The Sound of Music tour in Salzburg

sound of music tour

I have visited the Austrian city of Salzburg in 2015 and since it was a very short visit (I only spent 24 hours in Salzburg), I know I had to go back, with the kids one day. Salzburg – I can’t say this word without the songs and hymns of the movie The Sound of Music playing in my mind. Though you must know that there’s more to Salzburg than the classic movie that was set there in the 1960’s (yes, that sounds ancient but I like ancient movies) the whole reason of visiting Salzburg with the kids for me was mainly, The Sound of Music tour.


salzburg station

If I remember correctly, I chanced upon the movie when I was a teenager and instantly fell in love with it. I mean, who won’t? It’s a clean, entertaining movie that has no boring moments. Plus, hello pretty Austria as the location!

When my kids turned 2 years old, I took out a heirloom from my precious trove of trinkets – the Sound of Music DVD that I had for more so many years and played it for them to watch. Pristine was ready when she was two and she watched through the whole movie with the same enthusiasm from start to finish. Benjamin wasn’t ready at two, and he watched it when he was 3 and a half years old.

Yes – the first movie that my children ever watched was this musical. It is two hours and 54 minutes long.

It has since been played at my house at regular times again and again and again. We never get tired of it.

When our trip to Austria was finalized, there was no way we couldn’t squeeze this tour in our itinerary!

We were based in Innsbruck while we were in Austria and Salzburg is a good hour and a half train ride away. We left Innsbruck in the morning and arrived at our accommodation in Salzburg just before lunch time, checked in at Motel One Mirabell and headed towards the meeting place at Mirabell Gardens (it’s a 10 minute walk).

It was raining in Salzburg that time. Summer I guess was slowly fading away. It was difficult for my 5 year old son to understand the concept of wet weather, especially those rains that last for hours and hours on end. After all, he was born in the UAE and had been living here all his life, where the sun shines on the average of 330 days out of 365.

FIRST STOP: Leopoldskron


The bus was full with Sound of Music fans from all over the world. Despite the bad weather (the rain didn’t look like it was stopping) everyone was keen to see where the movie was shot. Our first stop was just a few minutes outside Salzburg’s Old Town – Leopoldskron. This was the world-famous former family seat of one of the prince-archbishops as well as an original shooting location from the movie “The Sound of Music” as the von Trapp family residence.

You can actually stay at Leopoldskron Palace and feel like you’re in a movie because this place has been converted into a hotel, thus the main reason tour groups weren’t allowed in the premises so we only get to see this across this lake.

THAT 16 going on 17 GAZEBO


We didn’t spend much time looking at Leopoldskron from afar and we got on the bus again to Hellbrunn Palace. We passed by that yellow building called Schloss Frohnberg that was used for th exterior shots of the Trapp villa. This was where Maria first entered the gate singing I have confidence as she reports to the family to serve as a nanny.

The path outside, which Maria skips down when she first arrives, is pedestrian only so we weren’t allowed to visit, but we did drive past it on the main road. I can only imagine walking through the lines of trees there or riding a bike!

One of the highlights of this tour (for me and my daughter!) was to see the white gazebo where Rolf and Liesl dance and sing Sixteen going on Seventeen. Originally, the gazebo was at the Leopoldskron grounds but it had to be moved to Hellbrunn Palace ground for better safekeeping.

gazebo 1
gazebo 3

GAH. It was so beautiful I could cry. I actually shed a tear or two, especially when I read the tribute to the late actress Charmian Carr who passed away in 2016. She played Liesl, the older of the seven von Trapp children in the movie.

gazebo 2

Unfortunately tourists are not allowed inside because of safety concerns – the tour guide said a middle aged woman has broken her hip trying to imitate the dancing and skipping around the benches inside so they had to lock this gazebo. I don’t know how true!


salzkammergut 1

Now, we were off for a longer journey to the lakes and mountains region. Austria’s Salzkammergut area (Lake District), with a total of 76 lakes, is one of the most impressive regions in the heart of Austria.

We only passed by the abbey where the nuns and the real Maria von Trapp lived. I am not sure why were didn’t stop there. The Sound of Music movie soundtrack was played to keep us entertained during the long ride and people sang along. It felt so wonderful to be able to take a trip down memory lane to the movie, while listening and singing to the well loved songs and looking outside at the beautiful country side.


salzkammergut 2
gloomy 2

We headed up into the mountains surrounding Salzburg, giving us a gorgeous view over the entire city, and drove upwards through the Austrian countryside, past the most beautiful lakeside villages against that mountainous backdrop. It had been raining non-stop but the views were still beautiful.

The Wedding Chapel

We arrive at Mondsee, a cute little town with colorful restaurants and shops and probably the most popular spot – St. Michael’s Church, where the wedding scene was filmed. Buses were prohibited from driving into the town so we had to get down and transfer to this chug train like vehicle, to the joy of my son.

mondsee church 5

Here, we were given 30 minutes (?) to see around and shop or try the recommended apfel strudel from the nearby cafe.

mondsee church 1

mondsee church 3

The kids and I opted out the cafe business and went straight to church. Just like me, they have this fascination with churches in Europe, because…we don’t see these in the UAE, of course!

mondsee church 2

Do-re-mi time

mirabell 2

We were taken back to Salzburg and dropped near Mirabell Gardens. We were hungry after the 4 hour tour that lasted from 2pm to 6pm. We had early dinner first and even if it was still drizzling, I couldn’t let the chance go by without seeing Mirabell Gardens. There is that hedge tunnel where Maria and the children run through.

mirabell 1

At Mirabell Garden there is the hedge “tunnel” that Maria and the children run through. There is the pond and fountain they dance around and also the set of steps where they sing the finale of “Do-re-mi.”

mirabell 5
mirabell 6


Panorama tours bus

Short answer, yes. Especially for Sound of Music movie fans.

For those otherwise, my answer would still be YES. It’s a beautiful way to spend half day in Salzburg and driving through the lakes district. Despite the weather not in our favor, we had a magical day. The scenery on the way out to Mondsee (where the wedding church is located) is breathtaking, and singling along to the movie’s soundtrack with fans from around the world will warm your heart. We were in a big party and our tour guide was brilliant. His narration was very informative peppered with anecdotes and jokes. Also he gave a narrative about the original book.

Panorama tours conduct the Sound of Music tour, dubbed as “the original”. The tour promises to “follow the traces of the Trapp family and take a tour through Salzburg and its surroundings and visit all of the original film settings.”

A few notes before you buy the tour (because they’re not cheap at 42 euros for adults.)

As someone who has experienced it, I’m going to share what you need to know before you go.

It’s important to understand going into this tour what you will see, and perhaps more importantly, what you won’t. Note that many of the film’s most iconic scenes like the gazebo dance scene and the graveyard were filmed in Hollywood, not in Salzburg. In addition, you won’t be able to get very close to some of the filming locations you will visit. For example, you will only see Leopoldskron which were used for the back of the family’s home from cross the lake. The abbey (I was hoping to see the square where the nuns were singing How do you solve a problem like Maria). Similarly, the gazebo cannot be entered, but you can take pictures outside of it. There were several people on my tour who weren’t aware of some of these restrictions ahead of time (me included) and may have been slightly disappointed.

