A Travellerspoint blog

Austria

Ice cave

Innsbruck, Austria

This morning, we woke a bit later than usual, but still with plenty of time for a calm breakfast. I made the spaetzel and cheese that I had bought at the Hallstatt grocery store yesterday. The process wasn't too different than boxed mac n cheese, but the spaetzel had a completely different texture, the cheese was less sharp and more earthy, and the color much yellower than bright cartoon orange.
Today I had to drive again through light rain to get to our destination. It's a pity we didn't pick a more central place to stay in order to cut down on the driving, but we really were hoping to see some amazing sky.
view from mountain

view from mountain


Eisreisenwelt is well-signed from the highway and we had no problems finding it or parking. In order to get to the parking, we had to drive up a mountain road full of switchbacks and hairpin turns. From the parking lot, we had more uphill to walk in order to get to the ticket building. From there, it's another 20 mins of uphill walking to get to the cable car (according to the map, but we found it to be less.)
cable car

cable car


The cable car ride is only a few seconds, but it thankfully saves a bunch of walking. Still, it's another 20 minutes of uphill walking (again per the tourist map but we did it less) to the cave entrance. As it was raining still, we took a shortcut tunnel to shrink the "20 minutes" even more. Still, that's a lot of uphill walking just to get to the entrance. Despite shedding any winter gear, I was still plenty warm when we got to the cave entrance.
Hike to the cave

Hike to the cave


It's supposed to be 0° F/ 32° C inside the cave, and the entrance is also chilly enough to see your breath. As we waited there a bit for the tour to start, I started cooling down. The seating by the entrance was mostly wet, so I stood around, trying to find a comfortable spot. Periodically, I'd catch a whiff of something that wasn't quite sulfur and wasn't quite strong garlic. We couldn't figure out what it was, but it seemed to us as if the cave had it's own odor. waiting at the entrance

waiting at the entrance


The guide popped out of a little room in the cave. It looked like a lounge of sorts from the tiny peek I got. I find it funny to think that somebody built a modern-style resting space inside a cave.
Once we were gathered together, the guide told us that we'd be climbing 700 steps within the cave. After all the uphill from the previous days and all the uphill just to get to the mouth of the cave (which was about 1500m in altitude), I was not looking forward to more. But, I am certainly willing to do as many stairs as it takes in order to see something cool (pun intended).
The guide also equipped us with carbide lamps-as in small flames with a mirror behind them. Every 4th person was supposed to take one and share. I guess I was fourth, but I kinda wanted my hands free to hold the handrails and already had enough stuff to carry, so I let somebody else hold it. Apparently, they do this out of tradition, and not for any good reason. Also, at various points throughout, we'd stop and the guide would light up a big piece of magnesium wire so we could see that specific area well. Its ashes just fell where it was burnt, and there were piles of ash in the areas where the tour guides regularly stopped. I have to question why they wouldn't just use rechargeable LED lights or something modern that didn't pollute the cave or require burning fuel. I don't think it adds "romance" or adventure to carry the old-style lamps, but maybe that's just me.
In any case, once equipped, we entered into the cave and started climbing the stairs. The guide would stop every few minutes to let us catch our breath and to explain what we were looking at and how it got there.
Basically, water flows in to the cave through holes in the rock, but also as moisture as the wind bows through the cave. The moisture gathers into layers of ice, some of which are 5000 years old and look like sediment layers or tree rings. The condensation of the air moisture also turns to frost on the rocks of the cave, making them sparkle. And some of the water that drips in forms ice stalactites and stalagmites, or freezes in place in what looks like a frozen waterfall. Other features are formed as the winds blow through and carve away at the ice that has built up.
All of these phenomena combine to create beautiful features that change from year to year as the ice melts a bit or refreezes with the seasons. It was worth every one of the 700 steps each way to see the cave features. We even got to walk through a big ice tunnel at one point. And the stairs were surprisingly dry and not slippery, making for an easier climb. We were able to touch the ice, and at one point even get off of the wooden walkway and walk on it a bit.
I'm betting that they have to redo the walkway each season. It looked really new and I would imagine that the ice sometimes forms over the old one and so the pieces have to be replaced. Or maybe they just come and melt the ice from the stairs regularly.
Whatever they do, I appreciated their maintenance. We walked so many stairs that I actually stripped off my fleece and hoodie and hat and just climber in my regular long sleeve t for most of the way. At the top, we were no longer climbing, and I did eventually throw on some gloves and my unzipped fleece, but that was plenty. I didn't feel a coat was necessary at any point.
They wouldn't let us take pictures, but their site has some. Keep in mind, that these pictures are bright for some reason, but it was much darker in the cave.
By the time we emerged from the cave, the sun had come out again and the view was stunning. To extend our enjoyment a bit, on the way down, we stopped at the restaurant on-site. Even though it's clearly for tourists, the food was really good and not ridiculously priced. My spaetzle and cheese was amazing. They had all these little pieces of caramelized onions and chives in with a super gooey cheese sauce. My guy got a goulash that he really enjoyed, although he fed his bread to some crows that had perched nearby. As soon as he started, more came. And he fed them. And more came. At some point, they were all swooping around trying to take the food that we weren't trying to share with them. And they were hopping on our table. I felt like I was in the Hitchcock movie.
birds who want to steal our food

