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18 May 2014

After leaving Venice and driving towards Austria we begin to encounter mountain scenery. How can I describe it other than to say it is majestic? We have nothing like it in Australia. What we call mountains are like rounded anthills compared to what I’ve been seeing, and especially what we are surrounded by now.

Austria used to be an empire and a major world power, with a lot more territory, until the end of the First World War. They were blamed for their substantial part in starting the war, and when it ended, so did their empire.

When we were planning to go to New Zealand, people told us that at every corner, we’d stop and go “Wow!” It was true, but it is even more true of my whirlwind tour of Europe. Having so much more history than Australia, and with so many different cultures, I find each city awe-inspiring, but then I find the next one equally stunning. Vienna is filled with beautiful buildings and they are so clean and well-kept and elegant. In contrast, Rome was ancient, even the more modern buildings having a patina of dirt and history clinging to them, creating a different kind of charm.

The hotel in Vienna is ideally situated, with a supermarket next door, a chemist next to that, a laundromat a block away, and, (I found out unfortunately too late to use it,) a public swimming pool within walking distance. The rooms are a good size, too.

After driving for the day, we are late arriving, so have just 45 minutes to get ready for dinner and a Viennese concert. We are supposed to dress up for it but I have a limited wardrobe. I end up wearing black pants and a cream top with a shawly sort of cardigan, then dress it up with the lacy aqua scarf I’d bought at Burano. I’m ready with time to spare. For the first time, Steve is last to the bus. He’s lost track of his camera (but found it again the next day).

The concert is held in a very elegant building, with magnificent chandeliers in a restaurant with large round tables. For starters I have a traditional Austrian dish of beef in jelly, which is surprisingly light and delicious. This is followed by a beef consomme soup then grilled salmon for main course. The wine is excellent, too, and I lose count of how many glasses I drink. Only dessert is a little disappointing – some sort of shredded pancake.

After dinner we ascend the marble staircase to the concert hall where an orchestra with impeccable timing plays music by Strauss and Mozart. There are also 2 opera singers and 2 ballerinas (a guy and a girl – do you call guys who do ballet ballerinas?) who do amusing but classy skits. At intermission we go out to the balcony for a glass of champagne, but I’ve already had more than enough to drink and don’t end up finishing it.

The bonus of these night outings is that you get to see the city at night as well. Driving home through the beautiful city was really lovely.

19 May

I’ve booked the trip to Schonbron palace for the next day, so have to get up early. Sylvia, who speaks English very clearly, with a charming German accent, is our local guide who tells us all about the palace.

Schonbron Palace was the winter residence for the Emperor, and was decorated by the only female Emperor Maria Theresa. As well as ruling the Empire, Maria Theresa had 14 children. Her husband amused himself by painting pictures and taking other lovers. Schonbron Palace has over 200 rooms, some of which are now let out for private rental. There are huge rooms with patterned timber parquet floors, huge chandeliers, (which seem to be ubiquitous in this part of the world,) wonderful detailed portraits, and intricate gilt decorations everywhere you look.

Even though I know there are gardens around the palace that I want to see, I get distracted in the gift shop, which of course you have to pass through to get outside, and find some T-shirts imprinted with some of the elegance of the palace.

Outside I see Anne (one of the sisters), and we take photos of each other in the garden. There are long rows of rose bushes covered in flowers, neatly shaped hedges and lawns, fountains and statues. We run out of time to explore properly, rushing back to meet the bus for the tour through the city.

We get off the bus again at the main palace, which is even more extensive. This time we only get to walk around the outside. There are many horses and carts that clip clop around the town, providing rides for tourists, and adding to the old world charm. We have time in the city for lunch and Steve & I sit outside at the Mozart cafe. Sylvia has told us about specialty cakes and coffee with whipped cream, so I was already salivating. Since I wasn’t having a big dinner, I ordered goulash, which Jassie tried when she was in Europe and raved about, and it was excellent. I topped it off with a coffee with chocolate and whipped cream, by then being too full for cake.

We have free time back at the hotel after our sight-seeing tour and I lug a load of washing up to the laundromat. I have elected not to go to the outing that evening, since it is just a dinner with entertainment, so I have plenty of time. I muddle through trying to work out the system for the laundromat, aided by pointing from a woman doing her washing, who spoke no English. It is only later while I wait for my load to finish that I see clear instructions written in English. The good thing is that I am able to put all my washing in one load and for 10 euros it washes and dries it all.

I’ve taken along my iPad to try to catch up on my travel journal, but I haven’t been there long when Nada comes in and sits with me and keeps me company until her load is finished. Later, I buy a large tray of strawberries, some bananas, nuts and have some of them for my dinner, a welcome change from the huge meals I’ve been eating.  I spend a pleasant evening in my hotel room, working on my journal.