Where and why?
Riding on the success of the car
trip to Luxembourg last year, it didn't take us long after arriving back home to start
planning a new trip for the coming spring. But where to? My mother had been to Austria in
the 1960's and suggested it was time to go back..and for the rest of us to do our virgin
So it was written - so it should be done
Again it was time to get a hold of some
literature from Amazon in UK again - these being
'DK Eyewitness Travel - Austria', and 'DK Eyewitness Travel - Vienna'. Another contact to
various tourist offices led to even more heavy snail mails, and after a while of planning
and several late evenings, a trip was ready.
We decided to do a roundtrip that would make sense, i.e. not contain too many long detours,
as the distance we planned
to cover would be almost 3000 km. Using the overnight ferry from Oslo to
Kiel, our journey would go straight south on the A7 autobahn to our first overnight stop in
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, then down to the Füssen area next to the Austrian border. From here,
we would plow through Tyrol over the Brenner pass into Italy, continue down the valley on the
other side, and drive via the northern part of the Dolomites mountain area back to Austria,
over the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse into Berchtesgadener Land in Germany, back via Salzburg
to Vienna, then northwestwards to Regensburg, Munich and finally onto the A7 to Kiel.
Germany - a "shorter" stop
The start of the trip was on May 9th (Oslo). The distance from Kiel
to Rothenburg ob der Tauber is
around 650 km, and is easily done in a day, as long as no serious traffic
jams occur. Rothenburg itself is quite a unique small town. Situated on top of a small hill overlooking
the Tauber valley, it has been very well preserved as a completely fortified town with a well restored
wall surrounding the entire old part, and has been made mostly car free. Most of the old town is one
big worth-seeing attraction, and a round trip, part on the wall and part on the cobblestone streets is
recommended. Things to see include the town hall (Rathaus), the oldest part being from 1250. There are
several towers named after colours as well, one of these being climbable.
The wall has been entirely restored after a U.S. bombing raid on a railway station with little military
value during World War II. Names of all contributors to the restoration work can be seen along the walkway,
which is at times quite narrow. There is an interesting and over-the-top year-round decorated Christmas shop here where photography is forbidden, due to them being afraid of getting too many visitors (or
actually the boss had just said no in the first place, when I asked about it). Bavarians may indeed be experienced as different from other Germans at times..
The castle area on the west side of the town is also worth including on your tour.
We stayed in a small hotel just outside one of the gates to the old town -
Hotel Hornburg - a very cosy place in a small building that
looks like a cross between a villa and a fairy-tale castle. The guy who runs the place deserves special
mention as well, as he is not only a well of knowledge and humour, but also speaks like a native
Englishman with just a slight hint of a German accent. But the town is bound to have a lot of visitors
from outside Germany, as it is (and deserves to be) well known. We chose to dine at a Chinese restaurant
in the Hotel Lotus, located just inside the town wall - a very pleasant experience.
Germany - still a lot to write
The drive from Rothenburg to the Füssen area is only 230 km and is
done in a couple of hours. It may be a good idea to plan where to stay beforehand, as there are loads
of possibilities. There is the town of Füssen itself (the highest in Bavaria at around 800 metres above
sea level), with around 16.000 inhabitants, a lot of traffic, and of course its own castle. Then there
are the smaller villages dotted around, such as Schwangau, Hohenschwangau, Hopfen am See, Weissensee and
Bad Faulenbach, all within 5 km of the main town. We chose to stay at the Hotel Garni
Gästehaüser Hartung am See, a truly excellent choice with
a marvellous view over the Hopfensee and the Allgaüer alps. We rented two rooms, one of them being an
apartment, but with the option of choosing to use it as a double room. And the price including
breakfast for this room for two persons: € 58! Who's complaining?
This would be our base for the coming three nights.
The next day, we woke up to a clear blue sky and decided to go for a small round trip. We planned
to take the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn up to the top with the same name (Zugspitze), which is Germany's highest
peak at 2963 metres (and majestically sized, the peak itself lying just barely inside Germany). However,
they were closed for maintenance for 3 days or so - exactly the three days we
were there. Luckily, there
was an alternative: we drove around the mountain, past Garmisch-Partenkirchen and to the starting point of the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, where we chose a round-trip option. This would take us on a cogwheel train from the bottom station at Eibsee (1000 m) to 2600 m, then a quick cable car ride to the top itself. By the time we had reached the top, clouds were closing in and the weather was less nice. The trip down was done in one leg with a smaller cable car that descended around 2000 metres almost vertically (at least it felt like it) in just 10 minutes.
