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Autumn 2016 Travels in Europe: A Sachertorte Day
October 4, 2016
Rain fell all day in Vienna, but that did not stop the sightseeing and travel experiences.
The History Museum is the fourth largest museum in Europe, and it is excellent! From ancient Babylonia to the classical artists, the museum is filled with beauty and wonderment. I sat in the Rubens gallery and simply soaked in the magnitude of the art. Room after room after room of art by the world’s greats–it was overwhelming.
While Mike and Sandra, Kathy and Wayne enjoyed the museum, Allen and Rhonda and Sherlene went to the famous market street to peruse the foods that were on display from around the world. Allen commented that most of it looked really good; he just didn’t know how to get it home.
We all went to an evening concert featuring works by Strauss and Mozart at the Kursalon, one of Vienna’s major performing art centers. What a wonderful experience! The musicians were from the National Symphony and were outstanding. Often dancers and opera singers joined the musicians to provide emphasis to the various works. Our trip to Vienna somehow seemed complete–a music concert where so many artists lived and composed such melodious tunes.
Kathy and I did share a mid-afternoon snack of sachertorte, the famous Viennese dessert. Created for a Prince, it is a dense chocolate and apricot cake covered with a dark chocolate shell. It will quench the chocolate cravings of almost anyone. Yes, I let Kathy have the last bite. WEG
Autumn 2016 Travels in Europe: Up to Heaven
October 3, 2016
Up, up we went in a scaffolding elevator inside the beautiful and tall Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) in Vienna towards the dome painted with scenes of heaven. “We’re going to heaven today,” commented a fellow passenger. Petrified of heights and in an open elevator, I replied, “I just didn’t want to go today.” The scaffolding was in place so that the dome could be repaired and restored. Once we reached the dome level and stepped out onto the scaffolding, I froze, the scaffolding trembling and shaky. I saw a chair and asked Kathy to help me to it, somehow thinking that if I sat I would be safer. That is when I saw the narrow open scaffolding going further heavenward to the copula far above where they were restoring. Kathy said, “Let’s climb.” I said, “No way.” I could not believe they would let you, but they did. She insisted and said she was going. I said, “Go ahead.” She did. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when she returned from 236 feet above ground level, and we descended to the main floor of the beautiful church. What an experience!
Schoenbrunn Palace was the summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty, of first, the Holy Roman Empire and then the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Grand it is! Imagine huge crystal chandeliers in gold and white rooms in room after room, and you get an idea of the grandeur. The grounds are also amazing with magnificent gardens and fountains and statuary.
We are staying in apartments in a historic building in Vienna within easy walking distance to the State Opera and other areas of significance. The apartments are wonderful. Wood floors, separate living rooms, one and a half bathrooms, kitchens, separate bedrooms. While each of our apartments is different they all have the same wonderful amenities. Huge and comfortable, we are quite pleased. We had intermittent rain today, but we managed to stay dry and we ate at a highly-rated cafe coffee house nearby. Rhonda and Allen, Sandra and Mike, Sherlene and Kathy and I say “hello” to all our family and friends. WEG
Autumn 2016 Travels in Europe: Chilled, Preserved, Displayed
September 30, 2016
The Tyrolian village of Hallstatt draws one quickly into its charm. The narrow cobblestone streets reveal mountain gingerbread-style houses stacked above each other on the mountainside with the clear and clean lake shimmering on the other side. A waterfall falls in the middle of the city just above the cozy village square. A Lutheran church with a beautiful steeple commands the square, and a Catholic church sits majestically on the hill above. “Picturesque” does not describe the scene adequately enough.
Our group explored the city; yet, other activities also beckoned. Mike and Sandra went to the unique ice caves high above the mountain lake. Not only did they do the remaining strenuous climb after the bus dropped them off, but braved over 500 steps inside the cave to see the ice formations that were like stalactites and stalagmites in regular caves, but made of ice in this cave. Wayne and Kathy took the funicular (a cross between an elevator and cog train) up the mountain to the world’s oldest salt mine. 7,000 years of production have brought wealth through the ages to Hallstatt and still today, 300,000 tons of salt are produced annually. Riding a run-away salt mine train inside the cave and sliding down steep 100 yard slicker slides into the mine depths were exciting parts of the journey. We did not know we had bought tickets for amusement park rides, but in reality, these activities were a part of the miners’ everyday existence. Allen, Rhonda and Sherlene went to the Bone Museum, where they viewed old skulls, displayed with the name of each deceased carefully inscribed for public view. Because usable land is scarce in Hallstatt, those who have been dead the longest are dug up, the bones dried and sculls inscribed, in order to make room for new bodies in the grave site. Sherlene took one look and fled the site. Allen took pictures and Rhonda looked for long lost relatives.
