Saturday, December 31, 2016

"The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music" - Salzburg Part 3

Well, I can say that getting tons of sleep has not been a key part of my vacation, but I'm waking up naturally after about 6.5 hours, which is the amount I've bumped up to from 6.  I decided I have to gradually increase this and what doesn't get done just doesn't get done!
This morning I was up early for the "Sound of Music" tour.  Confession time - I don't like musicals and, if I've ever seen this movie, I don't remember it.  So, it's good I saw the places on a tour because I wouldn't have known what I was looking for!  For example, this is the lake that the boat tipped over into.  The youngest child almost drown because she fell out on the opposite side as Julie Andrews and she couldn't swim!
Then, it was off to the gazebo!  A larger set one was used for dancing, but this one was the exterior shown in the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" scene.
We drove by the mansion exterior used for the movie (which is not actually by the lake), but it's private property, so no stop.  The last stop before heading up into the mountains was the abbey that Maria is starts the movie at and the real Maria also was at, which was built in 740 (red roof).  The real Maria also married the Captain here.  It's an active abbey, so no visits inside!
Then, we headed to the mountain and lake district - wow, do you miss some of the best that the Salzburg area offers if you never leave the city.  Just incredible!
The reason the tour heads up here is for the church where the movie wedding happened, which is in Mondsee (Moon Lake).  It was my second example of just how overwhelmingly decorative Austrian churches are.  They look like less from the outside than many French churches, but the interiors are full of things to look at.  It did make me wonder if it was different eras/styles or the French churches lost most of their decorations in the revolution?
By this time, I was also very grateful for the strange breakfast veggies in Vienna because it's been 3 days since I saw a vegetable that wasn't lettuce on a sandwich of some sort.  Different types of fried meat and variations on potatoes is about all I've seen for food!  So, for lunch I decided to brave goulash, even though I wasn't certain what it was, in the hopes of some vegetables!  It was largely a meat and potato soup also, but there were some veggies and the sauce seemed veggie-based.  I've never missed veggies so much as both times I've left France after being there several months!  I tried my first Austrian strudel too.
The tour ended at Mirabell Palace, where the gardens were used for the Do-Re-Mi song (which I've now had stuck in my head for three days).
Sadly, most of the palace is now government and medical offices (HINT: yet another bonus free bathroom area), but the angel staircase remains.
The palace was built by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau (same guy who built the palace in the Dom Quartier) in 1606 for his mistress, with whom he had 15 children.  It's unclear, but I believe he was not married, but was not supposed to marry since he was technically a Catholic Archbishop, as well as prince.  The only other area that survived a later fire is the Marble Hall, where Mozart also played.  Both are free.
I headed to St Peter's Abbey, which was built around 700, to see the catacombs.  Sadly, they were closed due to illness, but the cemetery is very picturesque.

I didn't realize it was still in use until I saw something that broke my heart though - a small toy car.  It was the recent grave of a two year old and what appeared to be his mother the following year.😢
After that, I was done with the cemetery and it was time to see the church.  Yet another incredibly ornate combination of carving and paintings, so it certainly appears to be the style here!  I'm going to call 3 churches a pattern!
Then, it was time for my train to Innsbruck!  Speaking of trains, Austrian trains will allow you to make seat reservations for 3 Euro; however, unlike German trains, you probably don't need one.  Every train I was on had plenty of empty seats and the one reserved for me wasn't always a great seat, so I have no idea how the assignment was made!  Like German trains, each set of two seats has a power charger in 2nd class.  It's remarkable that train tickets in France are both significantly more expensive than Germany and Austria, but also offer poorer service since there is not an electrical port outside of 1st class!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Festung Hohensalzburg and Mozart - Salzburg Part 2

Today, it occurred to me that I've grown accustomed to small glasses in France and that large volumes of liquid aren't necessary because the bread is fresh and the meat isn't overcooked, so you aren't washing it down.  I ordered a 0.5L sparkling apple juice (they add sparkling water to juice here and in Germany) and I couldn't finish it!

