Lakes in Austria: Langbathseen.

In the heart of the Salzkammergut, a very beautiful area in Austria where you’ll find high mountains, precious salt mines, cultural heritage sites and many many lakes there. Back in May, I took a prolonged weekend to explore the Salzkammergut a bit, go on hikes and check out the local lakes. There are actually some of the most beautiful ones that you’ll ever find in Austria if you ask me: the Vorderer & Hinterer Langbathseen.

Two lakes make up one

The Langbathseen are mountain lakes in the Salzkammergut, in its Upper Austrian part right between the Traunsee and the Attersee, on the foot of the Höllengebirge (literally ‘mountains of hell’). There are two of them, and they’ve got a very creative name to distinguish them: ‘Hinterer’ and ‘Vorderer’, which translates to the one in the back and the one in the front. The surface elevation of the lakes is 664 metres and their surroundings are a nature reserve.

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Hinterer vs. Vorderer Langbathsee

 They are located in a long basin next to the limestone massif of the Höllengebirge and are both surrounded by deep green mountain forests. However, the lakes are actually quite different from each other.

The lake in the back has a darker, greener colour. The Hinterer Langbathsee lake isn’t a typical bathing water, probably because of its high biomass content aka algae.

Grey mountains and clouds at the Hinterer Langbathsee

Reflections and a fisher hut on the Hinterer Langbathsee

The Vorderer Langbathsee, the one in the front, the bigger one of the two. Its colour is lighter and its water (in terms of classification and temperatures up to 25°C) is perfect for going for a swim. It’s also rather populated with many visitors who go swimming or diving, or who sit down for a cup of coffee in the restaurant, the Langbathsee Stüberl, next to the parking lot on the shore of the lake.

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Vorderer Langbathsee

On the shores of the Vorderer Langbathsee, there’s the hunting lodge of the famous emperor of the Habsburg monarchy, Franz Joseph. In 1870 he had this lodge built there and used to say in the Salzkammergut for extended hunting trips in the surrounding mountains. The lodge is still there, and sits dreamily, almost a bit deserted in the meadow with the mountains in the back and the lake in the front. So you see that this area has been a nature paradise for quite some time. In case you’ve got some loose change, you can rent the lodge, by the way. I stumbled over this while trying to find out when it was built… In case you’re interested, check out this website. They’ve got more info on what’s inside the building etc.

hunting lodge on the shores of the langbathsee

Hiking around the lakes

The Langbathseen are perfect for very easy hiking adventures (to be honest, it’s more a leisurely Sunday stroll) as you can walk around both of the lakes on a nice gravel path. If you wanna do this, the 6.84km would take you less than 2 hours. Or you can also opt for the shorter route of 45 minutes and just turn left (or right, depending on whether you’re walking clockwise or not) at the western shore of the Vorderer Langbathsee and skip the lake in the back.

Hinterer Langbathsee

woods near the Vorderer Langbathsee

Vorderer Langbathsee

The hunting lodge

It’s even possible to take your car up to the Vorderer Langbathsee (coming from Ebensee), park there and march away. If you’re opting for the circular route, there’s this Bergfext tour that you can follow. Or if you want to be as adventurous as my boyfriend and I were, you can actually combine it with an actualy uphill hike coming from the Großalm restaurant via the Hohe Lueg mountain. This would be an additional 4km that would take you 200 metres up a mountain (981m) and 200 metres down again, then you’d surround the lakes and hike back to where you started from. So in total you’d be on the road for around 5 hours, plus breaks from time to time to take in the scenery and have some food maybe. You’d be walking a lot in the shades of the woods, so it’s also a perfect hike when the sun’s out. It’s still a fairly easy route and you won’t need very good equipment for this tour.

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Liechtensteinpark in Autumn.

A rather small park (but not as petite as the Japanese Setagayapark) in the heart of the 9th district of Vienna is the Liechtensteinpark. It is not the perfect picnic-park (stepping on the grass is forbidden), but it’s great for taking a brief exit from the stressful city life. And during autumn it’s magnificent in there! The foliage is amazing, taking a walk on a sunny autumn day is a great exercise to get your mind off things.

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A Prince of Liechtenstein acquired a garden in Vienna in the 1687 and had the grand palace built in the south of the park (Fürstengasse 9). The Palais Liechtenstein, a mix between country house and townhouse in Roman style, used to hold the art collection of the Principality of Liechtenstein which was transferred to Liechtenstein during WWII and was thus not damaged. In the years thereafter the palace was used as a museum until 2012. Now, there is still a part of the private art collection of the Prince from the early Renaissance to the High Baroque era which can be viewed as part of a guided tour. The palace can also be hired as an exclusive venue for certain events.

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At the North side of the park (Alserbachstraße 14-16) there is another grand building, a former “Belvedere” (a pavilion) erected in 1700 that was demolished and rebuilt as a garden/summer palace for the widow of a prince in the late 19th century. As far as I know it is home to various companies.