On the way back to Hopfen am See, more treats awaited: the Benidictine Ettal Abbey which was founded in
1330 is an impressive sight as you drive by, and as only 40 km or so remained, we stopped for a visit to
Schloss Linderhof. Another sight not to be missed when in this vicinity, the castle, including its
gardens, grotto and various small buildings dotted around, was built by the 'fairy-tale king', Ludwig II of Bavaria (I have decided to dedicate a separate page to him, as it is quite an extensive tale).
To read this story, go here.
This was the only of the three palaces built by King Ludwig that was finished (in 1878). Critics may claim
that it resembles a giant wedding cake, but it is rather small and cute for being a castle. Unfortunately,
the entire front was covered up due to restoration, but the castle was still open for
tours. In 25 minutes,
you will be guided through most of the castle and shown the various rooms, which are highly decorated,
yet the castle has a definite private feel to it. Of the most memorable rooms are the king's bedchamber,
which houses a massive bed, giving the term 'king-size' a whole new perspective. The dining room is special
in the way that the table was installed on a lift which makes up part of the floor, so that the servants
could make the table downstairs, then send it up to the king so that he could dine in private.
The garden presents a nice stroll in a beautiful landscape, and inspiration is gathered from various
styles such as Baroque, Italian Renaissance, as well as the English Garden. Some of the most interesting
structures found are the Moorish Kiosk and the Moroccan House, the latter which was actually built in
Morocco for an exhibition in Vienna in 1873, then moved here and refurnished.
The Venus Grotto deserves special mention, as it is the biggest artificial cave ever made. It was built
to illustrate part of Wagner's opera 'Tannhäuser'. Here, the king was rowed over the small lake and at
the same time enjoyed his own 'blue grotto of Capri', which was made possible with the use of several
dynamos that would change the colours of the grotto's illumination.
Castles and more castles!
The second day started and continued with fog, rain and a temperature of
6°C. For a visit to a castle's inside it was more or less ideal, but most of the scenic setting was lost.
We decided to do a double castle visit, as the two just a few km south of Füssen are right next to each
other. Do prepare to set aside most of the day even if you live close by - each tour takes around half an
hour, but english tours are fewer, and you also have to add some time for travel between them.
It is recommended to do Hohenschwangau first, as this is right next to the village and car park area,
as well as the ticket counter - there is no ticket counter at Neuschwanstein, you have to buy it in the
village. The area is otherwise dominated by hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Schloss Hohenschwangau was built in 1828 by King Maximilian II (King Ludwig's father) on the site of
a much older fortress. It was the official summer and hunting residence of Maximilian and his wife Marie
of Prussia, where their two sons, Ludwig and Otto also spent a lot of their adolescent years. As King
Maximilian died in 1864 and Ludwig became his successor at the age of 18, and while his mother lived on
her own floor of the castle, Ludwig lived here as he started construction of his own castle, namely
the fairy-tale castle Neuschwanstein, in 1869. Schloss Hohenschwangau was opened as a museum in 1913,
after the deaths of Marie (1889) and Regent Luitpold (1912). It is visited by more than 300.000 people
each year, and is open all year, apart from Christmas.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall...which is the most fairy-tale castle of them all?
In 1996, I played through the Sierra computer adventure named 'Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within'.
since then, I had been fascinated by the story of King Ludwig and his castle heritage, and a desire to
visit Neuschwanstein in particular had been there since then. 8 years later, my chance had arrived!
It would turn out to be every bit of the experience I had expected it to be, as the location of the
castle is arguably without equal, situated on a rocky outcrop next to the wild Pöllat gorge and modelled
after the Wartburg castle. Possibly the most famous building in Germany, the castle attracts
up to 2 million visitors every year, peaking during summer seasons at 6000 visitors in a day.
It is reached either by walking up the steep road, taking a short bus ride or a horse carriage.
Construction was begun in 1869 and is commonly claimed to have finished abruptly at King Ludwig's death in 1886, while other sources claim it continued until 1892. In any case, the interior of the
castle smells of unfinished business, as there are doors leading into open air, missing staircases,
as well as a spot in the courtyard for the construction of a 90-metre tower.
