Hallstatt (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020

Lonely Planet describes Hallstatt’s beauty as bordering on the surreal and the sublime. Ordinarily it may be just like that but, prior to our arriving, it had been raining heavily and the mountains were covered in filthy clouds and the lake looked dark, cold and uninviting. That’s not nice, let alone surreal and sublime.

No matter the village, with it’s 800 inhabitants, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997; is one of the most photographed little towns in all Austria and; receives one million plus visitors every year (mostly from China). Indeed, the Chinese have been sufficiently impressed with Hallstatt to have built an exact scale copy of the old town at Luoyang in Guangdong Province. If that isn’t enough, it wasn’t raining as we arrived – so, we parked the Van and set off to look at the place for ourselves. We had no trouble parking despite it being a public holiday weekend in Austria and I’m not sure if that was because of the poor weather or Covid or both. Certainly, there were no Chinese while we were there.

Squeezed into a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the western bank of what is often described as a looking glass lake (fairly big too at over 7 km long, 2 km wide and up to 125 metres deep) the old town with it’s picturesque pastel coloured buildings is undeniably pretty. The market square with it’s Holy Trinity statue, shops, cafes and small houses is the best part of the town but the two churches must also be seen.

In most photographs of the town it is the spire of the Evangelical Church of Christ which is most prominent. Ironically, the town’s protestants weren’t granted the freedom to practise their own faith until well into the 19th century and the church itself wasn’t built until 1863. Call me a cynic but is it simply a coincidence that the protestant church sits directly beneath the Catholic Church?

I’ll tell you something. It is a nice place but you will not catch me here while it is being overrun with tourists.

Bad Ischl (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020

Bad Ischl is a spa town with saline, iodine and sulphur springs which sits under Mount Katrin on the Traun River. It is some 30 miles east of Salzburg and just 10 miles east from Gschwand where we parked.

Our friend Gerhard was staying in Bad Ischl for a few weeks and a visit there gave us a chance to catch up with him and complete a number of routine tasks that were long overdue (find a jeweller capable of fixing some watches, stock up on dog food, general shopping before Austria’s forthcoming National Day weekend and, most important, find Vanya some winter clothing which she had not brought along – hardly surprising since we had originally planned to be back in the UK some weeks ago). So it was that we set off to Bad Ischl.

It is a lovely little town full of old Imperial Grandeur. The Austrian Emperor (and King of Hungary), Franz Josef I was given a palace in Bad Ischl by his mother as a wedding gift when he married Elizabeth of Bavaria in 1854. This palace, subsequently named the Kaiservilla, became his summer residence and was used as such for the next 60 years. It was at the Kaiservilla on 28 July 1914 he wrote that fateful letter declaring war on Serbia which in turn started World War I- His letter has the Bad Ischl postmark on it. The Emperor left Bad Ischl the next day and never returned.

Enough history – Gerhard introduced us to a good jeweller (with whom we left our watches) and then took us on a whistle stop tour of the town…

Austria has a strong coffee house culture and, while Gerhard went off to attend to some business for a short while, Vanya and I took time out to visit the world famous Cafe-Restaurant Zauner for coffee and cakes. Established in 1832, the Konditorei Zauner was a great favourite of the Emperor Franz-Josef. It has since won numerous awards for both coffee and cakes and has even been immortalised on an Austrian postage stamp. The chocolate torte was wonderful.

We enjoyed a good Chinese meal that evening at the Asia Restaurant (with Tsingtao Beer and a glass of Gruner Veltliner) and agreed to return to Bad Ischl the next day for a further tour. Thanks Gerhard!

The next day, the weather was overcast and poor visibility precluded our ascending Mount Katrin in the cable car – not that Vanya could ever have been persuaded to make that particular 15 minute journey. Instead, we walked up the Siriuskogl (on the south side of Bad Ischl and just 20 minutes or so from the town centre) to an old wooden watchtower which provided good views down over the town but, more important, has an excellent little restaurant where we could get lunch.

