Austria 2005 Archives

December 13, 2005

Week 57 - St. Gilgen (Austria)

Photos from our two weeks in St. Gilgen are posted here. When you see the photos you will know why we love this area so much.

Family in Austria for blog.jpg

After 11 weeks in six different parts of Italy, we drove 500 miles north to very familiar territory in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. This is a very lush Alpine region of mountains and lakes, about 30 minutes from the beautiful city of Salzburg. Our family has visited Salzburg three times before, including Christmas trips in 1999 and 2003. This time we shifted our base out of the city to the village of St. Gilgen on the Wolfgangsee, one of many lakes in this region. We also traveled back across the border to Germany and spend some time in the area near Berchtesgaden.

After a slow start due to bad weather, our first week was filled with outdoor activities. We were so busy and had such a great time that we managed not to think too much about going home in just a month.

Saturday, July 9

Today was one of the longest drives of our trip—just over 500 miles. We left our old stone house in Umbria in central Italy about 8:30 am and got to our apartment in St. Gilgen, Austria just after 7:00 pm. We made one major stop at a rest area just north of Venice… very crowded with holiday travelers this time of year. We ate in a self-service cafeteria with great looking food, but Kelly wanted a pizza that was made to order and the whole process took a long time. This stop chewed up about an hour.

The trip was mostly on really good freeways, though we ran into slow traffic when we had a stretch of non-highway driving north of Ravenna. We passed right along the coast of the Adriatic Sea; unfortunately, it wasn’t as scenic as I had expected. It was an interesting drive, and I enjoyed watching the scenery as we traveled up into Northern Italy, then into the Alps, and finally crossing the border into Austria. We stopped just across the border to buy a sticker for the Austrian highways. The traffic slowed down again as we merged into one lane to travel through a long tunnel at Katschberg, north of Villach. This was all new territory for us, and we enjoyed seeing another part of the Alps.

The change in the landscape during our 500 mile trip was astonishing. Yesterday we were living in a rugged environment of scrubby mountains covered with olive trees, looking out over fields of sunflowers, living outside a village of crumbling stone houses. Today we are living in a lush and green land of mountains and lakes, in a village of wooden chalets with flower boxes overflowing with bright red geraniums. Yesterday we were eating pasta, drinking red wine, and saying “Buona sera”. Today we are eating sausages, drinking beer, and saying “Guten abend”. I love both environments, but I find myself shaking my head in astonishment at how quickly the culture changes: architecture, food, language, style. The mountains really did once provide a strong barricade that enabled totally different cultures to develop just miles apart. And the nature of the physical surroundings provided building materials and food that have also created such distinct cultures within the various European regions. Even the dramatically different weather patterns make things different. It was hot summer in Umbria… in the 90’s. Here in the Salzkammergut, it’s cool again and I need my sweater.

When we left America over a year ago, I left the last five weeks of our trip unplanned. The rental of Roccia Viva in Umbria was the last arrangement I made. We knew we wanted to spend some time in or near Salzburg, but I had a terrible time finding a place to rent. This area doesn’t really market rental places to English-speaking tourists, so there weren’t lots of listings to look at or places to choose from. I don’t think there are many rental properties at all in the city of Salzburg. Finally, I just gave up. I had too many things to do to get ready for our trip to spend any more time fussing over arrangements more than a year in the future. I decided to work out the last few weeks while we were living in Provence.

Salzburg, Austria is one of our very favorite places, a city we’ve come back to several times on our European travels. I first visited Salzburg in 1991, on my first-ever European trip with two girlfriends. I brought Charley and Kelly to Salzburg for three days in October 1997, and then we came back for Christmas 1999. Salzburg is an absolutely wonderful place to spend Christmas. We were back again for Christmas 2003—just a year and a half ago. In the past we’ve always stayed in the city of Salzburg, though we’ve done some day-trips out into the countryside to the lake district outside Salzburg called the Salzkammergut. When I couldn’t seem to find a rental right in the city, Charley and I talked about the possibility of staying in the Salzkammergut instead… or maybe in Berchtesgaden, Germany, just 30 minutes from Salzburg in the other direction.

