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A 4 Week Home Exchange in Vienna, Austria

Author: LSKahn (More Trip Reviews by LSKahn)
Date of Trip: July 2007

On the 22nd, when I left St. Florian, I went to the salt mine and Berchtesgarten. The later proved very hard to find. There are NO directional signs including the name “Eagle’s Nest”, the name by which Hitler’s retreat is known in English. It is called the Kehlsteinhaus in German. This created a lot of confusion for me. While there is some sort of museum/memorial below, Hitler’s home has been turned into a restaurant. The view is wonderful, but, had I known there was no museum at the top of the mountain, I probably would not have gone. The museum should be on the top. When you get to the parking lot for the Kehlsteinhaus, you do see a sign there for the Eagle’s Nest, but that is the only one I saw trying to find the place. When you take the bus to the top of the mountain, you are told to stamp your ticket for a bus down about 2 hours later. You end up eating in the restaurant because, after taking your photos and seeing the small photographic display available, there is nothing else to do. In view of what went on there during World War II, there should be a memorial there By the time I got down from the mountain, whatever was down below was about to close and I could not go in. The use of the site was very disappointing to me.

In Budapest, I saw almost all the major tourist sites but did not get to the baths either to view them or use them. I did see both special exhibits going on this summer on Genghis Khan and the Incas before Peru. There are explanations in English for those. Signage in English in Budapest can be spotty. I visited the House of Terror and the new Holocaust Museum.

Over the course of the entire trip, I used exactly ONE taxi. That was to get from the hotel in Budapest to the train station when it was time to go. There is work on the subway line from the train station to Deak Ter this summer meaning you must take a bus to Deak Ter before getting on the subway. This should only affect you when you are trying to get to and from your hotel from the train station. After arriving at the hotel, we never needed to use that piece of the line again during our stay.

For travel in Budapest we used the subway or walked. In Vienna I used the U-bahn or buses. I did have helpful explanations from my home exchangers. I bought tickets that had 8 fares on them and used those. I did not find the day passes or the 3 day Vienna card to be a good deal financially. I used single tickets in Budapest but purchased a few of them at once. When asking for tickets, you can just hold up fingers for the number you want and that will work. They will write the amount you owe down if you need that. They are used to many people not speaking Hungarian.

English is widely spoken in Vienna as a second language. In Budapest that is less true. The first foreign language most children study there is German. If you look confused, they will speak German to you before English is tried. I speak some German but it is at a very low level. In St. Florian, my hostess spoke about as little English as I speak German. Nevertheless, with the help of a dictionary and our hands we managed.

The funniest thing that happened on the trip: For several weeks before leaving, I banged away at an hour long Hungarian CD. I concentrated on the numbers and a few simple phrases. I find that learning to count is the most important thing you can do in any language to have a minimum of function. OK, I learned how to count. I got to Budapest and my cheap travel watch with the broken clasp finally fell off and I had to replace it. I go into an appropriate shop selling cheap watches. The guy is taking the links off the watch so it will fit my wrist. His mother is standing there and she asks him whether it is “3” [thousand forints—Hungarian money]. The kid says, “No four.” This is all in Hungarian. What happened is that they were charging me the foreigner price of 4,000 forints rather than 3,000 forints. I was so stunned that I understood what they were doing, that I said nothing. The amount of money in question was about $5 and I was in a hurry. So much for my functional Hungarian. You have to remember to use it when you are being cheated! Duh.

I did not go to Bratislava from Vienna. There is a high speed catamaran that goes to Bratislava from Vienna several times a day. I wanted to book the early morning one and come back on the late one to get a full day in Bratislava. I was unable to do so as the boats all get booked up by day tours. The tours either leave in the morning and come back midday or leave midday and come back in the early evening. You probably get 2-3 hours in Bratislava at most. Of course, I could have driven the car, but the last thing I wanted was to have to drive in another city. While I could also have easily taken the train, ultimately I decided not to go because there was so much I wanted to do in Vienna.

I did not go into Salzburg. If I wanted to do that I would have taken the train from Vienna because the car would have been a hassle. Since I had done the 3 day trip to Budapest, I did not want to start running around spending more money on hotels when there was so much to be seen in Vienna. Salzburg is closer to Munich. Someday I will get a home exchange in Munich. When I do, I will do a 3 day trip to Salzburg. The purpose of doing a home exchange is to save money on accommodations. When you start staying in hotels, the point of home exchanging is lost. I have been exchanging for years. Each time you see a small slice of Europe but very intensely. It is much less stressful than running hither and yon trying to see it all—not that any European trip is exactly restful.

By the way, including airfare, I think I spent about $3,500 for the month in Europe—which is why I home exchange. In hotels, the figure would be 3x that figure. I bought a necklace in Vienna that qualified for a VAT refund. I also bought a pin in Budapest. Other than that, I bought things like key chains that were easy to throw in the suitcase. I didn’t buy any kitsch souvenirs with Franz Josef, Empress Elizabeth, or Mozart on them. I did buy a number of CD’s from places I visited.

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