A Travellerspoint blog

Auf Wiedersehen to the German-Speaking Lands

Our last, glorious day in Austria

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Grüß Gott from Salzburg!

Tomorrow evening we will be sleeping in Venice, so tonight is our last night in among the German-speaking peoples of Europe. We've had a wonderful time in Germany and Austria, despite our feeble local language skills, and we celebrated our last night here with a lovely dinner of Schnitzel, Spätzl (?), and local beer. Tomorrow we face a two-hour train ride to Innsbruck, then an hour layover and a four hour ride from there to Venice. At least, being above the age of 27, we were required to buy first-class Eurailpasses, so we'll travel in reasonable comfort.

Our last day in Austria was a busy one. We got out of the apartment early and made it into town by 10 am. Our first stop was the baroque cathedral, started by Archbishop Marcus Sitticus (the villain of the "Salt World" narrative) and completed by his successor Paris Lodron. It is a lovely baroque building, having nothing at all in common with the Gothic cathedral that Maria and the Captain get married in during The Sound of Music. The baroque architects who laid out the cathedral and the square below it came up with one clever trick: if you stand in just the right place in a colonnade in front of the cathedral, you can see that two angels on the front of the cathedral are placing a crown upon the head of the Virgin Mary statue in the square below. Naturally, the cathedral is under renovation, but this is the gist of the view:


After the cathedral, we visited the old Archepiscopal residence, the palace where the prince-archbishops lived until the middle of the seventeenth century. There were some lovely rooms, and in this palace, we got to see one of the small corridors from which the servants fed the woodstoves. It was nice, but we've seen a lot of lovely old things, so I didn't think it was all that special.

Next we went to see the Museum of Salzburg, which we went to mainly because it was drizzling when we got out of the Residence and so a bad time to have our picnic lunch outside. It must be admitted that the history of Salzburg is not the most intrinsically fascinating subject — but . . . this was a GREAT museum! They had an absorbing kids' activity, and they did a very fine job of making the history of the place as interesting as possible. The displays were well thought out and interestingly arranged. The audioguide automatically translated any German-language narrative on a room's video screens into English. We spent about an hour and a half there, which was, admittedly, about 45 minutes longer than Susan would have stayed, but I could have stayed at least another hour. The people who run the Mozart Wohnhaus should pay the City of Salzburg museum a visit for tips!

When we finished there, the sun was back out, so we ate our picnic lunch outside and we took the 25 bus to its end at the Untersbergbahn — the cable car up to the summit of the Untersberg. Here's the view from below:


The summit is about 1800 meters up (approximately one mile), and it was snow-covered (with about an inch of wet snow). Unfortunately, the summit was in and out of the clouds. Actually, we were lucky that the clouds broke enough for us to get a couple of pictures, as you can see here


and here.


But for the most part, the view was like this:


As it turns out, this is the mountain we can see from outside the Bloberger Hof (it is not that far from here), and when we got back to the place around 6 this evening, the mountain was still shrouded in cloud, even though the rest of the sky had cleared!

We had a lovely last dinner at the restaurant here, and then a busy night of packing!

We may not be updating for a couple of days, as we think there may not be internet at our hotel in Venice.

Auf wiedersehen,


Posted by jrreisert 12:57 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Salt World!

It's why this place is called "Salt City"

rain 17 °C
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We had a choice this morning between visiting "Salt World" — a salt mine tourist attraction located a few miles from Salzburg — or "Beer World" — a tourist attraction on our bus line here, where the ads promise free samples. What did we choose? Well... OUR choice didn't matter. The kids demanded Salt World (thanks, in part, to the recommendation and photos we got from the O'Connells — Thanks, Karen). I suppose, living in Belgium, the O'Connells felt no need to go to an Austrian attraction calling itself Beer World.

