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LONDON GATWICK ON THURSDAY AUGUST 11
Before we pick up where we left off last week, I have included a link to help travelers understand the new “dos and don'ts.” NOTE: "Where's Johnny Jet" usually is published a week or two behind “real time.” So last week, rather than being in Vienna, I was in London's Gatwick airport when British authorities announced they had uncovered a major terrorist plot to blow up planes. U.K. and U.S. governments had raised security alerts to their highest levels, and implemented new security rules. Unfortunately, I had an 8 a.m. flight that very morning. When I arrived at easyJet's check-in area at 6:15 a.m. I had no idea -- nor did anyone else -- what was going on. There was complete chaos, and for the first hour I thought it was just their lack of organization. It took a while before I had heard some of the news, and saw that the rest of the Gatwick airport was even more of a mess. It was totally packed. You couldn't even walk. I have never seen a place so crowded.
EASY JET COUNTER
I waited in line to check in for 4 1/2 hours. I moved just a few feet the first 2 hours. As you can see from the video below, easyJet's service director did a great job informing his 2,500-plus passengers waiting patiently to travel. Everyone was very well behaved. I was lucky, because my flight got out (at 1:15 p.m.). Most that were scheduled to depart just 20 minutes after mine were either canceled or delayed substantially. Airport agents handed out see-through plastic bags, so passengers could carry on the few personal items they were allowed (wallet, medicine, passports and glasses). I had to check -- for the first time ever -- my computer, cameras, phone, and all the other stuff I treat as a mega-carat diamond ring. Every passenger --even toddlers -- were patted down thoroughly. Kudos to Scotland Yard for preventing a major tragedy. One final note: I am not changing my travel plans, and neither should you. I am even flying home via London next week. Just pack smart, arrive early -- and bring patience.
Grüß Gott from Vienna! Austria is the third stop of my four-country jaunt through Central/Eastern Europe. I'm touring with my childhood friends Matt
and Mike on a very special trip. At our final destination (to be revealed next week) Mike is getting married – and I'm the best man! Last week (here's the link to the archives) we were in Bratislava, Slovakia. Most Americans who visit Bratislava also enjoy Vienna, and we wanted to be part of that group. If you're in a hurry or have ADD, don't worry; there's a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story.
BRATISLAVA TO VIENNA
Bratislava and Vienna are only 58 minutes by train
from each other, so there's no excuse not to visit both of these beautiful cities. We used our European East Pass, which we bought before we left the States from RailEurope.com (I wrote about that at length last week), but a one-way ticket from RailEurope.com is only $25 -- and half that if it's purchased at the train station in Bratislava. We arrived at Vienna's Southern Train Station (Wien Suedbahnhof), and went straight to an ATM to withdraw some euros. The current exchange rate is 1€ = $1.28 (I use Xe.com for my currency converter).
BY RIVER BOAT
My friend Matt took the boat to Vienna and this was his experience.
TAXI TO THE WRONG HOTEL
The official language here is German, but like practically all Viennese the taxi driver spoke perfect English. He dropped us off at the wrong Levante hotel (Levante Laudon) -- which was my fault, because I had quickly written their sister property's address from their website. Fortunately we were not in a hurry so we didn't really care, except that it cost us an extra 6€ ($7.50) to take a taxi to the hotel where we actually had a reservation. The good news is, we got to check out a reasonably priced place to stay ($150) for travelers who want to live like locals, because the Levante Laudon rents out 39 fully self-contained apartments
in a residential neighborhood.
THE LEVANTE PARLIAMENT
Vienna was recently called "the new hub of architecture and design" by UK's Wallpaper Magazine. The Levante Parliament hotel is part of that trend. The 74-room hotel opened this past May, in a 1908 Biedermeier building. Natural stone, dark wood, glass and chrome -- with a dab of bright colors – is used for the modern architecture interior. The hotel could also serve as an art gallery. Everywhere you look, there are glass works by Romanian artist Ioan Nemtoi (he also co-designed the hotel's Nemtoi restaurant), or photographs
by Viennese photographer Curt Themessl. All of the art is for sale. I wasn't sure at first how I felt about the chic hotel, but it quickly grew on me. First of all, the staff were all very friendly and attentive. The rooms
are comfortable, and come with free high-speed internet, a flat screen TV
with satellite, a heated floor in the bathroom
(a great touch!), an oversized showerhead, a courtyard
to lounge in, and an extensivebreakfastbuffet. Rooms rates begin at $250. The Levante Parliament, Auerspergstrasse 9, 1080 Vienna, Austria; tel.: 43-1-228-28-0.
