Switzerland Austria July Aug 2015

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Switzerland Austria July Aug 2015 2017-05-23T09:13:45+11:00

SWITZER-

LAND &

AUSTRIA

29 July – 9 August 2015


From Strasbourg via the Black Forest to Geneva, Tasch, Grindelwald, Zurich, St Moritz, then over the Stelvio Pass to Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna before heading into the Czech Republic.

Geneva
Tasch
Grindelwald
Zurich
St Moritz
Salzburg
Vienna

GENEVA

Wednesday 29th July 2015

Not much went our way today. After a good breakfast and brief visits to Breisach and Freiburg, it pretty much rained for the rest of the day until we reached the outskirts of Geneva where we are staying.

At Breisach, a town with approximately 16,500 souls we wend our way up the cobbled streets to the church on the hill and take photos of the surrounds, in particular the Rhine which flows by. In Freiburg we eventually find Tourist Information and get some ideas for our trip through the Black Forest.

Freiburg I suppose is on the outskirts of the Black Forest which occupies a huge area of the south-western corner of Germany. It is roughly 160km long by 60km wide and is known the Black Forest because of its tall pine trees whose canopy blocks most of the light and the wood appears dark. Well that’s one theory anyway. Most of it is forested but there are villages and fields and good roads.

We stop at Titisee which is crowded with tourists and take photos of the lake and the village. From there on in it rains, sometimes quite heavily.

From Germany we make our way into Switzerland (pop 8.2m) and through the city of Basel. It is raining heavily and we avoid Bern altogether and reach Mies about 20km from Geneva. We are in a bed and breakfast which is very expensive but the best I could find in the area when I booked about a month ago. After relaxing a bit we travel through the countryside and then into Geneva to size the place up. We take photos of the United Nations flags, find a temporary parking (with difficulty), find an ATM, locate the big I for info and buy some takeaways to devour by the lakeside on the way back.

Thursday 30th July 2015

Had a good day today, made up for yesterday.

First stop was the United Nations after we put the car to bed. A young Danish guide with impeccable English spoke exceedingly well about the UN and its mandate and functions. He took us around several of the conference rooms and explained what went on there and described some of the art and the symbolism of many of the wall paintings. It’s a huge place, apparently the largest office in Europe.

The United Nations was founded in 1945 and is currently made up of 193 Member States.  The only two countries not members of the UN are the Vatican City and Palestine. Its mission and work are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter.

The UN in Geneva is the second-largest of the four major office sites of the United Nations, second only to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. About 10,000 staff work for the UN in Geneva. They are active in many of the major fields of work of the United Nations, including health; labour; intellectual property; human rights; humanitarian action and disaster relief; economic, trade and development activities; disarmament efforts; science and technology; as well as research and training.

We park and find the Geneva Tourism Info who mark out for us the main sights and parking. The latter is a problem here although there are parking garages and they are not horrendously expensive like Luxembourg.

We follow the river along to the east side of the ?? bridge from the  ???? (see photos to complete here)

Geneva in the early 16th century became the unofficial capital of the Protestant movement, providing refuge for Protestant exiles from all over Europe and educating them as Calvinist missionaries.

Later we take the car to CERN, based in a northwest suburb of Geneva. CERN operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established in 1954, CERN’s main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research. It is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web. We see some of the old equipment first used about 30 years ago, some of it was used by the boffins who later received Nobel Peace prizes. According to Wikipedia several important achievements in particle physics have been made through experiments at CERN. They include:

1973: The discovery of neutral currents in the Gargamelle bubble chamber.

1983: The discovery of W and Z bosons in the UA1 and UA2 experiments

1989: The determination of the number of light neutrino families at the Large Electron–Positron Collider (LEP) operating on the Z boson peak;

1995: The first creation of antihydrogen atoms in the PS210 experiment

1999: The discovery of direct CP violation in the NA48 experiment

2010: The isolation of 38 atoms of antihydrogen

2011: Maintaining antihydrogen for over 15 minutes

2012: A boson with mass around 125 GeV/c2 consistent with long-sought Higgs boson

Riveting stuff I know, only topped by the Hadron Collider 100 metres underground that uses a 27km circumference racetrack to get these particles running around at higher than average speeds. When they get them into top gear apparently they will run around the track 11,000 times a second. That’s moving, almost at the speed of light. Can’t figure out why this is all necessary, because even if we could travel at the speed of light or thereabouts, the nearest star is from memory about 2.5 light years away. Way too deep for me.