But I digress. Actually half the challenge was in getting to Salt World. Susan may have claimed yesterday that the Salzburg bus system is user-friendly and easy to navigate. Perhaps she was over-optimistic. Our first challenge was to get from our pension-hotel to the Hauptbanhof (main train station) in Salzburg. We were told to change buses at Mirabellplaz. This proved to be easier said than done, since it turns out that, though all of the main bus lines go through this one general area, there are actually about ten different stops within about a two block radius. It was also raining at the time (and all the signs, such as they were, were in German). So it took us a bit of doing to figure out which bus to get on and how to get to the Hbf. But we got there, bought the all-in-one Salz erlebnis ticket recommended by our friend, Rick Steeves, and got on the train that was supposed to meet up with a helpful bus in Hallein (a suburb of Salzburg, next to the actual village where the mine is located). Well, we expected to find a clearly marked shuttle bus. Instead, we discovered we were supposed to take one of the regular regional busses. But we had no idea which one. Eventually, I asked someone in the train station ticket office in my terrible German and was told which bus — and it emerged that we had to wait thirty five minutes for it to go in the direction we needed. I asked the bus driver to point out which stop we should get out at (Susan kindly omitted from yesterday's blog entry that I made the family get out of the bus two stops too early on our way to Hellbrunn, so we had to walk about an extra kilometer to arrive there — all because I misunderstood what the electronic information sign was saying). The bus driver pointed out the stop, as did some helpful locals, who told us, in English, that we should get off the bus there.

(As an aside, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. We were on a tram in Prague, heading — or so we thought — to the monastery above Prague Castle. Actually that is where that tram line was supposed to go. But there had been some announcement, in Czech of course, explaining that this tram was being diverted. So when we got to the last stop before the diversion, one person asked me, in English, whether I really wanted to say on the tram. I said I did, so he said nothing further, but another passenger, with better English and a good sense of what we were trying to do, asked me where I was headed. To the monastery, one stop further along, I answered. He said, this tram's been diverted; it's about to turn. You should get off. By this time, the doors were closing, so our Good Samaritan shouted to the driver (in Czech, of course) and we all got off. And, in fact, the tram then turned and went off in a direction that would have taken us far from our intended destination.)

During the wait, I was sent off to mail some cards from the post office, where my German almost sufficed for the transaction but not quite. I got lost on the question: do you want to sent that regular or priority mail? A helpful bystander translated after I said, "Bitte? Ich verstehe nur ein bisschen." Then the helpful woman (about my age) explained (again in German) to the clerk that she should really work on her English, as a need for it comes up every day! I wanted to say something about how I should be working on my German, but my language skills failed me, so I just thanked them both for their help and made a speedy exit.

At length, we arrived:


Once there, we found ourselves among the few people traveling alone. Most of our tour consisted of a single large bus-tour group from some more or less German speaking place. Possibly the Netherlands or some part of Germany. There was, however, one couple of German-speakers who were very kind to us and patiently put up with all the damage I inflicted on their language. I was actually quite touched by their efforts to help me work on my language skills. Usually, once people figure out that their English is better than my German, they start speaking in English, with no more ado and that's that. At any rate, they took this picture of us:


We also have a picture the Saltworld people took of us, but we have no ready way to get that on line.

The tour was great fun, and probably way too dangerous to be legal in America. First we all squeezed on to a little train to head, horizontally, deep under the mountain. Then we walked further in and watched a series of videos featuring a grasping Prince-Archbishop (Marcus Sitticus) and his comically clumsy servant describing the works of the mine as they were in the early seventeenth century. And we learned that the wealth of this whole area was founded upon the salt trade. Here's a photo of John with an eighteenth century relief of a good (or at least less bad) Archbishop:


Susan found the whole thing terrifying (she hates even the thought of being underground), but she was a trooper. The best part, for me and for John, were the big "miners' slides." Back in the old days, the miners would work their way deep into the mine by sliding down long wooden chutes. The tourist versions were shorter and less steep than the real things, but they were still great fun. The resort operators take pictures of tourists on the way down, but I was making a totally ridiculous face, so we didn't buy that picture, and I couldn't get a decent shot with the camera. Instead, I have a shot here of Susan and John in the "heart of the mountain" — a touristy set up of reddish salt blocks, with lights inside them. (Actually, the mines go eight levels deeper and several hundred meters lower than the "heart").


If you would like to get a better sense of what a salt mine slide looks like, you might google "salt mine slide."

After Salt World, we hiked up to the village of Bad Dürrnberg, which is where the mine is actually located. As you can see, Margaret really enjoyed the climb:


From the church (built by Archbishop Sitticus, the villain of the tour narrative) we took some photos of the valley below:


Then, Back in Salzburg, we headed to the Mozart "Wohnhaus" — where the family lived during Wolfgang's teens and later, and where some of his great, early works were composed. Rick Steeves likes this place better than the "birth house," which we haven't yet seen, but this was one of the lamest museums we've ever been in.

Fortunately the café next door was very good (albeit a bit expensive). We refreshed ourselves with Sacher torte and hot chocolate and cafe mélanges (as they call cappucinos in Austria).

