Austria on my mind

Watching Austria win Eurovision last week reminded me of my visits to Austria over the years. The first was when I was 17 and had just graduated high school in Switzerland. My parents and I took the train to Salzburg (pictured above) and then on to Vienna.

Schonbrunn Palace Gardens, Vienna

In Vienna we toured the Schonbrunn Palace, built in the 16th century with its elaborate gardens and 1400 rooms. We wandered around St Stephen’s Cathedral built in the 12th century.  It sat in the middle of the city center surrounded by crowded shops and restaurants. We ate Sachertorte and other delicious pastries. I remember multiple pastry and tea breaks were needed.

Spanish Riding School Vienna

We spent one afternoon at the Spanish Riding School watching the famous Lipizzan horses train. They were magnificent. As I was standing on the crowded balcony trying to see as much as I could, a woman came up to me and acted like I was her long lost friend. In fact, I had gone to school with her in the ninth grade.

Later that summer I ran into several other people I had known in my past. It must have been everybody’s high school graduation present. The next time I went to Austria was with my husband who had an interview in Graz. Graz is the second largest city in Austria but it felt more like a small town.

There are six universities in Graz with more than 40,000 students. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with castle, clock tower and bluff overlooking the Mur River. I enjoyed walking all over the city and even up the mountain to the clock tower. Back in Vienna we wandered around a bit and found an interesting old shop that had all kinds of strange things in it including what looked like a lot of old World War II paraphernalia.  We were really getting into snooping around when the owner became very irritated and kicked us out.  Guess he didn’t like foreigners snooping around his store.

The hills are alive….
Church where movie wedding took place – It’s pink!
Sound of Music Gazebo

A few years ago I went back to Salzburg with my son, brother and his wife. My sister-in-law insisted we go on the Sound of Music Tour.  We groaned, but we followed along and ended up seeing some beautiful countryside. The tour followed the film and not the real family so we saw the house they used to film the outside scenes, we saw the church they used for the film wedding and we saw the original gazebo now moved to a new location.

Summit at Eagle’s Nest
Marble fireplace at Eagle’s Nest

From Salzburg it was easy to catch a bus to Berchtesgaden and Eagle’s Nest or Kehlsteinhaus. Once there, we picked up a bus tour with an American tour guide from Montana. She had been doing the tour for 23 years so she knew her stuff. It was cold and rainy. We went into one of the tunnels and a museum and then up to the top of the mountain. Eagle’s Nest itself is a smallish house, now a restaurant with large marble fireplace – a gift from Mussolini.

There was a large patio and enclosed balcony. If it had been a clear day, I’m sure the view would have been spectacular. At the mountain summit there was a wooden cross with an edelweiss flower on it. Eagle’s Nest was a gift to Hitler for his 50th birthday. A polished brass elevator with Venetian mirrors took us up the last 407 feet to the building. Apparently Hitler was afraid of heights and never felt comfortable at Eagle’s Nest. He did go there several times for short periods but he never stayed there overnight.

Augustiner sign Back in Salzburg we ended our stay at the Augustiner Beer Hall. It was an old monastery with 1500 seats and multiple food stalls. They have been brewing beer since 1621 following a secret recipe. The beer was dispensed from wooden barrels into stone mugs. We ate roasted chicken and potatoes, curry sausage, Mexican bean salad, liptauer cheese spread and big soft pretzels.

And lots of good beer!