Friday 31st July 2015

We have been in a bed and breakfast in Mies where the hostess was a lovely lady but it was really expensive and hardly four star. Breakfasts were basically rolls and jam, no fruit, no cheese, no eggs, no meat of any description. I suppose this is a typical Swiss breakfast and we should be accepting.

Anyway it is a nice day as we make our way around Lake Geneva by the lake to Morges where we stop for photos. Sam Wawrinka the Swiss tennis player resides around here someplace. It is picturesque with flowers everywhere and we stop briefly for photos. Wending our way along the lake front there are homes and villages and endless vineyards rising up the hillsides on the sunny side of the lake.

At Lausanne we stop at the Olympic Headquarters to view the Olympic Museum but the Swiss entry prices are starting to get up my nose a bit. Why charge CHF18 to see a museum. That’s more than Aus $50 for the two of us and although we can afford it, I am opposed in principle to paying that much to visit a flipping museum. Many people thought likewise. Halve your prices Mr Bach, double your customers and leave folk feeling good about the IOC, not antagonized.

At Montreux we stop for a map and recommendations. A young man is very helpful. We move on stopping briefly at the Chillon Castle for photos. Same thing applies about entry fees and anyway having visited huge French castles we are thoroughly spoilt for castles, so we move on.

We leave the lake behind shortly and head into the Swiss Alps. The scenery is amazing. The valley sides are terraced with grapes everywhere. Villages intrude often, many of them far up the valley sides. Sometimes you can see the cutting of a zig zag road up to the village with the inevitable church. Lilly snaps away constantly.

TASCH

Eventually we reach Tasch, have a little trouble finding our Monte Rosa Aparthotel, because I wrongly assumed this would be just a one hotel town. There is no street number but we find it and book in. A charming lady explains everything in very good English. It is a spacious comfortable apartment with a kitchen, which I quite deliberately booked. We are told, however, if we use the kitchen there is an additional cleaning fee of CHF 35 (abt A$50). Pardon? Again this annoys us both because Lilly prefers preparing a meal rather than eating out and why advertise a place with a kitchen that you have to cough up an extra 50 bucks to use it. It also transpires there is no WIFI in the rooms and I am absolutely positive I filtered anything out that did not have WIFI. First time we have encountered this problem. Up-front disclosure is generally a good thing, perhaps the Swiss have found a better way.

We take the train to Zermatt late afternoon. A mere A$50 for about a 15 minute train ride return. Drive from Tasch to Zermatt and if the local police catch you the fine is about A$600. Only locals can get away with it.  So trains the way to go.

Zermatt is at the end of the road for people wishing to ascend towards the Matterhorn which at 4478 metres high is not the highest mountain in Switzerland and certainly not the highest in Europe. (Higher though than Mt Cook at ?? and Mt Kusciusko at ??) Nevertheless sometimes described as the most famous, the most beautiful, the most fascinating and the most spectacular mountain in the world. And technically a difficult peak to climb. It does go back a long way in my memory, perhaps comparable with Everest in terms of fame. A huge industry in Switzerland has a stake in keeping that reputation alive.

We walk up the main street of Zermatt. There are no cars. It is crowded and lined both sides with restaurants and shops. Occasionally a hotel taxi wends its way through the people. It is cool and most people are wearing jackets. Towards the end of the street we see what we think to be the Matterhorn but the top of it is covered in cloud. It is early evening and we take photos because it looks as if the cloud cover will get worse.