With all of that said, now you know more than I did before I went with the tour so you can manage your expectations better and will have an absolutely magical time.

So, if you’re a big Sound of Music fan, this tour will become one of your favorite things. And if you have kids who love the movie, you may want to take them before they become 16 going on 17 (when they’d probably think it’s too cheesy!).

Have you seen the Sound of Music movie?

5 Reasons to visit Innsbruck, Austria


A while back, Timehop app reminded me that it’s been a year since my solo travel to Austria. I wrote about how I spent one week in Austria but barely touching on Innsbruck, which is probably my favorite Austrian city as of the moment (I’ve only been to Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck as of this writing).

Here’s a list of reasons why you should include Innsbruck in your next travel.

1. Innsbruck is a charming small town


Yes, it is a city but with only 130,000 inhabitants, Innsbruck is considerably small. I have lived in the big city of Tokyo and now living in Dubai, I long for a more chill vibe. And the Austrian alps as backdrop? I instantly fell in love with this place the moment I stepped out of the train.

However, despite not looking like a big, glitzy city, there are loads of cool places to hang out – parks, cafes, co-working spaces, bars and restaurants and WiFi is everywhere.

Did I say charming?

You can wander through narrow alleys, marvel at noble squares and be amazed at the ornate Baroque architecture. Literally, every corner is beautiful.



2. Innsbruck is eye candy


The rows of houses at Maria Hilf street along the Inn river is a sight to behold against the picturesque Austrian Alps. I could stare at it for a long time.

3. If you love the mountains, Innsbruck is for you.


The unique thing about Innsbruck is its spectacular location hemmed in by the Austria Alps. Take the Patscherkofel cable car to the top of the Patscherkof Mountain at 2246 metres or get aboard the underground train from the city center to Hungerburg and from there take the cable car Hungerburgbahn up to Hafelekar mountain station. The Nordkette cable railway stations designed by the brilliantly talented, recently deceased architect, Zaha Hadid, are the futuristic gateway to these majestic mountains.

TIP: Don’t forget to get your Innsbruck card to avail of these cable car rides for free, along with other discounts on other attractions.


In history, the Tyrol region is referred to as the wilderness by the Austrians mainly because, 85 per cent of the region is mountainous. If you love climbing mountains, you will love the unforgettable sight above, unless it’s cloudy of course, in which case, you just need to come back.


…or wait till the weather clears.


By the way, there’s no need to be a certified mountain climber, you can get on a cable car to take you to the top of famous ski landmarks and enjoy the view from there.


4. Small villages straight out of a fairy tale book!


Innsbruck is surrounded by small holiday villages with pastoral landscapes, wooden chalets with sloping roofs bedecked with flowers, and wrap around porches.




5. It’s close to nature


Innsbruck is a beautiful combination of urban and natural playgrounds. Tyroleans love the outdoor life and hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter is a normal weekend routine. The day after I arrived at Innsbruck with feet still dead from roaming around Vienna and Salzburg, I went out with my friend and her family to climb a “little” mountain. We started halfway and reached 2,000+ meters in a few hours with me pondering on how unfit I am!


Mountain climbing/hiking in Innsbruck is a beautiful way to keep fit to be able to eat the schnitzels, strudels and sausages while on vacation!



  • via its own airport
  • 2 hours by car from Munich (or shorter if by train)
  • 4 hours by train from Vienna (several airlines from Dubai flies to Vienna non-stop) and 2 hours from Salzburg


When you think of travelling to Austria, the first place that comes to mind is often Vienna. However, I hope these photos helped you decide that Innsbruck is a city not to overlook!

How I spent one week in Austria


As if I needed scarier reality check that time flies so quickly other than the fact that we’re in the last quarter of the year, it has been a year since I traveled solo to Austria. It was a spontaneous trip, a ‘just go’ sort of thing.

When I got back, I had all the best intentions to write and extensive post about my trip, the things I learned and maybe entice a few of you to include Austria in your list of destinations to visit in the near future and to know some tips before going or while you’re there to make your Austrian getaway much better than mine..but allow me to say that the reason I wasn’t able to write about my trip till now is this – ‘life happened’. Oh, well.



I left Dubai late afternoon to arrive in Vienna’s Schwechat airport at about 9 pm. Vienna is a short flight from Dubai, only five and a half hours so it’s totally doable even if you only have a few days on your entire itinerary. My first impression once I got out of the airport and onto the train station? Deja vu – it was like I was in Narita airport in Japan. Everything about the train station that night looked and smelled like Narita.

I stayed at the Motel One Wien Haptbahnhof which I chose from searching for hotels in Vienna from based on price and proximity to the main train station. I’d be arriving late at night and it’s a new city for me so I didn’t want to take a cab or bus from the station to the hotel without having the ‘feel’ of the city yet.


The hotel was basic but had a very comfortable bed, hot shower and breakfast. It was enough for me as I will be checking out early in the morning anyway. I can see the Vienna’s main train station (Wien Hauptbahnhof) from my hotel window. It was cold that night!

I took a shower, reviewed my next day’s itinerary and slept. No – I could hardly sleep that night as I was thinking of a lot of things. This solo travel, I’ve not done this in a long time plus the thought of just having like, 12 hours in Vienna – how many things can I compress in those 12 short hours?


When I arrived at the train station, I saw a crowd gathered near the ticket offices. They were obviously not from here. During this time, migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa arrived by the train loads in Austria (Vienna) aiming to get to Germany.


When I saw these people including women and children and elderly at the station without certainty of their destination (Germany stopped accepting them at the borders), their future or even certainty what could happen in the next 24 hours, I was taken aback – here I was flying from Dubai to Austria and these people…

But I was already there so I just moved and went on my way and thought I’d just make the best of this trip. Hats off to Austria for being tolerant and understanding of the situation. There were volunteers who would distribute food and water, free of charge.


The places I visited during my 24 hours in Vienna included St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Schonbrunn Palace, Naschmarkt, Ringstrasse and of course, before I started my tour of the city, I had to take a bite of the chocolate cake known as the world’s best because you know, priorities.




Vienna’s crisp, cool autumn air reminded me so much of my time in Japan. I didn’t go to any museum or watched any opera concerts Vienna is popular with as I had to leave in the evening for Salzburg.



I left Vienna on a 7 pm train toward the west, to Salzburg. I’ve been dreaming of visiting this city since the day I watched the movie The Sound of Music for the first time (probably a couple of decades ago!).  The train to Salzburg had my phone changing carriers from that of Austrian to German and back again because the rail road track was skirting the borders of the two countries. Too bad I couldn’t see anything as outside was pitch dark.

There were tents temporary put up by the Austrian Red Cross just outside the main station at Salzburg.  And lots of policemen. Refugees and immigrants, hoping to “walk” up to the Austrian/German border came all the way to Salzburg. Europe’s migrant crisis felt so real. Back home, I only see this in the papers or on tv or hear on the radio.


I had to take a bus to my hotel in Salzburg. The city was quiet and calm (and chilly!) at around 9:30 pm. I felt safe though even walking alone.

