Like Germany, we visited Austria in chunks. We spent a few days in Vienna before heading to Budapest, then we turned right around and stopped in Salzburg for a couple of days. I’ve been to Vienna before, but my experience in Austria was completely different than the last one I had. Last time I was in Austria, it was two years ago in the dead of winter and I only had about eight hours to explore Vienna. This time, that wasn’t the case.
We took the overnight train from Prague to Vienna and I have to say, we were all pretty stoked about it. It’s such a unique experience and even though I didn’t get much sleep (I was pretty wired by the time we got on the train a little after midnight), I’m glad we decided to do it. We had a sleeper cabin for the six of us, so we each had a makeshift bed to sleep on and all things considered, it was fairly comfortable. There was barley room to breathe in our cabin, but it was fine — after all, it was only for one night.
Around 6:30 a.m., there was a knock on our door from the sweet attendant on the train bringing us our breakfast. We were all fairly groggy but excited when we arrived in Vienna about a half hour later. Sami found palace grounds nearby — Hofburg Palace — so we decided to wander over there since we had a lot of time to kill before we could check into our airbnb. Josh and I watched everyone’s stuff while they checked it out, and we laughed about how this was one of our sketchier moments. I fished a plastic knife out of one of our grocery bags and made myself a sandwich while we chatted about how odd it must look for us to be camped out on admittedly beautiful Palace grounds surrounded by more suitcases than we could carry. Once the others returned, Josh and I had our turn to explore — and we weren’t disappointed. It was beautiful.
Remember how I said that sleeping in the park in Prague wasn’t a one-time thing? Yeah, I did the same thing in Vienna. I slept for probably one hour under a tree while we relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful, sunny day. Then we started walking again and stopped at Karlskiche Church, which had a mass that started right as we got there. We peaked in and saw the beautiful European architecture. Then we decided to find a place for brunch, everyone’s favorite meal. It was a national holiday (Corpus Christi) so a lot of places were closed, but luckily we found somewhere that could take us.
After eating and checking into our airbnb, we decided to explore the town a bit. Sami, Josh, Joana, and Mitchell went to the National Library, which looked beautiful according to the photos they showed us. We also saw the National Cathedral and Mozart’s statue before heading back to our place for a family dinner of homemade fajitas. Andi had been craving them for weeks and was finally able to satiate it!
The next day was probably one of the most memorable days of the trip for me. We went to Schonbrunn Palace, which was beautiful and offered a lot of history. What I liked about this Palace was not only how big it was (our ticket got us into gardens, a lookout point, an orangery, and more!), but also how tourist friendly it was. We were able to explore the grounds for several hours before entering the castle, and it was lovely to see the gardens and fountains up close. Even though we spent so much time looking around outside, I still feel like we could’ve spent a whole day doing just that — exploring the grounds. When we finally entered the Palace, something I enjoyed was that there weren’t a bunch of signs and plaques throughout it. Instead, it was in an original condition and everyone was given a free audio guide. Not only did that allow everyone to go at their own pace, but it also meant less crowding around one thing. Instead of being bogged down by reading, everyone could wander around the rooms while listening to the explanation of its significance.
We finished in the late afternoon and headed back to our place for dinner before preparing for the main event: the Viennese Opera. We got all dressed up and walked to the Opera House a couple of hours before the Opera began. What we’d found online was that you could wait in line for standing tickets the night of the Opera and they’d only be a few euros. We weren’t sure if it would work, but we wanted to at least give it a try. And I’m so glad we did!!!
Friends, if you know me, you know that music and theatre are a big part of my life. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember, and there’s nothing I love more than a night out seeing a good performance or hearing some wonderful music. We paid €3 for the experience of a lifetime seeing “Don Pascale” performed by the famous Viennese Opera, and it was amazing. I think part of the reason our experience was so great was because we didn’t mind standing and we saw a comedy. It only lasted a few hours and there were little devices at each seat that gave us translations of the songs as they were happening. I loved every second of it.
That night, we all got our fix of food after the Opera (a Doner Kebab, for me) and hit the hay. The next morning, we hopped on a bus to Budapest.
The hills are alive!!
For those of you who don’t know, Salzburg is the city where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. It’s also the city where the real-life Von Trappe family lived before fleeing to America during World War II.
If you know me well, you know that “The Sound of Music” is my favorite movie of all time because it’s an emotional roller coaster with everything you could ever ask for in a movie — Julie Andrews, love, family, loss, war, singing, dancing, pranks, and so much more. So you could say I was ecstatic to be in Salzburg, but that would be an understatement. We’d taken a 13-hour bus trip from Budapest (yes, you read that correctly) and finally arrived in the city I’d been so excited about for weeks.
The first morning in Salzburg, we decided to wander around the city a little bit. Even though I really enjoyed my time in Vienna, I think my heart was more captured by Salzburg because it felt more Austrian. Sure, there were tourists, but there weren’t as many and it just felt a little more cozy. That afternoon, we took a tour that highlighted the areas where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. It was so incredible to see the places the movie took place! We were on a small tour of just eight people, so we got to know the others really well and enjoyed the tour with our little group.
We saw the gardens where they sang “Do Re Mi,” the backyard of the mansion where the kids famously fell into the lake, and various fountains and points of interest in the movies. If you know the movie well, you might remember that in the beginning, there are scenes showing some of the more picturesque areas of Salzburg, like lakes and mountains. One of the highlights of our tour was driving 30 minutes outside of Salzburg to small towns like Hof and Gilgen to see those beautiful sights. While we stopped in Hof, some of the women we’d made friends with bought us all beers, which we all drank together while looking out on the lake. It was a gorgeous day, made even more gorgeous by our alcohol consumption! We stopped in Gilgen, as well, which was a cute and small town with the church where Maria and Captain Von Trappe got married in the movie.
We wrapped up our day by watching “The Sound of Music” for a second time (we’d also watched I the night before). It was so fun to watch it again and be able to say, “I’ve been there!” for a few scenes.
The next day, we hiked up on a mountain near the city to get a view from above. We went near the fortress and hiked around the area for an hour or so, overlooking different parts of the city from around the area. Afterward, we had some ice cream and Sami and Andi decided to go find a a swimming pool. I decided to go to one of the two Mozart Museums in Salzburg, which is his hometown, while they went for a swim. As an avid music lover, I felt I couldn’t leave Salzburg without at least learning a bit about the place where Mozart grew up. I went to the museum called Mozart Gebhaus, which had higher reviews online. I really enjoyed learning about his family (fun fact: his sister was a prodigy too, but constantly lived in the shadow of her brother because she was a woman). Mozart loved his wife dearly, and their relationship as shown through the letters they wrote one another is absolutely adorable. The museum also had locks of Mozart’s hair, which I thought was a little odd.
I walked around for a bit by myself before heading black to the hostel, our designated meeting point. When they got back from their swim — which I’m told was exactly what they needed, relaxing — we got our stuff together and hopped on a bus to Zurich.
Things I’ve learned
- Austria is a diverse country in terms of its cities. Salzburg has a completely different feel than Vienna.
- Austrians speak German as their main language.
- The Viennese Opera is awesome and operas in general are pretty great. Back in the day, they’d last up to eight hours. I am glad ours only lasted about three.
- Corpus Christi is a national holiday in Austria.
Tips for travel in Austria
- Take a “The Sound of Music” tour, even if you’re not a fan, because you get to see a lot of the city that way.
- Eat some strudel (an Austrian specialty).
- When I Return: Spend time in Hof or Gilgen, swim in the lakes, go hiking, go to the Viennese Opera again and get real seats, go to the fortress in Salzburg