Thursday, October 31, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Salzburg Part 2

The Salzkammergut stretches from Salzburg, eastwards, along the Austrian Alpine Foreland and the Northern Limestone Alps to the peaks of the Dachstein Mountains.
We took an early morning local bus ride from Salzburg, ninety minutes, to Strobl on the eastern tip of the Wolfgangsee.
Here we came across a yarn shop before sitting in the warm sunshine drinking coffee and waiting for our lake cruise. The proprietor's lack of English, the co driver's lack of German and my bad 'wool/yarn' German amused the shop's customers no doubt. But we did end up with what we wanted with everyone there wishing us multiple 'Aufwiedersehens' on our departure.
The trip across the lake stopping at various villages and resorts along the way was magic.
No description needed, just the pictures.

We left the boat in St. Gilgen and after a very late lunch of beer, goulash and dumplings caught the bus back to town.

Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau had Altenau Palace built in 1606 as a token of his love for Salome Alt. The palace fulfilled its purpose with fifteen children born of their union.
After Wolf Dietrich's death, the palace was renamed "Mirabell" by his successor, Markus Sitticus von Hohenems.
Today Mirabell Palace houses the offices of Salzburg's mayor and the municipal council.
The famous Mirabell Gardens were redesigned around 1690 under Prince-Archbishop Johann Ernst Graf von Thun to plans by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and completely remodeled around 1730 by Franz Anton Danreiter. The Gardens were opened to the public by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1854. Today they are regarded as a horticultural masterpiece and popular backdrop for photographers.
It was a pleasant late afternoon walk around this area and a good way to end our quick visit to Salzburg.

Our Austrian adventure will continue to the Wachau and the village of Duernstein the next morning.

Monday, October 28, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Salzburg Part 1

We packed our bags and trundled our way down the cobblestones to the U-Bahn for the short trip to Vienna's Westbahnhof to pick up our train to Salzburg.
From this recently upgraded and very modern station, the OeBB Railjet wizzed us down the track at 220km/hr to our destination. Quiet, comfortable seats, lots of room, catering if needed and internet all the way, not to mention no security checks. This is the way travel is supposed to be.
Checked into the Hotel Bristol. Very 'olde worlde' and very nice. Parts of the building date back to the 17th century. Around 75 years ago the hotel came into the possession of the Hübner Family, who still run it today.

The first settlements at Salzburg were apparently begun by the Celts around the 5th century BC. Salzburg is on the banks of the Salzach River at the northern boundary of the Alps with the closest alpine peak, the 1,972m Untersberg, a few kilometres from the city centre. The Altstadt, or "old town", is dominated by baroque towers and churches and the massive Festung Hohensalzburg, the city's fortress, which was built in 1077 and expanded during the following centuries.
The city is home to three universities. Mozart is probably its most famous 'son'.
We walked around the myriad of narrow streets, laneways and squares of the old town to get orientated.
This place was one busy tourist town.

Then it was a few glasses of wine at Wein & Co at Salzburger Platzl which became out evening watering hole for the 3 nights. We tried various Riesling, Gruener Veltliner, Blaufraenkish and Zweigelt over this time. I think we decided we could pass on the reds but the Rieslings we had here were outstanding.
And the people watching is great too as they throng to and fro along Linzer Strasse. Plenty of amazing 'sights'.

Then it was a simple Italian dinner at a new restaurant, Refettorio Simpliticas with a new concept "arme Kueche" or cooking of the people. Absolutely marvellous.
Sorry, no English web site.

After a great breakfast, and armed with our Salzburg Pass, we caught the local bus to the cable car at the foot of the Untersberg.
Anyone who knows me, knows that heights are not my thing.
This was going to be a test.
The ride up is amazing. Just when you think you have reached the top, there is a drop over a ridge and another huge loop up onto the peak. The view from up there is spectacular.
The ride down? Just OK for us acrophobiacs.......if you don't look down too much.
Back on solid ground we took the bus to Hellbrunn Palace with its trick fountains.
This is a major attraction in the Salzburg area.
It was built in 1613-19 by Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg and was only meant for use as a day residence in summer, as the Archbishop usually returned to Salzburg in the evening.The Palace is famous for its "watergames". These games were conceived by Markus Sittikus, a man with a keen sense of humour (apparently), as a series of practical jokes to be performed on guests. Notable features include stone seats around a stone dining table through which a water conduit sprays water into the seat of the guests when the mechanism is activated, and hidden fountains that surprise and spray guests while they take part on the tour.
Yes, well, all this didn't appeal to us at all and we 'escaped' the obligatory tour and headed back to the city.