The tour will cover the 14 rooms that
were finished, including the bedroom with another majestic bed which took 14 woodcarvers 4 1/2 years to make
(and the king never even slept in it!) This 'house for the spoiled' also had running water, coming from
(of course) swan shaped taps and modern facilities for cooking. Most of the rooms clearly show the king's
affection of Wagner's operas, and indeed, he was the composer's patron at the time. The Sängersaal
(Singer's Hall) atop the castle is an impressive one and the king held private concerts here.
It is advisable to head over to the Marienbrücke, some 80 metres above the Pöllat gorge, and take in the full view of the castle from the side. Ludwig was a devoted nature lover, and did not want to make his castle
spoil the surroundings - as is clearly seen from this angle. The castle seems to naturally grow up from the rock it is perched on, and the lakes in the distance make for a perfect background. The path leading
across the bridge continues all the way up to the top of the mountain behind - Tegelberg (1720 m) in
an estimated 3 1/2 hours.
There is also a cable car leading up to this mountain, opening up the possibility for a round trip.
Photography is not allowed in either of the two castles, yet it is allowed (without the use of flash as
this deranges the interior over time) in Linderhof, which may at first seem strange, since both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof is governed by the same instance (Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen
Schlösser, Gärten und Seen - how is that for a short title even by German standards!)
But this might be explained by the fact that at Linderhof, there is ample time during the tour for
a bit of photography, while at Neuschwanstein, a new tour starts every 5 minutes with the precision
of German optics - a well-oiled machinery indeed but it works without a flaw, so there would be no time
for photo stops inside. Of course, you can buy postcards or even request for high-quality digital photos
from the Bayerische Ver...phew! itself (the latter at somewhat steep prices).
The castle houses a souvenir shop as well as a sort of cafeteria with some awful food - steer well clear
of it apart from a drink (and buy a mug with the Neuschwanstein logo including coffee or hot chocolate,
but remember to finish your drink before putting the mug inside your backpack...)
And on your way back...wasn't there something familiar with the full front view of this castle?
Yes, this is indeed the castle upon which Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle has been modelled (and
not the other way round, in case there was any doubt!)
My brother was off fixing the car this day, due to a malfunction in the exhaust system, or as they
said in German "auspuff kaputt!", but he also experienced a bit of German helpfulness as someone in the shop
drove him to the nearest ATM to withdraw some cash to pay for the repair. In some places in Bavaria, few international credit cards are accepted - another slight quirk.
The next day is officially a non-castle day!
Indeed, the next leg of our journey saw us across the Austrian border via Reutte in Tirol, then down
past Innsbruck and upwards again towards the Brenner pass. Between Innsbruck and Brenner, you will pass
The Bergisel ski jump, which is used in the '4 hills tournament' each year, as well as the impressive
Europabrücke - at least it would look more impressive from beneath, as it is a 192 metre high bridge
crossing a deep valley. When driving over it, you will barely notice.
The Brenner pass is the most used crossing between Austria and Italy, as can be seen by the traffic,
which increases even more as you switch to the Italian Autostrada (which in plural form is Autostrade, definitely on your top 10 list of 'things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask').
The weather on the north side of the Alps was still a bit cold, while on the south side, summer had
arrived. We stopped for lunch further down the valley, and it was pleasantly warm. Slightly less
pleasant was the Autogrill (the Italian equivalent of the German or Austrian Raststätte), with a
somewhat confusing system where you had to find out what you wanted first, go to another counter
and say what you wanted and pay for it, get your receipt and finally get the item back at the first
counter. Also, a television which no-one was watching was blaring out Italian syllables at high speed
and equally matching volume. Indeed, we had crossed the border between the Germanic and the Latin
world - time to adapt.
