Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Danube and the Wachau Valley

This is the end of the journey which was started in Ehrwald. Want to learn more about Austria? Check out my All Things Austria site.
The Wachau valley, on the Donau (Danube) is a major wine growing area that sits between the towns of Melk and Krems. It is a lush valley with many vineyards, which are much different from Burgenland or around Vienna, as they sit on steep slopes and are terraced.

The area also has three Abbeys (Catholic Monasteries). The one in Melk, which we toured, is an Austrian Benedictine Abbey, and one of the world's most famous monastic sites. Its location above the town of Melk on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube in Lower Austria, dominates the area's landscape. It was founded in 1089 and is still active today, housing about 30 Benedictine Monks and a school, which is open to the public.
The museum inside and library inside the abbey are worth visiting.
The setting surrounding the Abbey, is of a charming village with cobble stone streets, curio shops and sidewalk cafes.
On the Riverboat and down the Danube.
  Where little villages, castles and vineyards grace the banks and valley.

Stopped in Durnstein, which has one of the most photographed sites on the Danube, the church with the blue tower, the inside of which is full on baroque style.
Durnstein is a neat little village with little shops, restaurants, narrow cobble streets and a lot of charm.
What a wonderful day and a cruise definitely recommended. 
Good bye Donau, till the next time.


Burgenland, the Austrian state a short distance east of Vienna is a major wine growing region, Joseph Haydn's home and also a recreational attraction with its Neusiedlee, a large shallow lake. The area is also dotted with small villages amongst the vineyards. Note the nests on top of the chimney - storks.
And of course where there are vineyards and villages, you'll find Heuringens, which are local wine bars that serve the local wine plus cold cuts, pastries and home cooked goodies - yummmmm.

Very similar to Pubs in England, except that the Heuringens are set in wine growing areas around Vienna and most of the seating is in small courtyards - very quaint. Note the bundle of flowers hanging above the entrance, this indicates that wine is being served. Mostly you'll see bundles of fir type limbs.
Yup, that's me

Burgenland, especially around Eisentadt, where Haydn was born, lived and was buried, is an area rich in musical tradition. We had the opportunity to attend a small private concert in Haydn's birth-home played on a restored Fortepiano, over 250 years old, claimed to have been used by Haydn himself.

 Coutyard of Haydn's birth home. Note the thatched roof.
 And now back to the storks. Here's a mama rearing the next generation of baby delivering storks.
 Next, on to the Wacau and the Danube, or "Donau", as it's locally called.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Sunday In Vienna

What a way to start a beautiful Sunday morning, listening to the Vienna Boys Choir at their home chapel on the grounds of the Hofburg.
An ideal time to take in some of the major sights in the Central District, no cars and tourists are just beginning to trickle in.

Excavated Roman and pre-roman foundations and construction in central Vienna.
There are so many things to see, including this creation by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hunfertwasser, who has a number of other projects around Vienna, including the design of the trash incinerator plant. Below is part of Haus Hundertwasser. There's not a straight line, a level floor or a pattern that's duplicated.
How about a ride on the Riesen Radt to catch a good panoramic view of Vienna. The Prater, amusement park is ideally located, from which to spot the major sights.
It's easy to see why Vienna is frequently voted as the most livable large city in the world. Aside from the history and architectural gems, the city is surrounded by little villages and vineyards, in most of which you'll find Heuringens (wine taverns), where they serve great cold cuts, something more substantial, pastries and of course, some great and very reasonably priced local wine. A great way to spend an afternoon, although you may have to appoint a designated driver.
OK Hans on to new places


Vienna - Central District

The oldest part of the Vienna is known as the Central or, 1st District and this is where you'll find most of the the museums, St. Stephens Cathedral, the Hofburg which, whose beginnings date back to the 1,100s and today includes Austria's State Administrative offices, the Spanish Riding School, the Chapel where the Vienna Boy's Choir perform, the national library and numerous other official offices and institutions. Then there's the Rathouse (the major's office), the and Art and History museums, etc.
The Hofburg is very interesting in that it is not a single building but, rather is adjoining complexes that were built starting in the 1100s through the mid 1800s and have housed royalty and aristocracy for centuries. Today, it still houses government officials, including the office of the Austrian president.

As impressive as St.Stephens Cathedral, which is the dominates the sky with its 300 ft. plus spire and mosaic tiled roof is, the inside is even more impressive. 
Just happened to be walking by the Spanish Riding School, the home of the Lipizzaners in Vienna, one of the stallions happened to pop it's head out and send a hello to his cousins in Sarasota at the Hermann Royal Lipizzaner stables.