A great lunch at the Zipfer Bierhaus in the old town. The building has been there since 1300. Rostbratwürstel mit Sauerkraut und Erdäpfel for the co driver and Groestl (a bacon, onion and potato fry-up) for me. Who cares about cholestrol when on holidays.
We had been warned that Austrian waiters, especially those in Salzburg, could be a bit 'short' especially with tourists. If that were to happen this could be one of the places. Maybe it was because we were relaxed and not in any hurry or because we always attempted to speak the language that we never encountered any problems. Many in fact replied in English (is my accent that obvious or my language skills so bad?) and went out of their way to be helpful.

From there it was up the up the funicular to the fortress. It is one of the largest medieval castles in  Europe. We explored the courtyard and some of the accommodation wings.
The views over Salzburg from walls are quite spectacular.

The Salzburg Dom is a seventeenth century Baroque cathedral. Founded by Saint Rupert in 774 on the remnants of a Roman town, the cathedral was rebuilt in 1181 after a fire. In the seventeenth century, the cathedral was completely rebuilt to its present appearance.

After a bit more wandering around the streets and squares we decided that our day was finished. All touristed out, we 'retired' to Wein & Co for sustenance.

What to do tomorrow? I think we had had just about enough of the frenetic pace and relentless crowds (and tour groups) of the city and our taste for the countryside had been whetted by the Untersberg excursion.
A trip into the Salzkammergut seemed like a good plan. We had an itinerary packed away somewhere in the paperwork for such an 'emergency'.
By the way, you may have noticed there has been no mention of "The Sound of Music" so far. This article pretty much says it all.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Vienna Part 3

Early morning train to the Naschmarkt.
This market has existed since the 16th century when all fruit and vegetables brought to Vienna by carts had to be sold here.
Nowadays, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world, cheese, baked goods, flowers, meat and seafood.

There are also a lot of small restaurants.
On Saturdays a flea market is set up as an extension of the area.
It was very busy and quite an interesting place to spend some time in. The flea market had some weird and wonderful stuff. Luckily most of it would not fit in our luggage.
Then it was back to the city centre for some yarn shopping and more exploring ending up at the Kunsthistorichesmuseum (Art History Museum).

Here, among many wonderful works of art, is the world's largest collection of paintings by my favourite artist, Pieter Breughel the Elder as well as a large collection of another favourite, Peter Paul Rubens.

The interior of building itself is magnificent and you have to be careful not to let the architecture take over from the art.

My last visit here was in 1973.The return experience did not disappoint.
Back to Rathausplatz for some relaxation at the Vienna Music Festival and enjoy the backdrop of the magnificent Rathaus (Town Hall) itself.

For change we decided to do simple meal away from the local restaurant district and walked up into the suburban streets near our hotel and found a small street cafe where we shared the space with working couples, young families with kids, a few business people and an obvious homeless person enjoying his bottle of wine on a park bench nearby.
With a bit more walking found a hole in the wall frozen yogurt place for a shared dessert.
Back at the hotel we decided we could be getting just a little bit museumed out.
Next day was Sunday and we had a bit of a sleep in. It was also Father's Day in Australia and I talked to the daughter on FaceTime (I love my iPad mini!) for a while.
After breakfast, we decided we should go back to Schoenbrunn for more exploration, this time of the grounds, as we were now not jet lagged, had gained our walking legs and could take more in.
And a return visit to the cafe for more strudel and chocolate cake was not a bad idea either.
This time we took the extended route through the park, past the palm house and zoo and ending up looking back at the rear of the palace across the Great Parterre from the Neptune Fountain. Then we climbed up the zig zag path to the Gloriette for more wonderful views back to the palace and surrounding countryside.
All well worth the second visit.
On the outskirts of the city lie the Vienna Woods and vineyard areas. The expansion of the city area has started to absorb many of these wine villages but they have maintained their individuality and rural atmosphere and are a popular get away the the locals especially on weekends. We had been recommended to visit Nussdorf to do some wine tasting at some of the heurigen (wine taverns) in the area. It was a longish tram trip away, in fact, to this route's terminus.