We drove to Chiusa (around 20 km from the Brenner pass), where we left the Autostrada and headed for
Val Gardena at first. This is one of many well known ski resorts in the northern part of the country,
and after having decided which mountain pass to choose, we headed for Passo Gardena, which took us to
an altitude of 2137 metres. Here, winter was still at large, and the few buildings looked rather
deserted. Downwards to the next place, Alta Badia, another ski resort, up a pass and down again, reaching
perhaps the most known resort in the area - Cortina d'Ampezzo (altitude 1450 metres). Most of this town was also
closed, but still, traffic was heavy and the centre area seemed unhealthy, leaving us with a poor (and probably unlucky) impression of the resort. From here, Venice was only 140 km away, but our road
took us northward across yet another pass and finally down to a beautiful valley in which Toblach/Dobbiaco
was situated. Those of you who know the world of biathlon may know that the family Santer runs a hotel
here. A few km to the east across the Austrian border, then another few km saw us to our destination for
the day - Lienz (altitude 673 metres). Most of the drive through Italy was through the northern part of
the Dolomites - a large and very impressive and peculiar looking mountain range. If you have seen the
movie Cliffhanger, the most dramatic scenery there is from the Dolomites - not North America as it is supposed to be in the movie.
Lienz was a pleasant experience, a small town situated at the foot of the Lienzer Dolomiti which rose to
a height of around 2800 metres, and houses a peculiar looking town hall which looks rather Oriental in
style. It was good to have a nice hotel to stay in after driving more than 300 km on winding roads, and
our choice of Hotel Moarhof was excellent. Overlooking the
town and the mountains behind, this seemed to be a popular hotel for bikers as well. Our evening walk
outside was cut short by the somewhat unpleasant company of several huge swarming insects - they were so big they made a loud 'clang' as they struck lamplights or metal rain gutters. I am quite sure they also had big,
nasty teeth! :)
High alpine trip
The next day started with a short visit to the Roman excavation site known as 'Aguntum', a pleasant
stroll in beautiful surroundings. We even got a free entrance, as they weren't officially open yet.
The next leg of the journey was to be one of Austria's biggest tourist attractions - the Grossglockner
Hochalpenstrasse (high alpine road). It winds its way up the mountain range known as the Hohe Tauern,
reaching the provincial border between Kärnten (Carinthia) and Salzburger Land at its highest point,
the Hochtor tunnel, 2503 metres above sea level. Indeed, the car was a bit dissatisfied at this altitude,
as it was also deep winter here (the road opens up sometime in May and closes in October). A masterpiece
of engineering work, it will also take you (via a short detour) to the biggest attraction - the Kaiser
Franz Josefshöhe, where you can view Austria's highest peak - Grossglockner, 3798 metres - in all its
glory towering above the Pasterze glacier. Don't forget to look down to see a family or two of
marmots - they have obviously made their home here in the warmer side of the valley, and don't mind
a bit of food or two or three or...from visitors, although they are trying to cut down on the beer
and smokes :) There is ample opportunity for feeding yourself here as well, as the place houses at least
two restaurants - with acceptable food. If you want to go as high as possible with your car, take the
two kilometre detour to Edelweisspitze (2571 metres) with a 360-degree view of the surroundings. We chose
to skip this, as we met a lot of clouds on the Salzburger Land side of the mountain range.
The final leg of the day went past Zell am See to Schönau in Berchtesgadener Land, and we were back in
Germany again. After a long day and when the clock showed 17, we found the myriad of small roads and
signposts to various hotels somewhat confusing, and decided not to spend too much time finding our pre-
chosen possibilities. Rather, we went for one of them, but it was full, and they recommended the place
just across the street - the Hotel Pension Unterstein.
Although the place was ok enough, it was the one which gave us the worst impression so far in Germany,
with a rather limited breakfast, a staff which spoke limited english and would not give us a full refund
after we had to cut down on our stay (even just half an hour after we had booked it, the reason being
that the road to the Kehlsteinhaus/Eagle's Nest was closed), claiming this was how the system worked.
As already mentioned, our plan to visit the real Eagle's Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) was spoiled by the fact
that the road was closed for maintenance. We cut down our stay from 3 to 2 nights, yet had to pay half
the cost of the final day that we didn't stay there. Nevertheless, Berchtesgaden is another highly scenic
part of southern Germany, and is home to its second highest peak - Watzmann (2713 m). Schönau is a cosy,
small and far stretched village, and we took a stroll to the banks of the Königssee, then marvelled at the
silently gliding boats they use there. These are electrical and have been so since the start of the service
in 1909. A small but attractive monastery (St. Bartholomä) sits halfway across the lake.
