An odd blog post title but a slogan we’ve seen everywhere since hitting Austria. We’ve seen it on T-shirts, bags, signs and I think it must be because when Austrians say they are from Austria to foreigners, people think they say Australia and crap on about kangaroos and all that stuff – that’s my theory anyway. But that’s where the similarity ends – Australia’s beaches & deserts replaced by mountains and green hills. We knew Austria would be very pretty and, whilst it didn’t quite top Slovenia in the green-hilled natural beauty stakes, it did live up to expectations.
First stop was the capital Vienna. Chelle’s already done a great post covering that beautiful little city here
After Vienna, we said goodbye to our mates Nat & Ben and headed south while they headed north. It was actually quite sad to part with our drinking, driving & ice-cream eating buddies but once we hit the road we were subjected to some great scenery once again as we followed the river Danube.
Then all of a sudden we stumbled upon a ‘Middle Ages Festival’ which was held in a lovely old castle next to the river. it was a 2.5km walk up a steep old hill to get there but we made it and were rewarded by a fantastic scene of medieval mayhem. Everybody dressed up and having a ball with interesting stalls, ye olde games (things like a human powered merry-go-round), story telling in the dungeon, blacksmiths, and beer in flagons fashioned from bone. A very nice surprise.
This unexpected diversion meant we were running a bit late in our search to find somewhere to bed down for the night but in the end we found a spot in the gardens of a gasthof owned by a guy called Helga. It was clear it had been months or even years since his last campervan guest but he went to huge efforts to make sure we were accommodated, settling us in and even rustled up gifts for all of us. When we left the next day he faded into the distance standing in the road still waving bye to his new buddies!
Although distances weren’t great, it was clear that Austrian roads were pretty slow going so we axed a big chunk of our original plan and headed straight for Hallstatt. a postcard-perfect 1000 year old village on the edge of a lake (actually remains have been found dating back to prehistoric times).
We found a lovely campsite (despite a few run-ins with the owner) for some much-needed washing and spent a great couple of days soaking up the views – pictures tell the story…
The next morning we headed up the funicular to the Hallstatt salt mines. These are the oldest salt mines in the world – people have been digging the salt out of the mountain since the 16th century and still are today!
Not usually a great fan of tours but this was a good one – a mix of caving, learning about the mine and it’s history, a few ‘miners slides’ and a hair-raising train ride to finish it off. Some great views from the top as well.
We’d planned to go and visit one of the ice-caves nearby but turned out they don’t open til May so we’ve pencilled that in for during our return trip south in a few weeks.
We then headed north towards Salzburg. Stayed overnight on the way at a lovely riverside campsite where we treated ourselves to a proper Austrian Schnitzel which didn’t disappoint!
After that brief stopover, we hit Salzburg – yet another lovely city with markets, buildings castles and bustling with people to keep you entertained. Chelle & Abbie headed off for their sound of music tour so James and I hopped on the bus and headed for Helbrunn Palace and their infamous ‘Trick Fountains’. Summary is, this palace was owned and built by an eccentric prince in the early 1600′s. The guy was a bit of a joker so he built in all these hidden water spouts and clever mechanisms so he could surprise his guests and blast them with water when they least expected it. We all enjoyed the tour round the gardens, especially James & the other kids and they tried to guess where next they would cop a soaking! From a historical point of view we pretty amazing to think all these mechanisms were conceived and concealed so long ago.
So that’s Austria Part I. However more time will be spent shortly as we head south towards Switzerland where we plan to address unfinished business such as the ice caves and the Grossglockner Pass – both of which were closed until May.