We tried to go to the Mozart waxworks museum (which we can get into on our "Salzburg Card" all in one pass) but it was closed. By the time we discovered this, the Geburtshaus also had closed. So we wandered around Salzburg for awhile, until our steps took us to the Augustinian church, just in time for Vespers. In honor of Bach Fest 2008, all the music was composed by JS Bach, and it was beautifully performed by organ and choir.

At least we've mastered the 21 Bus, which takes us back to the lovely Bloberger Hof, where we had dinner in, did yet another load of laundry in the sink, and put the kids to bed.

auf wiedersehen,

Posted by jrreisert 12:05 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (0)


Where the Hills Are Alive, With the Sounds of Ringing Cash Registers

semi-overcast 18 °C
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Hello all,

We arrived in Salzburg yesterday (Tuesday), the land of the Sound of Music. Only Salzburgians supposedly HATE the S.O.M., whether or not they have actually seen the movie. The only Salzburg people who like the SOM are those involved in the tourist trade, because the SOM brings in lots of cash. One well-respected SOM tour operator would charge a family of 4, 150 Euros for a four-hour tour. It's not so much the desire to cash in on the SOM that gets to us, but the fact that they want to cash in on something that they despise. Anyway, we have decided to forego the SOM tour. John agrees with the locals anyway; he doesn't like the SOM at all.

We are having a delightful time in Salzburg, despite the SOM business. It's nice to take a break from big city life and enjoy a slightly slower pace, a bus system that's easy to understand, and town center that is compact and easily negotiable.

After arriving yesterday mid-afternoon, we took a taxi to our pension/hotel, Bloburger Hof. It's on the outskirts of Salzburg with simply magnificent mountain views. We got our stuff settled and then off we went to into Salzburg. Getting around is easy. We walked around Salzburg, took a look at the river and the fortress, and spent some time at Tourist Information.

And, of course, we took a few quick shots — this one, for example:


We had dinner at the restaurant at Bloburger Hof. It was delicious. The kids had spaghetti. Joe had fish. And, I had the special of the night: chicken breast with mushroom risotto and broccoli. Yum.

This morning, we had a wonderful breakfast downstairs in the restaurant (included in the room price). Margaret and I discovered that one of the muesli mixes had chocolate pieces in it. Heaven! They also serve wonderful yogurt and homemade jams.

Once we got ourselves together, packing a picnic lunch, we headed for the bus stop. After a stop or two on the bus, we were joined by a nice family from Canada, with children 11 and 9! They are living in Italy for the semester, and taking trips around Europe. We had a great chat with them and may try to meet up with them when we are in Florence.

Our first big adventure of the day was exploring the fortress, which was never taken by force (they surrounded to Napoleon). The fortress looms over the river, high above the old town. It is huge. The adventure began with a ride up a funicular. This time there was fun in the funicular; it was operating (unlike in Prague). Once we got inside, we went through an escorted audio tour (I'm not sure why we had to be escorted) which brought us to one of the higher towers in the fortress. Great views of the area, as you can see behind the cute children (John has recently discovered he loves audio-guides, or as the Germans call them Audioführeren).


During the audio tour, we learned that one of the archbishops, Leonhard, chose the turnip as his heraldic symbol (his uncle had thrown a turnip at him when he was a child to "knock his head straight," and he remembered this well into his adulthood). All around the fortress we found coats of arms with turnips. Unfortunately, Joseph and I chose to make this a game for the children and offered ten euro cents for each turnip they found (it kept them focused on what they were looking at). Turns out, there were a lot of turnips to be found at the fortress! We ended up having to pay out about two euros for each child. Here's an example:


After the fortress, we walked a path from the fortress along the ridge of the Mönchsberg. Along the way, we were again treated to lovely views of the area. We walked to the top of the Museum of Modern Art, where you can take an elevator down to the city.

Then, since the weather was nice (it was supposed to be not so nice), we decided to chuck the plan for the rest of the day and head out to Schloss Hellbrunn, also on the outskirts of Salzburg (but different outskirts from where we are staying). Hellbrunn was built by a different archbishop prince, Sittikus, who decided that he needed a fun and cool place to hang out DURING THE DAY in the summer (not at night). The Schloss features a lovely park where the archbishop exercised his fancy of surprising his guests with water tricks. Our tour guide mostly warned us of impending "water tricks." And, when she didn't, we could usually tell when one was coming up by water on the ground. The archbishop liked to make "reindeer" into "raindeer." (The antlers of this one sprayed water):


Get it??? It was pretty cheesy, but the kids loved it. And, it was a good way to enjoy a warm afternoon, especially in the middle of October!

