Monday, 18 June 2012

The train to Budapest

Its a nice comfortable train that travelled at 100 to 160 kph through a rather uninteresting agricultural landscape. The rail operator is called RailJet, who I've never heard of. There was no discernable border between Austria & Hungary, the only evidence was a second ticket inspector wanting to stamp the ticket again.

About half an hour before Budapest we pass through rocky cliffs, wooded hillsides & we skirt the Danube.

Arriving in a new city in a new country & with no local currency (the forint) taxi's are a bit of a must until you suss out the local transport system. Budapest station taxi drivers are surly rip off merchants - they don't use a meter & charged 15 euro for a frightening 8 minute hurtle through the streets. 

Vienna to Budapest

It cost 10 euro for a taxi from Westbahnhof station to my hotel but going back to the station was free as my 24 hour Vienna card is still valid. The metro was twice as fast as the taxi & very easy to negotiate. If I'd bought a 48 hour metro/tram ticket on arrival I'd be 20 euro in pocket.

With an hour & quarter to wait at the station I really appreciate use of the club lounges which seem to be at all main stations. They come free with the modest extra premium for a first class ticket, unlike the UKs extortonate first class fares. With free WiFi, drinks, snacks & comfy chairs they could cover the extra cost - if you're greedy.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Vienna 4 - Sunday

As a rule I avoid museums - they're dead places full of artifacts ripped from any meaningful context & museum goers are basically train spotters wrapped up in a cultural blanket.

I enjoy art but bridle at the perposterous bogus sanctity of art galleries - but I was intrigued by Vienna's Museum of Art Fakes (Lowengasse 28). Fake art is nothing new, the earliest recorded example is apparently Michelangelo - as a student he was given an old master to practice his technique but he returned his copy instead of the original & no one noticed.

Artists like Tom Keating & Elmyr de Hory became disaffected with the profit driven motive of dealers & investment collectors & the lack of interest in their work so they set out to undermine the shallow, ignorant & phony art world by showing that they can paint just as well as dead painters whose works are valued in millions.

If 'experts' can't tell the difference between a fake & an original without recourse to X-Rays & scientific testing - then what is the difference?

A fascinating museum that is really thought provoking.

Vienna 3 - Sunday

Had a more enjoyable day as I bought a 24 hour Vienna public transport ticket for 6.70 euro  - which is a bargain as each trip costs 2 euro. Took the metro to Praterstern to see the famous ferris wheel depicted in The Third Man - a 1949 Carol Reed film from a Graham Greene short story immortalised by Orson Wells as Harry Lime in post war Vienna.

Its still in an old fashioned fun fair that looks to be dated from the 1940's - drear & awful but rather iconic for all that - & popular with old folks & parents of 5-7 years olds. In fairness they do have a newish ride that is the highest chair-o-plane ride that whirls around 117 metres in the air - why would anyone want to do that?

The Park was created in 1766 & after the ferris wheel was erecte in 1895 it evolved into a classic funfair.

The Danube is a few miles out of the city centre & the metro stops on a long island that is a popular leisure spot for the Vienenese. People were sunbathing, swimming, cruising in rental boats & parts were lined with alfreso riverside bars & restaurants. The river seems very clean (saw a terrpin) but it wasnt any 'bluer' than the Thames - less muddy brown maybe but couldnt see the Blue Danube.

It was a lovely spot with a delicious river breese & it was nice to find where the Viennese go when they abandon the city centre to the tourists.

Vienna 2 - Saturday

Got hot & bothered (30 degrees) walking all day saturday & became peeved with the emphasis on shopping - the same things you can buy in every other city. The Opera Hse, St Stephens cathedral, Imperial Palace & Spanish Riding School were impressive but the hoards of big tour groups was irritating.

The famous Viennese cafe culture is epitomised in the very grand Central Cafe, with its vaulted ceiling, columns & guilded chandeliers. Instead of the much trumpeted artists & intellectuals, like everywhere else, it was packed with tour groups & souless.

Ended the day at a surprising English enclave near my hotel - The Four Bells pub selling Newcastle Brown ale & Bobbies a shop specialising in English food imports!

So I saw some grand buildings but didnt feel I'd seen anything that summed up Vienna.

Saturday, 16 June 2012


My first impressions are disappointing, with wide busy roads & a lot less character than Cologne. Lots of unattractive post war buildings but there is some nice nineteenth stuff but you have to search it out.

