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Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Time Event
8:17p
Vienna Trip Expansion
Monday, Oct. 2 was our departure date, We expected to spend the best part of a day travelling, so I attempted to make things as hasssle-free as possible. We began when our friend Henry Osier transported us and our baggage to the Milwaukee Amtrak depot, where the Wisconsin Coach Lines bus to O'Hare picks up. The bus was on time, and got us to Terminal 5 at O'Hare in good time. We left a good three hours for check-in, security, etc., which we didn't actually need. This was one of a number of precautions we took that we didn't turn out to need, but the fact that we took them was comforting, and, as I have found, it seems to work out that if you have a good "Plan B" there's less of a chance you will actually need it. So we had plenty of time to stand in line wating for Alitalia's counter to open up, then to change some money for Euros, then pass security and settle in at the gate to wait to board. Depressingly, our intitial gate had television, and we also had plenty of time to both listen to the depressing news aobut the dreadful shooting in Amish country, and to watch a thunderstorm edge around the airfield. Then a gate change was announced, and we moved to some more peaceful space. The bad weather cleared off and we took off into reasonably calm air.

I can't complain about Alitalia for this flight. The Boeing 767 was not too uncomfortable in Economy class, and the food was quite good. As usual, we pretty much ignored the in-flight entertainment and read or dozed. Landing at Milan Malpensa airport was no problem, and we noticed that the airport contained a number of interesting shops that we hoped to explore ont he slightly longer layover scheduled for our return trip. Our airplane for the hop to Vienna was an Embraer model, three seats across, and we had a smooth flight. Skies were clearer as we flew into Austria, and to the east we could see the Alps marching rank on rank into Switzerland and Barvaria. From this height and angle they looked pretty grim, and one appreciates Hannibal's just fame.

Landing and getting bags at Schwechat airport was no problem, and the hotel's driver was there to meet us as scheduled.

Driving into Vienna was VERY interesting. None of the guidebooks describe that the area between the airport and the city is heavily industrial and includes one of the largest refinery complexes I've ever seen, as well as a couple of large power plants. However, we were quickly into Vienna proper and left all of that quickly behind.

The Hotel Austria is very conveniently located in the first, or inner district of the city, that once encompassed by the ancient walls, which puts it in easy walking distance of St. Stephan's Cathedral, the city's most visible landmark; the major shopping streets, the Hofburg place complex, many museums, and, a bit farther away, the Statsoper (State Opera). For all this, it is not easy to find if you don't know where to look. The address is 20 Fleischmarket, but it is actually located at the end of a nameless cul-de-sac off that street, a position it shares with an office building and what appeared to be the headquarters of the Carpenter's Union. We found the hotel very comfortable and the hotel staff knowlegeable and helpful in every way. In the style of classic hotels, the front desk is staffed round the clock, and all the desk clerks spoke very good English. I had booked one of the best rooms, and it was very comfortable and the hotel as a whole very quiet and very clean. A breakfast buffet came with the room and provided a bountiful spread of bread, fruit, cheeses, meats, jams, juice, tea and coffee, as well as a few things I wouldn't have expected, such as Nutella and liver paste (!). Cooked breakfasts were available at an extra charge, but we did very well on the standard plan. Given the Viennese madness for pastry, I was surprised that sweet rolls of any kind were not on the breakfast menu: instead, the carbohydrate portion of the offering comprised bread, Kaiser and seeded rolls, and croissants. I guess they figure that with sweets available from morning break on, you don't need them for breakfast, also. The hotel provided one free terminal for internet access as noted previously, and also has a lobby hot spot for wi-fi, but this, I was displeased to find, was not included with the room: instead, there was a slight additional hourly charge for usage. The fact that this wasn't noted up front on the hotel's promotional materials was the only down check. We settled in, unpacked, and ventured out to explore the nearby area. (con't).

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