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The former baroque garden with its 5 hectares used to have many statues and vases, which were mostly sold in the 18th century, and was later transformed into a landscape garden. A part of the park is left almost untouched and there are even beehives there, so it’s a good mix between a cultivated park and wild-growing nature (I am fairly sure that it’s not 100% wild-growing, but whatever :D ).

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I live quite close to the park, so I thought I knew the ins and outs of the park, but turns out: I don’t (or didn’t). On my hunt for ivy leaves for the homemade all-natural detergent the other day I stumbled upon the wild-growing part of the park and found the beehives (my bf was like – duh, I knew about this all along *eye-roll* ). It’s always great to discover new things in your neighbourhood, if you ask me!

General information

The grounds still belong to the Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation, but this green oasis in the 9th district is open to the public during the day.

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in this park, so no dog-stalking for me :(

 

Travelling through Austria: St.Pölten.

The last one still missing on my Austrian province capitals to travel to was St.Pölten. This is only partly correct because I’ve been to a music festival in the city 3 or 4 times but this was ages ago and I never really explored the city. St. Pölten is one of those cities that hardly anyone ever really travels to for tourist reasons, and I’ve never really had a good enough reason to go there. But in order to see my friend Madlene (my Russia travel buddy) we decided to (more or less) meet half way between our homes and ended up spending a few hours in St. Pölten. I finally made it to all nine state capitals of Austria! Whoop whoop!

The city

St. Pölten is located in the northern parts of Austria, 65km west of Vienna, north of the Alps, on the Traisen river. It is the largest city and the capital of the largest state – Lower Austria. The city is the 9th biggest town in population, with only 52,700 people living there. Noteworthy though is that St. Pölten is one of the oldest official towns of Austria (which means it was given special privileges by someone in 1159) and celebrated its 850th anniversary in 2009.

St. Pölten has always been a rather sleepy village throughout history, which only changed in the late 19th century. The rapid growth & development of the Austrian Empire gave reason to extend the railway network and connect the city to Vienna. Only in 1986 was St. Pölten made capital of Lower Austria. Previously, the province was administered from Vienna but this was deemed not suitable any longer and a referendum was held in which St.Pölten was chosen as the new place to be. This also lead to the construction of the Landhaus governmental district.

The sights

Due to the size of the city there is actually not much to see or do there, but enough to spend a few hours there. The best way of exploring this small city is definitely by just walking around aimlessly and one will pass by every major sight in the end.

After arriving at the central train station we headed south and walked past the Stöhr House on Kremsergasse (the shopping lane of town, which was of course closed because of the fact that it was a Sunday). This is a Jugendstil house that was built by the same architect as the Vienna Secession building, Joseph Maria Olbrich. Stöhr derives from a local artist who was influenced by the Secession Movement. The Cathedral is one of the most prominent buildings of St Pölten. Erected on a 13th century square and associated with an Augustinian monastery, the church was actually built in the early 18th century.

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The Rathaus (Town Hall) is the official landmark of the city. The house was bought by the city in 1503 (so I guess it was erected before that date) and was at a later point refurbished with a Baroque facade but still has various architectural styles united in one building (eg. a Renaissance style tower). The Town Hall is surrounded by many other great architectural pieces and is located on a big square (the Town Hall Square, surprise surprise) with the Holy Trinity column (which can be found in every major city in Austria I guess).

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One of the brand-new parts of the town is the Landhausviertel Quarter. This is where one can find a more modern architecture, and the 67-metre high Klangturm (“Sound Tower”) throning over everything. Opened in 1996 this tower is a landmark for sound art, and home to an info center and an observation deck that is open 365 days of the year, free of charge! The view from up there is just great, one almost has a 360° view over the whole city and its surroundings. And there are super comfy wooden seats up there which are a mix of a deckchair and a rocking chair.

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Other interesting buildings in this quarter are the Landesmuseum (the local museum of Lower Austria), the Festival Hall, and the Waterpark by the river.

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The food

There weren’t that many options for us to choose from as we did not want to eat typical Austrian food, and it had to have vegetarian/vegan options. As it’s usually very common for Austrian restaurants to be closed on a Sunday (which is really absurd if you ask me) this was another fact to consider. So we ended up going to one of the only Pakistani/Indian restaurants of the city. Rajput turned out to be quite a nice stay, the place was super interesting (with something like Christmas decorations?) and the staff was super friendly. What I especially liked about this place was that one had the possibility to make every dish on the menu vegan! So many options for me to choose from! Yay! The place was packed and we were quite lucky to get a seat, so I think it’s a very popular spot for a late lunch or early dinner on a Sunday. The food was quite good and cheap as well, but to be honest I’ve had better Indian/Pakistani food before, but to their defence I eat and cook quite a lot of Indian/Pakistani food so I know my way around this cuisine.

