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Austria

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Austria is a largely mountainous country due to its location in the Alps. The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps are all partly in Austria. Of the total area of Austria (84 000 kmē or 32,000 sq. mi), only about a quarter can be considered low lying, and only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft). The high mountainous Alps in the west of Austria flatten somewhat into low lands and plains in the east of the country.

Map of AustriaAustria may be divided into 5 different areas. The biggest area are the Austrian Alps, which constitute 62% of Austria's total area. The Austrian foothills at the base of the Alps and the Carpathians account for around 12% of its area. The foothills in the east and areas surrounding the periphery of the Pannoni low country amount to about 12% of the total landmass. The second greater mountain area (much lower than the Alps) is situated in the north. Known as the Austrian granite plateau, it is located in the central area of the Bohemian Mass, and accounts for 10% of Austria. The Austrian portion of the Viennese basin comprises the remaining 4%.

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Trains are the best way to get around if you're visiting cities. Comfortable and moderately priced trains connect major cities and many towns; buses other towns and lakes. The two forms of transport are integrated and designed to complement each other, so intercity coaches (long distance buses) are hard to find in most of Austria.

VorteilsCard. If you are under 26 and plan to spend more than 40 EUR on rail travel get a VorteilsCard (photo needed) for EUR 19,90 and have 45% discount on all trains in Austria and 25% abroad in Europe. If you have a Vorteilscard you can get a further 5% discount if you buy the tickets at the ticket machines, which sell national as well as regional tickets. The Vorteilscard is also available for those over 26 but costs 100 EUR.

Be aware that buying a train ticket at an Austrian Railways ticket machine does not tie you to a specific schedule. If you buy a ticket from Salzburg to Vienna, that ticket is valid for any train that takes you to Vienna.

Ticketing machines at train stations (unlike the ones in Germany) do not print itineraries and many train stations only display basic timetables. It is best to find an itinerary on the Austrian Railways website by setting up a ticket reservation (without actually reserving the ticket, just print the itinerary). Stations also provide pamphlets with detailed timetables, but this assumes you know which line to board to get to your destination.

Austria is one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crimes are extremely rare and normally confined to Vienna. Small towns and uninhabited areas such as forests are very safe at any time of the day.

Beware of pickpockets in crowded places. Like everywhere in Europe they are becoming increasingly professional. Bicycle theft is rampant in bigger cities. Always lock your bike to an immobile object.

Racism can also be a problem and make your stay an unpleasant experience. However, levels of racism are comparable to other Western nations and it is almost never seen in a violent form. In more remote parts of Austria people of non-white origin are a rare sight. If you see locals giving you strange looks here don't feel threatened. They are probably just showing curiosity or a distrust of foreigners and have no intention of doing any physical harm. A short conversation can often be enough to break the ice.