Tag Archives: Austria

Linda does Linderhof (and Neuschwanstein)

If you’re wondering why we chose to stay in a random little pocket of Austria, the answer is that Heiterwang is just a 20-minute drive from the world-famous Neuschwanstein Palace, but with much friendlier prices than on the German side of the border.

Unfortunately, the fabulous weather we’d be enjoying had come to an abrupt end, and we drove there through torrential rain under an angry, cloudy sky. But, even in crappy weather, the palace doesn’t fail to impress.

The first glimpse
The first glimpse

The only way to see the inside is on a guided tour and thankfully we’d reserved tickets as the queues were insane. They advise you to get there an hour before your tour time – with good reason. On a nice day, there was a chance we might have walked up there but with the rain still coming down by the bucketful, we decided to take the bus instead.

The ride is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Winding roads, steep drops and a driver with a lead foot on the accelerator. Still, we made it to the top in one piece.

View of Hohenschwangau
View of Hohenschwangau

There’s still a pretty steep walk up from the bus stop, and you have to battle your way through oblivious Japanese tourists. (Signs in the town are actually in Japanese, too.) But we made it with around 20 minutes to spare before our tour, which meant a 20-minute stand in the rain as you can’t get in until your designated time.

Tour group number 464 was herded through and then 465 was called. Our tour guide was a German girl with a love of using continuous tenses for everything. There was also a rather annoying man who roared translations at the rest of his party who clearly couldn’t understand a word of English.

The tour itself was underwhelming and took just 25 minutes in total. It felt a bit like being on a factory conveyor belt. Only around a third of the interior is furnished as all work stopped after the mysterious death of “Mad” King Ludwig at the age of 40. And while it was interesting enough to hear the details of some of the craftsmanship – it took 14 carpenters 4 years just to make the bed – it could have been so much better. When you’ve got a character like Ludwig on your hands, an entertaining tour should pretty much write itself. As it was, it was a bit like the “bad sex” of palace tours – in, out… Huh, was that it?

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We left the palace and walked through the drizzle to Marienbrücke.

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If you have a fear of heights, I would definitely not recommend this but the bridge is where you get the “money shot” of Neuschwanstein so it’s worth braving it.

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We got the bus back down and hopped into the car again. With the day still being but a pup, we decided to make it a Ludwig-themed one and go check out Linderhof as well.

Manfredas: If you see anything you want to take a photo of, just yell “stop”. 

Me: Cool, O… Jesus Christ! STOP! 

We had arrived at Plansee.

Wow...
Wow…

I’d been impressed by some of the other lakes we’d seen, but this one literally made my jaw drop. The weather had cleared up a bit and the reflection of the mountains in the water was nothing short of heavenly. We proceeded to drive for around a minute, stop again, jump out, take a photo, drive for another minute, stop, take a photo… This went on for some time and it is now clear to me that Manfredas has the patience of a saint.

Me: Where are we?

Manfredas: Well, we just passed … so we’re about 5 minutes from …

Me: No, no, I mean which country are we in? 

This was around the 4th time we’d crossed the Austrian-German border that day so hopefully you’ll understand my stupidity.

By the time we made it to Linderhof, the palace was closed for the day but we were kind of palaced out anyway so we were content to just wander around the gardens for a while. This was the only palace that Ludwig lived to see completed and I reckon he must have been pretty pleased with it. It’s almost as nice as my flat.

Not too shabby, Ludwig
Not too shabby, Ludwig

With the gardens, he attempted to recreate Versailles but, as I’ve never been, I can’t really say if he succeeded. They certainly are very, very pretty though.

I think I would have liked old Ludwig if I’d met him. After Wagner met him for the first time he said, “He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world”. People say that about me all the time too…

After all of the touristy madness of the day, it was a relief to get back to our quiet little town, settle on the balcony with a glass of wine and listen to me mooing and baaing away. After that got tired, we headed back to Sunnawirt for more delicious food and pan piping.

Turkey and an edible flower!
Turkey, baked apple and an edible flower!

There wasn’t any yodelling that night as Paul was a bit worse for wear, having been on the red wine for God knows how many hours. Instead, we got a private tour of the rooms from his wife which was great. If I’m ever back Heiterwang way, I’d definitely try to stay there.

As we were on the road again the next morning, we had to call it a night – but not before I yodelled all the way back.

 

 

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Yodelling…

The next morning, after a light breakfast on our sun-soaked balcony, we were off to check out the sights of Salzburg. We walked past a little market that had more tat than you could shake a stick at and on towards Mirabell Gardens. I’m not quite sure what was going on here…

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Butt, butt, butt

but there was an awful lot of cheering and everyone seemed delighted so it was all good. The gardens were absolutely gorgeous – colourful flowers, beautifully manicured lawns, fountains, a palace, and a shady beer garden – what more could you want?

