© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
Official Name: Republic of Austria; Capital: Vienna (Wien); Language: German; Country Code: AT; Currency: euro (EUR) [formerly schilling (ATS)]
From a trip to Vienna in 2011:
[Diary] Helmut and Annelies had very generously offered to host me for all four days of my stay even though the usual arrangement with the hosting group Servas International is for two. We drove out of the city to their country cottage, a 20-year-old large log cabin. It was a little bit of Heaven! We unloaded the groceries and did a few jobs in the garden before retiring to the terrace in the sun for Chinese tea followed by a large mid-afternoon meal. As the sun moved, so did we, taking the table with us. We finished off with a large bowl of wonderful strawberries.
[Diary] I slept like a baby, for 13 hours solid; YES! I woke at 10 am actually feeling rested. My hosts were sitting at the eating area in the garden out in the sun finishing their brunch. It was another glorious day. As I was a long time in my room, they had been discussing how one might handle the situation when a guest dies in their bed. We joked about that, and I suggested that they could keep my luggage and, after funeral expenses were covered, they could have the contents of my wallet.
After eating, Helmut led me on a hike. Very quickly, the trail got quite steep and narrow; however, it was well maintained. The area has some spectacular limestone peaks and is well known for climbing. I counted about 30 men and women either on ropes going up, or waiting to ascend the near vertical sides. Many of them were from the Czech Republic. I stopped regularly to put my heart back in my chest. At the top, we had a clear view over a large valley containing several villages and one large town with a big church. The trees were starting to bud and new leaves were only a few weeks away. We came to a mountain rescue center next door to which was a 2-story restaurant and hostel. The place was crowded with climbers and hikers filling all the outside tables and consuming vast quantities of pasta, meat, sauerkraut, and beer. From there on, the path was a wide and gentle way down to our village.
[Diary] (Back in Vienna)
Just before noon, friend Peter arrived to be my tour guide for the afternoon. We started our cultural tour at Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the Habsburgs. We bought a ticket to tour 40 rooms, and I can say with great certainty that they were "over the top". I'm not a fan of gold and there was gilt everywhere. An audio guide was included, so we could hear all the details of daily life. Napoleon took over the place when he occupied the city, and I went into the room he had used as a bedroom. There are extensive gardens and some flowers were just starting to bloom. I was most impressed with the indoor gardens at the Palm House, a huge steel and glass structure filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Surprisingly, many of them were native to Australia.
Next up was the Naschmarkt, a longtime outdoor area with covered stalls selling all kinds of flowers, fruit, vegetables, meat, spices, and such with restaurants every 50 paces. We dropped in to Karlskirche as well as a Maltese Church, which appeared to be a result of the exploits of the Knights of Malta.
We finished up at the Hofburg Palace, a sprawling complex of buildings and grounds. The Vienna Boys Choir performs there, the Lipizzaner horses perform there, the President and Chancellor have their offices there, and there are numerous museums and the national library. The statues and carvings on the outside walls and gates surely are impressive.
[Diary] Peter and I headed out for another day of "playing tourist". It was very sunny and although a few raindrops fell later on, it was pleasant out. We started out at the Hundertwasserhaus, "a fairytale-like building with onion spires, green roof [as in trees and gardens growing on it], and a multicolored façade is one of the city's most frequently visited landmarks. It was designed by flamboyant Austrian artist Fruedensreich Hundertwasser as a playful take on usually dull council (social) housing. Today almost 200 people live in 50 apartments." Apparently, nothing is square and the floors undulate, and bright colors and patterns are used in paint and tile. A separate museum showcases samples of the main building as well as art and information about that place and others designed elsewhere by the same artist. I bought a large book of photos of the artist's work.
Next, we rode several trams to Belvedere. From the tourist brochure, "Prince Eugen of Savoy, the most celebrated of the Habsburg generals due to his defeat of the Turks in 1683, commissioned the two Belvedere Palaces (Upper and Lower) with the money he received as a reward for his victories during the Spanish Succession." They were built in Baroque style and have extensive gardens. We toured the upper palace, which has three floors of paintings with many works by Gustav Klimt including the famous "The Kiss". Among the notable painters, there was one van Gogh, one Munch, and several Monets and Manets. I liked one large painting that was huge and depicted a scene in the amusement park nearby, and two of trees and nature that looked remarkably like photographs. On May 15, 1955, Austria declared its neutrality at a meeting of the four powers that had occupied it after WWII. This ceremony took place in the Marble Hall and the balcony outside. Present and signing the documents were John Foster Dulles (US, for whom my home airport, Dulles, is named), Harold Macmillan (UK), Vyacheslav Molotov (USSR), and Antoine Pinay (France).