It was a fascinating day in one of the prettiest places on this planet. WEG
Glory of a By-Gone Era
The Royal Imperial Habsburg’s ruled the Holy Roman Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were industrious, hard working, generally frugal and duty-bound. Emperor Franz Joseph said, “When you have worked until you are exhausted, you have had a good day.” He practiced what he preached, waking at 4 AM for morning prayer and then working 16 hours straight. He slept in his grand palaces on a hard iron framed bed in simple circumstances.
As we toured the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Imperial Summer Palace, we walked through beauty and history. Gold and white rooms with huge chandeliers and porcelain fire stoves, with beautiful paintings of Habsburg historic events and family members went on without end. After all, there are over 1,400 rooms in the palace complex. Silk wall-coverings and Belgium tapestries adorned others. The magnificent ballroom with frescoed ceilings and crystal glass mirrors held many important world events, including the meeting of JFK and Premiere Khrushchev in the 1960s. Empress Maria Theresa married off her daughters to secure the Habsburg reign. One, Marie Antoinette, died at the guillotine during the French Revolution. The Empress said that she only hoped that the daughters would do their duty, take care of their husbands and save their souls–whether they were happy or not did not matter. The Habsburg reign came to an end at the conclusion of World War I, since the Empire was a part of the defeated Axis powers. All the palaces became state museums.
The exterior gardens of the Schönbrunn are gigantic and spectacular. A hedge and flower maze surrounded by a long arbor adorn one side of the palace while the opposite side hosts a rose arbor and garden with fountains. The rear gardens reveal magnificent flower design plantings lined with statuary and sheered hedges. Fountains dance in the gardens overseen by the amazing Gloriette, a white marble fountain with statuary at the base rising up to a masterful building silhouette on the hill above. Truly, this is one of the most wonderful gardens in the world.
Kathy and I are proud of our ability to maneuver with public transportation. Today, without map or help, we moved through Vienna like pros.
WEG – Sunday, September 27, 2015
We arose late and lollygagged for awhile, then Kathy said she was going to take a nap. She slept another 3 1/2 hours. That kind of put a hole in the day, so we called family and spent time talking. On a long trip, there comes the time to take time off from all the adventures, and our comfortable apartment was a wonderful place to take a respite. Eventually, as evening approached, I said, “I’m taking off my pj’s and dressing to go out for a walk,” and that is what we did.
The air was fresh and clean, the temperature perfect at 55 F. We were surprised with the large number of people out in the evening air. We strolled past magnificent government buildings brightly lit since Vienna is the national capitol. Other historic buildings and fountains came into view as we followed the Ringstrasse, or ring road, that ties the inner core into a whole. My health app on the phone was ringing happy tones as I piled up the steps on our invigorating walk. Vienna is beautiful by night!
As we tended homeward, we stopped into a nice coffee caffe for a light evening meal and some sachertorte, a traditional Vienna dessert. It was not only a lazy day, but a healthy one at that.
WEG – Saturday, September 26, 2015
Our journey to Vienna brought out the sweater. It became cooler the closer we came to the capitol of Austria. It felt like a winter day in Texas, around 45 F with a light rain in a light breeze. Huddling inside the grand St. Stephen’s Cathedral while the organ played felt exactly right. It was dark inside and the stained glass windows were bright with color. The light on the golden altar gave a shimmering effect. In spite of the massive size of the room, it felt cozy and warm. We ducked into a cozy restaurant in the early evening for a wonderful meal. The dark paneling and close tables filled with people was just right for the weather. The waiter told us what to eat because it was cold outside–hot skillet meals with fried potatoes and spaetzel with bacon and eggs. It was, in fact, just right.
We had some interesting experiences today. Getting to Vienna, I was surprised that we were getting off at the West Bahnhof, since we always go to the Hauptbahnhof (main station). Our apartment was in the city close to most sites and not close to the West Bahnhof. We ended up needing to take an underground train and a tram to get close to our lodging. (We could have taken a taxi, but I am sure it would have cost $30 because of the distance and the U/tram tickets cost us $3–I am not good at spending more than necessary, especially when it is a challenge–I don’t tend to stress when on an adventure.) Amazingly, with the help of friendly Viennese, this trip was quick and a piece of cake.
