Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, June 2017

Another holiday with Great Rail Journey’s. A bit more cultural this one if you want to think of it in those terms.

Started Tuesday 20th June with trip down to London with 2 rail journeys that ran to timetable. Found  London much warmer than back home in North Berwick. Managed a long walk before evening meal.

Wednesday 21st, as it was an early Eurostar to Brussels it meant early breakfast and into St Pancras for 7.20 am. Met up with a Mrs Louise Smith who got on at Ebbsfleet. Alexander – the tour manager introduced us – this is the same tour manager I’ve had previously. Arrived at hotel (NH Koln Altstadt) in Cologne around 5 pm and I went for a walk before evening meal. I much prefer the hotel to the normal one the company uses. Not as big or corporate.

Following day Thursday 22nd June was another day of travel and another early start. Almost missed breakfast, didn’t wake up until 6.30 am, we had to be out of hotel by 7.15! The train taking us to Munich was supposed to be leaving at 07.55 but it was 15 minutes late, so much for German Rail efficiency. It takes 4 and one half hours for that journey. Time to kill at Munich station then onto Austrian Rail for journey to Vienna. That was over 4 hours and arrived 10-15 minutes late. The hotel we stayed in (Hotel Falkensteiner Margreten) was away from the main city centre but very nice. The room has a walk in shower with space age type controls.

Friday 23rd June was a tour of the city after a tour round Schonbrunn Palace. We were taken on a tour round the inside then had 30 minutes in the grounds before getting back on the coach for a tour round the city. We were dropped off and continued on foot to walk round some of the bits that were tricky for the coach. Had lunch in the city with Alexander and a couple of others then walked around for a bit, took a trip along the river bank then single tram journey back to the hotel for the evening.

Schonbrunn Palace

Saturday 24th June was a river cruise along the Wachau valley section of the Danube. The excursion started with a coach trip to the town of Melk where we had plenty of time to walk around, have a coffee, admire the views and the monastery where a wedding was scheduled to take place as we left. The coach transferred us to the bottom of town onto the river where we could board a river boat to take us to Krems. It was another warm day and the little breeze helped cool us down. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the river cruise on the Rhine last year. The heat seemed to affect most of the group as they didn’t want to walk into Krems and we just took the coach back into Vienna. The driver took us back via a different route and gave us an unofficial tour of the city including bits we hadn’t been to before. That included the Old Danube section where a week-end festival was taking place.

Monastery at Melk

river breathing

Sunday was a free day and after breakfast I took the underground to Schonbrunn to spend a couple of hours wandering around the grounds and admiring the views from the hill. Then back on the underground into the city centre, walked around the museums area and had lunch at Landtmann Cafe. Shortly after I finished the very nice meal (yet another apple strudel) it started to rain. A number of people started to take shelter under awnings and in shop doorways but I just walked – it wasn’t that heavy – to Schwedenplaz to pick up the U4 underground back to the hotel. There was a bit of thunder after I got back and the rain got heavier. I must have got the timing right.

Schonbrunn Palace

Monday 26th June was travel to Salzburg day. The first train of the day took us to Leoben on the Semmering Railway. It was a long, slow climb to the top at Semmering twisting and turning with some excellent views but, tricky to photograph – didn’t bother. Then onto another service into Salzburg using old re-conditioned carriages. Slow and meandering through the valleys. After checking into the hotel (NH Salzburg City)I took a quick walk around town to stretch my legs. Had a text message session with Louise – my nutrionist and agreed appointment after I get back.

Salzburg, Tuesday, morning was a guided tour round the key parts of the town for 2 hours with a local guide – he needs new shoes! After that we were free to do what we wanted for the rest of the day. Salzburg is called Mozart Central. So, I wandered round for a few hours, taking photos, grabbed some food to eat by the river Salz. Then back to hotel for evening meal and chatted to some people at other tables.

Town Centre, Salzburg

Wednesday – The Sound of Music day! A tour by coach of some of the places used in filming that musical. Some of the places visited were composited to appear as the same place (the main house). The grounds and gardens at Hellbrun especially. The trip then continued onto St Gilgen in Salzkammergut but we stopped at Red Bull HQ on the way so that you could see the bulls. Had the chance to walk round St Gilgen which is on Lake Wolfgangsee. Then back on the coach for the trip round to St Wolfgang where there was more time for walking round and grabbing coffee/lunch if you wanted. There was the option for going back to St Gilgen by coach or by boat across the lake. Needles to say the majority wanted to boat trip. From St Gilgen we stopped off at Mondsee for 90 minutes or so. Then back to Salzburg with the music and some of the group singing along.

