June - July 2017
  • Day26

    Ferry and Bike Ride along the Danube

    July 17, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ☁️ 75 °F

    We began the day with a 3-hour ferry ride along the Danube, which included occasional narration to point out some of the features and history of the area.

    Arriving at the town of Melk, we toured an 11th century Benedictine abbey, including several rooms of its famed library of books and manuscripts. The Baroque-era church was awe-inspiring, but rather over the top, we thought. No photos allowed at the Abbey.

    After lunch, we got on our rented bikes to ride back along the route we'd travelled by ferry, about 25 miles. There was a bike path along both sides of the Danube, most of the way. Often the path took us through small villages with narrow roads and polite drivers.

    The scenery along the ride was stunning--vineyards, castles, castle-ruins and cute villages. At one point we decided to cross to the other side of the river and used a small ferry (large enough for 2-3 cars and 30 bicyclists). The ferry rode along a cable stretched across the river, transported only by the current of the river--no power needed.

    We picked up dinner fixings from the Italian market in the plaza outside our apartment, and enjoyed the local wine left for us by our host.
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  • Day25

    Train to Krems on the Danube

    July 16, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 70 °F

    We left Salzburg by train to stay in the Wachau area on the Danube. This area is UNESCO protected for its cultural, architectural, and agricultural heritage. There are many monasteries, ancient castle ruins, and this is Austria's wine-grape growing region -- Greuner Veltliner being one of the prime varieties.

    The town of Krems is small and very quiet, especially when arriving on a Sunday. We were a little concerned when we met our Airbnb host and she had us follow her through a construction zone to get to our apartment. They are renovating a very old building, but our unit was perfectly fine (whew!). We strolled around the town and down to the river to see where we would catch the ferry the next day. Dinner in a real beer garden!
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  • Day24

    Salzburg's Fortress and Mozart's Homes

    July 15, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 57 °F

    A short funicular carried us up the steep hill to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which was first built around 1077. A rail system for delivering goods and building materials was put in around 1500, operated first by humans, then by horses. Some say it is the oldest operational railway in the world.

    The fortress was built to protect Salzburg and its vast salt trade wealth from outside attack. It was so formidable it never was attacked outside forces, but at least one prince-archbishop had to fend off attacks from the villagers who were protesting high taxes.

    We really liked one of the state rooms in the fortress -- blue walls, natural wood timbers and gold star-like ornamentation on the ceiling. Excavations in other areas of the fortress revealed earlier architectural styles, including an arched column wall that had been covered over. Of course the views from the top were spectacular!

    We walked down the steep pathway from the fortress (poor horses that had to travel up with loads), and were back in the old town. From medieval times we moved on to a more genteel period.

    We visited two homes where Mozart lived as a child before he moved to Vienna. We saw Mozart's first violin and piano, and learned that he performed for the Empress of Austria at the age of 6 and wrote his first opera at the age of 8. And, we learned that Mozart spent half of his 35-year life on the road, traveling to concert venues.

    Salzburg really is a pretty town with its cobblestone pedestrian areas lined with old-style shop signs.
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  • Day23

    The Archbishop's Trick Fountains

    July 14, 2017 in Austria ⋅ 🌧 61 °F

    The prince-archbishop after Wolf Dietrich built Schloss Hellbrun, a country estate outside of Salzburg with a very unique garden. He liked to play tricks on his guests with hidden water jets disguised as innocent statuary or walkways.

    At an outdoor dining table, if his guests got too rowdy or the prince got bored, they got a wet surprise. And since protocol dictated that they couldn't leave until he stood up, he could have his fun.

    Many of the sculptures were hydraulically operated, creating intricate moving figures and even sounds. One replicated 25 different actual bird sounds using bellows and musicbox-like rollers and tines. The moving parts represented very advanced technology for this time.

    Yes, we got wet--the tour guide seemed to enjoy playing tricks too!
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  • Day23

    Salzburg's Residenz Palace

    July 14, 2017 in Austria ⋅ 🌧 61 °F

    We decided to buy umbrellas today, reasoning that maybe that would be enough to get the rain to stop (it did, from time-to-time). We started with a brief concert of a Mozart piece from the glockenspiel at the plaza near our hotel--Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, after all. More about that another day.

    We then toured the palace that was the residence, cathedral, and seat of Salzburg government during the reign of the prince-archbishops. Of course it was very opulent, as they were trying to show their importance to political visitors.

    Underneath the cathedral is an exhibit of the archaeological excavations showing the underlying Roman structures, featuring mosaic floors, some one on top of another.

    Enjoy some photos of the sights of the city.
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  • Day22

    Driving to Salzburg via lake villages

    July 13, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 61 °F

    Driving to Salzburg via the lake villages
    Between Hallstatt and Salzburg there are many lakes and historic villages. It has become more common to see building frescoes now that we are in Austria, and they like gnomes on their buildings too (kind of Grimms fairy tale-like). In St. Gilgen (the birthplace of Mozart's mother) we stopped in a small church and heard the organist practicing--a lovely sound and ornate setting to hear such grand music.

    It is just a one-hour drive between these mountain lakes villages and Salzburg, so after returning the rental car, we had time to take in some sights after walking to our hotel in old town. The Salzach river runs through Salzburg, with many bridges crossing it, as well as a fortress high on a hill above the town. There are so many church spires here, we can't use them as landmarks. It is really a picturesque city, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    We strolled through the Baroque gardens of the Mirabell palace -- impressive as a whole, but the geometric patterns and identical plantings are not that interesting to our contemporary tastes. The fountains and dwarf figures were interesting. The palace and gardens were built in 1606 by prince-archbishop Wolf Dietrich. From the 1300s to 1800, Salzburg was a sovereign state of the Roman Empire--not part of Austria-- and was ruled by a combination secular and Catholic religious leader.

