Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The hills are alive...

Grüß Gott! That's how people say hello in Austria! Sorry I'm a little bit behind on my posts, but we have been having a great time! We spent the majority of this week in Austria and it's such a beautiful country! We spent Monday and Tuesday in metropolitan Vienna, then on Wednesday we took the train to picturesque Salzburg, where we spent the day Wednesday. We didn't actually stay in Salzburg though, instead we stayed just across the border in Germany in a beautiful town called Berchtesgaden. We stayed there Wednesday and Thursday nights, then returned to Salzburg on Friday afternoon. It's funny because Austria and Germany are extremely similar, while also having their own histories and cultural differences! It's also been a really nice week due to the fact that we slowed down our sightseeing pace just a bit to relax a little more and rest up for Italy and the end of our trip!

On Monday, we arrived in Vienna a little bit later than anticipated on Monday afternoon because our train was 2 hours late leaving Prague! (Considering that our train was supposed to le
ave at 6:40 am and didn't actually leave until 9 am, we were none too pleased...oh well, it's the first major delay we've had yet!) When we arrived in Vienna, the weather was sunny and hot, finally! After checking in to our hostel, we decided to jump on the tram and head out to the Schloss Schönbrunn, the summer residence of Austria's long-ruling Hapsburg family. The palace is known for it's beautiful gardens so we thought that it would be a great way to enjoy the nice weather. The palace itself is very impressive, and it was built to rival Versaille in Paris. Now had we not just seen Versaille a few weeks ago, we probably would have been a little more impressed, but as beautiful is Schonbrunn was, I think Versaille is more grand. While we were at the palace, we were able to tour 40 different rooms that were decorated just like they would have been when the Hapsburgs lived there. Austria is also really big into pastries, especially apple strudel, so while we were at the palace, we were able to to go an apple strudel making demonstration and see the famous way that the royal bakers have been making studel for over 300 years! They gave everyone a copy of the recipe at the end, so I am definitely going to try to make it when I get home because it was delicious! After touring the palace, we spent the rest of our time there just relaxing in the gorgeous gardens and enjoying the sunshine! There is a large monument in the back of the garden called the Gloriette, and we were able to climb to the top of it and get a great view of Vienna. After the gardens, we explored the city a little bit, then got some dinner at a place that served traditional Austrian dishes where we were able to sit outside and people watch. After dinner, we were able to walk around in the nice weather and see all different sights of Vienna lit up at night which was very pretty. Vienna, or Wien, as it is called in German, is a very classy city with lots of shopping. Granted some parts of it are touristy, you can definitely tell that is a more refined city, so it was fun to explore.

On our second day in Vienna, we woke up to POURING rain, so we took our time heading out in to the city. We ended up having brunch at this lovely cafe called Kurkonditorei Oberlaa where they had great spatzle and an amazing chocolate mousse torte! Cam actually said that he thought that the meal he had at this restaurant was the best overall meal he has had all trip! After brunch, we went to the Karlskirche, or St. Charles's Church, where we were able to see the beautifully restored frescoes that adorn the dome of the church. What was cool about this church was that you could actually take an elevator in to the dome and look at the frescoes up close. We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around the city; being it was Tuesday, unfortunately a lot of the museums were closed. However, we really weren't too upset as we are starting to get a little museum-ed out! One of the area's of the city we walked through was this huge open air food market. They had so many varieties of fruits, vegetables, olives, cheese, spices, and basically any food you can think of. As you may know, Cam and I love food (and if you didn't know that, you probably do now as about half of my Europe blog posts so far have been about the food we've been eating!), so getting a chance to experience European markets like this is really great. Overall, just being in Vienna and people watching was fun experience in itself. People here seem to be very in to reading newspapers and magazines and just lingering over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake at one of the city's many refined cafes-it's a lifestyle I could definitely get used to! Later in the afternoon, Cam and I actually got afternoon coffee and cake and one of Vienna's most famous chocolatiers/bakeries, Demel. It was very fancy, and a nice way to spend the afternoon. That's really all we did during our two days in Vienna, nothing too crazy, just a few relaxing days in a lovely city.

