Reuters news service reports that 1994 was one of the worst for Austrian tourism since World War II. The number of overnight stays by foreigners fell nearly 5%. That, of course, means you'll be bumping into fewer fellow tourists on your next visit. While this is bad news for Austria—Reuters says revenue from tourism fell $15 billion—it is an opportunity for the rest of us. An old-time baseball player, asked to explain his high batting average, said he "hit em where they ain't." One of our travel maxims is "go where they ain't;" and where "they ain't" in 1995 is the Austrian countryside, one of Europe's best travel values. In such towns as Steyr and Maria Zell, in the hamlets of the Zillertal Alps, in the southeast near Klagenfurt, and in literally thousands of rural towns and villages one can find comparatively inexpensive accommodations and much to see and do. The scenery is beautiful and there are relatively few tourists. Here are some ideas:
Longtime subscriber Frank Dunham, Chairman and CEO of Millers Group Insurance of Fort Worth TX, and his wife, Betty, recently wrote to share one of their recent Austrian finds, the village of Goldegg in the Pongau region of the Salzach Valley and its four-star Hotel Seehof (Hofmarkt 8, A-5622, Goldegg, phone 06415/8137, fax 06415/8276). The Dunhams paid $156 per day including breakfast and a five-course dinner and report they heard no English spoken during their three-day stay.
In the lakeside village of Hallstatt, double rooms with bath at Haus Sarstein (A-4830, Hallstatt, phone 06134/217), rent for about $60.
Undiscovered Steyr, south of Linz in Upper Austria, has great charm and several good hotel values including the Schwechater Hof (Sieringerstrasse 122, A-4440 Steyr, phone 07252/53067, fax 07252/5477054) where double rooms with breakfast are about $90.
In the old Hapsburg spa resort of Badgastein, the spotless Landhaus Gletschermühle (Gletschermühlestrasse 7, AS-5640 Badgastein, phone 06434/20970, fax 06434/238030) offers doubles with cable TV, private balcony with view and even, in some cases, separate sitting area, for around $75.
Even in bustling Kitzbühel, one of Austria's best-known ski resorts, the neat little Haus Christophorus (Marchfeldgasse 3, A-6370, phone 05356/27 83, fax 05356/27 85) offers double rooms in summer for around $80. The hotel is a five-minute walk to the town center.
Regrettably, we have not given as much coverage to the Austrian countryside as it deserves. There are plans to rectify that over the next 15 to 18 months, however.
In the meantime, head for the Austrian hills; they are alive with good bargains. As Mr. Dunham says, "My experience has been that throughout Austria these little jewels still exist, and if far enough off the beaten path the prices are still astonishingly low and the value astonishingly high."
Assault on Heidelberg Castle
This summer, we observe the 50th anniversaries of V-E Day and V-J Day, victory in Europe and victory over Japan. Couple that with the fact that our lead story this month is on Heidelberg and it seems an appropriate time to reprint the following true story which originally ran in the September, 1989, issue of Gemütlichkeit.
"An incident that for decades has been hushed-up can now be told, thanks to fearless investigative reporting by your Gemütlichkeit editor aided somewhat by a few bottles of wine.
Here is what we have learned. Shortly after V-E Day, in reaction to intelligence reports of arms stockpiled by Nazis who had eluded capture, the allied command scheduled a coordinated raid on buildings all over Europe suspected of hiding weapons.
That is how, 50 years ago this spring, a U. S. Army artillery captain and his small detachment of men found themselves waiting in the chilly hours before the German dawn to launch an assault on one of Europe's most famous landmarks.
Before them, spread over the side of the hill above the river and the old university town, lay the great fortress, the Heidelberg Castle. At the prearranged moment, scheduled to precisely coincide with similar actions throughout the country, the young officer would lead the advance. At the appointed time, the Americans moved forward. The castle's garrison took one look at the steely-eyed invaders and ran the other way. The Schloss was taken without a shot.
That the 'garrison' consisted of one frightened old man, the caretaker, is but a footnote to this historic military victory. Captain John Kenneth Bestor, son of a small-town Nebraska hardwareman, would always be able to (in fact, does) say he led a successful assault on the great Schloss at Heidelberg, one of the few times it has fallen to an invader in its 600 year history."
(Ed Note: Captain Bestor is a retired partner in a large Midwestern law firm and a member of our board of advisers. He is also my uncle. His tour of duty in Germany was not always the piece of cake it was the morning of the Heidelberg Castle caper. In the late stages of the war in Europe, when the American armies were pushing through Germany, he was an airborne artillery observer flying in tiny airplanes over battle zones. He has traveled to Germany every year since the early 70s. Occasionally he visits the Schloss. Below is his report on a portion of a recent month-long trip.)