We take a chance with the mountain and decide to wait. The mountain will never come to us. I read about the outstanding qualities of local mountain guides and also the Swiss helicopter pilots who can land a rescue rope the length of a 90-storey high building onto an area about the size of a toilet seat. They compare favourably with New Zealand and Canadian pilots and perform around 1500 rescue missions a year. On 14 July 1865, 150 years ago (celebrations are ongoing) the Matterhorn was climbed for the first time by an Englishman with two Swiss Guides. Four other Englishman roped together as part of the same expedition died on the way down in somewhat controversial circumstances. While I read, the cloud ‘on’ the “Hore”, as the locals call it, advances rather recedes. Should we call it a day? We hang tight and our patience is rewarded about half an hour later when blue sky appears around the top of the mountain and the cloud withdraws gradually into the heavens. Lilly gets several photos of the Matterhorn almost clear of cloud, mission accomplished. It is different, perhaps spectacular, because of its sharp and jagged appearance and the fact it stands alone.

We wander back, stopping at a supermarket for supplies (so we can make do without having to eat at the restaurants which look to be at about double Sydney prices) catch our train to Tasch and walk back to our apartment about a km away.

Internet is not available so both Lilly and I have a go at coaxing something out of the TV without success. There are no instructions, certainly not in English. Native speakers of German number about 4.6 million (64%); for French they number 1.5 million (20%); for Italian 500,000 (6.5%); and for Romansch, 35,000 (0.5%). “Morgan” seems to be the chosen greeting in the morning at this hotel. First time I almost answered McLean, don’t know any Morgans.

Saturday 1st August 2015

Swiss National Day is a big celebration here today and we awake to the sounds of a gun, no it’s just early fireworks.  Not able to access the internet this morning even in the hotel lounge. Lilly is on so we try unsuccessfully to connect via her iPhone. Probably by now mountain of emails to attend to.

We head off down the valley, it is photo-worthy at almost every bend. The alpine scenery and landscape and the villages are beautiful and indescribable, Lilly captures it best via her camera and iPhone.

At one point we climb up and over the Grimsel Pass at about 2200 metres. We are at snow level (there are only isolated collections left, it is mid-summer after all) and we stop for pics at the top and on the way down at a massive dam.

Eventually we make Interlaken, who would have thought this town would be between two beautiful lakes. Only after seeing both did the penny drop. We try to stop at Interlaken but it won’t allow us. It is national party time today and the centre of the city is verboten. Nevertheless we have a good go and mostly end up surfing with the crowd in car-banned streets. We go round in circles and eventually persuade GPS to lead us to an attractive lakeside spot where we have our own lunch, produced almost by miracle by my beloved.

GRINDELWALD

After lunch we head up a valley to Grindelwald where we find our hotel overlooking the valley. It is raining most of the time. The views over the valley from our hotel are exceptional. On the opposite side of the valley are what appear to be village tracks that lead way up the valley sides. It is all very congenial and up-market and when we look in a local land agents shop window, we confirm the chalets and homes are incredibly expensive. Today the lawns that surround the properties dotted around the hillside are green but we guess that they are often snow-covered white.

More problems with the WIFI, so instead we take the car up the opposite hillside as far as the Aspen hotel. The cloud is descending and we can now only get hazy photos of our side of the valley. The road up is Ok but back down it is slippery, steep and narrow in places.

After parking the car at the hotel we walk up through Grindelwald as far as the church. The bells are ringing furiously and can be heard all over town. They stop shortly before we get there. We stop for a few minutes of reflection inside. The road is wet and our shoes and socks are saturated. The village is in party mode today but the rain is steady and it looks as if celebrations will be mainly indoors. The restaurants are mainly full. We look for a place to have a fondue but decide to return to our hotel and get dry. We then go across to the hotel restaurant but it is fully booked and we are out of luck. So we go back to our hotel room for lunch leftovers, a bottle of red and bits and pieces that Lilly assembles out of thin air. All tasty. During the evening we take photos of the sporadic fireworks through the gloom.

Sunday 2nd August 2015

The day is clearer in Grindelwald and we take photos from our balcony of the mountains and valley again. It is an amazing view, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I am sorry to be leaving this Jungfrau area.

Decide that we will take a short detour to take in Bern and Lucern before heading for Zurich. Glad we did, both great cities.

At Bern (Swiss capital with a popn of only 127,000) we pop into the Tourism Office, get a map of the city and some ideas for what to see. Park the car at Rathaus Parking which seems reasonably central and start at the St Peter and Paul Church. Next the Munster Gothic cathedral that is topped with a 100m-high spire (highest in Switzerland) and particularly well-known for its 1400s stained glass and sculptured portal.

