by Tori Ward, Cruise and Resort Specialist, ROX Travel | Photo by Tori Ward
Our rail trip from Switzerland (as described in the August-September edition of Prescott LIVING) continued from rainy Salzburg to crisp and clear Vienna. We waltzed from the train to our hotel just 3 minutes from the central rail station, a hub where transportation to and from all parts of the city is easily arranged.
Since this was my husband’s first visit to the city of Mozart and Freud, I left him in the center of town so he could explore the Spanish Riding School where the Lipizzaner stallions are pampered and to investigate other treasures at Hofburg. Impressive though this winter Habsburg palace is, I’d visited before so, leaving him behind, I jumped on a bus to Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg dynasty’s summer residence.
Skipping the zoo in favor of art, beautiful baroque designs and the stunning gardens, I toured The Imperial Apartments, which seem familiar if you’ve been to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. My eyes needed a rest after all that gilt, so I gave in to a Viennese coffee and a piece of apple strudel at the cafe.
Later that evening, I rendezvous with my spouse in front of the Vienna Opera to wander along the Ringstrasse, the beautiful boulevard that circles the historic area of the city. Although we skipped ticketed performances on our trip, I have attended both a service at the Hofburg Chapel, where the Vienna Choirboys perform, and a Mozart opera on previous visits. Both of these events are treasured memories.
We were off before noon the next day for Cologne, Germany. It was by far our longest train ride of the trip, taking nearly nine hours. The dining car didn’t offer a lot of selection, so we grabbed some fruit and premade salads before taking a taxi to our hotel.
I dedicated the following day to shop, which there is plenty of on the mostly pedestrian streets all around the Köln Cathedral known as the Schildergasse.
Cologne (Köln) is famous for Kölsch, a beer that must be brewed within 31 miles of the city to earn that name. Hey, it’s the Champagne of beers characterized by its clear color and hoppy flavor. The use of your coaster on top of the glass is imperative if you don’t want the server to keep topping you up.
The Schildergasse is the busiest shopping area in Germany and also one of the oldest Roman era streets. With the cathedral towering as a landmark, we wandered up and down streets and in and out of wonderful one-of-a-kind boutiques.
Sadly, WWII destroyed many of the historical structures that once graced this area bordering the Rhine. However, the magnificent cathedral, although hit 14 times during the war, did not collapse. The medieval stained glass windows dating back to the 14th century were removed and reinstalled after the war.
The train station, next door, however, belching soot and exhaust over the centuries has blackened the sandstone surface of the exterior.
Our final train was a quick dash from Cologne to Brussels, Belgium. Arriving on Sunday we joined the locals and walked in the beautiful fall afternoon along the river to the central square of Brussels, the Grand Place.
Standing in the center and turning 180 degrees, the buildings blend one into the other in solidarity proclaiming her political importance and Gothic beauty.
Both nights we were in Brussels we enjoyed seafood, slurping mussels and sopping up the broth with hunks of bread one night, and twirling pasta and langostinos the next.
We took a dash to Bruges on our final day. I’ve been many times and always love walking on the cobbled streets searching for new chocolate flavors. The sun peaked out from the cloudy sky just long enough to snap one last memory of this memory-ladened trip.
- Skip the Line tickets for museums and tickets for concerts and events are best purchased in advance before leaving home to avoid disappointment and language barriers.
- Bruges is very close to Brussels and a charming place to indulge your love of chocolate as most of the many shops provide free samples.
- Most European countries don’t have retail shopping hours on Sunday. However, most of the museums are open so plan your time accordingly.
- Be aware of political protests that gravitate around large central European cities. Avoid these areas if you see people assembling.
- The people in Vienna are more reserved and formal than in Salzburg, but not unfriendly. Dining at upscale restaurants will require something more than sneakers and jeans.
Cologne. Photo by Tori Ward.