Thursday, February 28, 2013

...With The Sound Of Music - Austria

On to Salzburg! Salzburg means "Salt Fortress". The city of Salzburg sits at the northern boundary of the Alps. Salzburg's skyline is dominated by the Festung Hohensalzburg, or literally the High Salzburg Fortress, with spires rising in the foreground and green snow capped alpine mountains as the backdrop.

The Festung Hohensalzburg is a castle that began in 1077 with just a small tower and square around it. When Salzburg was under control of the Holy Roman Empire the Archbishops expanded the castle. It was kind of like the cutting of a tree. There were rings and courtyards, the newest being on the outside while the oldest structures were hidden deep inside. We parked several kilometers away and got a good workout climbing up this hill - "Climb Ev'ry Mountain. Search high and low..."  And so on.

Once we reached the top we were rewarded with a sweeping 360 degree view that showcased the mountains behind the castle and the rolling hills and Salzach River in front.

These are some of the hills that Maria claimed were "alive". 

Salzburg Altstadt (Old Town).

The Festung Hohensalzburg was interesting. We went on the tour and pondered what it would have been like to have been a prisoner at the fortress/castle. It was used as recently as World War I to hold Italians and Nazis. Of course, the Nazis were held here before they came to power in Germany and before the start of the Anschluß which was the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich. Maybe they should have just kept those Nazis locked up in here. Could have saved everyone a whole lot of trouble.

There is no escape. 

Luckily for us there has been a funicular railway installed that takes you up and down the large glacial hill that the fortress sits on. Much easier on the knees.

As you walk around Salzburg you can't turn around without bumping into something that says "Sound Of Music This!" or "Mozart That!"

My children as the Von Trapp family marionettes.

Salzburg was still decorated for Christmas and quite cold. But we managed to find comfort in giant Bavarian-style pretzels sold on the streets.

Everywhere you look you see these boxes of pistachio flavored chocolates called Mozartkugel

Poor Mozart. He was a musical prodigy and now they use his likeness to sell green chocolate.

My two oldest children have played the violin for years so they had quite a bit of interest in seeing Mozarts Geburtshaus or Mozart's birth house/place.

I wonder if Mozart's parents got the idea for his name from what it said on the front of their house. Hmm...

Inside his house we saw the room where he was born (1756), where he slept, where he grew up, and most importantly, where he played the violin. Mozart lived in Salzburg and was a court musician. He grew restless and at the age of 25 he travelled to Vienna where he achieved fame, but no financial security. He died a mysterious death in 1791 at the age only 35. He was survived by his wife and two children. During his life he composed over 600 musical works. 

The street behind the Mozart house was built right into the rock hill that juts out in the middle of the city. 

These buildings on this whole street were built in 1408. That is 84 years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And this part isn't even the Altstadt. This is where they built because they had run out of room. This is the extension of the city. They sure knew how to build things that last.

After the Mozart stuff, we had to do The Sound Of Music stuff.

The Sound Of Music is a Broadway production that was adapted to a 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Wayward nun Maria becomes a governess for a ornery military man and his seven children. And through the power of song she convinces the children and the father, in that order, that she is wonderful and her carefree attitude about life is great. The Nazis then show up in town (should have kept them locked up) and things change. The father doesn't want to work for the Nazis so the family escapes and hikes over the Alps into Switzerland. I've seen those mountains and I really can't see anyone hiking over them in nothing but lederhosen. Of course, things might be different if you are being chased by Nazis. I heard from first hand accounts that they weren't very nice.

There are many tours throughout the city that you can take where you ride a bus all around Salzburg with the soundtrack to the movie blaring out speakers. We did a do-it-yourself tour.

Here I am kissing Matt at the gazebo where Liesl kisses traitorous Rolf. What kind of a name is Rolf anyway? Sounds like someone throwing up. "I'm Rolfing."

The gazebo used to be located on the grounds of Leopoldskron, a palace that was used for the shot for the imposing Von Trapp home in the movie. The gazebo was moved to the the Schloss Hellbrunn because so many trespassers came to see it. The grounds where the gazebo is now located are quite beautiful.

Next we were off to the Mirabell gardens.

Schloss Mirabell is a palace in downtown Salzburg where in the movie the children dance around the Pegasus fountain and up and down stairs.

Because it was winter, they had the steps that they use in the movie chained off. So all we could do was stand by them and sing, "Do, a deer, a female deer. Ra, a drop of golden sunnnn!"

Mirabell Gardens. Made me wish I had an absent mother and authoritative father and a governess who had a penchant for making pinafores out of green curtains, because nobody can belt from their lungs in public "So, a needle pulling thread! La, a note to follow so! Te, a drink with jam and bread!" like I can. A point proven while walking around these paths. My kids got really tired of it.

"That will bring us back to Do!"