I finally realized that most of the rental properties around Salzburg were marketed to German-speaking people, and I learned how to find German websites for “ferienwohnungen” (holiday apartments) and then which keywords in German would help me identify possible properties. I focused on properties where there was some English information or where the owner spoke some English. That just made communication so much easier.

Eventually I found an apartment in the village of St. Gilgen, a village on the Wolfgangsee, about 30 minutes from Salzburg. We had visited St. Gilgen briefly a couple of times and thought it would be an ideal location. The owner was British and good to work with through e-mail. She gave me a discount for a two week rental, and I was even able to send a check in US dollars. And so now, here we are.

The apartment is just across the main road from the village, in group of modern chalet buildings. Our apartment is on the ground floor with a terrace looking out toward the lake. We have a nice view of the lake and the mountains on the opposite side of the lake, and can watch the cable car go past us to the top of the mountain behind us.

The apartment is smaller than I thought from the pictures on the website, really the only “modern” place we’ve stayed our entire trip. We have a small entrance foyer; the bathroom is off the foyer. Then there’s a living/dining room with glass doors opening out to the terrace, and a very small kitchen. At first we didn’t know what happened to the bedrooms, since the door is built into a big wall unit. Charley and I have a double bedroom on the other side of the wall unit, and Kelly’s room is adjacent to ours. Her room is very, very small with two bunk beds. There is just room for the door to open without hitting the beds. But the apartment is clean and bright and a great location. Kelly is excited that there is a VCR and a couple of movies. There are even a few books that Charley and I want to read.

Laundry equipment in Europe is very different than what we are used to in America, and we’ve got a machine here that is the most unique we’ve seen this past year. When I first communicated with Catherine, the owner, she told me there wasn’t a washing machine in the apartment. Later she wrote me that they had purchased a unit. Well, there is a washing machine, but it is the smallest washing machine I’ve ever seen—actually a portable washing machine! Fortunately the owner’s manual is in English, so Charley can try to figure this out.

The keys were left in the mailbox for us. We carried our bags in and did just a little unpacking, then walked down to the village for dinner. We decided to eat at a big new place right on the waterfront called the Fischer Wirt, painted a pretty yellow. We sat on the outdoor terrace looking out over the Wolfgansee and the mountains. Charley loves the environment of the German/Austrian Alps… well, we all do. This was a great spot to begin our two-week stay. Our meal was very good. We all had our favorite goulash soup, then I had fish (trout from the lake), Charley had wiener schnitzel, and Kelly had pasta. We immediately switched from our Italian beverage of choice (red wine) to our Austrian beverage of choice (beer), though I’m having a much harder time switching to my limited German vocabulary. The restaurant had a live band tonight, and we enjoyed listening to the music and watching people dance. There were some very good dancers.

After dinner we took a late-night stroll around the village. We found a bakery where Charley can go in the morning to get our breakfast. We’re excited about the prospect of Austrian breads for breakfast.

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Week 58 - St. Gilgen (Austria)

Photos from our two weeks in St. Gilgen are posted here.

Our second week in St. Gilgen was also so special. We spent two more days in Salzburg, hiked around the lake to the village of St. Wolfgang (seen above), hiked twice at a high plateau called the Postalm, and visited the Königssee outside Berchtesgaden. Kelly celebrated her 12th birthday this week-- her second birthday away from home on this trip-- and we had two days of activities in her honor. Kelly and and I did have a major misadventure riding double on a summer toboggan ride, though fortunately neither of us were too seriously hurt.

At the end of the week we did some major repacking, leaving a suitcase and a variety of books, clothes and food behind us in St. Gilgen. This was our last of 20 rentals during our 14 month trip. For the next three weeks we will travel by train and on foot in Germany and Switzerland.

