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.
VIENNA REAL QUICK
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 Booking.com 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.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE IN 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!
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
FALLING IN LOVE WITH INNSBRUCK
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?