There's no Kangaroos in Austria
From Hungary we crossed the border into Austria, first stop Vienna. Vienna is a beautiful city - so clean, green and well maintained. The people seem happier and wealthier than in Hungary – everything seems so modern and well looked after even in the suburbs. On Saturday night we watched Mozart 's requiem in the city at St. Charles Church. The show was fantastic and was a stunning setting. The next day we explored the town, doing a lap of the CBD in the tram and then climbing the church bell tower before exploring the vast and beautiful gardens of the ‘Hofburg’ imperial palace. It seemed like every single blade of grass and rose had been taken care of and there was not a weed in sight. We had a great lunch of crisp Apple Strudel and Weiner Schnitzel (but not with noodles). We left Vienna already in love with Austria. The next day we drove to Sound of Music Country (Salzkammergut), we spent the day at the beautiful Hallstatt. Hallstat is a prehistoric town and the oldest settled town in Europe. It is famous for its 7000 year old salt mine in the mountain and its beauty, it’s truly postcard worthy. It’s a small town, nestled at the base of a steep mountain and on the edge of a crystal clear lake. We did a tour of the salt mine, which involved a jaw dropping funicular ride up the side of the mountain before going 300 metres in to the mountain itself. The tour was really well run, after suiting up in jump suits we entered the caves and were treated to awesome audiovisual presentations, 2 big old wooden slides (originally designed to transport the miners between levels in the mine) and a death defying train ride out through an impossibly narrow tunnel. The only let down was that at 30.4km/h we were only the 3rd fastest down the big slide (out of roughly 70 people on the tour). After the mines we wandered the streets of Hallstat, Lisa bought her token magnet and we caught the boat back across the lake to the Sundance.
That night we slept at the base of the mountain in a random carpark along with about 10 other campers. The next morning we ventured in to Salzburg, home of Mozart! The city is incredibly beautiful, particularly the old town. As with the rest of Austria we were amazed with how clean and well maintained everything is – it really seems like people care about looking after their country. We don’t think we’ve seen a drop of graffiti or rubbish on the street since crossing the border from Hungary. On Tuesday night we went to the Sound of Music marionette concert, this was a real highlight. The puppeteers were exceptional and we think the singing was OK but it was tough to hear over Lisa belting out each tune. Julie Andrews eat your heart out! Salzburg has had an interesting history, being so close to the German border (in fact we stayed over the river in Germany while visiting).
On Wednesday we left Salzburg and headed for Hohenwerfen castle in the Salzach Valley. We’ve visited a lot of castles on our trip, but this was certainly up there with one of the best. After watching a fairly polished falconry show we did a tour of the main castle. Highlights of the tour were visiting the armoury, the dungeon area complete with original torture paraphernalia and climbing the clock tower for fantastic views over the valley. The castle is below the spectacular Salzburg mountains, which were a beautiful backdrop.
On Thursday we did the Grossglockner Road, one of the great alpine drives. The road wound up to 3000m above sea level, poor old sundancer needed a few stops on the way up to cool down. The road a multiple rest areas with walks, museums, cafes and gift shops. The views were stunning although the mountains and glaciers were covered in cloud from time to time. The highlight of the day was seeing wild Marmots on the mountain prairies. Lisa was disappointed that we didn’t see (and still haven’t seen) any Edelweiss. On Thursday we headed Innsbruck, an Alpine town surrounded in mountains. The drive was once again spectacular with the famous Dolomite range surrounding us. The route took us through northern Italy (where they strangely all spoke German) so naturally we stocked up on Italian supplies from the supermarket and Andrew stocked up on caffeine from the local café. We arrived in Innsbruck with the goal of finding someone to service the camper van. We figured after 15,000 miles she might need a bit of a tune up. Unfortunately we drove back and forward across town for several hours and couldn’t find anyone that could fit us in – hopefully we’ll find a service centre in Switzerland.
We stayed just north of Innsbruck in a small town called Seefield and the next morning took the train in to the city. Like all Austrian cities the streets were clean and buildings well maintained, many with beautiful paintings on the buildings outside. We visited the local market, ate delicious salmon cooked over a wood fire, did some clothes shopping and ate delicious tiramisu at a local Italian café. We considered taking the funicular to one of the peaks surrounding the city but the weather closed in and we made a dash for the railway station in the rain. After arriving back to a puddle in the van (we had left the top vent open) we headed west towards the Swiss border. This was yet another breath taking drive, over a mountain pass and down into a lush green valley. We drove through stunning little alpine towns each house having a meticulously stacked woodpile outside; firewood is obviously a serious business around here! Austria has been a real revelation for us and we will definitely be back. Switzerland has got a lot to live up to next week!