The location to my accommodation in Salzburg was a bit of a trouble to find. After getting down from the bus and walking for a few minutes, Google maps says “you have arrived at your destination” but for the life of me, I could not see any sign or something that looks like a hotel or inn – because, silly me, the accommodation that I chose wasn’t a hotel at all!!

Interesting place to stay. Hard to find but worth the effort (easier to find when you know you’re looking for a seminary not a hotel or inn!).

This was the front door of Gästehaus im Priesterseminar. I knocked at the door at 10pm and it’s obvious no one would hear me. I finally found the door bell only to be answered by a lady who was obviously upset because it’s late and was speaking in German! I replied with my very rusty German I learned at the university in Japan almost 20 years ago. It didn’t work. LOL!

I had to stop a man walking home if he can help me with German. Thankfully, everything went well and the lady opened the door for me.The rooms are quite large, very clean, and decorated very sparsely. This lack of clutter was most welcome. I somehow remembered the first time I arrived at my school dormitory in Japan!


This inn is a repurposed church and I had an amazing stay in it. The location cannot be beat. Public transport outside the guest house and the old town just across the river.

I woke up early the next day and had breakfast while reviewing my itinerary – I only have a short time and intended to cover as much as my feet could survive. First up was to go to the Salzburg Info Center located at Mozartplatz at the Old Town. After I picked up my Salzburg card (TIP: You should get this card!) and map from the tourism office, I just crossed the street and found myself at the Old Town and proceeded to the Salzburg Cathedral and onto the furnicular to take me to the Hohensalzburg – Central Europe’s largest and best-preserved fortress.

The fortress offers a perfect vantage view of Salzburg.



I walked around a bit around the Old Town again and found out it’s not only in the Philippines where Christmas starts early – there were many Christmas ornaments for sale in the streets of Salzburg already!



Located at the northern boundary of Alps, Salzburg was founded around 700 b.c and since then has kept great economic and cultural importance for that part of Austria. The rich baroque architecture invites everybody to walk through its narrow streets. I got lost in one of those streets near the house where Mozart was born, but it’s a really small town and the more you get lost, the more you find beautiful corners and things…

Salzburg is a wonderul city to go on vacation. It was relaxing and very laid back. At 6 pm, the shops and stores close down for the night. This surprised me a little, but was actually a nice change of pace from the ’till midnight’ open for business malls and shops in Dubai. The city became quiet early, with the exception of a couple of restaurants and bars.

I did mention about the Sound of Music movie and I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t take the famed Sound of Music tour. I had to leave for Innsbruck in the evening and there was no way I could fit it in my very short stay in Salzburg.

TIP: If you have time and the interest, take the Sound of Music Tour.

The nearest Sound of Music experience I had was stepping on this landmark staircase where Maria and the children sang Do-re-mi!


This one!

Sound of Music

While it could be a little cheesy (says my other friends!), they have a true appreciation for the musical and the tour gives the opportunity to see different parts of Salzburg as well as some other towns where the film was shot, like Mondsee. I am definitely going to go back and take this tour with my kids soon. But even without the tour, you can always drop by Mirabell Palace and Gardens just to appreciate the well manicured gardens or just people watch, like I did while resting my very tired feet.


Before I knew it, it was time to go back to the seminary to take my luggage and walk to the station to catch my train to the next city on my list. Oh Salzburg, I wonder – do you think the people who live here are aware how beautiful their place is?


Read more: 24 hours in Salzburg



Before I write anything about Innsbruck, let me share this photo – taken from my friend’s living room when you look out the window. How would you like to wake up to this view every day? I would LOVE it.


Tyrol’s capital is a sight to behold. Innsbruck was the reason I didn’t spend too much time in Vienna and Salzburg. I have a friend who lives in Innsbruck and I wanted to spend more time with her and the city she now calls home. The last time we’ve seen each other was way back in 2008, in Japan.


Innsbruck is not just a beautiful city but a city with very rich history. In the heart of downtown Innsbruck is the towering Triumphal Arch or ‘Triumphpforte’ as it is referred to locally. Dating back to its construction in 1765, this grand design was initially built to commemorate the marriage of the Duke of Tuscany and Princess Maria Ludovica from Spain.

While the Triumphpforte was originally intended to be a monument of joy, the Triumphpforte would go on to take another meaning. During the marriage festivities, Empress Maria Theresa’s husband, Kaiser Franz I, died. The occasion quickly took on a somber tone. The Triumphpforte captures both emotions effectively. The northern façade of the monument is dedicated to mourning the late Kaiser Franz I. The southern façade is dedicated to the nuptial union.

The arch reminds me of the the one in Paris. In fact it looked like the smaller cousin of the Arc De Triomphe. Its a nice backdrop for a photo and has trams and horse drawn carriages moving along below it.

Immediately on my first morning at Innsbruck, my friend (who just had a baby 2 months prior) went to hike in the nearby mountain. It was a totally new experience for me. You can read more about it here.


I totally mastered how to look like I’m not dying . But if you thought mountain climbing/hiking/trekking is difficult on the way up, wait till it’s time to go down! My knees were trembling like a newborn giraffe! In the photo below, my friend’s husband who is a pro at this mountain hiking thing, (and carries a toddler on his back!) waits for me and my friend as we take photos – I need evidence to show that I did not just see the Alps from afar, I climbed it! And I survived! But that’s nothing as my friend hiked this mountain with a sleeping baby tucked in front of her in a baby carrier!


The following day, I was on my own and ready to explore the city. I couldn’t wait!

But first a very important TIP: Get the Innsbruck Card.

With this card, you can avail all of the public transport, including lifts and cable cars, free entrance to museums, hop on hop off bus, and many, many more. Of all the Austrian city cards I’ve used, this is by far the most worth it. The Innsbruck Card is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours. Children aged 6 to 15 years enjoy a 50% discount.


The Inn valley is best viewed from above so off to Patscherkofel I go to take the cable car ride up!




I am totally in love with Innsbruck. It’s my idea of a perfect getaway from the concrete jungle, from the hectic city life. A trip to the nearby small villages just outside the city made me fall in love with Innsbruck more and more.



Everything at the small villages were simply gorgeous, from the churches, to building windows, to the wall art. My goodness, even the cemeteries are beautiful.



I took cable car rides which I highly recommend you do when you are in Innsbruck. Ride to and from the mountain is free with the Innsbruck card. If my hands weren’t freezing, I would probably spend more time here than I did.


I’d probably put in a separate post about these trips to the mountains as this post has gotten probably unbearably long. Are you still there?


If I have to do it again, the only thing I’ll change is to spend an extra day or two at Salzburg and explore Innsbruck again, longer. I’m planning to take the kids with me next time and maybe get on a train to take a short trip to Munich (Germany) or down to Venice and definitely get to Hallstatt.

That said, I think it’s obvious by now that Innsbruck had been the highlight of my solo travel to Austria. I loved the time I spent with my friend and her family (I even loved the chance to lull her new baby to sleep – ah, that newborn smell!) and I loved the fresh air, great food and lots and lots of eye candy.

Have I convinced you to include Austria in your travel next time?

Getting a bite of the World’s Most Famous Cake

Photo by Wien Tourismus |

Photo by Wien Tourismus | Peter Rigaud

Having a sweet tooth, I probably first knew about the Sachertorte before learning any name of a single popular, historical building in Vienna.

