What a summer schloss!

As with most European royal families, the Haspburgs of Austria had a summer palace as well as winter one. We saw their winter palace (Hofburg) on Friday and, seeing as it was warm and sunny, we thought we would take the opportunity today to see their summer palace: Schloss Schönbrunn. And wow, what a palace it was!


The stunning Schonbrunn Palace.


Schönbrunn Palace is a 1,440-room Baroque and Rococo palace just 20 minutes outside of Vienna’s city centre. The palace and its gardens were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 in recognition of its beauty and unique cultural importance. Today it is one of Vienna’s most visited tourist attractions, with 3 million people walking through its immense gates every year. In a city that boasts 400 museums and dozens of palaces, Schönbrunnoften gets voted as the best sight in Vienna. High accolades indeed! We joined the throngs of tourists today, keen to see what all the fuss was about.


Oooooh, so THIS is what all the fuss is about!


We were not disappointed; the palace and its formal gardens are spectacular. The palace itself is by far the most opulent we’ve seen since The Hermitage in St Petersburg (Russia). It makes sense that the Haspburgs would have estates, palaces, art collections and riches at least equivalent to the Romanovs of Russia as both dynasties controlled vast territories and collected taxes and tithes from millions of subjects. Unfortunately we could not take photos inside the palace itself, but the following “official” photos give you an insight into the beuaty of the 40 rooms at Schönbrunn Palace that have been fully restored and are open to the public.


The main formal dining room. Perfect for intimate dinners for 140 or so of your closest friends. (Photo care of


One of the imperial family’s private rooms, where they would play cards and relax in the evenings. (Photo care of


The imperial bedchamber. I would find it a bit to hard to sleep in amongst all that finery I think. (Photo care of


The name Schönbrunn means “beautiful spring”, and the palace and its ground smust indeed be beautiful in spring. They’re not bad in autumn either, with a few flowers stillin bloom and the trees starting to turn orange, red and yellow. The central boulevard, which leads from the main palace to a large fountain of Neptune, is especially impressive. 


Love this view! Sorry, let us get our fat heads out of the way so you can see it too…


The main boulevard leads from the main palace…


To the immense fountain of Neptune at the bottom of the garden.


The view back towards the palace from behind the fountain.


The central boulevard was lined with amazing statues, like this one.


The palace was originally built in 1569, under orders of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. The grounds around the early summer palace was fenced and filled with game (e.g. pheasants, ducks, deer and boar), in order to serve as the court’s recreational hunting ground. Each successive Haspburg generation extended the palace and gardens; additions added to the palace over its 250 year history as an imperial summer residence include a palmery, an orangery, a zoo (yes, they had a private zoo), a maze, formal French-style gardens, English-style gardens, and a herbal garden.  We spent virtually all day exploring Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens and we did not get time to explore all of its 435 acres. What we did see was beautiful though. It was especially nice to see so many people using the gardens to relax in – the gardens are freely open to the public as a park.


There were lots of people just chilling out, enjoying a relaxing Sunday at the park. It just happens to be a park with one of the best views in Vienna!


We also spent some time chilling out in the park.


“Howdy folks back home!” Shane loving Schonbrunn gardens.


These massive hedges are almost 200 years old – they were planted in the 1800s to form a maze.


The garden axis points towards a 60m high hill which has, since 1775, been crowned by a large pavillion called The Gloriette. This structure was commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa to glorify the Haspburg’s victories in war. The Gloriette today houses a café and provides expansive views over the city of Vienna.


The Gloriette, Schonbrunn Palace.


The view from The Gloriette back down to the palace and across all of Vienna.


The intricately sculpted interior of The Gloriette.


Empress Maria Theresa features strongly throughout the tour through Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens as she commissioned a number of additions and renovations that remain today. By all accounats she was a strong-willed, domineering woman, who fought off all attempts to force her to take a background role in the ruling of the Holy Roman Empire and let her husband rule instead. She claimed the title of Empress for herself as her birthright and ruled as the only female leader of the Holy Roman Empire for 43 years. It’s interesting to see how women who rose to power in times when females were generally not allowed to occupy such roles (e.g. Queen Elizabeth of England, Catherine the Great of Russia, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria), are uniformly remembered as being incredibly strong willed and forceful in character. I guess that’s the only way they could have succeeded in those roles.

Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, had 16 children (11 daughters and 5 sons), 13 of whom survived childhood. Following in the Haspburg tradition of avoiding war (unless “absolutely necessary”) and gathering power and influence by forging alliances via strategic marriages, Maria Theresa used her children to further the Haspburg influence. For example, her children include Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples and Duchess Maria Amalia of Parma. It’s not that different to modern corporate tactics of mergers and “friendly take-overs” really – it’s all about power and money really isn’t it?! Certanly, in the case of the Haspburgs, they were incredibly successful at gathering power and wealth, with the remanants of their empire still awing us today, even a 100 years after it ceased to exist.


Empress Maria Theresa Haspburg, one of Europe’s original “super women”. (Photo care of


Schönbrunn Palace was a great place to learn all about Empress Maria Theresa and to see a bit more of what remains of the Haspburg empire. Today was our last day in Austria though – tomorrow we move on to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, with our tour group. We have no idea what to expect from Slovakai though, so should be interesting! And the people in our tour group seem pretty cool – there are 5 Kiwis (i.e. New Zealanders) and 7 Aussies (not surprising as Intrepid is an Aussie company). The age range is about 25 to 65, and from the brief chats we’ve been able to have with everyone, they all seem nice. Easy company for the next 2 weeks anyway, which is the main thing! Our tour guide is lovely – she’s Polish and speaks perfect English and German, as well as a smattering of Slovakian and Czech. She’s also very organised and runs a tight ship which is awesome – makes it easy for us to relax when we know she has everything under control.