Our final activity was a visit to the world-famous Spanish Riding School. The horses were originally brought from Spain, hence the name. And then later, many came from a stud in Lipica (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia, hence the name Lipizzaner. The guided tour took an hour and we started in the winter in-door arena. It can seat 1,000 with most standing, and the public can buy tickets to watch training each weekday. On weekends, the horses perform. The horses arrive at the age of four and are trained for eight years. They perform until age 25 or so, and go back to the stud to retire. There are 72 horses and 18 riders currently in residence. There are two chief riders, 10 riders, three assistant riders, and three novices. It's a tough job to get a spot. Applicants must have EU citizenship, be between 17 and 20 years old, and have a certain size and height. Since 2008, women can also apply. We looked over the outdoor arena, which is surrounded by a covered automatic horse-walking machine that can "push" horses around at various speeds. We went to the stables to see the horses and to learn how they are named. Only stallions are chosen. Those allergic to hay (surprise!) have wood shavings as bedding. Their feed is determined by their rider and vet and depends on their age and the type of training they are undergoing. Lastly, we visited the tack room. Black training saddles are used for everyday work and white ones are used for performances. They are custom-made for each horse and no saddle blankets are used. A rider has four reins, three in the left hand and one in the right, and they control the horse by finger movements rather than the whole hand.
From a trip to Salzburg and surrounds in 2014:
[Diary] I found the platform for my train from Prague to Salzburg. The good news was that the First-Class carriage was at the very end of the train, nearest to me. There were nine 6-person compartments, and even though it was a Saturday, I'd paid to reserve a seat. However, I'd forgotten to ask for a forward-looking seat, and got one looking backward, against the window. By the time we pulled out the station at 09:36, three whole minutes late, two other people had seen fit to sit in MY compartment.
We went due south through an industrial area and numerous high-rise apartment buildings. Then the countryside opened up and it was all rolling hills of green cereal crops, some bales of hay, and green fields topped with white flowers. In the distance, I saw a couple of yellow flowering fields of rapeseed. Mid-morning, I had an unnecessary snack, and as I was eating my Lay's potato chips (a very popular brand in the US) I started reading the back of the packet. The bag was packed in Poland, and the labeling on the back came in a multitude of languages: Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian, Polish, and English.
Jetlag was still with me after a whole week, but I managed to stay awake and read several newspapers and do some puzzles. However, around noon, I stretched out across three seats and put my head back on my pillow. I thought I didn't sleep much, as the PA system keep on making announcements in Czech, English, and German. However, when I finally decided to sit up, two hours had passed, and I'd crossed into Austria. At that point, the announcements came in English then German, as God intended! I had only 20 minutes to go to Linz.
We were several minutes late arriving and I had only eight minutes to change trains and platforms. My new platform was only two away, and as I topped the escalator to the platform, the end of the train, and my First-Class carriage, was right there, which saved me a walk down the long InterCity train that had started in Vienna and was going to Salzburg.
It was a sunny day out, much better than when I'd started. The ride to Salzburg took an hour and 20 minutes, and was uneventful. Once again, I sat backwards. I'd last passed through the Salzburg area 18 years ago. The train station looked quite new, and was very big and busy. I took a while to get my bearings, and finally found the tourist office where I got a city map and a 24-hour bus pass. Outside, I had only a 2-minute wait until the Number 6 bus arrived, and we headed south along the river, then over a bridge into the old town, then back again. I followed my progress on the map and my bus stop came just where it was supposed to be. I crossed the street to a block of apartments and pressed an intercom button, and the front door was unlocked. A 68-year man and his very friendly dog were there to meet me.
I'd known about the accommodation website www.airBnB.com for some years, but didn't use it until August 2013 when I stayed three nights in Amsterdam. That first experience was so good I thought I'd try it again. Anyone with a room to rent short-term, and who can comply with the rules, can join. I found this place on-line within minutes and paid about US$60/night. The resident was at a wedding reception, but had arranged for his father to meet me. He got me oriented and then we sat and talked for 30 minutes, which was just an excuse for me to pat his dog, which was so smart it understood German! The apartment was quite large, had large windows over a small park, and a fresh breeze wafted through. After I unpacked a few things, I set up my computer, was connected to the outside world, and started working on this diary.
