Backpacking through Europe: Austria

In Prague, I tried to convince Keith we should delay our move to the east coast and rent a place in Europe for 6 - 8 months. Our first day in Salzburg (the 15th), I tried to convince Keith to postpone our return flight out of Norway by 2 - 3 weeks. Thus far, I may have only convinced him we need a mini, lay-in-a-hammock with a pina colada, beach vacation from this epic adventure when we return to Texas. You win some, you lose some right?

We arrived in Vienna just before lunch on April 12th, decided that Austrian trains and train stations are by far our favorite, and enjoyed a Viennese lunch near our AirBNB apartment rental. After dropping off our bags at the apartment, we followed Rick Steve's instructions and walked 15 minutes into the historic district in search of a cafe. Vienna is famous for their cafe culture, much more relaxed than Parisian curbside people watching, but more elegant than Austin's loud talking, comfy couch culture. After exploring the historic district for several hours, peaking our head into the opera house, ogling all the insanely large baubles and gorgeously elaborate laced wedding gowns in windows, we found a highly recommended cafe on a corner street. We waited in line for seats at Cafe Central and once seated, Keith ordered a Cafe Melange and I got a porcelain mug of mint green tea. We then decided that as adults we could choose to eat dessert in place of dinner and promptly ordered a slice of baked cheesecake and a raspberry chocolate parfait. From the cafe, we headed to a late night viewing at the House of Music - going after 8 pm gets you half off admission! My favorite parts of the exhibit were the piano key stairs, making your own mix cd with random pre-recorded sounds and your own voice, and photo displays with biographies of Austrian composers. When the front desk employee kicked us out promptly at closing time, we walked slowly back to our apartment arm in arm, serenaded by street performers on violin and accordion, surrounded by thousands of twinkling building and street lights.

The next morning we woke early, completed our 30-minute Ashtanga yoga routine, then dressed and walked through the Botanical gardens just outside our door to the Belvedere Palace. The palace grounds and building are beautiful, but my favorite part was the art exhibit. Keith and I have been to the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, the Accademia, and countless other museums over the years, but the Klimt exhibit was more moving for me than all of those. For some reason, seeing The Kiss in person was more emotional than any other famous artwork I've seen. I honestly never cared that much for Gustav Klimt's work, but The Kiss is one of the most surprisingly gorgeous paintings I've ever seen in person. Keith and I actually went back to that room again one last time before leaving the palace to head back to the historic district. And that, on our first morning there, was my favorite part of Vienna! In the afternoon, we visited the extensive complex of the Hofburg Palace and then went to three more cafes during our time there - one had our favorite server of the trip thus far (only because he was gruff, short and brought us our food very fast with no fuss), one had the best ambience of all four (Cafe Hawelka) and the other served me cold-hot chocolate that hadn't been properly stirred and was still powdery. Our second to last night in Vienna, we followed a local tradition of buying discounted standing-only tickets to Anna Boleyn, an English tale, sung in Italian, performed in an Austrian opera house. They have space on each floor, mainly in the wings, with the poorest view of the stage, that have railings for audience members to lean on and stand throughout the performances, or as long as your feet can handle it. You get there a hour in advance and then save your standing space at the railing by tying a scarf to it. The opera itself was not particularly interesting, HBO told it in a much more provocative way several years ago (kidding!), but the lead soprano was absolutely amazing. We were only able to stand like that for just over a hour, but it was well worth the 6 euro for the experience!

Belvedere Palace

Hofburg Palace

Opera House at Night

Our last day in Vienna, we rented bikes from City Bike and braved traffic for a few blocks until we found their amazing bike paths. Aside from our initial confusion, Vienna wins hands down for the most bike-able city! We followed the wide paths several miles to the Schonbrunn Palace and spent hours exploring the gardens and hiking to the highest points of the grounds for an overlook of the city. We biked back into the city and bought hummus falafel sandwiches and stuffed peppers from the outdoor Naschmarkt, then spent the afternoon window shopping and drinking hot tea at our final (and favorite) cafe (Hawelka - link in above paragraph). 

Early Wednesday morning, we took a two-hour train ride to Salzburg, the city where The Sound of Music was filmed (well, parts of it). Our AirBNB apartment host picked us up at the train station and gave us a mini-tour of the area before checking us into the apartment, that was much prettier in person than expected. It was an easy 10-minute walk to old town, through a lovely park with hammocks, a playground, and a bocce-type court. We spent our first day in Salzburg exploring old town, hiking uphill toward the fortress then diverging off onto a path through the woods, and enjoyed the views from the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art. Between the overlook and museum, is a small, white chapel-like space designed by artist James Turrell. There is a bench encircling the entire inside, against the wall, and the ceiling has a closed, round skylight in the center. The thick walls somehow silenced the tourist-filled courtyard, and created a meditative, peaceful environment. We sat there, completely quiet, almost asleep for anywhere from 15 - 30 minutes. And then someone entered with a camera and broke the spell. 

We hiked back down the hill into old town, and shared a delicious dinner of garlic dumplings and Austrian stew at a small eatery. Yesterday we woke early, prepared breakfast together in our small kitchen, and then headed back into old town for a full day of exploring the Hohensalzurg Fortress (very steep climb to the top well worth it - skip the funicular!),  enjoyed a picnic on the grassy banks of the Salzach River, walked through the lovely gardens of the Mirabell Palace (scene from Sound off Music was shot here!), and then had an amazing dining experience at the Braustubl Tavern, an outdoor beer garden in old town. You pick one of two mug sizes, pay 3 euro for the smaller of the two, rinse the mug from a cold well, and then stand in line for the one beer they have, served to you right from a wooden barrel. Their crisp, refreshing beer tastes similar to a Hefeweizen and is perfect paired with a large pretzel and sausage from one of the indoor vendors. If it's nice weather, walk around the huge outdoor space until you find a free seat or table beneath the trees and then just enjoy people watching for the next few hours! After our beer and dinner, we rushed back to our apartment to clean up and then headed back to old town for a violin-piano concert at the Stiftung Mozarteum Big Hall, a gorgeous concert venue that felt straight out of the 1700's. 

This morning, we woke to pouring rain and have been stuck indoors most of the day, aside from venturing out for warm meals and walking until our shoes and clothes were soaked through. Since I don't have much to share of our last day, I'll wrap up this post with a quick update on our family goal for 2015. In March, on our trip in Marfa, Keith and I came up with a family mission and set a shared goal of establishing a yoga routine by the end of this year. We plan to practice at least three times a week, along with continuing our running regime. We haven't had time to lay out our specific goals toward establishing this practice, but going into this trip, we both agreed a good place to start would be practicing at least once per week in April and May, then get up to twice per week by June. We've been traveling three weeks and done yoga three times, so it seems like we're on the right track! We head to Munich tomorrow, and I'm hoping to share a more detailed post on our goal setting progress in the coming weeks. Auf wiedersehen!