There’s 12 of us of this tour, which I think is a good size – not so big as to be intimidating, but not so small that it becomes almost “intimate” or uncomfortable. Group size is actually one of the reasons we chose to do an Intrepid tour – their maximum group size is 12! We also like their approach to touring – i.e. catch local transport as much as posisble, mix and mingle with the locals as much as possible, travel responsibly, support local businesses and industry where ever you go, have lots of free time to do your own thing (which also helps keep tour prices reasonable), and Intrepid also tend to include lots of hikes and physical activity into their intineraries where possible, which we love! We just HATE the idea of being stuck on a coach with 60 other people, being shuttled from one sight to another with no chance to really experience a place. A lovely German lady we met hiking around Innsbruck said something which I think summarises our approach to travel perfectly; she said: “If you haven’t walked it, you haven’t been!”. Exactly our thoughts! This Intrepid tour itinerary seems to be perfectly designed to help us “walk it”, and therefore really experience it. Stay tuned over the next 2 weeks to see how the tour goes…


Our new friends – our Intrepid tour group.





Pictures, palaces, parks & the Naschmarkts

After yesterday’s overload of history and culture (that’s kultcha for the Aussies at home), we wanted to see a couple of different types of things today. So we headed out to one of Vienna’s premier art museums, the Belvedere Palace, for the morning to see some cool paintings. We then went to the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s main fresh food market, for the afternoon to sample some of the finest local wares.


The beautiful Belvedere Palace & gardens.


The Belvedere Palace is actually 2 palaces: the Upper Schloss Belvedere and Lower Schloss Belvedere (because one schloss just isn’t enough!). These palaces were built as the summer residence of Price Eugene of Savoy in 1712 after his successes in the war against the Ottoman Empire (Prince Eugene was commander-in-chief of the Empire’s armed forces at that time). Set in a Baroque park, both Belvedere Palaces are beautiful buildings. It was worth the trip out to the palace just to see the buildings and the gardens!


The Belvedere gardens were lovely.


Shane enjoying one of the garden’s many fountains.


Views up the gardens to the Upper Belvedere Palace.


The view down the gardens to the Lower Belvedere Palace.


The Lower Belvedere Palace houses the more modern art collection.


In 1776, Empress Maria Theresa acquired the Belvedere Palaces and decided to move the imperial art collection from the Hofburg Imperial Palace to the Upper Belvedere. Inspired by the idea of enlightened absolutism, the intention was to make the imperial collection accessible to the general public. The gallery opened 5 years later, making it one of the first public art galleries in the world.  


The majestic Upper Belvedere Palace has been an art gallery for over years.


There are dozens of fountains throughout the Belvedere gardens.


Entertaining ourselves immensely at the Belvedere Palace, Vienna.


Like many art galleries around the world, the Belvedere doesn’t allow photos to be taken inside the building so we don’t have much to show for our morning’s adventures. Suffice to say there was much art visually consumed and lots of “Ooohs” and “Ahhhhs” uttered. Arguably the most famous painting housed at the Belvedere is “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. This early 20th century work shows a man bending down to kiss his lover tenderly on the cheek whilst her eyes are closed in rapture (see photo below, care of Wikipedia). 


“The Kiss”, by Gustav Klimt (photo care of


Shane’s favourite painting of the day was a rather dark painting by Austrian artist Adolf Hiremy-Hirschl entitled “Souls on the Banks of the River Acheron”. The painting shows the mythological figure of Hermes standing at the edge of the river of the dead, facing a throng of recently deceased souls who implore him to save them from the last trip to Hades. The painting was huge and incredibly well done. Very creepy!


“Souls on the Banks of the River Acheron” by Adolf Hiremy-Hirschl (photo care of



My favourite painting of the day was Monet’s “A Walk in the Garden”. Like many Impressionist paintings, it was just so colourful and joyful, yet soothing and calming.  Neither of us are really “into” art but there were enough examples of various types of art styles at the Belvedere that we got to enjoy some wonderful quiet moments of pleasure.


“A Walk in the Garden” by Claude Monet (picture care of


In sharp contrast to our quiet morning at the art gallery, our afternoon was all colour and chaos! We went to the Naschmarkt for lunch and for a wander around and it was great – so much yummy food! The Naschmarkt is Vienna’s most popular market and has been there since the 16th century. There stalls run for about 1.5kms, selling everything from baked goods to cheeses, cured meats, pickles, olives, spices, fruits, vegetables, leather goods, clothes and even second hand goods. The market was buzzing today with that unique, vibrant atmosphere that can only be found at open air markets. We ate way too much and had a great time sampling the wares from the various food stalls. A great way to spend an afternoon!

Our lunch spot at the Naschtmarkt. A great spot for people watching!


Cheese. So much yummy cheese.


Prosciuttos, salamis and more varieties of cured meats than we knew existed!


Fresh fruit & veggies by the truckload.


Fresh made fetta, mozzarella and ricotta.


A thousand different varieties of olives.

After our market trawling we returned to the Hotel Mozart, our current home-away-from-home. It’s a nice enough hotel, pretty basic but clean and functional (what more do you need right – we only sleep here!). The one thing about the hotel that we will always remember however is the decor. It’s mental! The chandeliers are bad enough, but the wallpaper is something else! It’s the kind of decor that has us waking up with a start and a small scream every morning. What were they thinking?! Maybe this was cool in 1923 when this place was built….