Leaving the cheering butt ladies behind (ahem), we continued to our main goal – Hohensalzburg Fortress. Over 900 years old, it is the largest completely preserved castle in Central Europe. It’s also quite high above the city so thankfully, a funicular goes up there. (Yes, I’m that lazy.)

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There’s no saving your legs once you get to the top though – it’s all up and down stairs and up and downhill, but the views make it worthwhile. (I warn you now, this post is going to be a little photo heavy and may induce some feelings of jealousy.)

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I think you could safely say that Salzburg lucked out on the beauty front.

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We headed back down into the city and amused ourselves over lunch at the burka-clad women going into the Prada store. Seems like a bit of a waste to have a wardrobe packed with designer gear that you have to cover from head to toe… But Prada holds zero interest for me – what I really want is the lady version of this:

Seriously, how hot would I look in one of those?
Seriously, how hot would I look in one of those?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, if there’s a slightly off-the-wall way of seeing a city, you can be pretty sure I’ll find it. And thanks to Manfredas, we had signed up for Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour. This is a 3.5-hour tour that takes you through the city, exploring all of the locations that were used in “The Sound of Music”. Seemingly, over 300,000 people come to Salzburg every year just because of SOM. Madness. But the tour is possibly the most fun you can have with your Lederhosen on.

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Our tour guide, Sharron, was absolutely fantastic. She really brought the film to life and was chock-full of interesting tidbits about the city, the film and the actors – and all of this interspersed with outbursts of yodelling.

Dodgy Mozart, tucked away on the edge of the city where the tourists won't find him
Dodgy Mozart, tucked away on the edge of the city where the tourists won’t find him

As we rode through a park, she switched on the movie soundtrack and we all looked like (happy) nutters belting out “The Hills are Alive…” as bemused passers-by looked on. Even if you know absolutely nothing about the film, I would still recommend this tour. It’s a fabulously fun way of seeing the city and the stories from behind the scenes of the movie are hysterical. Here’s your chance to test your SOM nerd abilities and see if you can identify any of the locations:

After loading up on Schnitzel, it was back to our favourite dive bar where, once again, the sex gag machine didn’t disappoint.

I don't even...
I don’t even…

Even though the place was empty, we merrily chatted away with our toothless Indian friend until closing time. He seemed to enjoy the conversation as he gave us a bottle of wine at the end of the night. Then again, we probably helped put one of his kids through university…

The next morning, it was sadly time to leave Salzburg but, have no fear, there was plenty of pretty awaiting us on the road to our next destination.

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Fernsee

We pulled over in the stupidly scenic town of Ellmau, located at the foot of the Wilder Kaiser mountain range. Not surprisingly, this backdrop has made it the most popular filming location in the Tyrol region.

They also do a mean Apfel Strudel.

YUM :)
YUM 🙂

Back on the road, we stopped at Fernsteinsee, one of the most popular diving spots in Austria. To say it’s beautiful is a bit of an understatement.

This part of the world is, quite frankly, ridiculous on the stunning scale. I’d hardly had time to recover from this epic loveliness when I was hit with a view of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. We even managed to have the dumb luck to get there just in time to see a rainbow over it.

The redneck cast of Deliverance was hanging out in the parking lot staring at my legs so, after photographing the mountain a silly number of times, we were off to our final destination for the night – Heiterwang.

Heiterwang is barely a blip on the map, with a population of just 524 people. It’s surrounded on all sides by the Alps and is amazingly peaceful. The only sounds we heard were the ringing of sheep bells and the mooing of the cows – and me mooing back at them.

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The receptionist recommended a place to eat, where there was a good chance that we would also hear live music.

Me: Will there be yodelling? 

The answer was yes and the decision was made. We walked through the fields to Sunnawirt, where the owner, Paul, was delighting guests with his yodelling skills. YESSSSS.

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I joined in, a kid at another table thought he was yodelling by just yelling “YODEL, YODEL, YODEL”, and the scene was set for the perfect evening. The food was absolutely amazing and the atmosphere was lively. After a couple of glasses of wine, this seemed like an important thing to do:

Very mature
Very mature

Paul whipped out his pan pipes and we listened to the sound echoing back from the mountains. We finished the night, chatting to him, his wife Elizabeth, and a lovely couple from Swabia. And I yodelled a bit more, much to everyone’s dismay.

And now I’m off to write to the Austrian Tourist Board to see if I can get a job there…

Oh, Vienna! (2)

After a quick freshen-up at the hotel (and a chance for me to use one of the thoughtfully-packed teabags), we caught the bus to Kahlenberg, a hill which offers the best views of Vienna. The bus ride alone, up winding cobbled streets with views of forest, vineyards and glimpses of the city, is well worth it – just don’t eat too much before you get on.

Suitably shaken and stirred, we hopped off at the last stop, just in time to catch sunset over the valley. The views of the city, although a little misty that evening, were spectacular.