Getting into our apartment was another story. Our directions were not complete–we found the apartment, but we did not know how to get inside. Finally, I got someone to answer a phone and the person said, “Why didn’t you push buzzer 42?” Our directions said nothing about buzzer 42! We were led to our beautiful and spacious apartment and given keys. Yeah! The Rathaus (city government) spire is right outside our fifth floor (yes, there is an elevator) window. EXCEPT, after walking to the Rathaus and St. Stephen’s Cathedral and eating our wonderful meal, my key got stuck in the big front door to our apartment building. Wonderful, helpful people tried to help us get the key out to no avail. You can’t just leave a key in the main door of an apartment building, can you? “NO,” Kathy said, “I’m not sleeping down here all night!” I finally got “Buzzer 42” to answer the phone. “You must have positioned your key wrong; it goes perpendicular to the earth to pull it out.” Sure enough, turning my key 90 degrees until it was perpendicular to the ground allowed it to be pulled out of the latch easily. I was so very thankful that German-speaking Buzzer 42 knew the word perpendicular. WEG – Friday, September 25, 2015
Pumpkin has appeared on the menus as the autumn season begins here in Austria. Kathy is enjoying cream of pumpkin soup, and I am having pumpkin goulash. As we traveled to Melk to visit the Abbey, we saw field after field of orange pumpkins ready for the picking.
The Benedictine Abbey in Melk was founded over 900 years ago when Leopold II gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks. Today, the Abbey is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Awesome is a good word to describe it. The yellow gold colored Abbey sits massively on a rock promontory. The displays are both educational and devotional at the same time. The theme of the Abbey is the Cross of Christ, and it is well integrated into every presentation. Artifacts from throughout the history of the Abbey are beautifully displayed as you wind your way to the Baroque masterpieces held within the grounds.
The first inkling of the beauty to come is in the grand marble dining room, done with both natural and faux marble painting. Massive and with a dramatic ceiling fresco, the dining room played host to many Austro-Hungarian personages. From the dining room, we are led out onto a courtyard balcony that overlooks the Austrian countryside with the Danube River flowing below. From there, the great library, one of the world’s finest, held our rapt attention. The main room holds 10,000 texts with the same ancient binding on each. The bookshelf woodwork with gold etchings is marvelous and intricate; the frescoed ceiling is stunning. The library contains over 750 printed works before 1500 with a total today of 100,000 volumes in all.
The treasure, however, is the Abbey Church. Considered the pinnacle of Baroque design, the room is aglow with gold. The beautiful frescoes and statuary harmonize into the total design, intended to portray heaven on earth. At first sight, we stood transfixed, not moving, such was the sight.
It was a “beautiful” day in Austria! WEG – Thursday, September 24, 2015
Refreshed and Inspired
We awoke to 34 degrees Fahrenheit and looked down from our hotel room balcony on a clear glassy blue lake whose shores licked the base of tall mountain peaks. Swans swam the shores. We got back under our warm down duvets and snoozed again. Eating a late breakfast, we determined to spend the day leisurely in Hallstatt and not slide down the shoots into the world’s oldest salt mine, or take the cable car up to see the peaks of the Tyrol and a mountain glacier or visit the skull cemetery, but rather just soak in the beauty of the town on the cliffs by the lake. And soak it up we did. God willing, we can return for the other activities another time.
I discovered Hallstatt by searching the internet about Europe’s prettiest villages or Top 10 things to see in Europe or Austria and such, and the name Hallstatt, Austria, appeared often. So onto the itinerary it went. We soon knew why so many love the city and the surrounding lake and mountains. While the main street is relatively flat as it runs along the lake, the village reaches up the cliffs for businesses and homes. Stone or wooden staircases cling to rock cliffs or tunnel into the rock for upward mobility. Homes and shops are built on solid rock foundations, and boulders protrude through some. The buildings and homes have thick wooden shingles and are painted in pastels. Gardens are planted wherever possible and flower boxes with flowers blooming profusely adorn almost every building. Thick green moss clings to walkways and railings and roof shingles. The “white gold” salt made the region wealthy, and while the mines are no longer major producers, salt in one form or another is found in most shops. Two beautiful churches adorn the city’s skyline, one Lutheran/Protestant and the other Roman Catholic. A waterfall drops into the mid- point of the city, and the lake and mountains are always in view. We walked the narrow lanes and dropped into shops that caught our attention. We watched a wood craftsman at work on his lathe. Later in the day, we dined in a lakeside restaurant under a huge tree whose leaves were now turning yellow as the fall approaches–lake fish soup and cheese dumpling soup, beef goulash with spaetzle and roast breast of duck with red cabbage and cranberries and, of course, the local beer. As usual, mine was weis (blond or light colored) and Kathy’s dunkel (dark). As they say, opposites attract.