I snacked on my emergency rations and then went online to see if there was a supermarket in the area. There was, and at 19:00, I went out to get some essentials at a Sparmarkt. I found some herb-flavored cream cheese, ham, slices of dark bread full of grains and nuts, some candy, two liters of whole milk, a liter of juice, and a ham and cheese croissant. The young woman cashier was pleasant and patient with my German. Back home, I checked the milk to make sure it wasn't bad. The testing took several glasses.
[Diary] Around 13:30, I ventured out to meet the day. It was quite warm with a gentle breeze. I walked to the bus stop and several minutes later a Number 6 arrived. I rode it three stops and then walked to the river to cross on a large pedestrian bridge. Both railings were chain-wire mesh and they were covered with padlocks with lovers' names attached, something I'd seen in a number of countries. On the other side of the river, there was a very long row of stalls along a river walk. They were selling all sorts of crafts, clothing, and food. I soon heard a distinctive noise, an Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo. A man was playing it along with a percussion instrument. Further down, there was a booth selling jewelry made from Australian opals.
From there I wandered the back streets and alleys of the Old Town, sticking my head in churches, courtyards, and shops as the mood took me. In an attempt to improve my Kulcha-quotient, I paid €7 to go into the Salzburg Museum. It contained a mixture of art, ceramics, photos, and film, and covered history, architecture, and World War I when this area was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
I stopped to take the occasional photo and to people-watch. It was a gorgeous day to be out, and every hundred meters there was another outdoor eating-place. I went back across the river and headed home through a park containing some abstract sculptures. I'd only been out three hours, but that was enough. Besides, I had to leave something for the next visit!
At 18:00, I headed out to a restaurant across the street whose menu I'd perused the night before. A pleasant young waitress seated me in the sunshine in the Biergarten, and after my attempts at German, she asked if I'd like an English menu. I took both, and switched to the English one whenever I needed something translated. I ordered the chicken cordon blue, which came with parsley-covered boiled potatoes and some berry sauce along with a mixed salad. I washed that down with a glass of apricot juice. It was a lot of food, so I took my time. A big-screen TV was showing a World Cup soccer game. Once again, I had no room for apple strudel; bugger! I read some chapters of my novel and worked on this diary. Diners came and went, and a small boy at the next table worked on filling his pockets with gravel.
[Diary] After five hours of solid sleep, I was wide-awake. Unfortunately, I started thinking about a number of things, including some new topics for essays on my monthly blog. I got so much good information in my head that I got up and started typing on my laptop. I went back to bed at 06:30. The good news was that I slept soundly until 12:15. After a small breakfast complete with a custom mug of Milch-café, I headed out to play tourist. It was quite hot out, so I kept in the shade as much as possible, which included a walk through a nice park. In 15 minutes, I was across the river in the old town and winding my way through back alleys in search of the funicular railway that went up to the famous castle of the Salzburg Prince-Bishops.
I paid €11:50 for a return ticket, admission to the castle, an audio tour, and several museum admissions. Although I saved some energy and perspiration by riding the tram up, once inside the castle and its grounds, I still had many stairs some of which were quite steep for an old man. I—and most tourists with whom I spoke—gave the organizers a failing grade for the lack of signs, especially for the tours included in our ticket. The view from the top was very nice. You could see so far, it took two people to look! Two hours there was more than enough, and as I rode the tram back down, I chatted with a Canadian couple. They were travelling with a group on a boat down the river. More than 100 Aussies were on their boat, and as I walked around the castle and town, I heard their accents.
I walked along the river a good ways in the shade before crossing over and entering the grounds of the summer castle and its Mirabell Gardens. Flowers of all shapes and sizes abounded along with manicured lawns and large fountains with statutes. From there it was quite a hike back home. Once I got my shoes off and splashed some cold water on my face, I was ready for a large glass of ice-cold milk. It sure tasted good and represented one of life's simple pleasures.
Around 19:00, I went out to eat, although I didn't feel too hungry. The outdoor beer garden was closed for some unknown reason, so I sat indoors on a very hard seat worthy of being a church pew! I ordered the veal schnitzel and declined the accompanying salad. When the meal came, it was enormous; certainly, enough for two, and, unfortunately, a salad came too. It sure is hard to get good help these days! I ate half and packed the rest for 'Ron ( 'later on'; that is). I read a few chapters of my novel, but so many diners arrived with some smoking that they drove me out.