Our hotel room. Was that wallpaper EVER OK?!

Actually I don’t think that wallpaper was EVER cool! Still, we’re only here for one more night so it’s no big deal. From tomorrow we are actually on tour; we’ve signed up for an Intrepid tour of Central and Eastern Europe and the month-long organised tour kicks off tomorrow. We decided to book in for a tour for the next part of the trip as countries like Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria were a little daunting to do on our own. We’re keen to meet our fellow tour guests and guide, and to see what the next 4 weeks will involve exactly – hopefully it’ll be a fun group of people and a good itinerary! Will let you know tomorrow blog fans!

Looking forward to being on tour from tomorrow!


So many museums, so little time!

If you’re a lover of history, architecture, art, music and/or opera, chances are you’d love Vienna. This city is jammed full of interesting museums and historical sights; it was tough choosing between all of Vienna’s offerings but we eventually decided to focus on Hofburg Palace for today.


Hofburg Palace, Vienna.


Hofburg Palace is the vast former imperial residence of the Haspburgs here in Vienna; it was their primary winter home and where they held court as Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and then as rulers of the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Since 1918 the palace has served multiple purposes with the various wings allocated different functions; some wings are museums, some are administrative offices and one wing is the official residence of the Austrian President. As much as we would have linked to visit the President we opted to check out some of the Hofburg’s museums instead. In particular we went to the Imperial Treasury Museum, the Spanish Riding School, the SiSi Museum and the Kaiserapartements.


Our focus for today: the museum wing of the Hofburg Palace.


The Kaiserapartements are essentially a restored section of the Hofburg that demonstrate how the Haspburgs would have lived in the 19th century. Needless to say the apartments were opulent almost beyond belief, with the display of the royal  crockery and silverware being the most extravagant displays of wealth we’ve seen since the Hermitage in Russia! The story of the Haspburgs unfolded as we moved from room to room and learnt how this family came to power, expanded their influence and then gradually faded away (see below for the Haspburg story, if you’re interested).


The grandeur of the Kaiserapartements.


The Emperor’s private bed chamber.


I told you these Haspburg’s were rich! This is just one of the Hofburg’s 800 off rooms.


Just setting the table for an intimate family dinner…


These golden candelabras were part of a set of 150 made to order for the Haspburgs in the early 1800s.


Story of the Haspburgs

Haspburgs were originally Counts of Breisgau which a county in modern-day Switzerland.  The first documented use of the royal line has been traced back to 1108. The Habsburgs expanded their influence through arranged marriages and by gaining political privileges. They were also able to gain high positions in the church hierarchy for their members. Territorially, they often profited from the extinction of other noble families.
In the second half of 13th century, Count Rudolph IV Haspburg gained the rulership of Austria, which the family then held for over 600 years, until 1918. Then, in 1440, Count Frederick III Haspburg was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in a grand ceremony held in Rome. While in Rome, Frederick III married Eleanor of Portugal, enabling him to build a network of connections with dynasties in the west and southeast of Europe. After Frederick III’s coronation, the Habsburgs were able to hold the imperial throne almost continuously for centuries, until 1806.

To further their political ambitions, in 1497 Phillip Haspburg married Joanna of Castile, heiress of Castile, Aragon and most of Spain. Phillip and Joan had six children, the eldest of whom became Emperor Charles V and inherited the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, including their colonies in South America and Italy. By this stage the Haspburgs controlled half of Europe, as well as half the known world. Finally, the foundations for the later empire of Austro-Hungary were laid in 1515 by the means of a double wedding between the Hungarian Prince Louis and Princess Mary. This ensured the Haspburgs also became Kings of Bohemia and Hungary. It is said that the Haspburgs had an empire “upon which the sun never sets”. Reading through all this history at the Hofburg Museum today it became blatantly apparent that the Habsburg Dynasty achieved a position as a true world power in the 15th and 16th centuries. 
On August 6, 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved under the French Emperor Napoleon I’s reorganisation of European borders. However, the Haspburgs retained the crowns of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Salzburg, Transylvania, Tyrol and Friule, amongst others. Even these territories were gradually lost to them though as each nation sought independence and the family began to shrink, with each successive generation suffering from more and more health problems and having fewer and fewer children.  
The Habsburgs sought to consolidate their power by the frequent use of consanguineous marriages, with ultimately disastrous results for their gene pool. Marriages between first cousins, or between uncle and niece, were common-place in the family. It has been suggested that inbreeding directly led to their extinction; that is, the gene pool eventually became so small that the last of Haspburg Emperor, Charles II, who was severely disabled by genetic disorders, possessed a genome comparable to that of a child born to a brother and sister.

Loving the Hofburg!


The main staircase in the museum wing of the Hofburg. Stunning!


Alongside the Kaiserapartements is the Imperial Treasury Museum which holds all the Haspburg crown jewels, as well as a thousand years worth of ecclesiastical treasures. The Imperial Treasury Museum was incredible – all together there were 21 rooms of gold, silver, gems and rare treasures gathered by the Haspburgs over the centuries. This included The Imperial Crowns of the Holy Roman Empire and of the Austrian Empire, as well as more jewels than we could have possibly imagined. them Haspburgs were RICH man! It was actually quite overwhelming, all that display of wealth. At a certain point we just started glazing over – it was just all soooooo sparkly…..


The Imperial Crown of Austria.