The bottom line

Funnily enough the whole city was dead, hardly anyone was actually walking on the streets. The only things missing were howling coyotes and tumbleweed. Especially in the Landhausviertel we only saw one or two people walking around. It felt so empty and lifeless there, which was actually great for exploring everything & taking pictures of the architecture. My favourite of the town was definitely the Klangturm – I like everything with a great view (especially if it’s free!) – and the Traisen river (it’s possible to just go there and bathe in it, perfect for summer!). There’s really not a lot to do in this small city (correct me if I’m wrong!), but I’m glad that I can finally tick this city off my list.

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Travelling through Austria: Salzburg.

Salzburg. The city of the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Home to the renowned Salzburg Festival, an annual cultural event held in July and August, with music and drama and the play Jedermann (Everymann) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal as the annual highlight. A city with magnificent architecture and many great Baroque examples. The shooting location of the classic movie The Sound of Music that isn’t even that famous or popular in Austria. Apparently Salzburg is a place for everyone during every season. Despite actually liking The Sound of Music a lot, my last visit to this town was during a school visit around 10 years ago. So a while ago. At the end of summer I decided that it was time to change that. I hopped on a train and spent an afternoon in Salzburg and also met up with a friend of mine (Moscow Reunion #?).

The city

Salzburg is close to the border with Germany, and is divided by the river Salzach. The Oldtown underneath the Mönchsberg and the Hohensalzburg Fortress is located on the left side of the river, whereas the ‘New Town’ is on the right side, south of the Kapuzinerberg. With a population of around 150,000 people the city is the fourth largest one in Austria (after Vienna, Graz, and Linz). It is also the capital city of the federal province Salzburg. The city’s name derives from ‘salt castle’ and comes from the salt mining done around the city.

Salzburg actually has quite a long & rich history, reaching back to the Stone Age. Key events that made the region and city important happened during the Middle Ages, especially in the Baroque times of the 17th and 18th century when many great buildings were erected. A former independent country – a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire with Salzburg as the seat of the Archbishopric – Salzburg was annexed to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1816 because the Archbishops lost their secular power as a result of the Napoleonic wars and lost much of its economical cultural prosperity. At the end of the 19th century the city was finally able to recover, and after WW1 the famous Salzburg Festival was founded. It started to become a fashionable place to be during summer, especially because of this event. The city became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in honour of the unique baroque architecture in 1997. Besides that and being the home of Mozart and the shooting location of The Sound of Music there is a lot to discover in Salzburg – the rich art scene, the many restaurants and cafés, manicured parks, and the narrow streets with many shops and boutiques make it a wonderful place. And the many tourists that venture to this city can agree with me on that. Salzburg is Austria’s second most visited city after Vienna.

The sights

After arriving at the central train station one of the first sights that one encounters en route to the old town is the Mirabell Palace. The name derives from mirabile & bella – admirable & beautiful – and is a perfect description for the palace and its garden if you ask me. Erected in 1606 for the archbishop and his mistress as a pleasure palace, it can now be booked for weddings and is also home to municipal offices.

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The Mirabell Garden in its underlying geometric form (typical for Baroque) is perfect for taking a stroll on a warm sunny afternoon. And on all other days as well. It is one of the shooting locations of The Sound of Music movie. Sounding like a modern fairy tale but it actually happened: the story of the Trapp family. A young woman leaves a convent to become the governess to the seven children of a Naval officer widower in the 1930s. They get married (surprise surprise), found a family choir, emigrate to the US (because of the growing popularity of the Nazis in Austria) and gain international success and fame. The ‘Sound of Music’ movie portrays this story, and even won five oscars. It is loaded with stereotypes about Austrian people, and no, we (the Austrian people) don’t sing that much.

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Crossing the Salzach via the pedestrian bridge (that always reminds me of the Harry Potter Bridge – the Millenium Bridge in London – even though it has no similarity to it at all) one already gets a glimpse of the old town with its baroque buildings and of course the Hohensalzburg Castle on top of the Festungsberg. This is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and was built in the early 11th century. My friend Viktoria and I decided not to go up there and spend the afternoon in the old town instead.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and grew up in this city, visitors bump into Mozart around almost every corner of Salzburg. Almost the entire old town is a walkable Mozart museum: his birthplace, former residence, a monument, the grave of his sister and so on. In my opinion both his former residence and birthplace are rather unspectacular from the outside (I’ve never been inside though), but it’s still a tourist attraction nonetheless. The funny thing to me was that in the house of his birthplace there is now a super fancy looking supermarket that is actually just a regular one.

One of the most pompous places in Salzburg is the Residenzplatz, a large square in the historic centre. Its name derives from the residence of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. The Salzburg Cathedral, founded in 774 and rebuilt in the 12th c., is located in the south and the Alte Reisdenz in the west. There is also the Neue Residenz with a bell tower, a Renaissance building that was erected in the 16th century. Also around the corner is the rather prominent statue of a huge gold ball on top of which a man is standing. This is part of an art installation – the Sphaera – by the German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol.

