Grüße von Austria!

30 Aug

We heart Austria! Ha!  Just made it home from Salzburg last night and couldn’t wait to tell y’all all about it!  As is the case with most of the cities and countries we explore, I’m going to say it again, what a BEAUTIFUL place!  Cobblestone streets, rainbow-colored buildings, guilded spires high in sky…all with the cliffs and green hills of the Alps in the background.  Pictures don’t begin to do it justice…really.  And especially pictures taken in the pouring down, freezing cold rain, as was the case for our first day in the city!

Quick note about Austria…It’s a landlocked European country of 8 million people to the southeast of Germany (check the Maps page :)).  With a land area comparable to Maine, the terrain is really mountainous (it’s in the Alps, silly!) and the climate is considered ‘Alpine,’ meaning that the higher you go, the colder it gets, even within the same city.  A UN member since 1955 and an EU member (European Union) since 1995, Austria is one of the richest countries int he world (currently 12th) with an extremely high standard of living (we can now attest to that!).  In other words, from our impression, everything has a ‘posh, lavish’ feel, if that makes sense.  And one good thing for us as we’ve been slowly building our vocabulary?  The national language is German :).

We decided to take a different approach to this adventure.  I guess you could say that we were temporarily ‘churched, castled and  history’ed out-‘ afterall, we’ve spent the last month practically as sponges- seeing everything we possibly can, learning and taking it all in.  So this weekend, we decided to just LOOK for the most part.  That’s it- to amble the streets, to wander in and out of shops, to eat at little bistros and cafes off the beaten path…So while this will still be a picture-loving post, you’ll see that it’s different from the other places we’ve been in recent weeks…You know what they say- variety is the spice of life! 🙂

This was our first time driving southward, so we were curious to see how the landscape would change, especially once we got closer to Austria.  Like the rest of Germany we’ve seen so far, the countryside makes for such marvelous eye-entertainment on road trips!

As if from a magazine...

There are windmills everywhere...and solar panels...

The tiny towns pop up every now and then among the corn fields...You can see the town's center- the bulbous steeple. This shape seems to be the most popular throughout Germany...

Once we crossed into Austria (there was no formal border, just a sign and a Shell Gas Station!), the terrain got even more gorgeous if that’s possible!  Rolling hills followed by huge mountains and rocky cliffs…Cows grazing in the green grass, sunflower crops all along the sides of the roads…

The Alps 🙂

Snow-capped peaks (mostly covered in clouds!) in the distance...

Coming into Salzburg 🙂

Salzburg...Altstadt on the right, New Town on the left. We stayed just inside New Town.

OK, so a quick note about Salzburg…With 150,000 inhabitants, the city was built on the banks of the Salzach River and is currently Austria’s 4th largest city.  It’s considered one of the best-preserved city centers of the Alps.  Known for its baroque architecture and Alpine setting, the city is also known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace, as well as the setting for “Sound of Music”.   (Can’t you just hear, ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music…’?  Best Julie Andrews voice, of course!)  Salzburg’s Altstadt (Old Town- yes, all European cities have Old and New Towns- we always prefer the Old 🙂 ) is strongly dominated by huge baroque towers and steeples- the many churches serve as reminders of the Christian citizens who have lived there for centuries.  Enough with the history, on to the fun!  *Note: Yes, the clouds (and freezing rain!) moved in for our walking adventures!  *Sigh*

Altstadt (Old Town) on the northern river bank...

Walking around Altstadt...LOTS of high-end shops- think Louis Vuitton, Prada, Coach...

A quick huddle to get out of the rain! Why not a self-portait? 🙂

Residenzplatz...Main Square with the Cathedral, Gallery and oldest baroque fountain in Europe. Next to Trevi Fountain in Rome, it's probably the most gorgeous fountain we've ever seen.

Still walking in Altstadt...the buildings are so colorful and everything is so clean...

Mozart was born in 1756 as the seventh child of ‘Salzburg’s royal chamber musician,’ Leopold Mozart and his wife, Anna Maria Walpurga.  Even as a young child, Mozart was considered a musical prodigy, and as result, his father neglected his own musical work to devote himself to the education and exploitation of his children. In other words, Mozart earned the family’s paycheck for nearly all of his young life, traveling all over Europe before finally returning to Salzburg to write his most famous symphonies before his untimely death at the age of 35.

