Trip Planning in 3 Parts: Vienna

Trip Planning in 3 Parts: Vienna

Part 1: How I Plan a Trip-Vienna October 2019

The most important question I ask myself during trip planning is “why am I going?” Followed closely by “given my intent, how and where will I spend my time?”

After the initial two weeks through Germany and the Netherlands, (with a somewhat organized group) I will strike out alone to Vienna.  There, I will revisit the history of Inge’s life through photos. She was our family’s high school exchange student, living with us for the academic year . I’ll focuse on her life during that school year as well as my “gap” year two years later when I worked and traveled in Europe.

In addition to visiting with Erich (Inge’s widower) I want to sample the vegan scene. I requested Erich’s help in defining neighborhoods that were both convenient to his location (on the U2 line) and near the many vegan restaurants.  He responded with the map pictured here,including his hand printed additions.  Vegan options are in red.

Map matching is key for trip planning as maps come in all sizes and scales.  I’ve learned:

  1. To pattern match the arch of rivers,
  2. The location of bridges and transit tracks.
  3. The distinct patterns of roadways and parks.

As will be true with Erich’s map, I will hand note the locations of other desired attractions on his map, giving me a consolidated version of my “trip plan” on one large page.  While there are likely apps which will do all of this, I never learn as much context about location unless there is a paper version involved, it’s something about being “hands-on!”

Once the above steps are complete, the next step is accommodations:

I spent a few hours researching AirBNB locations.  After years of use, an obvious choice did not emerge for two reasons.

  1. There is always a cost:  Regardless of and in addition to the severity of the cancellation policy an AirBNB owner requires, the customer will always pay the “service fee” on cancellations after 48 hours from booking.  This can range from $25 to nearly $100.  Hotels don’t charge a fee if you cancel prior to 48 hours of check in (occasionally longer).
  2.  You often don’t know what you are getting:  It often takes work to determine the genuine perceptions of past customers.  Perhaps due to the early e-commerce precedent established by Ebay, it’s customary to give hosts ratings of 5 almost across the board.  Then, if you are lucky, an honest guest will give you the real story in their comments about excess street noise, a noxious odor, a seemingly unsafe neighborhood, a location that is not as described. You have to read all the comments.  All of my target places had disqualifying traits and a service fee penalty should I cancel.

I switched my strategy to include apartment hotels which are plentiful and with a more realistic set of reviews.  I found one that seems appropriate: its on Erich’s map, a short walk from the airport train terminal and has all the features I need (kitchenette and laundry facilities).  Since my Vienna trip duration is still fluid, I can adjust my dates without penalty up until 2 days prior to visit.

This choice also enabled me to check the walking distances to transit stations, restaurants and attractions.  You can’t do that with AirBNB until you have made the purchase, often finding that your location is not really within walking distance as described by your hosts.

Part 2: How will I spend my time?  My next stop is usually Trip Advisor, Expedia or the “36 hours” feature of the New York Times to determine which attractions might offer the right mix of history, art and culture.  What historic events put Vienna “on the map” of world history?  Certainly the numerous wars with the Turks, as well as the Nazi occupation and their ransacking of museums for art and antiques.

Since both Trip Advisor and Expedia are in the business of selling tours, it’s likely their rank ordering of venues is partly cued to potential sales.  What I prefer (and have done this time) is to purchase slightly older tour books off of Ebay, Paperbackswap or at local thrift or library book sales.  I’ll review them and then cut them up to provide concise take along content with its own set of maps.  Easy to toss or pass along to other tourists once heading to my next stop.

I scored an Eyewitness guide to Vienna for about $5 from Thrift books.com  Since I also found books on Switzerland and Lyon (all totaling about $11) I was able to avoid a shipping charge.

While I await delivery, I have determined that the only Vienna history museum of interest, for a short review of historical significance, is the War museum.   Lurking in the fine print of museum reviews are many “only go here if you…” admonitions.  Given these hints, It appears that the only art museum of interest is the Belvedere Palace which houses several of the Gustav Klimt masterpieces as well as contemporary art.

Using Klimt as a cue, I searched for historical novels that reflect his era and found 2 including the book basis for the Helen Mirren film “Woman in Gold.”  The other is a fictitious account of the painting of that piece and the possible romance involved.  I intend to have that paperback in hand while visiting Belvedere Palace.  I anticipate finding reading nooks where I can take a breather, while taking in the majesty of those priceless paintings and reading key passages that make paintings come alive.  Both are part of an additional Thriftbooks order en route.

The final element are live music venues and events as well as parks and forests.  I’ve found that these are best sourced on site.  As Vienna has live music most days, I will be able to find some appropriate Mozart or Beethoven to help complete the cultural context.

City Tour Cards: Once you start to search venues in any city you will immediately start seeing ads for “Target City Tour Cards”.  These cite the “savings” you will experience by purchasing a multi-day pass which usually includes local transit.  I almost never spring for these “deals”.  The numbers only work if you plan to spend all of your time moving from museum to museum (the route of the less experienced) and their cost never accounts for senior pricing for museums or transit.  These are rarely worth it if you are north of 60.

Part 3: Putting It All Together

Once I have completed the above, I like to place everything of interest along with their opening hours (and closed days) on one of the giveaway maps available at tourist offices and hotels.  It’s my final hands on perspective building exercise and is quickly completed the first evening in a new city.  At that point, the weather for several days is known and I can determine which will be walking tours, or rainy museum days.