[Diary] It was Travel Day, although I didn't have far to go. I'd set my alarm for 09:30 and after a night of broken sleep, I was none too eager to get up. However, after a hot bath, things improved, and after my breakfast, it was even better. I packed my gear and got my final email fix just as my host got back from grocery shopping. We chatted a while and then I departed soon after 11:30. It had rained heavily that morning, but was clearing up as I walked to the bus stop. After only a few minutes, my bus arrived and I managed to convince the driver to sell me a ticket to the main train station. All of the city buses ran on electricity, so there were many overhead wires. It took 20 minutes to get to the station, and then I had to find out where the 120 bus to Mattsee departed from. I finally asked a bus-company employee who pointed me in the right direction. However, my bus had just left, and I had a 30-minute wait for the next one.
The bus trip was comfortable and pleasant with quite a few passengers. We had many stops and passed through a number of large towns and small villages on the 25-km drive. The end of the line was near my destination, Mattsee, the town in which my friend, Renate, lived. She had given me directions to her house, and as I got off at the town shop, I asked another passenger to confirm, and she sent me in the wrong direction. However, a young woman at a restaurant came to my rescue and gave me a map of the town. Soon after, I was knocking on Renate's front door.
We had met in the summer of 1989 when she was our second guest through the American Host Program. European teachers and librarians who were fluent in English came to the US for 30 days where they stayed with each host family for 10 or 15 days to experience American culture first-hand. My family and I visited her and her mother in Mattsee in 1992, and my brother-in-law, Colin, and I visited again in 1996. However, although we'd kept in phone and email contact over the years, we hadn't seen each other in 18 years. When I saw her, she looked the same to me, and she was enjoying her retirement from teaching.
The weather improved as the day wore on, and she proposed we head up into the surrounding mountains for a nice walk through the fields and forests. It certainly was a little piece of Paradise. At the top, we climbed a wooden tower and looked out over the valley. We came home by a different path that brought us along the lake and yacht club where Renate keeps her boat and teaches children how to sail. We caught up with a lot of each other's news along the way, and so we didn't notice we were exercising. We walked at least six kilometers.
We had some pastries and drinks for a late afternoon tea after which Renate had an engagement for 90 minutes. I pulled up a chair in the sun in the garden, and finished my novel. Having less than my sleep quota the night before, that caught up with me and I fell asleep sitting up in the chair. We sat down to a late supper around 20:15 when we had hausgemacht (homemade) soup with semolina dumpling-like thingies. By then it was 22:00 and I was thinking about sleep. Lights out soon after.
[Diary] I woke once during the night, but got back to sleep soon after. However, when I woke at 08:00, I didn't feel much rested. A bath got my circulation going and at 09:00, we sat down to breakfast outdoors. The sun was streaming down and all was right in this little corner of the world. I savored fresh bread rolls with ham and hausgemacht orange marmalade.
By 10:00, we were packed and on the road to our next adventure, hiking at the top of a mountain. After a short drive, we reached the parking lot of the cable car that would take us to the top of Der Untersberg. We had 30 minutes to wait for the next car, so we sat outdoors in the sunshine drinking milk coffee, which was served with a piece of chocolate; very civilized! As the car ascended the steep slope, the clouds came in and visibility was quite limited when we got off. We walked over the rocks and some loose gravel, and the wind came up a bit. Occasionally, the clouds cleared and we could see way down to the valley below. We went all the way to the top of the mountain, but couldn't see through the fog. On the walk back at the cable car station, it rained lightly, but got heavier as we went inside. We looked at the restaurant menu to see if they had any hausgemacht soup, which they did. Renate had the Goulashsuppe and I had the Würstsuppe with noodles. Mine was "just like Grandma used to make", and, with some bread, it was just the right amount of food. By the time we got back to our car, the sun was out; however, light rain continued to fall. The locals call this "liquid sun".
By the time we got back home it was 16:30, time for afternoon tea. We consumed some pastries whose used-by date was 15 minutes later, and Renate made me her style of Milch-café. Afterwards, we walked a short way to a new car museum created by the grandson of the creator of the Porsche car brand. All the old cars are registered and are driven on a regular basis. Some are available to rent. Back home, I set up my laptop in Renate's office and started working on this diary while listening to an album by Andrea Bocelli.