After lunch it was time to move on. We were off on a short drive to beautiful Halstatt although, with the weather as it was, I wasn’t convinced we would see it at its best.

A factoid: The author Roger Lewis lives in Bad Ischl. Amongst other things Roger Lewis writes biographies – “The Life and Death of Peter Sellars” (no prizes for guessing who that was about”, “The Man Who was Private Widdle” (a biography of Charles Hawtrey from the Carry On films), “Anthony Burgess – A Biography” (about he who wrote A Clockwork Orange) and “The Real Life Of Laurence Olivier (I don’t need to explain who Olivier is).

Sankt Gilgen (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020

Saint Gilgen (Saint Giles in English) is a small town of less than 4,000 people at the Salzburg end of the Wolfgangsee, some 3 miles from where we were camped at Gschwand. Vanya wanted a rest day and I decided to walk the path besides the lake to Saint Gilgen for a look-see.

Saint Gilgen is really all about boat trips up and down the lake to St Wolfgang although the town also operates a cable car which for 28 euros will take you on a 16 minute ride up the Zwolferhorn Mountain. At 1,522 metres there ought to be some fine views from the summit over the Salzkammergut and it’s many lakes but I can’t say for sure because they had not long taken the old cable car out of operation and were testing a new one. I was advised it should be operational within the week. Timing is everything. Sadly, I didn’t have time for the boat trip either because we had arranged to meet our friend, Gerhard, for dinner but; there was enough time to explore the town and enjoy a glass or two of Gruner Veltliner in one of the local bars.

The town is small and is focussed around two places; the pier (where the boats depart for St Wolfgang) and the Mozart Platz. Mozart’s grandfather lived in St Gilgen, as did his mother (she was born there) and his sister (Maria Anna, better known as Nannerl). Wolfgang Amadeus never actually visited the place but the connection is plain to see and the town proudly celebrates the man and his works.

Time to get back to the Van for a shower. Wiener Schnitzel tonight.

Schwand (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020

Arrived at a site, Paradiescamping Birkenstrand, at (G)Schwand on the Wolfgangsee (about 3 miles outside of Sankt Gilgen) which is amongst the best we have seen throughout the tour. It sits right on the lake and is clean and modern with everything you could want including a toilet block with underfloor heating… and all for 20 Euros.

Since Gerhard is currently staying in Bad Ischl just 15 kms away (and we hope to see him and Clare over the weekend) we have decided to stay on at Schwand and take in Sankt Gilgen, Bad Ischl and perhaps even Hallstatt. This latter town is reputedly the most beautiful village in Austria.

We arrived at Schwand late in the afternoon and had just enough time to quickly explore the local area before Gerhard joined us and took us to a fine restaurant in Gschwendt where we enjoyed a Wiener Schnitzel, the local beer and a nice Gruner Veltliner. We’ll be buying a great deal more of the latter before we leave Austria.

Our view in the other direction

Villach (Carinthia), Austria October 2020

I recall staying near Villach last year, at a place called Ossiach, and making the 10 mile journey to Villach by bus to discover there was some kind of festival going on – the Villacher Kirchtag festival. I recall it was a very gay affair with many people dressed up in the national costume (lederhosen and dirndels) and numerous ‘oompah’ bands playing (almost competing with each other) and lots of beer was being drunk from about 9 o’clock in the morning. That was last August during Europe Tour 2 which I covered on Facebook but didn’t do a daily blog on.

The Villacher Kirchtag has been an event every year since 1936 (except between 1940 and 1947) and it is now a regional attraction that is known across Austria (and parts of Italy too judging by the number of Italian voices I heard last year). I don’t know the significance of the festival or how it came about but it really is a fun affair. Sadly, because of the COVID pandemic and following the Austrian governments directive that no large event take place before the end of August 2020, the 77th Villacher Kirchtag did not take place in 2020. Next year perhaps.

