Hohensalzburg Castle is the big ominous looking castle that basically takes up the entire hill that it sits on. From atop the hill there are also some marvelous views of Salzburg. It was a bit of a walk getting up there, but there’s a tram thing for the Americans.
On the way from Vienna to Munich we allotted ourselves one our to have a quick tour of Salzberg. As it turned out, on arrival it seemed all very industrial and absolutely nothing looked like the Sound of Music. There was much confusion. This can’t be right, we thought, so we punched “tourist information centre” into the GPS and requested they give us a map, highlight two things from the sound of music and one other cool thing we could check out. The main thing we learned from the tourist information centre was that actually all the good stuff is in a huge pedestrian only ‘old town’ area. So with some helpful direction giving we were sent to a parking building and on our way.
Once we found the pedestrian area, the hills seemed much more alive and we took a good old wander around. There were loads of majestic hotels, but I got the feeling I wouldn’t want to stay there for any more than 2 or 3 days, and actually one hour to check it out was plenty.
Here’s some highlights from around both the old and new bits of Salzberg:
While I most definitely vow never to travel to touristy places in the peak of summer ever, ever again, a definite perk is that almost everywhere you go you stumble across all kinds of events and activities.
In Vienna it was the Jazz Festival, or at least a small part of it. At Rathausplatz, Near the Hofburg Palace we stumbled across an amazing food market with stages set up, music playing, little pop-up cocktail bars everywhere and an amazing selection of international food stalls. None of the live music was actually on while we were there, but the atmosphere was great, and to be quite honest I was much more interested in browsing the food stalls!
It was definitely the most flash, high tech food festival type set up I had ever seen, and all of the stalls had beautiful, very well designed set ups. I only wish I had taken more photos of them! Too busy enjoying my mojitos and dumplings after a hard day of museum-going.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum (“Museum of Art History”) in Vienna, was (at the time) the largest collection of famous works of art I had ever seen. It was later overshadowed by the Louvre, but I found this one much more engaging and manageable. It also happens to be in a fabulously glorious building.
It is currently showing the Klimt Bridge, a bridge assembled to give an up close view of Gustav Klimt’s paintings which were glued to the walls in the spaces between the columns and above the arcades in the main staircase in 1891.
It was really fascinating to see the works up close of so many famous artists (Rubens, Raphael, Rembrandt, and that’s just the R’s), but one of my favourite paintings was this one – a somewhat fantastical depiction of an artists studio, which actually bore quite the resemblance to the museum itself – there were just so many paintings occupying every space of wall possible it was hard to take them all in and not be slightly overwhelmed.
I also had a shamelessly uneducated moment as I thought to myself “oh I recognise that one”…
… and realised it was from the opening sequence of Desperate Housewives. Note to self: more learning, less TV watching.
Although most of Eastern Europe is now well entrenched in the European union, nowhere have I seen such a drastic change in such a short distance than on either side of the Danube driving in to Bratislava.
As soon as we crossed in to Austria from the Czech Republic, it seemed really striking just how perfectly manicured the Austrian countryside is. As we approached Vienna, the city was incredibly modern (apart from the beautiful palace/museum buildings). Even the industrial areas seemed to be really well designed.
Bratislava, however, was such a drastic change. Most of what we saw seemed like a complete slum, except for the square in the very centre, full of beautiful, older buildings, which appear to have been really well kept though apparently were only really refurbished five or so years ago. Interestingly, many of them simply had nice facades for the tourists, and if you could catch a glimpse of the back/side of a building it was hard to believe it was the same one.
With facades like this…
Hiding buildings that actually looked like this
But at least there was Eastern Europe’s version of Moulin Rouge!
On the way out, whilst looking for a supermarket (always good to stock up on the cheaper side of a border) we found ourselves completely surrounded by cookie cutter blocks, in the most impersonal, slum like “suburb” I’ve ever been in. It really astounded me how there could be such a huge difference on two different sides of the same river.
After discovering Bratislava was less than an hour’s drive from Vienna, we couldn’t resist popping over to see life beyond the Iron Curtain.
Before actually entering Slovakia, one of my travel companions had decided to stay home. Her reasoning was that she was trying for a special type of visa where you are only allowed in certain European countries, but you can spend three months in each. None of us had heard of this exception, and a big discussion ensued about how borders in the EU these days are really just a “You are now entering…” sign and no one would ever know she popped over to Bratislava for lunch. Nonetheless she decided to err on the side of caution and stay home.
“Spot the border crossing” had become a bit of a road trip game, as sometimes it is hard to tell you have entered a new country (a serious novelty when your home country is an island). There was no doubt, however, that we had found one on our way in to Slovakia. All of a sudden there was this massive checkpoint, and police waving us down and making us pull over. There were angry sounding words coming at us left right and centre. We couldn’t tell if it was Austrian, Slovakian, or German (we had German license plates) but the policeman was getting very frustrated at us. We managed to work out he was demanding our “documents” and a certain amount of euros. There was even more confusion in the car. Were we meant to pay to get over the border? Were there different rules for the newer EU members? Was it actually not part of the EU like we thought? Could we just turn around and go home? Was this some kind of dodgy Eastern European police bribery scenario? Had we unknowingly broken the Law? Why don’t any of these cops speak English? Good thing we left Lucy home, she’d be furious!
Before we knew it the policeman was marching two of us over to a van on the side of the road. We had absolutely no idea what was going on and whether we were in trouble or what. Who knows if we were going to return safe from this mysterious black van, or where he was taking our passports. As it turned out, in the van was a little man with a portable EFTPOS machine, who thankfully spoke English and explained to us that it was a road toll checkpoint and we were being fined for not displaying the correct sticker that allows us to drive on the motorway. So 140 euros later, we finally get the memo on how the road tolls work (its an 8 euro sticker!) and realise that actually the (unnecessarily, IMHO) angry policemen had nothing to do with the border and were in fact just using the old set up as a convenient checkpoint stop. They certainly were good at making us feel like it was an incredibly stressful situation and we were in some huge and mysterious amount of trouble!
Ever in search of quality local food, we decided to hunt down somewhere with some traditional Austrian food. And by that we meant something super stereotypical: schnitzel.
Luckily, just around the corner was Mariahilferbrau, a restaurant that had some quality reviews and came recommended by the girls on the desk at the hostel. It only added to the sales pitch that it was about 200m away!
We started with some ginormous steins of Austrian beer, and should have taken that as a clue that this particular restuarant was gunning for the reputation american steak houses currently have. The meals were huge!
The schnitzel definitely didn’t disappoint, though the tip of the day was rather than ordering the “Austrian Special” version, for almost half the price you could order a “pork escalope” with the exact same combination of sides, maybe slightly less rice.
Although they had a fine array of Viennese specialties,the lure of the ribs was too great for some , and the boys that ordered them were in for an enormous surprise. All in all it was a delicious, if a little pricey excursion, topped off of course by waitstaff in lederhosen, or whatever they call it in Austria.
We also later discovered they had a pretty good breakfast buffet for only 8 euros, which is handy when there’s hangovers involved.