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The food & sweets

A restaurant chain that was founded in Salzburg is my Indigo. They offer food that is healthy, versatile and perfect for those that do not have that much time to eat but still want to grab something healthy for lunch or dinner. Sushi, salads, curries, and soups are on their menu. Many of their dishes are either vegetarian or vegan, and they also have a lot of gluten-free options as well. I went for a vegan curry (low carb option – so with more veggies and no rice or couscous) and it was truly delicious. Feel good food for everyone. The restaurant that we went to is located near Staatsbrücke on Rudolfskai, and is open Mo–Sa 11:00–23:00 & So 12:00–21:00.

The go-to souvenir and typical confectionary of Austria – the Mozartkugel – has its origin in Salzburg. The small round confection made of pistachio marzipan, nougat, and dark chocolate was first created by the Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst in 1890, then known as Mozart-Bonbon. Fürst’s descendants still manufacture this confectionary and sell it in their bakery in the heart of the old town. For 1.30€ per piece one can buy one of those and go into Mozart-heaven. Even if one doesn’t like marzipan (I don’t) one should definitely try them at least once.

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A coffee and a piece of cake is a must in a city like Salzburg. The Café Fingerlos is a great place for doing that. It’s a very typical and rather traditional coffee house (actually it’s a patisserie and confectionary) that also offers breakfast and lunch. They have a great assortment of cakes that look really exquisite which makes it the perfect location for a person with a sweet tooth like me. Oh, and they even have a vegan cake of the day, so of course I had to try this one with a cup of good old-fashioned ‘Verlängerter’ (a typical Austrian coffee – espresso prepared with double amount of water).

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The bottom line

Unfortunately, Salzburg faces a similar problem as Prague, Venice, Barcelona and many other places do. Like them, Salzburg has too many tourists and no added value is created for the city (because of the types of tourists coming to the city and the way they consume hardly anything to nothing). The city reports many traffic jams and most of the parking lots are occupied because of the hoards of tourists coming to the city. Many tourists are brought to the city via organised bus tours and only spend 2-3 hours in the city and don’t consume much but still overcrowd the historic old town. Many of the locals avoid going to this place at certain points of the day because of the many tourists. (read more about the problem here)

This should in no way discourage you from visiting this beautiful city though. However, I must admit that this was also a reason for me why I haven’t visited this city in such a long time: everyone’s always talking about the hoard of tourists roaming the city, making it less enjoyable. Nevertheless, I like the city, especially because of its wonderful architecture. I’d never want to live there though, but for a day visit it’s a great place. And you should pick a weekday and not a weekend to visit, there are definitely less people there. Oh, and it helps if it’s a rather gloomy day :)

Here’s my favourite Sound of Music song. I couldn’t withhold it from you. A great end to a blogpost, don’t you think? Enjoy. ;)

 

 

 

Hiking in Vienna.

Hiking is a very popular sport among Austrians, and the many hills and mountains in Austria are truly inviting. Even in the capital city hiking has a long standing tradition – many are drawn to the numerous Heurige (wine taverns), the Vienna Woods, and the vineyards that can be found in the outskirts of Vienna. In recent years it seems it has become even more popular, especially among the young generation. Needless to say, hiking was on my summer to-do list for 2017.

The city – to be more precise: the Forestry Office – has laid out eleven city hiking paths called ‘Stadtwanderweg’ that lead around the outer corners of the city through beautiful scenery and with great viewing platforms. They are all properly kept, well signposted, and accessible by public transport. There are also many picnic tables, benches, and playgrounds along the paths. People who manage to collect stamps at official stamping points along the hiking paths will even be rewarded with pins and certificates that recognise their efforts: a silver pin for 3 stamps, a golden pin for 7+ stamps. Too bad that we only found out about this after our hike, or else we would have gotten 2 pins already.

So on a mild Sunday after a rainy Saturday in August my boyfriend and I wanted to check out some of the best viewpoints over the city and decided to hike across the three hills in the north of Vienna: Leopoldsberg (425m), Kahlenberg (484m), and Hermannskogel (542m). A total of 13 kilometres, fairly easy, well-signposted (nowadays with Google Maps this is no must anymore), and the start & endpoints are easy to reach via public transport – perfect for a person who hasn’t been on a proper hike in years!

We loosely followed a suggested route, a mix of the Stadtwanderweg 1a until Kahlenberg, and later Stadtwanderweg 2. We started our tour in Nußdorf where we walked along the Danube for the first part, and then headed up the steep paved passage with a 300m altitude difference to reach the Leopoldsberg. This was definitely the toughest part, but luckily we already had a great view over the vineyards, the Danube, and parts of Vienna on our way up the hill. On top of the Leopoldsberg there is a church dedicated to St Leopold that was built in 1679 which is already clearly visible from Vienna.