Our visit to Villach this year happened purely and simply because Bled was almost totally closed because of COVID (see previous blog). Rather than search Slovenia for areas that were not categorised as COVID level 2 or 3 (shades of the lockdown which would close the bars) we decided to make the 33 mile drive to Austria knowing that we would at least be able to get out for a drink.

One feature worth mentioning is that police are now manning the borders between Italy, Slovenia and Austria because of COVID. Having said that, we haven’t experienced any problems crossing borders. The Slovenians might have stopped us from entering (because we carry GB plates & passports and COVID is spiking in the UK) but because we have spent the last weeks in Italy we were okay. We were stopped too when crossing from Slovenia into Austria but again were waived through after explaining that we have been in Italy for several weeks and left Trieste that very morning. I trust we’ll have no problems going forward.

We stayed in a basic but clean and pleasant camp site, Seecamping Plorz, overlooking Lake Ossiach. We had the site entirely to ourselves.

Bled, Slovenia – Nov 2017

The journey to Bled from Graz wouldn’t have taken more than an hour or two except I stopped twice.

The first time was to fill my LPG tanks (which amongst other things power the heating system in the Van; I think I may be needing them soon – it was just 2 degrees as I came over the mountains from Austria) and the second was to check out the little village of “Egg am Faaker See”. I was going to stop at the Austrian town of Villach, on the Draava River, but Egg am Faaker See, just 5 clicks further on, sounded more interesting and of course it is much smaller.

The stop to fill up with LPG was not enjoyable. There I was trying to fix/force a German adaptor on to my UK style LPG tap when a young lady, after watching me struggle for ten minutes or so, pointed out that Austrian LPG stations use the same adaptor as the French and the Italians- well of course they do. Silly me. Ten minutes is not a lot of time in the great scheme of things but the first few seconds of trying to fill the tank with the wrong adaptor in place caught me without gloves and receiving what felt like serious burns from the cold propane gas. I’ll wear gloves in future even if I don’t always apply the correct adaptor. Why on earth Europe should operate four different LPG fittings I do not know.

The stop at Egg am Faaker See was far more enjoyable not least because the air temperature had risen to 10 degrees and it was getting warmer still. I didn’t do anything but take in the views and chill out for an hour or so.

The Faaker See

I was chilled out and the rest of the journey to Bled (just inside the Slovenian border) went so smoothly I decided to continue with the mood and check into the four star Kompas Hotel for a day or two (hotels here are half price this time of the year) and take advantage of their swimming pool, sauna and massage facilities. Now that is chilled!

First however a gentle walk around Lake Bled:-

There’s the map…

…there’s the lake…

…and there’s the castle to help get my bearings.

Graz, The Schlossberg – Nov 2017

Gruss Gott.

The Schlossberg, almost smack bang in the centre of Graz, doesn’t look that striking from down below (the summit is only 123 metres above the town) and, until I spoke to Gerhard over the ‘phone last night, I had written it off as being not worth the effort it would take to walk the 260+ steps to the top. I’m pleased he persuaded me otherwise. This morning I spent 2+ hours investigating different aspects of the hill and taking in some great views and I would certainly recommend it. For those not keen on steps, there are three alternatives means of getting to the top (a lift, a funicular railway and even a road around the back of the hill) but, the walk up is neither difficult nor exposed.

 

The start of the steps and a section of the ascent

The hill is steeped in history (there was a fortification there as long ago as the 10th century) and covered in interesting features, whether it be the Clock Tower (which is different from the great majority of other clocks in that the larger hand reflects hours and the smaller hand reflects minutes), the Liesl Bell (said to be made of metal from 101 Turkish cannons and therefore rung 101 times at 7am, 12pm and 7pm), the Hacker Lion, the Chinese Pavilion, the Turkish Well, the Starcke-Haus and the Schlossberg Stage to name but a few. It doesn’t end with the features on top of the hill; 6 kilometres of tunnels were built in and under the Schlossberg during World War II so as to provide protection for up to 48,000 people during Allied air raids.