We used our base to explore the Austrian city of Salzburg as well, quite a pleasant experience. The city
is not very large, housing around 150.000 inhabitants, but the old part is worth a stroll through.
miss the funicular leading up to the fortress Hohensalzburg, from which you have a great view over the
city. Walking back down is an option, and if you cross the river Salzach, you have the opportunity to
visit the Mirabell castle. We declared this day to be officially castle-free as well, as long as we
considered the Hohensalzburg as a fortress and not a castle :)
No visit to Mozart's town of birth is complete without a visit to his house of birth, which is clearly
marked with big letters. It turned out we visited the rear side of the building - I found this out on a
Back in Berchtesgaden, our dinner place was clear - another chinese restaurant. These are always very pleasant and quiet, and this one was no exception. However, we were surprised that they eventually
asked us if we were from Norway..we admitted to our crime, and asked how they knew. They said they recognised a bit of our language, and also that they had a lot of Scandinavians visiting.
This would be the Kinder egg of our trip: it was both surprising, impressive and a wee bit scary!
These people were from China and spoke Chinese (obviously), German, English, and were able to recognise
the difference between Scandinavian languages - very impressive indeed!
Onwards to Vienna
Roughly a 300 km drive away, Vienna awaited..but along the way, around 80 km west of the capital itself,
we made a stop at the fabulous Benidictine monastery of Stift Melk. Perched atop a small hill and
overlooking the village and the Danube river, the monastery is a gigantic building. It has been in
continuous use since its founding in 1089 (most parts being off-limits to visitors). The present building dates from the early 1700s. The most impressive 'rooms' would have to be the library with
countless medieval manuscripts and a wonderful ceiling fresco, as well as the relatively newly restored abbey church, which is nothing short of breathtaking decoration wise.
In Vienna, we had prepared for several options hotel wise, but took the chance to drive straight to
first choice desirability wise. And what a choice indeed! The
Austria Trend Hotel Schloss Wilhelminenberg
(phew again!) was a fabulous experience for the three nights we stayed there. It was originally
constructed as hunting lodge/castle in 1781, expanded in 1838, used as a hospital during the years of
1939-1945, then completely restored in 1988 and opened up as 'Gästehaus Schloss Wilhelminenberg', then
converted to a hotel in 2000, before finally being further refurbished and gaining status as a four star
hotel in 2003. It sits on top of the Wilhelminenberg, boasts an excellent view over the city, and has
a 120.000 square metre park area. The foyer alone is quite impressive, the breakfast/dining room has
huge chandeliers, and the massive red-carpeted staircase makes you really wish for a room on the
second floor ;)
We decided to park the car while staying in the city, and this turned out to be no problem at all, as
the transportation system in Vienna is nothing short of excellent. From our elevated location, a bus
service ran every 10-15 minutes or so, and as this route was a round trip, it didn't really matter in
which direction we took it. It would take us to the subway station named Ottakring, which was the ending
point for one of the city's 5 subways. From here, we could go straight to the city centre, or cross with
another line depending on where we wanted to go. The time between trains is 2-5 minutes. A map is accessible wherever you travel, and a voice will announce on the speaker the connecting possibilities (in German, yet with a heavy Viennese dialect: 'umsteigung'). The 72-hour pass gives you unlimited access to most kinds of transportation, i.e. buses, subway, trams (as well as discounts and special offers that are less interesting), not a bad deal at € 16.90 (2004 - the price in 2007 seems to be € 18.50).
After having plowed through DK Eyewitness Travel - Vienna, as well as a map with recommended
sights, we decided to slightly modify the 'one walk - eleven sights' itinerary to include a northbound
detour. We started off by taking the subway to Stephansplatz, which is considered the absolute centre
of the city. As soon as we arrived above ground, we were addressed by Mozart-clad students (presumably), trying to sell us concert tickets. This is after all the capital of classical music, but don't expect
these tickets to be for concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker, or get you access into either
Musikverein, Wiener Staatsoper or Volksoper. And don't expect to be able to get tickets to the New Year's
concert either (unless on the black market), as these are sold out years beforehand.
The next thing you will notice is the
Stephansdom itself, a very impressive structure. With its main tower,
nicknamed 'Steffl' and one of the main symbols of Vienna, rising 137
metres above the Stephansplatz, it will be a challenge to fit into a
single picture. The mosaic tiled roof is one of the most noteworthy
things about it - the inside is somewhat cold and naked (as is actually
the intention). The roof is 110 metres long and if you have a day or two
extra to spare, you may count the tiles - anyway there should be around
230.000 of them. On one side, the double headed eagle is represented,
the symbol of the Habsburg empire, and on the other side is the coat of
arms of Vienna and the Republic of Austria. The cathedral itself houses
the tombs and crypts of various historic people, as well as some
At our time of visiting, the large tower was partly covered in
scaffolding due to more or less continuous restoration work, and was
also covered in commercial banners. These have later been removed due to
controversy, though the scaffolding is probably not as old as the
cathedral itself, which was constructed in 1147.
