Thursday, September 7th, 2017.
Sloane and I were up early to finish packing our suitcases - we had a train to catch in Budapest at 830AM. We called a cab, and were at the train station with over an hour to spare. After collecting our tickets we walked across the street for some good old American starbucks - Sloane really wanted yogurt, and we knew it could be found there. After our underwhelming breakfast, we gathered our bags and headed for the train. We had a quick 2.5 hour ride to Vienna, Austria, where the train station was incredibly modern compared to Budapest's. We disembarked the train, and found our way to the car rental area to pick up our ride for the next few days. I had reserved a VW Golf, but in true rental agency fashion they did not have one, so we were awarded a KIA Cee'd instead. Our final destination was only an hour and a half away, so we decided to get lunch in Vienna. Again we dined al-fresco, even though there were some serious gusts of wind blowing napkins and silverware all over the place. Once we paid our tab, we took a stroll up the road to some shops Sloane had been interested in going to, and we found a grocery store to get some food incase our accommodations (a hotel/hostel on top of a mountain) for the night didn't have any vegetarian options. We finally started our drive around 2:30 or so which put us at our destination around 4:30 with the traffic we encountered leaving the city.
We had no issues driving to our destination, and the scenery just kept getting better as we rolled along. We stopped along side the road at a small pull off to take some photos of what I was guessing was our home for the night, and I was correct. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we packed everything we would need for our overnight stay into our backpacks and a few re-usable grocery bags. The gentleman selling the tickets for the cable car was quick to point out the last ride down the mountain was in 45 minutes, but was less concerned once he found out we had "reserved" a room at the Raxalm Berggasthof. When I say we reserved a room, I mean I had emailed in German with some person at the lodge, and without taking any credit card information, they simply said we had a reservation. Given this information, Sloane and I were a bit worried we may be hiking back down the mountain in the dark and sleeping in the car. We arrived at an empty lodge, and began poking around the restaurant and bar area looking for anyone who might work there. We finally found a friendly bartender/waiter/front desk person who spoke enough english to confirm we did in fact have a reservation, and he kindly showed us to our room for the night. Sloane decided to go for a quick run on the trail/road behind our chalet, and I opted for a beer and my camera.
I managed to snap a few photos before I saw Sloane coming back down the trail, I ran down from my perch on some high rocks and gave her the key to the room so, she could shower up for dinner while I finished up my photo safari. Our room was very basic with a queen size bed, small tv, a shower and toilet, and front porch with an incredible view.
We made our way down to the dining room around 630 - which is when we were told the last dinner service would be. The same guy who helped us to our room was the waiter and we ordered a drink while we looked over the menu. I ended up getting wiener schnitzel, which for a rustic hotel was very good and Sloane had a salad and some soup. We sat and enjoyed our simple meals and booze watching the last light hit the mountains across the valley, it was very relaxing and most definitely the best view we enjoyed while dining on our trip. We finished up our food and ordered another round of drinks to take up to our room for the night. I set up my camera on the porch and did some long exposures while Sloane read her book in bed.
Friday, September 8th, 2017
Sloane had agreed to get up for a sunrise hike with me - so we were both up around 6 am to head out the door. I stepped out onto the balcony to check the temperature, and it was cold (37 degrees), Sloane of course agreed and we went about putting on as much of our clothing as possible - we hadn't brought any layering since we would only be in the mountains for a few hours of our week long trip. We were out the door just in time to see the sun peek above the clouds across the valley.
The hotel had a small zip-line which I had played around with while Sloane was on her run, and I talked her into taking a ride on it before we departed for our hike.
Sloane and I quickly warmed up as we ascended the hill in front of us towards the next mountain house - OttoHaus. This is where I had originally intended to stay, so we could hike a little further in the morning, but after researching both places, it seemed the Raxalm Berggasthof had nicer accommodations, and more food options for Sloane's vegetarian diet (the Austrian's eat a lot of meat). We hiked and took photos for about an hour until we reached this second house, scaring up roe deer and chamois along the way.
It was incredibly windy and cold at this overlook, and Sloane decided she had enough of being cold, so she turned back for the warmth of a shower and some coffee at the hotel. I went ahead, slowly climbing the hill behind OttoHaus towards the summit of the ridge and Jakobskogel. Aside from being almost blown off the trail a few times, the hike was relatively easy, even in my sneakers.
After about half an hour on the summit trying to take long exposures, but failing due to high winds, I decided to turn around and go back to the hotel the long way on a trail that followed along the edge of the cliff.
Ants with some primo real estate.