    In the evening we enjoyed a concert of Salzburg classical music--Mozart and Hayden, primarily--by a quartet of flute, violin, viola and cello. For the last piece, a guitarist joined for a Boccherini quintet piece. The setting of the concert was in the Baroque Marble Hall of the Mirabell Palace.

    There is a big emphasis on music here, from Mozart to The Sound of Music.
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  • Day21

    The Austrian Alps: Atop and Underground

    July 12, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    We spent our day high above Hallstatt, visiting lookouts and caves. The day started with a cable car ride and 1-mile uphill walk to the Dachstein Ice Caves, where the temperature is always slightly below freezing, so we finally used those warm jackets we've been lugging around Europe all this time. The walk alone was fantastic, because of all of the wildflowers on display and informative signs about the alpine flora, not to mention the views above the valley. In the cave, the water that seeps in makes interesting ice formations, some with blue or gold tints. It's so cold in there that the ice growth in the winter exceeds the melt-off in the summer. In August, they even bring in a piano and hold concerts in one of the larger chambers - brrr!

    After leaving the ice cave, we took another cable car to a lookout point at about 7,000 feet. There is a platform that hangs out over the cliff--overrun with tourists, of course. It's just as easy to sit on the mountainside above the platform and take in the views without the stress.

    Coming down from the Dachstein mountain lookout, we went up the mountain on the other side of the lake to tour the salt mine. Hallstatt means "place of salt," and there has been salt mining here for 7,000 years. Salt obviously was an extremely valuable trade good in those days. While it is still an operating mine, it is a big tourist attraction where they describe the old and new mining techniques and some of the archaeological findings in this prehistoric cave. For example, in 2002 they found a wooden staircase which dates from the 13th century B.C. It is the oldest wooden staircase discovered to date in Europe, maybe even in the world. There are replica wooden slides used by the miners that we tourists get to use for fun to go between cave levels -- they are zippy! By then, we were 2 km deep in the mine, and we exited on a small train in a small, narrow tunnel -- tall people watch out!

    Back down at lake level we finished the day with a walk to a waterfall nearby our pension. It had rained heavily overnight both nights, so the river was running fast and high. Since we couldn't translate their trail markers very well, I'm not sure if we got to the waterfall, or just a really great rapids, but by then it was time to return for dinner. Being in the high mountains (even in the Julian Alps of Slovenia), the weather has been more changeable -- afternoon/evening thunderstorms are common. We've gotten lucky with not getting caught in the rain too much -- we've generally been indoors when it starts up again.

    One last thing about Hallstatt -- because of the sheer cliffs the town is built against, there continues to this day a profession of keeping the stones from falling on the town -- something like "stone sticker."
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  • Day20

    Arriving in Austria

    July 11, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 70 °F

    The first bummer of our trip happened today. The gorge we'd planned on seeing, which was the initial focus of our planning for this trip, was closed due to a big rockfall they'd had in May. They won't even get the gorge open until next summer. Disappointing, but we've experienced so many beautiful natural sites, we can't complain too much.

    As we drove through the Alps north from Slovenia into Austria, the terrain became more dramatic. By the way, "through" the alps is an apt term -- we travelled through many long tunnels on our route (some as long as 4 miles). The Austrian alps are more sheer and imposing than the Slovenian alps.

    We arrived at Hallstatt, a UNESCO designated town on one of the many lakes about an hour outside of Salzburg. The homes here cling to a cliffside, seemingly one on top of the other, most with only stairs to reach them. Walking around the area, we saw that they used a platform-and-pulley system to bring firewood and supplies to the homes from a small upper road. Winters must be severe here because there were large caches of firewood at every home (in Slovenia as well).

    Hallstatt is a very picturesque lake and town, and not so overrun as Lake Bled. The lake has swan paddle boats, but no kayak rentals as we were disappointed to find. Since it started raining soon after we arrived, that was okay. We enjoyed typical Austrian fare for dinner, of Wiener Schnitzel and Goulash, with "bier" and "wein" of course!
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  • Day19

    Farewell to Lake Bled

    July 10, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 81 °F

    Our 4-1/2 days in Bled were so memorable, mostly because of the time we spent away from the actual resort area -- biking in the alps, hiking in the gorge, and our wonderful pension and friendly host. We leave you with a few images of our stay at the Pension Berc and its fabulous restaurant.

  • Day19

    Into the Triglav National Park

    July 10, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 81 °F

    Triglav is Slovenia's only national park, and we drove here to see Mostnica Gorge and Lake Bohinj. An 8-mile out-and-back hike took us through more wildflower-filled meadows and along the deeply-carved river gorge. It reminded us of a hike we took with Ryan at Glacier National Park or the slot canyons in the southwest, but this was filled with green-blue water.

    This gorge is a bit more remote and was not overrun with tourists. The lake we'd come to see, however, was tourist-filled, and strangely had trees blocking the view of the lake all along the road, and what little parking there was, was expensive. We did find a nice place to stop for a brief picnic and view of the lake, but we were soon sent on our way by a friendly policeman who said we couldn't park where we had stopped.

    In the countries we've visited on this trip, we've noticed a different concept of support for parks and environmental sites. Instead of paying a one-time entrance fee, you pay to park at each parking lot separately, and at each trailhead.

    We returned to our own Lake Bled and took the e-bikes around the lake to a swimming spot (where we didn't have to worry about parking).
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