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The view from up there was great – we saw parts of Lower Austria, Floridsdorf (a district of Vienna), Vienna itself, and the vineyards that lie in the north of Vienna.

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We then continued on our way to the Kahlenberg where we met hundreds of tourists on a terrace, taking selfies with the scenic view over Vienna in their backgrounds. This lead to only a brief stop to take in the view – way too many people for our taste! We could definitely see that day that the Kahlenberg is one of the most popular destinations because of the view over the entire city and even parts of lower Austria. The 165m steel tower serving as a transmitter for the Austrian Broadcast Corporation, a private university, and the Stefaniewarte, an observation tower erected in 1887, are also located on the peak of the hill.

Interesting to know: the Leopoldsberg used to have the name Kahlenberg because of the bare rocky slope down to the Danube and was later given the name Leopoldsberg after the emperor Leopold in 1693. Whereas the now-called Kahlenberg was first called Sauberg (sow mountain or pig mountain) because of the many wild pigs roaming the forests and then Josephsberg (Joseph’s Mountain) after an emperor in 1628. Only after changing the original Kahlenberg into Leopoldsberg did the now-Kahlenberg receive its final name.

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From there we first walked along the Höhenstraße but soon came to a non-paved path through the forest. It was the most quiet part of our walk, we encountered less tourists and casual walkers there. We then reached the highest natural point of Vienna – the Hermannskogel atop of which the Habsburgwarte is standing. This 27 metre tall observation tower was erected for the Habsburg emperor in 1889. In 1892 the tower was specified as kilometre zero in cartographic measurements which was used in Austria-Hungary until 1918. The lookout tower is open for the public for a small entrance fee on weekends during summer. Luckily the sun was shining and most of the clouds were already gone, so the view was great from up there!

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We then started our ‘descent’ in order to get back home, but made a quick coffee break at the restaurant “Grüass di a Gott Wirt” which was quite funny because this place had chicken and a rooster running around in the outdoor seating area, not minding all the people sitting there. A true countryside feeling I must say! The final kilometres took us through a forest and past some other beautiful vineyards with a view over the outskirts of Vienna.

The hike was fairly easy, but the first part was quite tough. It is definitely not suited for strollers or wheelcharis because of the steps on the Nasenweg (the steep part at the beginning). However, hiking boots are not a must, but solid footwear is definitely recommended. We walked for around 5 hours, but had many breaks to enjoy the view, look at the nature, eat our lunch, go up the observation tower, or have a coffee. The Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg are both reachable via public transport (Bus 38A), so if you ever want to enjoy the view but don’t want to hike or don’t have the time for doing so – that’s a great option as well.

The Pfänder mountain.

The Pfänder is the local mountain close to the Lake Constance and situated next to the small town Bregenz in Austria. With the highest point of 1,064 metres the mountain offers a unique panorama of the nearby Lake and its three surrounding countries Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. A total of 240 Alpine peaks can be seen on a day with good visibility, making the Pfänder a great lookout point of the region.

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For those who are keen on sports or need some diversion from their sightseeing tour in the city, hiking or biking up the mountain is a very attractive option. There are various well sign-posted networks of walks taking one up to the top from within a short amount of time or an all-day hike.

However, for those who do not want the exercise or simply do not have the time for that, there is another great option available: the Pfänderbahn! This spacious panorama cable car takes visitors from the base station in Bregenz near the harbour up to the summit in just 6 minutes. It is open daily from 8:00-19:00 on the full and half hour, or every 15 minutes if there are more visitors. A single ticket for adults is €7.40, and a return ticket €12.70.

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Apart from the great panoramic view one has over Bregenz, the Lake Constance, and the surrounding alps, there are three restaurants, a souvenir shop, and a small Alpine wildlife park up there. Right next to the cable car station there is a small stall with a variety of fruit gums and other sweets which reminded me so much of the times when buying sweets like that was relatively common in Austria.

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From up there one can spot the small city Lindau which is situated on an island on the Lake Constance. Right after taking the cable car up the Pfänder, my friend and I actually took a train to visit the small city to spend the rest of the day there.

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Taking the cable car up the hill was a great idea to get another perspective of Bregenz and its surrounding. We went there at around 10am, so the cable car was almost empty when we took it. Unfortunately, the sight was not the best, it was a bit foggy and the sky was full of clouds. After a while though the sun finally came through, and we could enjoy the view and had our breakfast up there before continuing our journey.

Travelling through Austria: Innsbruck.

Is there any better place to go in summer when there are temperatures over 35°C than to the capital of the alps? To skip the scorching heat of Vienna, my friend and I decided to head to Austria’s western border, and on our way back make a short and less than 24h-stop in the beautiful capital of Tyrol: Innsbruck.