We walk towards the Aare River on the south side and see fast flowing clean water with a sophisticated management system for diversion and control. Take the lift (at 1.20 CHF each!) down to water level and walk around. There are terraced vegetable gardens and, in one garden, bee hives. We go back up to city level via the stairs. We walk over a block to to Kocher gasse to take pictures of the Konzerthaus Casino but otherwise avoid it. Then on to the Zytglogge tower which is a landmark medieval tower. Built in the early 13th century, it has served the city as guard tower, prison, clock tower, centre of urban life and civic memorial. Just down the street is a home where German-born Einstein, lived for a year or so. At the Bundesplatz we take photos of the Bundehaus or Federal Palace which is the building in which the Swiss federal parliament meet. All grand buildings befitting a grand capital.

We journey on to Lucern (temporarily supplanted in my mind as Lausanne causing me to miss a turn and have to take a long detour) where a very pleasant young lady at the Tourist Centre gives us a rundown on the sights. The Tourist Offices throughout Europe have been staffed by very friendly, patient and helpful staff who all speak good English. Some of the tourist maps though are hard to follow. Lucern appears to have adapted its official guide from a Google Map and it is much easier to follow. (Ditto later for Zurich.)

We conscientiously walk around Lucern (popn 78,000) for an hour or so taking photos of its colorful Altstadt and iconic Kapellbrucke (oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe) plus other spired and turreted buildings. Later we take the car towards Auf Musegg and take the stairs up to the 14th-century Museggmauer city walls, where we view three of its nine towers and walk along the ramparts. The fortifications were built in the 14th century to protect the town of Lucerne – as is the Chapel Bridge. The wall and the towers are substantial and incredibly well-preserved.

ZURICH

Monday 3rd August 2015

We are taking it easy today. I am catching up on business stuff and we go for breakfast only at 8:30am. Our hotel overlooks the lake at Horgen, I guess about 10ks out of Zurich.

We price the train into Zurich and at 17:50 CHF each we decide instead to take the car for flexibility and economy. We park at Urianstrasse and eventually find the Tourist Office at the Station. We decide on the recommended walking trail and stick quite diligently to for a couple of hours. This is another beautiful Swiss city of about 400,000 souls. It is situated at the head of Lake Zurich and on the river Limmat that commences at the outfall of the lake. Typically the water is clean and if it weren’t for the fact it is probably very cold, we would be into it on this warm day. Zurich has a history that goes back to its founding by the Romans. They called it Turicum. During the Middle Ages it became an important centre of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

We go back and forth over the river a couple of times and take photos of the various recommended buildings including the Swiss National Museum, Grossmunster church, Opera House (almost obscured by scaffolding), St Peters Church, the famous shopping street of Bahnhofstrasse, the financial centre at Paradeplatz and the elevated park, Sechseläutenplatz. Lilly undoubtedly has captured other icons that I have missed.

Later we decide to drive along the opposite side of the lake from our hotel. After tracking along the lakeside for quite some time we decide to return via Zurich. However the GPS suggests continuing and crossing the lake further down, so we assume there is a bridge across the lake. We travel for a couple of k’s and are advised to take a right and “board the ferry”. Well that’s different. We take the advice and at 11 CHF have a great ride across the waters to Horgen.

Spend most of the afternoon and evening working and planning and talking about the reformation.

Tuesday 4th August 2015

Our objective today is St Moritz and first stop is at the Rhine Falls. The Rhine begins its 1230km journey to the sea from Lake Constance only about 100 km upstream and passes through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Netherlands and Liechtenstein on its way.  It is the second longest river in Central and Western Europe after the Danube. This massive river takes a plunge over rocks falling about 20 metres in an area where the river is about 100 metres wide. The power of such a huge volume of falling water is incredible. The Swiss have constructed several observation decks including a platform right over the top of it and you can almost feel the surge of the water underneath you. Worth stopping to see this astounding force of nature. We also take photos of the Schloss Laufen which is a castle on the site dating back to 858.