The Uncle John Report
This Spring we went by train from Vienna to Prague (Praha) and stayed at the Hotel Adria (Vaclavske Namesti 26, 110 00 Prague 1, phone 42 02/24 21 65 43, fax 02/24 21 1025) on what is now Vaclavske Square (formerly Wenceslas Square). Though I had been to Czechoslovakia prior to the establishment of the Czech Republic, it was our first visit to Praha. The Adria is completely rebuilt and was quite nice with all the usual amenities. The buffet breakfast was perhaps the best we had on this trip. We booked through CEDOK and paid $920 for five nights. It might be less expensive to book directly with the hotel.
Vaclavske Square is actually a large boulevard with pedestrian benches in the middle. There are a few other hotels on the Square, none of which looked as good as the Adria, though the Europa is worth a visit to see its Art Nouveau decor. In my judgement, whatever charm the Square may have for historical reasons, is diminished by the significant number of street people who were present in the area, some undoubtedly attracted by nearby discos.
The food at Prague's better restaurants was more than acceptable. The beer was good as advertised, but everyday wine was quite ordinary. In fact, the best the Adria had to offer as a nightcap was a Gallo white wine.
Except for taxis to and from the train station and once in the rain, we walked everywhere with no problem. The walk from the Adria through the old town in Stare Mesto, and across the Charles Bridge to Mala Strana, was delightful.
The Prague Castle and surrounding area in Hradcany were impressive. This is obviously the more affluent area and most of the foreign embassies are here. We loved Hradcany, and Sunday Mass at St. Vitus Cathedral in the Castle area was very special.
Contrary to what we had read, we experienced no problem with overcharging taxis. In fact, one evening we asked a cab driver on the Square to take us to a recommended restaurant. He explained that because of one-way and pedestrian-only streets, the fare would be more than the ride would be worth. We thanked him and walked the six blocks.
Many street names have changed, so be sure to get an up-to-date city map rather than rely on guide books that at best are a year or two old.
Like most of Europe, Praha is expensive, but it is a unique experience and we will go back.
We looked at a few hotels, all of which would be suitable Prague headquarters for your readers.
The Jalta is a remodeled or newly constructed hotel on Vaclavske Square. Hotel Sax, U Tri Pstrosu (The Three Ostriches) and U Pava (At The Peacock) are located in Mala Strana. The simpler Hotel Sax is off the beaten path in an area of little foot traffic and few tourists. The popular U Tri Pstrosu is so close it almost touches the Charles Bridge. At times the bridge is very crowded and the hotel may be noisy in the evening. I would prefer the U Pava which is about three blocks away. I do not have prices for the Pava, but I believe they are about the same or perhaps slightly lower than U Tri Pstrosu. In any event, when I told the desk clerk at the U Tri Pstrosu that I had made several attempts to make a reservation more than two months in advance, he told me in perfect English that the hotel had been fully booked for that time period at least four months in advance.
* U Tri Pstrosu Drazickeho nam. 12, 118 00 Praha 1, phone 02/24510779-82, fax 02/24510783. Doubles about $140 to $200.
* U Pava U Luzickeho seminare, Praha 1, phone 02/24510922 fax 02/533379. Doubles priced about the same as U Tri Pstrosu.
* Hotel Jalta Praha Vaclavske nam. 45, 110 00 Praha 1, phone 02/24229133, fax 02/24213866. Doubles about $220.
* Hotel Sax Jansky vrsek, 328/3 Praha 1, Mala Strana 118 00, phone 02/53 84 22, fax 02/53 84 98. Doubles about $100.
Traffic Tickets By Mail
One final note, in over twenty years of driving in Germany, I had never received a ticket for speeding until I returned from our last trip.
Recently I received by mail, with friendly greetings in German, a ticket for traveling on a Sunday morning at 11:53 a.m., at the speed of 57 kilometers per hour in a 50km/h zone. The stated fine for such 7km/h transgression is listed on the ticket as 30 DM ($21).
Apparently we were caught by camera on a two lane road (No 298) north of Schwäbisch Gemünd in an area called Gschwend Seelach. Obviously there is a speed trap on this picturesque country road.
For 30 DM you would think they would send me a copy of the picture. Since I expect to travel by car in Germany again, I will pay the fine.