Europe Travel Itinerary, 1999-2000:
This itinerary is intended to capture the day-to-day activities and impressions of our trip.
Click on the asterisks * next to the day to go to that entry.
Tuesday, September 21, 1999; Slovenia to Austria: *
Wednesday, September 22, 1999; Wien (Vienna): *
Tuesday June 20, 2000; Day Trip from Bratislava to Vienna: *
Tuesday, September 21, 1999; Slovenia to Austria:
Woke around 9am and looked out on the misty alpine scenery. Turns out the parking lot was all for a rest stop, and they had some of the best toilets we'd used in Europe. The sky was spitting rain on us all day, and the clouds obscured the mountains, giving us a sense of urgency about getting on to Romania. We don't want to be setting ourselves up in miserable weather.
We arrived at the boarder to Austria by noon. It was another wave us through experience. Then we kept on driving toward Wien (Vienna) and arrived around 6:30. It was a big city and began to remind us a bit of New York City and London. We got a phone card and called the doctor to set up an appointment for 8:30 the following morning.
Drove into the center of town looking for the hospital where the eye appointment would be so that we could park nearby and get in quickly in the morning. We got into the center of town, received a free map from a friendly hotel, and then went deeper into town where we saw a row of restaurants and cafes. There we stopped and happened into the Apfelstrudel Café, where we stopped and got -- apple strudel and cheese strudel. Yum. Not a pastry sort of strudel, more like a custard strudel, but we enjoyed them all the same.
Afterwards we got so lost looking for the ninth district that we ended up on the east side of town and had to follow the Danube back to the west where the hospital was. There we parked a block away and went to sleep at 10:30.
Wednesday, September 22, 1999; Wien (Vienna):
The alarm on Henry's watch got us up at 7:15. We trundled down the street to the hospital which turned out to be a massive complex. We asked a person walking through an out building if he could tell us where to find the doctor we had an appointment with, and he walked us all the way up a two ramps and across the hospital building to the front reception area. There, once we'd told them our doctor's name, they quickly referred us to the emergency room. There they asked us what the problem was. Once we explained that we only wanted a follow up examination of Henry's eye, they referred us to the Optician section, and we knew for certain that we were not going to be seeing the doctor we'd called.
So we went first to a phone to call that doctor and let him know we weren't going to make it. Then we went upstairs to get looked at by the optometrist. English speakers were hard to come by behind the desk. We had to wait in two lines to talk with someone, and she seemed very dubious at first that this was a good idea. Finally she set us up with a portfolio of bar coded stickers and told us to wait.
We waited. Kathleen went down to the reception area and found out where to get our immunizations. She came back and Henry was still waiting. Many people who had come in after us were served. Finally we got up and asked someone how long it would be. They had that, 'ooops!' look on their faces and then said, "oh probably 15 minutes." Five minutes later the doctor took a quick look at Henry's eyelid, prescribed an ointment for the remaining bump. Told him to use it for two months and go away now. Total doctor time: under 5 minutes. Total bill: 2,114 Shilling ($185).
Then we went back to the van for toasted cheese sandwiches and a brief nap. The day had turned out to be one of those clear crisp fall days that beacons one to the mountains. But we had no time for such things. It was on to the vaccination center where we both got sticks for Diphtheria and Encephalitis. Both need follow ups within 2-4 weeks and we hadn't counted on that. Once again we realized how under-prepared we were on the immunization front.
Kathleen got a flat tire on the way back, so we needed to walk the bicycles. We decided to skip trying to get a tune up in Vienna, and seek that service farther out in the country. Quickly we found our way onto the A4 bound for Slovakia. A short stop at a country gas station at about 3:30pm found a couple of extremely helpful men who called a 'nearby' service station to make an appointment so that we could get our tune up.
Turned out it was a VW dealership in Neusiedl/See which was owned by a guy named Kamper. We thought when the gas station owner wrote down 'VW Kamper' that it was because we were going to a camper specialty store. But the folks there were friendly and worked with us through their meager English and our complete lack of German. They told us approximately what we'd need to have to pay for the job and we walked into town looking for a money machine.