We head on around the shoreline of the Untersee (German for lower lake), the smaller of the two lakes that form Lake Constance. Briefly we call in on Konstanz, a university city of about 80,000 inhabitants in the south-west corner of Germany. This is an old city dating back to the first century AD. Later it was prominent as a religious center and then as the site of the only bridge crossing the Rhine River. We visit the city’s famed cathedral, originally dating from the 7th century. In 1052 the original cathedral collapsed and its reconstruction took place over about the next 300 years. From 1414 to 1418 the Council of Constance took place, thought to be the most important assembly of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. In 1415 Jan Hus, because of his teachings, was condemned as a heretic by the Council, tied to a stake and publicly burnt alive. (After John Wycliffe, Hus is considered the first Church reformer, as he lived before Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.)

Further on along the lake we cut inland to St Gallen, another historical city. We stop briefly at the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This abbey was a Roman Catholic religious complex from 747 to 1805. The library at the Abbey is one of the richest medieval libraries in the world. The interior of the Cathedral is considered to be one of the most important baroque monuments in Switzerland. We should have spent more time here but we get some photos and move on, we are behind schedule.

From St Gallen we take the highway (long way round) to the German speaking, alpine country of Liechtenstaein. We stop briefly at the picturesque villages of Eschen (pics of the local church) and Nendeln. We also stop at the capital Vaduz for photos of the parliament building, castle and cathedral. Liechtenstein is mainly mountainous, making it a winter sports destination. The country has a strong financial sector centered in Vaduz, and has been identified as a tax haven. Economically, Liechtenstein has the highest gross domestic product per person in the world and is also the 2nd richest (GDP per capita) country in the world, after Qatar.

We head up a steep, narrow and winding road to Triesenberg for incredible views over Vaduz. Then back down taking another route on our way to Chur. At Chur we stop far a nap in the city square before looking to take a short cut to St Moritz. There does not appear to be one so back on to the highway, where we take the Juliers Pass to St Moritz. Its elevation is about 2400 metres and we are again in snow country, albeit only bits and far from where we are.

ST MORITZ

We book into our hotel right in the middle of this resort town of about 5000 souls. St. Moritz hosted the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948. It is a popular destination of the upper class and international jet set, as well as one of the most expensive ski resorts in the world. During the summer it is not so busy according to our hotel manager. He recommends La Staller, just around the corner for a cheese fondue and we supplement it with a fillet steak which is done to perfection.

After dinner we walk around the town a bit, taking photos of a leaning tower and of the valley.

Wednesday 5th August 2015

Today was scenery day, no cathedrals, no old towns, no museums, just magnificent views of mountains, forests, rivers, lakes and alpine villages.

We took route 27 out of St Moritz stopping almost immediately by the lake to take some more photos of the town and surrounds. We turn right on to Route 28 and enter the Swiss National Park. Intention is to go right through the park and turn left for Innsbruck. However because GPS will only have us retrace back to Route 27, I mistakenly take the Munt la Schera into Italy and around the rim of Lake Livigno to Livigno. The surface of the lake is incredibly still and smooth but the landscape is mountainous and dominated by huge gravel slips into the lake. The tourist centre at Livigno is closed and GPS is still insisting we go back, so we guess at our next stop at the intersection of SS301 and SS38. At SS38 we at last pick up an alternative route to Innsbruck and we take it.

The scenery through here and the beautiful villages up in this part of Northern Italy are incredible. We stop frequently for photos of the mountains and valleys. Driving needs a lot of concentration, cyclists, motor bikes and scooters are everywhere and they all own the road. The motor bikes zip in and out. The road is steep in parts, narrow and winding. We zig zag up over a pass at about 2700 metres and we are about at the snowline, but the actual snow is only in bits and only in the distance. In one section there is a tunnel where we go head to head with another Audi. There is not room and I have traffic accumulating behind me. He blinks and reverses about 10 metres and we squeeze past. In some sections the road is narrow and unfenced and the sheer drops down into the valley are frightening. I drive very slowly in these sections and resolve to let Lilly out of the car and reverse to a wider section rather than try to pass. Fortunately we are not confronted with that situation.

Today has been tiring but another unforgettable experience. In a way I am glad we got the tunnel turn-off wrong. It may have added 2 hours to the journey, but they are hours we will not forget and we have some great pics. Apparently one of the passes we negotiated was the Stelvio Pass at an elevation of 2,757m. The pass is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps, just 13 m below one in France. The original road was built in 1820–25 by the Austrian Empire and has not changed much since. Top Gear named it as its choice for the “greatest driving road in the world”, although their search was concentrated only in Europe.