After the park of water tricks, we found a kids playground, also on the grounds of the Hellbrunn. There was a zipline trolley, which the kids loved. Here's John having a great time (the kids really, Really, REALLY want one in Belgrade... we'll see):


And, next to the playground was the pavilion from the SOM (remember the embarrassing duet, "You are Sixteen Going on Seventeen")! So, we got a little SOM action in anyway. Unfortunately, it was locked so we couldn't demand that Margaret jump from bench to bench at Leisl did in the movie (Margaret was greatly relieved).

We made our way back to the old city, got some groceries for dinner and caught the bus back to Bloburger. We had a simple dinner in. The kids are in bed. We are hoping for an early start, as we are expecting to travel to a salt mine tomorrow.

We must be off to bed ourselves and will try to get you caught up on our last day in Vienna too (Joe was writing his column, so we couldn't write the blog too!).

Auf Wiedersehen!


Posted by jrreisert 22:19 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Another Glorious Day in Vienna

Church, Art, a Ferris Wheel, some thoughts on European "facilities," and evening necessities

sunny 22 °C
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Hello all,

It’s early Sunday evening and a decision must be made—opera or amusement park? Which would you pick?? Amusement Park of course! We’ll get to that in a moment.

We began Sunday with another lovely breakfast at Pension Suzanne, followed by a nice stroll, a loop that eventually would take us to church.

For church, we attended high mass at St. Augustine’s Church, which featured Haydn’s Nelsonmesse with orchestra and choir. The mass was impressive, although Margaret wasn’t especially impressed. She didn’t warm to the idea of going to church, with everything in German—great music or not. She survived that hour and half mass, plus the ten minute postlude.

It was a gorgeous day, so we had a nice picnic lunch on the grounds of the Hofburg. Then, we walked over to the Kunsthistorisches Museum for an afternoon of art. We started with Egypt, and then a quick walk through Greco-Roman antiquities. Then on to do the Rick Steeves self-guided walk (there were several blue-covered guidebooks in evidence) but the museum had changed its exhibits, so several of the paintings we most wanted to see (including the Raffael and a St. Sebastian) were not on display. Margaret, however, did get to see the Vermeer that she wanted to see.

In Viennese style, we spent the late afternoon in a café behind our flat.

After a picnic dinner in the flat, we had our big opera/amusement park debate. Well, truth be told, it wasn’t much a big debate. It was over in about ten seconds. So, off to the Prater we went! Atlantic City on the Danube. We went on the super-touristy Ferris Wheel. Margaret and Joseph went on a little roller coaster, the “Super-8 Bahn.” Then we all took in a round of family bumper cars.

Before returning to the flat, we ran through the convenience store near the Praterstern U-Bahn stop. Shopping is not easy, as most things are shut on Sundays.

Prague had a number of stores with long hours. With the Czech language phrasebook we had borrowed from Jiri, we found that the names of these Czech-style convenience stores meant something related to “evening” and “necessities” — and, when you think about it, that pretty much sums up what convenience stores are for: things that you need in the evenings, when other stores are closed. So, we gathered up a few “evening necessities” (mostly beer and chocolate) and headed for bed.

And here’s another random thought: It turns out that the Opera Toilet plays a WALTZ and not opera at all. Joseph is threatening to write a book on the “facilities” that he has visited with John. There have been a lot of them. One lesson: In Europe, it is best to go to toilets that require a fee. We won’t go into the details.

If he had got his act together years ago, this book would be a sequel to a book that I thought that Joseph should have written: Rest Areas Along the Eastern Seaboard. Perhaps, an idea for his next sabbatical?

And, while we’re on the subject, just ask Joseph about the rest room in the mall in Prague . . . He’s still recovering. You could ask John, too, but we’re not sure he knows what’s so unnerving about a big mural, above the urinals, of young, attractive women making mocking hand gestures. He’s still puzzled about the one holding a magnifying glass.

Anyway, we’re off for another beautiful day in Vienna. The weather should be fabulous, sunny and very warm for this time of year.

We posted photos for yesterday’s blog and we’ll try to post a photo or two from Sunday later today.

Best to all.

Auf Wiedersehen!


Posted by jrreisert 00:03 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

A Day Full of Churches. . . And Chocolate

And the Haus der Musik

sunny 20 °C
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Grüss Gott from Austria!

[warning: both Joe and I are writing this entry, passing it back and forth over our very civilized Viennese breakfast, so pronouns and references may get confused. We beg your forgiveness (it is Sunday after all).]