Since Festung Hohensalzburg was the top-rated attraction in the city, I headed up first thing in the morning.  Of course, this is where Google Maps failed me again!  I put in the address for the funicular to the top . . . and it took me to the TOP of it, meaning I climbed up that hill on the left to reach the fortress!
Of course, I had some gorgeous views on the 15-20 minute hike up, so I didn't mind so much.
Once you reach the top, there's a lot of outdoor space that you can wander around to see the views and just a few random things to see, like the remnants of an old fireplace.  Note: You need a ticket to access this space also. 
Most of the tour shows little about how the fortress would have once looked and it's virtually empty - it's more about having you walk all over while it tells you about the history of the city and stages of building the fortress.  From what I understood, Salzburg was an independent area until 1263, when Bavaria conferred protection.  Upon the King's death, Austria was controlled by the Habsburgs, but Salzburg didn't break away from Bavaria until 1328.  In 1481, Salzburg was officially granted free city status.  The city was able to maintain this status in part due to the wealth from salt.  Salt?  Yes, salt, which was the primary way to preserve food before refrigeration.  The fortress was able to withstand attack and the salt provided ample dried food, so the fortress never fell by force.
You can even see the remnants of the old city walls still on the adjacent hill across the river.
There were many things to see in the museums that are in another building on the grounds, but I personally found the tiny discussion of Roman ruins most interesting.  The fortress was built on top of an original Roman settlement and there is brief mention of this history and the ongoing work to discover what was left behind.
It was then time for a little Mozart!  I had picked his birthplace as my one "Mozart" option, so after taking the funicular down, I walked to his birthplace nearby.  This is when I learned that the Salzburg Pass works as a ticket in some places, so I was allowed to skip the ticket line and enter right away.  The house takes about an hour and includes a lot of information on his parents, sister, wife and children.  It's pretty comprehensive and I enjoyed it - it's well worth a visit if you want to learn more about Mozart.  I took this photo of him as a young prodigy before I realized photos weren't allowed.  They even have things, like a lock of his hair!
Contrary to popular belief, Mozart's family wasn't poor and would have been more middle class.  The house had several rooms, including a living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.  This is representative of what there living room would have been like.  It's a screen shot from their app, which is quite useful because you can use it when the wall is too crowded to read (and for languages other than German and English, which are the only two languages used).
To wrap up my Mozart time, I went into the Salzburger Dom to see the organ from around 1700 that Mozart used to play.
It was a really lovely Cathedral though and had everything - ornate carving, paintings, pipes and the twilight sky blue was perfect.
Between Mozart's house and the Cathedral, I stopped in at the Salzburg Museum since I had time.  It proved that what people like is based on personal preference because this was my favorite of the historical museums (out of it, DomQuartier and Festung).  The history felt disjointed for me before, but this really laid it out from early-on to before it joined Austria.  1800-1803 France; 1803-1805 Habsbergs; 1805-1809 Austria (not sure how this differs from Habsburgs?); 1809-1810 France; 1810-1816 Bavaria and then permanently part of Austria since 1816.
I left my phone in the pocket of my coat by accident, so no photos of the museum, but it was really well done and interactive!  There was a theme to each floor, from the history of the city to old folktales and myths about Salzburg vs. reality.  Another area explored the historical appeal of the city throughout the ages with paintings and various other depictions, then discussed the pros and cons of the changing tourism scene in Salzburg (basically, they'd like to increase tourism outside of the Salzburg Festival, but limit negative side effects).  There was also an area with old musical instruments and recordings you could listen to of how they'd sound.  I think it's one that kids would actually enjoy even.  It was attached to the panorama museum, which is really just an old panorama painting of the city (really cool to see) and a few small paintings from the same era, when people would paint a city and travel with it so others could see parts of the world they'd never be able to visit!

