Austria: Salzburg — Vienna
Austria was added to the itinerary a little late, but we are very glad we decided to come. As we flew into Salzburg, the beauty of the city was immediately apparent. Everything was a lush green, and the snow capped mountains in the background made it look more like a painting than an actual city. We loved the clean air, the wide streets/sidewalks, and the relative quiet compared to some of the larger cities we have been to. We enjoyed going to a local beer garden, FUXN, for dinner, where we had a pastrami sandwich so good we came back again the next night. Salzburg also had a sense of community that I really appreciatrd. We were there when they were having a massive bike trade/sale, so tents were set up in a couple of the main squares. People brought their bikes to be sold, and others looked through the rows of bikes to find the one that fit their needs. We spent a good amount of time looking at bikes, and I had to remind Matt that a bike won’t fit into our suitcase.
Our first full day in Salzburg we took a bus to hike around the nearby lake in Fuschlsee. It started off pretty miserable; it was cold, cloudy, and drizzling or threatening to rain the whole time. While the weather never really changed, once we found the trail and got the blood flowing, it was much more enjoyable. We hiked around the clearest lake I have ever seen. Even when we were stories above it looking down, you could still see the branches and rocks on the bottom under the water. Hiking around the whole lake was about 10 miles and took about 4.5 hours. The hike took us right along the shore, where we stopped to skip rocks, and it also took us up into the hills surrounding the lake. The trees and leaves in the hills reminded me of going for walks up north at my cabin. Sometimes the trail would lead us to the other side of a hill where we could get a glimpse of the hills and houses, and a couple times the trail led us right alongside a farm with horses, chickens, goats, and/or sheep.
One of Salzburg’s claims to fame is the Sound of Music. We made a point to walk around Old Town and find some of the places used in the movie. We went to the Abbey where Maria starts off, and even got to go in the church where the opening scenes were shot. We went to the Riding School, where the festival at the end of the movie takes place, but it was closed so we were not able to go inside. Interestingly, we saw that the Riding School has a retractable roof, rather than being more of an open courtyard as is portrayed in the movie. We ended our Sound of Music day by watching the movie in our hostel with beer brewed in Salzburg and Mozart chocolate.
Mozart chocolate is popular in Salzburg because this is where Mozart was born and raised. We visited the house where he was born and lived until he was 12 years old. It has now been turned into a museum where you can walk through the rooms of the house and learn about the child prodigy, his parents, and his musically talented sister (who was not able to peruse the same opportunities or given the same recognition simply because she was female). The museum holds Mozart’s first violin, which he could play by age five, as well as original compositions, handwritten letters, and even a lock of his hair. It also had the best gift shop of any we have seen so far, complete with Austrian and Mozart rubber ducks.
After finishing up our time in Salzburg, we caught a train to Vienna. Vienna is much more metropolitan than Salzburg, but we had some of the most authentic experiences of the whole trip here. Before I elaborate on that, I need to pause for a moment and let you all know that we have FINALLY found a place where I blend in more than Matt. People here are fair skinned, many are blonde, and they even are of similar height and build. Matt doesn’t stand out as much as I did in Morocco, but it is still nice to not look like the tourist for the first time on the trip.
One of the authentic experiences I was talking about was the Food and Wine Festival happening the weekend we arrived. Tents upon tents filled with wine, beer, brats, sausages, cheese… Many people were in the traditional Austrian dress of lederhosen or milk-maid dress, and we enjoyed accordion music and watching traditional dances. One dance with men and women was a combination of square dancing and polka dancing. Another all-male group did a few numbers with slight similarities to Irish dance. The festival was always packed and all signs, speakers, and songs were in German. While we don’t know much (or any) German, we know “bratwurst”, so we were alright. We ate at the festival twice, and really enjoyed the beer, brats, mustard, and brat burgers.
After our first night at the festival, we went to St. Stephan’s, the major cathedral, so I could go to Confession before Holy Week began. Not knowing any German, I wasn’t able to stumble through Confession in the native tongue like I did in Spain, but thankfully the priest was able to stumble through his part in English. I figured God understands anyway. Seeing St. Stephan’s at night, only partially lit and the pipe organ blasting (practicing for tomorrow’s Palm Sunday service), was a bit eerie, but an incredibly cool way to see the cathedral. We came back the next day day for Palm Sunday Mass. Little did we know, the Bishop was saying Mass, so the place was packed, and we were 2 of probably 100 people standing around the cathedral after all the seats were taken. Even though we didn’t understand any of the German, we really enjoyed listening to the incredible choir — it had to be at least 50 people!
Besides the cathedral, the only real sites we visited were two palaces. The main one was the Schönbrunn Palace, which was the summer palace of the Hapsburg Family. We didn’t go in either, but we did walk around the gardens behind the Schönbrunn Palace. There was a very large hill that we decided to walk up, and from the top we got the best views we had seen of Vienna. We also visited an island in the middle of the river that is about 12 miles long and a dedicated space for exercise. There are paths for people to run, bike, walk, rollerblade, skateboard, etc. There were also places to bring your dog and skate parks as well. We saw people with tennis rackets, so we assume there are tennis courts somewhere too. Kudos to Vienna for using this waterfront property as a community fitness center!
Our last day in Vienna was the best weather we had our entire time in Austria. We spent it outside walking through a couple of different Easter markets. Easter markets run a couple of weeks or a month before Easter, and consist of stands selling crafts, decorations, painted eggs, and lots of food. We had both lunch and dinner at the markets and tried a couple different beers, an Austrian version of sangria, a donut pretzel, a pancake type dessert, brats, Mac n cheese (so good!), and a fried bread with cream cheese. Matthew made sure we got our fill of chometz (foods not kosher for Passover) before Passover started at sundown. I did not complain :).
Austria as a whole was one of my favorite places we have been to on the trip. All of the good food, the authentic cultural experiences, and the general good mood everyone (except the waiters) seemed to be in made the whole visit very enjoyable. But now we are off to our second country of the week as we enter Budapest, and we will be wrapping the week up in Prague!
Peace, Love, and Edelweiss,