Wednesday, July 2 (Valencia, Spain) – Time for some funnies!! This time from Austria, Switzerland and Germany!
Thursday, June 19 (Salzburg, Vienna) – When I arrived in Salzburg, I knew I had to experience three things: something with Mozart, something beer-related and something about The Sound of Music. If you saw my post from yesterday, you’ll see I went to a classical music concert where some Mozart was performed, and I went to a really great beer garden. So today was the day for The Sound of Music.
I can’t remember ever watching the movie, but somehow I seem to know all the songs from the film. How do I know that fact? Because after hearing the songs played throughout my four-hour themed bike tour, I was singing along!
I decided to sign up for this particular tour because it is the only bike tour company in town, it got great reviews, and while I’m not really interested in seeing where different scenes were filmed, I am interested in the city and the film happens to be a big part of the history of the city. So I signed up for Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour, and met my tour guide, Alan from Chile, and about 12 other bikers in front of the Mirabell Palace.
The English-only tour had a mix of friends, families and couples from all over the globe. As usual, I was the staple solo rider but I met some nice people so I didn’t have to take too many selfies! We started by touring the old city with stops along the bridge over the Salzach River for a postcard view of the city, the Horse pond and the Leopoldskron Palace.
After biking up one big hill by the Fortress to the Nonnberg Abbey, our legs were given a break with a downhill ride into a field, which probably looks pretty familiar to anyone who has seen the film. And yes, I frolicked. Once you frolic with strangers, you are all one big family. The tour guide – who was enthusiastic and a great guide – had speakers with him and played different songs from the film for the rest of the ride.
The remainder of the tour was my favorite. We left the city center and biked around residential neighborhoods and the Hellbrunner Allee. We saw the houses that were used to depict the front and the back of the house in the movie (yes, two different houses were used). We also got to see a man riding his beautiful horse alongside the bike path, of course a highlight for me.
Towards the end – and luckily as we arrived in a park and stopped under a huge tree – the sky opened and torrential rain came down for about 10 minutes. We were lucky that we had cover, but unfortunately the other tour that was out at the same time wasn’t as lucky. They arrived as we were leaving and they were soaked!
Because of the rain delay, our ride took a bit longer than expected, but overall I think what is covered in the usual 3.5 hours is a perfect combination of Salzburg history, movie references and anecdotes, and biking in the countryside. It is a must-do for anyone who visits, even if you’ve never seen the movie!
Tuesday, June 17 (Grunau im Almtal, Austria) – I was referred to The Treehouse (as the B&B is called) by my friend Anthea who I met in Ireland and randomly ran into in Rome. She said she thought I would like it because there are lots of active things to do, and it is halfway between Vienna and Salzburg (two stops on my way) so I figured I’d give it a shot.
When I first arrived, I borrowed one of the bikes from The Treehouse (after being a bit sore from yesterday’s bike tour of Vienna) and started peddling. I was told there is a lake I could ride to so I left with that in mind. I stopped off at what I think was the town’s only open café (really, we’re in the middle of nowhere!) and enjoyed some late lunch and coffee. Then I hopped back on the bike and peddled for miles and miles, only stopping for an occasional photo of the unreal scenery.
After what seemed like hours, I hadn’t seen a lake and wasn’t sure I was going the right way. It was starting to get chilly so I turned around (at what ended up being just before the lake!) and started for the B&B. Although the 30km ride got chilly as the sun went down, it was such a nice break from the nonstop city touring and breathing in the fresh air was so necessary. There isn’t much to do here, and that normally stresses me out, but as I sit here in front of the stream, there is nothing I would rather be doing.