St Gilgen, Mozart House

Church in Mondsee

Two days of travel back home on Thursday and Friday. First from Salzburg to Munich then Munich to Koln where we stayed at the Maritim. The following day there was time for an early morning walk round bits of Koln as we didn’t leave until 11 am. Journey Koln to Brussels ran late owing to a death on the high speed line, then the Eurostar arrived late into St Pancras. Both trains in the UK ran to timetable though so got home about 10.30 pm. With the time difference that was 13 hours of travel.




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Another wee walk in the hills, Switzerland,June 2016

This holiday is similar to my last one to Switzerland with a few differences along the way.

Friday 24th June

The first difference was that I decided to travel to London overnight using the sleeper service departing Edinburgh at 23.40, not in a sleeping berth but in a seat. I don’t think I could sleep properly in a berth. The train departed 3 minutes late, no on board ticket check took place , stopped at Carstairs to enable Glasgow train to join up, stopped in Carlisle then Preston. Arrived at London Euston with no on board announcement, only knew arrived by looking out window. Arrive 1 hour early, 6.15 not 7.07!

Saturday 25th June London to Metz

Had to check in with Great Rail from around 9.01 am, hence the overnight travel. It was an easy walk between Euston and St Pancras using the signposted walking route between the two.  Had to wait on shops/cafe’s opening to get something to eat. Our Eurostar departed at 11.01 arriving at Paris Gare du Nord at 14.17, time to kill to allow transfer by coach to Gare D’Est with TGV departing at 15.40 and getting us to Metz at 17.03, where we checked into the Mercure in the centre of town.

Straight forward journey throughout the day. Plenty of time to relax. Tour Manager Iain doesn’t seem to have same knowledge as Alex regarding places, also doing the admin differently.

Sunday 26th June Metz to Kandersteg

Day of rail travel basically. After breakfast walked round Metz but went further than last August to see more of the town. as our departure was later, almost lunchtime. Then it was trains, platforms and stations,  not mush else.

Fountains in park in Metz

Metz Opera House

This journey had more splits in it than last time. Metz to Mulhouse, wait, then Mulhouse to Basel (despite first train going all the way to Basel. Then Basel to Spiez, switch trains after wee wait then Spiez to Kandersteg. Eventually arrived at Hotel Bernerhof – same as last time – about 19.00 and was given same room as last time.

After evening meal Doris from the local tourist office gave a very nice outline of our stay from her perspective.

Monday 27th June Kandersteg

Day of walking, initially to Blauchsee then on to Fruitigen. Walk was a different start to last August. Went towards railway station, under the bridge then on other side climbed up hill. Great views over Kandersteg on that first stretch. Then picked up previous walk route but, instead of diverting onto main road then through site visitor centre we went in through the back door to Blausee.

Lady of the Lake, Blausee

The extension to Fruitegen was much better than last year, smaller group, better pace, we did the extension to the ruin without actually going up and looking in it. It was a nicer way to finish that walk. Got the bus back to town. Enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday 28th June Interlaken

Today was just like last year, trains, bus, cable cars and steam boat. Didn’t have a long break for lunch as we didn’t go near the restaurant midway on the walk from Murren. Still enjoyed it.

Wednesday 29th June Kandersteg

Again very similar to the one last August up to Oeschinensee. The route after the cable car to the restaurant was different. After that of course the route up and down was same, there is no other option. Managed it better than last time, walking poles helped. The walk down from Oeschinensee used a different route helping to make a welcome difference.

Restuarant and Lake

Thursday 30th June Kandersteg

This one was different to last time. This intermediate walk was a welcome change. The trip to Sunnbuel by bus and cable car. This walk then took us to Arvenseeli flower meadow then along the flower strewn path towards Stock looking down the gorge on one side. Back up to the cable car station crossing the mountain bike track as a few went down. Their bikes are secured underneath the cable car for the ride-up. Back at the bottom didn’t take the bus back to town instead walked along River Kander.

