We stayed in a great airbnb apartment for 3 nights in Vienna which had lovely high ceilings and reminded me of my university flat in Lauriston Place, Edinburgh, aside from the very poorly equipped kitchen – no kettle, toaster, or even bowls! Therefore we had the typical fast food for dinner on our first night from a ‘wurstlstand’ – sausage in a roll with mustard and onions for a backpacker friendly €3.
We then splashed out another €3 each for Standing Room Only tickets to see Verdi’s Nabucco at the Opera House. This was probably the best bargain of the trip so far. We had a fantastic view from the balcony area and really enjoyed the show.
On Saturday we awoke to heavy rain so after cereal from mugs we headed into the city and took in the main sights via the ring tram; a guided tour which takes you in a loop past many of the famous buildings. It was a great introduction to Vienna’s history. We discovered another excellent rainy day activity to fill the afternoon, learning about Austria’s famous composers at the House of Music. It’s a fantastic interactive museum where you can have a go at conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, experience what a baby hears in the womb, make your own waltz from throwing dice and various other fun games with sound.
After a good hit of classical culture we then turned our ears to something a bit more modern – the Eurovision Song Contest (or ESC as the cool kids call it, perhaps escape?!)
We had planned to watch it in the big square in front of the Rathaus (town hall) but given the heavy rain we had a quick look around, picked up some free merchandise and then found a pub to cheer on the inaugural Australian entrant – Guy Sebastian. It was a fantastic atmosphere and we had a really fun night sitting/dancing next to a table of gay German men who have been following the contest across Europe for years and some spangly clad older Austrian women who took it all quite seriously! Both groups enthusiastically joined our Aussie cheering squad which was lucky for them given the ‘nil points’ scores for both Austria and Germany! We had some traditional food for dinner – goulash and dumplings and tafelspitz – boiled beef with hash browns and horseradish apple sauce which was delicious. I don’t know why we don’t always flavour apple sauce with horseradish, it’s a great combination.
Coffee, cake and schnitzel
Still raining on Sunday we met up with an old friend from Maastricht to indulge in one of the Viennese favourite past times – coffee and cake, certified by UNESCO! What a tricky cultural habit for us to adapt to.. We tried the famous Sacher torte, chocolate cake sandwiched with apricot jam which was a bit dry and not that great but we did enjoy the rhubarab strudel 🙂
We spent the afternoon at the Hapsburg summer palace and had a long
walk around the gardens where we spotted lots of red squirrels and even some emus in an enclosure! Back in the city for dinner it was our last opportunity to try the famous Wien Schnitzel. It’s traditionally made with veal, very thin, crumbed and served with hot potato salad and a lemon wedge.
I thought it might be a bit dry or greasy but it was delicious, and the squeeze of lemon really amped up the flavour.
I liked Vienna, we had a good time at the opera and the Haus of Music however I didn’t love it as much as I expected to. Perhaps it was the constant rain and grey skies but having visited once I feel I’ve seen enough and probably wouldn’t hurry to go back.
Salzburg on the other hand, is a different story. The sun came out, the beer flowed freely and the hills were alive with the Sound of Music! The only down side was that we had to stay in a 6 bed dorm as the hostel was really busy. We both decided that we are too old for this shared dorm business after spending the first two nights trying to block out the noise of the amazing snoring man who I’m surprised didn’t wake himself up with the noise!
Back to the good bits though, we came across a little market selling a whole range of flavours of brezen (look a lot like pretzels but are more bready) apple, cherry, chocolate, nuts – what a selection!
They made for good snacks on the way up to the fort where we enjoyed great views of the city. The fort had some great exhibitions on the history of Salzburg, puppets, and various old artefacts. We had a lovely walk back along the ridge which conveniently brought us to an old monestry where they make Augestiner beer. We enjoyed a stein or two of in the beer garden with some pork, sauerkraut and dumplings.
Ice caving in Hallstatt
We headed off to Hallstatt the next day to explore an ice cave. The rain was back and with it some very low cloud so sadly we didn’t enjoy the supposedly spectacular views going up the mountain in a cable car. It was actually quite eery coming in and out of the clouds.
The ice caves themselves were fascinating with some incredible formations including frozen waterfalls and stalagmites and stalactites. About 15000 years ago they were home to bears weighing over a tonne which used them for hibernation. We were delighted that one family even brought their dog along for the cave tour! In Austria we noticed that people seem to take their dogs everywhere and they are welcomed with water bowls and pats, such a great arrangement.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the town which was formerly reliant on the large salt mine but it’s economy is now propped up by tourism and the bus loads of Asians that visit.
Apparently the Chinese liked it so much they’ve actually built a full size replica of the town in China! It is a quaint little place with ‘fachwerkhauser’ stacked alongside the lakeside surrounded by mountains. It reminded us a bit of Lake Bled but with a more concentrated town centre and many more tourists! We sampled a cheese strudel here which was interesting but nothing on the apple, rhubarb or cherry that we’d had elsewhere. Back in Salzburg we had to be creative in the hostel kitchen which was even less well equipped than the airbnb in Vienna. Thank goodness for Mitch’s Swiss army knife so that we could at least chop some salad to have with our tinned tuna and microwaveable Uncle Bens rice..!
The hiiiiiiiills are alive..
Next day we were booked onto the Fräulein Maria cycling tour with guide Francie who told us more about the history of Salzburg, the real Von Trappe family upon which the musical is based and played songs from the musical as we cycled which we enthusiastically sang along to. It was very cheesy but great fun and I really enjoyed visiting some of the places where the scenes were filmed including the abby, do-rei-me steps and the lake. Apparently the film isn’t at all well known in Austria and Germany.
It must be very strange for locals to see these tourists cycling around town singing these strange songs! The cycle tour went further than we expected and we enjoyed cycling along some farm tracks, enjoying the countryside and narrowly avoided being sprayed with fertiliser from a busy tractor while experiencing the ‘real’ Austria.
Although rather touristy Salzburg is a gorgeous town and apparently has some excellent Christmas markets. I’d visit again to experience the town in winter but next up we’re off to Germany!