Tuesday, December 30, 2008

AUSTRIA... 2nd Stop: Salzburg

Our first recommendation for anyone planning a trip to Salzburg is - get the Salzburg Card. This card gives free travel on all buses and trams and free entry into most of the museums. We worked out that the €30 investment gave us €60+ worth of entertainment. Friends of ours added up their couple of days and got about €80 worth.

I know that many people come to Salzburg for Mozart and The Sound of Music but seeing as we had done Mozart already in Vienna and Steve wasn't too interested in following the tour buses around we focused on everything else. Although it is hard to ignore The Sound of Music attraction.
Once we checked into our hotel and realised that our room was actually across the street (which was fine except when we had to go across the road for a cup of tea/coffee and breakfast) it was off to explore. On the way over to Altstadt (old town) we stopped off for the daily Hotdog. 10/10 for this stand. The guy was very cheery and had some good old rock and roll playing. He earnt repeat custom during our stay.
During our walk we saw a few interesting sights:
- Most of the monuments have been covered in a perspex or glass box. We assume this is to protect them from snow and ice but does look a little strange and make photos rather difficult.
- A person playing the Didgeridoo. Certainly not what we expected, but he was quite good and had a good crowd around him.
- A couple of old guys playing chess in the square. The board was painted on the ground and the pieces about 1m high. We did watch for a while but as Claire doesn't know how to play, she got bored fairly quickly.
When Claire saw this Gingerbread House, she realised she has a lot more practice to do.
We tried 3 different pretzels and this pizza one was the winner
We also went into The Dom Cathedral which had very amazing paintings on the ceiling and one of the nicest Christmas trees we saw. The decorations were thin biscuits and apples! That night we caught up with friends of ours that were on a driving trip to Germany. Trying to figure out the menu with a computerised language translater was great fun but not always useful. We ended up picking 2 dishes we recognised and 2 that we didn't. Fantastic food all round. As Sarah and Kyle had been in Salzburg for a few days we took all their recommendations on the places to see and those to miss. Excellent tour guides they would make.
On Day 2 and armed with our freshly purchased Salzburg Cards we head off to Untersberg. This mountain is 1852m high and you get to the top in a cable car. If you are a little sensitive with heights then definitely stay in the centre of the car and shut your eyes. A few interesting facts about the cable car: travels a total of 2866m, average incline of 52%, maximum incline of 79%. Awesome views in all directions. At the top there was a path which we attempted but we learnt on the first downhill that Claire's city boots were definitely not made for snow! Steve continued on to the next rise while Claire dusted herself off 2 more times and realised the zip had broken on her coat in process :(
Cable car crossing about halfway up. Still can't see final station and there is a sneaky unexpected ravine just ahead
The Austrian Alps from the top
It was surprisingly warm at the top, as shown with Claire having taken her scarf off.
This was were we tried to reach, and this is the point Steve decided his boots weren't up to the task either
This was Claire, still waiting where she had last fallen
For the afternoon, we checked out the real touristy things, a trip to Mozart's House where we saw some of the compositions of Mozart and his father and learnt a bit about his family. Afterwards we walked through the Mirabell Gardens which were part of the Sound of Music. Sadly the gates were closed on the Doh Re Mi steps.
Being frozen, we headed indoors to the Residenz State Rooms and art gallery. The rooms are ornate but the real highlight was the glockenspiel balustrade in the Ballroom. Yes, Claire did give it a few taps to make sure it was in tune, but you'd have to be pretty fit to play it on your own.
We thought that it would be too busy to try for a night shot on new years eve so got this on the way back to the hotel.
New Year's Eve was a busy one for us. We started early and went to the Hohensalzburg Fortress by the Funicular railway and then walked around the top to the Nunnberg and then back into town. The Salzburg Museum was interesting as was the Panorama Museum attached to it. The Panorama Museum had a 26m painting of Salzburg and its surrounds as it was in 1829. For lunch we went to the local Steigl Brewery and had one of the most comprehensive brewery tours we had done so far. Informative, and best of all they let you sample up to 6 of their varieties (in a mini Stein), and give you a glass as a gift. Thanks Salzburg card. Beer mixed with lemonade is a little strange.
Views from the Fortress
After a relaxing morning, the guide book suggested one more lookout with great views. So up the lift in the cliff we went and noticed some strangely dressed men at the top. After wandering around and taking a few scenic pics, we realised that they actually had odd looking guns as well! It appears we had walked in on a traditional New Year's Eve gun shoot-out. There were 2 'groups' on our hill and more groups on the other 2 hills that surround Salzburg. The action lasted 30min and was extrememly loud. When we retreated back to the street level we could see the sparks coming over the cliff. This signalled the start of all local fireworks that continued for the next 8hrs until just after midnight.
It was so peaceful to start with
Then we noticed these...
Then they started doing this
More then one person was walking around like this. Not sure how Steve managed to take the photos
We had planned on heading into town to watch the fireworks with the masses, but on the way over the local fireworks got the better of us. One went off right next to our heads and we were both a little jumpy after that. So we watched them on TV and did a waltz to the Blue Danube in the hotel instead.
The most exciting part of our trip happened on New Years Day. Not that we weren't excited about going to Zurich, but we woke up to snow!! Enough said.
Snowball time...
The countryside on the way to Zurich

Sunday, December 28, 2008

AUSTRIA....First Stop: Vienna
We found these little Santa's in a shop window in Vienna (but the shop was closed so we couldn'tbuy them).
After Christmas we boarded a plane to Vienna with the plan to spend a few days here then jump on a train and travel through the amazing Austrian & Swiss alps on the way to Salzburg and then Zurich. We were also in search of a bit of snow which, sadly, didn't happen in Vienna. The temperature here ranged from -2 to +3, and was the warmest for the trip.

