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Day 26

VENICE

What a wonderful city Venice is! We have explored it from top to toe and found many special gems in a city very different to anything we have found so far. We started the day taking the bus to our water taxi and had a leisurely cruise from the port into town. There were several cruise ships in the port and we had a chance to familiarise ourselves with the place we will start our cruise from later in the month.

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On the way to the city centre we passed a magnificent private luxury boat. It was massive and obviously full of all the modern fittings. We discovered from our boat skipper that it is owned by the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. We could only imagine what it would be like to holiday on such a wonderful boat.

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We disembarked near St Marks Square and had a couple of hours of free time. Jenny and Jen and I did a bit of shopping and had a delicious pizza at a little restaurant right beside a canal. A very real Venice experience.

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Once we had all gathered back together again we boarded our water taxi for a cruise around the islands of Venice. This was fascinating as we saw Venice from a very different perspective and observed parts of the city you can't see from the streets. We eventually landed on Burano Island, a lovely secluded settlement with distinctively coloured houses and small canals. We wandered and shopped for a while and mingled with the locals.

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We finished tour of the island with a wonderful Venetian meal in a local restaurant. The food kept coming and the beer and wine was flowing so we had a great night. It was Fathers Day so we had a special photo of all the Dads. We also had bought some Venetian masks and Jenny and I won the bottle of sparkling for the best masks.

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After a slow journey back across the lagoon to the city and our bus we staggered back to our hotel for a well earned sleep.

Posted by Ian.jenny 04:57 Comments (1)

Day 27

VIENNA

On the road again! We left Venice reluctantly early in the morning and drove into Austria towards our next destination, Vienna. We loved Italy. It had so much to offer, both history and culture, but what a difference once we moved into Austria! Suddenly the surrounding countryside was mountainous, majestic and very like parts of the South Island. We were travelling through the Dolomites so there were plenty of tunnels but also magnificent views of craggy mountains. There was almost no snow but evidence that these parts are snowbound in winter.

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This later gave way to beautiful lakes among the mountains and the scenes were picturesque and memorable. We stopped for a break at a roadside cafe and what difference to the Italian AutoGrill. These were built to look like Swiss Chalets and were clean, peaceful and served great food. We could have lingered longer but the bus was away to our lunch stop in just over half an hour.

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We arrived in Vienna in the middle of the afternoon. The temperature had dropped considerably since Venice so we were all searching for our warmer clothes. Our hotel was located in the south west of Vienna and was very comfortable. After a short rest and into our good clothes we headed off for a night in a special restaurant on the outskirts of Vienna. It is called the Marchfelderhof and it has been famous for nearly 200 years as a place that celebrities have visited for a meal. It was patronised in the 19th Century by the Napoleons, by Emperor Franz Joseph around 1901, and Empress Maria Theresia on her way from her Vienna palaces to collect her favourite peaches. Many film stars and celebrities have called there and the amazing rooms are crammed with hundreds of photos of the rich and famous. Inside is like a second hand junk store with the rooms cluttered with mementoes and art work and the roof laden with musicial instruments and other old equipment. It is amazing, stunning and totally unlike anything else we ever seen.

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There were waiters everywhere and the meal was brought to us with military precision. And it was fabulous! Everyone was happy with their choices of food and we were given a real gastronomic treat. In between courses we were encouraged to explore the multitude of rooms and take photos. We were even encouraged to go into both the male and female toilets to see the decorations. That proved a hit with most people and got us talking about the fun of unisex toilets.

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In each dining room a musician was playing and at the end of a meal a couple gave a demonstration of the waltz. We were all encouraged to join in and the fun started. All in all it was a fabulous night that we were reluctant to finish. At last we had to go back to our hotel, across the Danube again, to enjoy another rest from our hectic tour.

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Posted by Ian.jenny 07:46 Comments (0)

Day 28

VIENNA

What a lovely city Vienna is! I had heard so much about the home of the Strauss waltzes and the home of Mozart but hadn't realised how much this is the cultural capital of Europe. Gone was the hustle and bustle of Italy and it was replaced with the calm, majestic city with so much to offer. We started the day with an early morning trip to the Schonbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Hapsburg family for over 200 years. It was cleverly arranged by Trafalgar because as we were finishing around 10.00am the crowds were gathering. Our viewing was sedate and individualised.

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What a magnificent tour of the Palace we had. We saw the rooms where Empress Marie Theresia and her family lived. The Hapburgs were a powerful dynasty for many centuries and it was obvious from the decor and the sheer size of the palace and grounds that they had wealth and influence. The palace had over a thousand rooms and the grounds were about 160 acres, about the area of the Principality of Monaco. It was also later the summer home of Emperor Franz Joseph before the Hap suburb Empire collapsed in 1918.
We then moved on with our guide, Pieter, to a tour of the city. We walked through the the Hofburg Palace, the winter and main home of the Hapsburgs. This was massive, nearly four times the size of the Schonbrunn Palace, and as well as containing all the rooms as usual in a palace, also contained the stables and performing hall of the Spanish Lipizanner horses. It was an awesome sight seeing such size and majesty in this palace.

