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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Operatic Travel - Central Europe, Summer 2018

    This article is part of the Central Europe 2018 coverage portal. Click [here] to have access to the portal, which gathers numerous interviews and reviews.

    Here we will talk about transportation methods, hotels, and restaurants, in the hope of being helpful to readers who might want to follow our steps.

    The hotels are the following:

    Vienna: Derag Livinghotel an der Opera
    Bratislava: day trip only, no hotel
    Salzburg: day trip only, no hotel
    Munich: Apartments & Hotel Maximilian
    Nuremberg: Maritim Hotel Nürnberg
    Zurich: Hotel Opera Zürich
    Berlin: the first night, close to the Deutsche, the next 6 nights, close to the Komische and the Staatsoper: Ibis Style Berlin Mitte (first night), then Clipper City Home Berlin

    -----------

    Transportation method:

    The travel started with a flight from RDU airport in North Carolina to CDG in Paris, a 4-hour layover, then continuation to the Vienna International Airport.

    Leg 1 - RDU-Paris; Class, Delta One. Pros: This cabin is extremely comfortable, with beds that get 180 degree flat, and spacious seats. Each passenger has a huge dedicated bin on top of his/her seat. The restrooms in the Delta One cabin are large and impeccably clean, with pleasant scent (perfumed ambiance). The wines are very good, including an excellent champagne, good white and red wines, and a superb Australian dessert wine (a Semillon). The appetizer and dessert were delicious. Cons: The main entry wasn't as good (over-cooked filet mignon). The entertainment system had rather unappealing movies, with a short selection (none attracted my desire so I didn't watch a movie), unlike similar cabins on American Airlines which have a tablet with literally hundreds of selections. Overall grade, A+.

    The Delta lounge at the airport was spacious and comfortable, with clean restrooms, and a full bar with most beverages free (wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, etc.); there is a charge for special cocktails. Finger food - nothing fancy, but everything tasty, including two good soups, a nice salad bar, and rather conventional items such as popcorn, chips, American cheeses, and humus. A+

    Leg 2 - Paris-Vienna; Class, Business. Air France. Pros: the food in the lounge, see below; it was the only positive. Cons: Numerous. The Business Class cabin is just like a coach cabin (with narrow seats and not enough leg room), just, they don't sell the middle seats so you have a bit more space. The restroom was very small and dirty (although it was exclusive of the business cabin). The food was mediocre. There was a multicolored salad with legumes cut in little cubes that looked cute but didn't taste right - I left it practically untouched and noticed that almost everybody else didn't eat it either. The flight was 45 minutes late for take-off. The minimum additional comfort offered is definitely not worth the cost of a business ticket. Economy Plus cabins in American planes are often much better than this. C

    The Air France lounge at the CDG airport, one of the various ones that exist there, was over-crowded to the point that some passengers were standing up, waiting for people to vacate chairs. The bathroom was ridiculously small, with virtually one single stall for the entire facility! They do offer several French newspapers and magazines, and the food was the strong point: delicious canapés, tasty desserts, and good options for finger food such as prosciutto, shrimp, etc. A+ for the food, C for everything else.

    Transportation Method:

    From the airport in Vienna to city center - phenomenal, cheap, and fast (16 minutes) CAT train. Don't take a taxi cab. The train is much faster, and it is inside the terminal, going directly to the heart of downtown. You can buy your ticket online for a small discount, or on site from the machines. A++

    From the CAT terminal downtown to the hotel: Uber operates in Vienna, fast arrival, cheap fare, good service. A+

    Hotel:

    Derag Livinghotel an der Opera (Vienna, Elisabethstrasse 1) - Pros: One block from the opera house. HUGE room. I mean really HUGE even for American standards, and it must count as humongous for European standards. Each room is actually an apartment with a full kitchen and a living room. Very comfortable bed, very silent hotel (my room opened to the interior court; maybe the ones opening to the streets are a bit noisier since this is a very lively neighborhood with cafes and night clubs nearby). Complimentary Nespresso coffee and as many bottles of sparkling mineral water as one cares to drink. Central AC. Friendly and knowledgeable staff. Excellent wi-fi: stable, and very speedy. Cons: a funky smell in the room. Since it has a range, I guess someone cooked strong-smelling food there and it impregnated the room. This hotel is a bit oldish. The bath tube is very high; senior citizens will have trouble getting in. No restaurant. I didn't eat breakfast there (it's available for an additional charge of about 20 euros). A. Fee: 206 euros per night (all taxes included).