Saturday, July 16

We were up early again today for our second Salzburg day. We started our day just outside the city at Hellbrunn Palace. We’ve just been to the edge of the grounds before (on the Sound of Music tour to see the famous “gazebo” from the movie), and I’ve always wanted to see the palace, especially the trick fountains. This is another place that was free because of our Salzburg cards.

We paused briefly at the Sound of Music gazebo. It was moved here after the movie, and is probably a major tourist destination in Salzburg. Charley and Kelly acted silly and I took pictures. (“I’m eleven, going on twelve….)

Hellbrunn Palace was built as a summer palace—a pleasure palace—for Archbishop Markus Sittkus who lived here from 1612 – 1619. Back then the Archbishops were more royalty than any kind of “spiritual” leader it seems. The palace has beautiful grounds and all the buildings are a vibrant mustard-yellow color. The style seems almost Italian. It’s hard to believe that the buildings are almost 500 years old.

The most famous part of the palace is the trick water gardens. I had read about the gardens, but didn’t tell Charley and Kelly anything because I wanted them to enjoy the surprises in store. We were in a group of about 30 people, and toured the gardens with a guide. She conducted the hour-long tour in both German and English.

The Archbishop constructed the gardens to play practical jokes on his friends and visitors. We must have seen ten different water jokes—from a table that squirts water up from the seats (no one accepted the offer to sit at the table—this one is well known) to a statue that squirted water on unsuspecting passersby. We went into a grotto and were squirted from hidden sprinklers on the way out.

Kelly and I really enjoyed the gardens, but Charley didn’t like it at all. He was quite disgusted that a supposed man of God would have been so silly. Plus I don’t think Charley was at all interested in getting wet. Some of the children in our tour group got quite wet, but then of course they wanted to get wet and always stood right where the water was coming out.

We walked through the beautiful gardens and then did a self-tour through the palace. This was all interesting, but the trick water garden was the show-stopper.

After the palace, we drove over to the Stiegl brewery (called Stiegl’s Brauwelt - World of Beer), another destination included in our Salzburg card. This is supposed to be the largest exhibition on beer in all of Europe. The brewery was also on the outskirts of the city and a little hard to find, but worth our efforts. We did a fun self-tour of the brewery. There was a computer quiz about beer which Kelly took and she was very proud to get a certificate as a “beermeister”. My incredible eleven-year old kid—now a beer expert! At the end of the tour we got to go to a tavern and we each got two free beers and a big soft pretzel. Our nice waiter recommended an Austrian soft drink for Kelly called Almdudler, which she enjoyed. Our admission also included a special gift, and we selected beer glasses that we’ll ship home. There was a big gift shop full of Stiegl logo items, and Kelly bought herself a round plastic tray so she can serve drinks, something she says she’s always wanted.

It started raining while we were in the brewery, and we decided not to go back into Salzburg, which had been our original plan. We had talked about going up to the massive Hohensalzburg Fortress that sits above the city and is really the symbol of Salzburg. The fortress was built in the 11th century and the largest, completely-preserved fortress in central Europe. We had just been there in December 2003 (actually on Christmas Day), and because of the rain we decided to just head back to St. Gilgen. Even though we didn’t do anything else in Salzburg, we still think we got a good deal with our Salzburg cards—probably got 150% value for what we paid for the cards.

The woman at the Stiegl shop suggested a place to stop for lunch, but it was closed and then we couldn’t find another place nearby, so we headed back to the Salzkammergut. We stopped at the big grocery store outside Mondsee and bought a roast chicken from a man in a little truck outside, then took that home for lunch.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading in our little apartment. We’ve been on-the-go pretty aggressively the last couple of days and were happy to just have a lazy afternoon. For dinner we went into St. Gilgen and had dinner again at the Fischer Wirt restaurant on the waterfront. We had another really good meal outside on the terrace. This time I had salmon. We watched the dancers again, most of them the same couples from last Saturday night... some terrific dancers.

Continue reading "Week 58 - St. Gilgen (Austria)" »

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