Oh Vienna, This Means Nothing to Me….Our Austrian Adventure Part 2

aka When I sing Ultravox for two days straight….

So we packed up from Zell Am See and headed East past Salzburg (where we had been the day before) towards Vienna.  And I swear, I cannot even hear the word Vienna without thinking of this…

The 1981 hit by Ultravox.  To be honest, it’s not a great song.  I don’t think it ever came out in the States and I had never heard it before we danced to it in my pole dancing class a couple of years ago.  It’s not a song that I would have ever put on purposely EXCEPT that we were on our way to Vienna.  And so I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Which meant that I couldn’t stop singing bits of it.

It was about a 5 hour drive (I know it doesn’t look that far on a map) from Zell Am See to Vienna, and I probably sang “Oh, Vienna….this means nothing to me” about 25 times.  And of course, as soon as we actually made it to  Vienna’s city limits, I played it.  At full blast.  And sang along.  Loudly, badly, with emotion and arm movements.  With my eyes closed.  I really got into it.  Somewhere in Munich there is a camera floating around with a video of me belting out the song as we drive into Vienna….wait….I think The Runner may have cut the cord of my camera strap so that he would never have to endure seeing that video.  Possibly not, but I am sort of surprised he didn’t put me out of the car.

Anyway,  we didn’t really stop much along the way but we did make one stop in Melk, about an hour outside of Vienna.  Melk is famous for its baroque style abbey.  We got off the highway with full intention of visiting the abbey- but we got sidetracked.  Well, I did after lunch at least.  We stopped into a wine shop specialising in local Wachau Valley wines… and well… at least I learned a new word…. Federspiel.   Federspiel is a classification for Wachau Valley wines of around 11.5-12.5%.    We picked up two bottles as souvenirs (which didn’t actually make it out of Vienna) and got back on the road.

On first arrival, Vienna seemed quite well, blah.  I wasn’t impressed.  But….as we kept driving I got more and more excited.

Vienna has an amazing combination of architectural styles- from beautiful, old buildings from the late 1700s to gorgeous art deco buildings built in the early 1900s to hideous, drab post World War II buildings built in a rush to house those left homeless after more than 87,000 houses in the city were bombed.  Once I heard that on our tour, I looked at the city differently and thought about the city a bit differently too.  Vienna was bombed over 52 times by Allied forces, there were over 3000 bomb craters that were left.  It sort of explains why there are blocks with 3 or 4 plain, drab 1950s building sandwiched between two beautiful art deco ones.  It was also interesting to think about what it must have looked like and how a city would have behaved at wartime.  On the plane over, I had watched The Woman in Gold, a recent movie about art restitution after World War II which takes place in Vienna.  I really enjoyed seeing the movie in person, but it was quite jarring to think about all the horrible things that would have happened there during the war.

We were also watching the refugee crisis start to unfold during this trip.  It was when Hungary had shut down the trains and weren’t letting any refugees pass through.  We saw it first hand when we arrived at our hotel in Munich.  We were staying opposite the main train station and it looked as though we had arrived in war zone- there were police and video cameras everywhere.  Our hotel had a security guard out front.  Hungary still hadn’t let the refugees pass by the time we left Munich, but everyone was on alert for when they did.  I did see a refugee family approach our hotel and get turned away by the security guard.  I don’t know what they asked or where they went after that.  But it was quite sad, and it really brought the crisis to the forefront of my mind.

Hopefully in 60 years, people will be visiting Syria in the same way that we were visiting Vienna and Munich, two cities that were devastated by bombs only 60 years ago.

Anyway, Vienna was a fantastic city- we were staying in a fantast hotel- Hotel Rathaus Wein & Design.  A boutique hotel themed around Wine.  Yep, a Wine Hotel.  Hallelujah, I had found my home.  Each room had a different Austrian winemaker featured, they did wine tasting in the evening and there were loads of cute little wine and grape themed touches.  And their breakfast was delish!  So good, I made myself sick eating it.  I highly recommend the hotel.

Our wine themed hotel
Our wine themed hotel

We did a hop on hop off bus tour of Vienna and saw loads of highlights including Schonbrunn Palace.  A must do if you’re in Vienna.  BEAUTIFUL.  One of the highlights was the patisserie, where The Runner had Apple Streudel and I had Kaiserschmarrn- a fluffy shredded pancake which was delish! And while we’re on the subject of desserts….