birds who want to steal our food


The next potential site on our list was the Grossglockner Alpine Road. But, we've been driving and hiking and cable -car-ing through the alps for days now and didn't feel the need to pay $35 to do more of the same.
We did take the scenic route to Innsbruck though. We had a bit of rain, but for the most part, we had bright sunny views of the alps and the verdant mountain valleys.
views

views

In Innsbruck, we wanted to see a traditional slap-dancing show. The hotel reception told us that there should be one in the downtown area and marked the map. She also mentioned street food in a street market, which sounded exactly like what we wanted for dinner.
We tried to find the building marked with an x, but it didn't seem to exist. What we did find was some sort of massive street fair with blocks and blocks of crowds enjoying the entertainment. We decided to check that out instead.
Innsbruck street fair

Innsbruck street fair


We watched groups of kids prepping for their dance routine on one block. On another, a band covered American pop hits. A different corner featured a flamenco guitarist with an accompanying stomper. When we went back around, the entertainment had changed and there were stilt dancers in place of some other performers. My favorite entertainment was the large crowd in one of the squares that was all dancing to Gente de Zona's Macarena. When that song ended, someone said some stuff in German, and then Daddy Yankee came through the speakers and the crown danced again. I feel very connected here because they listen to the same music as me. Even the radio stations I've been hearing as I drive have a ton of Latin American music.
stilt dancers

stilt dancers


The big difference between this street fair and most of the others I have been to is their lack of street food. For a fair that stretches several blocks down the main street and then spills onto several side streets and plazas, 2 hot dog tents didn't seem like enough food. Where are the fried stuff-on-a-stick stands? Where are the people roasting cinnamon rolls or selling cotton candy or pretzels?
Innsbruck street fair

Innsbruck street fair


We ended up going into a shop to get the beginning of dinner, still hoping to find something else on another side street somewhere. We thought we were getting a slice of pizza to split. Technically, we did. This "slice" was about the size of a normal medium pizza- much more than we were expecting. Plus, we didn't just get plain. We got "ruccola" which basically means they take a salad- dressing and all- and dump it on top. I was surprised at how much balsamic dressing improves pizza. So now, we had each had a full meal, while intending to have a snack or appetizer.
We kept walking toward the market hall though. As we walked down the path by the river, looking across at the neat tidy houses in front of an almost too-good-to-be-true idyllic mountain backdrop, we understood why people would want to live here. I'm not sure one could ever tire of looking up at those majestic peaks that are visible everywhere in the city.
Innsbruck by the river

Innsbruck by the river


The market hall was open, but most of the individual stands were closed and covered sheets or tarps. One vegetable stand remained open for late evening shoppers, but the only other businesses not shuttered served prepared foods. We popped into a cute little food bar with a simple 3-choice menu written on a chalkboard. The waiter out front piqued our curiosity with his mention of veggie balls. They arrived on a bed of cabbage that was either caramelized or mixed with caramelized onions, yet was still a bit pickley and under a frothy veloute. The sauce and bed were so amazing that we didn't notice that much about the balls. This is a dish I need to figure out how to make at home. So far, it's the best thing I've eaten the whole trip.
Having wandered circles around old town and seemingly exhausted that entertainment, as well as any street food stands, we went to the mall to see if we could find ourselves some apple strudel for dessert.
As we entered, a DJ blasted pop music as about a dozen kids danced on a marked-off dance floor. I don't mean teenager kids. He was mostly playing to the under-6 crowd. I found it amusing to watch 3-year old children toddle-dance while the speakers screamed "it's Britney, bitch.
In the end, we didn't find our strudel, and walked back to the hotel without it.