    Transportation method:

    Subway (easy and fast from the hotel to the train station, then OBB train to Bratislava - One hour, crowded, but correct. Clean. Cheap (11 euros). On time.

    Now, a long and exasperating transportation story:

    In Bratislava, I was told not to take a taxi cab in front of the train station (cheaters). This proved to be a disaster. I walked away from the station (it's a monopoly, they frown upon app services) and tried to use the app to call a car. No Uber there. They do have HopIn and Taxify, two local applications. I set them up in advance. I also set up international roaming. Guess what? The local cell network didn't kick in. Suddenly I was without the apps, and without a city map (no Google maps without Internet even though I had downloaded an off-line map but it was horrible and useless). So I tried to walk in the general direction of the city (a previous consult to Google Maps had mentioned a 30-minute walk to the opera house and I had exactly 30 minutes until my first interview with a singer). Well, that proved to be difficult. People I stopped for directions barely spoke English. Then I got late, started to walk faster, it was extremely hot, and I felt dizzy and dehidrated, ended up falling, hurting my right knee and left angle, and I tore the pants of my business suit! My cell phone fell into the mud - recent rain. So I was dirty, dehydrated, not feeling well, with knee and ankle hurting, and lost. Fortunately I found a good Samaritan, a young Slovak man who spoke excellent English. He took pity of my situation, and used his cell phone to call Taxify. He stayed there with me waiting for the cab. Then suddenly cell phone service kicked in, and although the HopIn app refused to work, the Taxify one did, so he cancelled the ride he had requested, and when he made sure the cab had arrived and I was safely tucked in, he left. I didn't ask for his name, but whoever you are, buddy, you are a saint! I got to the opera house and I was supposed to call the Intendant's assistant. Again, even though the phone supposedly had O2 carrier local service, the calls were mute. They tried to call me too, mute again. After 6 attempts I gave up and started working around the opera house with all doors locked, to try to find a way in, by extreme heat, still dizzy and dehydrated. I finally found a door that opened. The old doorman did speak broken English, understood my problem, and was able to find the lady I needed to speak with. He then took me to her location. I explained to her about my dehydration and she brought me tons of water. I got to the interview half an hour late, and then my digital voice recorder stopped working. Not a lucky day! So, transportation to the opera house, grade F, and local cell phone service for international roaming costumers, F.

    Back from Bratislava to Vienna: this time I took a regular taxi cab. Guess what? The guy didn't cheat, at least, not much... supposedly it's about 8 euros. I asked "how much to the train station?" and he said "I can't take you for 10 euros, is that OK?" I said, sure! Oh wow... I should have taken a regular cab after all... wouldn't have injured the knee and the ankle, and would still have an intact business suit. So, A+ to this driver.

    The train back to Vienna, though, was almost another disaster. I got to the other station (Petrzalka) and it was deserted. Everything closed, including the bathrooms. There was one young lady, very bored and sleepy, manning the ticket counter. I asked her where I could find another bathroom. Sorry, we don't have another one. I asked, is this train right there the one to Vienna? She said, yes. Well, it wasn't. I almost lost the train to Vienna, which was also marked Platform 1, but was a different one, small, at the far corner of platform 1. I mean, it's her job to know these things. I kept waiting for the train she indicated was the Vienna one to come to life and open the doors... meanwhile the real train to Vienna almost left the station without me (and it was the last one; next one at 6 AM). The train was small, dirty, smelly, and the bathroom was impossible. Well, it left on time and took me to Vienna in 58 minutes, so, not F, but C.