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With the sun gone, there was a decided nip in the air, so we got back on the bus to Grinzing, the most famous of Vienna’s wine villages – and so pretty it’s hard to imagine real people actually live there.

I’d chosen one place but, just as we were about to go in, a coachload of Spanish tourists showed up – NEIN! No way was I listening to that for the night. Luckily, you’re spoiled for choice in Grinzing so we just went across the road to the next ridiculously picturesque restaurant.

Crushed, no less. I like their no-nonsense approach.
Crushed, no less. I like their no-nonsense approach.

We found a table and ordered some much-needed food – and, of course, local wine. I had the goulash, which I ate too quickly to take a photo of but, I can assure you, it was delicious.

Grinzing - where men wear Lederhosen unironically
Grinzing – where men wear Lederhosen unironically

With some local musicians now in full swing in the bar area, we moved to another table to be closer to them – and ended up sitting beside the mayor, as you do. He took a shine to me immediately and every time Manfredas’ head was turned, he took the opportunity to give me a come-hither gaze I found rather amusing – and also declined.

Still, he and his party were friendly enough and we chatted away for a while; the only problem was his dog who had a tendency towards rather smelly ausfahrts. As soon as another table cleared, we hot-footed it over and, by now, were right beside the musicians.

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While they might have looked a bit Latvian on the outside, they were really nice people and, in no time at all, we were nattering away. It turned out that the musicians aren’t professionals; they’re just a group of locals who get together once a month to keep the old folk tunes alive. We just happened to get lucky by choosing that particular bar on that particular night. The lady on the right and I became pally as she loves Ireland, visits regularly, and sings Irish traditional songs with her local choir. For anyone interested in instruments, a piano accordian like this one will set you back up to €15,000.

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Pricey hobby

All in all, we had a fabulous night. We were the only tourists there and there was something really cool about being welcomed into a local tradition that we’d wandered into purely by accident.

Dinner: €8

Wine: Can’t remember

Listening to actual yodelling in a bar in Austria: Priceless

We got off to a slightly later start the next day (as you can imagine). After several cups of tea and a bite to eat, we took the train one station past Schloss Schönbrunn (Palace “Beautiful Spring”) so we could walk back through the palace gardens. The day turned out to be much nicer than we had expected and the gardens were beautiful.

This is probably down to the scary man cycling around, who shouts and blows his whistle at anyone who dares to go near the grass. Despite there being signs everywhere, people are stupid so I can’t blame him for being snarky.

If you think the gardens are impressive, wait until you emerge into the massive courtyard between the palace itself and the Obelisk Fountain. While it’s hard to take photos while your jaw is dragging along the ground, I did my best.

We felt like we’d definitely earned a Spritzer (or two) before heading back into the city so that’s exactly what we did. Feeling like I needed to work that off before indulging in the famous Viennese Sacher Torte, we had a wander around a park and took in the awe-inspiring buildings that surrounded it.

Me: Gawp.

Parliament Building
Parliament Building

Me: Gawp.

The Rathaus
The Rathaus

Me: Gawp.

KK Hofburg Theatre
KK Hofburg Theatre

Me: Gawp. Sneeze.

Yes folks, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – THE CAKES. When in Vienna, it doesn’t pay to do things by halves on the Kaffee and Kuchen front so it was off to the famous Café Landtmann. (Well, if it’s good enough for Sigmund Freud, it’s probably good enough for me.)

Caaaaaaaake...
Caaaaaaaake…
People eating caaaaaaaaaaaake
People eating caaaaaaaaaaaake

We found a nice outdoor table and waited for the menus. OH. MY. GOD.

Caaaaaaaaaaaake...
Caaaaaaaaaaaake…

They looked even better in person (or “in cake” – how does that work?).

Dear lord...
Dear lord…

DSC00635While I wanted to try everything, I felt that, this being Vienna, I should have the Sacher Torte. While we waited, I tried to figure out the pecking order of the waiters. (Manfredas probably missed awe-struck, silent Linda at this point.)

They have guys in black jackets and guys in white jackets. I think how it works is the “black” guys take your order, the “white” guys do all the carrying, and the “black” guys bring the bill and take the money at the end. I could be wrong though.

Who cares?! Caaaaaaaaaaake!
Who cares?! Caaaaaaaaaaake!

Feeling magnanimous and hopped up on chocolate, I offered to foot the bill for this one. Smugly loaded with a €20-note in my hand, I waved it at the snooty (but funnily so) waiter. He asked me for another €2. Erm, WHAT? €22 for a Sacher Torte, Apfelstrudel, a coffee and a tea bag in water… OK, it was worth it for the experience but I may have had a little weep.

This is turning into a Lord of the Rings-style epic – apologies! Part 3 coming soon! 

