The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music: Our Travels in Vienna and Salzburg

Ah, Austria! Full of beautiful mountains, ornate cities and so much history. We started our trip to Vienna, Austria with a 5 hour bus ride through Slovakia, and had a wonderful Turkish meal our first night. The next morning, we decided to get breakfast in the city – BIG mistake! Being a Sunday, and coming with a small budget, our choices were quite limited but eventually we found a place for a quick bite and some nice Viennese coffee. As usual in Europe, our first stop after breakfast was a free walking tour through the city. If we haven’t mentioned this in previous posts, it’s worth saying now – free walking tours are a great deal! “Pay as you like” which for us was great on the budget, get oriented in a new city and see the major sights! If nothing else, it gives you a good idea of where to go or places you can skip, and seeing as we did limited research before coming, it was a major help! We saw Stephens Platz, Hoffenburg Palace, Stephen’s Church, an old apartment where Mozart apparently lived, and the oldest coffeehouse in Vienna. The next day we saw Belvedere Castle and Gardens, which was my favorite! It looked like your quintessential Disney castle, and, even though it wasn’t blooming season, the gardens outside were stunning. The whole city of Vienna is surrounded by historic and ornately designed buildings, which gives it the feeling that you’ve walked into a different time. But Belvedere was truly a place of fairy tales! While we didn’t explore inside the castle, we were happy enough to wander aimlessly through their many gardens surrounding it.

After a few days exploring the city, we decided it was time to head to the country. We took a metro, and a bus, and a long walk to the town of Modling to see Seegrotte, an underground lake in a cave. Seegrotte used to be an old mine that was transformed in WWII to make Nazi jet planes, was also a filming location for the 3 Musketeers and houses Europe’s largest underground lake! During our tour, we met a wonderful girl from Austria and a man from the town of Modling. His family had lived in Modling for 300 years, surviving Turkish invasions that devastated the town, and were all winemakers. He told this when he was little, his mother would always light a candle at the foot of the stairs in the cellar. When the wine was fermenting, it gave off this deadly gas, and the candle would alert them when the oxygen levels got too low. Of course, this didn’t help his mother from stumbling out of the cellar drunk many days. He was a fabulous storyteller, and while I’m not sure of the validity of his stories, I sure enjoyed his methods of retelling.

On day 5 in Vienna, we got some much needed love from home when my parents came to travel with us! We met up with them and spent the day showing them all of our favorite spots! It was imperative that my Mom got to rub the “good luck butt” and see the cathedral where the Hapsburgs were buried. We also visited the famous Sacher Hotel for Sacher Torte and Apple strudel.  While my dad was less than pleased with the Sacher Torte, which he expected to be a Opera cake, we ended up having a lovey time watching the locals and enjoying our company!

The next day, we took a train to Salzburg, Austria – home of the beloved Mozart. Unfortunately, the train ride was crazy and the day very rainy when we arrived. But rain or shine, my mom was determined to see the city! We saw St. Peter’s Church, the place where Mozart was born, and visited the Fortress on top of the hill. And while the rain did put a damper on the day, seeing my dad in an “I love rain” poncho seriously made it ok.

The next day, we rented a car to see some nearby sights. We started at Eisrisenwelt – the world’s largest ice cave. It was a long hike to the entrance, and a long steep walk in the caves – which we either didn’t know or failed to mention to my parents. While it was a bit tricky, everyone survived (barley) and we made it to the entrance! Only to find out that we would need to traverse 1400 steps up and down throughout the caves themselves (again, I’m so sorry to my parents for this impromptu news). But the ice caves were beautiful, filled with ice sculptures and adventurous stories – along with a nice downhill walk back to the car. Afterwards, we hopped over to Germany to visit the Eagle’s Nest. This was one of Hitler’s residences, and a place where Nazi officials would go to conduct business during WWII. While the structure was heavily damaged by the Allies, it has since been rebuilt for tourism. We were a little less than impressed as now it is mostly a scenic overlook and a restaurant. We unfortunately had a cloudy day, hence not much to see. But there is something surreal walking around a place where Hitler used to meet with leaders and plan his attacks on thousands of innocent people. Stunning in a historical context, devastating in a humanitarian one, and a bit strange how this once significant place was now a pile of rocks and a small restaurant.

On our last day in Salzburg, we all (yes, even my Dad and Matt) went on the Sound of Music tour which my mother was ecstatic about! She is a major fan, and it was the main reason that she chose to join us for this leg of our trip! We saw a few palaces and the Mirabell gardens, which were absolutely fabulous! We saw the abbey used in the filming and the famous gazebo at Hellbrun Palace. We then took a scenic drive through the mountains listening to “the hills are alive…”. Thankfully, the rain had stopped and the sun came out, making the views absolutely stunning! The colors, the sound of Maria singing, and my mom beaming from ear to ear made for a wonderful tour! At the end of the tour, we hopped on a train to Germany and said “so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye” to Austria.

Matthew & Stephanie

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