Vienna is home to the Original Sachertorte, two layers of dense, not overly sweet chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in between the layers and dark chocolate frosting on the top and sides. It is known as the world’s most famous chocolate cake.

And there are two famous, rival places to go for the cake in Vienna – Hotel Sacher or the Demel cafe.

I had my Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher.

When I was in Vienna just a couple of months ago, I was kind of obsessed to try and taste the world’s most popular cake but I didn’t know much about it until the Filipino (surprise! He’s lived in Vienna for 30 years) waiter who served me at the Hotel Sacher cafe shared to me a story that in Vienna, they take chocolate cake so seriously that the city’s two main producers once fought a nine-year legal battle about it.

The cake in question is of course, the Sachertorte.

sachertorte at cafe sacher 2

The legal battle, which ran from 1954 to 1963, was centred on which had the right to call its Sachertorte the “original”.


The first Sachertorte was created for Prince Metternich in 1832 by Franz Sacher, a 16-year-old pastry apprentice in the royal bakery. He was decades ahead of his time as the chocolate industry only began developing in the mid-1800s, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that chocolate cakes became common. Sacher’s son Eduard, who served as an apprentice at the Demel pastry shop, refined his father’s recipe and took it with him when he opened the ornate Hotel Sacher in 1867.

cafe sacher

Because of this, the Sachertorte was the subject of a lengthy legal battle between Hotel Sacher and Demel. In 1955, the Commercial Court ruled Hotel Sacher’s version closest to Franz’s pioneering recipe and granted the hotel the exclusive right to identify its cake as the “Original Sacher-Torte.”

The first day that I was in Vienna, I headed to Cafe Sacher to order a slice of Original Sacher-Torte with a generous dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a cup of Wien Melange. I won’t lie, the weighing scale tells me not too many sweets on this trip but I am eager to blow as many calories on the chocolatey indulgent dessert because of the history. Perfect excuse, no?


1. Go there early.

Kaffe Haus

Photo by Wien Tourismus | Karl Thomas

Whether you decide to try out the Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher or at Demel, head out early so you can enjoy the peace and quiet and ponder over the fact that your tongue is going on an adventure to taste a world famous food. Both cafes can get congested later in the day (especially the Cafe Sacher), sometimes with a long waiting time.

2. Don’t rush through it!

Kaffee Haus

Photo by Wien Tourismus | Peter Rigaud

The Sachertorte takes days to make and an afternoon (or morning) to savor. Eating Sachertorte in Vienna is an unhurried ritual, can even be a sweet, romantic date. Put down your phone, while you’re at it, too. This deserves your undivided attention.

* The Original Sacher Torte is still made almost entirely by hand using Franz Sacher’s recipe and is a closely guarded secret.

3. Keep an open mind

sachertorte at cafe sacher

Even if this is reputed to be the “the most popular chocolate cake in the world”, it can’t please everyone. Some like it, some don’t. I’d be curious what you think of it!

So, after my rendezvous with the Original Sachertorte, I wanted to walk around. Vienna’s Ringstrasse, a grand boulevard that encircles the historic city center in a 3-mile loop was just around the corner so I went there for a post-torte power walk. Learn more about Vienna.

Are you going to visit Vienna soon or is it in your travel plan? Would you include ‘eating the Sachertorte’ on your to do list if you’re there?

Hiking in the alps at Innsbruck, Austria

mountain climbing header

After spending 24 hours in Salzburg, I moved on to the west of Austria, to Innsbruck to visit a friend I haven’t seen since 2008 and of course to see and explore the Tyrolean capital city.

Where is Innsbruck?

Innsbruck, is the capital city of the federal state of Tyrol (Tirol) in western Austria. It lies about half way between Munich (Germany) and Verona (Italy). Innsbruck is located in the broad valley between high mountains, the so-called North Chain in the Karwendel Alps (Hafelekarspitze, 2,334 metres or 7,657 feet – I’ve reached the peak of this! More in another post.) to the north, and the Patscherkofel (2,246 m or 7,369 ft – I’ve been to the peak of this too!) and Serles (2,718 m or 8,917 ft) to the south.

I took the train to Innsbruck from Salzburg and the travel time was a little bit over two hours. Travelling by train around Austria or within Europe for the matter can be an inexpensive travel option IF you book tickets way ahead of time and if your schedule is fixed. Check out the SparSchiene Österreich type ticket on my other post: Austria on a budget.

salzburg hbf

I would assume the view outside would have been beautiful but I was travelling at night, leaving Salzburg at 7 pm so there was nothing I could see but darkness. Interestingly, my phone’s cellular network changes from Austrian to German, meaning, there were parts of the route that was really close to the Austrian/German border. The next time I visit, it will be a longer stretch so I can hop on a train and go to Germany too.

I arrived at Innsbruck’s main station past nine pm already. My friend who lives a few minutes away from the main station has two kids both below the age of 2 and it was late for her or her husband to go out and pick me up at the station. They didn’t have to too, I was bent on challenging myself to get to to their apartment with 2 G’s: Google maps and my guts. She already told me which bus number to take and which bus stop to go down. After the short bus ride, I needed to walk for a few minutes to reach their place. It was already late, dark and cold but thankfully, Innsbruck is a very safe place. The silence on the roads made me a little anxious though, this was by far so different from the always vibrant Dubai.

The route to my friend’s house from the bus station was pretty simple, as per Google maps but me and my sense of direction…I made a couple of wrong turns and ended up circling their block dragging a heavy luggage – the sound of the wheels of my luggage on the cobblestone sidewalk was so loud with the eerie silence of the early winter night.

Long story short, I finally rang their door bell. My friend’s kids and her husband was already asleep so we had to contain our giggles! We were so happy to see each other again. We hugged and spent so much time talking, catching up that we even forgot to take a selfie before her baby roused from sleep, wanting to nurse again. I can’t believe I am already here! Weren’t we just fantasizing about this trip years before?


good morning innsbruck

We slept late but me and my body clock – I always wake up early. The above photo is what’s in front of my friend’s apartment. I was there late September and I think that’s already the start of winter. There were some snow on the mountain tops.


mountain climbing 9

My friend and her husband are avid mountain hikers/climbers. I was excited of the idea when her husband said we will climb a “little” mountain today but I won’t lie, I was terrified. Living in flat Dubai for nine years, I don’t think my feet are made to climb inclined terrains. Much more, my feet were already dying/dead from all the walking around Vienna and Salzburg for the past two days.

But no, not now, I should do this! My feet can die later.

The “little” mountain was 1,840 meters high. We started about halfway where we park the car and started our hike. I was only using my Nike Free shoes and I wasn’t sure how it’ll hold up with the inclined terrain but like, I had other shoes…

It was cold in the mountain at around 3 or 4 degrees celcius and lower as we got higher.

mountain climbing 3

The estimated hike time to the peak at Birgitzer Alm (a small log cabin inn/restaurant) at 1,840 meters was around two hours. However, we had to take breaks, multiple breaks! This was the part where I realized how unfit I am despite doing regular cardio and strength training exercises 5-6 days a week.

rest stop

Cez, my friend’s husband didn’t require any rest but had to stop because of me {thank you for understanding!} and his wife, my friend needed some break too. There’s nothing compared to the energy and endurance you have to spend when hiking an elevated terrain! He and their little girl is used to hiking on weekends.

mountain spring water

We passed by a spring water, free flowing from the source. Mountain hikers/climbers stop by to drink water and refill their bottles here. The water was delicious!