Flowers along the path

Friday 1st July Kandersteg

Today was my 60th birthday, hence the reason for the trip. After speaking to Doris at the Tourist Office yesterday afternoon she gave me a couple of maps for Thun as I had decided to spend most of the day there. Not very many of the group decided to do this. I only met a couple of them at the station. Took the 9.13 train to Thun, walked around river bank and through the town. In to some shops, had coffee and cake for lunch. Got train back early afternoon, then short walk along River Kander.

I got a text from Susan and Mum, nothing from anyone else. Nothing done by Great Rail even though they have my d.o.b., glad of that. Only people I told beforehand were at the hotel and Doris. I didn’t tell anyone  on the group.

Saturday 2nd July Kandersteg to London

We left Kandersteg later than last time and took a different route back to London. Kandersteg, to Berne, then onto Basel, into Paris Gare de Lyon, transfer to Gare du Nord and arrived in London at 21.40. Walk to hotel. Just a day of travelling by rail, hanging around rail stations wating on connections.

Sunday 3rd July

Final journey leaving Kings Cross at 11.00. Due to ScotRail rail strike was glad I had taken my car up to Edinburgh and parked near mum’s to make it easier getting home.

There were enough differences in timetable and activities to make this different. Allied to the fact I was lighter in weight and have managed my Type 2 Diabetes better I enjoyed it more. Not sure I would repeat this specific holiday until several years have passed.

Photos for the holiday can be found here.

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Harz Mountains and Rhine Valley, Germany, April 2016

Tuesday 19th April

Pre holiday journey on Tuesday, sunny day for the journey, down to London, locally still cold hence warmer coat while London much warmer. Found the Pizza Express I used last August -prices increased. 3 courses with alcohol. Travelogue is OK but need to verify check in times for next holiday as they claim front door only operates by keycard after 10pm.

Wednesday 20th April

Today is travel to Koln via Brussels.

Morning was boring, all that waiting around. Eurostar was nice, served a light meal on board. Short time to kill in Brussels, departed on time although doors slow to open. This became problem at Leige when train stopped, doors wouldn’t open initially. Had to reset the train and I think they used the rear engine to power to next stop, Aachen when we swapped with an inbound train. Our original train went back to Brussels while we took the other train back the direction it had come from. Eventually got to Koln about 1 hour late. When we arrived it was straight to restaurant for meal. Only had 2 courses as it was about 9 pm by that time. Lifts and doors operated by key card system. Even in the lift it wouldn’t move without keycard use, stupid, would have helped if someone had explained this. In room after 10 pm.

Thursday 21st April

Koln to Hannover by rail then coach to Wernigerode.

Didn’t understand the coach transfer back to the station. Seemed a very roundabout way for a short trip, crossed the Rhine twice and the hotel again. Train journey started late as they brought it in on different platform. First class seats again, that’s all train journey’s so far, as expected. Coach transfer from Hannover was very good. Stopped in Goslar for over 2 hours. Time to walk around, enjoy the sun. Arrived in Wernigerode about 5.30 pm. Not looked around, just unpacked and relaxed. Not sure what I’m doing tomorrow. This place and the Harz mountains are in the former East Germany.

Friday 22nd April

A day free to explore the area after all the travelling.

Morning walk/climb up to the town’s castle. Walk around up there, didn’t go in, went below the cafe to the fountain and “grotto” man, smell of the flowers hit you at bottom level. Then walk back into town and just around the market and shops. Afternoon spent in Lustgarden, very nice area with footpaths through area, plenty of trees and bird song.

Saturday 23rd April

Coach to Alexisbad, then on train on Selke Valley Railway supposedly taking us all the way but, it didn’t. We used coach to transfer to Quedlinburg after 50 minute train trip. Meant we had longer in town, too long if you ask me. Quedlinburg wasn’t very busy for a Saturday afternoon. Good walk up to castle with lovely views over the area, nice herb garden, not able to see terraces as closed off. Nice roundabout route back to Wernigerode. Drive knows the roads, works part time for local bus company and does the school runs, very safe on narrow roads.

Sunday 24th April

From local rail station join Brocken Railway for trip to summit of Brocken then return.