 

 

 

Oh, Vienna! (1)

I had been told before visiting Vienna that the Viennese were a tad rude and unfriendly. However, having lived in the Land of the Po-Faced for four years, I figured I could hold my own on that front. So, following a last-minute dash to buy sandwich bags, I was on my way to meet Manfredas to get the train to the airport.

After an easy 50-minute flight (or just enough time to drink one tiny, over-priced bottle of wine), we landed in Vienna. The great thing about travelling with a German is that they are, well, German. A guide book had been procured, maps acquired, travel itineraries to and from the hotel worked out, and 72-hour public transport tickets purchased. This meant that, once I’d recovered from a fit of hysterics at how much the voice in the lift sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger, we were already on the most direct route to the hotel.

We checked into the Hotel Mercure, where Manfredas surprised me once again by producing some tea bags he’d brought with him – just in case they didn’t provide them at the hotel. Germans…

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Where’s the food?

At this point, we were pretty hungry so we decided to head out into the night to see what Vienna had to offer. Luckily for us, the hotel was right opposite the Naschmarkt, a huge area with all kinds of international cuisine, but I only had one thing on my mind.

SCHNITZEL!
SCHNITZEL!

While listening to the “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP” from the kitchen of the chef beating more meat into submission, we savoured our Schnitzels, sampled the local wine and, by the time we were finished, the Naschmarkt was shutting down for the night. When plans fail, Linda’s “bar-dar” comes into play and beep, beep, beep, sure enough, within around three minutes, I’d located a likely spot for a nightcap.

Dreamy, right?
Dreamy, right?

The bartender was as overjoyed to see us as we were to find an open bar so it was a win-win from the off.

Happy Linda
Happy Linda

We were just sitting down to enjoy our (probably) last glass of the evening when we were joined by Helmut. At first, we were happy that a local wanted to speak to us, then we realised he was possibly on day release from the local asylum. To say he was hammered would be an understatement but there was something about his mother dying in a car accident, his grandfather being a famous race car driver, him being in an orphanage, umm, umm, maybe a daughter somewhere, the secret service were looking for him but couldn’t find him… And then he cried. And then he laughed. Then he held onto Manfredas for a very long time. And then we left.

Night one down.

Having checked the weather forecast (of course), we knew that Friday was going to be the best day weather-wise so we were up and about early(ish) to make the most of it. After a quick breakfast at the Naschmarkt, we started walking toward the Museum Quarter.

One of the first things you’ll notice in Vienna are the amazingly cute traffic lights. They were part of an initiative by the city’s PR team, after Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision, to put LGBT issues on the agenda. From some of the reading I’ve done, it sounds like the country still has a long way to go, but I guess every little helps.

Once I’d been dragged away from the traffic lights, it was on to see Vienna proper.

My new trick - spouting water out of my head
My new trick – spouting water out of my head

It is impossible to put into words just how beautiful this city is. I think I said “WOW” more in the space of a couple of hours than I ever have before in my life. A few photos don’t even begin to do it justice but hopefully you’ll get the general idea.

It is stunning.

After being wowed out by the Museumsquartier, it was forward to Stephansplatz, home to the imposing (and too big to take a decent photo of) Stephansdom.

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Dizzy from the majesty of it all, Manfredas suggested a time-out at Do&Co. You can buy the most expensive döner kebab in all of Vienna here but, as €26 would pretty much cover my weekly shop in Berlin, I decided to settle for just a drink. Knowing I’d be laughed out of my local in Berlin for ordering a Spritzer, I snorted a little when Manfredas said that was the Viennese drink of choice, but hey, when in Vienna.

To you, Vienna!
Wein in Wien!

Surprisingly refreshed by the girly drink Spritzer, I was ready for more. Having left the guide book in the German’s capable hands, because:

German + Guide Book = No-Brainer

I was rather surprised when we emerged from the U-Bahn here:

Argh!
Argh!

Seemingly, the Prater is a must because of the funfair and giant ferris wheel but, after the splendour of the morning, it felt more like a jarring eyesore.

A "must"
A “must”

It does run alongside quite a nice park, but all the shrieking in the background made it less than relaxing for a stroll.

Trying and failing to get into the carnival mood
Trying and failing to get into the carnival mood

We decided to meander back into the city along the canal, which was a much better idea.

And, of course, it’s when you walk a city that you find all of the unexpected things it has to offer. It turns out that, on a sunny day, half of Vienna heads to the beach or, to be more precise, the City Beach. Young and old alike (some disturbingly topless) were sprawled along the bank of the canal, in deckchairs, on the ground, or pretty much anywhere else they could find a space.

I wonder how many people fall in...
I wonder how many people fall in…

So naturally, we just had to join them for a Spritzer before deciding how to spend our second evening…

A very relaxed man
Napping, Austrian-style

Stay tuned. There may be yodelling…