Although many of the tourists are drawn to the city or region because of all the sport activities one can do there and the Bergisel Sprungschanze Stadion, Innsbruck offers a range of cultural activities too, with many museums, theatres, old buildings and monuments. Or for those who are interested in a staircase adorned with 20,000 crystals (and much more other interesting things there I hope?!) – the Swarovski Kristallwelten are there as well… So Innsbruck is truly a unique mix – a place where the alps meet the valley, and where the city is one with nature, with attractions between 574 and 2,350 metres above sea level.

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The city

Innsbruck is with over 130,000 people the biggest town of West-Austria and the fifth-largest city of Austria. The name translates into ‘Inn Bridge’, as the city is located in the Inn valley, not far from the German and the Italian border, engulfed by the alps. It is a perfect location for doing all sorts of sports: a hub for winter sports such as skiing, ski touring, or ice skating (hosted the Winter Olympics in ’64 and ’76) but also interesting for summer sports such as hiking, climbing, biking, or water sports.

Traces of first inhabitation in this area date back to the Stone Age, and Romans established an army station there. During the Middle Ages it quickly became a transportation hub because of its prime location near the Brenner Pass, the easiest route over the alps. A market was erected in the 12th century (where the Old Town is today) and the revenues generated by the transit helped the city to flourish. Innsbruck soon became the capital of Tyrol and was briefly the residence of a Habsburg emperor. During WW2 it was heavily bombed, but the thriving tourism industry and the economy lead to a rather quick reconstruction of the city.

The historic Old Town brings one back to the late Middle Ages – with arcades constructed in the typical Innsbruck-Salzach style, late Gothic façades built around 1500, with colourfully decorated bay windows. However, the glory of the Old Town and the landmark of the city is definitely the Golden Roof (which can also be seen by the tourist masses standing in front of it) – a roof of an alcove balcony added to the “Neuhof” building around 1500. It is decorated by 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles, all still original apparently. Only 50 years older than the Golden Roof is the City Tower close to it. With 51 metres tall it was quite an impressive building in the late Middle Ages and a proud symbol of the city. Other imposing buildings of the town are the Triumphal Arch which was erected in 1765, on the occasion of the marriage of Empress Maria Theresa’s son to someone from Spain, and the Cathedral of St.James which dates back to 1180.

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City Tower

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Innsbruck Cathedral

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Triumphal arch

 

The Alps

A visitor of Innsbruck cannot walk through the city without noticing the impressive alps that more or less surround the city – the Karwendel Alps (2,334m) in the north, the Patscherkofel (2,246m) and Serles (2,718) to the south.

The Nordkette – North Chain – (obviously, in the north, where else?!) is part of Austria’s largest nature park Karwendel Nature Park. This mountain is not only interesting for sport enthusiast who want to hike or bike up or down there – it’s for everyone who wants to enjoy the breathtaking and unique panorama of the city and mountains.

The Nordkette can be reached directly from the city centre by a funicular and subsequently a cable car. Visitors can take the funicular from the city centre up to the Hungerburg in just 8 minutes to get a first impression over the city. From there a cable car takes one up to the Seegrube at an altitude of 2,000 metres in less than 15 minutes. Another cable car continues 300 metres higher to the Hafelakar where one can take a short walk to reach the top of the mountain. So one can take the whole journey from the city to the top of the mountain without doing any real hiking! This is especially interesting for people who do not have enough time for the hike and/or do not have the necessary equipment (or shoes!) to successfully do so. My friend and I were definitely one of those people. And once (almost!) on top of the mountain we could not miss the occasion and just had to drink a Schnapps before making the descent (with the cable car). That’s just how you do it in Austria. That’s a vital part of the experience! ;)

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Cable car on its way to the Seegrube

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see the little house on the mountain? that’s the last station to reach the Hafelakar

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Somewhere over there in the south is Italy. Supposedly.

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The Food

Our Airbnb host was so kind to give us a view recommendations for places where we could enjoy really good food at a reasonable price. One of her recommendations was Machete – Burrito Kartell in (or near?) the university district of the city. As they say themselves – they specialise on the really important things in life: Burritos. But they do not only serve a delicious self-assembled burrito, they also serve a mean Moscow Mule (and various other types of cocktails). So it is not only a restaurant, but also something like a hip, trendy bar at night. The interior is very peculiar, very trendy, and it might not be the biggest place one can find in the city, it is definitely very cosy inside! Open Tuesday – Sunday, kitchen is working 11:30 – 22:00. For the exact opening hours check out their website ;)

The second restaurant that I can recommend is Ludwig. It is actually a burger restaurant, but they also serve a great breakfast. We actually stumbled upon it when we walked around during the evening and saw many happy customers. Only coincidentally did we end up there for breakfast the next morning, but lucky us! The vegan options were clearly marked on the menu, and they also focus on getting high quality produce from local companies. My friend and I were really surprised by their portion sizes – usually when having breakfast at a hip and trendy place one normally gets to taste only a small bit of deliciousness for an outrageous price. But this is not the case at Ludwig’s – portions were actually too big for us, so breakfast turned into brunch, and this for a very good price :D They serve breakfast Monday – Saturday from 9:00 – 11:00.