Ranked in the “14 of the World’s Most Frightening Roads” it is described thus, “this highway connects the Lombardy region of Italy with Austria, through the mighty massive Alps. It’s well paved, but with 48 hairpin turns and the magnificent distraction of the Alps as your backdrop, the Stelvio Pass is one dangerous beauty.”

SALZBURG

Later after booking in to our hotel in Innsbruck we drive into the middle of the city at about 7:30pm. It is really quiet and we have trouble finding a restaurant. Eventually we eat at the Rosegarten a little Italian restaurant.

Thursday 6th August 2015

We decide to leave Innsbruck for Salzburg so that we can focus our sightseeing on the latter today and move on to Vienna tomorrow.

We get into Salzburg (pop 146,000) about midday and wait half an hour in the car for our room to be ready. After booking and resting for a while we drive about 10 minutes into the city known as the birthplace of Mozart and setting for the film “The Sound of Music.” The “Old Town” (Altstadt) is internationally renowned and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

After crossing the Salzach River we first visit the Mirabell Palace and gardens.  The palace with its gardens is a listed cultural heritage monument built about 1606. The current Neoclasical appearance dates from about 1818, when the place was restored after a blaze. It has recent notoriety after the sister of Eva Braun (later to marry Adolf Hitler), married an SS- officer there. Hitler, Himmler, and Martin Bormann were witnesses. The gardens in particular are beautiful and many people are sitting in the shade of the tree-lined paths as it has turned out to be a hot day.

Next we visit two churches on the north side. The first the Holy Trinity Church and the second St Sebastian Church. The latter was originally erected more than 500 years ago but deteriorated and was torn down in 1750 and replaced by a late Baroque colonnaded hall. The devastating town fire in 1818 which destroyed large sectors of the town on the right bank of the river also burned parts of St. Sebastian’s Church leading to a complete renovation.

From below and later from the fortress across the city we take photos of the Church and Monastery of the Capuchins. The Kapuziner Abbey and church were built in 1594 to accommodate the monks of the Kapuziner order, (from the distinctive hood of the Franciscan habit). It is considered one of the oldest monasteries in the German-speaking area, and in fact the oldest with a continuous history since its foundation in 696.

Back across the river in the old part of the city we stop frequently to take photos of the narrow streets with its medieval and baroque buildings. This is obviously a popular tourist destination, the streets are crowded. I don’t remember the sequence but do remember the cathedral and later St Peter’s Abbey and the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Lilly has pics of so many other striking buildings.

The cathedral goes back to its founding in 774 on the remnants of a Roman town. It was rebuilt in 1181 after a fire and in the seventeenth century, then completely rebuilt in the baroque style to its present appearance. It still contains the baptismal font in which Mozart was baptized.

St Peter’s Abbey is considered one of the oldest monasteries in the German-speaking area, and in fact the oldest with a continuous history since its foundation in 696. The present abbey church was erected from about 1130 onwards at the site of a previous Carolingian church building. It was dedicated to Saint Peter in 1147. One of the organs was built in 1444, the steeple received its onion dome in 1756, the interior, already re-modelled several times, was refurbished in the Rococo style between 1760 and 1782.

The chapel contains the grave of Abbot Johann von Staupitz (d. 1524), a friend of Martin Luther. So much history here

Later in the day we catch the funicular up the hill to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. With a length of 250 m and a width of 150 m this is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. There was a building of sorts on the hill dating back to Roman times but the construction of the fortress began in 1077 under the archbishop of the time. During the period of the Holy Roman Empire, the archbishops of Salzburg were powerful political figures and they expanded the castle to protect their interests. The castle was gradually expanded during the following centuries. The ring walls and towers were built in 1462 and around 1500 a primitive funicular railway provided freight access to the upper courtyard of the castle. That line still exists, albeit in updated form, and is thought to be the oldest operational railway in the world.