I ended my day by walking the shopping area, which Austrians also appear to visit in the evenings (although they could have all been tourists honestly).  I mistakenly crossed the bridge to where the bus had dropped me off on a one-way street and had to turn around, but what a view from that mistake!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Snow and Ice in the Austrian Alps! Salzburg Part 1

I tried to visit Salzburg on my first 2006 trip to Europe, but I was incredibly ill when I arrived, so I just caught the first train out to Munich, where I could sleep.

It was a pleasure to finally make it back!  I must say that I'm not surprised that the French came up as worst at English in the EU recently - despite speaking more French than German now, it has been more relaxing to be in Austria so far because I can get by with limited German since people are generally fluent in English.  While I don't expect this, it certainly is nice!  It was also nice to discover that my "single" room here was quite an upgrade from Vienna!
When I arrived in Salzburg, I bought a 24-hour transit ticket, which is the price of two single tickets.  Even if you're buying the Salzburg Pass, this was a good plan because I needed to get to my hotel and to the first attraction to activate it.  Beyond that though, this is certainly a city where the Salzburg Pass is a great idea if you're staying at least 2 days!  The initial price is a little high for a 24 hour pass, but bumping it to 48 or 72 is quite cheap (only 5 Euro to add the 3rd day).  It offers free entry to a huge number of tourist sights, plus free public transportation.  Get the Pass!

Once I decided to buy the pass (available at your hotel, but activated at the first attraction), I knew that I didn't want to burn out on any single type of activity.  I avoided museums in Vienna because I feel like I've seen SO MANY of them, so I thought selecting a little of everything here would be best - not too many palaces, museums or Mozart sites!  So, for Day 1, I decided to really get my money's worth by taking the Untersberg cable car!  I'd expected a white Christmas in the Austrian Alps and was disappointed to discover that Austria is not completely buried in snow in December, so it was time to get that "Alps" experience!
That tiny circled spot is the cable car!

Before I arrived here though, it occurred to me that my comfy black sneakers and lack of hat or gloves might be a problem.  At first, I figured, "how bad can it be?" and thought I'd just tough it out.  Don't do it folks!!!  You aren't even seeing the VERY top that we went to in this photo and, in December, the conditions are exactly what you'd expect on TOP OF A GIANT MOUNTAIN.  Fortunately, on the way there, I noticed a bus stop in front of a shoe store and shop selling winter gear next door - convenient!  If you find yourself in the same boat, the Quick Schuh store in Anif had a nice selection of winter boots on sale, so I found a pair that looked nice, were good quality and were comfortable . . . yet were on sale for 40 Euro!  I have no winter boots, so they weren't a wasted purchase either.  They kept my feet perfectly dry and warm in appallingly cold conditions.
After you crest what you think is the top, then see how much further up you're going, you realize that winter gear is mandatory.  Even outfitted in better gear, the cold was so intense that my legs hurt with only having jeans on.  I've never really traveled in the winter before, so needing full "mountain snow" gear hadn't occurred to me before I left!
I enjoyed the experience overall though and liked the display that explained how the local mountains and lakes formed.  It was a nice place to stop and have lunch as well, but at low prices, I expected the food not to be that great.  Surprisingly, the wiener schnitzel had great flavor - the breading was actually the most flavorful that I'd had so far (third version to date).  I was shocked, at the end of my meal, to see that the server was smoking at the register though!  I didn't notice this in Vienna, but I did notice in Salzburg that people can still smoke in restaurants!  It completely grossed me out, although the ventilation at the first place was good enough that I'd never smelled it - I walked out of a couple of other places where I could clearly smell it when I walked in.
I'd clearly arrived at the right time because I walked outside again and could barely see in front of my face!  I decided it was time to move on to the next activity - the Dom Quartier.  Having went through the various sites now, I'd recommend seeing the Salzburg Museum first as it gives a more general overview of the city and its history.  You can see the nasty storm cloud that came in at the top of the photos below:
My hotel ended up being in a perfect spot and on both the bus line out to the zoo, Hellbrunn Palace and the cable car, but on that line and another, more frequent, one to the city center (in about 5 minutes).  I was surprised when the bus dropped me off on the other side of the river though!  Turns out, the roads near the river are one way, so I had to cross it (with an excellent view) to reach the old town, which is a UNESCO site.  I started off by crossing Mozartplatz.
Once you're there, you realize that the old town is a pedestrian area and made up of interlinking squares and small passages.  Many of the tourist sites are here with cathedrals, museums and nearby are Mozart's birth house and the funicular to the fortress.  While the buildings have a similar green, domed look as the Prussian ones, they are distinctly different.  The style is "Baroque," but Salzburg was influenced both by Germany and Italy in the styles and building structures.
The Dom Quartier includes several different tours.  The first takes you through the Residence Palace, which was used by the Prince-Archbishops.  This is a key piece of history that is introduced in this part of the tour because Salzburg was ruled by someone who was both prince AND archbishop, meaning he controlled the civic and religious parts of the state.  Due to this, Salzburg was an independent city-state for a very long time; technically, Mozart was not Austrian because Salzburg was not part of Austria then!  This combined secular-and-spiritual leader model continued until the Napoleonic Wars.