As the evening approached we headed back to our hotel, relaxed and refreshed on a day when the sun shone brightly and the temperature was a mild 64F. WEG – Monday, September 21, 2015
Up and Away
Almost immediately after we left Munich for Austria via train we began an upward ascent. It took some doing, however. Germany closed its border both from and to Austria due to the crisis of refugee/immigrants, which the European media is now reporting is less than 20% from Syria’s war-torn provinces and mostly people (young men) seeking better opportunity in the west, meaning northern Europe and mainly Germany. Our train was cancelled, and after standing in an information line in the Hauptbahnhof (main or central train station) for awhile, we were reassigned a new route which could get us into Austria. The rub was that now we had to make four transfers and add another five hours to our travel. At least we were able to use our original tickets “no questions asked” even if we were now on different trains and times than the original tickets stated. So off to the new train we went, and soon found that all the first class seats were pre-reserved (we had reserved seats on our original schedule which did not work on the new train) and the tourist class was standing room only. Kathy noticed that the train had a dining car and immediately went for a table. We stuffed our luggage behind our seats and sat down to a linen covered table with comfortable chairs and ordered breakfast as the train began an ascent into the German highlands. No room in first class soon meant nothing.
Upward and upward we went as our trains eventually took us into the Austrian Tyrol. Amazing sights unfolded before our eyes: mountains of raw timber covering acre upon acre ready for some application to industry or home use; tidy farms with cattle grazing on the hillside–how do those cattle seem to stand so effortlessly on such steep hills; corn fields almost ready for harvest; bright yellow fields with some crop of which I have yet to discover the name; neatly stacked cords of wood by barns and homes ready for winter fires; dark thick forests extending into the horizon; mountain lakes with cozy villages with tall-steepled or onion-domed churches, usually white or yellow, nudging against the waters. Gradually, as we ascended higher and higher, the steep green hills and farms disappeared and the forests receded, roof pitches on buildings became steeper and jagged mountain peaks appeared. We had moved into the high mountain Tyrol, and it was awesome!
Both sides of the train held extraordinary views. I was almost dizzy from going back and forth. Then, amidst all that beauty, came something even more beautiful. On our car was a pretty Austrian mother, cradling her infant daughter in her lap, with a three-year-old son as blond as blond can be and big blue eyes looking on as she read a children’s story book in German and softly sang while caressing her daughter’s cheek. Time both stood still and warped–what my mother did for me and Kathy did for our children and they for theirs, as I am sure is also true for you, and as it was being done before me then and there as the train moved past one mountain peak to another and across rivers and by lakes until we arrived at our destination high in the Tyrol. WEG – Sunday, September 20, 2015
A postscript – As we post this blog, our travel companions, Rhonda & Allen Krahn, have returned safely home to Texas, and Dan & Charlotte Berg are flying over the East Coast of the continental United States on their way back to Houston.
Our train ride from Innsbruck to Salzburg was magnificent. Allen, Charlotte and Dan snapped away as one majestic mountain scene after another passed in front of us on either side of the train. How impressive is God’s handiwork!
Once we arrived in Salzburg we immediately saw police and military cordons. This was new. We had seen a larger number of safety personnel along the way than we were used to seeing. But this was different. Military and local police were everywhere. Then, we began to see large numbers of people from the Middle East clustered in groups. We inquired and found out that these were refugees/immigrants and now numbering in the thousands in Salzburg. We were told 4,000 had arrived today alone. Some were families, and many were young men. Outside the central station, relief agencies were providing food and counseling help, and tents were set up. While the situation was tense, there was no chaos. It was obvious that some of the children riding up and down the escalator had never seen such a contraption before by the look of amazement on their faces.
With that sober experience in our minds, we taxied to our hotel and took a walking tour of beautiful Salzburg with the Hohensalzburg Fortress towering on the bluff above the city. We saw Wolfgang Mozart’s home on one of the busy streets. Salzburg is an upscale city, clean and charming with many fashionable shops.
Once back at the hotel, Allen was again not feeling well. He made the decision to go home and checked with the trip insurance folks about the details. He has had a bout with his prostate in the past and it was a difficult recovery and he did not want the issue to progress so far that hospitalization would be required while in Europe. We traveled to a medical clinic to get a doctor’s permission for him to travel as required by the insurance. Thorough tests were performed. How thankful we are that we took out travel insurance for this trip! Unfortunately, the doctor would not give permission for Allen to travel. After calling to the medical office Allen uses at home, the decision was made to admit Allen to the hospital here in Salzburg. The process was easy and fast–no questions asked about anything other than medical needs. The room was ready immediately and the nurse was waiting to get Allen settled into his room. Everything is modern at this large university hospital. Prayers for speedy recovery are requested for Allen. WEG – September 16, 2015