. The last thing on our list were the Baths -- Budapest is famous for this baths -- Gellert and Szechenyi.We decided to try Szechenyi which was a quick 10 minute train ride from the hotel. The whole experience was bizzare but I'm glad we did it. It was comfortable once we found the warm water ones. They had probably 20 or 30 pools in the complex all at different temperatures. Some were saunas, some were cold, others had massagers - it was very interesting. The complex also had a restaurant, bar and lockers to store your valuables.  
DAY 8 Saturday August 11: Flight back to PRAGUE
I booked the tickets on  First time trying this site and quite liked it. Tickets were the cheapest here compared to all other sites.  $200 and it was a 1.5 hour flight versus a 7 hour train ride back to Prague from Budapest.

DAY 9 Sunday August 12: Flight back to ATLANTA 
1) Learn and read a bit about the city, history, exchange rates and culture before you leave.  The DK Eyewitness guides are "Highly Recommended" for this  -- they have walking tours, key highlights, subway stop info, brief history and excellent maps. Also I like them because they are Illustrative and User friendly.  They are a must and you wont need tour guides and will never be lost if you have these books. You can buy new ones for $15 or used ones for $5 to $7 on Amazon. Get them early.
2) Stay close to the river
3) Take the trams and subways
4) Buy water from the local groceries and gas stations
5) Drink the coffee and the wine
6) Try all the local meals, snacks and drinks
7) Carry coins for the WC
8) Rest in the late afternoons at a garden, bench or cafe
9) Buy excellent walking shoes before the trip. Your feet will thank you.  I highly recommend the Clarks Wave Wisk Women's Sandals and my husband recommends Addidas Light Clima Cool Ride
10) Don't be a tourist, be a traveler


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very informative post!!! This will definitely come in handy for when I plan my trip to eastern Europe! (In a few months!)

Anonymous said...


great to hear you liked Prague. You are not only one considering astronomical clock routine bit strange. I am always laughing at tourists waiting long minutes for full hour and staring up on tower and then leaving disappointed as they expected some great show:) By the way next time you are in Prague don't use airport taxi, there are much cheaper possibilities, the best if you are able to book in advance is via this transfer company. For airport transfers there is a flat rate with no surprises.

Vienna Trip Itinerary Planner said...

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