The Viennese do not mess around when it comes to dessert!
The Viennese do not mess around when it comes to dessert!

That night we went to the Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sacher Torte.  I think it I win the lottery and return to Vienna, I would visit my Wein Hotel but splurge on a night or two  at the Hotel Sacher.  Rooms start at €525, for a superior room- about $1000 AUD at the moment.  Of course, if I won the lottery, I’d upgrade to at least a Top Deluxe Room or a Suite.  On this trip, we only saw the lounge area and we only had dessert and a couple of drinks.  Wow.  It is a beautiful hotel, probably one of the most beautiful lounge areas of a hotel I’d ever been to.      Sadly, I don’t have any photos, but  their website does.

We spent a lot of time just walking around the inner city and the old city of Vienna.  We only really had time for one museum- the Belvedere Museum.  And why that Museum you might ask?  Because it has my favorite painting in the whole wide world.  Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.  Klimt painted in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century.  He had been a favorite artist of mine since college nearly and the Belvedere has quite a few of his paintings and drawings.    I wish we had had time for more museums, but I’m thrilled that we got to see The Kiss.  It’s stunning in real life.  Just beautiful and huge.  It’s displayed against a black wall which only makes the colours and the gold in the painting stand out more.  I loved it even more seeing it person (unlike the Mona Lisa, which was a lot smaller than I thought it would be).

We had a lovely afternoon in Grinzing, a lovely suburb of Vienna with lots of Heurigen- traditional cafes that serve their own house wine on site.  And by house wine, I mean wine that they actually make themselves.  It’s such a beautiful area and we had a lovely lunch in a sunny wine garden with really friendly staff.

I could write so much about Vienna, but I’d like to go back one day and spend more time there.  There’s so much we didn’t see and so much we didn’t do.   In fact, there’s probably a list of things we didn’t see longer than what we did see.  There’s so much history there as well that we didn’t get to delve into- the garage where we parked our car dated back to 1925!

After two days in Vienna, we headed to Munich.  We didn’t get to see nearly enough of Munich so I’m plotting our return back maybe in a year or two….and this time I’ll keep hold of my camera.

You can see the pictures I do have on Flickr!


Our Austrian Adventure- Part 1

Sadly, I still haven’t found my camera but I still had loads of fun on our trip and I thought it was worth sharing a few things with you!  You can see what pictures I do have on my flickr account here.

Austria is a beautiful country and even though it was never high on my list of places to visit- it’s definitely on my list of places I’d love to go back to one day.   Other than losing my camera in Munich in the last hours of the trip, it was a fantastic trip.

I must say it started well- I had Shake Shack and got to visit the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai.  Jack, one of The Runner’s triathlon friends flies A LOT for work, and we were on the same flight to Munich so he was able to sneak me in.  I’m not sure which was more exciting for me.  I love Shake Shack, and the luxury and joy of being able to shower and change clothes during a long haul flight—priceless!  (The burger I later learned was $15… Damn you exchange rates!!!) So, it was pretty much the ideal long haul stop over experience.  (This was not the same on the way back—sadly we were back with the plebs, but I did have a burger AND a shake so…..it wasn’t all bad!

We arrived in Munich and luckily The Runner’s bike arrived too.  I had been trusted as a bike courier for Gary’s precious TT bike.  He may love the bike more than he loves me, so I was a bit nervous that it would show up mangled or crushed, or even worse not turn up at all.  Luckily, it arrived, safe and intact and in Munich.  Unfortunately, our friend Jack was not as lucky.  His bike was in Bangkok.  He was not happy.   He was not the only one but luckily Emirates put the bikes on the next flight and it arrived early the next morning.

In some ways, it was fortunate that we only had one bike to transport because when we collected our car- a Mercedes C Class Station Wagon (or Estate if you’re in Europe), it was clear that 3 people, 2 bikes and 6 bags would have been a bit of a squeeze.  Actually, it was very clear that one of us would have been dropped at the train station and sent on their way.  The Runner never did clarify which one of us it would be…

The trip from Munich to Zell Am See was beautiful- it was hills and mountains and bigger mountains and alpine towns.  It looked like something out of a postcard.  It was just stunning.   Everything I had hoped for in the Alps and more!  Driving on the Autobahn or Autostrasse is no joke!   It gave me a new respect for just how good German engineering is.   At first I was surprised that there were hardly any Toyotas or Fords or Peugeots on the road, but when you think about the German domestic car manufacturers (BMW, Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes), it’s pretty obvious why most Germans would support their homegrown producers.  I thought the Autobahn would be mayhem, but it really wasn’t.   I mean, it is a bit crazy when you’re going 140 km/h and a BMW M5 or Audi TT goes screaming past at about 170 km/h.  But people seem to know how to drive and they make it work.   One eye opening thing about German and Austrian roads is their rest stops, they’re quite nice but….. well, you have to pay to use the facilities.  In other words, you have to pay to pee.  And it’s not an honour system either, they have tickets and turnstiles and well, yeah.  But don’t worry, if you don’t have change, they take credit and debit cards.

