The Czech Republic and Austria

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

If you’ve known me for a little while, you might remember in early 2017 when I blogged every week about my 3-month journey around the world. If you’ve known me for a LONG while, you might even remember the various food blogging I did before that (hey, 2011 was a great year for a food blog!).

Well, my life has changed some since those days, but today I sat down in front of my computer to write a blog post and, guess what...it felt exactly the same as it used to.

I’m not picking up blogging again as a weekly habit, but now that I’m travel agenting as my awesome day job, I wanted to share about my most recent trip. I hope this post is interesting, informative, and inspiring. Share the wanderlust, people!

Oh, and if you want to go on a trip, contact me! ;)

--

Last week, my husband and I returned from a 14-day visit to central Europe. We decided to go to the Czech Republic and Austria based on: (1) the predicted weather, (2) our interest in joining a bike tour there, and (3) wanting to visit Austria again after blitzing through it last year. I planned the trip bit by bit between February and May, and when August rolled around, we headed out.

Prague as viewed from above!

Prague as viewed from above!

We started with four days in Prague. What a charming city! Prague felt safe, walkable, and fun. Twice we went on runs in the morning over the Charles Bridge and I was smitten. I had NO historical knowledge of the Czech Republic or Prague, so I really enjoyed getting a sense of it. And wow, the Czech Republic has some fascinating history. The old stuff (like being ruled by the Hapsburgs and the kingdom of Bohemia) was evident in the buildings and the streets, but the newer history (communist rule from 1945 to 1989) was harder to spot. In Prague’s Velvet Revolution in November of 1989 (named because there was no violence, so it was “soft”) the country threw off its communist rule and has since become a democracy. It was fascinating to talk to folks who lived through that and learn about their personal experiences under the communist regime.

The Prague Castle complex.

The Prague Castle complex.

In the past 10 years, Prague’s tourism industry has kicked into overdrive, but the city doesn't quite have the infrastructure in place to handle it. The most popular spots were pretty much mobbed during the day, especially the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle. As a visitor, the castle complex was interesting, but there was no clear way to line up for a ticket or see the attractions without complete chaos. This dissuaded me quite a bit. I seriously advise visitors to Prague to get to the castle as early in the day as possible! OR, forgo seeing the inside of the buildings and stroll the grounds at night after the buildings are closed. Contrast this Prague castle insanity with something like the Alhambra in Spain. There, the number of visitors is restricted each day, you have to buy tickets in advance, and they have a timed entrance!

The rest of Prague didn’t feel mobbed, just the well-known “must-sees.” [As a side note, that is why when I travel I sometimes skip those top attractions. Instead, I’ll opt for second-tier attractions that offer something fascinating without the buzzy mob; this is just better for my soul!]

I especially loved visiting the old Jewish Quarter and seeing the many synagogues and the famous Old Jewish Cemetery. Mostly, Europe feels like church after church, and this was a fascinating change.

We met up with our biking trip in Prague, but immediately headed out of the city into the countryside. From there, we spent the next five days bicycling! We had beautiful weather and quiet roads and I loved every minute of it. We were there with a tour company that handled all the details which made the whole experience really smooth!

I made some new friends while out on a bike ride!

I made some new friends while out on a bike ride!

20180814_145816.jpg

We spent two nights in the town of Cesky Krumlov (super picturesque and super touristy – that’s all I’ll say about that) and then headed over the border into Austria. All of a sudden, the signs were in German and the road quality got a lot better.

Our first destination in Austria was the Wachau Valley, a lovely wine-growing region along the Danube. It was here that I biked the hardest and enjoyed the best views and best downhill ride of the trip. There are miles and miles of bike paths along the river cutting through vineyards and fruit orchards. I really liked this area!! It’s only about an hour from Vienna, so it could absolutely be a day trip. OR, if you like white wine and beautiful things, try the Gruner Veltliner and consider staying longer.  ; )

After a peaceful two days, we said goodbye to this stretch of the Danube and our bike trip and ventured into Vienna for four days to explore on our own.

In preparation for writing this post, I went back and re-read what I had written about the 36 hours we spent in Vienna last year. I basically glossed over the whole city! Bah! Well, not anymore!

Last time we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Schonbrunn Palace (which was awesome). This time, we went deeper into the rest of the city. Some highlights: the Hofburg Palace, a historical walking tour, the Royal Crypt, and the Treasury. With all that sightseeing, we got so hungry we had to try the famous Sacher Torte at the two most famous cafes! I had a preference for the Sacher Torte from Demel, but shhhh, don’t tell.

We also visited the Spanish Riding School. This 300-year-old Lipizzan horse training program is amazing. We did a tour one day, and then went back the next day to see the horses perform. Many of these horses train with their riders for over a decade to perform on-the-ground skills and very difficult above-the-ground skills in front of a crowd. It was a show unlike anything I’d experienced!

The only down side of our time in Vienna was the heat. As you may know, much of Europe experienced serious heat waves this August. While it was worse in the south, it was pretty warm in Vienna as well. The temperature hit at least 90°F every day and there wasn’t much AC. You know what is air conditioned, though? Grocery stores! We had to pop in to see the goods and cool off.

I really like Vienna for its grandness and history. Also, as a visitor, it feels safe and it’s really easy to use the metro to get around everywhere. It was riding the metro that I experienced my favorite thing in all of Austria: when taking the escalators at the metro stations, EVERY SINGLE PERSON STANDS ON THE RIGHT! That means you can step on an escalator at the bottom, look up, and see a clear path to walk all the way to the top. BEAUTIFUL.

I realize this is NOT why most people like Vienna, but what can I say? I love it! So. if you visit Vienna, you must take the subway, just to see crowds on the escalators.  : )

Also, quick shout-out to our Vienna accommodations: Hotel Altstadt. Classy, quirky, and amazing breakfasts!

In summary, the Czech Republic and Austria both get big thumbs up. So does my travel partner/husband for being willing to go on adventures with me.

Where to next?? Who knows!

Until then, safe travels!