Posted by spsadventures 12:45 Archived in Austria Tagged ice cave Comments (0)

Salty + Salzburg

Hallstatt, Austria

We awoke surprisingly early this morning, so we decided to adjust our plans. Today, we will go see Hallstatt and the salt mines there, then some of Salzburg, and catch a Mozart concert before heading back.
When we made these plans, google said it was a bit over 2 hours from Reit Im Winkl to Hallstatt. When we got into the car, the GPS said more, but we weren't worried, based on our earlier experience. We made a stop for an ATM and picked up some kind of pastry right across the street. We stopped for gas. And the time to get to Hallstatt had gone up by way more than what we had stopped for!
rainy drive

rainy drive


It was raining and the roads were wet and curvy, so I was driving somewhat slower. Also, we got stuck behind some slow vehicles that we couldn't pass for quite some time. Still, it seemed like a mighty long drive to Hallstatt. The scenery was nice, but the rain marred it too much for me to consider it a truly pleasant drive. As we got closer, we noticed that the GPS was taking us the long way around the lake, even though the town was right near us. The GPS had decided that the road was closed, even though all the signs pointed to town and parking. So, we ignored the GPS and avoided a long drive, arriving in town earlier than we expected.
Hallstatt view

Hallstatt view


We got tickets to the salt mines and headed up the walkway to them. It's an uphill hike to the entrance, and there were no non-hiking options as far as I could tell. The rain was still falling, but not heavily, so we bundled up and walked it.
The mines have their own free audio tour app (and wifi to download it) so we listened to the audio as we hiked up and passed the various "stations." The audio guide was interesting and explanatory, although each portion was much longer than the amount of time it took to walk from station to station. On a nice sunny day, I probably would have lingered at each station for the full duration of the audio guide, enjoying the amazing view. In the rain though, we skipped about a third of them. The app is on my phone, so I can go back and listen to them later. I really found the information on the archaeological finds there fascinating and want to hear the rest.
The top of the path is marked by a building that is the start of the guided mine tour. Everyone stows their bags and puts a special pajama-like suit over their clothes. They don't fit well on anyone, but are necessary.
Despite already having hiked up to the building, climbing stairs to get to a small museum display and the "gowning room," we still had more up to go. The tour guide introduced herself and then took us to more steps outside that we needed to climb to get into the mine itself.
mine entrance tunnel

mine entrance tunnel


We entered single file, walking down a long tunnel, tight enough that we needed to walk single file, and some taller folks had to duck a bit. Eventually, the tunnel widened out to a chamber where we could all stand and hear the tour guide. The tour guide was fun and not as dry and robotic as the castle tour guides yesterday. But most of the information about the mine came from a few videos and light shows that played at various stations. I also noticed audioguide numbers, although there wasn't really time to stop and listen, so again, I'll listen later.
We learned how the salt deposit was formed, how the precious salt shaped the lives of the locals for millennia, a bit more about what the archaeologists found here (including the oldest wooden staircase in all of Europe), extraction techniques, and the activities of the mine today. (It still employs miners and produces salt.)
Europe's oldest wooden staircase

Europe's oldest wooden staircase


The really fun part was sliding down the miners' slides though. These large wooden slides are how miners got from horizontal to horizontal (floor to floor) within the mine. I think the reason we wore the pajama suits was so that we could slide smoothly down these slides and not catch on anything. Riding them feels a bit like riding an amusement park ride, just without the safety harness. The second slide has a camera and speedometer to take your picture and tell you how fast you were going. While some people only reached 15 km per hour, we reached 34. That's faster than bike fast!
Miner slide

Miner slide


On the way out, we had to climb a bunch of stairs to make up for all the sliding we had done though. But there was also another amusement-park-style ride: a "miner's train." Again, there were no seatbelts, but this was much slower, more like a kiddie park ride.
The rain had stopped at some point while we were in the mine, and the sun was shining over the mountains and lake. We walked back down the mountain to where the audio tour started, this time stopping to see the "UNESCO world heritage viewpoint." In the rain, the scenery is impressive. In the sun, it's amazing! We admired the quaint little villages dotting the smooth lake, the thick green forests covering the mountains, and the snowy mountain tops.
view

view


Across the lake, I spotted a castle. Actually, many of the small towns that we drove through had their own castles of varying magnificence. I'm wondering if the reason that Neuschwanstein is so famous is just because Disney modeled Cinderella's castle based on it, or just because it's accessible to the public, or if there is something inherently special about that specific castle over all others. I would imagine that many of these other castles are probably just as opulent inside (although maybe I'm wrong).
castle view

castle view


We tried to eat at the restaurant to enjoy the view longer, but they had run out of about a third of the menu- pretty much all the good stuff- so instead we took the funicular down to the town and hunted for food there.

We found a map of the town and headed towards the ossuary I wanted to see, although really, there is one main street in town, so you can't get that lost anyway.

