Danube, Prater, and Overnight to Bern – Europe 2012

This is part of a set of pages describing our trip in March 2012 to Europe.

Friday, March 23d

We had a slow start but having the hotel provide breakfast is a good way to ensure that you get up and moving in the morning.  Our morning has started with meat, cheese, and bread which provides plenty of energy for the day as well as simple choices for everyone.  We walked down to the Westbahnhof, back up Mariahilferstrasse, and placed our luggage in the storage lockers.  There were far fewer lockers here than in Munich, and we had to get two, one for each suitcase.

Now we headed down to the trains below and rode out to the beautiful blue Danube.  The Donaumarina stop placed us right on a walkway along the great river.  Our daughter is doing a school project on water so we have been hitting any water spots we can find.  We sat in the sun and watched the river go by.  Then we got back on the train – the benefits of a day pass – and rode across the river to the other side, just to see the old Danube.

We got back on the train heading towards the city and stopped at the Prater, the large amusement park / boardwalk in the city.  We were heading for the old ferris wheel, the Riesen Rad.  It was built before World War II but suffered so much damage that, upon being rebuilt, they only put back half as many of the cars.

As we came up the escalator from the underground, a fellow approached me and said something that I didn’t catch.  I was getting a bit fed up with this.  We had been walking through the city yesterday and a guy approached me with some sort of newspaper that it seemed as though he was trying to sell to me:  “Eine frage, bitte” (A question, please).  I wasn’t buying.  “Nein, danke.”  Now this guy seems to be wanting to sell something too.  Shabby coat, no uniform, and I have no idea what he’s saying.  So I repeat what I’d said the day before, “Nein, danke.”

This guy wasn’t happy with that answer.  He pulls a card out from under his coat, on a metal chain, and says, “Tickets”!  Haha!  I keep forgetting that conductors in Europe don’t always wear uniforms.  We had seen the same thing on the trains in Germany and would see it in other places.  Some conductors are in a typical uniform but these ticket checkers are often waiting at the top of the escalators and spot check people coming off the trains. I showed him our pass and he nodded and moved on to someone else.

Once you buy your tickets for the Reisen Rad, you enter a small room that has models of the ferris wheel over the years.  Then you walk out and wait to get on board.  Instead of seats like on many ferris wheels, these are little cabins with benches in the middle.  About 10 people get in and they close the door and the wheel rotates.  Some of the other cabins were set up with a table in the middle, so you could have dinner on it.  There was a good view of the city – a surprising amount of smog to the north – but it was fun to be up high in the air.

The amusement area is open, so you don’t pay to get in to the park.  You just pay for each ride or game you play.  There are also attractions like those in any kitschy location, like Niagara Falls.  We found a cafe attached to Madame Tussaud’s wax works that sold inexpensive sandwiches and allowed us to sit out in the sun in the beautiful weather.

We took the train back into downtown Vienna and headed for Karlsplatz.  First, we wanted to go there because our older son loved the idea of going to somewhere called “Karl Splats”.  Yes, haha.  But we also wanted to see the Red Army monument we’d seen the day before, which was blazing with gold and had a huge fountain.  We cut through past the French Embassy and spent a brief time in front of the fountain.

We returned to Karlsplatz and got back on the U-Bahn.  This would be the fifth or sixth line we had ridden on and we took it to the last attraction on our list for Vienna:  the Schonbrunn palace.  It was originally a hunting lodge that the Empress Maria Theresa converted to her summer palace.  It was an amazing place, as rich as anything we’d ever seen.  This was the most organized, touristy place we had been to so far.  There were a variety of tours – we took the basic, 22 room tour that takes about 35 minutes.  They handed out audio tours to all of us and we were on our way.

The tour moved quickly, unlike the Mozart Haus, and we were soon coming out into the inevitable gift shop.  We headed out into the fresh air and grabbed an ice cream.  Then we strolled through the grounds behind the palace, where the boys raced off ahead and burned off their seemingly unlimited energy.

We returned to the Westbahnhof and collected our luggage.  Our train wouldn’t leave for five hours but we had charged up all of our electronic devices, and had an entire train station to keep us occupied.  We had food from a half dozen shops and bakeries around the station and then wrote some postcards and played some games.  I strolled around on the platform with our youngest, looking at the ICE trains and were even able to peek inside our carriage.

The train was delayed.  That wasn’t great news but it was the first time we had any problem with train timing on the trip.  It was delayed once and then again.  If this had happened in Munich, we would have been really uncomfortable.  But the Westbahnhof was warm and enclosed and we just waited.  Eventually we were able to board our coach and we put down the sheets and blankets on our couchette bunks.  This time we had a 6 bunk couchette and would be having an extra person join us overnight.  We settled down and expected to arrive in Zurich at 7 in the morning.

A few hours later, the door to our couchette rattled.  I had secured it and now I needed to unlock it so that the extra passenger had climbed on board.  We had made up the bed on the bottom bunk – partly out of kindness but also to make it as easy as possible for the person to get settled and not wake up the rest of us – and then the door slid open.  The new passenger quickly settled in and we were all asleep.

I dozed fitfully most of the night.  The eldest two were on the top bunks, with Leila and the youngest on the middle bunks.  Being on any bunk was a treat for him, and as the morning wore on and we all woke up, he eventually migrated to the top bunk.  I checked out of the window and saw mountains and Swiss-looking buildings.  Then we stopped at Innsbruck station.  Our bunkmate woke and asked where we were and I told her.  She was surprised and made a phone call to a friend, and then told us that we were 4 hours behind schedule.  We let the kids sleep awhile longer but as we crossed into Switzerland and day was coming along, we put up the middle bunks so that we could sit on the seats, and then breakfast came.  Lots of bread rolls, butter and jam, and coffee.

But first we had to get to Zurich and make a connection to Bern.

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