Zell Am See is absolutely stunning.  It’s a ski resort in the winter, but in sunny, warm 30 degree (Celsius) weather, it was hard to imagine what it would be like in winter.   From what we heard, it is just as gorgeous in the winter as in the summer.  I’d love to go back and see for myself.  There were still some ski lifts running to take you up to mountain, but we didn’t decide to go up- we had bigger fish to fry but more on that in a second.

The atmosphere in Zell Am See was pretty amazing.  There were so many really fit people but beyond that there were so many nationalities represented there.  Everywhere you turned you could hear a different language.  Interestingly, the largest international contingent was actually from the US- there were 657 Americans in the race.   And we weren’t the only ones who had made the long journey from Australia- there were 250 Australians in the race as well!

All the way here, just to see Australians!
All the way here, just to see Australians!

I was shocked.  We didn’t do a lot of pre-race Ironman related activities, of course there was the obligatory cycle/drive of the bike course….Jack and The Runner went off on their bikes, and I followed in the car—except for when I took a wrong turn and wound up….somewhere in Austria.  Somewhere with little mobile reception and not enough German to ask anyone how to get to where I was going…wherever that was!  It all worked out in the end and I wound up seeing amazing scenery and gorgeous little towns like Maria Alm (We were told by a local that Maria Alm had won prettiest town to Austria- he may have been the head of the Maria Alm tourist bureau.)

The day before the race we did the Grossglockner or High Alpine Road, a twisting and turning road that takes you up to Austria’s highest points. (The bigger fish I was referring to!)  It is well worth the price of admission but it’s not for the faint of heart.  There are steep climbs, narrow roads, hairpin turns and a long long long drop if you make any mistakes.  The view from the top (or where we thought was the top) was breathtaking.  It was one of the most awe inspiring places I’ve been.  A place where you realise how beautiful the planet is and how many different terrains and landscapes there are in the world.  It left me speechless.

Race Day was good- it was hot.  Very hot.  Very Very hot.  The Runner had a good race, despite the heat and he even managed to give me a kiss in the finishing chute.  He got a medal which is massive and a t shirt he’s been wearing with pride.  The best part was that his whole family got to see him compete and to share a part of our life that they had never witnessed before.  I think they were pretty impressed with his efforts and I had a great time hanging out with them for the day around Zell Am See.

The day after the race The Runner, Jack and I went to Salzburg.   We vetoed going to the Ice Caves on the way (it would have been 0 degrees in there!) and went to a medieval fortress/castle/town in Werfen instead which was pretty cool.  We finally arrived in Salzburg and visited the Dom Quartier in the centre of Salzburg and the Hochensalzburg Castle.  We had the obligatory post-race McDonalds (obligatory for two triathletes not for me)- I did manage to try the Chicken Big Mac—it was kind of tasty.  A mix between a Big Mac and Chicken Nuggets.  I have to say I’m a fan.  It’s great for indecisive people like me.   From there we went to Hellbrun Palace in Schlosspark and the Trick Fountains there.  It was definitely one of the highlights of Salzburg for me. The trick fountains were really fun especially on a hot day.  They are over 200 years old and were designed by someone with a devious sense of humour.  The fountains are designed to surprise (and soak guests).  Luckily we didn’t get too wet, but it was fun – like running through a sprinkler on a summer day as a kid.  The Hellbrun Palace is also famous as part of the Sound of Music was filmed there.  Not being a big SoM fan, I skipped that part of the grounds.  I would love to go back and see more of Salzburg one day, we were only there for a few hours and there was a lot that we didn’t get to see.  I’d also love to go back and actually eat something other than McDonald’s there.  They have a load of chocolatiers and cafés that we didn’t get to try.

We had a lovely day in Salzburg but then headed back to Zell Am See for our last night there.  The next day we headed to Vienna……. OH Vienna……….