The first night Mike and I walked 10 minutes to the Levante Laudon hotel, where Matt
was staying. We were lucky we found the place, because the street signs are difficult for a foreigner to read. Take a look here to understand our frustration. I still don't know what the heck the name of that street
is. It was 9:30 on a Sunday night, and most of this non-touristy neighborhood -- especially the restaurants -- was quiet. When we walked by one place that was jam-packed, including an outdoor patio with a 20-30-something crowd of locals all looking like they were having a great time, we decided to eat there. We didn't even ask what kind of food they served or what the prices were – we were that hungry. It turned out to be something we least expected: a Mexican restaurant that was not only hip, but affordable and quite tasty. The name is fitting: Mas!, Laudongasse 36; tel.: 43-(01)-403-83-24.
The following morning we were off to see the city. Two blocks into our walk, near City Hall, a self-serve
bike rental company caught our attention. After reading a pamphlet about this service (which every city should have), we created a registration. Each renter must have a valid credit card, and fill out a 4-minute electronic user agreement on a small ATM-style machine. The initial registration fee is 1€. The fees are ridiculously cheap -- if you use the service intelligently. The first hour of bike rental is always free of charge. The second hour costs 1€, while the third is 2€. Then it starts to get a bit expensive: If you return the bike between the 4th and the 120th hour you are charged 4€ per hour. After that -- or if the bike is lost or stolen – you pay 600€. Obviously, you don't want to rent for a long period of time (or lose it!). Tourists should ride the bike for just under an hour, park at one of 50 bike rack locations around the city, then explore on foot for at least 15 minutes. After that short period your account is reset, and you can log back in (using your credit card and password) to get a bike for the fees listed above. Remember: The first hour is free! This is a perfect, economical and fun
way to see the city. Note: Every time you log in to hire a city bike, the system carries out a standard preauthorization of 20€. They are not payments, just pre-authorizations, so don't worry (like I did) when I logged on to my credit card account. For more info, check out Citybike Wien.
ST STEPHEN'S CATHEDRAL
Our first stop on the bike was St. Stephen's Cathedral
(Stephansdom). The bike rack
is located behind the Romanesque Gothic-style cathedral, which is probably Vienna's most recognized symbol. It was built in 1147, but enlarged over the centuries and completed in 1511. Fine restoration work has taken place, and the last major repairs came after World War II bombing, but it's almost impossible to see the difference. This cathedral has been the site of many important events, including Mozart's funeral. Inside
you will find Gothic sculptures, and 18 altars (including the Baroque-style High Altar). Two towers offer panoramic views
of the city, plus an up-close look at the ornate and colorful tiled rooftops. The North Tower (223 feet high) has stairs and an elevator, but we climbed
the 445-foot South Tower (3€). It has no elevator, but there were small windows
space for someone who is even mildly claustrophobic to not have any problems. There is even a small gift shop
at the top. For more info, log on to Stephanskirche.at.
HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGE RIDES
Throughout the city
will you find horse -drawn carriages. The largest lineup that I found was in front of St. Stephen's Cathedral. We did not take one of the 40€ ($51) 20-minute rides for a number of reasons, the major one of which was that the horses did not look happy. If you do take one, be sure to look at your watch before starting. The horsemen try to make more money by cutting rides short. Note: Amazingly, Viennese streets are very clean with no signs of horse dung. That's because a bag contraption located behind (duh!) the horse catches "it" before it falls to the ground. Even when it misses, someone is nearby to clean it up.