That, ladies and gentlemen, is an emerald. Uncut and unpolished, but very impressive none the less.


For a slight change of pace we then went to see the Spanish Riding School. Most people would instantly recognise the white horses trained here, even if they didn’t recognise the name of the school. The Spanish Riding School is a traditional riding school for Lipizzan horses, which used to perform for the Emperor and his court. First established in 1572 the school trains horses to move in time to music and to perform particular steps. The horses were beautiful and,although we didn’t see an actual performance, just seeing them train was impressive. Interestingly, the movements the horses are trained to perform were developed to aid in battle and strengthen the war horse’s body and mind for war.


The entry to The Spanish Riding School, Vienna.



Watching the horses train at The Spanish Riding School.


The final museum we entertained ourselves in was the Sisi Museum. This museum is a little different in that it is dedicated to one person: Empress Elisabeth of Austria (affectionately known as Sisi). Sisi is one of those historical characters whose status and personal mythology has grown over time so that it is hard to know what is real and what is just exaggeration and stories. There have been numerous movies made about the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria which has only added to the mythology and her pop-culture appeal. You may recognise Sisi from this painting:


Empress Elisabeth of Austria (affectionately known as Sisi).


The story that unfolded at the museum is that Sisi grew up free and happy in Bavaria as the fourth child of the Bavarian King. By all accounts she had a relatively peculiar childhood for a royal in that she was allowed to miss lessons to go riding and used to spend many hours alone walking or riding in the Bavarian countryside and forest. In a twist of fate that would change her life forever, Sisi caught the attention of the much older Crown Prince of Austria, Franz Joseph I, at age 16 and they were married soon after (in 1854).  

After enjoying an informal and unstructured childhood, Elisabeth, who was shy and introverted by nature, and more so among the stifling formality of Habsburg court life, had difficulty adapting to the Hofburg and its rigid protocols and strict etiquette. In a story that is remarkably similar to that of the late Princess Di, Sisi then went on to develop numerous anxieties and psycho-somatic illnesses, brought on by the pressures of court life. She also developed a rigid exercise and dietary regime designed to keep her famously tiny waist to around 16 inches (that’s less than 50cm – insane!). Stories recorded from her ladies-in-waiting point to eating and purging behaviour that we would today diagnose as an eating disorder. 

Apparently Emperor Franz Joseph was passionately in love with his wife, but she did not reciprocate his feelings fully and increasingly felt stifled by court etiquette. He was an unimaginative and sober man, whereas Elisabeth was imaginative, creative naturally introverted. Emotionally distant from her husband, it seems she fled him as well as her duties of life at court, avoiding them both as much as she could. She travelled extensively and sought solace in poetry, with some of her poems being on display at the museum. These poems, along with paintings and her personal belongings on display at the Sisi Museum, reveal an Empress who was really a bit of a non-conformist and a free spirit; a Queen who abhorred conventional court protocol and felt trapped in her opulent life. Tragically Sisi was murdered in 1898, at the age of 60. Well loved by the people of Austria and Hungary, she was greatly mourned and her somewhat enigmatic legacy continues to fascinate millions.


Sisi’s private bed chamber where some of her poetry is on display. 


A replica of the dress Sisi wore to her engagement party at age 16.


Wow – what a day! Told you Vienna had a lot of history on offer! Our brains are definitely FULL today though so we’re off now for some dinner (maybe schnitzel again?!). Farewell until tomorrow!





Wonderful Vienna…

We’re in Vienna! Capital of modern-day Austria and the last great imperial capital of Europe. We’ve both been really looking forward to our 4 day sojourn here in Vienna as this is a city rich in history and with enough museums, palaces and stately buildings to keep us busy for months if we wanted to extend our stay.


Willkommen in Wien 


We caught the train from Salzburg today and spent 4 hours watching the grand mountains of the Austrian Alps giving way to hills and, eventually, to flat fields. Vienna lies in the flat part of Austria – two thirds of the country is mountainous, with only a third of it being flat enough to sustain large farms, industry and a big city like Vienna. We arrived in Vienna around lunchtime, found our hotel, checked in and settled in for a heart meal of Wiener schnitzel (what else?!) and goulash (the Hungarian influence is quite strong here in terms of cuisine – a legacy from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire no doubt).


Lunch in Vienna MUST include a Weiner Schnitzel – it’s the law (or at least it should be)!


After lunch we caught the metro into the centre of town and decided to fortify ourselves with some caffeine from an authentic Wiener kaffeehaus (translation = Viennese coffee house). The Wiener kaffeehaus is a typical institution of Vienna that played an important role in shaping Viennese culture; it was in these cafes that poets, writers, philosophers and men of influence met to discuss important things, and to ponder great thoughts. Unlike some other cafe traditions around the world, here in Vienna it is completely normal for a customer to linger alone for hours and study the omnipresent newspaper. The place we chose had the typical marble table tops, stuffed chairs, newspapers and waiters in bow ties that you would expect from a Wiener kaffeehaus. It was great! We spent so long in the coffee house that it didn’t leave us much time for sightseeing, so we decided to do a quick tour around the old town and just check out a couple of the major sights. We’ve got 3 more days to see the city, so no need to rush!


The Viennese coffee house has been described as “a place where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill”. We like that idea!


Located in the South-Eastern corner of Austria, at the very heart of Central Europe, Vienna is built along the banks of the mighty Danube. Due to its strategic position this has been an important trade city and a cultural crossroads for millennia. There has been a city here since about 500BC, with the Celts first settling in the area and then the Romans establishing a fortified frontier city called Vindobona in 15BC to guard the Roman Empire against Germanic tribes to the North. It remains today a melting pot, where Eastern Europe meets Western Europe and a third of the population claims Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian and/or Turkish heritage.