Sadly, all the taverns we managed to find were shut on this particular day, I guess, because of summer holidays.
However we found a reasonable meal and a glass of wine at local restaurant that was having a kiddies' day. Noisy but fun watching the interaction of quite a racially mixed group of the mostly well behaved children.
Although not a complete disaster, this was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip.
Back into the 'burbs for pizza (you can only eat so many schnitzels) and beer for dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant, Trattoria I Carusi.
The next day was our last in Vienna.
Both the co driver and I have a bit of a fascination for graveyards, finding them always interesting from a historical and social point of view as well sometimes coming across individual graves which can be  quite entertaining. Memories of the famous English comedian, Spike Milligan, who had "I told you I was ill" engraved on his tombstone.
So we took another relatively long tram trip out to the Wien Zentral Friedhof. With an area of 250 ha (just over 600 acres) the cemetery currently contains graves of all denominations.
We walked randomly through the manicured grounds containing some very ornate memorials and to the musicians' Ehrengraeber (honorary graves) where people like Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Strauss are buried.
We ended up in the old (pre World War 2) Jewish section, sadly crumbling, overgrown and neglected, all a result of no community of that time left to maintain the site.
An eerie quiet place with the occasional deer disturbed by our presence.
Another tram trip back across the city to Kunsthaus Wien for a Linda McCartney photographic exhibition.
From what was on display one has to wonder if Linda is a famous photographer because of her connections rather than her photographic ability.
In any case the star of the show was the building itself designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, probably Austria's best known contemporary artist of the 20th century.
Then it was another tram back to Rathausplatz and lovely lunch and wine tasting at Das Wieno
And we finally found the Ephrussi building. It is now the headquarters of Casinos Austria. There is no obvious link to its past.
Where to go for our 'farewell' dinner? A reprise of "Zu ebener Erde und erster Stock" was tempting but resisted.
We walked a bit through what was now familiar territory and on a whim followed a sign down some steep winding stairs to Glacis Biesl just off the MQ.
A nice find. 
It had a lovely garden (but for the smokers) and a pleasant non smoking room (not always easy to find in Vienna) for those who actually want to taste and smell their food and wine.
A good way to finish our visit to Vienna.

Friday, October 25, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Vienna Part 2

Up at 5am on Day 6 of the trip.
Jet lag is obviously waning.
After breakfast we wandered down to The Ring. The Ringstraße is a road (or series of roads) which surrounds old Vienna. In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph issued a decree ordering the demolition of the city walls and moats. He laid out the exact size of the new boulevard as well as the geographical positions and functions of the new buildings. The Ringstraße and the planned buildings were intended to be a showcase for the grandeur and glory of the Habsburg Empire.
We explored the area around the Hofburg and the Volksgarten. The former currently serves as the official residence of the Austrian President but was the Habsburgs' principal winter residence and contains a number of attractions including museums, the national library and the Spanish Riding School to name just a few.
But these are not really our thing and we found the exterior architecture and surrounding gardens much more attractive, especially on a beautiful warm early autumn day.
The following slide show gives you an idea of what we saw on our wanderings.
After morning tea, there was a successful visit to a wool (yarn) shop and then a U-Bahn trip to Schottentor to try to find the Ephrussi building featured in the wonderful book The Hare with the Amber Eyes.
But no luck. More research was required.

So it was onto a tram for a trip around the The Ring and out into the 'burbs, a little, to Schloss Belvedere.
The two magnificent palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere, were built in the 18th century as the summer residence for the important general Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736).
He chose one of the most outstanding Baroque architects, Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, for the project. The palaces and their extensive gardens are considered to be one of the world’s finest Baroque landmarks.

We had a quick lunch then explored both palaces.
The Upper Belvedere contains a collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. The major display, Art around 1900, contains the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection.
The highlights are Klimt’s golden pictures Kiss and Judith as well as masterpieces by Schiele and Kokoschka. There are also prominent works by the French Impressionists and the outstanding collection of Viennese Biedermeier paintings.
This was obviously the place for the co driver to get her Klimt 'fix' and for me to get some more of Schiele.

The weather gods were still with us. High blue sky and a hot day. It was definitely beer time at the MQ on the way 'home'. Found a great place, Cafe Corbaci, with friendly service and a cool outdoor setting.
Then it was some R+R before heading out to dinner to another restaurant in Spittelberg which came highly recommended. "Zu ebener Erde und erster Stock" offers a fusion of new and traditional Austrian cuisine and was probably the best meal we had in Vienna.
The building itself was very attractive and had some history.

