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May 2023 – Budapest-Vienna-Bavarian Alps-Salzburg-Prague-Krakow

I am a little slow getting this trip report done but there is always so much to catch up on at home after being gone for 4 weeks. We relied heavily on the Rick Steves’ guidebooks as well as the forum and I found You Tube videos to be very helpful when researching local Metros. This is our eighth trip to Europe and we prefer to travel on our own so we can explore as much as we want to. There were three of us – two 60+ year olds and our 25 year old son who flew home after Prague.

We flew from Seattle to Budapest and spent four nights. The highlights for us were St Istvan’s Basilica, Castle Hill, Parliament tour, the interesting architecture and the river tour. We spent at entire day exploring Castle Hill. We purchased Parliament tickets before we left home. We visited Heroes’ Square on May Day and it was packed with locals. We were not impressed with the House of Terror nor the Szechenyi Baths. We went to the baths late on a Wednesday afternoon and it was really, really crowded. We used the local buses and trams to get around and they worked extremely well. We used the Metro app but found it easier just to purchase the tickets at a machine. I felt we were singled out on one bus ride when our tickets were checked by a Metro employee to verify that we had validated them. Make sure to get a chimney cake (or more than one) when in Budapest.

We took the train from Budapest to Vienna and spent five nights. One of the days we were in Vienna we took a day trip to Melk and enjoyed the Abbey. We took the train to Melk and then bus a bus back stopping at Durnstein and Kearns. We did lots of walking around soaking up the amazing architecture in Vienna and used Rick Steves’ walking tour. We had first tickets of the day for the Schonbrunn Palace. We spent about an hour and we were generally just ahead of the tour groups so had a pleasant time. After the palace we explored the gardens walking up to the Gloriette. We paid to enter the Karlskirche. We enjoyed the armory and museum at the World Museum of Vienna. We had tickets for the Kunsthistorisches at opening at 10. There were no in and out privileges so we had a good lunch at the museum since we didn’t leave until 2:30. We did the opera house tour but found it only OK. Once again we relied heavily on the Metro for transportation and found the Vienna Metro app to be very useful planning rides. We did not use it to buy tickets.

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We love mountains and had planned to spend five days exploring the Bavarian Alps. My husband had researched numerous scenic drives and had found several short hikes. We took the train to Freilassing German and rented a car for five days from Europecar. The day we picked up the car, rain and cool weather rolled in. Every day we were in the Alps it rained and the high temperature was low to mid 50’s. We spent three nights in Fussen Germany, one night in Vipiteno Italy and one in Berchtesgaden Germany. We never did see an alp. There were low clouds and fog every day that the hid the mountains. We had a window of clearing each day but the drives did not go as planned. We visited the Hohenschwangau Castle (tickets were purchased ahead of time) and walked up to Neuschwanstein Castle but did not tour it. Be sure to do the walk to Mary’s Bridge. Our 4 euro umbrellas purchased from Woolworth’s in Fussen came in handy. We enjoyed poking around Ehrenberg Ruins and do not miss the Highline 179 if you like suspension bridges. The Linderhof Castle was a treat to tour and we only had to wait 25 minutes for an English tour. We visited Innsbruck but it was another rainy day and there really wasn’t much to see in the poor weather. The scenic tours we had planned on our drive to Berchtesgaden didn’t work out because of weather but we noticed on Google that Kufstein had a fort so we stopped there to explore. We found the fort to be very interesting and enjoyed the extensive museum. The morning we dropped the car we had tickets for the first tour of the day at the Salzburg Salt Mine. The tour capacity seemed to be 60 which would have been really crowded. We only had 14 in our tour which was perfect. The tour guide gave his spiel in German and then repeated it for us in English. We had planned to do The Eagle’s Nest but the weather was so poor we passed on it. We dropped the car (Europecar in Freilassing is closed on Sunday but we were able to drop the car in their lot) and took the train to Salzburg.

We spent two nights in Salzburg and again we had cool days and heavy rain. We purchased the digital Salzburg Card that covered public transportation as well as the sights we wanted to see. We enjoyed exploring the Hohensalzburg Fortress and do not miss the fountain tour at Hellbrunn Palace. We were not impressed touring the palace but the fountains were entertaining. It would have been fun to explore Salzburg in better weather.