By dinnertime, I realized why this place is so special. It is a mix of camp and a summer home. There are activities to do like tennis, archery, hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and there are home-cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, at the Treehouse there is also a bar and no curfew… so better than camp! The staff at the Treehouse likes to say that people come for a night and end up staying for days, and they are right! I’ve met people here who are on their 6th day when they meant to stay for 2. It is just a perfect place to relax, get some exercise, meet people and have a nice break from the nonstop touring we are all in the middle of. But, do keep in mind it turned out to be a very young clientele, many of whom are participating in the semi-guided European tour called Busabout (which I will discuss in a future post). The people can get rowdy and loud at night, so it is definitely not for everyone!
The next day I got back out on the bike with a group of 15 new friends while we went on a search for the famous waterfalls we had heard so much about. Well, hours later there were no waterfalls, but we had a few good laughs, some great exercise and a whole lot of memorable photos.
I also (obviously) went horseback riding! There is a barn just a few kilometers from the Treehouse where many guests go for a leisurely trail ride, and I was lucky to get a private two-hour ride with Simone. We went along the river, in and out of neighborhoods and in the woods – it was excellent. Highly recommended for anyone who visits the Treehouse!
There need to be more places like the Treehouse – or if there are more, I want to hear about them!
Wednesday, June 18 (Salzburg, Vienna) – Today I got to go to Mozart’s house – how cool is that!? Well, it was his place of birth and where he lived for part of his life, right in the middle of what is now that old city center of Salzburg. Everywhere you go in Salzburg, Mozart’s face can be seen – whether on the boxes of chocolate in every souvenir store, to the pamphlets promoting nightly concerts, to the (rather odd) statue pictured here:
After touring his home-turned-museum and learning more about his life and family, I was excited to hear some of his music played at a concert later in the evening. The concert I attended was inside the Fortress Hohensalzburg, which is the largest, fully-preserved fortress in all of central Europe. The Fortress is a must-see, and depending on how tired your legs are from a day of touring, you can opt to take the funicular up to the top. TIP: Also, for delicious, freshly baked bread rolls, go through the arch on the right before heading up the hill on the left to the Fortress / funicular. TIP: if you buy the Salzburg card (24 hour cards and more are available), you get a free funicular ride, free entry to the Fortress, along with free entry to just about every other site in the city!
Anyway, the concert was clearly geared for tourists, but that didn’t take away from the talent of the performers. The string quartet (and a pianist for one piece) were clearly very passionate and into the music. Their facial expressions during the different songs added a lot to the performance. I met a tour group from Portugal that is on a musical tour through Europe, and they have a maestro with them to give his perspective and insight at the different stops along the way. What a great idea!
I visited a few of the other sites like the Salzburg Museum and the Mirabell Gardens, but my other favorite part was actually visiting a brewery / beer garden! The Augustiner Brau is the largest beer garden in Salzburg – the outside area alone can hold 1,000 people! I went on a random Wednesday and there were barely any free tables outside. The “Braustubl” beer is light and smooth and is served in heavy ceramic mugs to keep the beer cold. Dozens of people around me were clearly regulars and came prepared with decks of cards, picnics and groups of friends. I did meet two other Americans who found their way to the beer garden, and we ended up sitting together and chatting for the afternoon. Soon we were joined by a group of four locals who come to socialize each Wednesday and one of whom comes prepared with his own giant beer glass, a small cutting board and a cheese knife. For those of us who don’t come quite as prepared, there is a variety of food stalls inside and outside serving everything from pretzels to sandwiches.
Sunday, June 15 (Vienna) – I like museums, and sometimes I think they are a great way to learn about and explore a city. But when I arrived in Vienna, and saw how beautiful the city is from the outside (architecture, parks, cafes), I thought I would try to make the most of my stay outdoors – or at least outside of the endless row of museums.
Activities in Vienna
A Journey Through Time
I came across Time Travel Vienna while I was walking through the city. I was intrigued by their interactive and fun approach to the city’s history, so I signed up for a short 45-minute tour. A guide leads you through different rooms where 5D films, talking historical figures or waltzing seats bring to life the history of Vienna until the present day. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a really well-done exhibit and a much more interesting way to learn about the city than by reading plaques.
