I finally own a camera! Woo hoo! And what a beauty it is! I cashed in my airmiles and came away with a brand-new free Canon EOS Rebel T5i. I was going to celebrate by creating an Instagram account but since I don’t have an iPad, iPod or cell phone, I’m excluded from the party. Bah humbug! Look at these gems I snapped today in Chinatown and Instagram shuns them…
I thought I would focus today’s post on a few personal tips that I think are useful for those planning a visit to Austria.
Austria has low gas prices compared to much of the rest of Europe. If you are planning to visit Vienna and/or Salzburg only, using public transportation makes sense. Most tourists stick to these two cities, which is a shame because much of the charm of Austria is found in the countryside. If time and money permit, it is worth renting a car and heading into the more rural parts of the country.
Austria is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement and as such, has had open borders with other Schengen countries for the past 20 years. In September (2015), Germany announced that it was closing it’s border with Austria in an attempt to slow the incredible wave of refugees entering Bavaria. If you are coming into Austria overland, you would not normally be required to go through customs but as things are currently changing day-by-day, it makes sense to check a government website for up-to-the-minute information.
Regardless, if you plan to drive in Austria, you will require an international driver’s licence. You can obtain one through the Canadian Automobile Association in Canada ($25 Cdn) or through the American Automobile Association in the US ($15 US).
You will also require a reflective safety vest. If you are renting a car in Austria, it will come with a vest but if you are driving in from a neighbouring country, make sure you have one as you will be subject to heavy fines if you are caught without.
And you’ll need a vignette. A vignette is a sticker: a damn expensive sticker. You can’t buy a vignette for less than 10 days. A 10 day vignette costs 8.70€ and a two month vignette is 25.30€. You can start these on any day you choose. You can also buy a 15-month vignette (Dec 1 2015- Jan 31 2017) for 84.40€. Get the vignette in gas stations in neighbouring countries once you get close to Austria. The only glitch is that you have to remember to stop and buy it! The penalty for not having a vignette is a 300-3000€ fine. Ouch.
You’ll also want a cardboard clock but at least you can get one of those for free at a gas station. In some areas, you need to set the clock to the time you park the car and place it on your dashboard. Then you have to be back before the time limit is up (limits vary by area).
In Austria, by law, gas prices can only be raised once per day, at noon. They can, however, be lowered anytime throughout the day. This information was given to me by a gas-station attendant and I was later able to confirm the information at Feste-benzinpreise
If you read German, the article on 24-hour fixed gas prices is quite interesting. You can make yourself crazy trying to anticipate the market but without stressing too much, it would make sense to avoid buying gas/diesel at noon or shortly thereafter. Buying gas in the late morning would probably make a good long-term strategy.
Okay enough driving. Now, where to sleep? Possibilities are endless but I will focus on a lesser-known option, the farm stay. This link leads to the English version of the official Austrian farm holiday site. Unfortunately, you kind of have to know where you want to go to use the site which seems stupid given that native English speakers going to Austria probably don’t know exactly where they want to go other than Vienna and Salzburg. Again, if you read German, the German version of the site has lots of suggestions on places to go: Urlaub am Bauernhof
Austria has capitalized on the whole farm holiday concept. Dismiss thoughts of roughing it as many farm holidays are decidedly luxe. Or rather, I should say that there are so many farm stays to choose from that you can certainly find the one that suits you best. In Austria, farm stays are not just for families with young children. There are wine tasting farm stays, green gold (aka pumpkin seed oil) farm stays, high altitude mountain chalet farm stays, farms stays in national parks and many, many more. Hell, there are 900 organic farm stays alone!
Since I’m trying to convince you to get out and see some non-Vienna/Salzburg Austria, let me also suggest that you try a Genusskarte. A Genusskarte is a regional card obtained free of charge by staying at a partner accommodation. One card per person. Again, good luck finding any info in English but with the general information I’m giving you here and with some determination, you should be able to find a place to stay that will give you a card. Steiermark (an area of southern Austria near Graz) and Neusiedlersee (an area of south-eastern Austria near the Hungarian border) are just two regions that offer a Genusskarte.
With the Steiermark card, you have free access to 120 sites. The card is valid for the length of your stay in the partner accommodation. The free attractions are varied and many would cost over $20 per person to get into. When we stayed in Steiermark, we were able to do a whole host of sightseeing that we couldn’t otherwise afford. Our family of seven visited: two chocolate factories, a show cave, a bizarre Weltmaschine, an incredible prosciutto factory, a bonsai garden, a noise museum, a luge run (which we got to hurtle down), a thermal spa. Oh ya, and we had a full day excursion on a steam train. All for free. Our accommodation was a private house that slept 6 people that we rented at a cost of about $110 Cdn per night, all taxes in.
The Genusskarte is great but to take full advantage of it, check the accompanying booklet carefully. Austria has one of the shortest work weeks and some of the most restrictive opening hours in Europe. That adds up to attractions being closed a lot. They also make every Catholic holiday under the sun, a national holiday so be prepared to not do anything commercial on Epiphany, Whit Sunday, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and MANY others.
You think I’m exaggerating about the opening hours? Government service offices are open 8 am – noon, Monday to Friday. Banks are open 8 am – 3 pm, Monday to Friday but they close for an hour at lunch. Shops are generally open from 8 am – 7 pm but they are closed on Sunday. The only place to get stuff on Sunday is in railway station or airport shops or in tourist zones. In smaller towns (who am I kidding – even in Vienna), many smaller shops also have a 1/2 day a week when they are closed.
When I was a girl visiting my Oma, there was always much talk about which store had it’s half day closure that day. But in 2015, there’s an iTunes App for that: Öffnungszeiten Österreich (Opening Times Austria).
Okay that’s just about a wrap but before I go, I’d like to reiterate that it can be hard to find information in English so the info that does get out there tends to be the same old, same old. Written by English people for English people. In this post, I’ve tried to use my knowledge of German to highlight for you a few tidbits of information that are useful but hard to come by.