To get a better understanding of the city, we hired a tour guide through the Vienna Tourist Board. Gerhard Strassgschwandtner (email: firstname.lastname@example.org website:
Stadt-kunst.com) charges 120€ ($150) for a 2 ½-hour tour. We saw
a lot more than his usual tours, because we did this one
on our rental bikes. Gerhard gave us a brief history of the city. We learned Vienna was where the Habsburgs ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that much their beauty is still visible in the Inner City. The inner city once was fortified by a 3-mile wall, but it came down in 1870. It was replaced by the Ringstrasse, a 3-mile-wide boulevard that encircles the old city. Biking around it, you can see all the buildings
built in the 1870's and 1880's. Gerhard was great, pointing out not only the important buildings, but showing and describing each museum and popular sight so we could decide which ones to go back to later time for a more in-depth look. (A good guide book can do the same.)
We rode our bikes along a canal that led out to the Danube. Before we reached Europe's second longest river, we stopped along the way at a unique apartment house, called Hundertwasserhaus. It was built in 1983 named after its designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It features undulating floors ("an uneven floor is a melody to the feet"), and an earth- and grass-covered roof. Large trees grow from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from
windows. The modern masterpiece is a popular tourist attraction, with souvenir shops all around. For more info, check out Hundertwasserhaus.at. Source: Wikipedia.org.
PRATER PARK/ AMUSEMENT PARK
We also rode through Prater Park. This used to be an imperial hunting ground, and is now a popular summertime hangout for all Viennese. The park -- 6 miles long and 1 mile wide -- is located on an island formed by the Danube River and the canal. There is just one main road
for bike-riding. Nearby is an amusement park with an old giant Ferris wheel, and a merry-go-round that uses live horses (that's pretty cruel).
The city is similar to Paris, as it is composed of 23 districts. Paris has 20 "arrondissements"; here they are called "Bezirke." All have their own names, but they're numbered to make it easier (thank God). The further you go out of the Inner City, the higher the numbers get. The newest districts of Vienna are located on the other side of the Danube. This is also home to the International Center. This part of the city has a totally different feel -- more like South Florida
without the nice beaches. But on a hot day the banks
of the Danube -- dubbed "Riviera" -- are a nice
MUSIC FILM FESTIVAL
It is said that at any time of the day or night in Vienna, someone somewhere is playing the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (This year marks the 250th anniversary of his birth). We found this to be true, in this city filled with theatre, opera, classical music and fine arts. Unbeknown to us, the popular Music Film Festival that began in 1991 was going on. It takes place every night from July 1 to September 3 in Rathausplatz Square (right in front of the neo-Gothic City Hall). Admission is free, and 3,000 seats are available to watch
-- on a huge TV at dusk -- opera, concerts and ballets performed by international stars. This year, my boy Mozart
was featured. Arrive early to enjoy over two dozen refreshmentand food booths
from around the world. Mike went to the Austrian
booth, Matt visited Croatia, and I felt like some curry so I hit the Indian booth. (Of course I went back to the Austrian booth for dessert). For more info, log on to Music Film Festival.
*If you heard about us somewhere else or have the link to the story please email Johnny Jet media and let us know where!
SOME OF LAST WEEK'S READER AIR-eMAIL
I absolutely love the Frommer's web site and I'm totally jealous over Johnny Jet's gig. Half of my family roots are in Bratislava and I'm anxious to go there. I can't wait until I can save up enough to visit there. The Johnny Jet page is nicely written, especially as it provides the quick photo links to illustrate the stories. Thanks Frommer's! - Stephan Boatin - Knoxville Tennessee
It was a great Video and I really enjoyed reading your articles. I e-mailed this to my brother who
is leaving this Friday for Slovakia. We hope to go there next year. Thanks again! JoAnn & Marty - ?
