Australians in Austria

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Apr 302009
 
Staatsoper, Vienna

Staatsoper, Vienna

Our one stop in Austria was Vienna, a city where nearly every building in the centre is worth looking at for its amazing architecture. Modern Vienna’s buildings are ínspired by various periods, so it can be a bit like a walk through architectural history.

We spent our first afternoon touring the royal apartments in the Hofburg castle, gaping up at the art in St Stephen’s cathedral and wandering the streets of Vienna. We then walked 20 minutes from our hotel to have an amazing dinner (as Julian has already mentioned).

Day 2 saw us visit the Naschtmarkt and spend a ridiculous amount of money on olives (very persuasive staff at the stall)! We then took our picnic supplies and headed our of the city to the Viennese woods. We caught the bus up to Kalenberg and then walked down the hillside to Nussdorf, past vineyards and poppies. We had planned to sample the sturm (new wine, made in Vienna) at a Heurigen (wine garden) in Nussdorf but we must have been too early in the year, as none were open. Instead we enjoyed our picnic in the sunshine, before heading back into the city. Sadly, no opera was showing, but we did duck into the Opera House to see some ballet (Romeo and Juliet).

Walking through the vineyards from Kalenberg

Walking through the vineyards from Kalenberg

St Peter's, Vienna

St Peter's, Vienna

Some of you may recognise the artist’s work in the photos below. Julian first saw Hundertwasser’s work in Kawakawa, a small rural town in northern New Zealand. An artist and an environmentalist, Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was born in Austria, but made several visits to NZ to paint and is buried there (after passing away on the QEII). He has even designed new flags for Australia and NZ that do away with the Union Jack. His work is on display at KunstHausWien and scattered throughout this neighbourhood in Vienna.

HundertwasserHaus, Vienna

HundertwasserHaus, Vienna

St Stephen's, Vienna.  Notice the scaffolding!!!

St Stephen's, Vienna. Notice the scaffolding!!!

Apr 272009
 

My camera informs me that it is day 56 – that’s the halfway point of our trip!  In some ways it seems to have flown by, in others it seems that we have been away forever.

Day 56 saw us awake on the overnight train from Zurich to Vienna.  We departed Zurich at 22:40 and arrived in Vienna just after 09:00, managing to get some sleep on the hard beds.  We shared the tiny couchette with an lovely older Swiss couple.  Fortunately we booked a 4-person couchette – the 6-person one is the same size, they just stick another two beds above the four!

On the EuroNight Train

On the EuroNight Train

We celebrated the halfway point in Vienna at Das Biedermeiercafé-Restaurant.   Very reasonable prices, a friendly host, good local wine and excellent meals – no wonder it’s a Michelin-recommended restaurant.

Fiaker - beef goulash with fried egg, sausage and dumpling

Fiaker - beef goulash with fried egg, sausage and dumpling

To end this post, I thought I’d share ten of the things we can’t live without in Europe:

1 – Eurail pass, timetable and map
2 – Combination lock on my daypack
3 – Technology (camera, laptop, unsecure wireless connections and tripadvisor.com)
4 – Laundry detergent in a tube
5 – Jeans
6 – Wizard Mastercard (no annual fee, 55 days interest free, free cash withdrawals, good exchange rate and no currency conversion fee!)
7 – Rick Steves’ Best of Europe guidebook
8 – Bi- and tri-lingual Europeans
9 – Glasses (to see sights and read signs from as far away as possible when carrying a backpack!)
10- Our blog readers. Thank YOU 🙂

Apr 252009
 
The Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps

Someone up there was looking after the weather for us while we were in the Swiss Alps.  We delved deep into our backpacks for hats and sunscreen and made our way up – with the assistance of three cable cars and a train – to Schilthorn at 2970m.

On the way up from our accommodation in Lauterbrunnen, the lush green valley and sheer cliffs (there are 72 waterfalls in the valley) gave way to tall pine forests and increasing snow coverage.  It is in-between seasons at the moment – the skiers are making the most of the last snow and the villagers are getting ready to open for the summer season of biking and hiking.  During the summer there is a triathlon that begins with a swim in the icy water of Lake Thun (Interlaken) and ends 2000m in elevation later after cycling, mountain biking and running!  (Yes, I know triathlons only have three events, but the Swiss do not).

Schilthorn is by no means the highest peak in the Swiss Alps (Jungfrau, 4185m) but it is the second-highest point you can get to by cable car.  The building (built 1968) on Schilthorn was ‘blown-up’ the 007 film, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’  From the top you have a 360 degree view that includes the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger (the Young Lady, the Monk, and the Ogre) peaks.   I had very itchy feet watching the skiers take off from Schilthorn – must come back in winter!

For lunch, we walked down to Gimmelwald (1363m) from Mürren, about 300m elevation in 30 minutes.    Gimmelwald is quite small and is essentially a farming village with a little bit of tourism.

I’m not sure words such as magnificant and breathtaking do the scenery justice, so here’s a photo gallery of the Alps.

