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UK 2001

Austria |

I finished work on the 14th November and the next day Ang and I were off to Austria. The strangest thing happened to me on the way to the airport – I felt almost as if I was in a movie, which is the only place that these things happen. So I was sitting on the rush-hour tube, thinking about how these poor people had to go to work and that I was on holiday, when I looked up and across the carriage this man was reading a newspaper (as people tend to do on the tubes). Anyway, the strange part was that the big newspaper headline read THE HILLS ARE ALIVE which just about floored me, because I was on my way to Salzburg, home of the Sound of Music!! It was all I could do to stop myself from laughing out loud! The headline was referring to the situation in Afghanistan at the time, but what are the chances, huh? Incidentally, “the hills are alive” also reminds me of a particularly bad joke that I heard while in Salzburg, but I think that it may be safer to leave that forever entrenched in my and Angie’s mind as the worst joke EVER HEARD…

The Ryanair flight was completely uneventful, and more than worth the 5p we paid for it - thank goodness, because I don’t think I could have faced a repeat of my easyjet fights! We arrived in Salzburg on time and it was FREEZING, it had just snowed for the first time the night before and so the entire town looked like a winter-wonderland, so beautiful! We found our hostel and there met two lovely girls, Carla from Canada and Naomi from good ol’ Oz, and the four of us set off to explore Salzburg. It really is a beautiful city, with the Fortress in the background and the Abby and Monastery dominating the skyline. The first day there we all signed up for the Sound of Music tour, which was really lovely and completely revolting at the same time. Lovely because we actually got to see where the different things were filmed, as well as getting out into the countryside, all the way to Montsee, which was absolutely beautiful with all the snow. The tour guide, on the other hand, was any tourists’ biggest nightmare. I think he missed his calling as a timeshare salesman in Florida! Ugh!! Anyway, we all survived and had quite a good time. Afterwards we went dancing in the Mirabell gardens (Schloss Mirabell), which is where “Do-a-deer” was filmed. Then Ang and I went wondering about the town, climbed up toward the Fortress and at one point we just had to stop because the monks had started singing down at the Monastery, and it was almost an ethereal experience. Really awesome. (As an aside, we thought it quite strange that this happened at 3pm - the exact time, in fact, that the Augustine Hofbrau, which is run by the monks, opens for business!) We met up with our friends from the Youth Hostel again for dinner and then proceeded to this very same Augustine Hofbrau where beer is still brewed the same way that it was hundreds of years ago (read: potent) and is served by the litre! Need I say that a good time was had by all!!

The next day we were off to Vienna, and I still can’t get over the smoking in a small confined space thing. I just don’t understand, but that’s Europe, I guess. Stayed at a really fantastic YH called Wombats, which I really recommend to anyone going to Vienna. They even have a bathroom in every room, which made a nice change to the showers in the Salzburg one, where you have a token that allows you 7mins of hot water and if you want to put another one in the machine you have to dash out of the shower and to the other end of the room to insert it for another 7mins!! Can you imagine!?! Anyway, so Angela soon mastered the Uberbahn and the trams and we really used them to see most of the city. First stop was, of course, St Stephens Cathedral, and we then walked toward St Rupert’s Church, which is the oldest church in Vienna (8th Centaury), passing the famous art nouveau “Anker” Clock at Hoher Markt, although I have to say that we didn’t know that that’s what it was at the time! We also wandered around the town, saw the Hofburg and the Lipizzaner Museum (Lipizzaners out of town) and then
went to find the State Opera house because we’d heard that you could get standing room tickets two hours before the performance. We asked at the Information desk about where to wait and they assured us that we should just wait at the front entrance. Well, so much for that! We stood in the freezing cold (along with some other dupes) waiting for the damn doors to open, when all along we should have been at a completely different entrance. The good part was that we met these two awesome Canadian guys whose opening line I’ll never forget: “Does anyone here speak English!?!” :-) So anyway, we fortunately found the right entrance and queued for another hour or so for 50schilling (about 2.5pounds) standing room tickets to see “La Boheme”, which was really incredible and totally worth the effort. I’ve never been much of an Opera fan, but this was out of this world. One scene was a street scene and it was snowing and it was so real that it was almost unbelievable - and I don’t think that there was a dry eye in the house. But standing for a total of about five hours really took its toll, and my back was killing me by the end of it! Afterwards our new found friends took us for a drink at the Mozart Café and all I can say is that it was a good evening!

The next day we explored the Belvedere Palace and one of the art museums, and then on to Schonbrunn Palace, which was truly fantastic. It was the summer home of Marie Therese Hapsburg and this lady had good taste! The palace itself is gorgeous, but I think the gardens overshadow it entirely. The Gloriette Pavillion is an incredible sight and Angie and I also managed to lose ourselves in the maze. In the evening we went to find the fairground and rode the famous Giant Ferris Wheel (not all that exciting…) and then had probably our best experience in Vienna. The “Wiener Christkindlmarkt” (Christmas market) at the Rathausplatz (City Hall). The atmosphere there was unbelievable, and was the closest we came to experiencing authentic Vienna. This was a place where there were no tourists in evidence, only the locals enjoying gluwein and other treats, hanging out and enjoying themselves. Ang and I just sat on a bench and soaked up that festive feeling. They have these HUGE decorations that they string in all the trees and there were hundreds of stalls selling all sorts of things. Absolutely fantastic!

Then the next day we just wondered around the city again and then went to see the Naschmarkt, which is this huge fresh produce market that was quite a feast for the senses, and then it was back to Salzburg for the evening. Good Wiener Schnitzel, beer and great Aussie company at the pub in the YH and then a very early flight back to London the next morning.

Locations Visited: London, Salzburg, Vienna, Salzburg, London

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