Hello all! Thanks to Connie, Roy, Martin, and others for their advice and wisdom preceding my recent trip. We went to Austria (primarily Vienna), Switzerland (Geneva & Zurich), and Paris. I begin with Vienna.
I had been to Austria before, and love this country. My colleagues had not been there, so they wanted to go to the Schonbrunn Castle, etc., but as I had already done that, I decided to take a day trip to Mauthausen. I was very glad that I made the effort. As a history buff, I was in awe of the surroundings, memorials, and museum. I could envision the prisoners and Nazi guards, especially as I was in the garage area and the barracks. I stopped a guide and asked him what I should not miss, and he pointed out the quarry (I would've missed this without his advice, because I didn't know its history beforehand.) It was amazing to see and find out its history, especially regarding the "Stairway of Death." I read up on it afterwards and couldn't believe the atrocities that the Nazis had committed there. Mauthausen should not be missed if one is visiting Austria, in my opinion. I was so appreciative that I had read about it on this site. The museum also was very informative, I learned a lot there as well.
As several advised, there simply wasn't time to get to Salzburg this trip, with only two days in Austria. It will always be one of my favorite cities, I prefer it to Vienna as I love the old buildings.
I was happy that I was able to figure out the train system on my own to go to Mauthausen, but will advise future travelers that the posted schedule might not be entirely up to date.... I was almost stranded at the Mauthausen train station. I would recommend checking the schedule on the Internet. I ended up taking a tazi to the next station and caught the train there to Linz, and from there back to Vienna. Live and learn!
From Vienna, we went to Switzerland. My seat-mate that I met on the plane was first to tell me that Switzerland is very expensive to visit. Had not heard this before- and she was spot on. The average meal is about $35, and - this is if you eat on the cheap. On one occasion, I ordered a club sandwich and coke, and it was $30-something you would need to take into consideration if you were coming with a family or group.
The country is beautiful, and we all fell in love with Geneva. Some of our group went to the UN building, some to the Red Cross museum, and others to Reformation museum. So much to see and do there. The shop-keepers were especially nice, and most of our group bought Swiss army knifes for gifts (which were much appreciated by our male friends and relatives.) Just remember to pack them in the luggage you check- not carry on!
On to Paris- what can you say about Paris? It is odd- my group didn't like it overall, because of the rude mannerisms of many of the drivers and clerks, but I loved the city. I figured you have to take the good with the bad. We did the hop-off, hop-on bus on the first day, and found it very convenient. We visited the Louvre, and because I knew what to expect, we planned our time there well to see what we wanted to see. It can be overwhelming- huge and very crowded.
If I were to go again, I'd skip the visit to Versailles- it reminded me of Schonbrunn Palace on a much larger scale- and the excess was nauseating (personal opinion.) It took up almost an entire day, and to me, it wasn't as meaningful as many other places.
Notre Dame (the inside) was disappointing- should've taken a guided tour. We thought it was disrespectful to see all the sales & loudness in this beautiful church, and as services were taking place! The building of course, is amazing.
Loved the Musee d'Orsay. It is focused on Impressionist artists; saw works by Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, and Monet. Much less crowded than the Louvre, and the cafe on the second? floor had amazing views that overlook the city!
I look forward to your comments or questions.