Late departure on foot to railway station, missing the bike race. Firefighters closing roads in preparation. Steam train left 10.25 for journey up to top of Brocken. The highest narrow gauge railway in world. It was cold at top, -1 degrees Celsius, beanie and glove weather, snowed on way up. Didn’t take return train, walked down to Shirke and got bus back to town instead. About 7km walk. It snowed on way down, then sun to dry off. Nice photos of trees at top and start of way down. Crossed rail line but we heard sound of whistle and waited on it coming passed and took close up photos, I hope. Bus back was very pleasant journey. Back to hotel about 3.45pm.

Monday 25th April

Travel by rail to Assmannshausen on the Rhine.

Day of coach and rail travel that lasted most of the day. Surprised at number of allotments at Frankfurt and Weisenbach alongside the rail lines, the “huts” were very grand. Some substantial buildings of bricks. Turns out some people stay in them overnight, have parties, some have a pub, electricity and satellite tv. Some, of course, not well looked after.

Tuesday 26th April

Boat trip on Rhine to St Goar with some free time before return trip.

Change to itinerary, boat trip was further downriver to Boppard. Nice enough place but not much to see, mainly constrained by main road, railway and hills. That appeared to be the same for both sides of the Rhine. The east side was mainly freight on the rail with a few passenger trains. The west was more passenger with fewer freight. It was cold on way downriver. Sun came out back upriver, which takes longer of course, going against the current. I stayed up top for the afternoon return trip. Lots of “castles”, some converted to hotels. Lots of photos, not sure I can work out which ones. The Lorelei is a rock formation. Not much to look at!

Wednesday 27th April

Free to explore the local area further.

Rail then bus to Kloster Eberbach monastery which was used in filming The Name of The Rose. Has it’s own vine yard. Very interesting tour round. Then bus and train back to Rudesheim where took cable car up near top of hill and had a very pleasant walk back to Assmannshausen. This walk included stretch of herb walk.

Thursday 28th April

Excursion to Heidelburg by coach. Two hour coach journey this morning but extra half hour back due to traffic build-up and congestion of evening rush through the road works. Brief tour of Heidelburg on the coach initially then on foot. Rest of afternoon to walk round or do things. Just walked around, bit time over river and a sit down with some snack food I managed to purchase.

Friday 29th April

Return journey home if timetable works.

Left at 9 am for Koln by coach, stopped at German service station which was quite nice. From Koln, onto Thaylis service to Brussels with lunch served. At Brussels luggage taken by porter service and returned on platform for Eurostar service, they put it through customs and security. We went through customs and security with hand luggage. Aboard the Eurostar another meal was served which I didn’t take, too quick after the other. Arrived in St Pancras on time. Caught the train from Kings Cross at 6 pm then local service home. Through the door just before midnight.

Further photographs for this trip can be found here.

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A wee walk in some hills, Switzerland, August 2015

It’s been some time since I had a holiday outside the UK. At this time I was travelling with Great Rail Journeys where most of the travel is by rail. Just before I set off I had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. This influenced how I felt during the trip.

Friday 21st August Day 1

Travelled down to London during the day to stay overnight. London in the evening was hot and I sweated a lot even at 8.30 pm

Saturday 22nd August Day 2

Morning was a bit boring as not much to do until I could check in with the travel company. This morning was very warm and again sweating while walking around. Once you collect your Eurostar ticket its up to you how quickly you go through security and passport control. Once on board our tour manager Alexander Knorr went round handing out more bits of paper. Arrived in Paris Gare du Nord then it’s a coach transfer to Paris Gare de l’Est. According to more experienced travellers in the group it could be walked in about 15 minutes but with a group of about 45 people, they want to keep everyone together and not get lost. However, our coach was delayed owing to a demonstration, typical for a Saturday apparently.

Managed to buy a postcard and water and used the nice toilets – worth the 1 Euro. Was last to board the connection to Metz.

This was done on a double decker TGV which travelled quite a bit of the distance at over 300kph. Walked over from the very nice rail station in Metz to the hotel for a very nice evening meal at around 8.15 pm.

Sunday 23rd August Day 3

Free time this morning to walk around Metz a bit. Found the main cathedral in the town which reminded me of York Minster.