Thank you for a great read and promoting Slovakia. I have been many times over the past five years and love it more and more each time I go. The country has so much to offer culturally, historically, and the people are both genuinely friendly and beautiful. Small towns like Zilina, Presov are great to get a true glimpse of what Slovaks are like in their day-to-day life. This spa was awesome and I highly recommend it to those traveling to the region. In fact it was here I received my first massage one winter as inches upon inches of snow fell outside creating an exhilarating view. Thanks again for bringing back such pleasant memories of my past trips and makes me even more excited about my upcoming trip in September. Keith Sanders - Alpharetta, Georgia
Your last two newsletters have sparked my desire to go back to Europe. My wife and I have a Rail Europe pass and a round trip ticket. I just can't find the time to go. This last newsletter from Bratislava and Slovakia was really good. I really like the photos of the local areas showing all the age in the buildings. Very intriguing. Sounded like you guys had a great time. Minus leaving a passport behind. I'm sure the slight heart attack was not fun. Looking forward to the next newsletter. Kyle E - Redondo Beach, CA
Your rosy portrait of Bratislava contrasted greatly with my last visit
there in the early 1970's. As part of then Czechoslovakia, it was
behind the Iron Curtain and a very dismal gray city that nobody would
want to visit. We saw the locals staring across the Danube river
knowing that the free world was just on the other side but they would
get shot for even attempting it. Nice how times have changed. Thanks, Brian (Ft. Lauderdale, FL).
I am one of the few Americans that have discovered Bratislava. I rode roundtrip train from Budapest for 17 bucks. And loved it there. I also believe that Johnny is going to Kyiv (Kiev) next. This is my favorite destination. Brad - Texas
I've been a reader for a few years now and I always find myself trying to follow you around the world on my vacations. My wife and I are now planning on traveling to Zermatt, Switzerland next month and I have a quick question: In the Aug 3, 2005 newsletter (Frank's Wedding) you mentioned connecting to the Glacier Express in Visp. I've looked on Rail Europe to make the same connection but it isn't coming up. Is it still possible to connect in Visp or do I have to travel to Brig and connect there? Thanks! Lee Montgomery - Houston TX. REPLY: Thanks for the kind words and support! I connected in Brig the first time and Visp the second. I suggest following the advice of Rail Europe.
Thank you for the honest, enthusiastic article on Bratislava. Next time we you've got to see the whole country. Z. A. - New York, NY
Johnny's take on the English language situation in Bratislava is
a bit different from ours. We had a problem with finding
English speakers - most people seemed to speak German rather than
English. I didn't try Russian! But the bottom line is that we (my
wife and I) agree with you on what a nice place it is. We went the
first time just as a courtesy to a friend from Slovakia - and liked
it so much we stayed two nights instead of one. We've been back
since, and will likely go again. We had dinner at a restaurant while there the first time about five
years ago - may have been the Slovak restaurant you mention but can't
be sure. They had a piano player who played show tunes all during
dinner, and did a nice job. So I left him a tip on his piano as we
were leaving, and ended up having to stand at attention while he
broke forth with not one but three stanzas of the Star Spangled
Banner! It did leave us with a warm feeling. W. Jackson - McLean, VA
Enjoyed your Prague newsletter and it was right on. It is probably one
of the most beautiful cities I have been too but the people there are
beyond surly. We did meet some very nice people, some who were
standoffish (but that's typical for eastern Europe it seems), and then
we met a few who were actively going out of their way to be rude. I
think it has to do with all of the drunk British people over there that
piss off the locals because when we left the touristy areas and went
into the more blue collar areas the people were fine. One more thing - Visit the Pilsner Urquel brewery it's a pretty cool (the worlds first pilsner). Matt - Atlanta, GA
Again I so enjoyed hearing of your adventures, this time in Prague. Our family of four visited Prague too, but with a tour group. Our experiences were good, but did remember the hotel we stayed in had a policy we did not agree upon. We used the indoor swimming pool that was on the top floor of the hotel. It was more than refreshing on a hot summer day. The morning we left our tour director gave us a separate bill for using the pool! This was a surprise because we were told it was included in our stay. The tour group could not leave until we paid the bill. Obviously it was paid, but it left a bad taste in our mouths --- much like the bread in yours! Also we remembered the gypsies working the tourist crowd as we stood and watched the astronomical clock perform its motions. But you are so right --- the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral are magnificent. Cathy Du Bois ---- Torrance, California
This was excellent and so timely. My husband is attending an
International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague which starts this
weekend. We will be there for about 2 weeks. I really appreciate
your info and tips--especially about the chips and bread!!! Hoping
to have a great time. Connie G- Columbia, Maryland
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