Andre is saying here, "Mom, if you sing that one more time I'm going to bring this stone dog back to life and ride him out of here."

I had one stop left and that was the Silent Night Church. The Christmas carol Silent Night or Stille Nacht in German was composed in 1816 in the village of Oberndorf. A flood destroyed the original church in the early 1900's, but a memorial chapel, the Stille Nacht Gednächtniskapelle was built in it's place.

We sang a little a capella Silent Night in the chapel. 

We had had a great time in and around Salzburg. We had walked miles and had been cold and had had great food and seen beautiful things. It was time to go home.

Auf Wiedersehen, Salzburg (I wonder if that's what the Nazis said when they let them out).

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Hills Are Alive... - Austria

Every time I mentioned to someone that we were going to Austria or that we had gone to Austria, they responded with "The hillllls are aliiiiive, with the Sound of Muuuuuusic." 

So if you must, do it now. "With the songs they have suuuung for a thousand years!"

Do you have it out of your system yet?

We decided to travel to Austria only a few days before the New Year's holiday Matt had off from from work. When we searched the internet for somewhere to stay near Salzburg, Austria we came up empty handed. Matt went to the local ADAC office (ADAC is a German company similiar to AAA but with more benefits) and they had listings of places. We found a guesthouse in the tiny town of Oberhofen am Irrsee which lies in the hills of the Austrian Alps. 

This is the lake of Irrsee near where we stayed. Not a bad view, huh?

Getting there was a bit of a challenge. As we drove on the small highway that ran through the middle of town, we could not seem to find the guesthouse. It often seems here in Europe that the GPS will take you in the vicinity of the address, but not right to it. We found a restaurant and Matt went in to ask for directions. A sweet Austrian man explained to Matt how to get there, but then decided he wouldn't let us just drive around Austria in the dark. He got in his car and led us there himself. How is that for kindness?

The guesthouse was run by a little, old Austrian woman in her mid-70's who was born and raised in that house and then went on to get married and raise her four children there. She didn't speak one word of English other than hello. Luckily Matt was able to talk to her. I loved her German with her soft lilting Austrian accent. Every morning she made us an Austrian breakfast which consisted of fresh baked rolls, jam, soft cheese, tomatoes, and cured meats. She made the kids hot chocolate, but it was out of European milk. European milk is very different from American milk. It doesn't need refrigeration and has a shelf life of 4-5 months. We just can't bring ourselves to drink it yet. 

Our youngest was a bit shy around her and would lean in to whisper things to us. She then said to my husband in German to tell us not to bother to whisper because she couldn't understand one thing we said. We did, however, succeed in teaching her "Good Morning" and she said it to us no matter what time of day it was. 

Our sweet Austrian proprietor suggested we visit the nearby town of St. Gilgen. Oberhofen am Irrsee is in hilly terrain, but St. Gilgen is up in the mountains. 

This area of Austria is called the Salzkammergut which means "Estate of the Salt Chamber". This area is full of breath-taking beauty. Tall alpine mountains surrounded by crystal clear lakes. 

Here you can ski and sled in the winter, and hike, swim, and water ski in the summer. The snow levels were low for this time of year but we didn't mind. We enjoyed the blue skies and crisp mountain air. Beautiful St. Gilgen.

Across the lake you can see our next destination. St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut. 

The town of St. Wolfgang is built in the typical Bavarian-style common for the region. It was still decorated for Christmas and the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) was bustling with activity.

They even had a life-size Nativity.

A Nativity complete with characters in typical Bavarian dress there to witness the birth of Christ.

After standing around in the snow, I decided that my sock-wear choices were not going to be adequate and we made a quick stop off at the local sock shop for some wool socks that were much warmer.

We found a little open-air pretzel stand that sold the most delicious pretzels. She had cinnamon and sugar covered pretzels, and cheese covered pretzels, and almond glaze covered pretzels. We only went back two more times.

As we walked around, Alexander started to narrow his eyes and exclaimed, "Hey, Austria is just like Germany. They speak German, the food is German. These are just a bunch of Germans." 

He had a good point.

It did look a lot like Germany. Austria in German is Österreich which means eastern kingdom. This area of Austria declared their independence from the duchy of Bavaria in the late 14th century. The region then bounced back and forth between Bavaria and Austria  three times and then Germany and Austria until 1955 when the United States declared this area part of Austria.  

I can see why they all wanted a piece of it. It is gorgeous.

This little town even had swans swimming in the lake. Swans are everywhere in Europe. I think they have been planted there to make it seem more storybook like. It's all for the tourists.

We walked around the Weihnachtsmarkt and got our kinderpunsch. Ashlenne had to have a hat that said AUSTRIA on it. 

All you can see is the S, T, and part of the R because AUSTRIA wraps all around her head.