We took the train from Salzburg to Prague where we spent 4 nights. After transferring trains at Linz there was track maintenance so after riding the train for 45 minutes everyone got off the train at a small station and was loaded on to two very old uncomfortable buses for an hour ride. At another station we got back on another train for the final two hours of the trip. Once again we used the local Metro to navigate the city. We took two walking tours with Jason through LivingPragueTours. He did a great job and we were very happy with his tours. Prague was very crowded but we managed to see most of the highlights in Rick Steves’ book.

We took the train to Krakow where we spent 5 nights. We had booked a flight out after 4 nights but Delta canceled the flight and there was no way out of Krakow to Amsterdam to catch a flight to SEA so we just added another night. We had plenty of time to cover all the top sites plus some. Be sure to visit Wawel Castle and Schindler’s Factory. I had made a first of the day reservation (10 am) for Schindler’s Factory but we had to stand in line to purchase our tickets. We were still ahead of the tours that were moving fast and did start to pass us by. As we were standing in line to purchase tickets I noticed on our reservation sheet that we could have purchased our tickets at the Visitor Center in Main Market Square. We happened to arrive 20 minutes before opening so were early in the line but it was quite long by opening. I recommend Walkative’s free walking of Old Town Krakow.

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We took a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau through Viator. We were picked up at 7:30 in a van with 11 others but once at Auschwitz combined with other vans for a group of 30+. The headsets used sometimes cut out in the buildings and the tour guide was at times hard to understand because of her accent. After the 1.5 hour tour at Auschwitz we had 20 minutes in the van to eat lunch and then we were driven to Birkenau. The tour guide did not use a head set so unless you were glued to her side you could not hear what she was saying. As we read on line the tour was very rushed and crowded with back to back tours so for me it was hard to process the horrors that went on there when I was so rushed and surrounded by so many people. We once again used the local metro system heavily and it worked very well and was cheap. We used the machines to buy tickets.

We found it a bit challenging managing four different currencies. In Budapest, Prague and Krakow we almost didn’t need to get the local currency but to be on the safe side used ATM’s to get US$50 worth of currency in Budapest and Krakow. In Prague we got a bit confused and missed a decimal point and actually took out US$500 (oops!). I got rid of the excess local currencies on our final dinner. Germany and Austria were a different story. We ran across several restaurants that wanted euros only and entrance to some churches was only euros. We had a hard time (impossible for us) finding cash machines in Salzburg and Krakow that didn’t have excess fees and a bad exchange rate.

Important train notes:

Seat 61 is an amazing resource for train travel in Europe. To book our Budapest-Vienna and Vienna-Salzburg legs I used: www.thetrainline.com. When I booked the tickets I was not able to get assigned seats. I think maybe I could have gone back closer to departure and bought seats but I didn’t. The trains were fairly full and it was hard to tell what seats were reserved. We were lucky and did not sit in reserved seats but others did and had to move when passengers got on at other stops. I had the app for Train Line and it was handy to have. For the Salzburg–Prague and Prague–Krakow legs I used the Czech railways web site. I had a very hard time paying since the site would not recognize my credit cards but eventually I tried Google Pay and got the tickets. I was not able to get assigned seats on the Salzburg–Prague leg and I think that was because of the maintenance on the track and changing trains. For the Prague–Krakow leg once I picked the train schedule I wanted it sent me to a page to pick my assigned seats. For this leg it was critical to be in the correct car. About 2 hours into the ride we stopped at a station, the engine and first couple cars were decoupled and left to Budapest. We waited about 30 minutes and another engine and cars arrived to take us on to Krakow. Bad luck but the air conditioning was not working in our car but for the 30 minute wait we were able to stand on the platform and get fresh air. Again I had the Czech railways app which was very helpful with stops, how long at stations and any delays.

I am happy to attempt to answer any questions if you want to PM me. We spent hours researching, planning, and booking tickets. I found most web sites I needed to book tickets from Rick Steves’ guidebooks.

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What a shame that the weather wasn't better in The Alps. I first went to Tirol in 1970, and have returned many times with my family. The Grossglockner High Alpine Highway south of Zell-am-Zee is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. Missing those magnificent mountains will just be another excuse to go back--and also take in Munich, a great large city.

We have been to Budapest a couple of times, and yearn for another trip there.

Sounds as if you've had a grand time.