In front of Mozart's birthplace...

And while we’re on Mozart, the Mozartkugeln (Mozart ball candy) was created by the Salzburg confectioner, Paul Fürst, in 1890 and named in honor of the city’s ‘son.’  The original confectionery still produces the candies (BY HAND!) according to the original recipe: First, a ball of green pistachio marzipan is covered in a layer of nougat.  Next, the ball is dipped in a dark chocolate coating and left to dry (harden) before being wrapped in foil.  (Picture a ping-pong ball sized bonbon 🙂 )  An interesting note: the Fürst Confectionery doesn’t own the trademark, so there are plenty of imitation candies, all of which are produced using industrial techniques.

Confectionery 🙂

Next, we found ourselves on The Getreidegasse, the most famous shopping street in all of Europe!  (And yes, as much fun as I had exploring with the boys, you have no idea how badly I wished my shopping-partner-in-crime (aka my Mom!) was there at that moment to fully enjoy these 10 blocks with me!  High narrow houses tucked together with elaborate wrought iron and guilded signs are picturesque, and as they appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries. Narrow passageways and colorful courtyards with arcades and flower baskets just add to the ambiance- shops selling everything from jewelry, leather goods, perfumes, fashions and food.

The Getreidegasse

Even McDonalds looks chic!

Pretty cliffs 🙂

All this walking made us starving for dinner, so we searched for a neat little hole-in-the-wall place we’d read about online last week, The Afro Cafe.  Ha!  I just love the name!  1970s decor, bright pink and yellow walls, lava lamps…and DELICIOUS exotic food with a true African flair.  Best part?  The porch was covered and heated, so were able to sit outside and people watch!

In front of the Afro Cafe. Definitely a hot spot for locals, which is always a good sign!

John had Syrian Beef with Marinated Tomatoes and African Spicy Black Beans. He now lists this as one of his favorite European meals!

You can't tell, but I had an awesome salad with African Spiced Chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, olives...and a polenta stick! YUM!

Andy wasn't feeling too adventurous, so he went with the club sandwich. Even it looked good, though!

As we worked our way back toward the our hotel, the clouds (temporarily) parted and the sun shined through, making for some breathtaking views of the Salzach River and the city itself.

Salzach River from the banks of Altstadt

You can see the Hohensalzburg Fortress in the distance...

Standing on the bridge, looking toward New Town...

Sunset over the (quite chilly) Alps...

Before we could get back, the clouds rolled back in and the thunderstorms resumed…

One of my favorite scenic pictures from the weekend...Look at those dark clouds behind the sunlit steeple...

Look who was waiting when we got back, thankful to have been INSIDE rather than out 🙂

OK, a quick detour for a funny story.  As you all know (see previous posts if you don’t!), I travel with my pre-measured, high fiber breakfast cereal to every place we go and we then find a grocery store to pick up lowfat (VERY few places- I’m talking maybe 2 in all of Europe!- carry actual skim 😦 ) milk.  Well, we realized on the walk back to the room that it was after 8p and thus, every single business- grocery stores included- were closed (this is the normal for Europe, though we seem to forget it several times a week…)   Anyhoo, the front desk tells us of a shoppette a few blocks away, so when the rain stops, John and I split the duties- I will walk the pups and he will hoof it on the milk run.  Perfect, right?  Once he returned, I knew it was a bad sign when he was carrying two items and already explaining as he crossed the threshold…’Oh goodness,’ I thought.  ‘They didn’t have skim milk,’ he said.  ‘Figures.’  ‘And they didn’t have regular lowfat milk either,’ he said.  ‘Really?  *sigh with eye roll,*’ I replied.  ‘So I got two things- whole milk and lowfat buttermilk.’  ‘What?!,’ I exclaimed.  By this point, he’s opening the lowfat buttermilk to sample it. After a big gulp, he has the thickest purple mustache you’ve ever seen, notes how much buttermilk tastes like blueberry and passes me the carton. ‘Yep, I think it’ll be good in your cereal.  Like how I used to put granola in my yogurt.’  As I glance down, I see that the carton is labeled ‘waldberren’ (wildberry, DUH!) and is, in fact, covered in pictures of blueberries.  Peering down into the carton, I see that it also has consistency of yogurt- think Dairy Queen Blizzard. it’s so thick.  So I took a moment to gather my composure and finally mustered, ‘You got me blueberry yogurt for my cereal?’ Then we both burst out laughing.  🙂  Needless to say, I went with Option 1 the next morning, opting to make my own ‘lowfat milk’ with 1 part whole milk, 3 parts cold water! 🙂