Modern-day Vienna has a population of about 3 million (around 38% of Austria’s total population of 8 million live in the greater Vienna metropolitan area), and often ranks in the Top 10 of the World’s Most Liveable Cities. Certainly from what we saw today this seems to be a wonderful city – clean, safe, easy to navigate, with lots wide boulevards, parks and beautiful historical buildings.


The wide boulevards and lovely buildings of modern Vienna.


The old town is full of little alleys and tiny retailers like this antique shop.


Just another one of Vienna’s beautiful old buildings.


The innere stadt (translation = inner city) of Vienna is the geographical and historical centre of the city; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – listed in 2001 to protect its unique cityscape. Home of the Hapsburg Dynasty* for 600 years, Vienna was the political centre of the Holy Roman Empire from the 15th to 18th century, as well as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This incredible history has left the city with a rich architectural and cultural heritage that we are keen to sample – just like the the 5 million other tourists that visit Vienna every year! 

*The House of Hapsburg was one of the most important royal houses of Europe. The throne of the Holy Roman Empire was continuously occupied by the Hapsburgs between 1438 and 1740. The house also produced kings of Bohemia, England, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Ireland, Portugal and Spain; as well as rulers of several Dutch and Italian regions. The House of Hapsburg became extinct in the 18th century, leaving behind a rich cultural, arts and music legacy.


The Kunsthistorisches Museum is Vienna’s premier historical art museum.


The National Library of Austria  was once the Royal Library of the Haspburgs. It contains collections of ancient and rare books, as well as a papyrus collection and aa set of maps and globes dating from the 14th century.


This grand statue of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa is in the centre of the square named in her honour. Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Haspburg Dynasty. She ruled for 40 years in the early 1700s.



Thanks to the Hapsburg’s passionate investment in the arts and music, Vienna played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through to the early part of the 20th century. Music is one of Vienna’s legacies – the evidence is everywhere in the city. Musical prodigies including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg all came to this magnificent city to be inspired and ply their trade. To this day theatre, opera, classical music and fine arts are still highly prized here and there are classical music concertos, operas and ballets on virtually every night. They also have lots of balls here – that’s right: balls (think big poofy dresses, cummberbunds and bow ties, and lots of champagne). Apparently there are more than 200 balls held in Vienna every year! Unfortunately we didn’t bring our formal attire with us, otherwise we might have signed up for one of those…


The State Opera House, Vienna. Pretty grand.


The Austrian National Parliament building. Also pretty grand.


The Vienna Town Hall (Rathaus) was built in 1872 in a Gothic style.



As well as being a city of music, of art, and of balls, Vienna is also a city of Churches. The fact that the head of the Holy Roman Empire was a Hapsburg for 300 years obviously meant lots of churches had to be built here in their home town! We chose the 3 most epic churches to visit today (Karlskirche, Stephansdom and Votivkirsche), and left the palaces and museums for tomorrow and Saturday.


Karlskirche (translation = St Charles’s Church) is a Baroque church located on the south side of the innere stadt. It was built in 1713.


The Baroque interior of Karlskirche.


Votivkirche (translation = the Votive Church) is a Gothic church built in the 19th century. Following the attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853, the Emperor’s brother Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian,commissioned the building of this church to thank God for saving the Emperor’s life.


Stephansdom (translation = St Stephen’s Cathedral) is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna. This Romanesque and Gothic cathedral was built in the 14th century atop an even older church from the 1100’s.


The interior of the Gothic/Romanesque Stephansdom.


You may have heard that Vienna has some of the best museums and art collections in Europe; well it turns out that Vienna’s Museumsquartier is the eighth largest cultural area in the world. So for our adventures tomorrow we are going to go exploring the museums of Vienna. Tune in tomorrow night for another update….


Tune in for more from Vienna tomorrow!


A day trip into the Salzkammergut

They promised us sun today and after a couple of days of cold, wet weather, we were very excited at the thought of some sunshine. To make the most of the promised solar rays we booked ourselves on a tour out to the Salzkammergut to see some epic mountains and lakes. It was most certainly epic, though that sun they promised us…, well.., let’s just say we saw the sun and felt its warmth on our skin for about 30 minutes, whereas we got rained on and snowed at for about 8 hours. That’s right people: we got snowed AT* today.

*I say “snowed AT” because “snowed ON” implies the snow was falling down gently from the sky. Today we had snow being pelted at us from every side, and with a brisk wind to help keep the temperature down below 0C, it definitely felt like we were getting snowed AT, not ON.


Getting snowed AT today. So much for the promised sunshine!


The Salzkammergut is a mountain and lake holiday area to the South of Salzburg; it is home to numerous alpine peaks, 76 alpine lakes and one of the oldest salt mines in Europe. The salt mines of the Salzkammergut have been mined for about 3,000 years and helped keep the Archbishop Princes of Salzburg rich for centuries (the name Salzkammergut literally means “estate of the salt chamber”). Salt mining is an integral part of the history of this region and, as we learnt today, during medieval times, salt was worth as much as gold. Apparently is was customary, from Roman times right up to the 18th century, to pay workers and soldiers their wages, at least in part, in salt. So important was salt that the very word “salary” includes a reference to this “white gold” (sal = Latin for salt). With the advent of refrigeration we just don’t have the same need for salt as we once did and many of the old salt mines around Salzburg have been closed, though you can still take a tour of the mine if you’re keen to see how horrendous conditions were for the salt miners. We chose not to explore the salt mines but to climb up to 1,834m instead. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a decision we lived to regret.