I made it back to the hotel around 9, and after a quick shower Sloane and I went downstairs to the dining room to enjoy some breakfast. Breakfast was a set menu, as it was included with our accommodations. We ordered some coffee for Sloane, I had my usual water and our friendly waiter brought us out a spread of cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, jams, jellies and nutella - it was incredible. We both enjoyed breakfast with the same view we had the evening before, this time with large groups of hikers who were unloading from the cable car and prepping for their journeys in the mountains with coffee on the outdoor patio. After breakfast, we went back to the room to pack all our belongings, which as usual had exploded all over the room. We managed to fit them all back into our bags and went down to pay our tab. During our stay, we had given no form of payment for anything, the waiter simply charged it all to our room. Our grand total for accommodations, dinner, drinks and breakfast came to just under $200 - I definitely have plans to go back and do this sort of traveling again, this time hiking from house to house. We paid our tab, said auf wiedersehen to our friendly waiter/hotel manager and jumped on the next cable car back down to our car. The next leg of our journey was a drive along Höllental Straße, an incredibly windy and scenic road through the Höllental, or Hell Valley. I shifted the Cee'd into sport mode - and drove like an old woman on the way to church through the valley, so Sloane wouldn't get car sick. This road is very popular with motorcyclists, and they were out in huge numbers, it was a warm fall day and everyone seemed to be taking advantage of it.
After what seemed like an eternity of hair-pin bends, avoiding motorcycles and hikers, we found ourselves back on a boring old highway for the last few miles on our way to Krems, a small town on the Danube in the Wachau Valley, known for its' wineries and gruner wines. We had booked an air BnB here, and were anxious to unload our things and taste the wine, but first we had to have lunch. Sloane found a cafe on a small college campus that had good reviews, so we sat down and enjoyed the sunshine while we fumbled through ordering food in German with a waiter who did not speak very much English (how dare he). After lunch we met our host, had a quick tour of our home for the evening and made a very sloppy plan for visiting wineries.
We drove around for about 45 minutes, quickly getting lost in quaint little town on the side of a steep hill, with the gps blindly leading us to wineries - which as it turns out are not the same as they are in the States. Wineries in Austria are simply where grapes are grown, harvested, and sometime processed for wine making, but they do not actually have tasting rooms, as is popular in the U.S. After failing at three would be wineries, we decided that we would head to town to the one winery listed in our travel book, that was guaranteed to have a tasting room. But on the dirt road we had just gotten lost on, I ran over a large piece of metal that decided to lodge itself in the front passenger tire. We were lucky to have heard the noise coming from the tire, before we drove on a flat tire very far. After getting our car off the private property we had been accidentally trespassing on, we pulled over a few hundred yards down the road at a parking lot. While I did the dirty work of changing the tire, which by now was completely flat, Sloane took on the fun job of calling the rental company. After being passed from one German speaking person to the next, she finally was transferred to an English speaking person who basically just told us to do what I had already accomplished, change the tire and bring it back when our trip was over. After our whole flat tire ordeal, we drove our car to the one winery where we new we could at least taste some wine. We couldn't find a place to park, since it was in the middle of town, so we ended up parking at our apartment and walking.
After our tasting, we discovered a street with tons of little shops and cafes - which we decided to take a stroll down on the way to our room. Nothing too exciting caught our eye, but it was a cool little street to find nonetheless.
After our walking tour of the city, we killed some time at the apartment looking for a good spot to eat dinner and did some research for our travel day to Prague. We ended up walking to a new wine bar/restaurant in town called Leopold, and had the best cheese and meat plate we had experienced in a while. Our waiter was super friendly, and although they didn't offer a wine tasting either - he concocted one for us, allowing us to try five different wines from the area - it was fantastic.
As we sat and enjoyed our wine, the sunlight began to disappear and I was in a hurry to go take a few photos at dusk. Sloane was a little annoyed at this (it's always a small battle we wage, between dinner and photography at dusk) but she finished her wine and walked back to the apartment with me so I could get out and shoot. Sloane stayed behind this time, and I took a short drive down the Danube to photograph Durnstein, the town we had been lost in earlier that day.
I made my way home by 930, and Sloane and I were asleep soon afterwards.
Saturday, September 9th, 2017
We slept in until 830 or so, once again packed our belongings and made a light breakfast with bread, jam and nutella that I had borrowed from the hotel breakfast the day before. We were out the door by 10 and headed back to Durnstein to for a quick hike up to the castle on the hill, we only had an hour until we needed to begin our drive back to Vienna.
We took a short cut on the way back, we were cutting it close to our 1 hour of paid parking and didn't want to get a ticket. Google maps said there was a trail but I was skeptical, and Sloane was even more so. It all worked out and we were spit out onto the streets of Durnstein from an overgrown trail.
Our drive back to Vienna was slow, but scenic. We stayed off the highway since we had a donut on the car, and did not want to risk blowing that one out from driving highway speeds. We arrived back at the train station, dropped the car off, printed our train tickets and grabbed a quick bite to eat before our train boarded at 3pm. We had a 4 hour ride to the 3rd leg of our journey - Prague. We spent our time studying where to go and what to see. Stay tuned for the 3rd and final installment of our european vacation.