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Archive for the ‘Austria’ Category

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Our rental house in Soriano nel Cimino circled in white

You’ve probably realized by now how much we loved renting apartments in Europe. I’m going to write a post soon on why and how to find a good one, but this post of our favorites is mostly for us so that we can remember the great times we had in these apartments.

If you click on the city names, you’ll be taken to the current listings with more pictures and information in case you’re interested in staying there too. The prices I list are what we paid at the time, including any service charges and cleaning fees. The prices for some of them, especially the ridiculously cheap ones, have since gone up as they become more established and build up positive reviews, but there are always great deals to be had almost anywhere with some digging and luck. And most offer significant discounts for longer stays, whether a week or a month. These rentals are in no particular order since I found it too hard to rank them.

 

Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island ($62 USD a night, sleeps 4)

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I’ll start with the Postman’s Cottage, which is where the postman used to stay when he came to the western side of Kangaroo Island to deliver mail. Now it’s part of Flinders Chase National Park and rented out to visitors. I already gushed about the fun old-fashioned wood stove and other appliances here.

Favorite part: the koala we found sleeping in a neighboring tree

 

Budapest, Hungary ($47 a night for 6 nights, sleeps up to 4)

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I had to drag myself outside to go sightseeing because I loved this apartment so much. It was beautifully decorated and the friendly, helpful owner obviously put a lot of thought into making the experience as comfortable as possible for us. She also gave us a free bottle of Hungarian wine. The location right next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral was amazing.

Favorite part: high ceilings and huge old-fashioned European windows provided tons of light

 

Vienna, Austria (well, we booked that studio but the landlord gave us this bigger one for the same price of $63 a night for 2 nights)

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This apartment was spotlessly clean and full of gadgets, like the fancy TV and stereo system and the espresso machine (unfortunately without any espresso included).

Favorite part: The best gadget of all was the shower. Scott and I still talk about that shower. It had a built-in radio that you could tune while taking your shower and all sorts of features with different sprays and even a steam sauna function. Did I mention we loved that shower?

 

Bruges, Belgium ($29 a night for 4 nights, sleeps 2)

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The price we got on this cottage was pretty ridiculous for the area. Technically it was a little outside Bruges and required a car to get to, but even with having to rent a car it was cheaper than it would have been to stay inside Bruges without a car. It felt like our own little cottage out in the countryside with a pretty patio and garden, chickens out back who we fed all our leftover pasta to, friendly neighbors down the road, and big corn fields all around us. The owners even gave us Belgian chocolate, two beers, and a bag of cuberdons (a cone-shaped Belgian candy).

Favorite part: the idyllic setting

 

Paris, France ($53 a night for a week-long stay, sleeps 2)

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This was the first apartment rental of our trip so it holds a special place for us. It was a tiny studio but used its space very efficiently so it felt cozy instead of crowded. It felt like our own Parisian pied-à-terre.

Favorite part: its location in the heart of Latin Quarter on a street surrounded by open-air markets, bakeries, crepe stands, and restaurants

 

Autrans, France near the French Alps ($39 a night for 3 nights, sleeps 4)

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Autrans is a picturesque little village that comes alive during the ski season. We were way too early for snow, but we enjoyed the wooden paneling and rustic ski chalet feel of our cottage (on the far corner with the white car in the picture above). The people there were incredibly friendly, and the owner introduced us to all of his family and eagerly showed us around. He was so excited to give us six fresh eggs from his own chickens that he dropped the egg carton and broke all of them while trying to put them in the fridge. He gave us more, but what a waste of delicious eggs! You can read more about our stay in Autrans and Burgundy here.

Favorite part: proximity to the hikes in Vercors Regional Natural Park

 

St. Boil, France in Burgundy ($63 a night for 4 nights, sleeps 3)

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We rented a cottage in the Burgundy wine region that had been fully renovated but also incorporated details like stonework from the area that was thousands of years old. The owners were a chatty Belgian couple who gave us a couple of Belgian beers when we asked them for recommendations on where to go in Belgium later. They even made a polished YouTube video of their cottage that I’ve included below.

Favorite part: the amazing view of the vineyards for miles around

 

Florence, Italy ($36 a night for a bedroom and breakfast in a shared apartment with the owner)

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We mostly rented private apartments for ourselves, but I wish we had done more shared apartments after meeting our Italian host Daniele. He was incredibly nice and friendly, providing us a giant breakfast every morning (including vegetarian “cold cuts” for us) and making a fantastic dinner one night while we chatted with him and his girlfriend. He normally had free bikes to rent as well, but they had been stolen right before we arrived, so he even gave us a good bottle of wine and a box of Italian cookies as an apology.

Favorite part: getting to know Daniele

 

Soriano nel Cimino, Italy ($100 a night 2 bed/bath for 1 week, sleeps up to 6)

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This was definitely the fanciest place we stayed in as we had planned to share it with Scott’s mother and stepfather, but unfortunately their plans fell through and we ended up there by ourselves. It was beautifully designed by an architect with giant windows and a rooftop terrace. I’ve already talked about it quite a bit here.

Favorite part: the views of the medieval hill town

 

Naples, Italy ($52 a night for one week, sleeps 2)

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Our large apartment on the top floor had a terrace with olives, grapes, sage, and tumbling purple flowers and provided a great view of one of our favorite cities. The terrace was even connected to a cave (although they told us not to go inside because it was dangerous). Our neighbor was a dog we nicknamed “The Scruff” and down the street we could buy the best pizza we’ve ever had for $5. You can read more about our love of Naples here.