The mountains, salt mines and lakes of the Salzkammergut.


The Salzkammergut region includes a small pocket of land that is today part of Germany but was once part of the independent state of Salzburg. With the Schengen Agreement in place, country borders are virtually insignificant these days so we didn’t even notice when we crossed into Southern Germany today to visit one of the region’s most famous mountains: the Kehlsteinberg. This mountain is particularly well known because this is where the Nazi Party built its secondary headquarters and where the Kehlsteinhaus (translation = Eagle’s Nest) can be found. 

The Kehlsteinhaus sits up at 1,834m altitude and was built as an extension of the Nazi Obersalzberg headquarters which is further down the mountain at around 800m elevation. The Kehlsteinhaus was built by the Nazi Party as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler to serve as a private retreat, and a place for him to entertain visiting dignitaries. The building is reached first via a special bus that takes visitors from Obersalzberg up a narrow 6.5km winding road to the Kehlsteinhaus Base Station, and then by elevator. That’s right” elevator! We climbed the 124m of the ascent in a large, brass elevator that is powered by an original WWI submarine engine (the elevator shaft is bored directly through the mountain). The story goes that the elevator was lined with brass and mirrors to make the inside seem bigger than it is as Hitler was claustrophic. Apparently he was also a little acrophobic and only ascended to the Eagle’s Nest a dozen times as the heights made him very uncomfortable.


Looking up to the Eagle’s Nest from Obersalzberg before getting on the bus up.


The entrance to the tunnel that leads to the elevator up to the Eagle’s Nest.


The building itself, the road from Obersalzberg and the elevator + shaft were constructed over a 13 month period and completed in the summer of 1938. The cost is estimated to have been the equivalent of 100 million Euros (about $150 million AUD) in today’s terms. The Eagle’s Nest was designed to provide amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. This is what the views look like on a good day apparently:


A photo of a photo showing how awesome the view is on a good day.


This is what we saw:


Our epic view from the Eagle’s Nest.


*SIGH* It was seriously cold up there and not scenic at all. Apparently it is very unusual for there to be so much snow down so low so early in the autumn (they had 20cm fall in 24 hours with the snow-line being down to 1,300m). Lucky us?!


Not so scenic, just cold.


Enjoying the view from the Eagle’s Nest. (The crazy guy next to me, by the way, is an Aussie who was on the tour with us. He went up there is SHORTS. Insane!)


The Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant today. I’m sure dining outside al fresco is lovely on a warm, sunny day. Today not so much – it would be dining al freddo.



We were quite happy to get back down off the mountain and continue our tour on to Berchtesgaden for lunch. This small village is a popular ski holiday destination in winter and a hikers paradise in summer. In autumn it is neither and thus quite quiet. We stopped here for about an hour and enjoyed a hearty, warm lunch before continuing on. 


Our lunch venue in Berchtesgaden. At least it was just raining here, not snowing.


The village of Berchtesgaden.


We drove back over to Austria for the afternoon to see some of the lakes of the Salzkammergut and this is when the sun deigned to reveal itself for a few glorious moments. We drove to Wolfgangsee (translation = Lake Wolfgang) and stopped in at the tiny village of St Gilgen, whose only claim to fame is that Mozart’s mother was born there (it was a cute enough town, but very small). From St Gilgen we hopped on a boat and cruised around the lake to the town of Sankt Wolfgang. The lake itself was as spectacular as only alpine lakes can be; surrounded by mountains the lake is a beautiful aquamarine colour.


Watching the sun poking out from behind the clouds.


The beautiful Lake Wolfgang.


It was still sunny when we reached Sankt Wolfgang and it was wonderful to stroll through the village basking in the warmth of the sun. The town and the lake are named after Saint Wolfgang, who, according to legend, built the first church here in the late 10th century. The 15th century cathedral in the centre of Sankt Wolfgang was built atop the original church and was rather impressive, given how small the village is.


Pulling into the village of Sankt Wolfgang.


Views of the lake from Sankt Wolfgang – THIS is why we wanted to see the Salzkummergut!


What a great spot for a summer holiday home!


Strolling through Sankt Wolfgang enjoying the sunshine.


What a great spot to lounge around (when it’s warmer)!


Sankt Wolfgang was our final stop on the tour; from there we drove back to Salzburg past rolling green hills, precipitous mountains and a couple of other lakes. With the sun glinting off the wet roads the drive back to town was lovely and warm. Pulling into Salzburg under brilliant blue skies the morning’s rain and snow falls seemed a world away. Pity we’re leaving Salzburg tomorrow – it would have been nice to see more of the city at its sunny best. Oh well, at least we didn’t get hailed on!


Hoping for a better day tomorrow!




Another rainy day in in Salzburg

Seems Central Europe is in the grips of unseasonally cold and wet weather at the moment. Lucky us! Oh well, at least we have our thermal undergarments to keep us warm and wet weather ponchos to keep us dry(ish). And the pouring rain today gave us the perfect excuse to explore Salzburg’s many museums and churches, as well as a few of its best coffee shops!


Another rainy day in Salzburg.