My friend and I as we almost reached the peak.

mountain climbing 2

The view of Innsbruck and the little villages from where we stood was beautiful. And look, we’re above the clouds! One more thing that made us feel we were on Cloud 9? Me, that I was able to survive our hike up. Lack of proper sleep and semi-dead feet yet I’ve never felt more alive than ever.

mountain climbing 1

But forget about me, look at this woman beside me (and that cute little baby head peeking out!). I want you to do a silent applause for my friend. She has just given birth six weeks before when this picture was taken and now, she is mountain climbing carrying her infant! My shivering thighs were so embarrassed. She has not hiked for a long time due to pregnancy and child birth yet here she is, sharing this achievement with me, with her baby boy nestled in her chest while I only had my own body to carry!

The alm or mountain lodge/cabin offering rest and refuge for hikers was getting so near. My friend’s husband suggested we take the shortcut instead of the winding route, there’s a direct one but with steeper slope. (Yes, he’s carrying their other child, a two year old girl. This family rocks at this activity!)


I want my agony to end soon at the same time, want to take up on the challenge so I said yes. Plus I was already very hungry and they said there’s good food at the alm. Mmmmm.

birgitzer alm

Here we are!! We all still looked alive! Or not…


Thinking what to order…everything on the menu was in German language.

alm menu



apfel strudel

Truth be told, I wanted a cold beer but decided I would still prefer to go down the mountain on my feet, using my two legs instead of rolling downhill so…

mountain climbing 5

Why I’m smiling in this picture? Because we’ve conquered the tough part (climbing up) and now it’s easy peasy going down…or so I thought!! Going down was definitely NOT easy at all. You need traction, balance and lots of strength in your knees and legs.

mountain climbing 7

By the time we reached our starting point, all of my legs were shaking. Golly, this was just my first day in Innsbruck and I have lots and lots of walking planned to do in the next couple of days and I didn’t pack any spare legs in my luggage!


mountain climbing 4

I won’t lie, it was exhausting but YES! And if I lived there, I would do this often. Maybe. Just maybe.


I want to thank my friend Melba and her husband for accommodating me in Innsbruck. I had such lovely time with them and I don’t think I could have survived climbing that mountain without them as inspiration.

24 hours in Salzburg

salzburg aerial 1

Salzburg is a charming place in Austria. No, scratch that, I’d say it’s a magical place. I already fell in love with Austria after spending 24 hours in Vienna but when I arrived in Salzburg, I feel that love intensify.

salzburg aerial 2

This post is about how I spent my 24 hours in Salzburg (in actuality, it’s less than 24 hours!) and I will tell you now at the beginning of this post: Do NOT spend 24 hours in Salzburg because…the city deserves MORE! But if you do not have any choice and only have a day, well, read on.

Unless you are travelling on a tour package, the first you must do once you arrive in Salzburg and especially if you have limited time to explore the city is to go to the Salzburg Info Center located at Mozartplatz at the Old Town.

The staff are very friendly, speaks English and willing to help you plan out your itinerary for the day. Pick up a free map and purchase the Salzburg card. this pass gets you access to most of the city’s main attractions for 24 hours and free access to public transport.

Reference: Why you should use the city cards in Austria

After I picked up my Salzburg card and map from the tourism office, I just crossed the street and found myself at the Old Town. The Old Town was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997. Its blast-from-the-past cobbled streets and narrow alleyways, lined with houses painted in bright, beautiful colors, elegant shops and restaurants, combine with an unhurried pace of life to make it an ideal destination for a relaxing city break at any time of year.

I bet the Old Town looks better on normal days but when I was there, it was Oktoberfest and there were tables and tents and umbrella shades for this annual festival.

old town 1

I headed to Salzburg Cathedral. I am truly amazed by the architecture and design inside the church, never mind the feels that it gave me.

cathedral 2

cathedral 1

cathedral 3

cathedral 4

This Roman Catholic church still contains the baptismal font that was used to baptize Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized here and the interior offers fine baroque architecture. My next stop was the Salzburg Fortress, known to locals as Festung Hohensalzburg.

hohensalzburg fortress

This is the largest and best-preserved fortress in Central Europe and is quite an impressive sight. From Old Town, take the cable railway to the top of the hill. (The cable railway ascent and descent which is normally 11.30 Euros is free with your Salzburg Card). More about this fortress in a separate post!

hohensalzburg fortress 2

I spent so much time at the fortress because I participated in a guided tour and took a lot of photos. Who can ever get enough being up there, looking at Salzburg from up, and those beautiful mountains over the horizon? In short, it was already lunch time when I descended from the fortress. Oh, and by the way I know you want to ask – YES, in Salzburg, the hills are truly alive!

the hills are alive

And the Oktoberfest was in full swing.

Oktoberfest in Salzburg

Since I am traveling on a budget but didn’t want to deprive myself some “cultural immersion”, (AHEM), I sat down and chose the cheapest from the menu. The small glass of beer and plate of food cost 13 Euros. It was quite weird to sit down in an Oktoberfest alone but what to do…and I was really hungry already. {The beer was amazing!}

Oktoberfest in Salzburg 2

After lunch, I roamed around Old Town, from the main plaza to the little corners.

fest in old town 1

fest in old town 2

fest in old town 3

I love that the whole town was so vibrant and everyone was holding a drink, even nuns…and I think that’s *not* juice hee hee.

nun with a drink

old town 3

Right in the Old Town is the house where Salzburg’s most famous son was born, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It’s a bit unfortunate that some of the people I spoke to didn’t know who Mozart was…I was so proud to tell them, “I’ve been to the house where one of the world’s greatest composer in the Classical era!”

mozarts birth place

Mozart’s family lived in that YELLOW building and that was where he was born. I learned something from that tour – Mozart didn’t have any descendants! Neither of his sons were married and all died childless.

around old town

My feet have not recovered from all the walking that I did the day before in Vienna but there was no time to rest, except for a few hours the night before…only a few hours because I wasn’t able to sleep well, excited for the things I’m going to see in Salzburg!

mirabell 2

Having a very rushed itinerary wasn’t a joke – my feet’s about to give up already but I have to see the Mirabell Palace and Gardens. A more detailed post later but if you’ve seen the movie, The Sound of Music, you’ll know the significance of this place!

After Mirabell Palace and Gardens, I went back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and headed to the station to catch my 7 pm train to Innsbruck – capital of Austria’s western state of Tyrol, a city in the Alps that’s long been a destination for winter sports. I have a friend who lives there and I planned to stay for 3.5 days.

Final word: if I could go back to Austria again, I will definitely visit Salzburg again and stay for at least 2 days – I need to go on that Sound of Music tour (don’t judge). Then probably, I will do a side trip to Hallstatt, too. It’s only about an hour and a half from Salzburg! LOOK!


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Isn’t Austria magical? It looks straight out of a fairy tale book!

