We’re going to go on holiday.
We’d originally planned to go to central America and Mexico to go visit the Maya sites but the Aussie dollar’s sudden drop against the US currency put a stop to that foolishness.
So, where else? Well we had enough frequent flyer points to get to Frankfurt, and Vienna and Budapest have been on our bucket list for years, so a trip to the old Habsburg lands seemed like a good idea, especially as the Euro/AUD exchange rate seems to be behaving itself.
The shape of the trip is quite simple – Vienna for the culture and to allow me to overdose on Egon Schiele artworks and some quite remarkable architecture, Budapest for interest and a trip to Slovenia and Croatia to do some human things (and visit some interesting Roman sites).
We had thought about a side trip to Switzerland but the Swiss central bank’s unlinking of the Swiss Franc from the Euro means that will have to be another trip.
So how to get about?
Renting a car for the whole time seems silly, and discount airlines are a pain, so the answer seemed the train, which took us into a maze of twisty, but ultimately rewarding passages. Basically we’ve had a crash course on the online railway booking systems of central Europe.
As with all mazes, it helps to have a guide and Seat61.com was invaluable as a resource, even if a tad Anglocentric – not everyone wants to start off from London.
All the sites have English language versions but having some basic German was most definitely a help, as was Google translate when occasionally you ended up somewhere other than you expected.
Frankfurt airport has a nice big shiny train station with high speed trains to Vienna, which can be booked either via Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, or OBB, Austrian Federal Railways.
I booked via OBB as they’d give us a discount which DB didn’t seem to have. The whole process was straight forward and we got our tickets as a pdf to print at home.
Given the hassle it used to be to order tickets from overseas, it always seems miraculous to me that I can sit at home nine timezones away and print a pdf of our rail tickets, but that’s what we did. We had tickets for train#23 and we were on our way.
Tickets from Vienna to Budapest were equally easy, except this time they didn’t give us some print at home ones – instead we got a reference number and have to print our tickets in the station from the collection machine. I always have doubts about these ever since I had an episode in Amsterdam late at night when the self service machine wanted my credit card and failed to read it – to be fair I hadn’t pre-booked and was just off a flight from Australia, but being stuck in Amsterdam trying to get to hotel in the Hague wasn’t the best.
(Yes I got there, I took a deep breath and tried my Australian debit card instead of my credit card and amazingly it worked).
Anyway, not a problem, we have enough time and we’ll choose a time the day before to collect our tickets when there’s some station staff around to help.
Now from Budapest we are going on to Slovenia. Our initial idea was to get the direct train from Budapest to Ljubljana, but it’s not the fastest and arrives inconveniently late. We can get there quite a bit earlier by going back to Vienna and then on via Villach where we have a tight change that OBB thinks is perfectly feasible.
Hungarian Railways online site is, shall we say, inscrutable. Things don’t work on it or time out. Sometimes this is because of maintenance periods that they possibly warn you about on the Hungarian language version of the site, but not on the English, and of ourse being ten timezones away we’re always trying to book the tickets in what is the wee small hours in Budapest.
So trying to book the ticket was frustrating – we could see the trains, select the ticket and then we went down a black hole.
So we tried OBB. They couldn’t book the whole trip but suggested we buy two tickets – one from Vienna and one from Budapest – a strategy Seat61.com also suggests – given that we have 35 minutes between trains I don’t see us having a problem even if we have to go out one door and in another
My fallback position was to book the tickets in person in Budapest, but Hungarian railways came good in the end and finally allowed us to book tickets – and yes we have a Hungarian ticket collection machine to play with as well.
I think we’ll collect our tickets the day before …
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