Upon entering Austria, the most discernible difference was the road quality. The roads were wider, better marked, better paved and it was just glorious to drive on. The Austrian landscape consisted of rolling hills, dotted with churches, towns, and quite a few cows. And because the driver was semi-fluent in deutsch, knowing what the road signs meant helped just a tad as well.
Our first stop was at a little town called Melk. The town was quite nice, but what we came for was the abbey. It is a famous Benedictine abbey that sits majestically upon a hill, overlooking the surrounding town. Inside, there’s a brilliant cathedral and a library that housed very very old books. I had a very strong urge to touch one, but I don’t think the monks there would have appreciated that.
Photography is prohibited in the library, but I took one unknowingly and a Korean tour guide kindly reminded (more like yelled at) me that photography was not allowed. In fact, that lady sort of gasped and looked at me like I stepped on her puppy or something.
Vienna was next and, like in Prague, we ditched the car for the U-bahn and S-bahn. The park and ride is a great option if your hotel is a little outside town. Oddly enough, the the U-bahn always seemed to run above while the S-bahn always seemed to go under. The Austrian people, like the Czech, were also very friendly, offering their assistance to us. The weather, unfortunately, doesn’t take after the people; it was cold and raining in the morning and blisteringly hot in the afternoon.
Schönbrunn Palace is very similar to Versailles (a tad smaller) and is a definite must see in Vienna. The gardens are beautiful and it somewhat reminded me of a merge between the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and Versailles. You can’t go wrong with either of the two. The complimentary audio guide is also nice as all the wallpapered and gold lined rooms start to look the same. We unfortunately did not go inside Hofburg Palace, but we did go visit the gardens of Belvedere palace.
For lunch, we ate at a biergarten near Schönbrunn Palace, and being the first beer garden I’ve ever been to, it was a terrific experience. Sitting on the wooden benches with the looming chestnut trees strung with lanterns overhead is incredibly comforting, and it only gets better when the food and beer arrives. My wiener schnitzel and Austrian kartoffelsalat (potato salad) marathon began there. Don’t you know? It’s the best type of marathon out there.
The best meal I had on the trip was at Pürstner. Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious. The portions were pretty generous and all the meats came with wonderful sauces and seasonings while also being incredibly tender. A drink that’s exclusive to Austria is Almdudler, an apple grape soda that is really quite good so make sure to give it a try.
Now, of course I couldn’t leave Vienna without giving the famed Figlmüller a try, especially with the wiener schnitzel obsession I had going on. There are actually two Figlmüller locations very close to each other. The one inside the alley was always full and they kept on sending all the tourists to their other location on a perpendicular street. Recently, some people had been complaining about Figlmüller’s quality… Could it be because the two locations are different? I may be imagining this conspiracy theory but I thought it a little sketchy that all the tourists were being sent away. I refused to be deterred so I made reservations for the alley location. Let me tell you, that piece of pork was two times the size of my face and it was pure heaven. The meat was tender and crispy in all the right places. I’m not claiming Figlmüller to be the best wiener schnitzel ever, but it was definitely not your average ol’ schnitzel.
I sadly did not get pictures of the schnitzel because we had to hurry to get to the opera house where we got tickets to see Lucia di Lammermoor. The opera house was amazing and it was even better that I was there to see an opera, instead of just looking around as a tourist.
And the opera itself… no words can describe it. The acoustics are like nothing I’ve heard before, and even though I only had a partial view and was practically hanging off the balcony, I enjoyed every minute of it. Note that the opera house is closed during July and August so we had to make sure we got to Vienna before July.
Demel Café also warranted a visit. The place reminded me of Angelina’s, without the hot chocolate. While you can sit outside on the patio, we decided to head to the back where you can actually see them making the cakes. Although the cakes were quite good, I wasn’t floored by them.
We then drove to Hallstatt and the views that accompanied that road were breathtaking. The radio played some traditional Austrian folk music which really was the perfect soundtrack. Hallstatt is a quaint little town on the foot of a mountain while also on the edge of a tranquil lake. While it is quite touristy and there are throngs of tour groups passing through, the setting makes everything ok in the world again. Instead of staying inside Hallstatt, we stayed at a town across the lake in Obertraun, which is also a very pleasant place.
On a whim, we decided to go climb the Dachstein mountain in Salzkammergut to go see the Five Fingers viewing platform. And because this was not planned, we never realized that it would be positively freezing up there. Now, I live in a place where it’s warm all year round, and we were on vacation during the summer, so you could approximate what we were wearing. The sun came and went, and so did the slight warmth that came with it.
Unfortunately, I never made it past midway. Shivering, I headed back to the station so that maybe I could start to feel my ears again. However, our fearless driver braved the cold and made it! Looking at the pictures that he brought back, it may have been a good thing I didn’t go (I am deathly afraid of heights. I repeat, deathly afraid.)
20 minutes away there is the beautiful spa town of Bad Ischl, which is also the home to Zauner Café. If the café itself isn’t enough to blow your socks off, the desserts will surely do it. Their well known for their cakes and I can see why; the chestnut swiss roll is particularly to die for. The cakes there aren’t particularly sweet, but they perfectly hit that spot.
Next, we paid a little visit to Mozart and the Von Trapps in Salzburg. The entire city now revolves around everything Mozart related which is a little ironic, considering the fact that Mozart actually hated Salzburg. The best part of Salzburg is Hellbrunn Palace. Yes, the Sound of Music pavilion is here. Yes, the best tour in the world is here. And yes, prepare to get soaked. There are hidden water spouts everywhere in the gardens, and as you walk through them, you have absolutely which ones will be the next to spray you.
The tour guide, however, does. That is because he controls which spouts are turned on and he will make sure you get soaked when you least expect it. Umm, can I have his job please? In my group, there was a group of elderly folk and they only got a sprinkle here and there. On the other, I (along with the children) got soaked over and over again. Of all the tours I’ve been on, this was by far the funnest and most engaging.
The rest of Salzburg was quite touristy, but it was beautiful. Mozart’s Geburtshaus was informative, but I don’t really think it was worth it. The Mirabell Gardens are also very pleasant, especially on a sunny day. Don’t miss the unicorns at the end – it’s a great photo op, trust me.
Part 3 is coming!