Subject: Re: Vienna and Salzburg
Molly & other interested travelers,

We made our first exploration of this part of the world this past July 2003 and thoroughly enjoyed it! I second the recommendation to dig into any book that interests you on the Hapsburg dynasty-- royalty, politics, sex, money, murder & dangerous liaisons--it's all there, and the Hapsburgs' influence accounts for a huge part of the history of the entire region. Couple that with some WWI and WWII reading, and you'll be prepared!

We followed this itinerary: Flew into Prague, trained to Vienna, and then rented a car and drove west along the Danube w/ intermittent stops and sidetrips on the way to Salzbug, then through the tip of Bavarian Germany, back into the Austrian Alps for a mountain break at Seefeld just NW of Innsbruck, then up to Mad Ludwig's castles...if you look at a map, that route will make more sense to you, esp. in the Alpine area where Germany & Austria meet. After that, our trip continued outside of the region you are discussing.

Unfortunately, Munich was the one stop we missed, but will return to see next time.

Everyone has already offered great information, and I know you are learning a lot of the usual stuff from travel guides, so I will try to hit on a few things not already mentioned. Without knowing more about your travel plans and interests, here are some random tips & one highlight hotel recommendation that may or may not apply:

(1) The Prague hotelier was suprised and somewhat concerned that we were training to Vienna -- apparently, middle and upper class locals (and tourists) do not utilize trains in the Czech Republic in the same way people do in Western Europe; indeed, when we got to the train station, everything (physical facility, method of ticket issuance, etc.) seemed rather old and outdated, untouched by the new era of capitalism, and the majority of the travelers appeared to be of modest means. The only other tourists in sight were three young Japanese girls! We weren't really put off by any of this--it didn't feel unsafe, just unfamiliar--but the hotelier's remarks + my husband's desperate need to be assured of A/C for the ride (the summer's heat wave yielded remarkable 90F+ temps in Prague!) influenced us to go 1st class instead of 2nd (we usually save money and go 2nd in Western Europe for day trips). That may have proved to be a wise decision--the 1st class train was very old and Spartan, had no dining car--just a snack bar, although we did manage to find a car w/ the private compartments, which was nice to escape the routine violation of the no smoking designation (which we experienced again later in the trip while training from Cologne to Amsterdam).

(2) We ignored the advice to get a private guide in Prague--toured on our own + some commercial tours. Do the private guide for at least a half or full day!

(3) Outside of Linz (Austria, between Salzburg and Vienna) is the concentration camp Mauthausen up high on a ridge by the Danube. http://www.mauthausen-memorial.at/ (Download and carry their map to the site--it's tricky to find.) We have not visited any other concentration camps, so cannot compare. It was a sobering and significant stop for us. In the city of Linz, we spent several hours at one of the most fabulous interactive museums we've visited, Ars Electronica, a multimedia, high tech heaven. You can catch up on your e-mail for free in their top story cafe w/ a fabulous view of the Danube. http://www.aec.at/en/index.asp

(4) To follow the bike discussion, we biked several times this trip...easy to find rentals in every city, and after a couple of hours toodling along the bike paths that line the Danube, you'll be refreshed. This is something we did in Salzburg w/ great success. I agree, that small town can feel tourist-overrun, but we fell in love w/ Salzburg in spite of the crowds.

(5) Highlight hotel: If you do the Castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, you *must* stay at the Hotel Mueller the night before! Reserve now, and hand pick a room with a view of Neuschwanstein. (We handled this and almost all other hotel arrangements via e-mail.) They will make your castle ticket reservations the night you arrive--pick the earliest times the next a.m. Then, get up, have b'fast, see the castles, take your hike to the Marienbruecke suspension bridge over waterfall w/ another spectacular view of the castles and be done (if you want to be) in time for a late lunch. http://www.hotel-mueller.de/welcome.html

Enjoy your research & planning! I know it'll be a special trip.

Diana Ball near Houston, TX