My travels through Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia was certainly one to remember. Here is my journey, where I went, what I did, my tips and what I ate during my 10 days.
Day 1 – Houston to Newark to Vienna
My step mother in law, Renee and I boarded the plane from Houston to Newark and then onward from Newark to Vienna. The food on Austrian air was decent, of course, nothing to write home about. We arrived in Vienna at about 8:30 am and made our way to the Hotel Kaiserhof.
We were greeted warmly by the front desk staff, who offered us coffee to freshen up after our long flight. Also, it was so wonderful that our room was available and ready when we check in. Please note this is not always possible, so it is awesome when it works out!
*TIP* Always pack an extra set of clothes along with toothpaste and deodorant in your carry on bag so that you can freshen up when you arrive at your hotel.
After we took a bit of a nap, we set out to explore our surroundings. The Hotel Kaiserhof is in a great location, it is a 5-minute walk from the Naschmarkt. At this point, we were so hungry! We browsed through the market looking for some traditional fare when we stumbled upon Eisernen, the oldest restaurant in the market. I enjoyed goulash in a beautifully rich gravy along with bread dumplings and a fried egg. We walked around the market a bit more then returned to the hotel to rest up for the next busy day.
Day 2 – Vienna to Esztergom
I must tell you about the amazing breakfast at the Hotel Kaiserhof. I can honestly say it was the best hotel breakfast I have ever had. The food was incredibly fresh and there were a lot of options.
After our bellies were full, we made our way to an incredible cathedral which was about a 10-minute walk from the hotel. One of the distinct features of this cathedral was the scaffolding and elevator that took you up to the ceiling to get a better view of the incredible frescos.
After admiring the church, we met up with some friends and experienced Time Travel Vienna. I would recommend this tour for families with older children. It gives a great overview of the history of Vienna in a fun and interactive way. However, be warned, there are simulation rides that can be very jerky. This can certainly affect someone with back or neck problems or someone who has motion sickness. Also, there is a room where you experience an air raid chamber, which can be quite scary for just about anyone.
Now it is time to meet the Crystal Mahler! You can see the video of my room in the video attached. Our room was located right next to the pool which was so nice, the pool area had a fireplace and a nice bathroom/changing area. The ship left for Esztergom at around 6 pm. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and then went to bed pretty early, still adjusting to the time difference.
Day 3 – Esztergom and the Danube Bend to Budapest
Sailing away from the business of beautiful Vienna gave way to the calm, quiet countryside of Esztergom, Hungary, and the Danube Bend. We boarded a Crystal Luxury Motorcoach and visited the Basilica of Esztergom, took some photos from a lookout point by the church, returned to the bus to visit castle ruins in Visegrad. After our castle visit, we made our way to the charming village of Szentendre, where I bought way too many souvenirs.
We boarded the ship for dinner before we enjoyed our Crystal Signature event, the Princesses of Violin at the Budapest Castle. The performance was stellar and truly one of a kind.
*TIP* Leave the high heels at home! The walk to the castle is all cobblestones and I witnessed at least 5 people lose balance or fall on them.
Day 4 – Budapest
We were fortunate enough to overnight in Budapest, I only wish that I could have spent more time in Budapest. We started our day off on a bus tour through the Pest side of the city. We got off the bus to explore Buda old city. We had a walking tour through the city and it ended at a wonderful lookout point where we were treated to champagne and traditional dance performance, what a fantastic surprise!
After our tour, we walked down the Danube Promenade to visit the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” This haunting memorial is to memorialize the victims shot by arrow cross militiamen in 1944 and 1945. Different styles of shoes, different sizes, men’s, women’s and children’s show that the Nazis had no mercy for anyone during the war. Victims of these shootings were forced to remove their shoes before being shot because the shoes were more valuable than the people wearing them.
With our hearts a little heavy, and our minds with the victims of such heinous crimes, we went back to the ship to reflect. We were in our room when we saw the ship pull away from the dock, and the song Moon River, floated in the hallway as we see the gorgeous Parliament building in view. This is by far one of the most magical moments I experienced on the cruise and one of my all-time favorite travel memories.
We made our way to a fabulous dinner with drinks and friends after. Not a bad way to end Day 4!
Day 5 – Bratislava
After a fantastic breakfast, we set out to the Bratislava Castle. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge. She recounted stories of growing up in Communistic Slovakia and the day the border was opened and they were free to go from Slovakia to Austria. It was incredibly moving to hear her personal experiences.
We took a driving tour through the mountains and parked at the Old Town city center and enjoyed a lovely tour throughout where we ended the tour at a fantastic bar.
That evening, we were treated to the wonderful classical music from the Slovakian symphony’s conductor and the first chair violinist.
Day 6 – Krems and Melk, Austria
Today we set out on an adventure through Krems, the charming Austrian town. We took a nice walking city tour and followed up with a chocolate tasting. A 5th generation chocolatier walked us through the process of how his handcrafted chocolate is made. We were treated to cake, coffee and a sample of chocolates to enjoy later. After Krems, we boarded the ship and made our way down the river to Melk. Our excursion choices were Melk Abbey or Schloss Schonbuhel and meet Princess Anita, the great-granddaughter of Franz Ferdinand. Of course, I had to meet an honest to goodness princess!