    The bottom line is, Slovakia is not as developed as Austria, of course. Get a taxi cab in Bratislava, let them cheat a little. And make sure you take the OBB Austrian trains, not the Slovak trains.

    From the hotel in Vienna to the train station - I had to leave at 5:30 AM. The front desk promptly called a taxi cab which arrived in under five minutes; nice driver. A+

    Transportation method:

    Train trip from Vienna to Munich, with stop in Salzburg to visit the city:

    Everything perfect. Comfortable, clean RailJet train, on time. Efficient baggage lockers in Salzburg, transportation to city center and back to the station by bus or tram, fast and cheap (minimum wait for the next car, like 2-3 minutes, friendly drivers), 2 euros each way but on my way back the driver refused to charge me, said he likes to take tourists for free. Back on the train to Munich, again, another RailJet perfect train.

    From the Munich train station to city center: the subway with multiple lines connects directly to the train station and the stations have elevators for people with heavy baggage, everything perfect and fast.

    Hotel:

    Munich, Apartments & Hotel Maximilian (Hochbrückenstrasse 18)- Pros: very comfortable, beautiful (rather on the sophisticated side), good amenities, large room also with a fully equipped kitchen (no smell). Very nice bed. Nice bathroom. Excellent Italian restaurant on site. Superb breakfast (a bit expensive, 26 euros, but worth it). Beautiful garden. Cons: confusing check-in; nobody offered initially to help me find the elevator, actually they sent me to the wrong elevator, which didn't reach my floor. Internet wi-fi is pretty bad. The first night, my computer wouldn't connect. They kept insisting that the problem was with my laptop (well, it never happened before). Only when I showed to them that the problem was the same with the iPhone, they recognized that their network was down. They only solved the problem the next morning, but throughout the day the Internet was on and off, and low speed.

    Restaurants:

    Steirereck in Vienna: World class, actually ranked 14th best in the world, and they do live up to the expectations. Superb, exquisite, fabulous, intriguing, phenomenal cuisine; I had the five-course tasting menu and each course was a burst of complex and successful tastes. Great wine pairing. Unbelievable bread cart, even better cheese cart. Extremely professional but friendly service. Beautiful building (modern, sleek) inside a park. Perfection doesn't start describing it. A+++ (expensive, of course, I don't remember exactly but I think a meal for one with drinks and tip ended up around 250 euros - I remember it was more than 200 and less than 300).

    Der Hannes in Vienna (Pressgasse 29): nice pub, with a reputation for excellent schnitzel. Well, it's OK, nothing fancy, but pretty tasty, good beer too. B, it's a bit out of the way, probably not worth the trip, next time I'll eat closer to the opera house. Nothing against it if you are close to it. Before tip, 18.90 euros (food and beer for one).

    Spatenhaus an der Opera in Munich (it's directly in front of the opera house - Residenzstrasse 12). Good German food, I had the wurst sampler, 4 types, all delicious, with potato salad and sauerkraut, good wheat draft beer. Good prices, for the location. B+. Before tip, 24.20 euros (food, beer for one).

    Restaurant 181 in Munich (Spiridon-Louis-Ring 7): revolving restaurant on the top of the Olympic Tower with gorgeous views. The food is pretty good too. Lunch prix fix menu, 38 euros, rather tasty, with a crispy duck as appetizer, a paella with black beans as main course (delicious) and a mousse as desert. You have to pay 7 euros to take the elevator to the top of the tower and the restaurant doesn't refund the ticket. 14 euros for a French wine by the glass that wasn't good (might as well stick to the cheaper option, there was one for 9 euros, can't be much worse). It's far away but worth the trip (17 euros on Uber). It's right in front of the BMW museum which is worth visiting, too. A- (would be at least A if the wine by the glass weren't so bad). Before tip, 53.80 euros (food and drinks for one).

    Kleines Max in Munich (Hochbrückenstrasse 18) - the restaurant of my hotel. Very gourmet Italian food (I had spaghetti with Parmesan creamy sauce with black truffles, truly delicious). Excellent wine pairing (a fabulous Primitivo). Knowledgeable and friendly young Italian woman as a server; when she learned that I'm also Italian and after we chatted in Italian, she threw in a prosciutto appetizer and the wine with no charge (she only charged me for the entree) "because you are Italian." Nice! A+. Before tip, 16.50 euros for the spaghetti for one (if you are Italian you may get the appetizer and the wine for free like I did, hehe).

