Thursday, June 20, 2013

(Europe trip, post 1 of 14) Drama getting there and our first night in Austria

Perhaps our rantings about just getting to Europe should be their own post, but I don't want an entire post of complaining when such awesomeness followed soon thereafter!  That being said, to leave out the drama that was our flight itinerary would be an incomplete summary of our adventures - so here we go!

To start off I should mention that I got very little sleep the few days leading up to our departure.  In fact, I slept less than 8 hours in three nights combined before we left - so that sets the stage for how I already felt going into this "interesting" section of our trip.

June 1, 2013.
We did get to the airport with plenty of time to check in clear security and have a nice cushion of wait at our gate before our flight departed.  As sometimes happens, we started being told that there would be slight delays due to mechanical issues, but those delays kept being extended until the plane was actually grounded and our flight cancelled.  Everyone got in line with the poor guy at the desk there at our gate and the line was not moving.  Mark and I were getting nervous about things and decided to go back through security and have the person at the United desk there help us.  It was good timing too because that line ended up getting really long after we got there.  After a lot of figuring things out good ol' Jim with United was able to get us out on another flight and also get us on a different connecting flight (in Chicago) with their partner Lufthansa.  He said that there was only room in 1st class and that because of our troubles there would be no charge for the upgrade.

So, with 1st class seats over the Atlantic we were not minding the wait so much, except that we'd be getting in just before 6pm instead of early that morning - therefor missing our day in Salzburg, but nothing could be done about that.

We sat and waited for quite some time at our new gate until they started announcing that this flight too was going to be delayed due to mechanical issues!  Seriously?!  It also wasn't going to get us to Chicago in time for our connecting flight now!  So back through security we went again to the front desk where we re-booked yet again our flights.
Eventually after 3 times through security and 1/2 the day in the Salt Lake airport we finally did get to Chicago...only to find out that the earlier connecting flight that we thought we couldn't catch ALSO had been delayed!  So we went to that desk to see about changing our flight again to take it since it would leave a few hours earlier and could give us a bit of time to still see Salzburg that way.  The people at the United desk were very helpful looking through our information and assisting us.  They even noticed that amidst all of our changes that our luggage hadn't been put on past Chicago, so we would have gotten to Austria and had no luggage, so they took care of that there and verified our confirmed seats on our upcoming flight.  They did say that they could get us on their flight in 1st class as well, but that because of the mechanical issues with the flight their departure time was unknown and that we could move our tickets over to that plane and ultimately end up here longer than if we just stayed with our original flight that we had confirmed seats on.  We decided to play it safe and stay on the flight we were booked with on Lufthansa.

So!  We did end up hearing that previous flight leave around the time check in was opened up for our flight, but we were leaving soon so we weren't too concerned...until we got to the front of the line to get our boarding passes.  The woman looked up our information and informed us that United did not have the authority to upgade us to 1st class from economy and that the rest of the flight was full so we would have to take another flight out the next day.  Whaaat the???  Needless to say we were NOT happy.  We were basically told that we would be put on stand by (for economy class of course), but that our chances were not good to make the flight.  At this point, besides not wanting to wait yet another day to get to Europe, I was picturing us missing out completely on Salzburg, our expensive pre-paid dinner concert there, our non-refundable hotel room, our pre-paid car rental, and our visit to Hallstatt.  I was really frustrated at how difficult this had all been, especially when I had booked these tickets 4 months in advance and even paid a little more to get the itinerary that I wanted.  *sigh*

We did end up making it on standby, and didn't have any problems catching our following flight after that.  We arrived a bit tired to a very cold and rainy Salzburg, Austria (at this point it is June 2).  We had missed our day of touring that city, but we were rushing to try and at least make our Mozart dinner concert that night - so we rushed to get our luggage and ran to the ATM to get cash for our cab (dumb not to have at least brought some money with us)...only to have our card be denied at the ATM!  What??!!  I had transferred all of our money over from our travel savings account to our checking account before the trip, so I knew we had funds...but it was Sunday so we couldn't even call our financial institution (even if we had a way to call).  We felt stuck, but thought we'd try our hand at finding out if a cab could take credit cards.  After 1/2 hour of jockying other people for arriving cabs we finally got one to find out that it didn't take cards and we begged them for any information about what we could do.  The cabby took pity on us and called another cab that took credit cards and he came to get us.

So!  Then the race to make it to the concert...the cab took us to our hotel where we asked him to wait while we dropped off our bags and checked in.  Of course we got behind some people that literally argued for 10 minutes with the lady at the desk about something on their bill before we asked if we could just check in.  We quickly did so and rushed back out to the taxi not having thought about that our cab would be running his meter that whole time *sigh* so we then rushed to our dinner concert, coughed up the expensive cab ride fare, and made it to our seats literally as they closed the doors.  Everyone else was seated except us.

