We made it!
Austria was well worth our nightmare departure. It fits all the descriptors of charming, idyllic and stunning. The people are absolutely lovely and everywhere is immaculately clean. We loved our two weeks there. Here’s what we did/saw/thought:
“The hills are alive…” All I knew about Salzburg, I had learned from the Sound of Music and our first site to visit was the actual Von Trapp home. The house is now a hotel and the owners aren’t fond of visitors unless you book a room… as we learned. I did a quick Google search for the address as we left our accommodation that morning and we showed up without knowing much more. We drove onto the premises noting two ladies standing at the front of the building. I said to Simon, “I’m not sure what the go is here… whether we’re allowed to look around or not,” as he parked the car in the empty lot. The property was much smaller and less impressive than I expected. We got out of the car awkwardly as the ladies stopped chatting and peered over at us. “Can we help you?” one of them asked. “Um, can we have a quick look around?” Simon asked. “No. This is private property.” Oops! We got back in the car as a man on a bike rode up the driveway. “Quick photo?” He asked. “No. This is private property.” It didn’t seem like the hotel had any visitors… Perhaps the owners would be better off running tours.
Salzburg is actually the most beautiful city I have seen. It’s a fairytale city with a fortress that sits high atop a hill at its centre (Hohensalzburg Fortress), baroque architecture, distant mountains and green everywhere! It’s not the perfectly manicured green you find in modern cities – overgrown grass leads up to the fortress, vines creep along the stone and there are old trees with stories to tell. On the city’s outskirts there are open fields with wide bike trails and plenty of shade. It has a country town feel, but it is far from it with high-end shopping and lots of delicious places to eat!
After our failed attempt to check out the Von Trapp home, we settled on visiting a few sites where The Sound of Music was filmed. This included Mirabell Palace, where we walked through the gardens and listened to an impromptu performance of “Do-Re-Mi” by a Chinese youth choir, and the fountain at Residenz Platz. We also caught the funicular to the fortress, but I actually preferred looking up at it from the town.
We visited Berchtesgaden in Germany one day (a 40-minute drive south of Salzburg.) From Berchtesgaden, you can catch a bus up to the Eagle’s Nest. The Eagle’s Nest is a building at the top of Kehlstein Mountain, which was used by the Nazis for meetings during WWII (not that that’s an endorsement.) The endorsement is incredible views… as I saw when I shuffled through postcards in a coffee shop. Unfortunately, we arrived at Berchtesgaden late in the day and heavy rain set in soon after we got there. We made it no further than the coffee shop.
We stayed in a town called Bad Ischl – about a 1-hour drive east of Salzburg. From here, we visited the better-known Hallstatt and St Wolfgang (both about a 20 minute drive from Bad Ischl.) Bad Ischl, itself, is a lovely town with rivers flowing either side of it, parks and restaurants. Apparently, it is a spa town.
Hallstatt and St Wolfgang are two stunning areas with a large, still lake and background of towering mountains (quintessential Austria!) Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The UNESCO website tells me Hallstatt is significant because of its long history (we’re talking all the way back to the Middle Bronze Age) of salt processing. We walked through the small town and admired the very Austrian alpine houses that are built right at the lake’s edge. I love Austrian houses; I think they look like a cross between a doll’s house and Cuckoo Clock. Most houses have rickety wooden balconies with bright orange, red and purple flowers bubbling over them. Many have vines sprawling up the sides and some vines even have fruit! They are more interesting than the modern, white or grey-washed houses I’m used to seeing in Australia. We took in the scenery from a 500kW-powered boat – a bargain at 20 euros per hour! Maddie loved the boat trip and it was a great way to take photos of the town without having to fight other tourists at the main vantage points. St Wolfgang is not as spectacular as Hallstatt, but there is more shopping and eating to be done in the towns around the lake.
There is heaps to do in this region! My description and summary of our time there doesn’t do it justice. Pre-baby, Simon and I would have done some of the many hikes. In researching why Hallstatt is a World Heritage Site, I realised there are ice caves beneath its pretty surface. They look incredible! We passed signs to “caves” and ignored them… thinking that once you’ve seen a few caves anywhere in the world, you’ve seen them all. Um. No. From the pictures, the caves look otherworldly. It rained a lot of the time we were there and we missed out on going up cable cars etc to some spectacular vistas.
What about Maddie?? She’s still here and she’s been amazing! She visited all the sights with us and looked on very happily from the Chekoh wrap. Maddie has become a people watcher. Whenever we stop long enough in a crowded place, she will stare intensely then smile at someone until they engage with her. Her mum is a bit of a social invalid… So, I’m not sure where this has come from?! She has made an impressive number of friends.
Maddie has settled into the travelling life and actually seems to get bored if we have a day at “home.” We got rained in for four days and all suffered from cabin fever. The “Love Your Baby” CD I was given at my Mum’s Group was played on repeat and I read the five books we have so many times I now know them from memory.
Adieu. Onto France!