Yesterday morning began with a long, leisurely breakfast. Margaret is in heaven here, with the hot chocolate, croissants, bread, and cheese for breakfast. John, too, loves the hot chocolate (we've repeatedly had to stop him from shaking the pot to coax out the last few, super-chocolatey drops stuck to the bottom!) and he's taken to eating hard boiled eggs, but only the whites. The kids also spent a while updating their journals. We haven't been able to post as many of their thoughts online as we'd like, but they are writing regularly about their experiences (and it's beginning to cost us).

We began our sightseeing adventure by heading up to the Capuchin church to visit the tombs of the Hapsburgs, where we encountered yet another tour group. We generally hate guided tour groups, which crowd by, take too many pictures, and make a lot of noise, but we enjoyed some of what we overheard from this one. Apparently, the funeral ritual of the Hapsburgs went like this. The dead emperor would be driven to the church in a long procession, in a special black coach used only for state funerals, and the cortege would arrive to find the doors of the church closed. The majordomo would knock with the official state baton, and the monks would answer: who's there? The answer would come: Franz Joseph, followed by all of his many titles, etc. etc. von Hapsburg. The monks would reply: "we don't know him." The official would knock again: "who's there?" comes the reply. The official answers: "Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia, Grand Duke of here and there, etc." Apparently the titles take about ten minutes to recite. To this, the monks would answer again: "we don't know him." The majordomo knocks a third time. "Who's there?" He answers: "Franz Joseph, a brother, a poor sinner." Only then does the door open. It also turns out that the last empress of Austria was buried in the 1980s (she went into exile in 1918 and died a very old woman indeed). One of her sons is also buried in the crypt, and the guide said that he had on several occasions seen the other Hapsburg brothers of that generation come to pay their respects to their parents and ancestors.

After that, we set off for the river, but we didn't realize how far it was, so we didn't make it there. We had a lovely picnic by the canal and then decided to set off to visit churches. First, was St. Stephen's, the big cathedral.


Of course, the tower that is usually open for climbing was . . . closed for renovations. But, the church was quite nice. John lit a candle and prayed. The next church was St. Peter's, very baroque and according to a plaque, founded by Charlemagne. This church had a special altar in honor of the founder of Opus Dei. Joe wanted to pay his respects. Susan was eager to get out.

Here, for example is a memorial to St. John Nepomunk — just the sort of thing that brings out the Hussite in Susan:


The next church was The Church at the Court, but we didn't go in. And, then, we wandered around a little more and stumbled upon the Church of the Scots. At first Susan got pretty excited about this discovery, only to find that the church was actually founded by the Irish (when it was New Scotland), so it wasn't really Scottish at all.


Not the first disappointment of the day.

Finally, we found the Votive Church, which is undergoing renovation as well.

By this time, we were tired and hungry. It was getting late in the afternoon. So, we went in search of a cafe. We walked and walked, came upon some science and "wellness" fair for children in the park in front of the Rathaus (an apt name for a seat of government, no?), and then continued walking. We posed for photos in front of the neo-classical parliament building (the flag was lowered to half staff because far-right parliamentarian Jorg Haider had died in a car crash the day before):


Finally, we ended up back on the Graben. We found a table at the first cafe we came upon. The waitress didn't know much English. We ordered two hot chocolates for the kids, but she said that they didn't have that; they had something else. We ordered that. Plus, two ice creams, and an apple strudel and two beers (it was just too late in the afternoon for coffee). Well, the ice creams were enormous. The "hot chocolates" were really warm chocolate puddings. And, then there was the apple strudel (which turned out to be a nice break from all of that chocolate). Plus the beer. We almost declared it dinner.

Now stuffed, we went back to the flat, wandered around the neighborhood, watched people going to the opera, and then went to the Haus der Musik, a museum devoted to all aspects of music. The Haus der Musik was a very cool museum. It had lots of hands-on activities and displays, and a room where you could rediscover what it was like to be in the womb. We learned a great deal about some of the great composers who have lived and worked in Vienna. We also explored experimental music. We stayed at the museum until almost 9:00.

We returned to the flat, had a quick little picnic dinner of cheese, bread, salami, cucumbers and tomatoes. And, then it was off to bed!

Today, we plan to go to church and then to the big art museum. We may try to get standing room tickets to tonight's opera. We'll see how everyone feels.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Susan and Joe

Posted by jrreisert 00:10 Archived in Austria Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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