Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 5

Vienna bound

After three fantastic sunny days the weather changed. Ominous grey clouds began to swirl overhead enveloping the hills. A broody storm sky.

Never mind it was to be a day of travel – Prague to  Vienna. South past Brno, Napoleon’s HQ for the battle of Austerlitz, perhaps his greatest victory? Then a lunch stop in Bratislava.

The seat rotation on the coach was proving popular. Everyday new people sitting opposite, new introductions, new travel tales and new discoveries.

Bratislava Rain hammered down outside the coach as we sped through glorious and wet countryside – villages, towns, farmland and open country. Villages some deserted, some alive, many romantic styles, some not. Abandoned farms, signs of a more prosperous yesteryear. Timeless moments, a cinematic landscape flashing by in our comfortable air-conditioned luxury coach. And suddenly as quickly as it had begun the rain stopped and clouds began to lift. Oh, the power of collective group thought! Perfect timing as our lunch stop was less than 10 km away.

Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, was once the Hungarian capital when Budapest was besieged by the Ottomans. We entered through St Michael’s Gate. The castle sits proud and solid on a high cliff, towering over the city as many castles do. Looking splendid in red and white. In 2005 this was the venue for a Putin/George Bush summit.

Palatial buildings, Hapsburg architecture. An Opera house. A town hall from the late 13th century. Cobbles galore. It is all here to see and discover in the pedestrianised centre. The clock museum and St Martin’s cathedral are worth a visit too. The stunning Old Town contrasts heavily with the Soviet built grey and sombre apartments on the outskirts.

Novy Most - aka UFO Bridge Novy Most, the new bridge, is extraordinary. 85 metres high and known locally as the UFO bridge. It looks like an invading Martian fighting machine from HG Well’s ‘War of the Worlds’.

Our first sight of the beautiful River Danube today. Not blue and looking as though it has never been blue – a clear well murky, breach of The Trades Description Act. The water too cloudy to see the bottom. 

In the Old Town there are some fun life-size statues popular with tourists – well photographed and touched. My favourite is Cumil – the watcher. It looks like a man sticking out of a manhole. Legend has it that a wish will come true if you lean down and touch his head as long as you keep it secret forever. Many say he represents communist workers who are not bothered about doing any work, some say he is enjoying life by looking under women’s skirts!!

Three other ones to find are The Paparazzi, Napoleon’s soldier and the only silver statue in town – Schone Naci the old man with the hat.

Denmark’s answer to our Roald Dahl, Hans Christian Andersen stands proud in the big square.

Driving into Vienna and my first thought was how much bigger it is compared to Prague. The outskirts of any city are pretty bleak and boring. Graffiti as good as any I have seen anywhere, though I couldn’t understand a word of it.

Vienna has 160 museums, 27 palaces, 20 markets and 850 parks. Looks like we are going to be busy then. Greenery everywhere. Cities need green spaces – it’s the lifeblood and lungs of communities. The city has over 100,000 trees and every year almost 2 million bulbs spring into life.

Man at work - Cumil, Bratislava In Roman times a small garrison was stationed here, known as Vindobona. Over the years the city has grown into a looker. Many people fall in love with Vienna, and it’s easy to see why. Carly Simon sang “Nobody Does It Better”. She was probably singing about the good people of this great city.

Streets so clean and litter free. England, please take note! Does a powerful Dyson emerge at night to remove the daily detritus? The sewers are probably immaculate too with rats wearing bow ties and expensive leather shoes.

Vienna is genteel. Around one fifth of the population of Austria live here. A large silver haired contingent. Politeness is in the air. It feels safe. 

Music oozes from every street and over the centuries the city has become the most important music capital in the world. Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, Haydn and Schubert all called Vienna home.  Mozart’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutti’ was first performed in 1790. ‘The Magic Flute’ a year later. Born in Salzburg in 1756, he married in St Stephen’s Cathedral here in Vienna.

Yet the most photographed site is that of the waltz king Johann Strauss (junior) in Stadtpark. His concert tours were organised on a grand scale in Europe. In 1872 Strauss hysteria hit America. He was the Gabor/George Clooney of his day. So good-looking that he made women faint.

Vienna If you have a passion for museums, then Vienna is for you. Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss all have museums too eager to lighten your stash of euros. Too many to see in three days, but it is fun having a go. Cherry-pick the best, and you will not be disappointed.

The Uhrenmuseum – the clock museum – is tick-tock perfect. Arrive at the hour and clocks on all three floors chime in a glorious maelstrom. A timeless delight.

The Snow Globe museum is wacky and offbeat and not just for Christmas.

Fancy a bit of psychotherapy or maybe psycho-twaddle then head for Berggasse 19 – home of The Sigmund Feud museum.

Our hotel for the next three nights was the NH Wien Belvedere. The room was not as big as that in Prague, but it was clean, functional and well located – everything you would expect of a city hotel.

We unpacked quickly, showered, put on makeup, and we were ready for our first night in Vienna – a truly wacky country inn Marchfelderhof. A unique ambience and just a short drive from the city. Too wacky to even describe. Check it out on the internet. The restaurant has over the years attracted many stars, kings and politicians – Liz Taylor, Falco, Jose Feliciano, Hot Chocolate, Placido Domingo, Anthony Quinn, Joe Cocker. With the exception of Sir Cliff and Bonnie Tyler and Placido, it was noticeable that all those named were dead! Hopefully not a portent of what is to come. 

We needn’t have worried. It was a good meal, lots of music and lots of fun. The group were beginning to gel. Marchfelderhof looks like an antique shop on speed, stuffed to the rafters with memorabilia. Interesting toilets!

See also

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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