Apr 242009
 
Amy and I at her flat in Ferney

Amy and I at her flat in Ferney

We spent the last 2 nights with my cousin Amy, who lives in Ferney-Voltaire, just past the Swiss/French border in France.  Ferney (as locals prefer to call it – apparently Voltaire was  not a nice guy) is a cute little village, with an excellent boulangerie (bakery) and Indian restaurant.

We spent yesterday touring Geneva, with Amy as our very capable guide.  It was so nice to not have to worry about which bus to catch or how to navigate in the city.  We visited the UN, the botanic gardens, tooks a boat across Lake Geneva and explored the old town.  It was a most glorious spring day and I must confess that Geneva (and in fact, all of Switzerland), now holds a special place in my heart.

Outside the UN

Outside the UN

Thank you so much Amy (and Lis) for having us and showing us the sites.  It was definately one of the highlights of our trip!

Sunny Geneva (note the snow-covered mountain in the background!)

Sunny Geneva (note the snow-covered mountain in the background!)

Apr 222009
 
The lion of Lucerne

The lion of Lucerne

So Mark Twain wrote of the dying lion of Lucerne (Löwendenkmal), a monument to the heroic death of Swiss mercenaries during the French Revolution.  I don’t know if I can agree with his statement.  I’ve seen too little of the world to declare anything “the most” significant.  But it is definitely an amazing sculpture.

Lucerne (Luzern) is a city of approximately 60,000 people, roughly in the centre of Switzerland.  It is the stuff of fairytales, located on a crystal clear lake and river, and surrounded by snow-capped alps.  It has all the mod-cons you could want, housed partly in the picturesque medieval Old Town.  I can see myself living in this town, but don’t worry we’re still coming home!

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne

One of the towns most famous sites is the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) dating from the 14th century.  The bridge contained many medieval paintings under the peaked roof, however much of the bridge (and the art) was destroyed in a fire in 1993.  The efficient Swiss rebuilt the bridge in 6 months, replacing the destroyed artwork with pieces that had been put into storage when the bridge was shortened previously.  I guess there’s something to be said for hoarding!

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

If I have one complaint about Switzerland so far, it is the exorbitant price of food!  It’s just as well K Rudd’s stimulus package seems to be helping the Australian dollar at the moment, otherwise we might have no money left for the remainder of the trip!

Apr 202009
 
Fraumünster Church, Zurich

Fraumünster Church, Zurich

We made the train trip to Zurich today as it was their spring holiday, Sechseläuten (or Sächsilüüte in Swiss-German) – the literal translation is ringing of the bells at 6pm.  The holiday originated in medieval times where the guilds would celebrate the beginning of summer that gave them some non-working daylight hours.

Throughout the afternoon, the 26 guilds move around the city in a parade of costumes, floats, flowers and horses.  At 6pm the entire parade (of thousands) and even more spectators gather at Sechseläutenplatz for the lighting of the bonfire (13m high), complete with Böögg (i.e. giant 6m paper mache snowman packed with explosives).  We felt for the horses who had to be ridden at pace around the fire whilst the startling explosions from the burning Böögg went on.

The time it takes from lighting the fire until the Böögg’s head explodes is inversely proportional to the length of the upcoming summer.  This year after 12min 55sec the crowd cheered as the head of the Böögg to exploded, indicating Switzerland is in for a average warm summer.  (Last year it took 26″01 – almost the slowest time on record).

Parade gathers around the Böögg

Parade gathers around the Böögg

Never again

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Apr 182009
 
"Work brings freedom"

"Work brings freedom"

Dachau is 20 minutes by train north of Munich.  Here, outside the town, from 1933 to 1945 was the Dachau Concentration Camp.  The first and longest running concentration camp of the Nazis, Dachau was also the training ground for those running other concentration camps including Auschwitz.  Originally built to house 6,000, during the war years Dachau held as many as 30,000 prisoners.

The camps were portrayed by the Nazis to the rest of Germany and to the world as re-training camps providing appropriate living conditions and healthcare to the trainees.  This propaganda campaign was aided by staged photographs and control of all outgoing mail.  In reality Dachau was a slave camp where inmates were forced to work in unimaginable conditions.  Petty ‘crimes’ were punished with beatings, restraints or death by shooting.  Numbers of people did not make it into the camp – they arrived outside the camp, were taken to the ‘showers’ and were gassed.  40,000 innocent people died at Dachau through murder, starvation, overworking and overcrowding leading to disease.

The perimeter consisted of a ditch, barbed wire, electric fence, brick wall with wire and over 1000 guards on patrol.

The perimeter consisted of a ditch, barbed wire, electric fence, brick wall with wire and over 1000 guards on patrol.

In May 1945, the prisoners at Dachau were liberated by the American forces.  The camp was subsequently occupied by the US Army.

Memorial sculpture

Memorial sculpture

Today the site is a memorial, museum and a reminder that such atrocities must occur ‘never again.’ The original and some reconstructed buildings can be viewed – prisoner barracks, the bunker, gas chamber, crematorium and guard towers.  It was sobering (if not enough already) that one of the memorials from the 1960s (see photo) failed (purposely) to recognise three of the persecuted minority groups.  This has since been rectified in other memorials.  It is now compulsory that all German schoolchildren visit a concentration camp.

