Continued from my last Post -Venice by Boat – No walking
We opted to return to India via Vienna -I would always advice that you choose an exit airport different from the port of entry . In our case we commenced our Italian journey from Fuiminicia airport at Rome and ended at Swechat airport at Vienna. You pay a little extra but this is well worth it as you do not have to retrace your journey to the start point .In our case it was less than a 50 Euros. Besides Vienna is serviced by Emirates A380 aircraft – An experience by itself.
From Venice to Vienna we chose to travel by the Austrian railway service OBB Railjet: a distance of about 500 km covered in about seven hours. The journey began at the most picturesque Santa Lucia station of Venice on the banks of the Grand Canal .
Santa Lucia station was built in the 1950s and is a well designed modern railway station.The station is serviced by the Ferrovia stop of the vaporetto routes . This water bus stop is very convenient for commuters to and from their hotels.And much cheaper than a private water taxi which costs in the range of 80 to 100 Euros.The station is walking distance from Rialto bridge as well as Piazza San Marco and most parts of Venice.
The OBB Rail jets are the fastest and most modern trains on the Austrian Railway and touch speeds of 200 km per hour which is considerably less than the Italian Frecciarossa trains.Free WiFi and an onboard restaurant with plush seating makes the eight hour journey extremely pleasurable.There also is an overnight sleeper train called the Night Jet which I very highly recommend but the down side is that you miss out the scenic beauty of the plains of Italy and the mountains of Austria. For first class passengers restaurant service is at your seat and the orders can be placed online . The menu onboard has a wide choice to cater to all palates and compares well with many a fancy restaurant ! The Austrian influence was visible as the Italian Peronis and the Nazzuro had given way to Gosser beer, which is the most well known beer of Austria and part of the Heineken group of brewers.And so also the menu which mainly showcased Austrian cuisine.The onboard WiFi worked very well and supported the online ordering from the restaurant. The summer menu was operational while we were traveling and we were spoilt for choice
As we steamed out of Venice Santa Lucia station we crossed the Ponte Della Liberte the bridge connecting the islands of Venice with the mainland. A short halt at Venice Mestre on the mainland and the train speeds past the Venetian plains to the town of Udine which is the last major Italian town before the Austrian border. On the way we cross the River Tagliamento, a fast flowing river rising in the Italian Alps and emptying into the Adriatic sea . The bridge over the river offers a scenic view of the river in an amazing shade of azure which is a sight for the eyes . The border is crossed without much ado. The train stops for a few minutes at the border town of Tarvisio on the Italian side and Arnold stein on the Austrian side both of which are located near the tri-junction of Slovenia(formerly Yugoslavia) , Austria and Italy . There was some flurry of activity as the border police walked across the platform but that was all there was to it . No passport control and no customs – all thanks to Schengen!
The train then climbs through the Karawanken mountains which saw some major action during the last days of World War II . The defeated Germans from Yugoslavia
preferred to surrender to the British Army rather than the Yugoslav partisans and therefore it was imperative that these passes be held by the Germans to enable retreat from Yugoslavia. Through these passes the train goes past the first major Australian town – Villach, a bustling commercial and industrial centre. Onward we pass by the Wurthersee, a large and narrow lake and a one time major Austrian tourist attraction and was known as the Monaco of Austria. The railway line runs alongside the lake for about 10 km and onto Klagenfurt , one of the larger towns of Austria and the capital of Carinthia province . Klagenfurt witnessed major military action in the dying days of World War II with the Allied Forces and the Yugoslav partisans both laying claim to the city . Interestingly Klagenfurt was declared an “open city” when the Germans realised they could no longer hold on to the city. An open city declaration by the defenders implies a sort of surrender when defence of the city is untenable and they want to avoid further damage and destruction to the city and its people by the attacking forces .Klagenfurt is on the banks of the Worthersee and after a short halt the train continued to speed on towards it destination . Past Klagenfurt one sees the Hochosterwitz castle , built on a lone hill with steep approaches .The castle settlement traces its history back to the 800s and is guarded by 14 gates.Because of the design of these gates , as the story goes, no attacker has been able to go past the third gate and Hochosterwitz castle has remained unconquered.Today the castle is an important tourist destination of Southern Austria.
Past the towns of Judenburg and Unzmarket the train makes its way to the Semmering hills approx a hundred kilometres from Vienna .It is a scenic and winding route which was first build in 1854 and was declared a UNESCO heritage site . Modern day locomotives negotiate these hills through a few sharp bends and steep gradients. Past Semmering we were now on the last lap of our journey to Vienna. The train raced through the plateau and we we soon were streaming into the Vienna Central station – Wien Hauptbahnoff. The end of a most scenic and picturesque day journey across the Venetian plains and Southern Austria on schedule – The comfort of the train and the superior quality of food made the journey even more memorable.
We hastened out of the station and headed for our hotel on the Schulerstrasse, one of the quieter localities in Central Vienna to our Hotel – Hotel Domizil. The hotel is located just off the Stephenplatz and is walking distance to most of the tourist attractions in Vienna . (do check out my review on TripAdvisor) with easy access to public transport. What never ceases to impress is the efficiency of the hotel staff which by Indian standards are grossly understaffed . Missing are the ubiquitous security guards and door keepers and the never ending stream of housekeeping staff of different departments. The quiet and polite efficiency and work ethic of multi tasking is something that is worth emulating .The locality is studded with restaurants ranging from sidewalk cafes to fine dine star restaurants and our dinner stop was at the Gulaschmuseum .The cafe Gulaschmuseum is located on the Schulerstrasse barely a few yards away from the hotel . We were welcomed by a cheerful staff member and set out to have our first food Austrian experience.The meal began with a shot of schnapps ,which I must admit was a bit strong even for me. Diluting it was simply not an option !Just not done !Till now I had a mistakenly poor impression of Goulash and believed it to be a mishmash of all left overs in the kitchen. A little research showed that it is a well seasoned meat stew originally invented by Hungarian shepherds and now adapted across Europe in different variants . In fact the Gulaschmuseum offered us a choice of 15 varieties of Goulash – I opted for the chicken version and Malati the vegetarian option. These dishes are accompanied with potatoes and made fitting start to our introduction to Viennese culinary delights. Here again, as at the hotel I was struck by the impressive efficiency of the hostess – Single handed she set and waited the tables , manned the bar , the cash register and even cleaned the bar wine glasses .She was on her toes through the dinner and even kept us plied with interesting conversation.A far cry from what I am used to in India – A gate-keeper,a waiter , a steward,a barman an assistant and even a cashier with a manager hovering somewhere around ! No wonder Austria’s per capita GDP is twenty five times that of India and per capita income on a PPP basis is seven times !! When will we ever realise that workman productivity in India is very low and hence even the wages and even the tips. But on the positive side- we employ five where we perhaps could do with one . More Schnapps followed dinner and we rounded it off with an all famous delight – Apple Strudel. Back to the hotel and ready to visit the Schonnbrunn Palace the next day.
Continued in my next post – Sisi & Schonbrunn