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The view from the High Alpine Road.
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News flash: Austrians like beer….a lot. And you can buy it from the grocery store….
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Ducks- Austrians and Germans LOVE them and I sort of collect them….
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The biggest race medal I’ve ever seen!
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Salzburg Square
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From inside the fortress at Werfern
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One of the drier rooms of the trick fountains…
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Inside Schonbronn’s music room
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The Sound of Music was filmed on the grounds somewhere…

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An Apology…

To myself and to you my dear readers but mostly to myself.  So, I owe you a long blog post about the amazing trip to Austria and Germany that we’ve just returned from.  A post full of pictures and stories and video of all the highlights of the trip.  There were loads- the race itself, the beauty of the Alps, driving the Grossglockner high alpine road, all the ducks, medieval cliff top fortresses, Salzburg, a quirky wine hotel, Klimt’s The Kiss in real life, Schonbrunn Palace, BMW World, Munich, etc etc.  I owe you a post about gorgeous wines, lovely mountain adventures, athletic triathletes and more.  But I can’t deliver.

Because I’ve done something stupid.  A momentary lapse, a split second misstep.  A blip in the matrix.

I left my camera in a taxi cab in Munich in the last 5 hours of our holiday.

Yep, most of the photos and videos- gone.  I hadn’t been drinking or distracted by gypsies– just in a rush and careless.  We all know what it’s like that split second that you realise that all is not right.   Whether it’s the moment the door slams behind you right as you remember your keys are on the other side or when you go to make a phone call and find out your phone isn’t on the table where it had been just a minute ago.  Or when you figure out that you’re on the wrong bus the one day you’re late for work, or coming back to a car with its lights left on knowing full well that it’s not going to start.  It’s that sinking feeling when you kick yourself for being so stupid and careless whilst realizing that accidents and mistakes happen to us all.

So unfortunately that is how my amazing trip to Europe ended.  In tears.  In a Munich police station trying to use the little German I know to tell a police woman how I had momentarily been careless enough to get out of a taxi with no receipt, no license plate number, no drivers name and no camera.  Of course this is after The Runner and I had been staring down taxi drivers for an hour to see if we could find the one we had been in before (we couldn’t.).  I guess if there is an upside (there’s not really) it’s that I’ve learned the word “lost” in German (verloren) and discovered a universal truth:  Taxis are the worst place in the world to lose anything no matter what country.  There must be an international black hole where lost taxi items and socks go never to be seen again.   I’ve finally fallen victim to it.

I will share some of our adventures in the coming days, but I need a bit of time to mourn the loss of Cam the Canon Camera.  Outside you were like any other camera, but what was on the inside of your little memory card brain can never be replaced.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons and picked up a lot of tips in the past few days- most of which I will probably never implement. Like always note your taxi driver’s name and number, take a picture of your contact details as the first photo on your camera SD card, write down the serial numbers for all of your possessions, write your name on everything with a dynamo label, check for your belongings every time you leave a vehicle.  All common sense things that no one does all the time.  We might do some of the things some of the time, but the one time we don’t…..  oh well….Maybe I’ll just use Uber from now on.  At least, it’s traceable.

Guten tag München!!!

Three thoughts immediately hit me as we start our descent into Munich.

1) Thank God! Well that’s the G rated version at least- after exactly 24 hours of flying I’m ready to get out of the air and onto the ground. I don’t mind flying but it’s been 24 hours since I took off from Sydney- not counting a 3 hour layover in Dubai I’ve been in the air the whole time! Granted the layover was pretty good. I had an actual real life first class lounge shower! (thanks to one of Gary’s triathlon club friends). I cannot stress what a difference it made/makes to my sanity. I actually feel relatively human and not like a stink bomb! I now have to figure out how to get lounge access every time I fly. Every. Time. 

Oh and I had a Shake Shack burger….not sure which was the bigger highlight!

2) It is beyond gorgeous- even from the air! From what I can decode we’re flying over Salzburg and possibly over Munich and looking out of the window, all I can see is green grass, blue water and mountains!!! Actual real life Alpine Alp-y mountains. And they’re amazing even from up here!  

 3) I should have spent only more time learning German- I have literally no idea of what the announcer is saying! Thankfully they’re in Arabic, German and English but I’m quickly realizing that google translate might be my best friend on this trip!

So if you’re reading this, then you know I’ve made it! Pass the bratwurst and get me a beer! I’m in Germany!