I wanted to share this one photo, which shows the hidden passages that servants used to keep the fires burning without disturbing the nobles.  This was a skilled job since a mistake could cause a fire, like one that destroyed part of the palace.  The Residenz was interesting to visit, although the majority of the contents are gone now.  It was built in 1604 by Wolf Dietrich, who I heard a lot about in other tours later!  He was also responsible for the Baroque remodeling of many of the buildings near the Residenz.
The next part of the museum is an art museum.  Here, you learn that Salzburg is really trying to improve the tourism in the city and to attract people outside of the Salzburg Festival (music festival).  I have one recommendation that I could make - don't shut so many things down in the winter!  Or open them over winter break at least - Hellbrunn Palace, a couple of the smaller museums and the boat cruises are all included in the pass, but are all closed in November-March.  The museum was showcasing an exhibit about how this painting of Rembrandt's was drawn and painted.  I was drawn in by the detail!  Look at how realistic the back of her hands are - incredible.
I don't have many photos from inside the Dom Quartier because most of the areas had signs indicating that no photography was allowed.  I'm not sure why places do this - if somebody isn't going to ever travel to a place, then photographs share a little bit of the world with them.  If they *are* going to travel to your place, I've never looked at photos and thought, "well, I don't need to go there and see it myself now."  If anything, it's often photos that make me want to see the place myself.  If you want to see a brief tour (3 minutes), you can do so here: Dom Quartier Official Video

The tour also takes you through a museum for the church, through the church on the organ balcony (where you will watch little flashes go off repeatedly - used by people who clearly lack the understanding that flash only helps when something is close and in the range of the flash . . . and that it is inappropriate to use in an operational church) and through a recreated "museum of curiosities," where they have gathered items to mimic cabinets of curiosities that would have existed at the time.  These used to be a way for rulers to show their knowledge by displaying artifacts from all over the world and natural items, such as large gems or taxidermied animals.
None of the museums really stand out as SUPER spectacular on their own, but I like the combined ticket that shows you just a small taste of several different things.  The total tour takes about 1 1/2 hours and is included in the Salzburg Card.

Now, I will leave you with pictures of the breakfast buffet, which I decided to splurge on for one of my mornings in Salzburg!  My hotels after this include breakfast, so we'll see what I'm getting there.  This one also included scrambled eggs, eggs you could boil soft or hard, sausages and bacon (along with the usual bread, cereals, juices and coffee).  Be aware that German-speaking places have a bad tendency to list "sausages" in English when they actually mean deli meats.  I've had this happen in Germany and Austria.  In this case, I mean ACTUAL sausages.
I'll be back tomorrow with my visit to the Fortress, a HUGE Google Maps fail, a little more history about the unique city-state of Salzburg and the Mozart part of my visit!  And I'll wrap up my final day in Salzburg with a "Sound of Music" tour. 😀

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

There's More to Vienna than the Schloss - Wien Part 3

I've been debating whether to narrow my blog down to just one thing.  Right now, it's part cultural commentary on France, part ex-pat tips and experiences, partly a travel journal and, when I visit specific sites, a little bit of history thrown in as well.  I started the blog because people back home asked me to, so they could keep up with my life here.  So, for now, it will stay a little of everything because that's what life here is actually like!