A Biking Tour of the City
Since there are no free walking tours in Vienna that I could find, I immediately opted for my other favorite type of tour: a biking tour. I signed up for the Classic Vienna Tour with the company Pedal Power, and we took a three-hour ride throughout the city with plenty of stops to learn about what we were seeing. I really enjoyed this, but a few things could have been improved upon. There were no helmets, instructions on how to use the bikes or checks of the seat height before we began. I was also the only English speaker in my tour and while the tour was bilingual, I felt as if the guide was sometimes skimping on her descriptions to me and that everyone was just waiting around for her to stop speaking English. It ended up being okay but it was a bit uncomfortable at first and I’d recommend checking with the company ahead of time to see if it is a German-dominated group or if there is an English-speaking tour you can join.
The World's Largest Amusement Park
Vienna is home to the Weiner Prater public park which is twice the size of Central Park! In it, you can find green areas, cafes, sports fields, and "Wurstelprater", the oldest amusement park in the world. The amusement park has a few notable landmarks including the giant ferris wheel and the Praturturm, the world's largest high-flying swing! There are also beer gardens and plenty of spots for eating and drinking in and around the amusement park.
An Endless Market (in a good way)
For fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and more, the Naschmarkt is the place to go. It is a huge market (that also has a flea market on Saturdays) where people-watching from a cafe is as much fun as tasting the delicacies and looking at the region's specialties. It is walking distance from the main ring downtown so it is a good place to start your touring.
Performances in Vienna
A Horse Show
The Spanish School of Riding is the oldest classical equitation institution in the world, and a must-see for anyone interested in horses, dance or culture in Vienna. (The ‘Spanish’ comes from the breed of horse which is a mix of Spanish, Arabian and Berber). There are a variety of activities you can join from a stable tour to see the famous Lipizzaner stallions to a performance in the beautiful arena (which I did). I signed up for standing room tickets because they were much cheaper, and I definitely couldn’t see the full arena, but the riders are good about moving around the ring so everyone can see. I enjoyed watching the riders on their extremely fancy and talented horses, and it made me want to ride and even learn dressage! However, to be honest I think I preferred the performance in Jerez de la Frontera better. I thought the show was more interesting and the seats had better views. That said, I still think it is worth spending 90 minutes watching the incredible precision and grace of the horses and riders at this show.
Vienna is a world hub for opera and classical music, so it is definitely the place to see a show. There are so many venues that it is actually quite easy to secure tickets, and I heard you can often get tickets to a show at the main opera house for under 5 Euro if you stand in line the day of a performance! I was extremely lucky to be invited to a premiere of the “Feuersnot” opera at the Volksoper, one of the other opera houses in the city, so this is another venue to keep in mind when looking for a show.
Saturday, June 14 (Vienna) – Most of my friends didn’t grow up listening to classical music or watching operas. Like playing bridge or watching soap operas, opera sort of died out for my generation. I was lucky enough to be exposed to opera from a young age because my cousin is a professional opera singer and I would go to see him whenever he performed at the Met in NYC. Still, I never got all that into it and didn’t think much of it. Then I arrived in Vienna.
Vienna is the land of classical music, and opera in particular. My opera-singing cousin lives here, and there are performances any given night at the multiple opera houses in the city. Since it is such a rich part of the city’s culture, I was thrilled to be invited to a premiere of an opera called “Feuersnot” at the Volksoper while I was in town.
The show was semi-staged which means that there is no scenery, very simple costumes, and not much movement on stage. At first I felt like I was at a rehearsal, but then I realized this is the official production and I kind of liked it. With less attention to staging, more attention can be focused on the singing and the story. Unfortunately for me, the opera was in German, and the lyrics were printed (in German) on a screen above the stage, so I am not quite sure what the story line was!
After the opera there was an after party where the director of the opera house spoke and acknowledged the performers who were all present – including about 30 kids ages 8-14 from the children’s chorus who did an amazing job in the show as well!