    Transportation method:

    ICE train from Munich to Nuremberg - excellent, clean, luxurious, comfortable, fast (non-stop, one hour). 57 euros.

    Hotel:

    Maritim Hotel Nürnberg - ideal for the opera traveler especially if arriving to the city by train; it is two blocks from the train station, and one block from the opera house. Modern, beautiful, comfortable, silent, nice room, upscale. There is a restaurant but I didn't have food there. Truly spectacular breakfast. Stable (but not too speedy) wi-fi. No real cons except for the somewhat slow internet. I liked this one very much. A++

    Restaurant:

    Bratwurstglöcklein (Handwerkerhof – next to the tower across from the train station inside the main city gate in Nürnberg) - excellent grilled bratwurst with potato salad, pretzel, 0.5L draft wheat beer Tucher, all delicious, 20 euros all included for one person; beware, they only accept cash, no credit cards. B+.

    Transportation method:

    Intercity trains from Nürnberg to Zürich - layover (30 minutes) in Stuttgart. This train stops a lot but is clean and comfortable. The second leg after the transfer to the Zürich stops less and is faster, also very comfortable (longer trip from 7:39 to 13:25 so I bought first class tickets, and it was good with plenty of room, silent. Not scenic, though. I literally only saw one beautiful view, mountain cascades into a river.

    From the train station to the neighborhood of the Opernhaus Zürich it's very easy; take another train from the same station, platforms 43/44 and you pay subway fare (2.75 Swiss Francs) and in two minutes you arrive at the next station which is one block from the opera house. Elevators / escalators in both ends for the baggage, no need to pay for the very expensive Swiss taxi cabs.

    Hotel:

    Hotel Opera Zürich - one block to the back of the opera house, so convenient, with a bank and supermarket nearby and several good restaurants around it. Small rooms, though. It's a modern building so everything in the room is new and modern, and they give you for free (including free local and international calls) a cell phone with internet access that you can carry around during your stay, to avoid international roaming charges. By the way, the hotel in Munich had the same system. I'm sure the place is good enough to be recommended, but I was getting used to the roomy first three hotels in the trip. A big plus for me, speedy wi-fi.

    Restaurant Opera, in Zurich

    Directly behind the opera house. Sophisticated cuisine but not very successful. Too many spices and ingredients become a bit confusing. For example, a gnocchi with garlic sauce, beets, and wild mushrooms had some rather bitter mushrooms that unbalanced the dish. The steak tartar I had for appetizer was good, and so was the Austrian sparkling wine. I did not have dessert. A bit on the pricey side, for lunch, just one appetizer, one entree, and one glass of sparkling wine, 83 Swiss Francs. However it seems like all restaurants in Zurich are expensive.

    Masi wine bar and restaurant, in Zurich

    It's hard to judge the food because I had only one simple pasta dish there (rigatoni all'arrabiata) and it was well-prepared, but I didn't have a complete meal. Certainly the wines are great, it belongs to the Masi winery which is one of my favorite ones in Italy. Actually my ancestors used to own a vineyard that was sold to the Masi operation. I love their Costasera wines (Amarone della Valpolicella) and I had a glass of one of them, which was delicious.

    Conti Restaurant, in Zurich

    Also right behind the opera house. Excellent, upscale (pricey) Italian food, with very good service by Italian-born waiters. They were having several truffle specials and I had a carpaccio with black truffles and a simply creamy past with truffles too, both delicious, as well as a great selection of Italian cheeses. Highly recommended.

