My first look of Austria
When one thinks of Austria, they automatically think mountains. Flying into Salzburg, all I see is flat terrain which is a little disappointing. As we get closer, we are guided into Salzburg airport by tall, snow-capped mountains. After getting off the plane, I got myself to the Hauptbahnhof (Main train station) and made for Vienna.
As the train winded it's way along the tracks towards Vienna, I got an amazing view of the surrounding mountains. I met and was talking to a couple from New Zealand so the trip didn't seem 3 1/2 hours long.
I started, as I usually do in a new city, by walking around and getting a feel for the place. With the amazing architecture, shaded streets, numerous large parks and surprising cleanliness, Vienna is truly a beautiful city. I took the U-Bahn to my first stop. The U-Bahn is clean, safe, fast and efficient, what else would you expect from the Austrians? As I rise from the Bahnhof (train station) I am met by the peaceful sound of a busking violinist playing what else but Mozart. Austrians are music mad. Being the birth country of Mozart, it is to be expected to hear classical
There are thousands around Vienna
music playing from all directions. buskers, radio, TV etc... In fact a lot of the buskers are classically trained musicians, so there is no annoying "guitarist" who struggles to hit the right cords and sings like a dying walrus. Vienna is classy, buskers and all. The next thing I noticed was actually the weather. It sound funny but in one day, I experienced heavy rain, glorious clear skies and sunshine then overcast howling winds... all before midday. This bizarre weather was constant the whole time I was in Austria so it was a bit off putting. No just sticking your head out the window and seeing what day it's going to be.
The first major attraction I went to was the Schloss Schönbrunn. The Hapsburgs' 1440-room summer palace redefines the word opulent. Massive chandeliers in every room, gold trimmings, towering mirrors etc... you could only imagine. In fact you will have to imagine as I have no pictures because there were no photos allowed. Wandering the same rooms as Maria Theresa, plus seeing the room where Mozart played one of his first compositions at the age of 6 in the presence of Maria-Theresa, was all a special experience. However,
The beauty of Vienna, dispite being busy, it only takes a quick walk off the main street to seemingly have the place to your self
the standout was the free attraction of the gardens out the back. I use the word "gardens" loosely as it more resembles an extremely well manicured large property.
The other major highlight of Vienna is the Hofburg (Imperial Palace) which was were all the politics took place, as opposed to the summer palace. I never went in but the sight of the exterior was indeed impressive.
If anyone is planning on coming to Vienna around this time, take this advice. Book accommodation in advance. I did, as I like to do, show up and managed to find a place to stay. The problem was they kicked me out the next day because they were booked even though they said they could get me in again. I then spent the next 2 hours wandering the streets, taking up valuble sightseeing time, finding a room. 8 Hotels I tried and nothing. Just when it looked like I was set to find a comfortable spot on a park bench, I happened to stumble on a Pension (Guest House) by accident, which just happened to be around the corner of my last place. After that I promised my self if I come
Houses of Parliament
They're pretty impressive
back to Vienna at this time of year, I'm booking ahead.
I heard of this cool market that I thought I might check out so I caught the U-Bahn to the nearest station. Finding it, however, was not so easy. My German came into use several times asking "Wo ist die Nachtmarkt?" Of course they replied in German so I just followed their pointing hands. Once I finally got there I was really surprised. In the middle of the city was a street wide enough to have this large market running down the street in between the two lanes. I had a wide selection of bars, restaurants, fruits, veges, seafood, lollies, t-shirts, rings etc... Kind of mini town in the middle of Vienna. While I was sitting enjoying a beer, the skies cleared and the sun blasted down. It was so nice I bought another. The good thing about Austria is that you can simply say "Ein bier bitte" and you know that the beer is going to be good.
That day was the day that The Da Vinci Code opened at the cinemas and I couldn't wait to get home to see it so I tracked down
Are a nice way to get around Vienna
a Hollywood style cinema which had the nice façade of most other buildings. A side note on the movie: I thought it was good, I never thought I'D say this, but the book was better. My main beef was how they completely changed the ending.