We dine at one the restaurants (salmon and lamp) in the fortress looking out over the residential and semi-rural areas of the city. It is hard to imagine a more magnificent view of this great city. It is certainly on the short list to be revisited. Next time we may see the Hellbrun Palace and Trick Fountains which is out of the city and not in the direction we will be travelling tomorrow.

Friday 7th August 2015 

We head south west towards Halstatt, travelling through Fuschl, Bad Ischl, Bad Ausee and Lesn. It is worth taking the long way round to Vienna. The villages, valleys, lakes and mountains are beautiful, not unlike the Swiss.

VIENNA

We book into our hotel on the outskirts of Vienna (pop 1.8m) about mid-afternoon. It is a scorcher here today with temperatures in the high thirties. We take the metro to the centre of the city designated in 2001, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psycho-analyst – Sigmund Freud. Today Vienna is often ranked either first or towards the top of surveys of most livable cities.

The historic centre of Vienna is “rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.” Almost every building in the city’s centre is magnificent, but as we walk around we photo the following in particular. I have ‘lifted’ descriptions from Wikipedia and abbreviated them.

St Stephen’s Cathedral – The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. The most important religious building in Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.

Vienna State Opera is both an opera house and an opera company with a history dating back to the mid-19th century. The Albertina is a museum housing one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world with approximately 65,000 drawings and approximately 1 million old master prints. The Burggarten is a palace garden of the Hofburg, attractions include a statue of Mozart and a Palm House. Weltmuseum Wien is the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna and the largest anthropological museum in Austria, established in 1876, closed until 2017 due to renovations.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is an art museum in housed in a festive palatial building on Ringstrasse and crowned with an octagonal dome. It was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Naturhistorisches Museum. The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz. The Museums Quartier nearby is home to a range of installations from large art museums like the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna) to contemporary exhibition spaces like the Kunsthalle Wien and festivals like the Wiener Festwochen.

Volkstheater was founded in 1889 by request of the citizens of Vienna in order to offer a popular counter weight to the Hofburgtheater (see below). Palais Trautson is a baroque palace owned by the noble Trautson family and built in 1712.

Parliament Building is where the two houses of the Austrian Parliament —the National Council (Nationalrat) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat)—conduct their sessions. The foundation stone was laid in 1874; the building was completed in 1883. One of the building’s most famous features is the Pallas Athena fountain in front of the main entrance, built by Hansen from 1898 to 1902 and a notable Viennese tourist attraction.

Palais Auersperg was built between 1706 and 1710 and later Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen started to use the palace as his winter residence.

The Rathaus was designed in the Neo-Gothic style, and built between 1872 and 1883. On the top of the tower is the Rathausmann, one of the symbols of Vienna. Facing the Rathaus is a park which was set up for musical events during the summer. We eat Bauvernfleckr(??)  and a plate of little fish and wait for about an hour to hear the first of several items in an evening dedicated to the performer, Bob Marley.

The Austrian National Library is the largest library in Austria, with 7.4 million items in its various collections. The library is located in the Hofburg Palace which is the former imperial palace in the centre of Vienna. Part of the palace forms the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. Built in the 13th century and expanded in the centuries since, the palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the principal imperial winter residence, as Schönbrunn Palace (see below) was their summer residence.

Saturday 8th August 2015 

Today promises to be another hot one so we head out early starting at the Minoriten Kirche. The site on which the church is built was given to followers of Francis of Assisi in 1224. The foundation stone was laid by Premysl Ottokar II in 1276. Duke Albrecht II later supported the building process, especially the main portal. The Gothic Ludwig choir was built between 1316 and 1328, and used as a mausoleum in the 14th and 15th centuries. Construction of the church was completed in 1350.

Hofburgtheater is the Austrian National Theatre in Vienna and one of the most important German language theatres in the world. The Burgtheater was created in 1741 and has become known as “die Burg” by the Viennese population. Its theatre company of more or less regular members has created a traditional style and speech typical of Burgtheater performances. Notable that in 1943, under Nazi rule, a notoriously extreme production of The Merchant of Venice was staged with Werner Krauss as Shylock, one of several theatre and film roles by this actor pandering to antisemitic stereotypes.

Stadplais Lichtenstein is a residential building and is one of two palaces in Vienna belonging to the princely family of Liechtenstein. The palace was built during the period of 1692 to 1705. It narrowly escaped destruction during WWII when bombs went down nearby. It is still used as a private residence by the princely family.