All of the residential buildings in town shared the same architectural style- wooden houses with decorative windows and balconies. Several had posted signs in German, English, and Chinese telling tourists to be quiet because people lived here. They started with "Hallstatt is no museum..." Except, it sort of is. The houses certainly belong in one. The old town square does. They're just lucky to live in a museum. Although I have no issues with tourists also recognizing that people live here and keeping the volume down.
Town square of tourists

Town square of tourists


The town was quite alive- with tourists roaming the streets. I didn't see too many people that didn't have their cameras out except shopkeepers. Tourists laughed as swans in the lake snapped up tossed bread pieces. Tourists strolled the streets. A lot of women were dressed as brides and getting what appeared to be their bridal photos done.
feeding the swans

feeding the swans


The town almost felt more like a movie set than a real place where people lived. The town square just added to that feeling. Small quaint restaurants lined the square. We stopped in one for lunch, getting the daily specials- goulash and curry rice.
I find it amusing that German/Austrian culture has really embraced curry and the British haven't. Curry rice, currywurst, curry sauce are all now "traditional" foods here, but the Brits are still making everything "traditional" without spices. They're like drug dealers- get everyone else hooked on your goods, but don't ever use them yourself.
Hallstatt

Hallstatt


After our meal, we continued on to the church. The graveyard is small but beautiful, with dense floral arrangements on each grave. According to what I watched before the trip, the people here pay rent for the grave sites, up to 10 years at a time. When the rent stops being paid, out you go. So, if you have somebody paying rent, they're sure to keep the grave nice and pretty.
Once evicted, some people's bones end up in the church ossuary. Somebody paints the person's name and some symbols on the skull, and it gets added to the collection.
painted skull

painted skull


On the way back to the car, we picked up dessert. From a food stand, we got some sort of pastry that tasted like a croissant stuffed with marshmallow fluff, and from the grocery store, a chocolate cherry ice cream pop. Both were absolutely delicious.
The drive to Salzburg was a nice and sunny drive, but as we neared, we needed to stop for directions. It is not possible to drive to the fortress, and also not possible to drive directly to the funicular that you have to take to the fortress. We parked nearby old city with the intention of getting directions from a tourist information center for how to get the funicular up to the fortress.
In the end, we ended up hiking uphill the whole way to the fortress instead. This isn't the first time I accidentally hiked a mountain, and I'm sure it won't be the last. And, even with all the uphill and stairs we've done in the past couple of days, I'm pretty sure it's still fewer stairs and less uphill than I did in San Marino. At the entrance, the ticket lady asked us if we knew that our concert tickets included the funicular ride. Yes, we knew, but we couldn't find the bottom funicular station and were given bad directions. She gave us a round-trip ticket for the funicular anyway.
Salzburg fortress

Salzburg fortress


We wandered the castle a bit, quickly realizing that we had a lot more time before the concert than we could spend in the fortress. We used half of our round trip ticket to descend, making note of where the bottom side of the funicular was. I do not want to get sweaty climbing this mountain again just before the concert.
view from the fortress

view from the fortress


In the city, we ducked inside a really neat cathedral. This one was covered in religious art, like any cathedral, but it was also very different. The artwork was outlined in such a way to almost seem like a cartoon or drawing. I loved the uniqueness of the style.
cartoon-style church

cartoon-style church


While a lot of the architecture and statues were intricate and interesting, I particularly loved one fountain near the church. Merhorses spouted water that filled the basin below. I suppose that it's just as reasonable to have merhorses as merpeople. Although now I want to see statues of mercats, merdogs, merrabbits, and other merpets.
Merhorse fountain

Merhorse fountain


For dinner, we stopped at what appeared to be a local burger chain. They had a very interesting "apple" barbecue sauce that tasted strongly of cinnamon and tasty food, but generally nothing super special.
The rain had restarted while we ate, so we took the fastest way back to the funicular and rode it back up to the fortress. The concert was on one of the higher floors, requiring more steps, as if I hadn't already done enough uphill over the past couple of days. When I saw a sign indicating that the bathroom was a floor lower than the concert, I made sure to use it before going up to the ticket area. I was not going to do more steps than I had to.
concert room

concert room


The concert space is somewhat intimate. It looked to be an old dining hall or ballroom that was converted into a concert space. The orchestra sat up on a small platform while the audience sat only a few feet away. I suppose that when there are more people, they add more audience chairs, but for tonight, there was some open space around the comfortably-spaced chairs.
The orchestra of 8 was half violins. The instrumentalists were all about 30-70 years old and each had their own style, making the concert somewhat visually interesting as well as auditorially. Some of the musicians were clearly concentrating on their music. Others looked like they were really enjoying themselves. One violinist was almost dancing with her violin. And the cellist looked like he was falling asleep whenever it wasn't his turn to play. The pianist came on for a couple songs and was playing really fast. I bet he could type at least 150 words per minute.
All in all, they seemed professional and like they had been playing for a long time, which I'm sure they had been. I enjoyed the music, and it was cool to hear Mozart performed in the city he wrote some of it in.
The sun went down during the first few Mozart songs, changing the concert backdrop. It also signaled to my brain that it was bedtime. Having hiked so much uphill during the day, my body was ready for sleep. The darkness outside and soft lamplight inside didn't help me stay awake. And while some of the music is a bit upbeat, most of it is what I would classify as "lullaby music." I didn't doze off at any point, although it took some effort.
Fortunately, I was able to doze a bit on the ride back since it wasn't my turn to drive. When I awoke, we were out of Salzburg and back on the country roads towards Reit im Winkl. The sky was pitch-black. In many places along the road, out headlights were the only break in the darkness.
This is actually why we had picked this location instead of staying more central to the activities and sights. This area is a dark sky zone. When planning the trip, I had figured that we'd stay here the 2 nights that they do dark sky tours. Even if it was a bit cloudy for one of them, surely it would be clearer on the other and we'd get to see tons of stars with our bare eyes.
Alas, it was not to be. Both nights had intermittent rain and plenty of cloud cover, preventing star gazing of any sort. We could only enjoy the darkness as there were no streetlights or industrial lights pointed upwards to reflect on the clouds.