The next day, I headed back to Salzburg. Put it this way, I loved Vienna but in the end it's just a big city. Salzburg is different. A city yes, but it feels just like a decent sized town. The city itself is much nicer to walk around as well. Finding accommodation was a bit easier as there was rooms in abundance. After tracking down the cheapest and nearest the centre I could, I made my way over the exceptionally quick flowing Salzach River to the Festung Hohensalzburg. A large Fortress that looms over Salzburg and is the most visited site in all of Austria, Festung Hohensalzburg is an impressive site. I had the option of making the 15 minute hard hike to the top for just the entry fee or paying an extortionate €6 for a 60 second ride in the Festungbahn, so of course, I walked. First started in 1077 as a
vital stronghold... blah blah... to be honest the main reason I parted with €7.20 was for the views. As I am a sucker for a great view, Festung Hohensalzburg doesn't disappoint. One one side I am greeted by a fabulous view over the city. On the other I am mesmerised by beautiful views of the Alps. There was a little restaurant on the end of the steep cliff, so I parked myself at a table on the edge and ordered a beer. I could not think of a better way to spend the afternoon by sipping a fine Austrian beer with a view to die for in the sun. Not surprisingly, the tables at the edge were highly sort after and it wasn't long before I was asked if could share the table. It turned out to be a couple from Sydney on one of those pack-as-much-as-possible-into-1-month trips. So I shared a few stories and drinks with them until they had to catch their bus to Innsbruck. I finally left the restaurant a few hours later with a bit of sun burn. I figured while I was there I might as well spend a bit more money to have a
Horses and Vienna
...Go together like a horse and carriage
look around the fortress itself. It turns out the price I payed already covered it so I joined the tour. It was pretty interesting but the highlight was of course the relaxing few beers.
That night I headed to a place I heard about called Augustiner Bräustübl. It took me a while to find it as the instructions I was given weren't accurate. I nearly gave up until I stumbled on it but accident. Augustiner Bräustübl is quite a unique place. It's basically a big beer hall but with a difference. As I walk in, I am struck at the sight of huge shelves on the wall with an unbelievable amount of stone mugs. The idea is you grab either a litre or a half litre mug. Then you go to what looks like a bird bath with taps spewing out water and give your mug a quick rinse. You then turn around and line up for the small counter where you pay for the type and size beer you'll be drinking and you are given a small ticket. You then go to the man behind a bench surrounded by large barrels of beer. You hand your ticket and
Europe has a thing about these sorts of statues
your mug over and he pours your beer. The beauty of it is that no one spoke English so I had to order and find my way around using German which I was getting addicted to. With stone mug in hand, I head to the main beer hall. I nearly choke to death on the cigarette smoke clouding my lungs so I back out. I ask someone if there is a non smoking area and I was directed to the smaller but non smoking hall. After a little while I met a couple of girls from Berlin. They were in Salzburg on a football tour, or so they said. Something told me they weren't, maybe it was just a hunch. So I had a few drinks with them before they headed off.
The day after I had a day of wandering around the old town. I started my walk with the enormous cathedral. There was a sign up saying closed for service. One of the massive metal doors was cracked open a little so I took a peek. Someone then opened the door from the inside and motioned me in. I walked in to see him dip a finger
They let loose on the water down the gutter and the horses drink from them... pretty clever eh?
in the holy water, make the sign of the crucifix and disappear into the crowd gathered at the back. From the moment you walk in, the Cathedral is an astonishing sight. It was at least 80m to the other end were there were 7 men giving service. I stand at the rear gazing up at the roof towering over me. Along with the Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman, this could well be one of the most impressive rooms I have ever stood in. The seats in the Cathedral were packed with people and many more crowding around where ever they could find a place. Not really interested in the service, I slowly made my way to the front along the side. Once I got there I saw a full choir poised ready to sing and a man at the grand (and I mean GRAND) pipe organ the level above with fingers at the ready. The service, of course, being given in German was asking people to stand for the next hymn. As people stood and warmed their singing voices, I realised this was the second time in my life I had ever been to Sunday service. I suppose the best
Could think of worse locations to perform
place to break the 14 year absence was there.
Religion being the last thing I came to see, I stepped out and continued my walk around the Old Town. I saw Mozart's birthplace and residence (which is across the river) I thought it funny that while Salzburg is proud to claim Mozart as their own, Amadeus himself couldn't wait to get out of there. I also took a long walk around the other side of the Festung Hohensalzburg and walked around the peaceful streets. I headed back across the mountain that the fortress sits on and navigated my way through the rats nest of little walk ways to a few other old look outs were. All these were free to go to and gave just as good views of the mountains as the fortress.
After the long walk back into the Old Town, I thought I should have a beer. I found an Irish pub (surprised eh?) and entered. I ordered a Kilkenny and began to look at where I walked on the map. The woman behind the bar asked me something in German. I looked up and admitted that I only speak English. I she had a
Old and the new
Live happily side by side
shocked look on her face. "By the way you asked for the bathroom and ordered the beer, I just thought you were German" It was quite a compliment to hear an actual German mistaking me for a fellow countryman as she thought my pronunciation was perfect. I had to admit to her that I listen to a lot of Rammstein and just mimic their lyrics. We ended up talking for so long that it was nearing closing time. I couldn't believe that 6 hours flew by so quick.
Having seen a good lot of Austria, I thought it time to expand the trip. Soon I would enter Germany.
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