We started our explorations at the main Salzburg Museum which includes exhibits detailing this city’s long history, from Roman times to the modern era. Here we learnt that the first signs of settlement around Salzburg date as far back as Neolithic times. However, the first actual city in the area that merged smaller Celtic communities was founded by Romans in 15BC; this ancient city was named Juvavum. The Romans, like the Celts before them, mined the rich salt reserves in the mountains around Salzburg.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Juvavum was abandoned and fell to ruins. It wasn’t until 699AD that the town began to flourish once again; this was the year St Rupert was given the ruins as a present from the Duke of Bavaria (this region was part of Bavaria at that time). St Rupert founded St Peter’s Abbey, reopened the area’s salt mines, officially named the city Salzburg, and became the city′s first bishop. From there the city blossomed, spreading its influence and power so that, by the 14th century, the province of Salzburg became a fully independent state within the Holy Roman Empire.


Coffee stop #1: Koffee Alchemie. Highly recommended.


For almost 500 years the independent state of Salzburg (of which Salzburg City was the capital), flourished. The ruling Archbishop’s became Archbishop Princes (i.e. they had economic and political, as well as religious, authority in the region), with immense wealth and considerable influence within the Holy Roman Empire. During the 17th and 18th century Salzburg was in its prime: the Archbishop Princes Wolf von Raitenau, Markus Sittikus and Paris Lodron used the wealth from the salt trade to transform Salzburg into one of the world′s most outstanding Baroque cities with magnificent palaces, churches and gardens. It was during this time that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born (1756) – this means that technically Mozart was a Salzburgian NOT an Austrian!

After 1803 the Archbishop Princes lost their secular power in the course of the Napoleonic wars, and the state of Salzburg became part of the Austrian Empire. Much of the city avoided destruction during WWI and WWII, leaving its Baroque architecture intact and making it a popular tourist destination. Today Salzburg city is a world-renowned centre for music and the arts and one of Austria’s most economically prosperous centres.


The altstadt of Salzburg is one of the best preserved Baroque town centres in Europe.


All that history had us reeling a bit so we found another coffee shop to stop in for some lunch and caffination. 


“Brain full, belly empty. Feed me,”


Coffee stop #2: 220 degrees. Also highly recommended.


After lunch we headed over to Salzburg Cathedral. This immense Baroque church is quite spectacular and bears witness to the power and wealth of Salzburg’s Archbishops. It was first built in 767 but then rebuilt in the early 17th century after a fire in 1598 destroyed large sections of the cathedral. Below the cathedral the crypt holds the remains of all the Archbishop princes of Salzburg in suitably creepy surroundings.


The magnificent Baroque interior of Salzburg Cathedral.


The suitable creepy subterranean crypt.


The current cathedral is built atop much older versions of the church. This chapel was once part of the main cathedral by us now in the basement, next to the crypt.


The detailed stucco and carvings in the main part of the cathedral were amazing.


Just next to the cathedral is the Residenz. This extensive complex of buildings, containing some 180 rooms, was where the Archbishop Princes of Salzburg held court and controlled the destiny of their country from the 14th to the 19th century. Many of the rooms have been restored and are open to the public as a museum, showcasing the wealth and opulence the Salzburgian rulers lived in. Some of the rooms in the Residenz are now hired out for concerts – they were setting one up as we were wandering through today. You can also hire some of the rooms for official functions,wedding receptions and the like – not a bad venue for a wedding reception if you like silk-covered walls, gold leaf and Baroque stucco ceilings. 


A great example of the opulent Baroque furniture and fittings found in the Residenz.


Some of the rooms in the Residenz are now hired out for concerts – they were setting one up as we were wandering through today


One of the many ornate reception rooms in the Residenz.


There are 3 courtyards within the palace, all adorned by fountains and statues such as this one.


Many of the ceilings within the Residenz were decorated with paintings depicting scenes from the life of Alexander the Great.


The very grand entry into the Residenz.


It was still raining at this stage so we continued on to St Peter’s Abbey, one of the oldest still functioning monasteries in Europe. Established around 700AD by St Rupert the monastery sits directly below Hohensalzburg Castle, against the base of Festungsberg (translation: Mt Festung). The monastery itself is surrounded by a rather fascinating cemetery; St Peter’s Cemetery contains tombstones from as far back as 1139 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the world. Despite the rain we spent ages wandering through the graves, fascinated by what the headstones revealed about their departed occupants.


St Peter’s Abbey, Church & Cemetery.


St Peter’s Cemetery contains tombstones from as far back as 1139 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the world. 



Behind St Peter’s Abbey, carved out of the mountain, we discovered the tiniest, and yet most impressive, of all the church we saw today. The Cave Chapel, as it is known, is half way up the Festungsberg and is reached via a very narrow set of stairs. The chapel is believed to have been hewn out of the rockface by the Celts originally and then taken over by Christians in the 4th or 5th century. The chapel was consecrated in the 12th century and a marble alter and windows added; despite these “modernisations”, however, the chapel remains quite stark and simple. With the mountain around us, protecting us from the wind and rain, it was easy to see why humans would have sought shelter and solace in such places.


The Cave Chapel of Salzburg.


Evidence suggests the chapel has been  here since the 5th century.


Shane leaving the Cave Chapel. Doesn’t he look like something out of a horror movie in that red poncho?!


From St Peter’s Abbey we went to see Hagenauer House, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756. The Mozart family lived there for 26 years, from 1747 to 1773. In 1773 the celebrated composer bought the family a new home which is now a museum dedicated to his life and works. 


Where Mozart was born (the open windows on the third floor open into  the  family’s original apartment.


The much fancier home Mozart bought for his family once he’d made his fortune.