Posted by spsadventures 12:11 Archived in Austria Tagged concert mine mozart Comments (0)

Long night of the museums

I did not sleep well. First, the walls were extremely thin and I could hear everything the people in the next room over were saying. I kept thinking that they were in my room, which was a bit unnerving while trying to fall asleep. Second, I woke up an hour too early because I didn't set my clock back. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that until after I was up, dressed, and out the door.

I had planned to get to the Naschmarkt (think nosh market) at 8:30, not 7:30, even though the guide said that it opened at 6. At 7:30 though, it was still reasonably dead. There were 2 aisles of vendors running the length of the market, and one of them appeared to mostly be lunch/dinner restaurants. The other aisle contained the fish mongers, fruit vendors, and a surprising number of falafel stands. That half was open, but it was clearly just getting started. I wandered down the row, feeling like the very hungry caterpillar as I stopped to try things and buy small foodstuffs that interested me. By the end, I had made myself a breakfast consisting of 3 small eggplant appetizers from Dr. Falafel, a cheese pastry, a pickle, a plum Linzer cookie, and some mountain cheese. Had I been staying longer, I would have bought some vegetables here to cook with. They had all sorts of fruits and veggies from all over the world, and they were advertised by the country they came from. From fennel to lychees, you were covered. Also, there were a very large number of stands selling nuts, dried fruits, and spices. At the end of the Naschmarkt was a flea market. The people there had everything from dishware, old clothes, and new shawls to faucets, appliances, and toys. Since I needed sunglasses to replace my broken ones, I did stop to get a pair. I negotiated down to 5 euro from 10, so even if they only lasted a month, they were worth it and I felt like I was getting a reasonable deal.

It was still too early to go to St. Stephen's cathedral, so I wandered past the Hofburg palace for a little before I headed up to the cathedral. When I got the the cathedral, all the bells were ringing for a very long procession. The procession was coming from somewhere so far down the street that I couldn't even see the end of the line. It contained nuns, church officials, and a bunch of guys in costumes. I can't believe that they are all priests or friars unless there is some sort of special event going on, but maybe they are. The procession mostly filled the cathedral, but some regular people went in as well for mass. During mass, tourists are allowed in the back of the church, but not in the main praying area. the back takes less than 10 minutes to see, so I went to climb the tower while I waited for services to be over. The tower has something like 340 steps to the top, mostly in a spiral staircase. It was quite the climb, but it didn't take as long as I thought it would. Before I knew it, I was at the top. The top has quite a view of the city. It is definitely worth the climb. Also, from the top of the tower, you get a better view of the tiling on the cathedral roof. After climbing down the stairs again, mass was still in session, so I went to check out the ruins in the nearby metro station. You read correctly. In the metro station, you can look through some glass at Virgilkapelle, the remains of a church that is much older that St. Stephen's or the remains that are sitting next to St. Stephen's outside. When I was done there, mass was still happening, so I just gave up temporarily. I headed off to the Hofburg Palace, figuring that maybe I'd make it back to St. Stephen's later.