On Wednesday, we took the morning train to Salzburg, Austria, which is on the opposite side of the country from Vienna. It was definitely a nice change of pace because Salzburg is a much
smaller city. It's population is around 150,000 people, whereas Vienna has over 1 million people, so it's a lot more urban. Salzburg is really well known for 2 things-it's Mozart's birthplace, and it's also where the movie "The Sound of Music" was filmed. (It was also the home to the real Von Trapp family that the movie was based off of!) Sound of Music is one of my absolute favorite movies ever, growing up, Melissa and I probably watched it at least 1000 times. So knowing this fact, my sweet husband said he wanted to take me on one of the Sound of Music tours! He's never even watched the movie all the way through, but he knows that I love it, so he got tickets for us to go on a 4 hour minibus tour, what a sweetheart :) Our tour didn't leave until later in the afternoon, so we had a few hours to kill, and we spent them walking around the city. Salzburg is a very cute city, and it's interesting because the city has a lot of Italian influence in it's design. One of the 5 squares in the center of the city has a big statue of Mozart, and there are touristy stands selling t-shirts with violins on them and things like that all over the place. We walked along the river that runs through the city and popped in a few pretty churches, but then went to grab some lunch before our tour. Refering to our handy Rick Steve's guidebook, we found a place right off Mozartplatz, or Mozart's square, called Saran's. Cam and I about died laughing when we found the place because in the front of the restaurant, the owner, Saran, had this little shrine to Rick Steves. He had copies of the cover of all of his guidebooks, and then he had a huge picture of him and Rick Steves together, it was so funny. We had a delicious lunch there, then headed to meet our tour guide to start our Sound of Music tour. When we got to the mini bus and saw the crowd that was waiting to start the tour, we quickly realized that we were maybe a third of the average age of the group. It appeared that the Sound of Music was a big draw for all the elderly American tourists in Salzburg, just picture Cam and I in this situation in your mind and laugh a little, because it's really all we could do. (I had to give Cam an extra big hug for agreeing to go on this tour with me haha!) We loaded into a mini bus with a bunch of retirees, and off we went! Our tour guide, Marcus, took us all around dowtown Salzburg and we saw different things from the movie such as the convent where Maria was a nun and one of the fountains where Maria and the children are singing the 'Do Re Mi'. Then we drove out of the main city center and saw a bunch of other things from the movie, such as the palace that was used for the back of the Von Trapp home (it has a lake in front of it, it's where the Maria and the children fall out of their row boats into the water and Captain Von Trapp gets all mad!), we saw the gazebo where Liesel and Rolf sing 'Sixteen Going on Seventeen', and then we drove out to the lakes district near Salzburg and saw the wedding church from the movie. Being we haven't had a car on this trip, we've mainly been sticking to the cities we've been visiting and using public transportation, so this tour was a great way to get out in to Austria's gorgeous countryside. The lakes we saw were gorgeous and there are green mountains everywhere; our tour guide even pointed out the mountains where they filmed the scene at the very beginning of the movie where Julie Andrews sings the movie's title song. Being there in person was really amazing, it's even more beautiful then it looks in the movie! Cam and I have had SO much rain on this trip, but thankfully we had beautiful, sunny weather for the entire afternoon of our tour! While we were driving around in the minibus, our tour guide also told us a lot about the real Von Trapp family, and then we listened to the Sound of Music soundtrack while driving through all the beautiful scenery. Was it cheesy? Yeah, kind of. Was it awesome? Most definitely.