The Stephansplatz itself also housed a few
pantomimers, including a very lifelike version of Charlie Chaplin.
Our continued stroll took us first past an
older part of the huge Hofburg complex, the original seat and winter
residence of the Habsburgers, who ruled their empire for more than 600
years. It now incorporates several structures: numerous
chapels, museums, Imperial Library, treasury, national theatre, and the
riding school (Hofreitschule or Spanish Riding School), then to a long
northbound detour to the Sigmund Freud park and the impessive double
spired Votivkirche, which was finished as late as 1879. Like the
Stephansdom, this church was constructed from white sandstone, and is
therefore a continuous restoration project due to discolouration and
eroding from pollution and acid rain.
On our way back, we passed the Burgtheater,
which is the largest German speaking theatre in the world (for those who
like such records :), then to the impressive neo-Gothic town hall
(Rathaus), which rises 96 metres above the courtyard. After a pleasant
lunch in another of Vienna's numerous green parks (we decided to walk
through these as much as possible on our round trip, in order to avoid
traffic and instead enjoy green surroundings), our route went past the
Neue Burg (another part of the Hofburg complex), where Prince Eugene of
Savoy sits on a prancing horse in front (not in person, but represented
by a statue).
We decided that a
visit inside either the Naturhistorische or Kunsthistorische museums
would eat up too much of our time, thus only saw the outside of them -
but they are very impressive twin buildings, sitting on each side of the
Maria Theresien-platz, which is sort of a small park with very neatly
trimmed bushes and a statue of the famous ruler of the empire during the
A popular tourist attraction
is to go on a tour with a horse carriage, known as fiacres, and we saw
several in service as well as many waiting for customers. Don't forget
to pay heed to their droppings!
disappointments awaited us further into our round trip - the parliament
was under heavy renovation, and the courtyard looked like it had been
recently bombed. We skipped this sight entirely, and went on to the
Wiener Staatsoper, where we found the facade covered by...more
scaffolding! It seemed as if Vienna wanted us to come back another
Yet another detour, this one
to the south, and the Karlsplatz and Karlskirche was crossed out on the
list. This is a quite peculiar looking church, as there is a blend of
various build styles. The facade and porch resembles that of a Greek
temple portico, the two columns were inspired by those in Traja in
Rome's Forum, while finally the two tower pavilions are Roman
baroque-ish in style. In the centre, a more traditional dome rises.
The final and most impressive park we visited
was the Wiener Stadtpark. Covering 65.000 square metres, it is most
famous for its gilded bronze monument of Johann Strauss II. This can at
a challenge to photograph without one or more japanese tourists
standing right in front of it. Expect to spend some time waiting for
these quite disorganised queues, as group after group and individual
after individual wants a picture of themselves next to their old buddy
Johann Strauss II.
In this park, we decided to try out a Viennese culinary speciality. Eine
Sachertorte und ein Apfelstrudel, bitte! The Sachertorte owes its name
from its origin, the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, and the apricot jam is one
of the things that makes it special. It is quite a sweet experience,
therefore the Apfelstrudel was a good contrast to it, although it is not
a native Viennese.