We breathed a deep breath and proceeded to really thoroughly enjoy dinner in this historic restaurant with some very talented musicians and pleasant dining companions.  The restaurant is called St. Peter's Stiftskeller and it has been open since 803 AD, making it the oldest restaurant in Europe!  I remembered eating in the courtyard of a really cool restaurant in Salzburg with my dad back in the summer of 2000 when we visited.  After looking through pictures and doing some research I figured out that it was this restaurant!  My dad and I really enjoyed the food and ambiance, but didn't know what a historical gem we had stumbled upon also!  Here is a run-down on some of the history and documentation of the people who ate at the Stiftskeller.

As mentioned, we were attending their Mozart dinner concert.  I wasn't able to get spruced up before the concert like I would've hoped, but at least we were there!  There were singers and strings, and the courses were served during concert breaks.  It was a set menu for this event, consisting of: White Cream Soup with rosemary-quark-dumpling (delicious!), breast of roasted capon on top of port wine glace with potato/pumpkin dumpling, semolina strudel and vegetables. The dessert was a Semi-frozen parfait of honey.

While the food was enjoyable, the real treat was the concert and just dining in the oldest restaurant in Europe!  Listening to the music Mozart created in the city where he was born and began his career.  His family even dined at that very restaurant.  Perfect way to officially kick off our trip!

I don't have great photos to show from our experience due mainly to the dim lighting in our romantically candle-lit room during performance time...and also because I was still figuring out how to use my new camera!  Here are a couple pictures of the ceiling in the boroque hall where we dined...

We zoomed in on a section of the ceiling that stated "Erbaut (built) 1803"

I didn't know Mark took this of me.  The room was lit as we dined during concert breaks, and then dimmed to just candle light during musical performances.

The two vocalists of the performances - the strings were behind them.

This video clip doesn't do things justice, but it's kind of fun to see...

I forgot to take pictures of our meals - something I'd set out to do for every meal on our trip (hmmm...sleep deprivation and a day and 1/2 of crazy travel can cause you to forget a few things, right?), but I did get a photo of our tasty dessert with their clever profile of Mozart (made from cinnamon?).

Friendly mother/daughter pair who we were seated next to (from back east in the U.S. somewhere)... 

We didn't get a picture of the two German girls from Munich that sat across from us.  They were Asian and we were expecting a different accent when they opened their mouths, but they were definitely German.  And not overly social - hence the lack of picture.  The couple sitting next to them were really sweet and social though, I'm pretty sure that they were from Latvia.

Us.  Tired, but thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Before leaving I snapped this picture of their courtyard area where my father and I dined 13 years earlier!

Mark in the entry way to the Stiftskeller.

"Seit (since) 803" above the entrance to the establishment.

Because we didn't get any time to get our bearings in the town before being dropped off at our dinner concert, we weren't even sure how to get back to our hotel (and in our rush hadn't grabbed a map).  Luckily Mark does pretty well with navigation and he got us to our hotel without much of a detour.  We just walked in the right direction and we were there before we knew it.  We were glad that we had our umbrella with us though because it was really raining.  It was kind of romantic wandering through the wet cobblestone of Salzburg at night with my sweetheart though.  I wouldn't change it.

We got to the hotel and had to snap a shot of how small the elevators are...just wide enough for our (small) open umbrella.  You're not fitting more than two people in there - comfortably anyway.

I can NOT believe that I didn't get a picture of our hotel room for documentation purposes.  The decor wasn't anything to show off and it smelled of stale cigarette smoke, but the smell is really the only complaint that we had about the hotel.  Hotel Kasererbraeu has been operating since 1342 and also operates the Mozartkino cinema, which is one of the oldest cinemas in the world.  Our room (#329) was larger than we expected, and the bathroom was roomy and provided a blow drier.  The bed was large and comfortable (if you ask me - I like firm beds) and the hotel location was great and we enjoyed a view of the fortress right out our window!  Also, the breakfast was fantastic (I'll talk more about it in the next post).  We even found out the next day that they have parking spots across the street for their guests (quite a commodity).  I believe this was the only hotel room of our trip that had a mini-fridge - not necessary, but nice to chill our drinks for sight-seeing the next day.  There were hotel amenities that we just simply didn't have time to enjoy, but would have if we had been there longer - the sauna/steam room are included amenities as part of their onsite wellness spa, and they sell tickets to their onsite cinema which I would have loved to have enjoyed just for film history's sake.  Alas, one night in this beautiful city is all we were able to enjoy.  And, as a side-note, I loved waking up to the nearby church bells.

We were able to skype with the kids before we went to sleep for the night and it was good to see their faces, but Max's big, pouty sad lip came out at one point and my heart broke just a little bit.  I was glad that I knew he was in good hands with grandparents though, and that he'd cheer right back up once distracted from our conversation.

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