After our tour finished Wednesday evening, we hopped on a train from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden, which is a little bit south of Salzburg, right over the border in the German Alps. When we stepped out of the train station, the beautiful mountains were right in front of us, and the mountain
side was dotted with adorable little brown and while chalet-style resorts. Our hotel was about a mile from the train station, and it was quite a hilly climb! (And of course it started raining while we were walking to our hostel, that has happened quite a few times this trip...) We finally got to our hotel, which was high up and had a great view of the mountains and the valley below. After staying in hostels all trip, it was SO nice to check into an actual hotel, and this one was actually really really nice! After our walk in the rain, we were in the mood to have a little snack, so went to one of the hotel's restaurants and ordered some apple strudel-hands down, BEST apple strudel we've ever had. (It was so good, we originally got one to split, but then as soon as we tasted it, we ordered a second one because we each wanted our own!) After a great night's sleep in the comfy hotel bed, we woke up Thursday morning to...rain. So we did what we have done all trip, just put on our rain coats and proceed with our day! (I think Cam is a lot more used to the rain then I am!) We had breakfast in downtown Berchtesgaden, then walked around the cute little resort town with all it's little stores and cute German facades. It's funny, of all the places we have been so far, Berchtesgaden is probably where we had the most difficulty with the language barrier. So far most of the cities we've visited have been much larger and have had tourists from all over the world, and every service person we had spoke English. However, Berchtesgaden seemed to be a much more regional tourist attraction, and the only people that seemed to be vacationing here were Germans and Austrians, so basically nothing was in English. However, Berchtesgaden has one claim to fame that might ring a bell with history buffs-it is the sight of Hitler's Eagle's Nest. This is basically a house that sits high a top this mountain which was given to him as birthday present. It's apparently been featured in different History Channel specials about WWII, and it's how Cam first heard about Berchtesgaden in the first place. We took the bus out to the Eagle's Nest on Thursday afternoon (in the rain). You take a bus way up into the mountains, then you go in an elevator thru the mountain to the top, and end up inside the Eagle's Nest. Today, the building itself is a restaurant, but the sight is a major tourist attraction because of the beautiful views it offers of the German Alps. It was really cool because we were actually so high up, we were above the rain! So we were able to take pictures and enjoy the nice views of the mountains. After the Eagle's Nest, we took another bus to one of the lakes near Berchtesgaden, Lake Königssee, where we were able to just sit and relax since the rain was starting to clear up. We had dinner at a local place where we got to sit outside, and I had a fish that was just caught right from the lake! (And they served me the entire fish, head to tail...I love fish, but I had to cover up the face with a napkin while I was eating it because I don't like anything staring at me while I eat!)

On Friday morning, two great things happened! First we woke up to the sun shining through our hotel window, it was a beautiful day out! Second, we turned on our cell phone and found out that Cam's brother and sister-in-law had had just had their baby girl! We have been waiting all trip to get this exciting news, and we are so happy to have a new niece, Meara Elizabeth
! With that joyous news, we went to go have breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants. They had a huge buffet and we were able to sit out on the terrace in the morning sunshine, where we had a breathtaking view of the mountains. As much as I love the city, it was so refreshing to be out in nature again, and being in these mountains, you really like you are in God's creation. After breakfast, we went back down to Lake Königssee and decided to go for a boat cruise around the lake. The lake is surrounded by mountains and it is crystal clear, it's such a scenic area, I understand why so many Germans come here for vacation! Our boat cruise stopped at a few different points around the lake where we could get out and walk around and enjoy the scenery. At our second stop, we were able to hike a little way to this smaller lake that was so beautiful because it was so smooth and glassy, it gave great reflections of the mountains around it. On our way back to the boat, we walked by this pasture on the side of the mountain where a bunch of cows were grazing. These cows weren't fenced in, but they all had cow bells on, so it was just very idyllic with the mountains, the lake, and the sound of cowbells clinking in the breeze. We saw a little sign that said Käse (the German word for cheese!), so we headed in that direction. We got to get right up close to all the cows in the pasture, and when we got to the cheese house, there were these two baby cows that came running up to us, they were so adorable! Here we are in the middle of the mountains, petting some cute baby cows, it was amazing! And to top it off, we got to sample some different types of cheese that had just been made that morning! Of all the fun things we have done this trip, this afternoon definitely ranks near the top for me! At the end of our boat cruise, we hopped on another train and headed back to Salzburg in order to get our train to Munich. We had a few extra hours, so we were able to spend some more time walking around Salzburg, checking out the street markets, having some dinner, and just taking in the city before catching our train to Munich (where we are now, and I'll be posting about soon!).

We really enjoyed our time in Austria and Berchtesgaden; not to be redundant, but it really is just so beautiful here! The mountains, the picturesque towns, and the delicious food made it another wonderful week here in Europe, and it was really nice to get in to the outdoors a little bit more. While Vienna was a lovely city, I personally think I enjoyed Salzburg more just because it had a little bit more of a smaller feel (ok, and the Sound of Music tour may have had something to to with it!). Being out in the lakes and mountains for Germany and Austria gives you that great, peaceful feeling of being that you get when you're in Northern Michigan, but mulitiplied by about 1000! In Austria and Germany, we've seen so many retired people traveling, and it makes me sad to think that Cam and I might not get to travel for a really extended period of time like this again until we are that age, which is kind of depressing...sorry to be a Debbie Downer, hopefully that won't be the case, we both love to travel and are having a great time on this trip, and we definitely would like to come back to Europe (especially this region) again soon, even if it's not for as long! Well Munich calls, so I need to get going, but I'll be posting again soon!

2 comments:

Your sweet words make my day! :)

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