Vienna is a city of history with every street containing a museum and or ornate church. It is also the home of Mozart and Strauss, and as such there are people trying to sell concert tickets at every popular spot.

For our first day we headed out with no real plans other then to see what we came across. We took the 'hop-on-hop-off' bus and picked out a few places to return to. We don't usually do these buses as the commentary is usually pre-recorded and the traffic annoying but it was free as part of the hotel deal.

We decided to head into St Stephen's Cathedral first which is right in the city centre, but there was a mass in process so we decided to return later.

We thought we'd eat like the locals and went for a 'credit crunch' lunch of Hot Dogs. Not understanding a lot of german made it a little difficult with regards to the sausage options on the menu, so we just pointed to 'the red ones' on the grill. They had cheese through them. Steve thought they were good, Claire didn't. Still don't know what they are called.

It was about this time we started to notice a couple of things, the souvenior shops had Tshirts with 'No kangaroos in Austria' and there were people selling pigs (souveniers, not the real ones) of all shapes, sizes and colours. We did ask a couple of people but no one seemed to be able to answer the pig question. We did find 2 australian bars though..... who would have thought. One of them had a Calton AFL jersey hanging on the walls and advertised a Sunday BBQ.

After lunch we headed off on a walk around town to see the places we had picked out on the bus. First stop was the Hofburg Palace. While we were there, Steve was doing his thing and taking photos when he uttered the words "The lens doesn't feel right", next minute there was a crack and when we took the lens off there is a sizable 'bit' rattling around inside. A change of lens and some creative angles later we still have photos.
One thing to remember while walking around is the roads are very wide as they carry cars, trams and cycle lanes. We had a couple of near misses with trams as they tend to go in opposite direction to the cars, and are relatively quiet.
This clock has a local important figure from history move across the face each hour and at midday/midnight all 12 parade across
Votive church
Strauss monument in Stadtpark
When we made it to Stadtpark we succombed to the concert scouts and bought tickets to the Strauss/Mozart concert being held in the Kurzalon that evening. We chose this building over the others as it looked pretty from the outside and was one of the locations where Strauss played with his brother. We briefly considered doing the dinner and show until we saw the menu...
Clear beef tea anyone?
Since it was getting toward darkness and very cold we headed into the Leopold Museum for an exhibition of artwork. Very interesting to say the least. Finally we made it back to St Stephens and it was worth the wait. The interior is spectacular.
The concert was well worth the walk across town in the cold. It was not as formal as we had imagined and we did recognise all the music played. It was split into 2 halves of around 8 songs each. 2 songs had an opera accompaniament and another 2 had a ballet duo. The orchestra also played up to the crowd with a mini mexican wave and some vocal additions to the music.
The Opera singers
For Day 2 we headed to Schloss Schonbrunn. This palace has had an intersting history with Napolean I using it for a bit (1805) but it was Empress Maria Theresa who had the building completed in the 1700's. This palace is set amongst amazing gardens and bush land. We were very surprised at the number of people running as it was very cold. Most of the fountains were frozen but there was one still trying to work. After we had looked around the grounds we decided to warm up by looking at the inside, then we saw the queue. So after 30min standing in the cold we finally made it inside.
We found this guy while walking through the bushland in the palace grounds
This clock was in the grounds and was showing the correct time - 10:32am
Queue for the palace state rooms
It was cold
We finished off our trip with another museum to see the greats (Monet and Picasso) and decided to try the famous Apple strudel at the same time. The strudel was ok, but the hot chocolate was terrible. We had a great time in Vienna and in our opinion it is much nicer and more romantic then Paris. Can't wait for Salzburg.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

On Christmas morning we first headed over to the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park for the Peter Pan Cup. This event is a handicapped race over one lap of the Lido (pool). The only rules seem to be that you are a member of the club and have participated in the winter season up to Christmas. There are no wetsuits!

The crowd on the side was rugged up in coats, scarves and hats and many people were sipping on warm drinks they had brought along. The entrants appeared on the pontoon in a variety of swimsuits, with our favourite being the stripy all-in-one.

Even the pets were decked out in christmas spirit

The first ones out on the pontoon

About half the competitors

This guy was off scratch so spent the longest time in the water.

It was 6 degrees out of the water, the reactions of the swimmers confirmed it was colder in the water

The winner

A cute statue we saw on the walk home

For lunch we went to a friends place where they went all out with a Turkey and all the trimmings. There were veges planned but we ran out of time and bowls. Our thanks to Deon, the meat was fabulous!
So we saw Santa at the Harrods Christmas Parade a few weeks earlier but it felt right putting it here

The REAL Christmas Tree.

The plan for cooking. It's amazing what can fit in one little oven!

One little Bar Fridge just can't cope with 10 for lunch so the roof was used for drinks and dessert. Very effective.

Master chef Deon

We hope that everyone had a great day and is looking forward to 2009 as much as we are.