We enjoyed a glass of champagne and listened to the wonderful and charming princess. She was so warm and gracious. She spoke of how her daughter is taking over the castle duties and a bit about her family history.
After our meeting, we toured the castle and heard of how the assassination of Franz Ferdinand started World War I. We toured several rooms and visited the family crypt. The views from the castle were magnificent. We returned to the ship and enjoyed a fabulous meal, then we enjoyed a Sound of Music singalong with our wonderful entertainment director, Neal.
Day 7 – Linz / Chesky Krumlov
There were 3 great options for tours today. The choices were Chesky Krumlov, Salzburg or Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Renee and I decided to split ways today. I had always heard great things about Chesky Krumlov, I decided to go there and Renee decided to visit Mauthausen to pay her respects.
Chesky Krumlov is about a 2-hour drive from Linz. This charming village became a Unesco World Heritage site in 1992. I could have spent a full day enjoying the shops, eateries, the castle and other sites of this adorable town. Words cannot describe how beautiful this town so I hope you enjoy my photos.
When I returned to the ship, Renee came back shortly after. We discussed our adventures over dinner at the tapas restaurant. She told me that the Mauthausen concentration camp was a very moving experience. She learned that Mauthausen was a work camp however during the 7-year history, out of the 190,000 prisoners at the camp, 90,000 died. Even though it was emotional, she was very grateful for the experience. We finished our meal and met Neal for karaoke.
Day 8 – Vienna
And we are back to where we started! Today we signed up for a Schonbrunn Palace. We started off touring the palace grounds. You can take a little train around the perimeter of the grounds for about 8 Euros. On the palace grounds, there is so much to do. The world’s oldest operating zoo is located on the grounds, there are incredible statues and fountains to admire. Once inside the palace, you cannot take photos but you will have the memory of the incredible frescos in the ballrooms and the ornate details in each room.
When we returned to the ship, we enjoyed cocktails and caviar before dinner. After dinner, we enjoyed a clarinet and piano concert. Soon after, Renee and I enjoyed Neal’s piano playing before going to bed.
Day 9 – Disembarking in Vienna and going to Salzburg
After a very late evening, we were up and off the ship by 6 am. It was so hard waking up this morning, but we were greeted with the most beautiful sunrise. We disembarked the ship, got into a taxi and checked back into the Hotel Kaiserhof. We dropped off our luggage and walked past the beautiful Vienna Opera House and had a quick breakfast at Aida. We met up with our small group tour and started out to the Lake District outside of Salzburg.
The morning views of the lakes and the Austrian Alps were breathtaking. We stopped at St. Gilgen, a very charming village where Mozart’s mother was born. We took a nice walk through the town before boarding the van again to go to the lookout point where the opening credits of The Sound of Music was filmed. We then made our way to Salzburg where we visited more of the filming locations along with the beautiful shopping area. We stopped for lunch at Gasthaus Wilden Mann (which translates to the Wild Man) We were served wonderful traditional Austrian fare. Please be aware though, they accept cash only!
As we made our way back, we watched the Sound of Music, which would seem corny but was very appropriate. It was fun to see the locations that we just visited in the film. We pulled into Vienna just as the film was ending. As we came into the Hotel Kaiserhof, we decided to sit in the bar and have dinner before going to bed. I ordered a club sandwich and enjoyed it along with a glass of Rose before turning in for the night.
Day 10 – Vienna/Home
We got to enjoy one last amazing breakfast from the Hotel Kaiserhof before heading to the airport. Our transfer picked us up and gave us about 2 hours to get checked in and get through security.
The Austrian air side of the airport can be quite confusing, business class has a huge section to check in and you must go around to the economy class side. We checked in and went to drop off our bags. Renee’s bag was a little overweight and my bag was a little under so we moved some things around and was cleared to go, or so we thought.
We walked off with our carry on luggage and was stopped by the Austrian airline employees and were instructed to weigh our carry on bags. I weighed mine and it was 13 kg and Renee’s was 11 kg. We were told we had to pay for the bag to be checked. Now, we were not charged on the way over and I do believe it was because we were on a codeshare flight with United. We get in line to pay for the luggage. We were told to get out of that line and go to another line. After being in that line for several minutes, we were told to go back to the original line to get a tag for the luggage. By this time, we are starting to panic that we would miss our flight. We allowed the woman to go ahead of us because if she didn’t, she would for sure miss her flight. After we got the tag, we apparently could not pay for the bag in the same line, so we had to go back to the other line that was told to get out of. We waited there for about 20 minutes until we were finally able to check the bags.
TIP – Be sure to check each individual airline’s bag policy. They are all different. I knew what Austrian’s bag policy was but I knew I was going to be close when I bought souvenirs.
We had a long layover in Newark and made it home around midnight. It was a long and exhausting journey but so worth it!