Budget travel: Austria


So as I mentioned in the post where I announced that I was going to Austria, I intended to travel my way through 3 Austrian cities on a budget.

Maybe you’re one of the those who wouldn’t think Austria or Europe and “budget travel” could belong in the same sentence. I certainly thought too that wasn’t possible until I made the trip myself, on a shoestring budget. Here’s what I did to enjoy Austria without breaking the bank.

1. Plan ahead – starting with your international flight from your city of origin to Vienna (or to any point in Austria)

I’ve always wanted to go to Austria since forever and this will be our little secret: I have played a lot on the Expedia app on my phone, entering probable dates, searching when it’s cheaper to go. And after a few trials, I kind of know which dates are relatively cheap. But the basic rule is this: never fly on peak season or holidays. Sad reality, I know for corporate slaves like me who rely on holidays to travel.

However,I found a reasonable ticket around the Eid Al Adha holidays a month before, I swear that was the ultimate sign that I should go. I immediately bought it. It was direct flight via Emirates! I immediately bought it and found out after a few days that the price has doubled (as the holidays neared).


  • Plane fares fluctuate a lot and they do get more expensive as the date of flight nears so better lock it in early when you find something reasonable (and within your allocated budget).

So yeah, install that Expedia app and play around with the dates beforehand!

2. Use the Tourist Cards

I was in Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck and the city cards really helped me a lot. All 3 regional cards will give you unlimited access to public transportation. Except for the Vienna card that offer only discounts for entrance to museums and other attractions, the Salzburg and Innsbruck cards offer free. The cards can be bought online or at the Tourist offices in each of the cities.


Here’s a detailed post about each of the cards and my experience using it: The Austrian tourist cards, are they worth it?

3. Book train tickets in advance

I needed long distance tickets from Vienna to Salzburg, Salzburg to Innsbruck and Innsbruck back to Vienna and if you are planning to visit other places in Austria, what better way to explore this beautiful country than using the railway that travels through stunning mountain scenery, lush alpine meadows, historic towns and picturesque villages.


The train journey from Innsbruck to Vienna was about 4 hours and while it’s tempting to sleep, how can you sleep with this view outside?


The Austrian Federal Railways (Österreichische Bundesbahnen or ÖBB) site is very easy to use and you can purchase tickets online way before you travel. Example, if I am to travel from Vienna to Innsbruck (a must visit in Austria, by the way!) and booking a train ticket a week before my travel, the prices will be like this for date of travel: October 14, 2015, Date of booking/purchasing ticket: October 6, 2015

Vienna to Innsbruck 1 week early booking


  • The train ticket price for long distance train travel within Austria varies depending on the time. Same distance, different time means different prices.
  • If you are travelling on a budget, play around with the time in the OBB site so you can choose a more affordable one and adjust your itinerary accordingly.

However, if I would be travelling from Vienna to Innsbruck TOMORROW and book/purchase my ticket TODAY, these would be the price options for me for date of travel: October 7, 2015, Date of booking/purchasing ticket: October 6, 2015. Bye bye cheap ticket!!

Vienna to Innsbruck near date booking


  • Everything is expensive when you purchase train tickets near your travel date!

So, when you book early, you have the option of choosing the cheaper ticket called SparSchiene Österreich.


This type of ticket has limited allocation restricted to a specific train, no exchange, no refund, no cancellation so be sure to plan your itinerary well and stick to your time plan because the discounted tickets cannot be refunded, changed or reimbursed.



I bought this type of ticket and the train compartment was decent, clean and safe. No problems, whatsoever.

BONUS TIP (Travelling from airport to city center):

Unless you are in a hurry, I would suggest traveling to the city center from the airport by normal train. I used the City Airport Train (CAT) from Vienna International Airport to Wien Mitte Landstrasse because my flight arrived at night and didn’t want to wander around too late in the city I am not familiar with yet. It only takes 16 minutes for the CAT to reach the city center. For normal train, around 30 minutes. However, the CAT costs 11 euros while the normal train is only 4.40 Euros.

4. Choose cheap hotels

Real talk: You would likely to spend most of your time exploring the city and will only use the hotel for sleeping. Instead of staying in luxurious and expensive hotels (nothing wrong if it fits your budget!), you could use the money to buy some local food fares or souvenirs to take back home.

The good news is that there are still a lot of cheaper accommodation options in Austria like hostels, AirBnB or basic hotels.

There were cheaper hotel options in Vienna but I chose a hotel with convenient metro access for my accommodation in Vienna because I was arriving late and did not want to get lost in a city I do not know yet. I stayed at Motel One Wien Hauptbahnhof as it was literally just a stone’s throw away from Wien Hauptbahnhof station. The hotel was new, modern and clean. Very basic though but comfortable enough for sleeping. They had a good breakfast spread too.

Church in Salzburg

My accommodation in Salzburg was pretty reasonable too. I stayed in a church guest house Gastehaus im Priestseminar. It’s not too near the main train station and I had to take a bus but I know that Salzburg was smaller and less complicated than Vienna so I took the chance. The bus stop was just right outside the station and the church was a short walk from the bus stop. It’s also only 5 minutes away from Mirabell Palace and Gardens so location is not bad! More detailed review in another post.


I also considered booking Salzburgrooms and Hotel Garni Evido for the cheap price as well as proximity to the main train station Salzburg Hauptbahnhof.

From this trip, I learned that there are affordable hotels near the Old Town: Altstadthotel Wiesse Taube. It’s a great base as most of the attractions in Salzburg are around the Old Town.

Booking your Vienna and Salzburg accommodations through the above affiliate links will cost you nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!

5. No fancy dining and drinking

For food, you can find inexpensive fare at snack bars all over town that sell pizza, Turkish sandwiches known as “kebaps” and other quick bites. The most popular, called “wurstelstands,” sell Austrian sausages and hot dogs.


Restaurants in the busy central area of Vienna can be expensive, but you can save on eating out by having your main meal at lunchtime. I had my lunch at Naschmarkt, an open air market with many restaurants offer a cheaper mittagsmenü, where you can get a two- or three- course meal from a set menu for under €10.


And if you’re self-catering there are also several Spar supermarkets in the city centre or at train stations.

When I was staying at hotels in Vienna and Salzburg, I chose hotels that offer breakfast. Then for lunch, I buy a sandwich and water from a deli or Spar to power me through all the walking I made.  At night, I had very light meal of yoghurt, some fruit and bread again because I am too tired to even eat! (Don’t worry mom, I took my vitamin supplements with me on trips…)

TIP: Never buy water at attractions but buy them at Spar convenient stores at the train stations (0.60 Euros compared to 2 Euros or more at museum stores).

The Austrian Tourist Cards: is it worth it?


Having the tourist cards is one of the ways I was able to save up on my Austrian trip when I visited three cities: Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck. Here’s the detailed run down of how I used the card, including how much I saved and the verdict for all of you who are curious and asking, “is it worth it?”


Vienna card

48 / 72 hours priced at €18.90 / €21.90 respectively

In a nutshell

More than 210 discounts at museums and sights, theatres and concerts, in shops, cafés, restaurants, the ‘Heurige’ wine tavern, and free travel on Vienna’s public transport system.