The University of Vienna was founded in 1365 by Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria, and his two brothers, Dukes Albert III and Leopold III. After the Charles University in Prague and Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the University of Vienna is the third oldest university in Central Europe and the oldest university in the German-speaking world. It is associated with 15 Nobel prize winners and has been the academic home of a large number of figures both of historical and academic importance. The current main building on the Ringstraße was built between 1877 and 1884.

Am Hof – in the Middle Ages, the ruling Babenberg family built its castle on what is today’s Vienna’s oldest square. The baroque Column of Our Lady in the center dates from 1667, marking the Catholic victory over the Swedish Protestants in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48). The onetime Civic Armory at the northwest corner has been used as a fire station since 1685. The complex includes a firefighting museum. On the east side of the square is the noted Kirche Am Hof.

Kirche Am Hof

The Schottenkirche is a parish church in founded by Hiberno-Scottish Benedictine monks in the 12th century. In 1418, the Duke Albert V of Austria transferred it to the German-speaking Benedictine monks from the Melk Abbey during the Melker Reform initiated after the Council of Constance. The church has been elevated to the rank of Basilica Minor in 1958.

In Judenplatz we see the Jewish Memorial to the 65,000 murdered Viennese Jews. This is apparently where the builders of the memorial discovered the original footprint of the Jewish Synagogue in Vienna.

Aldes Rathuis or the “Old City Hall” which provided the magistrate of Vienna with administrative space until 1885, when it finally moved into the current Rathaus. The building still houses all sorts of administrative offices, though, alongside with one of Austria′s best-hidden museums. The “Austrian Resistance Museum” deals primarily with resistance of Austrians against the Nazis, but to a lesser extent also with resistance against the preceding Austro-Fascism. Some 2,700 Austrians were executed by the Nazis as political offenders, thousands more deported to concentration camps.

St Peter’s Church – The oldest church building (of which nothing remains today) dates back to the Early Middle Ages, and there is speculation that it could be the oldest church in Vienna (See Ruprechtskirche). That Roman church was built on the site of a Roman encampment.

The Pestsaule is a Holy Trinity column erected after the Great Plague epidemic in 1679. This Baroque memorial is one of the most well-known and prominent sculptural pieces of art in the city.

The Romer Museum features artifacts and information about the Roman period in Vienna. Vienna was then known as Vindobona and was a military camp housing thousands of roman soldiers, officers, and their families. Located along the Danube and the border it was a part of the defensive network of the Roman Empire.

Adjourn to our hotel for live streaming of All Blacks v Wallabies, played in Sydney and won by the latter.

Then we take the metro and visit Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country. A former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion on the land called Katterburg. The emperor Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II bought it and ordered the area to be fenced and put game there such as pheasants, ducks, deer and boar, in order to serve as the court’s recreational hunting ground. From 1638 to 1643 a palace was added to the Katterburg mansion. Huge palace, huge grounds and it is hot. We wander around the gardens taking photos but do not go into the palace itself.

Back to the apartment for rest and relaxation and another game Sringboks v Pumas played in Durban and won by the latter.

Vienna is our favourite city thus far. It really is a wonderful place, clean, well-organised, great metro, magnificent buildings, historically important, and with great drinking water, particularly appreciated during the two very hot days we had here. I agree with Lilly we should have spent at least another couple of days in Austria, Vienna particularly.

Sunday 9th August 2015

From Vienna we make our way to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine abbey above the town of Melk on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube River. This huge abbey was founded in the 12th century. The monastic library soon became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection. The local Abbott reported at the time that the kitchens were food for the body, the library food for the mind and the church, food for the soul.

The abbey is also notable for containing the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. St Coloman was an Irish pilgrim who was making his way to Jerusalem. At the time there were continual skirmishes among Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia. Coloman spoke no German, so he could not give an understandable account of himself. He was tortured and hanged alongside several robbers. “He was made a saint by the local people, possibly out of remorse for the deed and because of his endurance under torture and the many miracle reported from where his body was buried.” Food for thought as we review the abbey’s museum, huge library and magnificent church.

Press on to the Czech Republic.