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We wandered through the city centre for over an hour and saw may beautiful buildings and sights in a city that was growing on us all the time. We all commented on how beautiful the city was and how different it was from Rome, Madrid and Barcelona.

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After a quiet lunch on a rooftop cafe we returned home to the hotel to get ready for a special treat, an evening with Mozart and Strauss. This was preceded by a meal in the Kursalon, the home of Strauss music and where Johan Strauss himself entertained the people of Vienna. The setting was grand and the meal lived up to the expectations raised atmosphere. A tour of the Kursalon added to the exciting atmosphere of a Vienna night out. The room for the music was not large so the audience was in for an intimate performance with the orchestra. And we were not disappointed! The small orchestra was highly talented and set the scene with some pieces from Strauss and Mozart that had our toes tapping from the beginning. By halftime we were all enthralled by the performance which interspersed with some excellent singers and dancers. The second half got even better as we progressed to the climax of The Blue Danube and Ridetsky's March. We went home totally satisfied with one of the best night's entertainment for a while.

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Posted by Ian.jenny 06:45 Comments (0)

Day 29

INNSBRUCK

It was reluctantly that we said goodbye to Vienna early in the morning. It is a city dominated by the lives of Mozart and Strauss but offers much, much more to the visitor. We have so many fond memories to take away - we may never return but if there was ever an opportunity we would probably grab it with both hands. After a long bus trip we arrived at Salzburg, a delightful town famous as the birthplace of Mozart and the place where the Sound of Music was filmed.

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The highlight was a tour through the gardens where Julie Andrews and her children ran through in a famous scene from the film, we walked to the house where Mozart was said to have been born. The town is quaint and busy, mostly with tourists of course, and was a delight to wander around. We had lunch in a very pleasant cafe and had a moment of relaxation.

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After lunch we drove on to Innsbruck where we were to stay the night. Innsbruck is well known as the venue for two Winter Olympics but has much more to offer. After settling into our great hotel we walked through the old town where we saw many examples of Hapsburg architecture and again the narrow streets from the Middle Ages. The souvenir shops again took a hammering and we had a taste of several flavours of schnapps before we purchased a couple in fancy bottles.

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Our final experience before we headed back to the hotel for a meal was to explore the town in a horse and carriage. This was a fascinating and memorable part of a great day. Our drivers spoke little English but gave us a really fun time. Our four carriages took a leisurely trot along the roads through town and into the suburbs. Cars gave way to us and people waved from their windows. We stopped at a typical Austrian pub for a beer or wine out in the beer garden and relaxed on the outskirts of Innsbruck. Our main driver poured us all a shot of homemade schnapps before we remounted our carriage. Some of us had two and they nearly blew our heads off. Our return was a bit more raucous and we were set up for a good night.

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After a lovely meal in our flash Marriott hotel we retired to bed having had a great time in Austria.

Posted by Ian.jenny 02:27 Comments (0)

Day 30

LUCERNE

We set off in the morning to go through three countries in the day. We reluctantly left Austria mid-morning and drove through some of the best scenery of the trip. The rugged mountains and glacial valleys were stunning and reminded us of our own South Island. The trip was dotted with lovely Austrian villages with their typical alpine features.

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Later we crossed into the third smallest country in Europe, Liechtenstein. The principality is an unusual little country, signs of a history with Austria and Germany were evident but apparently it aligns itself more with Switzerland in most aspects of business and culture. We only stayed for a coffee and a snack but that was enough. The people were not exactly friendly and the prices were over the top. It was good preparation for Switzerland. We crossed the second border of the morning and drove into Switzerland. What a lovely clean, green country this is. The scenery is as stunning as Queenstown and it was an impressive drive into Lucerne. As soon as we entered the city we went to the base of Mt. Pilatus, a mountain famous as the supposed place that Pontius Pilate's ashes were scattered. We rode up the mountain in the world's steepest cogged cable car, an experience in itself and well worth the effort. On top of the mountain was an extensive building complex of hotel, cafes and observation decks. The views and scenery were spectacular.

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The gondola ride back down the hill was even more exciting. The views of Lucerne and the lake were pure magic and we had great fun with Kerry and Colin in our little bubble. The whole group thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience on the mountain and it is an obvious highlight for tourists in Lucerne.
On the way to our hotel which was a couple of kilometres outside Lucerne, we did a quick bus tour and walk around the city centre to get orientated. We all loved the city from the beginning, from the clear, fresh water of the lake and river, the picturesque, old or tenth century Chapel Bridge across the river to the tower, the majestic hotels on waterfront, to the many boats and yachts along the foreshore. It is a very a accessible and beautiful city and we were looking forward to explore the next day.

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Our hotel in the quaint little town of Giswil was unique in an old tired way but we had a great meal, a relaxing drink, and went bed happy to complete another very good day.

Posted by Ian.jenny 22:32 Comments (0)

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