My experience

The Vienna card is probably the most comprehensive tourist card. When you buy it, you get a 119 page coupon book listing more than 210 discounts available to Vienna card holders. There were discounts for museums, tours, concerts, cafes and shops. I was overwhelmed going through through the coupon book and asked myself, “Where should I go to be able to get the card’s worth?” I won’t deny, I felt pressure!

Vienna tram

Photo credit

As I looked through the booklet though, I started to realize that most of the discounts were for things I didn’t have interest in seeing, doing or buying or simply didn’t have time to. The few places that I was interested in visiting, offered a very small discount.

And I had only 24 hours in Vienna.

So…I only used my Vienna card for the train and tram rides around Vienna and I didn’t compute. I don’t think I saved using the 48H card that costs €18.90 because I walked around most of the time and did not enter any museum!

Would I recommend it?

Yes and no.

YES – If you plan on being in Vienna for 48 hours at least and if you were interested in visiting a lot of museums, you would get more value out of it. But if not, then you might spend your trip going places you weren’t initially interested in visiting, just to get your money’s worth.

NO- for very brief stay in the city. Option would be to take the standard short term train ticket.

Reference: Full list of included services *discounted* with the Vienna card


Salzburg Card

24 / 48 / 72 hours priced at €27.00 / €36.00 / €42.00 respectively

In a nutshell

The Salzburg Card provides FREE admission to Salzburg’s museums, free use of the Fortress funicular, the Untersberg cableway, Salzach ship service (tour 1) and public transport. Salzburg Card holders can also take advantage of a number of discounts on concerts, theater performances or Excursions to destinations in the Salzburg vicinity.

My experience

Again, just like in Vienna, I only had a brief time in Salzburg too but unlike when I was in Vienna, I did not use public transport at all! However, I used my Salzburg card for the following (with the respective full price if without the card):

  • Funicular railway to reach the Hohensalzburg Fortress and entrance to the fortress €11.30
  • Mozart’s birthplace €10.00
  • Mozart’s residence €10.00
  • Museum of Modern Art €6.00
  • Cathedral museum €12.00

TOTAL: €49.30 – 24H Salzburg card €27.00 = SAVINGS €22.30

You see, entrance to museums and attractions are costly in Austria so I’m glad I had the card!


Photo credit

It’s unfortunate though that I wasn’t able to take more advantage of the Salzburg card because of my limited time in the city. I was too engrossed with walking around the Old Town and even sitting for a while to join the midday Oktoberfest (I needed to rest from all the walking, you know…with a glass of cold beer at the side). I would have wanted to join cruise along Salzach river (€14.00) or the Untersberg cable car (€22.00) which is free for card holders!

Would I recommend it?

Yes! But plan your itinerary carefully, though without rushing through it all. It’s difficult, I know! Salzburg is such a charming city that it’s easy to forget the time just sitting at the plaza and listening to the church bells!

Reference: Full list of included services free of charge with the Salzburg card


innsbruck card

24 / 48 / 72 hours priced at €33.00 / €41.00 / €47.00 respectively

In a nutshell

Entrance to Innsbruck’s museums and attractions FREE of charge. Plus free travel on public transport provided by the IVB, the Sightseer hop-on hop-off bus and the lifts and cable cars around Innsbruck.

My experience

This time, I had 3.5 days allotted in Innsbruck, yay! I wanted to spend a day hiking with a friend who lives there so I had the 48H Innsbruck card which I used for (with the respective full price if without the card):

  • Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen cable cars (ascent and descent) €30.50
  • Patscherkofel cable car (ascent and descent) €20.00
  • Ambras Castle €10.00
  • The Sightseer hop on hop off bus €12.00
  • City Tower €3.50
  • Golden roof museum €4.00

TOTAL: €80.00 – 48H Innsbruck card €33.00 = SAVINGS €47.00*

*do not include the savings I made with the bus and tram rides. I lost count of the the number of times I used the bus and 1 trip averages about €2.00.

cable car innsbruck

Would I recommend it?

YES! This is the card where I saved the most! I used the Innsbruck card half day only for Day 1, spending most of it at the Hafelekar summit using the Patscherkofel cable car. And then Day 2 was spent strolling around the Old Town, visiting a couple of museums, getting on the hop on, hop off bus and going to Ambras Castle.

Reference: Full list of included services free of charge with the Innsbruck card

* All prices and hours were correct at the time of publishing. I am not responsible for any changes that have been made after the date of publishing. Please confirm costs and times directly with service providers.

Huge thank you to Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck Tourism offices for providing me the city cards to facilitate this review. As usual, all opinions are mine.

24 hours in Vienna

Exploring Vienna

Actually I was in Vienna for less than 24 hours but I had the whole day, from the moment I woke up and stepped out of the hotel door to the streets of Vienna till I left the city at 7 pm headed to Salzburg. It was my first time in Vienna and I must admit, even if I did so much research before boarding my flight alas, there’s just so much you could squeeze in a day so I just kind of winged it and chose a few “must see” places. 

Bear in mind that this itinerary is no way a fixed itinerary for your 24 hours in Vienna. There are so many places to see, and this was just my experience.

Anyway, I feel Vienna is so much like Tokyo: the vibe, the crowd, the subway stations. It’s so much like Tokyo except for, say, there are bakeries instead of standing noodle shops. I explored the city using public transport in Vienna, there’s no need to hire a car so did not use any taxi, or rented a car, and did lots of exploring by foot. The underground train system, trams and buses are easy to use, punctual and safe and it’s all free when you have the Vienna Card (more on this in another post!).

This was my itinerary.

1. St. Stephen’s Cathedral

I don’t know what got to me but this was the first place I really wanted to visit from the list of places to see in Vienna. So many people I know think it’s easy for me to just hop on the plane and just go but actually it’s not. So I am really overwhelmed I am able to finally step foot on Austria and wanted to spend a quiet time inside a church in Vienna before I go out and roam around.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (more commonly known by its German title: Stephansdom) is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Right outside the exit at Stephansplatz (U1, U3), you can immediately see the majestic church. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is particularly famous for its majestic towers, which have dominated Vienna’s skyline for centuries. The tallest of these is the Steffl, as the Viennese call the South Tower. While it’s a tough climb up the 343 steps to the Watch Room, it’s worth it for the spectacular views over the city.

above stephensdom

View of Vienna atop the North Tower, home to the massive Pummerin Bell (largest in Austria), rung only on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve. A fast lift takes visitors up for 5.50 Euros (as of this writing).

above stephensdom 2

The roof of the cathedral is decorated with more than two hundred thousand glazed tiles. They form enormous mosaics depicting a double headed eagle (symbol of the Holy Roman Empire) and the coats of arms of Vienna and Austria.

stephensdom collage

I found the solace and serenity I was looking for inside the church because I was so early there. When I was up at the tower, there was no one there too so I had early morning thoughts under the gray Viennese skies with the cold, crisp autumn air on my face (it was cold!).

stephensdom 3

stephensdom 2

The St. Stephen’s Cathedral is accessible from Stephansplatz station (U1, U3).