Despite the fact that my blog has focused largely on Christmas markets and the Schloss, there is actually more to see and do in Vienna than just that!  On my last day in the city, I went to Stephansplatz, which is the center of the historic part of Vienna.  As opposed to "Rathaus," which is like the Austrian version of "Hötel de Ville" or the town hall.  Yes, it sounds like "rat house."  It definitely is an adjustment and I snickered a little the first time, "wait, I don't want to go to the main Christmas market at the RAT HOUSE!  Who has a market at a RAT HOUSE?"  I didn't know at the time that there would be a rathaus in every town.
You can't miss St. Stephan's Cathedral in the area.  Since the square is named after it, I thought I'd take a look.  The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming smell of horse dung due to the large number of carriages by the church with all of the horses outfitted with little holders for their poo.  In fact, most of the central old town smells vaguely of horse poo.
When you've been in Europe awhile and you've seen a large number of churches and cathedrals, you really start to notice the ones that offer something unique or less common, so the intricate tile work on the roof caught my eye here.  As I walked around, I noticed a rather shocking bit of tiling because the black bird below is a Nazi symbol to me.  Of course, this raised the question for me of whether Austria had sided with Germany in World War II.  This bird is apparently part of the national symbol of Austria, which predates WWII.
The history on this is interesting and it answers a question that I had early on during my visit of why Austria is a separate country at all.  Starting in 1273, the Austrians were ruled by Germanic people and the Habsburgs appear to have been Germanic; however, it was a separate empire.  When Germany was unified, there were those who wanted "Greater Germany," which would have included the Austrian empire (which also ruled Czech and Hungary then) and the Austrian emperor would have been the king of Germany.  Others wanted "Lesser Germany," which excluded Austrian territory.  In part this was due to Austria being more Catholic and Northern Germany being more Protestant.  It was also a bid to unify people of Germanic background and language, so they wanted Austria's non-German lands excluded.  The lands being considered were largely part of the former "Holy Roman Empire," which fell apart during the Napoleonic Wars.
Wait, why are tourists allowed to enter here during St. Stephen's Day mass?  I exited promptly when I realized mass was taking place!

To make a long story short, Prussia beat Austria in a war and ousted them from a unified Germany.  The Prussian king became the king of Germany and we basically have the country of Germany as we know it today.  Austria was essentially annexed into Germany by the Nazis before World War II had really started, something that many Austrians approved of because they felt it unified "Greater Germany."  Austria is a separate country today because the Allies decided to view Austria as a victim of Nazi aggression and to restore independence at the end of WWII.
Another church that really stood out as unique, especially in this area, with the red brick and gold!  I had no idea what it was, but it's the Grieichische Kirche (Greek Church).

I was curious about the Austrian royalty now, so I hunted down a few more of their buildings.  The Hofburg Palace houses the Austrian National Library, which is pretty cool for a book nerd like me!  Plus, the building is just stunning!  I also found it remarkable that the library actively seeks out the rightful owners of books that were taken by the Nazis during WWII and tries to return them (over 30,000 have been returned).
Another part of the Hofburg Palace (the total palace is huge and quite spread out) houses the Sisi Museum.  I debated whether to go here or not, but ultimately skipped it.  While she was a popular princess, I'd read online about her already after the Schloss.  Seeing a bunch of her personal items and learning more didn't appeal to me personally, but it looks like an interesting museum for those who want to go more in-depth on Austria's last Princess.  The weather had also improved and it was actually warm, so I think I was reluctant to go inside and preferred just walking around and seeing more of Vienna!
For those who don't know, I will be back in Vienna for New Year's Eve, so I was super excited to see the preparations starting already!  I'm not sure if I'll attend the official concert or just head to the main square to see what's going on, but it looks like it will be lovely no matter what!