And so, after a day of churches and museums, we have retired to our rooms to give ourselves time to dry out before dinner. It has most certainly been a soggy day in Salzburg, but still a good one. After so many weeks of hiking and nature-trawling in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Western Austria, it was nice to spend some time today soaking up all that history and culture (or kultcha in Australian). The weather promises to be a but drier tomorrow so we’re considering take a trip into the surrounding mountain and lakes district – tune in tomorrow to see how that goes! Auf wiedersehen until then!


Looking forward to sunshine tomorrow!



A city of salty riches…

Welcome to Salzburg blog fans! Nestled below the Austrian Alps, along the banks of the Salzach River – just 10km from the German-Austrian border – this is a city rich in history and natural beauty. It’s a lovely old town and we’re excited about being here to explore it for the next few days! 


Welcome to Salzburg!


Salzburg has long been a very wealthy city; even today the city is one of the richest in Austria. Today much of that wealth comes from the 5 million tourists who visit the region every year, but this city’s prosperity was actually built on a foundation of salt. There are salt mines not far out of town and, back in the days when salt was one of the most important commodities in the world, Salzburg (translation = salt city) was a very rich town indeed. The city was also the capital of the a powerful Archdiocese of Salzburg, a part of the Holy Roman Empire from the 7th century to 1803.


The architecture of Salzburg’s old town reflects its rich history.



This long history as a city of import is reflected in the city’s architecture; Salzburg’s old town is one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps – it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. There are Gothic churches, Baroque cathedrals and Renaissance palazzos aplenty – as we saw today from our vantage point up Festungsberg (translation = Fortress Mountain).


Looking down on Salzburg from our vantage point on Festungsberg.


Peering down on the old town from high up in the castle.



We left Innsbruck under cloudy skies this morning and rode the train to Salzburg, where it was not only cloudy but raining incessantly. Given the inclement weather we decided to seek refuge indoors and where better to hide from the rain than an 11th century fortress?!  We spent our whole afternoon exploring the massive, hill-top edifice that is Schloss Hohensalzburg.


Riding the train is obviously still VERY exciting for Shane!



After checking in to our hotel and a quick lunch in Salzburg’s altstadt (translation = old town), we caught the funicular train up the hill to Hohensalzburg Castle. Perched high on the hill, 542m above Salzburg’s altstadt, Schloss Hohensalzburg is imposing. It was originally built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein (during the times of the Holy Roman Empire, the archbishops of Salzburg were powerful political figures with considerable interests to protect), then substantially enlarged by Archbishop Leonhart von Keutschach in 1519. Today it is one of the largest, fully-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe. 


The imposing Schloss Hohensalzburg.


One of the immense castle’s many interior courtyards.


Starting our castle tour.


The grey stone of the castle was cold and imposing.


Originally the castle was designed to be a purely defensive structure, but over time it became a princely home for the Archbishops of Salzburg. As we toured through the many rooms of Hohensalzburg we could see how the transition has influenced the architecture and decoration of the rooms. The oldest parts of the castle were much darker and lacked detailing, whereas the 16th century additions were richly decorated with intricate gothic wood-carvings and ornamental paintings in every room. 


Originally built as a relatively small defensive fortification, the castle now covers more than 33,000 square metres.


One of the castle’s main reception rooms.


An example of the detailing seen in the newer part of the castle.


The Golden Hall was especially impressive, with its ornate ceiling and gold-painted wooden detailing. The hall was originally built as a reception hall where the Archbishop would meet visiting dignitaries. Today the hall is hired out for classical music concerts where the most popular choice of music includes works by Wolfganag Amadeus Mozart because, you see, Mozrt was born in Salzburg!


The Golden Hall is today used as a concert hall.


An example of the gold-painted wall carvings found all around the Golden Hall.



In the early 1800s it was used as barracks, storage depot and dungeon before being abandoned as a military outpost in 1861. Hohensalzburg Castle was then refurbished from the late 19th century and quickly became a major tourist attraction. We certainly enjoyed our afternoon touring through the fortress and all its exhibits.


The torture room was horrendous. This spiky chair was one of the tamer items on display.  *SHUDDERS*


Part of the castle’s impressive armour and weaponry display.


The castle’s kitchen. 


Checking out what the cannons are aimed at.


Dodging rain drops in the main courtyard.


Leaving the castle with heads full of history and eyes full of wonder.


As an interesting side note, Salzburg is a dream holiday destination for music fans from around the world because not only was this the birthplace of 18th century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it was also the setting for the “Sound of Music” film (think Julie Andrews and the von Trapp family). We found out today that the von Trapps were actually a real family from around here who really did sing together. There really was a “Maria” who was going to be a nun, but ended up marrying Goerg von Trapp; and the family really did escape Nazi-occupied Austria during World War II. All these facts from the movie are correct, but there are definitely some “Hollywoodisms*” that snuck into the film (*stuff Hollywood producers made up to make the movie more appealing to the masses). For example:

  • Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926 as a tutor for one of the children who was recovering from scarlet fever, not as governess to all the children.
  • Maria and Georg married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria.
  • There were 10, not 7, von Trapp children. The names, ages and sexes of the children were changed for the movie too.
  • The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. They left by train to Italy and then continued on to the USA where they performed for many years.

There are a heap of tours available in and around Salzburg that take avid “Sound of Music” fans to all the key sites used in the original movie. Shane and I thought about taking one of these tours for giggles but the thought of being stuck on a bus with 50 people allloudly and gaily singing “Doe a deer, a female deer…” (and other such classics), had us foaming at the mouth in terror.