The Hofburg Palace is gorgeous from the outside, but it's also worth it to go inside. It contains 3 museums that are all under one ticket. For a little more, you can get the Sisi ticket that also gets you into the Schonbrunn Palace, but costs less than the two tickets bought separately. I got that as I intended to go there later. The first museum is the Imperial Dishes Museum. It sounds lamer than it is. Basically, it contains all of the dishware from all of the royal families. The audio guide is good on detail, although it makes getting through the museum go slowly if you listen to all of the description. I skipped a bunch, but still learned some interesting things about Viennese tastes. For example, despite the massive quantity of exquisite porcelain, only soup and dessert courses were eaten off porcelain. Everything else was eaten off of silver. They had a massive quantity of each on display though. Every different ruler seemed to have their own style and bought their own set of dishes that were contemporary in their times. By massive, I mean roomS of dishes in each style, multiplied by a lot of styles. The second museum is the Sisi Museum. Sisi (Elisabeth) became an Austrian Empress at 16, wasn't particularly famous, and then died young, sparking her popularity. She is often compared to Princess Diana for that. The museum walks you through her life, from why she was married off instead of her older sister, to the deaths of some of her children and her health issues later in life. They have a bunch of dresses and replicas of her jewels, but other than that, it's a little sparse on Sisi-specific artifacts, probably because she was just one of many Empresses. She did have some quirks though, which led to interesting displays, although some were in the next museum. For example, she wanted to stay in shape, so she had an exercise room built and had her own home gym. Still, the really good artifacts were in the Imperial Living Quarters, the third museum. Basically, they had a bunch of rooms set up how they would have looked when the royal families lived there. The chambers were the epitome of fancy, decorated from the floors to the ceilings. Here, the audio guide was a bit better. I didn't skip so many of the lectures, and they told entertaining stories about the various royals. For example, one of the kings would see anybody, down to the lowliest peasant, so his waiting room wasn't just for the rich and you could find anybody there. Right when I was about in those chambers, I started to hear a band. Just out the window, a bunch of people in historic costumes had started to play (what I assumed to be) Viennese period music. That just added to the incredible charm of the imperial chambers.

By the time I was through with the Hofburg Palace, I was getting hungry again. Nearby is a Vienna staple- the Trzesniewski buffet. Here, they have mini open-faced sandwiches on display, each with different toppings. They're basically some sort of mashed salad on quarters of slices of bread. You can choose a variety so that you can try several in the same meal without filling up too much. The ones I got were pretty good, although one was spicy enough that it interfered with my ability to really taste all of the subtle flavors in the others. I washed it all down with a pulpy blueberry drink, and headed back to St. Stephen's.

At this point, it was around noon and the cathedral was so packed, I couldn't even get in. I was glad I had been there right at the opening. I gave up on it again, thinking that maybe I'd get back to it, but if I didn't at least I had seen some of it.

Schonbrun Palace is a metro ride away, and it is right outside of the stop- just follow the crowd right up to the palace doors. There was quite a bit to do on the palace grounds. I started by going outside to the gorgeous palace gardens. At the far, far end of the gardens is a hill you can walk up. At the far, far end of the hill is Gloriette, a very expensive cafe inside a monument built by one of the royals. I didn't eat there, but I did stand outside and enjoy the view of the city and the palace. I had been concerned that the view wouldn't be worth the walk, but a couple on their way down assured me it was. They were right. On the way back, I stopped in briefly to look at the zoo and maze that were on the side of the gardens, but those cost extra and I wasn't sure how good I was on time, so I skipped them. Here is another place it came in handy to have a Sisi ticket already purchased. Everybody else had to wait in line to get a ticket with a specific entry time on it. The guards weren't letting anybody in until their time. I overheard one telling a group, "wait one more minute," because their time wasn't quite yet. I however, got to march straight in because the Sisi ticket gets you into the untimed line, which is also very so short I'm not sure they can even call it a line. The palace had chambers set up not that differently than the Hofburg, but the audio guide was even better. Plus, they had lots of rooms set up as they were for royals other than Sisi and Franz Josef. For example, some other royal had an Asian fetish and so there was a bunch of Asian art as well.

When I was done enjoying the palace, I walked back to my hotel to rest my feet (I had pretty much been walking all day), and to take a nap to prepare for the evening. Another slightly less-than-complimentary fact about the hotel: there are no signs to indicate "do not disturb" and they don't really knock in the middle of the day. I was startled awake when the guy came in my room. I'm just glad I was in pjs and not in the shower or something.

After the nap, I headed over to the last place that was covered by the Sisi ticket. Since the ticket was less than the regular entrance fees to the 2 palaces, this was basically free. It's this furniture depot. The royals apparently all had their own furniture and styles, but instead of furnishing each of their many homes with their stuff, they bought enough furnishings for one or two and then had a crew of people move the furnishings in whenever they came around and out whenever they weren't. By furnishings, I mean everything from couches and beds, to chamber pots, pianos, lighting, and even moulding. Unless you're big into furniture, it's something you can walk through pretty quickly. If you have somebody with you who isn't, they have the Sisi movie playing in about every room, so that person can be entertained by the tvs while you enjoy furniture stuff. The one very cool place to make sure to stop, even if you're not into furniture, is the chair depot. They have a whole line of very old chairs that you can actually sit on. I sat on some and could feel the comfort that the royals felt. Plus, it was cool to think that some Austrian royal sat in the same place as I did. I went back to the Naschmarkt for dinner at a Chinese place called Pineapple. It was pretty good. I also stopped by the famous vinegar store that was closed in the morning. These people have real, mothered vinegars in wooden casks. You can try them and then buy them. The exciting part is that they don't just have balsamic, they have honey vinegar, quince vinegar, and other bizarre varieties that you don't really see elsewhere. I got some to take home, although I haven't quite figured out what to do with it yet.