    Rico's Restaurant, near Zurich, in Küsnacht on Lake Zurich

    Two stars Michelin, very much worth the short train trip (10-12 minutes from the train station closest to the opera house). There is a longish walk from the train station in Küsnacht to the restaurant - go down a couple of blocks from the station headed to the lake, get to the main street closest to the lake, make a left, get on the right-sided sidewalk, and walk a quarter of a mile to a red house on your right. The highly imaginative food is exquisite; excellent tasting menu with fabulous wines; the third best restaurant of the trip (after Reinstoff in Berlin and Steirereck in Vienna which are also world-class restaurants like Rico's - they are not that different in quality; I just rank them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the above order if I have to rank them but they are all three phenomenal); pricey, of course, but worth every euro. I don't recall how much I paid.

    Transportation method:

    Swiss Air, business class from Zurich to Berlin - excellent lounge for business passengers with very good breakfast options; the flight was comfortable (although 20 minutes late) and even though it was a short flight, they did serve a tasty lunch.

    From the Tegel airport to downtown Berlin, it's the simplest thing: either the X9 bus or the TXL Express bus cost only 2.80 euros (you can pay the driver) and depart every 3 to 6 minutes; 20 minutes to West Berlin on the X9, and 35 to Alexander Platz on the TXL Express. No need for a taxi cab at all, it would be a waste of money since the buses are frequent, not crowded, with enough space for even large pieces of luggage, and enough seats.

    Hotels

    Ibis Style an der Opera in Berlin: they tried at first to give me a room without air conditioning, although I had prepaid for one with AC. After some back-and-forth they recognized their error and moved me to the correct room. This is a basic hotel, with tiny rooms, and breakfast that is not luxurious but is decent enough. For a major city like Berlin, this hotel charges very cheap fees, and is good enough if all that you want is a place to sleep, three blocks from the Deutsche.

    Clipper City Home Berlin - Behrenstrasse 47 - Excellent option. Not a full service hotel, but rather an apart-hotel suitable for longer stays, since the units are mini-apartments with a fully equipped kitchen. Very comfortable, large room, silent, modern, with stable great speed for the wi-fi. Room cleaning is only every third day. Friendly staff, but the tiny lobby is not staffed at all hours. The location is great: one and a half blocks to the Komische Oper in one direction, and three blocks to the Staatsoper in the other direction.

    Sagrantino Restaurant in Berlin

    Right next to the Clipper City hotel (therefore very close to the Komische Oper), including with an internal door that opens to the hotel lobby, there is a small Italian bistro called Sagrantino. The food is decent and well-priced but not extraordinary. Very, very pretty Italian-born waitress. Ciao, bella! A meal for two (Jim was with me) including a very good bottle of Italian wine for the bargain price of 30 euros, was 103.40 euros before the tip. Update: a subsequent meal there was more successful than the first one. Overall I'd say it's not just decent, it is good. They serve a good breakfast at a discounted rate for guests of the Clipper City hotel.

    Maximillians Restaurant in Berlin

    Friedrichstrasse 185-190, a Bavarian bistro in Berlin, with the typical food. This was the only restaurant I actually didn't like that much, in the entire trip. The real Bavarian places in Munich and Nuremberg where I ate were far superior, of course. I was missing that cuisine and tried this one, but it is not as good as what we can find at the source. It was still decent, and cheap: 33 euros for two, at lunch, before tip.

    Restaurant Reinstoff, Berlin

    Simply outstanding. A two-star Michelin place, in a building that used to be a light bulb factory. The food was out of this world, and actually better than at Steirereck. This was the best meal of the trip. Very highly recommended; actually I'll say "do not miss" - anybody visiting Berlin who loves gourmet cuisine must eat there. I had the lunch tasting menu with 5 courses (which look more like 7 because the amuse-gueules and sweets at the end are fabulous) with wine pairing, coffee, mineral water, and an aperitif (Kirsch) and all that came up to 135 euros before tip; not bad for the extremely high quality of the meal.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); February 9th, 2019 at 02:34 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I love both those places in Munich! The Maximillian is wonderful, but has gotten pricey and one time was booked (probably because it’s such an easy walk to the opera). Spatenhaus is a must-stop but, for me, it’s their veal stew with creme fraiche and Pfifferlinge (chanterelles mushrooms).

    No wonder I’ve been put on a diet...

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