Their German web site is more informative than the English one.
The co driver had a venison ragout, while I chose venison escalopes washed down with a bottle of Berg Burg 2012 Federspiel Gruener Veltliner from Spitz in the Wachau.
Light and aromatic with a mineral finish. Getting used to this variety now. And liking it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Vienna Part 1

Despite our very early morning arrival in Frankfurt there were long queues for immigration and security. But we had plenty of time to make our Vienna connection so, after the formalities, enjoyed a good breakfast (the food on Lufthansa was pretty dire) at one of the airport restaurants.
Then it was a looooooong walk to our gate. This turned to be a feature of our trip and not only when connections were involved.
The flight to Vienna was only an hour but we had a long wait for my bag which is always a worry especially when the co driver's was one of the first out.
We had arranged a car to pick us up and we were whisked quickly to our hotel.
As expected our room not ready so we had to fill in 3 hours or so.
It was still unseasonally warm in Vienna so we walked through the local Spittelberg area which was only a few steps from the hotel. This revitalized Biedermeier district near the Museum Quarter has many restaurants, cafés and bars with small gardens, often slightly hidden in romantic courtyards. Here we found a cafe for coffee and cake. The co driver was not too impressed with Sacher Torte, a Viennese specialty, but there were better things to come in the following week.
After a bit of window shopping, we had lunch and our first taste of Austrian wine.
Gruener Veltliner is the main variety. Aromatic on the nose and fruity but dry palate.
But (a lot) more on Austrian wine later.
We finally collapsed into bed at 2pm and slept for 5 hours.

Then we were up to explore a bit more ending up at the Vienna film festival held in the Rathausplatz. Huge outdoor screen, international food and drink stalls. Cold beer was order of the day on a very warm evening. My long neglected German spluttered into action and there were no problems ordering.
Watched a band of older guys on the screen playing, what was to me, some sort of zydeco. They turned out to be Austrian and quite famous. Great music known officially as Alpine Rock.
Check out their videos on You Tube.
Then tiredness hit again and we headed 'home'.
But that didn't last long.
Both wide awake at 2am.
Gotta hate jet lag!
After breakfast, we hit the U-bahn and headed for Schoenbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs and built during the reign of Maria Theresa in the mid 18th century.
Lots of important cultural and political events have taken place here. Franz Joseph 1 'launched' World War 1 from his desk, a six year old Mozart played for Maria Theresa, Napoleon spent time there and John Kennedy extended a hand of conciliation to Khrushchev in 1961 in the Great Gallery.

We got off one stop past the normal one so we could walk back through the extensive gardens.
Only a few people around as it was early.
We self toured 40 of the 1440 rooms. Amazing opulence but this does tend to stir one's social conscience a little. 
When we finished, crowds of bus tours were thronging in. It pays to be early at Austria's biggest tourist attraction if you want to take things slowly and quietly.
Morning tea was at the palace cafe. Apple strudel and whipped cream for me, a chocolate concoction for the co driver all washed down with great coffee. Both excellent!

Then it was back onto the train and into the centre of town.
Walked down the famous shopping and pedestrian only Kärntner Straße to St. Stephen's Cathedral with its colorfully tiled roof and went up the spire. Great views over Vienna and to the Vienna woods and vineyards in the distance.


St. Stephen's was a Romanesque basilica (1210-1240) before Rudolf IV, the first Habsurg ruler born in Austria, commissioned extensive expansion in the Gothic style.
The church interior is said to be the world's most solemn. Can't argue with that despite the huge throng of noisy tourists passing through.
Found a tiny bar in a side street and had a couple of beers plus spicy sausage, senf and brotchen for lunch.

Back onto the train and to the station near our hotel for a visit to the Leopold Museum in the Museum Quarter.
They have a permanent Gustav Klimt exhibition there plus the world's largest collection of work by Egon Schiele.
There also was a moving exhibition of charcoal drawings of the Children of the Holocaust by Bockelmann as well as a collection of Austrian art "Between the Wars".

While the co driver has a thing for Klimt, we both began to be won over by Schiele. Much of his work is dark but the town/village scenes are fascinating both for their simplicity and detail. It's always good to find a new 'favourite'.
The Leopold is a 'must see' on any art tour of Vienna.
Suddenly, late in the afternoon, jet lag returned and we headed to our room for a shower, sleep and revival.
Then out locally into the Spittelberg area for dinner. Found a good restaurant for a schnitzel and beer.
Then more sleep.