The bottom line

The capital of the alps is great for a little summer adventure, as the temperatures are perfect in my opinion – it’s not too hot but also not too cold. It is great that one has the possibility to enjoy all sides of the city – the culture plus the alps – within just 24 hours. I wish I had more time there so I could do some hiking and enjoy the nature even more, but maybe I will have the time and come back next year? Let’s hope for the best ;)

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A day in Graz.

So far I haven’t been able to enjoy summer to its fullest like I was able to do last year with my many travel adventures in July. However, I have valid reasons for being stuck at one or two places at the moment – I was rather busy with moving apartments (don’t get me started with the organisational matters that come with that!) plus we got an addition to our family at the end of June (I’m an auntie!). Nevertheless, I managed to squeeze in a day trip to Graz. It was actually an overnight trip but I spent less than 24 hours there.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria (over 320,000 inhabitants) and capital of the state Styria. With a total of 6 universities and 2 colleges and over 50,000 students Graz is truly a student city. The city combines the old and new: home to the apparently biggest medieval historic city centre in Europe, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, that bears witness to over 850 years of architecture with houses such as the Landhaus or the Schloss Eggenberg, which is in contrast but perfect harmony with state-of-the-art works of buildings such as the Kunsthaus Graz or the MUMUTH.

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City Hall

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Food

Graz has fairly good options for vegetarians, and also some for vegans. On our first evening we stumbled upon the Café Erde – a place that ‘makes people happy with vegan delicious food’. And this slogan is not an exaggeration I must say! During the day they serve a daily changing menu with soup and a dish of the day for €8.40, and in the evening you can order á la carte with dishes like salads, wraps, burgers, or Schnitzel, with prices between €5.90 & €8.40. I’d have preferred to go there for lunch as the menu was more appealing to me (a bit more creative in my opinion), but the Cheese Burger was delicious too! And the banana chocolate cake (and whatever else that was in there) was the perfect treat for the day!

The main reason for me going to Graz in the first place was to meet friends and have brunch on Sunday. The Café Mitte might be a bit expensive, and the self-service system is not speaking for the relatively high prices, but the brunch buffet that they have is really good and there are many options one can choose from, for only €13,90! As I just came to Graz for meeting those friends I did not want to take any pictures during our meeting, so you would need to go there yourself and see all the delicious food you can get for brunch! ;) The interior of the restaurant is really hip and trendy, and they also have tables right in front of the restaurant, so it’s a great place for brunch. I think many others who were there that day would agree with me on that as there was no single empty table while we had brunch there (and I think this is often a sign for a good place, right?).

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Schlossbergbahn Funicular

A definite must on my trip to Graz was taking the Schlossbergbahn – a funicular that takes you from the city up the castle hill where you have a beautiful view over Graz. Since 1894 the Schlossbergbahn funicular has been bringing people up the hill. It only takes a few minutes but with the glass roof of the funicular one has a great view over the historic centre of the city.

If you want a one-way trip up the hill it would cost you €2.20, but the public transport tickets for zone 1 are also valid on the funicular, so we could do it ‘for free’. The funicular runs up the hill every 15 minutes and operates on a daily basis from 10:00 to at least 22:00 (til 24:00 during the week and on Fridays and Saturdays til 02:00).

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Schlossberg & the Clock Tower

The Schlossberg – the castle hill – of Graz is a recreation area and vantage point. It only takes a short time to climb the hill and have a great view of Graz and the city surroundings. A castle was built on this hill a thousand years ago, giving the city its name as the Slavonic word ‘Gradec’ for little castle transformed into Graz. No one could ever take this fortress; however, Napoleon (who was also unable to do so) defeated the Habsburgs and demanded the demolition of the fortress. A great amount of money was paid to the conquerer to prevent the demolition of the Clock Tower.

High up on the hill (but not even on the highest point) the fortified medieval Clock Tower is still standing. It got its present shape around 1560. The hands on the clock often confuse people as it’s not a regular clock. Originally there were only the long hands for the hours which could be seen from the distance, and the hands for the minutes were added later, causing a ‘swapping’ of the hands. Near the Clock Tower there is a beautiful garden with a splendour of flowers, plants and benches so people could relax and enjoy the wonderful view.

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As my boyfriend and I were staying overnight in Graz, we climbed the Schlossberg hill in the evening so I could see Graz by night from up there. It was really busy up there, quite a lot of people had the same plans as we did, but we still had a great view and enjoyed the atmosphere up there.

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Graz actually has a lot to offer despite the fact that it’s rather small. A few years ago I thought otherwise but only because I have never really seen much of the city or really done anything interesting there. However, after spending a few days there every year over the past couple of years I realised that Graz is a charming city after all and I like coming back once in a while.