1960's memorial.  The different shapes and colours were worn by the prisoners according to the SS's classification.

1960's memorial. The different shapes and colours were worn by the prisoners according to the SS's classification.

Apr 182009
 
Schweinwürstl, wiener würstl und sauerkraut.

Schweinwürstl, wiener würstl und sauerkraut.

Munich is stereotypical Germany – beer gardens and the associated foodstuffs, costumes and music.  The Hofbräuhaus is the biggest beer hall in the centre of Munich.  It is where Hitler first spoke to a large crowd.  The hall itself greets you like a beer and sweat sauna, so we dined in the slightly less crowded beer garden.  Two litres of beer, eight pork sausages, sauerkraut and dampfnudel later, we left feeling quite satisfied indeed.

Well it’s not all about the beer.  The Deutsches Museum is perhaps the best science and technology (certainly the best I’ve seen) museum in the universe!  We spent about three hours here and only covered a small part of the 10 miles of exhibits that present information of probably a senior high school level.  The museum contains real, working, life-size exhibits of absolutely everything related to science.  You can make paper, build a bridge, perform a titration, press a tablet, generate electricity, gaze for a star and so on and so on.  We did spend some time at the pharmacology exhibit (hey, it was one of the few bilingual ones) which had extremely well presented displays including a giant cell you could walk into.

There are two types of meat in Germany – pork, and processed pork.  We dined at our first European Michelin ‘gastro-pub,’ just a light lunch (salad with pork) but the ingredients were quality and fresh.  So, to get away from the schweinefleisch, we ate Afghani from a little restaurant below our accommodation.  Probably the most similar food would be Turkish, but definitely different – lots of aromatic spices.

Now that's a handle.

Now that's a handle.

Leah wants me to write about the shower in our room – it’s just there next to the bed, no ensuite – just a shower in the room.  But alas, I won’t say anymore because it’s not that exciting for you to read about.  Small things…

The shower.

The shower.

New Town Hall, Munich

New Town Hall, Munich

For South Park fans...

For South Park fans...

The Scaffolding Curse

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Apr 172009
 

We left Rothenburg early Wednesday morning to drive the Romantic Road to Füssen.  We spent most of the day on the road, but did make 2 notable stops.

Firstly, we visited Wieskirche, a church that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.  It’s nothing much to look at from the outside, but inside it’s a whole other story.

Heaven

Heaven

The church features ceiling and wall frescos by Johann Baptist Zimmermann, who is Germany’s equivalent of Michelangelo.

Doorway to heaven

Doorway to heaven

Late afternoon we braved the steep climb up to Neuschwanstein Schloss, the fairytale castle built by “crazy” King Ludwig II at the end of the 19th Century. Ludwig was dethroned shortly before his death after being declared insane.  He was removed to Berg Palace, where he was found dead a few days later, along with his psychiatrist, in Lake Starnberg.  His death is a mystery because he was a strong swimmer, there was no water in his lungs to indicate drowning, and there were also no obvious wounds on his body to suggest another cause of death.  The castle was incomplete at the time of his death and remains so to this day.  The guided tour is a short 30 minutes, as only about 6 rooms are complete and worth seeing.

Neuschwanstein Schloss

Neuschwanstein Schloss

Walt Disney based his fairytale castles upon Neuschwanstein, and it has been a romantic icon ever since it opened to the public.  However, we were struck down with “the scaffolding curse”.  This is not the first time we have been victims…  In the last week, St Jacob’s church in Rothenburg, a church we went to visit along the romantic road in Landsberg am Lech and Neuschwanstein have been all but obscured by scaffolding.  At least the front of Neuschwanstein was still visible!

Scaffolding!

Scaffolding!

Apr 132009
 
Shiny new Mercedes

Shiny new Mercedes

As some people have already discovered, Europcar kindly upgraded our hire car… to a brand new Kompressor Mercedes Benz.  So new, it’s only done 7000kms.  It sounds wonderful in theory but it increases our anxiety given we’re driving on the right (wrong!) side of the road for the first time!

We arrived in Rothenburg last night, so didn’t get a chance to explore until today.  Rotherburg is a beautiful medieval city, if you ignore the hoards of tour groups that descend on the town during the day, ohhing and ahhing over the tacky German souveniers and the decidedly underwhelming puppet display in the clock tower.

Fortunately, most of the tourists disappear in the evening, which was one of the incentives to spend 3 nights.

Gate into Rothenburg

Gate into Rothenburg

Today we visited the Crime and Punishment Museum, which contains hundreds of examples of torture instruments and objects of ridicule.  We even saw 3 examples of the delightful invention known as the chastity belt.  Yes ladies, your husband or father could lock you into one of these belts while he was out of town, thus ensuring you remained virginal and chaste in his absence.

Easter decorations over the fountain (all individually painted blown eggs!)

Easter decorations over the fountain (all individually painted blown eggs!)