 

The Uhrturm or Clock Tower and a view of the south of the city from behind the Tower

The Chinese Pavilion

The view south from the Schlossberg with the River Mur just visible in the lower right hand corner

Lunch followed at the Krebsenkeller on Sackstrasse (a very welcoming and comfortable restaurant but the food wasn’t great) and then it was shopping. I’m not a great one for shopping, especially now my wine cellar is full, but a visit to the Kastner & Ohler department store is a must for anyone interested in designer brands. For those not interested in designer brands, you should still visit the store but make straight for the tea room on the top floor and enjoy the view across to the Schlossberg.

 

The Krebsenkeller

A last walk around the city took me away from the main square (the Hauptplatz) and into  the surrounding narrow  lanes and arcades and, would you believe it(?), I stumbled on yet another Irish Bar (the Molly Malone) although I gave this one a miss.

 

Reflecting upon the last week or two, I have spent the majority of my time in cities (Zurich, Munich, Vienna and Graz). Time to head for the mountains, lakes and rivers. Slovenia, here I come.

Graz, Austria – Nov 2017

Very reluctantly left Enzesfeld this morning for Graz but if I’d stayed any longer I might never have left and I am already gaining too much weight. Many thanks to the Family Dedic for making me feel so welcome. Words cannot express…

Of course, having left my summer tyres with Profi Reifen, Leobersdorfer Strasse 153 (I record those details here because I know I’ll forget them), I will have to return in the Spring. Great stuff! See you then if not before.

The journey down the A2 motorway from Vienna to Graz went very well (it was brilliant sunshine and beautiful scenery all the way) and even the view from a motorway service station wasn’t bad. I did the necessary diesel stop and I also took time out at the village of Bad Waltersdorf to fill the Van’s garage with Gruner Veltliner. Well, there’s room now I’ve been able to unload the tyres that were changed at Colmar.

View from the motorway service station on the A2

 

View of the Bad Waltersdorf church from the local supermarket together with a photo of one of the Gruner Veltliner’s I bought.

Graz operate a camper van Stellplatz (which accommodates up to 160 vehicles although there are only 3 here now – GPS N47,02472 E15,39694) and it is a simple 15 minute journey by bus from this Stellplatz into the city centre. I popped into the town for a couple of hours to get my bearings and I will return tomorrow morning to see a bit more but what is left of this evening will be given over to the Gruner Veltliner I opened earlier and to determining whether I travel into Hungary, Slovenia or Italy tomorrow. Time will tell.

First view of Graz from a bridge over the River Mur

Graz like everywhere else, it seems, is preoccupied with setting up Christmas decorations but upside down hanging Christmas trees?!?

I wouldn’t mind but these Christmas market stalls in Germany and Austria are spoiling a great many photos – Bah! Humbug!

Interesting that the opera house is about to show Verdi’s Il trovatore which I last saw on my 50th at the Prague Opera House – remember that Nick, Simon, Mette and Petter?

I’ll head back into Graz first thing tomorrow.

Vienna, Austria – Nov 2017

Walked in the cold air (it was cool this morning and there was some serious wind chill) and, Oh Vienna! Been here a few times but yesterday was truly enjoyable.

In keeping with my promise to take in some culture during this tour, I started the day off in the Welt Museum on Heldenplatz; staying almost two hours and learning more about Mexico (of all places) than I have in 9 holidays there – the Welt Museum is an ethnographic museum focusing on non-European cultures and Mexico just happens to figure in the current exhibition.