Favorite part: everything except the mosquitoes

 

So those were our ten favorite vacation rentals. We enjoyed a lot of others as well, but they didn’t quite make the top ten. Next up: a post on why we chose to rent places so often and how to find a good one.

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Yeah, I know I’m totally behind on posting. So I’m going to cheat by combining 3 cities into one post! In my defense, the three of them are all beautiful cities that are great to walk around in, plus they’re connected by trains and buses a few hours away from each other, so they often make it onto one itinerary. Keep in mind that when I say “best,” I only spent a total of 12 days in the three cities so this is all based on the small slice of my random experiences.

 

Best Cafés and Bakeries: Vienna

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The couple of days we had in Vienna were cold and drizzly, and after a long day of sightseeing, I loved sitting at a café watching the gray clouds go by, sipping a coffee and savoring a delicious pastry.

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Sacher torte, a two-layer chocolate cake with apricot jam in the middle and dark chocolate icing served with whipped cream, is one of the most famous Viennese desserts, but I hadn’t planned on trying any. Hotel Sacher touts “The Original Sacher Torte” invented in the early 1800s, but I had heard that eating there was touristy and overpriced, and the cake didn’t even sound that good – it’s served with whipped cream because it’s so dry. However, I went to a different café with the intention of only getting a coffee, and they happened to have a great combo deal on a cappucinno and a slice of sachertorte that I couldn’t resist. It was surprisingly good – not too sweet, not that dry, good quality dark chocolate, and the whipped cream provided a nice balance.

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There was never any doubt that I was going to eat a lot of strudel, though. The most popular strudels are apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and topfenstrudel (strudel filled with a soft and sweet quark cheese, see picture above). The traditional Austrian strudel is a little different in that the pastry dough is rolled out very thinly until you can “read a love letter” through it.

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The traditional strudel was fine, but I preferred a thicker, crunchier puff pastry instead. I loved topfen cheese (the filling for the pastry above) so much I never did end up eating the traditional apple strudel, but I at least got a pastry with some apple filling once. Pretty much all of the breads and pretzels and pastries we got in Vienna were delicious.

 

Best Preserved: Prague

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Of the three cities, Prague felt the most touristy, with lots of tour groups milling around headed by people holding up flags. But I have to admit it’s no wonder that so many people are attracted to Prague as it’s quite picturesque and has a lot of cool old architecture. Vienna suffered a lot of destructive bombing during World War II, and many of the buildings in Budapest are fairly new (relatively speaking) and built in a neo-whatsical style that makes them seem older. Prague is the best preserved of the three.

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One of the most famous sights is its astronomical clock, a medieval clock built in 1410 and the world’s oldest working astronomical clock. In addition to the paltry feat of telling the time, this clock can tell you where the sun is on the ecliptic, what phase the moon is in, and other such things of astronomical nature. There’s a little show on the hour where the figures move if you don’t mind peering over the heads of everyone who has gathered to watch it.

 

Best River View: Chain Bridge in Budapest

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I think most people would say Prague for this one, maybe including Scott (I haven’t asked him), but since our apartment was just a 10-minute walk from Budapest’s iconic Chain Bridge, I have some fond memories of enjoying the view from this bridge at various times of day and night. 

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It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube River that connected Buda and Pest (yup, Buda and Pest used to be two separate cities, and if you pronounce it Budapesht with an “sh” sound, you’ll make every Hungarian who hears you happy). I also think the Danube River looks prettier here than in Vienna, despite the famous Blue Danube waltz written by the Austrian Strauss.

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Best Beer: Prague

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I don’t drink much alcohol, but I thought the beers in Prague were pretty good. Scott was in heaven (look at the happiness radiating from his face!), especially since he got to try a bunch of unfiltered beer that can be harder to find in the U.S., and the prices were great: one pint of good beer could cost 50 cents in the supermarket and $1.50 in a pub.

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I mostly liked going for the atmosphere, whether it was the residential pub within walking distance from our apartment with wagonwheels on the ceiling and wooden clogs on the walls (with farm instruments hanging out of them?!) or the more traditional pub in the city center with gruff service where famous writers used to hang out.

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They had exactly one kind of beer on tap (with a hanging tiger above it for some extra flavor) so all you had to figure out was how to say “one beer” or “two beers” in Czech (don’t worry, you could keep repeating this as necessary).

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We also enjoyed a day trip from Prague to Plzen, where we went on the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour and tasting. The coolest part was when they took us into their giant maze of underground cellars where they used to keep the beer cold during fermentation. They had a small section where they were still using the cellars, and you could see and smell the giant barrels of weird frothy looking fermenting beer.

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An old Czech guy (who looked just like the guy advertised on the brewery pamphlets) then filled our cups from a cask of unfiltered beer.

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There’s Scott looking blissfully happy again! We went to three different pubs our last day in Prague.

 

Best Cathedral: St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

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We saw a lot of impressive cathedrals in the three cities, but this one built in the 1200s stood out in particular. This picture was taken looking up from one corner of the church to give you a sense of how tall it was. There were lots of intricate details and sculptures on the interior and exterior, and it was cool to think about its place in history, including the fact that Mozart’s wedding and funeral took place here.

Here’s a view of the interior of St. Stephen’s cathedral, and you can click on the video to hear the organ playing during the mass that we saw.

 

I know I skipped over a lot of cool stuff about the three cities, but those were some of the highlights from our short time in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.

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