The town was clean and lined with appealing shops. We stopped to look at antique linen dresses, buy groceries and stamps. And lastly we stopped at an appliance store asking about a gas regulator. Bingo! They had the 50mb regulator we'd been seeking all this time. Henry had to run back into town to get more cash since we needed to keep all we had to pay for the car.
We got back to the van and paid for it's servicing. Turned out to be less than we'd been told, so Henry hadn't needed to run all that way after all. We back tracked to the Slovakian border, but found the crossing we tried to use was only for Slovakians and Austrians. So we had to turn around and head back to the new crossing that was being build. There we tried to get our Tax Back forms stamped by an angry border official who was sitting with his companion in a darkened office growling at anyone who came in, together with another man in uniform. Very Nazi like. The other border guards seemed somewhat amused by our inability to get anything from him. We crossed to the incoming side of the Austrian border and the friendly fellow there stamped all five of our forms. We then tried to get money back on the spot, but the place couldn't take our forms because they were of the wrong company and the wrong currency. Oh well. We forgot to buy Slovakian currency and so we had to walk back across to exchange our Shillings for both Slovakian and Hungarian money.
Finally we were ready to cross to Eastern Europe. The first guard took our passports and stamped them. He was wearing a communist looking uniform with red shoulder stripes pinned with four gold stars on each side. He asked if we had any 'kinder.' The second border guard asked if we had anything to declare. When we said we did not, he asked us to pull over. The search was relatively short and ended as soon as he found our lighting supplies. "Where are your documents for this?" he asked. We had none and told him we'd never thought to need it.
"You must have documents," he told us. After five minutes of waiting, he came back and told us they could prepare us documents and would need to take $1,000 which we could get back when we left Slovakia. When we told him we couldn't do that as we didn't have that kind of money, he told us to wait. We waited for twenty minutes for him to return. He told us to turn around and once we'd managed that maneuver, he handed us back our passports. The Slovakian visa stamp had been 'X'd through and we headed back to the Austrian border.
Still friendly on the Austrian side, they 'X'd our stamps on the Tax Back forms and we were on our way.
The experience left us shaken and uncertain. We wondered if we were supposed to declare all our stuff when we entered at Brussels so that we could have 'papers.' We wondered if the whole thing was some sort of extortion racket being run by the Slovakians. The Austrian guards told us not many people are turned back from the Slovak border, and that didn't make us feel any better.
We found our way back to a rest stop on the A4 just outside the Hungarian border. Here we both got showers, using the Austrian money we'd planned on keeping as souvenir. Snaking back into Austria for miles past our rest stop was a line of trucks waiting to get into Hungary. This did not bode well for us, but we are committed to our course. We will try to get across tomorrow and then go to the US Embassy in Budapest to find out what we should do prior to attempting to cross into Romania. We'll also ask at the Romanian embassy. We've been dreading the border crossing to Romania since we started thinking about this trip and rejection at the Slovakian border isn't helping our self confidence.
Tuesday June 20, 2000; Day Trip from Bratislava to Vienna:
Went to Vienna. Got cheated or abused on tickets, depending on ones perspective. Chris joined us because he and Susan felt so bad about the tickets: wed had to pay foreigner price, which made the train option much more expensive than taking their car.
Got shots at one oclock and then began having fun. We went to the art museum of Vienna and saw several fantastic paintings, including Titians and the Four Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Upon first entering the gallery we smelled oil paints, as if the pictures had just been finished by a long dead artist. Turned out there was a contemporary artist painting a copy of an obscure masterpiece.
At first we were afraid we wouldnt be able to see the Titians because of an enormous exhibit honoring one of the ancestral heroes of Austria: King Carlos. The disorganization of the guides, poor quality of the special exhibit translations, and lack of any up-to-date floor plan maps seemed at normal to us at first, since we were on Eastern Europe standards. But as we lounged in the café and realized the prices were at typical American and Western Europe levels, we became aware of the anachronism.
After the museum, we took a spin on the inner tram line, and ended up for coffee drinks at the café that forms part of city hall.
In the evening, we had our well planned, low maintenance pasta dinner. Henry took advantage of the reliable plumbing and water to take an intense hot bath.
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