We had a late supper of Wurst with salad and talked until late. Lights out by 22:30.
[Diary] By 09:00, we were heading out of town for a 75-minute drive to the south. We spent a long day in the National Park along the Groβglockner Hochalpenstrasse some 7,000 feet up. We drove the 45 kms of the winding mountain road. There was quite a bit of traffic especially motorcycles. Entrance to the park for the day cost €43! The views were spectacular. The deep glacial valleys were braced on each side by green pastures and mountainsides right up to the snow line. There was quite a bit of snow left from the winter, and it's possible to have snowfall in the summer as well. We parked at the end of the road where we met Renate's friend, Johanna. The remnants of a glacier were below us. We visited some exhibitions and then had a nice lunch. We'd planned a hike there, but that route would not open until July 1, so we drove a short way back to a small restaurant set down a steep slope from a parking area. We hiked a kilometer or so down and across a lush, green field among some grazing cows, where we jumped across a raging stream that came down from a waterfall further up the mountain. A marmot (US: groundhog) was guarding his burrow nearby and watched as we passed. Back at the restaurant, I had a bowl of soup while the ladies had apple strudel and coffee. It was all very civilized.
[Diary] It was another glorious day outside, so we put on our walking shoes and headed out through the neighborhood and to the lake where we toured the very nice swimming club and playground. (Rumor has it that Big Kid Rex was seen riding one of the kiddie rocking horses.) From there, we dropped by the boat-rental place, and then on to the sailing club, of which Renate is a member. It's a very nice facility, and Renate proudly showed off her refurbished sailboat, which is made of brightly varnished mahogany. We walked into town and sat in the sun while sipping coffee and chatting. It was all hard work, but someone has to do it, right?
At noon, after we took photos of each other in the garden by Renate's house, we said our "Goodbyes". Now friends help you move, good friends help you move bodies, and great friends pick up with you where they left off, even if that was 18 years ago. Renate is a great friend!
It was another Travel Day; another city in another country. I walked the few hundred yards to the bus stop. Three young women were already waiting. Compared to them, I looked boringly normal. The first was dressed as a Goth and was busy with her music player. The second was wearing a top that she had thrown on as she left the house, and she nearly missed! Inside one upper arm, she had a large amount of tattooed text. The third was also dressed completely in black, and she had a large tattoo on her shoulder. Half her head was shaved, and the other half had long hair that was dyed bright red. She had a small ring through her bottom lip. I couldn't decide which of the three I should take home to meet Mother!
The bus arrived at least 10 minutes late, and quite a few students boarded, and by the time I got on, it was quite full. I sat down next to a girl, who immediately decided I fit the profile of suspicious-old-men-her-mother-had-warned-her-about, and she escaped to safety on the other side of the aisle. Several stops later, a large group of students boarded with lots of luggage; apparently, they were headed out on a trip.
When I walked into the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, the train to München was just leaving. Don't you just hate that when that happens? I went to buy a ticket, but found it a bit confusing. There was a long line at the ticket for the Austrian train company and a very short one for Germany's Deutsche Bahn. After I asked for help, I was directed to the DB line where I chatted with two American women. I bought a First-Class ticket with a reserved seat, and was directed to the First-Class Lounge next door. There I had a drink and some nuts, and chatted with a family from Oregon.
At 12:50, I headed for Gleis (Track) 1 where my train awaited, and a conductor pointed me towards Wagen 262, Sitzplatz 76. Well don't you know there was a couple in MY compartment and the man was sitting in MY seat! We greeted each other in German and after a few sentences, I knew they weren't native speakers, so I asked where they were from. Melbourne, bloody Australia. Fair suck of the sauce bottle, Cyril! Which, roughly translated from Orstralyan means, Strewth! or Stone the Flamin' Crows, Bruce! (Is that clear? Probably not. Okay, in plain English, Unbelievable!)
As we bounced along in the glorious sunshine through lush, green pastures, it was boringly beautiful. I cleaned out my collection of papers, used tickets, and the other flotsam and jetsam of travel, and worked on my diary while eating delicious, fresh cherries from Renate's neighbor's garden. I chatted with the Aussies off and on. They were on their annual 6-week tour of Europe, and he was a professional musician who was performing along the way.
Bucket List: Although I don't have any "must see" places, I'd be happy to be back in Vienna, or to visit my friend Renate anytime.