Austria. The country of Mozart, of the Sound of Music, of spectacular mountains, rolling hills, of jaw dropping buildings in the capital and beyond. We arrived in Vienna on a Monday afternoon, a bit worse for wear after our last minute dash to the train at the other end of the line in Budapest. With only the challenge of navigating yet another public transport system standing between us and a shower and a change of clothes, we jumped off the train and joined the crowds of people heading towards the U-Bahn and managed to get to our air BnB apartment with minimal fuss. After freshening up, we were ready for the start of our Austrian adventure which was going to involve some time in the cities, some time driving on the autobahn and hopefully a lot of alpine scenery, schnitzels and sausages.
I had some memories of Vienna being a little bland, but I definitely must have been hanging around in all the wrong spots last time I visited. From the stunning architecture on the ring road to the edgy street art and pop up ‘beaches’ on the banks of the Danube and the fun and excitement of the amusement park at the prater, Vienna had a lot more to offer than I remembered. So what did we get up to there, in spite of the 35 degree heat and searing sun that Mother Nature had us suffering under on her roller coaster ride of weather known as Europe in August, 2015?
The first day we conjured up our own walking tour of the city, seeing as the free walking tours weren’t running and I wasn’t prepared to pay 18 euros to hear a lot of facts that I would be likely to promptly forget. We passed by St Stephens, which was covered in scaffolding and spent some time in St Peters (the one pictured below) which was probably the most amazing church I’ve been inside. I’m not religious nor a huge fan of churches, and I rarely take photos inside any, but this one blew me away the moment we stepped inside – so richly coloured and decorated, I could have sat in there for a lot longer than we did taking it all in
Moving on from there, we went to the Austrian Parliament, the Volksgarten, the national library and the park behind it where there was a statue of Mozart with a really cool treble clef made out of flowers in front of it.
We also wandered past the Viennese film festival in front of the university where there were heaps of pop up bars and food stalls, and walked through what I think was a festival celebrating the region of Austria that Vienna is located in. We stopped there for a beer, and saw all the locals eating a plate of boiled beef on bread with mustard (a Viennese delicacy that is tastier than it sounds). I set out to find some, finally finding a stall that was serving it, but I must have confused the German speaking server because I ended up with an omelette in bread with sausage. Tasty, in a disappointing sort of way. I ended up taking it home and eating most of it for breakfast the next day.
The next day we went on an all day biking tour around the winery region just out of Vienna – the Wachau Valley. We met in the city centre and took the train out to Krems, where we picked up the bikes and rose out to our first winery in the town of Durnstein. Here we would be introduced to the main varietals of the region, the most common being the Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine. Here we also took the exhilarating (read:exhausting) hike up to the castle at the top of the town which worked up an appetite for the schnitzel we lunch we had in a local pub there – which I didn’t even take a photo of as I ended up so hungry (shock horror!).
From there we kept biking, visiting a few more wineries and seeing a few more sights in the region
The day ended with copious amounts of wine with our new found friends on the train on the way home which is entirely legal – the only frowned upon thing is throwing your bottles out the window. After that there was some basketball along the riverbank by some members of the group, and beers at are really cool bar called Charlie P’s where I basically inhaled a pulled beef burger and Ollie talked the ears off some locals about soccer in Austria.
The next day was a rather slow start, but we eventually managed to get into gear and get out to visit Schonbrunn Palace, mostly because I had read that they had a show there where they make a strudel in front of you while you also get to eat strudel. How could that not be fun? It did turn out to be quite the show, which some pastry rolling with flair and a really tasty apple strudel flavoured cold drink – much welcomed in the warm basement room we were in. To top things of, the palace gardens also had a maze and a playground, and we had so much fun in there that we didn’t even bother to go inside the castle.
On our way back, we stopped off at the film festival to try some of the food there, and ended up trying this dish called spätzle which is like a small dumpling – one serve with just cheese and fried onion, one with bacon and capsicum and prosciutto. And some wurst because, well, Austria. We also visited to the Australian food stall, but weren’t quite in the mood for billabong prawns. Then we are some ice cream, because ice cream is delicious and should be eaten every day on holiday.
That night we wandered over to check out the Ferris wheel that has been standing in Vienna since 1897 (although reconstructed after being gutted by a fire in WWII), which is part of a permanent amusement park in an area called the prater. It was loads of fun – Ollie tried out the roller coaster, we went in the go karts (where I got lapped – definitely not a rev head) and we took a ride in the red carriages of the Ferris wheel. They are super fancy, and half of them are set up so they can hired out for dinner for the night – if you want loads of strangers taking photos of your special night that is!