For those who don't know, Long Night of the Museums is the one night per year when most of the museums in Vienna (the Hofburg and Schonbrunn weren't part of the most, but over a hundred museums were) stay open from 5pm until 1am. There is a single ticket that you can buy, and it gets you into all of the museums for free. Many of the museums have special programs that they run during this time. During the day, whenever I was sitting and eating or sitting on a train, I had been reading my guide to the Long Night and marking the places I wanted to see. I had even marked the order that made the most sense (and involved the least walking in circles as I had already walked something like 9 hours by the time it started). I started at the Opera House museum, as they said they had a tour right at 5. Unfortunately, the tour was of the museum and not the Opera House. Oops! I had passed the outside of the Opera House several times, but I really wanted to see the inside of the Opera House and it was now too late. That messed up my plans a little. Instead, I headed to the Kunsthistoriches museum. That museum had ancient Roman and Greek stuff as well as a ton of paintings from various eras around the Renaissance. I'm not really into all of the old, commissioned religious pieces and portraits, so I wasn't super-impressed, but if you are, you should go. The building had very cool ceilings and 5 paintings I liked (4 in the same series), but not much more.

I moved on to try to go into the Treasury, but the line was ridiculously long. I didn't feel it was worth waiting in, so I headed over to the Jewish museum. Of course, it wasn't open yet as sundown hadn't occurred and it was still Shabbat. They should have put something in the booklet that they weren't opening until 8pm.

Because I had to go to the restroom, I ducked into the closest museum to where I was, which happened to be the clock museum. If it weren't Long Night and I didn't have to go, I wouldn't have stopped in, but it was a very neat place to stumble upon. It had old grandfather clocks, cukoo clocks, and other sorts of neat artistic clocks. It's pretty small, so it didn't take too long to go through it.

Next I headed over to the Globe Museum, as it was right next to the Esperanto Museum (which would be my next stop). I actually really love old globes because I find it intriguing to see how people used to see the world, and also to see what countries existed at various points in history, so I was excited at this find. However, I was a bit disappointed. All of the globes were crammed into a small place and shelved on top of each other so that you couldn't really see all around any of them, you only got a good view of one side. Plus, that one side was more often than not in the middle of an ocean. If they spread the globes out more and made sure that the land parts were visible, the museum would have been very interesting.

I bought a small snack from some people doing a bake sale fundraiser, and then waited a few minutes for 8pm. At 8pm, the Esperanto museum had a crash course in Klingon. The course was in German, but I was ok at first. The instructor explained to us how to pronounce the Klingon letters, and how to count in Klingon. Then, we got to the part where he taught conjugations. I get how to conjugate in Klingon, but I have no idea what he words mean or what persons I'm conjugating in because the translation was in German. It was hilarious though. Here I am, not understanding any of the jokes he's telling, not even understanding half of what I'm repeating, and still enjoying my introduction to Klingon. Tonight I definitely upgraded my geek rating.

After my fabulous lesson, I headed back to the now-open Jewish museum. It was a bit sparse, but most of the disappointment was that they had poorly scanned and reprinted replicas on display instead of original artifact documents. Also disappointing was that in the donations box there were way more dollars than euros. What wasn't a disappointment was the ancient synagogue. We were taken on a tour of the ruins of an old synagogue. It's basically just a large underground room, but you can still see in the rubble where the women prayed separate from the men. The bimah is still partly intact and the original floor tiles are still present.

Next, I wanted to try the treasury again- still a long line, try again later. Instead, I took the Long Night shuttle bus to KunsthausWien.

Kunst Haus Wien took my breath away with its amazingness. It seriously was awesome in the literal definition of the word. Holy crap. I'm going to try to give you a feel for it, but you really just have to go there as words can't fully express how unique it is. First, you enter through the restaurant cafe. It is outdoors and completely surrounded with greenery. You feel like you're in a little park, far removed from the city, despite the fact that the road is right there. Next, the building itself is very unique. The floors aren't flat. There are hills and curves that make you feel as if you're outside and not inside. The floors appear to be made of recycled tile or wood, which also contributes to the outdoor feeling. Even the walls are very fluid and make a regular home feel industrial. Everywhere you look, there is art by Hundertwasser (who also designed the building) on the walls. The art is very bright and shiny- even the post cars of the art have foil in them. Much of the art has a clear ecological or political message, but even those pieces are fun to look at. In addition to the paintings, there are some architectural models. One was a model of a village where all of the houses were built into hillsides, so all of them had flowing, natural green roofs. The designs were all very eco-friendly and way ahead of their time. Personally, I was so impressed that I spent quite a bit of money on prints to take home and decorate my walls.

