Well, contrary to expectations, the trip turned out to be a lot of fun, with our new friends in good form — at some stage I am going to have to write about the extraordinary way in which people have bonded and even when, as might be expected, there were subgroups, it as very easy to associate with everyone — and the trip along minor roads a treat. Perhaps nothing reveals the depredations of the Cold War more than the farmland around the border between the Czech Republic and Austria: once away from the neglect of forty years of collective farming, the countryside blossomed in the harvest season. Our driver was a good bloke and gave sum some really good bits of information. I think he was a Czech and it was clear that he bitterly resented the neglect of the old Sudeten area under the communists.

I forgot to tell the story of the laundromat in Cesky Krumlov, which was a god-send and very cheap, but provided some good laughs even though some of us were a bit concerned at the time. It turned out that the laundromat was under video surveillance by the slightly dodgy character in the pension next door who ran it; so when Laura, Rachel and Kimberley decided to do a quick strip to get out if their dirty clothes and into something clean — I should stress I was nowhere near — they were alarmed when Kim came back from a small-change run with the news that you could see everything on the monitor in the guy’s office. Paula and I came back to check on our washing to find the three of them jumping up and down, and they jumped higher when I jokingly told them the guy had it on instant replay in the pension. At one level, something that would be intolerable in Oz, but luckily the girls were too sensible to take their strip-tease too far!

Vienna is all we remembered and better, because it was warm and sunny. Paula and I broke from the group, who were going every which way in any case, and did some retail therapy and a bit of a tour on the red bus. Paula, shopper extraordinaire, found a very good and quite cheap baggage shop and purchase a very schmick carry on, because the backpack and document bag were not up to the task. This shop, in the middle of a very high tech society, still used an old style punch and return, analogue register, and the MasterCard was recorded in the old way, with an imprint. How things have moved on: it would only be ten years ago when pins came in, and twenty years ago it was all imprints. We also performed a civic duty and found party things, as Kimberley has her birthday on the Fourth and Gail has hers on the Sixth — it’s a good month for birthdays, as I was able to call Maddy and wish her a Happy Birthday.

The hotel was great, near the Westbahnhof and at the top of Mariahilferstrasse, so we were able to get our bearings very quickly and spent our time remembering the things that Nic had shown us and told us. We knew we would have no chance of seeing even a fraction of the things we missed last time, so we settled on just two for our day: Schonbrunn and the Belvedere. Even that was a lot of walking, but, Hungarian school groups and the plague of Radio controlled Japanese tour groups notwithstanding, we had a great walk around the Schloss and then walked through the gardens, which were enchanting.

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We had a snack in the baroque folly at the back of the gardens (the Gloriette) and then deserted the other three who had come with us and belted off to the Belvedere.

This turned out to be a highlight — again, beautiful gardens, and a small but incredibly informed art collection, complete with the Klimpts that really interested me and caught Paula's eye as well. I'm glad we did that rather than the Secession, because there was also the most fantastic romantic collection, all German and Austrian, that had some great pieces. The palace itself — Prinz Eugen's – is a jewel, with a couple a glorious rooms and a tower chapel three stories high. Gorgeous high baroque and, because it it Austria, beautifully preserved.

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The birthday party was a success, and certainly improved on the Oktoberfest, which turned out to be a bit of a dud.

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We had not booked and found all the kellers (and there were not many) booked out.

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That left beer, not much food, more beer and Austrian men in lederhosen looking like pissed hobbits, while the women in traditional dress ran the gamut from tacky to tarty. Once again, the sensible Bounds-Cormack coalition led a breakaway and we headed back to Mariahilferstrasse in search of food. Greek, of all things, was on the list of restaurants on my maps app, and the full tables augured well. We weren’t disappointed, and enjoyed a different meal from the previous night’s Wienerschnitzel feast. Vegetables and salad figure predominantly on our food itinerary at the moment!

Vienna will never come off the bucket list. It is one of those cities with so much to see, and I enjoyed the Viennese as well! Much-maligned but always polite and we had good time. Train to Bratislava and Budapest in the morning. The tour is drawing to a close.>>