The next day after a slow morning where I got a haircut and Ollie went to visit a flak tower (a WWII Nazi air defence tower/bomb shelter) we visited the Naschmarkt, where there was restaurant after restaurant with waiters spruiking their wares, interspersed with fresh fruit and vegetable stalls. We chose a quiet restaurant down the end out of principle, not liking some of the pushy tactics in the busier areas, and it was a decision well made. We had the tastiest chilli cheese kransky, Ollie chewed down on juicy chicken wings and I was happy to see my heart shaped veal schnitzel arrive on a plate in front of me. It was probably the wrong way to eat it, but I really enjoyed dipping it in the goulash sauce that our other sausages came swimming in!
After that, we had a cultural afternoon and evening visiting the pop art exhibition at the modern art museum and taking a walk along the river banks to check out the street art/graffiti (some good, some average, some just terrible). It was cool down there, with loads of bars, ‘beaches’ and community based areas.
The next day it was on to the next phase of our trip as we picked up our hire car that we would drive around Austria in for the next week. It was a shiny black Mercedes Benz which we named Shaniqua. It beeped at us constantly for no apparent reason, it’s GPS gave terrible instructions, but it was fuel efficient and got us up and down the mountain roads well enough so we couldn’t complain too much.
First off we drove to Graz where it was super hot and, because it was Sunday, everything was shut. I have always thought Perth is a bit quiet on a Sunday but in Austria it’s impossible to get anything done! Anyway, Graz didn’t have too much going for it but we did go up and visit the castle and clock tower, and had a really good meal at an Austrian tapas place called Dir Stierer.
From Graz we moved further west through Austria, to a tiny town called Trieblach where we stayed in a hobbit house in the mountains where Ollie bumped his head more times than he cared to remember. We only stayed here for one night, using it as a starting point for setting out in the Großglockner, an 48km high alpine road that rises to 2576 metres with countless curves and hairpin bends. We even had some apple strudel at the top of the pass, and when we got to Zel Am See at the other end took a swim in the lake!
We stayed in Zel Am See for the next few days, but unfortunately the warm weather disappeared and then rain set in with serious intent. A bit troublesome when most of the activities we had planned involved the mountains and generally being outdoors! Still, we visited the Krimml waterfall (5th highest in the world), and the Eisriesenwelt (ice cave) which was literally a hole in the side of a mountain that we had to catch a frankly ridiculous cable car too and then walk for 30 minutes on a steep uphill gradient. The inside was interesting, but was it interesting enough to justify the walk and terrifying cable car ride? I’m undecided still. We also made it to a gorge that day which was a less gruelling walk.
The next day, we went to Kehlsteinhaus (also known as the Eagles Nest) where we took a bus up to a polished brass elevator inside a mountain that took us up to an old Nazi retreat used by Hitler and his mates to plan out all the terrible things they did. These days it is just a restaurant, and on a clear day you are meant to be able to see Salzburg 20 km in the distance. Unfortunately, it was to a clear day and as we were inside the clouds we couldn’t even see the restaurant when we walked 30metres from it. The meal there was also extremely underwhelming – definitely not recommended.
After that day, the rain just got heavier and heavier as we moved on to Bad Aussee. We did manage to find a few things to do though, including a bowling alley in the back of an Italian restaurant in Obertraun and a beer festival in a small town nearby called Altaussee where we squished on a table with some friendly Austrians, drank beer, schnapps and wine and ate the tastiest roast chicken in a muddy tent on the lake. The strangest moment had to be when about 100 guys rocked up with backpacks having hiked for 2 days to get there, and stuck their walking sticks into the scaffolding holding the tent up to store their bags en masse.
On our last evening out of the big cities, the rain let up a little and we sat by the river for a while with a couple of bottles of local beer named after a nearby mountain called loser. Although we referred to it as winner beer, as when we bought a carton the cashier only charged us 75 cents rather than the advertised 12 euros, and when we questioned the price she just gave us an ‘I don’t speak English face’. So we had a ‘start the car’ moment walking out of there and getting out of the car park as quickly as possible.
For our second to last night, we visited the Wiener Staatsoper (aka the Vienna Opera House) for a performance of Rigoletto, the story of a cursed court jester with a beautiful daughter. It was fun to dress up for a night, and we had really fancy seats in one of the boxes directly facing the stage. There was even a little screen that had English subtitles!
After that, it was on the train to Salzburg for a very short visit – just long enough to whip around the old town and see all the main sights (no sound of music tour unfortunately!), before jumping on the bus to head up to the Czech Republic. Until then!