2. Hotel Sacher

Why head to a hotel early in the morning? Hotel Sacher is not an ordinary hotel, it is home to a cake. And not just an ordinary cake but a very famous (even once controversial) cake.The Original Sacher-Torte has been the most famous cake in the world since 1832. 

cafe sacher

I’ve read there’d be long queues of tourists outside the cafe later in the day so I made it early to tick this off my list.

sacher cafe 1

My order of the original sacher-torte and Wien Melange came in very quickly. I don’t normally drink coffee but they say the cake is best with this coffee so I gave in. Most of the people at the cafe were locals who were having breakfast. You would know which ones from the crowd are tourists in this cafe – they will be the ones with the slice of cake and Wien Melange (German for Viennese Blend), like me. For coffee fans, the Wien Melange is “one espresso shot served in a large coffee cup topped with steamed milk and milk foam”.


I’ve heard and read two contracting comments about this: “Visiting Vienna cannot be complete if you don’t try their world famous Sacher-Torte!” and “It’s overrated, skip it!”. I don’t want to overthink because we all know there’s only one way to find out: to try it yourself! I paid around 10 Euros for the cake and coffee, by the way.

My opinion about the chocolate the world has marked as “best”?

Not bad. But let’s say I’ve had better chocolate cakes in my life, somewhere. Of course, you shouldn’t take my word for it, I would still say, try it when you are in Vienna!

The Hotel Sacher is only a few minutes walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral though accessible from Karlsplatz station (U1, U2, U4).

3. Ringstrasse

After getting my sugar fix at the Cafe Sacher, I was ready to start  serious walking around the city. First up, Ringstrasse or The Ring Road where some of Austria’s most attractive and most important buildings stand shoulder to shoulder.

ringstrasse 1

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) was built in 1891 near the Imperial Palace to house the extensive collections of the imperial family.

ringstrasse 3

Definitely one of the most exquisite buildings in Vienna, the Hofburg is the former Imperial Palace that has housed some of the most important people in Austrian history. Originally as castle built in 1918 for the imperial family, it now houses the offices for the President of Austria.

Other buildings I found on my way to Ringstrasse.

ringstrasse 2

ringstrasse 4

ringstrasse 5

I imagine it would take at least 2 hours to walk around all of the buildings at Ringstrasse. I suddenly envied the tourists who were shuttled by bus from one building to another. Vienna weather was gray, cold and dreary that day. Your feet’s endurance in walking wasn’t the only challenge, the cold too. I did not bring gloves and cap!

4. Schonbrunn Palace

After walking along Ringstrasse, I got on the subway again to go to a more distant Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the imperial family, is one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palace complexes.

schonbrunn 3

This is quite far from central Vienna but still easily accessible by the U-bahn (subway) so I went. By this time, my feet are already very tired after walking for at least 5 hours already. When you get down at the station, be prepared to walk for at least 15 minutes to get to the palace and once you enter the gates, you need lots of energy to walk around the expansive gardens.

schonbrunn 4

The Vienna card entitles the holder a discount for the palace entrance and other attractions (the labyrinth, etc). However, there was already a crowd of tourists at the ticket windows so I skipped it.

schonbrunn 2

You can still stroll on the palace grounds without buying tickets. Many reviews mention that you would need at least 3 hours to explore the rooms inside the palace and the gardens and to climb up the top of the hill to get a view of Vienna. I did not have that much luxury of time!

The Schloss Schonbrunn is a few minutes walk from Schonbrunn station (U4 Hutteldorf direction).

5. Nashmarkt

After The Schonbrunn Palace, I took my dying feet back to the city. I got down at Kettenbruckengasse to visit the Naschmarkt – at 2.315 hectares, it is the largest urban market in Vienna and it’s over half a kilometer long with over 100 permanent stalls.

nashmarkt 4

The Naschmarket is an open market that contains small shops that sell spices, tea, herbs and food from different countries.

nashmarkt 3

nashmarkt 2

There are also traditional Viennese eateries serving schnitzel and sausages, and there are fish restaurants, sushi, Vietnamese, Chinese, ice cream parlors.

naschmarkt collage

Known as one of the famous markets in Vienna, this is quite a size, even though part of it was closed off for building works while I was there. But despite its size, the types of stalls do get rather repetitive and if you’re someone like me who comes from the Middle East and want to see something else rather than falafels, kebabs, shawarmas, spices, dried fruits and nuts which are already aplenty in the Middle East, I think you can skip this market, especially if you only have a day in Vienna!

References: The Vienna Subway Network Maps, Vienna card

It was the night before Vienna



I got the SMS reminding me about my flight to Vienna tomorrow. In less than 24 hours, I am going to board a plane and be away from my family for a week.

Am I excited about this trip? Of course, I am! It’s been on my travel bucket list since forever.

But here I go again. I will terribly miss my kids.

Once you have kids, you are forever torn. I tell you, TORN. Your heart is no longer whole. Half of it, your children holds. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty. I don’t fly out very frequently. They will be taken care of when I am away. But here I go again.

When I became a mom, I (shockingly) discovered that motherhood is a state of permanent guilt. Should I work or not? Should I continue to breastfeed (even if my nipples are raw and sore and bloody) or use the bottle? Should I hover around my children or hands off? There are no cookie cutter right answers, only a feeling that you probably made the wrong choice.

Guilt is part and parcel of our mom lives. And no one is spared. We crave for me time but then withdraw when we actually have it because of guilt.

Are you a mom? What is your idea of a “me time”? You know it doesn’t have to be big or major but mine is probably solo travel because it’s just me and myself, trusting my instincts, my guts and basically about finding myself again.

grace in 1997 2

~ Me in 1997, barely one year as a student in Japan and I started exploring WITHOUT the internet (no Google Map!), just lots of research and a bus/train timetable book ~

Far too many moms skip “me time.” and little by little, day by day, we lose ourselves. Mom needs to be happy. We should be happy. And a little time to ourselves could also make us healthier, have a clearer head, feel refreshed, and even be a better mom.

Do I feel guilty about this solo trip? You bet. But will I cancel my flight and stay? No.

My children feel that I love them enough and they won’t mind I am gone for a few days because that doesn’t mean I’ve loved them less. I made them understand that. (They are wonderful travel companions, I am very lucky)

I seldom go on solo trips but I did so in 2011 to Thailand when my eldest and only child then was 8 and in 2013 to Turkey when my second was two. Of course I felt guilty when I took the time off but when I came back, I had much more energy and really appreciate everything I have. Life can become really, really busy and it’s so easy to lose yourself. Sometimes I want to be just me, Grace, not a mom or a sister or a wife or an employee.

And I find that Grace when I travel alone, when I do things alone.

…but that doesn’t mean I want to do things alone forever. I love my family. I love being a mom. My God, I am crazy in love with my kids. I couldn’t imagine life without my husband. They are my life. But I also have my own life…see? Torn, I tell you. Forever torn.


But I booked my ticket with words from a very wise friend hovering above my head: Children will not remember the few days you were not there. But YOU, the adult, will remember that you didn’t do what you really wanted to do, for the rest of your life.


Brushing the guilty feelings aside, I will enjoy this trip, heck I paid for it! I’ve never been to Austria and I am exploring two cities alone with the help of the internet and pure guts. Wish me luck! For the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram, Twitter and my blog’s Facebook page.

See you on the other side!