My final plan for Vienna has me staying there for 4 nights,  leaving me with one less day than originally anticipated.  All of a sudden my expansive two and a half weeks “on the lam” is filled up.  Oh yes, and all but three of those days will include access to a kitchen so my minimalist food kit will earn its place in my one bag.

Next up:  the Chateau where I worked for two months when just 20 years old.

 

 

Fall Marathon Travelogue

Fall Marathon Travelogue

The marathon trip I am planning this fall (October 1-November 9) is actually several sequential “trips”.  Read on to learn how it all got started.  

A few months ago, I was happily planning a 15 day trip to Germany and the Netherlands.  The central planning point was purchase of a river cruise passage from Mainz to Amsterdam (7 days).  My favorite flight to Frankfurt (#71 from DFW) Add in 3 nights in Mainz (20 min from FRA) to time adjust in advance, another 3 in Amsterdam at cruise conclusion to see those sights again, a train to Frankfurt, an overnight at the airport and flight home.  Easy peasy! Right?

Finally, my persistence at finding vegan river cruises turned up another one. 

The company is called   Vegan-cruises.com.  They are sponsoring a trip from Lyon to Lyon seeing the sights of Provence a region,  as yet unseen by me. I queried several friends thinking there is no way that anyone will want to do this (although November 1-8 is the start of the travel dead weeks this year).  And guess what?  There are now 5 of us going RT Lyon with three spending four advance days in Paris.  I switched my return from Frankfurt to a later, cheaper flight. (November rates) This means that rather than the typical $500 change fee for international travel, the rate is only $178.

I pondered for about 30 minutes;  do I purchase a reverse round trip and head all the way back to Austin for the intervening 2.5 weeks? Or should I stick around in Europe?  Since the cost of a business class roundtrip ticket would surpass the expense of staying abroad it was an easy choice.  But now…how do I spend that time? The answer was hiding in plain sight.  

As the executor of my mom’s estate (she passed in December 2004), I retain a few boxes with ancient family photos and the like.  By chance, I happened to open one of the boxes recently and found the cigar box of postcards she had saved for decades.  Inside there are about 20 dated cards, with my tiny writing which chronicle the stops I made as a college student taking a “gap year” (we didn’t call it that). I felt entitled to take my year off as I had graduated high school a year early.

Those cards were Mom’s idea.  I vividly remember her suggestion that I send cards rather than “keep a diary as you’ll just lose it”.  Instead “send us post cards and I’ll keep them for you…you will probably want to read them again some time.”

Those post cards will now form the framework of my 2.5 weeks in Europe between cruises.  While I won’t be able to revisit very many places, I am planning on visiting a few that were most relevant to that first ever solitary trip.  If ever there was a dividing point between teen and adult identity that was it for me.

This is a long way of getting to the first question inherent to the planning of any trip.  Why are you going?  Since there are 3 “sub-trips” that will span these 2.5 weeks, I will address each one in a separate post.

Vienna: Vienna was the home town of my high school exchange student Inge Piffel.  Her presence prompted so many actions then and subsequently– to my life thus far.  We maintained a relationship throughout our adult lives last seeing each other in November 2011.  Sadly, she passed away as a result of ovarian cancer on Christmas Eve, five years ago.  I have since stayed in touch with her widower Erich. 

My agenda for Vienna is to view and scan photos from Inge’s collection as well as revisit some of the memorable sights that I now appreciate in a different way.  I plan on staying in the Aldstat area. It has a reputation now as the locale of hipsters– including numerous vegan and vegetarian restaurants with high marks on social media.  Since I am comfortable with public transit, I ‘ll find an AirBNB that enables easy access to the U2 tram line that begins downtown and terminates not far from where Erich now resides.

Celigny, Switzerland:  Erich has all of Inge’s photos from her visit to the US as well as her time at Chateau de Bossy where she worked as a bi-lingual secretary after returning from a year in California.  Given her role at this international conference center, she obtained a two month position for me as a kitchen helper and room cleaner. Not sure what my official title was, but that job allowed me to stay in Switzerland.

It was the start of my first international trip of which I have so many vivid memories.  I plan on writing to the management about my desire to return and tour the facilities. I wonder if they will seem small? I don’t think they are much altered.  The chateau now rents tourist rooms in addition to conference space.  I was delighted to see “my room” on their website.

 Somewhere in this region of Western Swizterland, I’ll secure a  home base with day trips to the many places I visited while there as a 20 year old.

Lyon, France: The conclusion of my solitary sojourn has my arrival in Lyon a few days ahead of my travel companions.  There, I will focus on the Roman origins of the city as well as sampling the excellent vegan cuisine on offer.  And perhaps some rest and recording of my impressions and insights from the wealth of stimulating visits prior to landing in Lyon. 

As the self-avowed culinary capital of France, I was delighted to learn of many vegan restaurants with high marks.  As is true of Vienna, I will be writing to many in advance (using Google translate) as a means to pre-connect with other plant based thrivers and to see where that initiative takes me.  

If there was one thing I learned in my “gap year” it was the power of initiative.  It set me up for a lifetime of achievement and success.  Stay tuned …