I am part Austrian. From the American perspective, that means that somewhere along the line someone from my family stepped out of Austria’s borders and onto a ship headed for America (well, maybe not exactly this way, since Austria no longer has a coast line).
After a couple generations and continuous mixing of heritage, I did not really know what it meant to be Austrian. The most I knew about Austria was what The Sound of Music had taught me: pretty mountains, crisp apple strudel, Vienna, Edelweiss, the inevitable influence of Hitler, and that some nuns really like to sing. Going on this trip, I had four days to try and discover the tourism and reality of Austria.
The city of Mozart’s birthplace, Salzburg is a charming river city with theAlps bordering almost every inch.
Walking at night along a footbridge connecting the Old Town with the newer part of the city, the mountains, hotels and palaces all light up the water. Salzburg is one of those quiet, small and quaint European cities that Americans dream of.
Of course, Salzburg has its tourist side as well. Known as the home of The Sound of Music, people come here to see where Julie Andrews played Maria and Liesel sang “I am Sixteen, Going on 17.” There are several Sound of Music tours to choose from, and if you come during the warmer months you may find yourself on a tour bus with the masses. However, smaller private tours are also available for those who are interested.
One of these private tours led us to the small town of Hallstatt in the lake region of Austria.
Hallstatt is not featured in The Sound of Music, but in my opinion, it is much better than any of the sights that could be seen on the tour. Passing through the lake region, you see a series of huge lakes and their surrounding mountains covered with strips of hazy clouds. All are impressive, but the mountains of Hallstatt seem to envelope the little town. Standing by the lake and looking around, you feel as though you are inside the mouth of an old volcano that has since been filled with water and scattered with a few trees (although in reality, the lake was a glacier impression).
Hallstatt is small, but you can better feel the rhythm of everyday life here. Ride the ferryboat to the train for fun and meet the one man who makes the five-minute journey back and forth everyday. Eat some freshwater fish in one of the restaurants and drink hot gluhwein. Go up to the cathedral, or any of the small mountain roads to get a great view.
The best options to reach the town are through a private tour or by train (unless you have a car, of course).
Vienna was a day trip city for us; although I am sure it could be a longer stop for those who prefer a bigger city. While I will say it is beautiful, full of gorgeous architecture and monuments, I did not do enough research to visit them all. One must see though is Schloss Shonbrun: the summer residence of the Hapsburgs. The palace is gorgeous and well-worth the cost of the “Imperial Tour” ticket. If you don’t feel like seeing another royal palace, at least visit the palace’s gardens, most of which are open to the public.
Overall, there is still a lot more to learn about Austria and what makes it the country that it is. Four days is not a sufficient stay to truly know a place, but it is enough to get an idea of various ways of life and enjoy the various customs of the Austrians.