Welt Museum – one of a number of museums in the Heldenplatz and the adjoining Museumsquartier

Inside the Welt Museum

The Natural History Museum  – one of two near identical buildings on the Maria-Theresien Platz in the Museumsquartier, the other being the Art History Museum

Empress Maria-Theresia Monument outside the Natural History Museum

The culture theme continued with Gerhard gaining us access to the Burgtheater (the National Theatre) Canteen where, rubbing shoulders with such artists & technicians as were around, we partook of a local pork dish and a couple of glasses of Gruner Veltliner  before setting off on some further sightseeing.

The Burgtheater

Inside the Burgtheater canteen. Through the door is a smoking area (Austria has refused to ban smoking in public places) and the tv screen above the door keeps diners aware as to what is happening on stage.

Heldenplatz is in the centre of the city and as good a place as any to begin a tour. In addition to the aforementioned National Theatre and the various museums and art galleries, the area is home to further amazing buildings including the Burgtor (an arch built to commemorate Austria’s beating Napoleon at Leipzig) and the Hofburg Imperial Palace (the seat of power of the Hapsburg dynasty) a part of which is the Neue Burg (where Hitler  famously announced the Third Reich’s annexation of Austria). Close by are the Rathaus Building (the City Council Offices) and the Austrian Parliament which perhaps don’t sound all that appealing but which are seriously impressive buildings. You need only look at the photos.

The Neue Burg section of the Hofberg Palace

The Amalienburg section of the Hofburg (a part of which is the Spanish Riding School with its famous Lipizzan Stallions).

Spanish Riding School and Lipizzan Stallions

The Rathaus – City Council Offices or Town Hall

Also nearby (just a few minutes walk) is Graben, a pedestrianised shopping area that is home both to the usual designer stores, numerous schnapps bars (I like the apple schnapps best) and some great wine bars (of which The Black Camel stands out). Oh, and there is the ubiquitous Irish Bar.

  

One of Graben’s more picturesque arcades

Once again it was dark by the time we got back…

The Rathaus at night.

I could easily spend many more days here but I really should be moving on. Winter is coming and I want to be in warmer climes before then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enzesfeld, Austria – Nov 2017

Arriving at  Enzesfeld about mid afternoon I received a great welcome from Clare and Gerhard and their son Nikki (and later their daughter Alex and her partner Manuel) and then, over the ensuing ten hours, I must have put on about 3 kilos in weight through eating Clare’s seriously excellent pork dinner (see photo below – the picture doesn’t do the dish justice) and drinking an extensive range of beers, wines, schnapps and whisky with Gerhard and Nikki.  About the only drink we didn’t sample was Port.

Crack(l)ing pork dish served up by Clare that could compete with anything I’ve eaten so far on this trip.

  

…and then there’s Clare’s artwork. These are two of my favourites. We won’t talk about Schubert’s Unfinished…

The next day was mostly about a walk through part of the Wienerwald Forest which surrounds Vienna. There are countless routes through the forest (including a pilgrim trail that starts from Cracow in Poland and finishes in Rome – there’s devout!) but I favoured the route we took because every other kilometre or so we came across a Gasthof that served food and schnapps.

The paths were easier to follow than the picture suggests.

 

Left photo shows the inside of one of the woodland Gasthof’s (very welcoming); the other shows a  couple of large Schnapps made with pine needles (very warming).

It was almost dark by the time we got back to the car but a short drive took us to the village of Sooss  and the Heurige “Weingut Steiner 67” for slices of thick bread smothered in pork lard (Smalzbrot and Grammelsmatzbrot, the latter has added pork crackling) followed by Wienerschnitzel (with something resembling cranberry sauce) and all accompanied by some seriously fine local wines, not the least of which was a nice Gruner Veltliner. What a place the Heurige is! It is primarily about producing and selling wine but this particular restaurant can be measured among the best encountered on the tour so far. Another one for trip advisor.

It was almost dark by the time we got back to the car…

The “shop” window, Weingut Steiner 67

Smalzbrot & Gammelsmalzbrot

Gruner Veltiner

Vienna tomorrow.