Japanese Garden in Vienna: Setagayapark.

In the heart of the Vienna’s 19th district lies something beautiful and extraordinary, a park in a design that is not typical for this region. Setagayapark – a japanese-style garden situated in Döbling, Vienna.

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The 4,000m² garden was built according to plans of Japanese garden planner Ken Nakajima. The name Setagaya derives from one of the 23 districts of Tokyo. Setagaya and Döbling have a twinning arrangement, a cultural and friendship agreement. Because of that the idea emerged to create a park that represents Japanese landscapes and culture in the middle of Austria’s capital.

There are a lot of symbols in the garden that one usually thinks of when talking about a Japanese garden: trees with pink blossoms, water running over cascades, a pond with fish, and of course a typical tea house.

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The park is situated near (or on) the Hohe Warte, a hill in one of the northernmost Viennese districts, Döbling. It is very easy to reach with public transport, but it is not really in the city centre – so if you ever want to journey there, it takes some time to get there. I assume that in spring – during (cherry) blossom time – one can see the park from its best side.

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These were definitely my favourite blossoms in the entire park – so pink and so huge! But I have to be honest – I have no idea what tree this one was, I am not really a tree / plant expert I must say. So if anyone could help me out on that one – please share your information with me ;)

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Even though there were quite a lot of people there it was really calm in the park. There were even a few photo shoots happening there. From couple’s pictures to real advertising shoots or even cosplay shootings – the park seems to be perfect for that during spring. Because of all the small lanes, hidden places, lots of trees and benches, you really do not feel overcrowded. It is a nice place to enjoy the nature, listen to chirping birds, or watch the fish and turtles in the pond.

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Lakes in Austria: Lake Neusiedl.

Quite a lot of (Austrian) people sneer at Austria’s biggest lake – lake Neusiedl.’The lake is dirty, it is not very deep. Not a real lake.’ At least I sometimes have the feeling that they do ;) Nevertheless, I still kinda like it there and find it charming. After many years since my last trip to it I wanted to revisit it. So I grasped at an opportunity to go there to have breakfast and enjoy the view before returning to Vienna.

The Lake

The Lake Neusiedl is located in the East of Austria, in the state of Burgenland. The Neusiedlersee (how we call it in German) is with 315 kmthe largest ‘endorheic’ lake in Central Europe, which means it retains the water within the lake and there are not outflowing rivers. The Neusiedlersee lies both in Austria and Hungary, and it is also the largest lake that we have in Austria (Austrian’s share of the Lake Constance is very small in comparison to the part of the Neusiedlersee that is within the Austrian border). With around 1.5 metres deep, the lake Neusiedl is also the most westerly steppe lake in Eurasia. Reeds predominantly cover the surface of the lake, and with its mild climate the area is perfect for plants and animals to flourish.

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In December 2001, the cross-border ‘Ferto/Neusiedler See Cultural Landscape’ was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list, so the surroundings and the lake were recognised for its ‘universal value’. Near the lake there are many vineyards one can visit, the lake and its surrounding are perfect for water enthusiasts, cyclers, bird watchers and nature lovers. And in winter there are some activities you can do on the ice as well, for example ice skating, which seemed to be a very popular activity last winter.

Quite some time ago (I think it was in 2008) I even got a boating certificate at the lake Neusiedl in the course of a school trip. So when I was a bit younger I spent a nice week doing lots of sports and enjoying a vineyard tour at and near the lake. I even swam in there once, but due to the shallow water I would not recommend doing it again :D

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Neusiedl and Mole West

Coming from Vienna we decided to drive to one of the nearest towns next to the lake so we opted for ‘Neusiedl am See’, a town with around 7,800 inhabitants. It is located on the northern shore of the lake. We only drove through the town, passing all the cute colourful buildings on the main street, and went straight to the lake. After doing some research the day before we ended up at the Mole West, a very nice looking café/restaurant right on (or next to?) the lake. The place is very modern, with a lot of glass, teak and steel. We were lucky and got a table right next to the huge glass wall so we could truly enjoy the beautiful view over the lake while eating our breakfast. It was very delicious yet slightly overpriced but I guess the prime location and the view increase the price of the food.

During spring and summer it is open daily fro 9AM – 24:00, and you can enjoy your drinks and food outside on a terrace overlooking the waterfront. This calls for a revisit sometime when it is really warm outside, right?!

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Despite only spending one morning there back in February when the lake was still partially frozen and the day was rather dark and gloomy, it was beautiful and very calming. I have managed to go to the lake during spring, summer and now winter, to see the lake during different times from different angles. Admittedly, the lake does not have the purest, bluest water possible, it is rather dark and dirty, but personally, I think you don’t need that in every lake. There are no mountains nearby, the lake has such an ‘endless’ feeling to it. I loved it there and will for sure go there once again in the future.