All in all I wish I had stayed over in Cologne.

The train from Cologne to Vienna

I boarded the DB Cologne to Vienna overnight train at 8pm. There was  welcome pack of bottled water, Henkell Trocken sparkling wine & a Viennese waffer. The cabin had 3 leather armchairs & converted into 3 bunk beds for sleeping.

It had a clean wood & laminate finish although the carpet was scruffy & annoyingly rucked up under the bathroom door. There was a small cupboard for hanging clothes, high up luggage space & an electrical socket beside the small table.

The cabin was 3 metres square with a large chunk taken out by the bathroom ( 2m x 0.7m).   The bathroom had toilet, sink & showerwhich worked in 30 second spurts with poor temperature control.

Breakfast was delivered to the cabin at 7am but did not include what I had ordered & was a poor version of a continental breakfast. Still, I had a good nights sleep.

Trains are a one-off, if you compared it to  hotel it would only rate one star but if you rated it with an airline it would be better than first class - except for the food - so the best advice is to take your own picnic food & drink.

Cologne 2

The food at Hexenhaus is classically German - meat, meat served with meat. I had their Kolner Schmankerl (taster menu) which included:
*pork knuckle with fabulously crispy crackling
*beef with almonds
*part of a 1 metre long bradwurst (sausage)
*a stranged pork conncoction with bacon
*accommpanied with fried potato, onion, red & white cabbage & salad

Heavy stuff but superbly cooked & best shared between two with a planned walk-it-off afterwards.


Cologne (Koln) is an important European rail hub so if you're travelling around Europe you'll get to know this station. On my previous trips (Prague, Warsaw) I only got to know the station but on this trip I had a 4 hour lay-over & found the city has plenty of charms within easy waling distance from the station.

Right outside the station is the spectacular gothic cathedral & if you don't see it looming above you - you've gone out the wrong exit so turn around & walk back to the other exit opposite.

In the shadow of the cathedral & along side the Rhine are the captivating cobbled streets of the Old Town. It is packed with Brauhaus' and alfresco restaurants which have a surprisingly Mediterranian ambience in the summer.

One of the most famous is the Hexenhaus (pork knuckle house) which has an 800 year history of sea traders unloading cargo at Cologne.

Cologne has its own beer (Kolsch), brewed nowhere else. Its an ale but tastes like a lager even though its poured from woodedn barrels. Its traditionally serve in 0.2 litre glasses, which keep coming until you put a beer mat on your glass to indicate you've finished. At Hexenhaus its served in metres - metre long planks of wood with 10 holes for 10 glasses of beer.

London to Istanbul 2

Caught a 7am train to Paddigton & arrived at St Pancras by 8am with sufficient time for a leisurely coffee. The Eurostar left on time just before 9am & arrived in Brussels two hours later (12.10, +1GMT).

Brussels Midi is a busy International station with plenty of shops & cafes. When changing trains follow the signs for 'connections' & then signs for the rail company you're travelling with ie Thalys, ICE, DB etc. Finally look for the airport style departure screens to identify which platform you need.

My Thalys trrain to Cologne departed at 1.28pm & took two hours. The Thalys 'comfort 1' class has a spacious 2+1 seat configuration and comes with free WiFi, drinks & snacks.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

London to Istanbul

Just got all my train tickets & accommodation vouchers - thanks again Railbookers.

Depart London 08.57 arrive Brussels 12.05 (+1 GMT)
Depart Brussels 13.28 arrive Cologne 15.15

I'm pleased to have a few extra hours to see something of Cologne other than the cathedral that's right outside the station.
Depart Cologne 20.05 arrive Vienna 08.52 next morning. It will be interesting to see what Deutsche Bahn's onsuite cabins are like.
Looking forward to a couple of days in Vienna

Depart Vienna 09.54 arrive Budapest 12.49
Looking forward to a couple of days in Budapest

Depart Budapest 10.00 on the Danube Express arrive Istanbul 09.00 three days later, with a few stop-offs on the way.

It should be a really great journey.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Quiet trains

As an increasing number of airlines are opting to provide noisy mobile services, Eurostar is introducing quiet coaches on its services this September. Business and standard premier passengers will be able to choose the option at no extra cost. Just another reason to prefer trains.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

I have just updated my website - - to include 16 of my best rail journeys ranging from a steam train to Bath to the Ghan across Australia with lots of European travel in between.