The sun was out, the kinderpunsch was warm, but we still got cold.

Lucky for us there were fire-pits scattered through the main streets where you could take a minute, or two minutes, or 15, to warm up. 

We stopped for some apfelstrudel or apple strudel. 

Strudel is actually an Austrian, not German, cuisine. All thanks to those Habsburgs who made it popular back in the 1700's. You can now find it throughout the former Austro-Hungarian empire which is basically half of Europe.

After walking around St. Wolfgang all day surrounded by these mountains, Matt and I could take it no more. We loaded up the kids and started driving to the outskirts of town. We followed the road up and up some more until the pavement ended and it turned to dirt. After about five kilometers it got too narrow for our Volvo to drive on, so we got out and hiked. 

We saw things like this.

And this.

We finally decided to halt our upward ascent because it was getting dark. And because we passed a marker that memorialized someone's death right there on the road 15 years earlier. When we turned around and hiked back to our car, we got to see this.

And so we checked off another little corner of the world.

To see where we were, click the location link St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, Austria in the white bar below for the Google map.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Heidelberg Hills

Our quaint, little town of Heidelberg is situated in the Odenwald on the banks of the Neckar river. The Odenwald (pronounced oden-vald) are low mountains that run north-south on the east flank of the Rhine river valley. I would actually call the Odenwald "hills" rather than "mountains". I grew up around "mountains" and I tell you what, the Odenwald ain't no mountains. But far be it for me to take away the claim of some hills that overstretch their reach for mountains. Mountains they say they are, so mountains they will be. Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination due to the Heidelberg  Castle that sits on the hill, I mean mountain, over looking the baroque style Altstadt or in English, old town. 

Here is a view of Heidelberg from the Königsstuhl mountain. That is the Neckar River flowing through the middle.

Evidence of the earliest human life in Europe was discovered here with the uncovering of the remains of a man dated over 200,000 years old. That's one old Heidelberger.

The Heidelberger Schloss or Heidelberg Castle is considered one of the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. It's earliest section was built in 1214. Most of the castle is in ruins now due to multiple attacks and lightning strikes. The majority of the damage was done in 1689 by the French when they blew up the towers and walls with gunpowder. Le Boom!

Heidelberg is a very hip (for lack of a better word) place. Heidelberg University, the oldest university in Germany, is here and there is definitely a young vibe about town. There are many concert and party posters plastered on signs and poles.

This church with the green spires is Peterskirche or St. Peter's Church located in the Old Town.

Heidelberg can mean 'Mountain of Saints' or 'Mountain of Blueberries'. Either one. You choose.

The US Army is leaving Heidelberg (and us with it) and moving it's operations to Wiesbaden which is 100 kilometers north. The Army has been here since 1945 and has helped shape the city that Heidelberg has become after WWII. Most of the Germans I've spoken with are really sad to see the Americans go. Who will they speak English with now?

This picture was taken up in the hills, I mean mountains, above Heidelberg looking down into the town of Neckargemund. We have some friends that live there and every time we visit I am green with envy.

This is the view from their patio. I mean really, is this fair? 

Pastures with grazing cows and farms that grow their own produce dot this quiet area. It's a tranquil place to visit. It makes everyone happy to go on a drive up into the hills mountains.

Smiling faces all around. Just take a look. Thank you, Heidelberg. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Autobahn Alps - Switzerland

We passed through the Italian and Swiss Alps on our way home from Italy. We did nothing more than stop at the McDonald's for food and fill our tank with some Swiss gas, but I still felt the need to take pictures. These are the Alps that you will see if you drive from Como, Italy to Basel, Switzerland.

This is right outside Como, Italy crossing over into Lugano, Switzerland.

And the Alps begin.

Pause for a little science here. The Alps are a crescent shaped mountain range in Central Europe. They stretch from the Mediterranean Sea north then curve east separating Switzerland and Italy and defining the eastern half of Austria.

The Alps were created when the African plate collided with the Eurasian plate causing all this uplift which is still happening today. The Alps are getting taller every year.

And we climb higher and higher. Notice the appearance of snow?

We switched back around and around.

During the three hour drive through Switzerland I kept begging my husband to pull over and let me get out and take pictures. After taking the picture I would stand there and stare (on the side of the autobahn) and gape in wonder. 

 Oceans are for some, rivers for others. Mountains are for me. Mountains are my holy place. 

I was born and raised at the foot of 11,000 foot mountains. Every morning I would wake up to watch the sun peak out from behind Lone Peak.

And every evening I would sigh as the sun slipped behind the Oquirrhs. 

I hiked in them. Skied in them. Escaped to them.

During this whole drive my feet ached. Not from walking in Italy, but from desire to discover what was around the peaks and valleys I couldn't see from the car.

I guess that just means I will have to go back. 


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