Austria, former Imperial power

Three cities in one country, that’s how our travel handprint in Austria looks like. One each in the western end, in the center and the final one in the eastern side. None on the south side though.

austria-hungary-ethnic-composition
A very diverse empire

For history buffs, Austria should evoke recollections of the grand Austro-Hungarian empire of the 19th century. That was at a time when countries and territories in Europe were very much like the ‘business assets’ of the ruling classes. If one reads the history of Europe, the period between the 1100s-1800s appeared like a giant game of cards. One played between different houses of nobility. Entire territories were traded and exchanged, given away as dowry, and fought over if none of the above could be negotiated.

This was how the Austro-Hungarian empire came to being, combining peoples of various linguistic, ethnic and even religious backgrounds. Such was the deftness of the Habsburg noble family in amassing this “collection” of domains. Today those domains have split along ethnic lines and Austria is back to a landlocked country. So it should be interesting to know that Austria once had a navy – remember captain Von Trapp (retired submarine commander) in the sound of music? Yeah, that was when the Austro-Hungarian empire controlled the coasts that today comprise of Croatia and Slovenia. Today we read they only have 2 boats on the Danube river.soujourns-in-austria

Having an imperial history means that there were centuries of patronage by the ruling classes in the form of art, architecture etc. And nowhere would it be best to start from,

Vienna, imperial capital

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Schonbrunn, summer palace

We stopped over for a night, coming in from Budapest. We had been on a 2-week journey across Eastern Europe and was on the way to Prague before heading home.

As an old city (since Roman times), Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Thus not surprisingly the city boasts of splendid Palaces, monuments etc. Like many capitals of Europe, some if not all of its palaces were built with influences of the French baroque. Schonbrunn for example looked really like Versailles in many ways, except that part of the ground were perched on a hill. And it was only a summer retreat, so those wealthy royalty really knew how to pamper themselves!

At the opera house, were treated to an opportunity to go backstage. One of our tour mates actually sang in the hall! It was such a pity that we did not see more of the city, you know how tours run, Its simply “蜻蜓点水” (dragonfly touching the water)…

Salzburg – cultural hub?

hohensalzurg6
On top of the world!

Spring is indeed one of the best times to visit the Salt city, built on the fortunes of the nearby mines that harvested brine for extraction of a commodity prized in medieval times. Right next to the German state of Bavaria, the city has a lot in common with its neighbor. Previously ruled by Archbishops, the city is adorned with much splendor overlooked by a large fortress located up high on a rocky perch.

This home to Mozart not only had music as its selling point, but also beautiful Palaces to visit.

hellbrunn3
Get your behind wet!

The visit to Hellbrunn is a must do if you do not have it on your bucket list. It’s a fascinating place to see how water has been used to create “tricks” that probably left visitors in awe. Built in the 1610s, the concept was hatched by an Archbishop who hailed from Italy. He devised hidden fountains that sprays guests with water. You know some men never grow up.

Being here too you may consider a short tour of the various locations that inspired the “sound of music” movie. Note that since Captain Von Trapp is a nobleman (those with the “von” usually are), the family lived in a palatial home – Leopoldskron was used as the backdrop. The gazebo that was used by the girl who sang “sixteen going on seventeen” still stands, though the actress passed away recently (September 2016).

And being really close to Germany it does make sense to cross the border to see the salt mines. The mountains themselves would be sufficient to keep your visual senses busy!

Innsbruck, ski city?

What started as an ambitious attempt to ski ended up more of spending time wandering a snowed in city. You see, we were sold on the idea that skiing is a fun and leisurely activity.

skiing01
Yes this was staged

One in which many European enthusiasts enjoy every year after a healthy dousing of snow. So we waited till the season was nearly over in early March and flew via Vienna to Innsbruck.

Actually it was kind of funny. When we landed, we did not taxi to an aerobridge. Instead we disembarked on the tarmac close to the terminal. As we walked to the terminal, there was a long row of passengers on wheelchairs waiting to board the plane. Many were in cast, either the hand(s) and or leg(s)…What a sight to behold as you start your first skiing trip! Turns out many were Brits who some said were half (perhaps fully) drunk when they tried the pistes down the red or black lines.

Mental note we made to ourselves : do not drink too much and let’s stick to the blue ski lines.

skiing10
Don’t do this again

And that was exactly what we did, much to the chagrin of our instructor who tried at length to encourage us to venture higher up. Well we did, if only to take photos! The instructor we had was from the UK and he was planning to learn skydiving so that he can become an instructor for that sport too. It was a fun series of lessons; we had 1:1s so no embarrassment save for ourselves.

It was not all simply skiing, for we also tried night tobogganing. Yes, it was pitched dark and we simply rolled off into the darkness down the mountain. It was an exhilarating 5km ride down, that was pumped up with a lot of beer. No wonder some injured themselves, since we saw a couple of guys “fly” off the end of the slope…

We had tried to prepare for a road trip in Austria exploring the scenic roads along the Inn river that runs from Switzerland through Innsbruck. Alternately, the southern and east side of Austria (Styria and Carinthia) were also prime places to consider. We found Austrian food to be enticing especially the potato dumpling and will definitely find an excuse to be back some day, perhaps as a jump off point to the Balkans.

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