Upon finishing at the Kunst Haus Wien, I took the shuttle back to the main area and stopped by where they were giving sewer tours, but the tours were all full. By this point, I was getting pretty hungry, so I stopped for a bite at the Cafe Museum. (I think the name means that it is a cafe i the museum area, because there is no actual museum in the cafe.) The apple strudel was pretty good, but it came with a lot of superfluous whipped cream. The hot chocolate also had too much whipped cream and didn't taste that chocolatey. It was only slightly better than that at Sacher. Moral of the story- in Vienna, you might as well just get water as the hot chocolate isn't much better.

My last stop of the evening was the Treasury, which finally had a short line. It contained a bunch of the royal crowns and other royal artifacts, including stuff from the emperor of Mexico and Marie Antoinette, who was apparently from an Austrian family, although we usually think of her as French. It was worth seeing.

By the time I was done there, it was just about 1am, and I had walked most of the day (at least 15 hours). I was completely exhausted and very ready for the return flight, which turned out to be uneventful, especially since I was sleeping most of the way.) I returned from my trip refreshed, renewed, and ready to take on life again.

(Pictures soon)

Produce at the Naschmarket

Produce at the Naschmarket


Palace

Palace


Procession

Procession


Schonbrunn Palace Gardens

Schonbrunn Palace Gardens


Floor at best museum ever

Floor at best museum ever


Royal crown

Royal crown

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Vacation

It was much easier to leave Israel to go on vacation than it would have been to go home. I flew through Amman to Vienna. It still cracks me up that I get to go through special "lady security" in Amman.

Upon arrival in Vienna, I took the bus to the metro station and the metro to the hotel. I was staying at Elisabeth Guesthouse, which was easy to get to from the metro stop. It is an old row home that somebody has converted into a cute hostel with character. Unfortunately, they took my credit card to book it, but wanted cash payment up front for me to stay there, so I had to make a trip to the ATM around the corner as I wasn't quite prepared for that. Once we got that squared away though, I got settled in my room. My room was a bit much for one person for 2 nights, but it was less expensive than anything else that was rated decently online and had availability. That was my fault. When I booked the trip, there were tons of places open in Vienna, but since I waited until a couple days before going to Vienna to book a place to stay and this was a special weekend, there wasn't much with availability.

Next, I headed downtown to Stephansplatz and walked around from there. The area right by Stephansplatz is mostly the ritzy shopping area. There are a lot of boutique stores that appear to be name-brand, although I didn't really recognize most of the names. As it was almost 4, I bypassed them and stopped for lunch at Gasthaus Reinthaler, a Viennese restaurant that was recommended to me by the lady at the tourist center. Lunch was a bit interesting- salad (shredded lettuce with some sort of vinegar poured over it) and some sort of omelet with dumplings in it. There was actually a very nice contrast between the light, tangy salad and the heavy, dull egg dish. Overall, it worked together very nicely. Again, I walked around the main part of the city, just exploring and getting my bearings. Most sites were going to be closed soon, if they weren't already, and I was trying to save the museums for tomorrow anyway. I did, however, want to get in a Viennese music event tonight as this was probably my only chance. Fortunately, there are tons of guys dressed up in Mozart-era costumes all around town, trying to sell "discount" tickets to shows. Since there were no tickets left to anything "real" except a very expensive ballet that I'd have to get dressed up for (oh yeah, and I don't really like ballet), I went with the touristy concert. Again, I walked around, just admiring the very cool architecture. Most of the buildings in that area were pretty ornately decorated, probably a result of the Hapsburg empire's funding. They were very fun to look at. Since I didn't think I'd make it through the concert without dinner, but I just had lunch, I decided to get a light dessert dinner from Hotel Sacher. Hotel Sacher is where the original Sacher Torte was invented. They supposedly have the same recipe as the original still, and will still serve it today. The cake itself was very good- the perfect amount of moist, fabulous ganache icing, and just the right amount of tart and sweet coming from the thin fruity layer. I got a hot chocolate to go with it, but that wasn't particularly exciting. The chocolate was bland and the excessive whipped cream wasn't sugared, so it didn't really add anything.

Finally, I went to the concert, which was in the Palffy Palace. The room the concert took place in was a room that Mozart himself gave a concert in (at least once) when he was alive. I'm not really that big into a lot of classical music, but it was very cool to hear people play Mozart in-situ. The performers looked mostly to be students, although a couple of them were older, so I don't know how good they actually were, but they seemed fine to me. For the first half, they were dressed in period costumes, which made the experience even better and more interesting. For some songs, the instrument players were joined by an opera singer, and for others some ballerinas came out to perform. I was very amused. Then, they changed into modern clothes at the intermission. I think that took away most of the charm. The second half was definitely worse because of that. Good thing I got my money's worth in the first half.

Finally, I came back to the hostel for some rest. I have plans to get up early tomorrow.

No kangaroos in Austria

No kangaroos in Austria


Sacher torte

Sacher torte


Mozart concert

Mozart concert

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

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