The late morning train from Metz to Basle was an inter-city but with the wrong configuration of carriages to what Alexander had been led to believe. No seat reservations. Old style carriages with outer corridor and seating booths. It was hot. Brief stop at Basel where I used very nice toilets. Connection to Bern. We didn’t stay on this train all the way, we were meant to switch at Spiez however, our train conductor told us in Thun, I think it was, to switch to another train at an adjoining platform as it would take us direct to Kandersteg. This train did hairpin bends to get the height up into the mountains.

Monday 24th August Day 4

Weather forecast was for rain all day but it cleared up by the time we met outside the hotel for our first walking day. The rain returned later afternoon and evening.

I decided to do the medium walk which was initially to Blausee – the blue lake – in fact every group ended up there. The walking was fine, up and down in places but no real struggle for me. The lake was very clear, see the fish and tree trunks quite clearly. This lake apparently rarely freezes in winter as its fed by underground water sources not the nearby river Kander, which was grey and fast running.

The medium walk then continued down to Rutigen however, it was done as a relentless route march with no stops. the group was too far spread out. I forced myself to sop frequently, drink water and look around, including backwards. I was last to the finish and didn’t enjoy this part of the walk. We didn’t get to see the ruins at the end as we had to make a certain bus. They run hourly.

After getting back at the hotel I didn’t go for coffee and cake, felt it would be too much for me. Only had 2 courses for evening meal too. There was an early evening concert in a local small church with organ and saxophone. Was different though I prefer Candy Dulfer and her sax.

 Tuesday 25th August Day 5

Today was classed as a free day in Interlaken where after a brief tour of the town you would be free to do as you pleased, including finding your own evening meal. That’s not what happened.

Took train from Kandersteg to Spietz, change to one for Interlaken Ost, then another to Lauterbrennan, bus to Stecherberg. then on to two cable cars up to Murren (1645m or 1 mile above sea level). We then walked to Winteregg for lunch and onto Grutshalp for cable car back down to Lauterbrennan, train back to Interlaken Ost, another one to Interlaken West and onto a boat the criss-crossed Lake Thun. We were meant to get off at Spiez for a walk around but we stayed on until we reached Thun. A quick forced march round Thun then the direct train back to Kandersteg. All in all 6 trains, 3 cable cars, 1 bus, 1 boat. Didn’t have to pay on any of these thanks to the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi which is included in the cost of the tour. This ticket can only be used in the specific Bern Canton we were in.

The walking was good, not too strenuous, not all the group did this.

Wednesday 26th August Day 6

Today walking was based around town. A cable car then a uphill walk to Lake Oeshinensee then further up to a restaurant. Some of the climb was not easy, steep in places, loose gravel in others. I struggled to keep my balance a couple of times. Coming back down the same path was worse. At one point my foot slipped out from me and it wasn’t easy to get back up again. Several people fell in either direction.

We were misinformed about the terrain for walking back down to the town. It was even rougher. I felt we were walking down a river bed. I ended up using the paved road. Weather was warm and sunny.

Thursday 27th August Day 7

Dad’s birthday, weather again warm and sunny. Didn’t stray far from town today. A very packed bus from the rail station to a cable car that took us up to Sunnbuel (1920m). Then the medium walk to Schwarenbach (2060m). Doesn’t sound like much difference in height but, the walk goes downhill first, into meadows. Then there’s a long climb up. The altitude finally got to me on this climb, that and my health. I got very breathless on this climb and had to stop regularly. I think I got to the stage where I was very cussed in my approach, the only thing that would have stopped me getting to the top was if I collapsed and fell to the ground. I didn’t but, it was hard work.

 Friday 28th August Day 8

A free day to do what you wanted. I just stayed in town. Walked along the River Kander towards the scout camp and listened to some of my audio drama. Had lunch near a cable car station, then further down river for the afternoon. Very warm and sunny again.

 Saturday and Sunday 29th & 30th August Day 9 & 10

Two days of travel back home. Early check out from hotel to catch the 8.44 am to Brig. Onto to Geneva for lunch. TGV to Paris Gare du Lyon, coach transfer to Paris Gare du Nord and a 2 hour wait to get the Eurostar to London. Arrived at 9.45 pm (add an hour for time difference). Overnight in London in crap room.

Early quick breakfast on Sunday to catch the 9.02 am train to Edinburgh. Eventually got home about 3.30pm.

 A good holiday. Enjoyed most of it.

You can find more photos from this trip here.

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