Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Part 3: Austria: Castles, Mountains, Salzburg, and Vienna.


Landskron Castle, situated at an altitude of 658 meters, was built in the 16th century, on the foundation walls of a fortification dating from the 14th century. The ruins looked very impressive from afar even in a cloudy morning, but it was not a smart move going all the way up there just for views of villages and fields in the region, a glimpse of a restaurant not any longer a castle, and some bird of prey displays with minimal actions but excessive narrations available in German and Italian only.


Clouds were going away nearer midday just in time before our visit at Hochosterwitz Castle, the most impressive Austrian medieval castle situated on a 172 metres high Dolomite rock 664 metres above sea level. Touring around the castle grounds all the way up was the focal point, while exhibitions within the interiors at the top were not as interesting.  


After almost 2.5-hour drive in the rain back west and then north, we took our time to explore Liechtenstein Gorge, whose mighty falls and flow right after the rain was an added bonus. A well-constructed 1-km footpath winds its way through the Gorge, leading visitors over sturdy bridges to a magnificent waterfall. Walking through the Gorge takes about 1.5 hours. Unlike Vintgar Gorge back in Slovenia, the path does not form a loop and so the way there is also the way back.


We were supposed to spend a full day hiking down from up there and sightseeing around beautiful mountains, lakes, and valleys but we unwillingly decided to spend the morning only at the top enjoying all the best panoramas accompanied by a satisfying German lunch before descending by lifts not on foot due to seemingly unpleasant weather forecast for the afternoon.  
Back in town after a short walk around and thermal waters in Felsentherme Bad Gastein was the place we had a good long soak for an unexpectedly relaxing afternoon. It was not a clear day but neither did it rain. We just could not risk getting all wet on a long hike.


The 900-year-old mighty castle of Hohenwerfen towered over the 155 metre high craggy rock pillar would have been such a spectacle viewed from afar on a sunny day. Up at the castle the guided tour was brief but interesting. Contrary to the disappointment at Burg Landskron, the amazing falconry displays at Hohenwerfen involved much more actions than talking, not to mention the little bit of English explanation did help.  


Parking in Hallstatt was such a pain. It obviously was a famous point of interest among international tourists. We finally got that postcard shot from the popular viewpoint named "Classic Village Viewpoint / Postcard Angle" on Google Maps, before heading for Skywalk, also known as Hallstatt Viewing Platform, from which views were not as splendid as expected but we made a good choice going down on foot for views from the footpath were even better.
Back down there one hour was more than enough to sightsee this charming but tiny town. Last road trip of summer vacation started from Hallstatt and ended in Salzburg Airport where rental cars were dropped off. 


It was a cloudy morning with some rain. Fortunately we still managed to stick to the itinerary - St Sebastian's Cemetery, Mirabell Palace and Gardens, Kapuzinerberg, St. Peter's Cemetery and Catacombs, Kapitelplatz & Kapitelschwemme, Salzburg Cathedral, St. Peter's Abbey and Stiftskirche Sankt Peter Salzburg, Franziskanerkirche, Salzburger Residenz, Residenzplatz, Salzburger Glockenspiel, Mozartplatz, The Getreidegasse, Old City Hall, Makartsteg, etc. In just one precious day in Salzburg, it was surely wiser to focus on admiring the city as a whole, than to enter each attraction, such as Fortress Hohensalzburg and Mozarts Geburtshaus, and spend hours for a single visit. Climbing up Kapuzinerberg for best panoramas of Salzburg was a must-do. We were glad we could have a partly sunny afternoon.

It took around 2.5 hours by train to go from Salzburg Hauptbahnhof to Wien Hauptbahnhof. We arrived in Vienna, our final destination, at 21:30, and then in 30 minutes at the last and the best accommodation of the trip, Hotel Regina, a highly recommended one priced at only 1/4 of its standard rate if booked 9 months in advance, in our case anyway.


With just a little effort searching for train times as well as walking directions, we were up there by 11:00 in front of this beautiful fairy-tale Kreuzenstein Castle just in time to join the guided tour, which was the only way to visit the castle's interiors. The 40-minute tour, run by the only member of staff who needed to rush towards ticket counter for the next group at the end of each tour, was the worst we had ever had, because English speaking tourists needed to rely on a brief, poorly translated tour summary printed on a laminated A4 paper that was almost worn out. Also, we were told other copies got stolen and so we had to share one. The property management seriously has to make some improvements in the organisation of guided tours. Nevertheless, there was not that much to see inside and what we loved most was appreciating the piece of beauty from different angles outside the gate.
Back in Vienna early afternoon in the sunshine we got to visit Belvedere Palace, a historic building complex consisting of two Baroque palaces, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables, and of which the interiors were also the highlights. It was such a perfect plan to visit both attractions not included in Vienna Pass on our Day 1 in Vienna. A long walk around from late afternoon to evening was enjoyable on this beautiful day. Karlskirche was one of the prettiest structures, while the Parliament Building at night was also a real gem. 
In the morning of Day 2 before heading out for Schönbrunn Palace, right from our guest room in Hotel Regina we had this nice shot of Votive Church / Votivkirche, a neo-Gothic church completed in 1879, which was among the prettiest in the city and definitely more worth a visit than the most popular St. Stephen's Cathedral that looked dull both outside and inside.
It took one full day to visit The Palace and Gardens, Imperial Carriage Museum, Palm House Schönbrunn, etc.. On arrival Vienna Pass Holders must join a relatively shorter queue for collection of their timed tickets for visiting the Palace's staterooms. Of course we did not just stand there waiting for our turn at around midday. Imperial Carriage Museum fitted right into the gap.
Schönbrunn Palace is a must-see in Vienna. It is easily accessible by metro. For those with tight schedules, just skip the palm house, the zoo, and everything else, but enjoy a full tour of Carriage Museum, staterooms, and The Gardens.
Just before sunset we toured around the central area for as many nice shots against the azure background as possible as weather forecast for the last two days of our summer vacation did upset us quite a bit. Major stops were Neue Burg Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, MuseumsQuartier, Austrian Parliament Building, St. Stephen's Cathedral, etc..
The forecast could not be more accurate. That was a rainy, windy morning. As always, we did a great job visiting attractions where sunshine was essential on the first two days and leaving indoor ones for the second half of the trip in the case of adverse weather conditions, which was, in this case, offset by a comprehensive tour featuring the majestic interiors of both Museum of Natural History Vienna and Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Other points of interest were Nationalbibliothek, Imperial Crypt, and the famous Hundertwasserhaus.  
Attracted by its grandiose interiors and fine patisserie we had had earlier, we could not resist treating ourselves a Viennese-Hungarian dinner at Cafe Central. What a pity our evening with delicious food in such superb setting was spoilt by horrible service.  
As we managed to see everything as planned, wandering around Vienna with minimal rain on the last day of our journey turned out to be a nice relaxing activity. Visit to the Museum Hundertwasser was surprisingly brief. There was not much to see there except for a mini exhibition of artwork of the same kind. The wonderful summer vacation ended with some more quality sweets including a signature Sacher Torte!

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