My favourite things

Austria

I had ‘Sound of Music’ songs in my head as soon as we boarded the train from Budapest to Salzburg. Our accommodation was a big hostel-style place with a few disappointments but a good location.

Salzburg was gorgeous – everything you might expect and more: from the mountains surrounding, the castle perched high above, the river running through it; to the great shopping, excellent food and cultural attractions. I’d love to go back to the area in winter and see more of the lakes and mountains, but it was great to see it under cloudless skies. Adding to its charm was the number of folk actually dressed in lederhosen! There were also a lot of pearls and suits around for the Salzburg festival, making Alex and I realize that our scruffy t’s and jandals might not cut it here.

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Our surroundings (and the nice shops) may have swayed our accidental afternoon shopping. Sick of our suitcase contents, we ‘only’ bought a couple of tops each – our first purchases of such a kind on the trip. We then proceeded to justify it by sending a decent sized box of gear we deemed unnecessary to Dad in NZ, lightening our load somewhat. It only takes a couple of train stations to wish you had nothing but a small rucksack! The post office was an experience in itself: the Austrian chap proceeded to burst out laughing & whistle in horror at our request to send a package to New Zealand. “Neuseeland! Neuseeland?!” he kept proclaiming in laughter. He was pretty crack up and actually damn efficient at his job, which was reassuring for the safety of our gear.

I wasn’t sure I was enough of a die-hard fan to part with 60-odd euro for the bus tour, but we did go to the Panorama Museum to see an exhibition on the story behind the Sound of Music. It was actually pretty interesting reading about the family and the Hollywood take on it. The hotel played the movie in the common area every night, but we never partook. Between that and Mozart, Salzburg really went to town on its famous associations.

We made like a Salzburgian and hired bikes for a day, covering some good distance along the river side and visiting the Mirabell Gardens. We also most-importantly followed our noses to a local brewery and had a pint in their beer garden. Apparently I’m somewhat kamikaze on a bicycle, but we came away sans any insurance claim – always a successful day. In the evening we walked up around the castle to the soundtrack of a free opera screening happening down below as part of the big festival – it made the whole setting rather dramatic! All of the houses and lanes near the town were really nice, so all in all it seemed a cool place to live and an even better one to visit! Salzburg is definitely one of my faves thus far.

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Innsbruck heId so much potential, but we arrived in 28 degrees and woke up the next morning to 8 degrees, rain and the surrounding mountains had all but disappeared. Given our main ‘to-do’ was a €40-something ride away up the awesome gondola in the centre of town…the weather pretty much halted our plans. After checking the stirling weather-forecast for our week ahead hiking in the nearby Dolomites, we donned our thermals & rain jackets and went on the hunt for wet-weather pants. The ski-town had awesome outdoors shops, great savory strudel (our first) and a cool pub which you could easily imagine full of the mountain crowd in winter. Fortunately, we were staying in an awesome hotel in Innsbruck, so I was also pretty pleased to spend time in the luxury of a deep bath, and we attempted unsuccessfully to overcome our sudden addiction to Austrian wafer biscuits (like Griffins pink wafers but oh so much better).

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The ‘golden roof’ and the window boxes we’ve become so accustomed to seeing

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After a bit of to’ing and fro’ing in and out of this country, we said “so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu” to Austria, and headed for Dobiacco….

Art for art’s sake

Austria

Vienna was where we picked up our tour group to begin our Eastern Europe travels. The tour included only one day in Vienna, so we made sure to get there two days early. Here is a map of our tour, which takes two weeks until 26 August (due to the delay in posting this we are now half way through – more posts to come).
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We arrived on Friday night and spent Saturday morning breakfasting and wandering around the Naschmarkt, not far from our hotel. The Naschmarkt was probably one of the best markets I’ve been to. It’s spread out over two rows. One row has 120 different stalls selling pretty much everything – cheese, hummus, bread, meat, fish etc. The other row has cafes and bars. The Viennese aren’t normally big on breakfast apparently, but on Saturday morning the Naschmarkt seemed a popular place to catch up with friends and family – great atmosphere.

Fueled up, we wandered further towards the Inner Stadt to the MuseumsQuartier. Here we found three of the popular galleries and purchased a bulk ticket. We ventured into the Leopold Museum to find six floors of art, mainly by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. With little art knowledge, both were new to us. This chap Rudolf Leopold amassed a huge collection of Schiele paintings and sold the whole lot to the Austrian government for €160m. The collection would now be worth €600m.

To be a great artist, it seems you have to be bonkers, and these two were no different (Schiele, a protege of Klimt, got in a bit of trouble for exhibiting erotic drawings with children around when he was in Cesky Krumlov – our next stop). Klimt and Schiele broke new ground with their work, which was considered to be grotesque and pornographic at the time. You can see why – it takes a certain kinda guy to do nude self portraits. His “style” meant that he drew slightly larger than normal hands and feet. I was a little confused as to why he didn’t apply that style to his other bits in his nudes?

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading about Schiele – a young guy having the balls to do something which was pretty offensive for Austrians in the early 1900s, especially when it was a version of him on the canvas!
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Next door is the MUMOK gallery (a big grey box), housing pop and fashion art. Most of it was beyond us (i.e. the cardboard boxes stuck to the wall), but some of the Andy Warhol stuff was very cool.
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Emmy the art critic

Excellent Viennese Vietnamese for dinner again – it’s what you want after all the stodgy meals.

Day two and more art in the Kunsthisoriches Museum quoted as having “one of the finest collections in Europe”. We had probably done our dash with art, so we focussed on a few of the more famous – Caravaggio, Rubens, Raphael and Rembrant. The place is so huge, if you spend too long there the art just becomes a blur of Jesus’s and ginger Adam & Eves.

So, for something different, we went off to find some Hundertwasser, the Austrian artist / architect who became a NZ citizen and moved to the Far North in his later years. The first thought I had when we found his building was of the toilets in Kawakawa (for which he is also responsible). It’s amazing that the style is so recognisable. Not a straight line to be found.
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We met the tour group in the evening – 15 people: two Brits, three Canadians, eight Aussies and us, ranging from 23 to 66 years of age. Our guide is Hungarian.

The next day was one of our best. It included a three hour walking tour of the city with a local Viennese guide. We then ate schnitzel and cream strudel at Cafe Central (where Lenin and Trotsky had their coffee). In the afternoon, we stopped back at the Naschmarkt to pick up some blue cheese, bread, hummus, olives, bread and macarons and took them out to Schloss Schonbrunn. This insane place is the summer palace of the Habsburgs and second only to Versailles as a show of enormous wealth.

The gardens stretch for miles and they were a popular spot for evening exercise (the Austrians prefer to walk with poles – not their neighbours from Poland – walking poles – maybe they feel like they’re skiing when there’s no snow – sorry this blog is pretty dry, even for me). We walked up the hill to the Gloriette (pic below), sat on the grass and gazed towards the Palace with Vienna in the background. Not bad.

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The Gloriette snapped by Em