Day 5 – Prague to Vienna

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Getting Around, Prague, Vienna
Tags: , , ,

I’m supposed to tell everyone that I deprived my beloved family of a half hour of sleep this morning (I thought we’d agreed to get up at 7am… apparently we’d agreed on 7:30… that would explain why the alarm on my phone didn’t go off…)

In any case, we packed our stuff, said goodbye to our hosts and headed for our new favourite food place – Bageterie Boulevard for a ham and egg breakfast sandwich (delicious!) and to grab some ham and cheese croissants for lunch (also delicious) and then made our way to the train station (about a 15 minute walk from our pension). Finding the station was a piece of cake (walk to the end of Wenceslas Square, turn left at the giant museum and walk a couple of hundred metres to what could only be a train station – the clock tower and the rundown now but harbouring vestiges of its past glory building are dead giveaways.

The Prague train station is definitely a “don’t judge a book by its cover” structure. On the surface, it’s an old building and in quite poor shape… You can tell it was really quite spectacular back in the day but time hasn’t been kind (they’re doing a lot of work on it though and I imagine it will be quite beautiful when they’re all done). You enter through a side door and it’s pretty bleak and rundown inside… No ticket offices, no services, nothing. Just some beleaguered travellers and a few rundown train platforms… Then you take an escalator down one level and you’re in this super-modern, bustling transportation hub with multiple levels of bus and train platforms and shops and restaurants of all descriptions…

We were plenty early (don’t get Marie started on being at the station 1.5hrs before our departure – she’s been giving me the gears all day) so we staked out a spot to dump our packs, designated one person as bag watcher (me) while the others went exploring and looking for ways to spend the last 400 Czech korunas we had left… We managed to spend some of it on food and beer for the trip (6 cans of beer, 3 yogurts, a bottle of orange juice, a bottle of sparkling mineral water, a box of cookies, 2 chocolate filled donuts and a banana used up 233 of them – about $12cdn!) In the end we left with about $150 koruna (about $7 can) so we did pretty well!

One weird thing about the Prague train station is that the platform for your train isn’t announced until about 20 minutes before the departure time so you stand around waiting, waiting, waiting and then move like mad to find your train… There’s people running and bags flying… it’s all quite fun. We made our way to the allotted platform and saw our train down near the end. Once we got to the train there was no way to tell which car was ours (our ticket showed it but there were no markings on the train itself – turns out the train composition is mapped on a handout they provide on the train… hmmmm…) In any case, a helpful (I’m exaggerating) train employee pointed us (literally) towards the right car (we assumed) and we boarded. As we approached our reserved seats, we saw a young couple getting comfy in our seats and politely asked if they had reserved 65, 66 and 67 as well… Poor things, they hadn’t reserved a seat and quite promptly left us to ours and then spent the next 10 minutes wandering up and down the aisles looking for a place to sit… I’m not sure where they ended up. I knew that you could choose not to reserve a seat and take your chances but wasn’t sure how the system actually worked (ie. how do you know that a seat is reserved or not)… Turns out they put a little tag of paper above the reserved seats… Ingenious.

Watching people stow their bags and navigate the somewhat narrow aisles of the train I was reminded, again, of how inappropriate big suitcases are for train travel… The Japanese couple across from us were hysterical – they were traveling with king-size suitcases and arrived on the train at the last minute so no overhead bins for them… They ended up stowing one on another car and cramming the other in between their seats and the ones in front and spent the next five hours folded like pretzels with their knees pulled up to their chests… Backpacks man… Backpacks…

We left precisely on time and settled in for our 5 hr trip. Marie and Caitlin started a movie about 9 minutes after the train pulled out. I watched the scenery for about 20 minutes (quite BC-like but very flat.. lots of farmland… looked a lot like the Fraser valley) and then fell sound asleep… I have the worst time falling asleep on an airplane but put me on a train and it’s lullaby time! The trip went by very comfortably – only a couple of stops along the way, comfortable seats, we’d brought lots of food and things to do… I said it the last time we travelled to Europe but I’ll say it again, trains are the way to go! I would happily take twice as long to travel by train than plane (more space, you’re not breathing that awful recycled air, you’re not 39,000 feet in the air!, scenery to look at)… I wish we could make rail travel more affordable in Canada.

As we crossed into Austria, the scenery changed a bit (more rolling hills, quaint little almost feudal-like hamlets) and the rain started. Soon we were pulling into Wien Meidling station and piling off the train into a pouring rain storm… We hustled our way to the underground concourse, found a ticket machine to redeem the online tickets we purchased for our trip to Budapest in 3 days (worked like a charm) and set about figuring out how to get to our hotel… Fortunately, we knew that our hotel was near the Westbahnhoff station and turns out the street it’s on (Gumdpendorfferstrasse) is a stop on one of the train lines… So we navigated their ticket purchase system (quite easy actually) and bought a train ticket from Meidling to Westbahnhoff… We just had to figure out where to catch the train… So we found an info kiosk (outside in the pouring rain) and asked the helpful guy where to find our train… Turns out 1E on the ticket doesn’t mean the platform… It means 1 Adult… Who knew… He pointed out that we needed to take the U6 train (that much we’d figured out on our own) and helpfully pointed out that it was underground… But not where said train was accessed in the station… So far we’d managed to get instructions on what train to take… Now we needed to know which direction we needed to take that train in (we’ve learned our lesson on that one in the past). Floridishciiengielangfalneehmelm – at least that’s what it sounded like to me… When I politely asked him to spell it, he muttered something about it being in German and how you couldn’t spell it in English (I didn’t point out to him that German and English share the same basic alphabet and yes, yes you can spell it…) but he did find a map and circle the station we should travel towards… We were on our way!

We navigated our way through the system following the signs for the U6, hopped on the train traveling towards Floridishciiengielangfalneehmelm or whatever it was and waited for our stop. We piled out at the appointed stop, trundled ourselves out into the thankfully much diminished rain and headed for our hotel… Caitlin’s eagle eyes spotted the street name right away and off we went… It was only 7 blocks but they were long blocks… Thank goodness for backpacks (have I mentioned how I think they’re the only way to go – although our shoulders were a bit sore this morning…). We found our hotel without incident. Checked-in. Spent a bit of time relaxing and then headed out to a cute little Irish pub (appropriately named Dublin) we’d passed on our way for a beer and a snack. While there adherence to the Irish theme was a bit spotty (Lagavulin was the drink special of the day) their own Dublin lager was the best beer I’ve had yet on this trip (a very light, very cold lager), their french fries were awesome and I whipped Caitlin and Marie (the rummy Queen and Crown Princess) at rummy!

Feeling somewhat fortified, we headed to Mariahilfer street – Vienna’s answer to Robson Street or the Champs Elysees… Most of the shops were closing (they close at 7) or were well out of our price range but Caitlin managed… After a bit of actual shopping and some window shopping, we grabbed a proper dinner at nice little Italian place off the main strip ($23 euros for a couple of pastas, bowl of soup and a couple of drinks) and then headed back to our hotel and called it a night.

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