Warning, the scale of the buildings and the area can be deceiving - the area is considerable and is packed with buildings and gawking tourists, so bring along some good walking shoes. Here you'll also find souvenir as well as very exclusive shops (hang on to your wallet) restaurants and cafes, where you can rest your feet and watch people walk by.

The number of things to see and the explore can be overwhelming, so if you must, do stop at a cafe or restaurant for a break, and yes, you'll even find Starbucks in the vicinity.
And if something cooler suits our taste, the Ice Salon am Schwedenplatz, hands down, has the smoothest and best ice cream I've ever had - no calories of course.

Next, how about a Sunday morning with the Vienna Boy's choir and then...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Vienna - An Introduction to Schönbrunn

One of the must see palaces in Vienna is the Schönbrunn Palace, which is located in the 13th district, more on that later, and used to be the summer residence for the Imperial family.

The scale of the Palace, which houses 1441 rooms and grounds is truly impressive. It was built by Emperor Maximilian II in the mid 16th century. The area around the palace was used as recreational grounds and hunting. In the mid 16th century the palace was redesigned by the court architect Nicolò Pacassi under the orders of Maria Theresa of Austria.

Below are some photos of the immediate area of the palace palace itself, on an evening when the Vienna State Orchestra, gave a free performance. It was magnificent.

Below is the Gloriette in the garden on the Schönbrunn Palace. Built in 1775 as the last building constructed in the garden, according to its architect, it was built as a "temple of renown" to serve as both a focal point and a lookout point for the garden. While today it houses Café Gloriette, in the past it was used as a dining hall and festival hall as well as a breakfast room for emperor Franz Joseph I.

 A view from the courtyard.

BTW, Access to the Schonbrunn, or any other point of interest in Vienna is fairly easy, with U-Bahn (Subway/tram) stations, and bus service basically to and fro any point in the city. An 8 day (don't have to be consecutive days) transportation pass, for anywhere in the city, costs approximately $44.00.


Friday, June 3, 2011

To Vienna

Left Gosau in the Salzkammergut for Vienna, approaching it from the west side, which in our case took us to the official beginning Wacau (pronounced Vachau) valley in Melch, then down to Krems and then the Vienna woods. Below is the monastery in Melch
 and a view of the Danube from a nearby castle that's being restored.

The valley, which is approximately 20 kilometers long is dotted with small villages such as Durnstein, with its blue tower, and of course vineyards, which is what the valley is known for.

Both red and white wine, which can be tasted in all the little Heuringens and Wine Cellars in the various villages. Here's a hint, if the establishment has a green ball, usually made out of small fir branches, hanging outside, it means that they are open for business and wine is available.

From Krems on to the Vienna Woods, which will be a total surprise to anyone not familiar with them. Although they sound like big park or a patch of woods, the Vienna Woods are comprised on the eastern end of the Austrian Alps. This is where the Alps terminate and form the western flank of Vienna. Below is a view of Vienna from Kahlenberg, the middle of the three prominent hills in the woods.

In this picture, the right side of the Danube is the Old Vienna and the left the new.

And the wine heritage of of Vienna is very evident with all the vineyards and villages surrounding the city. More on that later.

And now on to Vienna itself.

Gosau and Salzkammergut

Next stop after Hallstattsee was Gosau, our base for the next few says.
From there we explored quite a bit of the Salzkammergut, from the gondola ride to the top to Dachstein, which is the prominent mountain in the region to various Health Spas in the area, many of which have hot sulfur springs. This also used to be the get away area for the aristocrats in Vienna

Looking down at Hallstatt. Note the precarious perch on the left - the Five fingers outlook.
A local setting in Baa-alb
 The hairs on the hat come from the goatee of a local mountain antelope.
Locals in their tracht at Gosausee, at a little guest house we had beer, wine and some great home backed pastries.
Good bye from Gosau and the Salzkammergut
The Tirol and Salkammergut areas hold much of the back country and alpine beauty associated with Austria. The people are friendly but you also get the sense that for the locals making a living here is not that easy and am sure many depend on the tourist trade.

The pricing was fairly reasonable. The guest houses are very clean and well kept and run about $30.00 - $45.00 per person, including breakfast. Eating out in this area is fairly reasonable also, with the least expensive being the beer and wine, which are very good and very inexpensive. A bottle of good local wine may cost $6.00 - $8.00, and can be had for less. Gasoline on the other hand runs about the same as a regular bottle of wine. BTW, currency is the euro and all measures are metric. Hmmm, what a trade-off

Because Salzkammergut is more native, English is not that prevalent but, the people are pretty helpful and sign language works well:-). Anyways, this is the area you'd want to spend time in if you want to get away but, avoid July and August, as this is when the vacation and tourist season is in full swing.

See you in Vienna