John's Lowfat Buttermilk, the rest of the world's Blueberry Yogurt 🙂

We spent next morning at the Mt. Durnnberg Salt Mines about 30km south of Salzberg.  Luckily, by the time we got in the car, the sun was shining and it made for one of the most fabulous drives yet- rural, through the farmlands all along the sides of the mountains.

You can see the salt plant in the distance...That's the steam given off as the salt is removed from the brine water...

Random country road en route up the mountain...If you squint, you can see Max and Dulcie playing 🙂

The Salzbergwerk Dürrnberg is an underground salt mine located in the Dürrnberg plateau above Hallein, Austria, a tiny town just south of Salzburg, and it’s namesake as Salzburg actually means ‘salt castle.’  The Celtic tribes discovered the salt and began mining it (using chisels) over 7,000 years ago, allowing the region to become one of the most powerful trading communities in Europe.  Beginning in the 1400s, solution mining took over to improve efficiency where fresh water was pumped into a cavern. After several weeks of absorbing salt from the walls, the water was then pumped out to a processing plant in the city to extract the salt for sale.  Since 1989, the Salzbergwerk Durrnberg has served as a museum, known for its long wooden slides between levels.

View of Salzburg from the mouth of the Salt Mines...

On the train heading down the mine shaft. We all got to wear these uber-chic white jumpsuits to protect our clothes!

Heading down more than a mile into the mountain...

Getting ready to head down the 140 ft. slide on our butts- just like the miners did centuries ago...!

Heading further into the Earth. Yep, we're big kids! Don't judge 🙂

Brine water coming out one of the original pipes. SALTY.

The mine straddles the Austrian/German border, so we actually spent some of the morning in our 'home' country 🙂

'Man in the Salt'- a mummified Celtic man found perfectly preserved (thanks to the salt!) from 7000 years ago. CREEPY.

Before heading ‘home’ to Stuttgart, we decided to grab one last late lunch in the Altstadt…and SO glad we did!  All of us had fantastic Austrian cuisine and one of the oldest restaurants in the city.  Trust me, everything about this place just screamed old world Austria- and it was perfect!  Best part?  The pups were invited inside, too! 🙂

Inside Alter Fuchs (The Old Fox) Restaurant

The kids got to come inside 🙂 And don't worry, they did their parts to keep the floor clean from any table droppings!

John and Andy each got this appetizer. Yes, John found his famous white sausages again! And I can attest, these are even better than the ones in Sindelfingen!

John followed his up with the Sausage Pan- 3 types of sausage with sauerkraut and spicy mustard...

Andy went with a Sausage Hash with potatoes, broccoli, carrots and an egg...

I, however, went the furthest out of my 'zone'- Pumpkin Seed crusted Chicken Cordon Bleu (stuffed with goat cheese, spinach and sundried tomatoes) with Cucumber and Potato Salad. BEST meal I've had in YEARS.

Stuffed, happy bellies 🙂

So there you have it!  What a marvelous way to celebrate our first month here in Europe!  The added bonus?  That we got to share the adventure with one of our best pals, Andy!  I think I speak for all of us when I say that we had such a blast in Austria and that if TripAdvisor had a place to review entire cities, we would definitely give rave reviews, 2 thumbs up and 5 stars for Salzberg!

Almost 'home' again 🙂

2 Responses to “Grüße von Austria!”

  1. Andy August 30, 2010 at 11:43 PM #

    And don’t think I forgot that full on split double mullet…..what does it mean?!

  2. Andy August 30, 2010 at 11:41 PM #

    Also of note, the Crack Fox’s remains were found in Alter Fuchs…..I’m having a great time, thanks for putting up with me!

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