After a short
rest back at the hotel, it was time to join rush hour on the subway,
this time eastbound on the U1 towards Donauinsel. Getting off at Kagran,
a short walk saw us to our chosen dinner
China Sichuan, and what a location,
not to mention garden! Covering 6000 square metres and surrounded by a
white wall with circular entrances, it is designed like a traditional
chinese garden, with small ponds, bridges and walkways as well as
pavilions. And the main building itself is designed in the traditional
way, with roof edges curving upwards. This is definitely Vienna's
'Little China', and although it is somewhat more expensive than your
average Chinese restaurant, it really is far from your average
Chinese restaurant. The location is close to the newer 'UNO City' part
of Vienna, where glass monuments and big offices dominate the skyline,
as well as the Donauturm. OPEC has its main administration here, among
Exploring Schloss Schönbrunn
The next day was originally planned as a half-day trip, and the goal
was the Schloss Schönbrunn, the winter residence of the Habsburgs. A
combination of three subway lines saw us finally at the Schönbrunner
Schloss-strasse, which proved to be a rather noisy walk until we got to
the main entrance. Sitting near the exit from the subway station was yet
another guy trying to sell concert tickets, but the situation was a bit
amusing, as he had to partly yell to be heard above the noise of the
traffic, something like "Hello, would you *muffled out sounds* GO TO A
The castle itself is quite an impressive structure. It is supposed to
have 1440 rooms, and although its history dates back to the middle ages,
the present structure was built, extended and rebuilt over a longer
period of time during the 1700s. There is a choice of either a 'self
guided' audio tour, a guided 'grand tour' which covers some 20+ rooms,
and an 'imperial tour' (also with guide) which covers 40 rooms and takes
well over an hour. English spoken tours seemed to be somewhat far
between, so while waiting for our appointed time, we strolled back and
forth across the 'short side' of the park to see the Gloriette. This
structure was built as (another) symbol
of power, success and glory of
the empire. Nowadays, it houses a café downstairs and is also climbable
(for a charge). Finally it was time for our guided tour of the palace,
and there was a lot of information to be devoured here. Among the most
memorable rooms to see were the old bedchamber of Marie Theresa,
'Reiches Zimmer', which is now completely encased in an airtight chamber
with a year-round balanced temperature and humidity to ensure the best
possible preservation conditions. The bed was quite impressive in
itself, with its red velvet hangings and gold/silver embroideries. The
so called 'Millions Room' is entirely covered in rosewood panels depicting
scenes from India during the 16th and 17th century. During the second
World War, Hitler recognised these decorations as invaluable, and
ordered them dismantled in case the palace should be bombed. This was
done, and luckily the palace mostly escaped bombings, but the
reassembling of the room took a long time still.
No grand palace is complete without a mirrors room, and the one housed
here is as impressive as any. While the walls are not covered in
mirrors to give the typical 'mirror room effect', the magnificent white
and gold Rococo decorations more than make up for it.
The Great Gallery has to be the most impressive room of them all -
measuring 40x10 metres, the ceiling is 10 metres above the floor!
Beautiful frescoes depict various scenes, but the guide told us a
story with more than a hint of irony in it: as the allied bombs rained
down over the axis nations (including Austria), Schönbrunn was luckily
spared too much of the bombing. In fact, only one bomb went
through the roof, yet it did not detonate - but ruined the single fresco
which glorified war.
There is a lot
more to see apart from the palace - there is the previously mentioned
Gloriette, the Imperial wagon collection, a maze in the gardens and a
separate private garden, all requiring extra fees. The rest of the park
has no entrance fee, and is huge - included inside is the world's oldest
zoo - Tiergarten Schönbrunn, dating back to 1752.
famous people have resided here as well, the most noteworthy being the
- Marie Theresa,
responsible for a lot of the construction and expansion of today's
Schönbrunn, who was mother to 16 children (count them!), among those
- Franz Joseph, who
was the emperor for 68 years till he practically died at his desk in
1916, during World War I, which started as the heir to the throne,
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914.
- Elisabeth, nicknamed 'Sisi', formerly from
Bavaria but married to Franz Joseph, something she regretted for the
rest of her life, as she had trouble adapting to the strict etiquette
practiced at the Habsburg court. She was assassinated in 1898 at the age
of 60 by an anarchist who was simply out to kill one of royal blood - it
did not matter who it was.
style palm house is worth a visit as well, as it is quite an original
structure. Here, we attempted to enjoy a dinner which resembled a couple
of pizza slices bought at a hut nearby, however we failed to enjoy it -
especially compared to the dinner the day before.
Finishing off with a day in the zoo, we
realised we had spent nearly 10 hours on this sight alone - and we
thought we had done a somewhat cut-down version of the castle and
surroundings! The zoo alone took quite a while to plow through, yet it
was enjoyable. It was time to head back to our own castle for a bit of
The first day of the leg back home turned out to be a long drive. We
went from Vienna back into Germany, crossing the border at Passau, and
had originally intended to stop for the night in Bamberg - another town
bathed in old history. We seemed to have chosen the wrong day for going
somewhere like this though - as every guest room seemed to be occupied,
and it seemed as if every German had this weekend off - in conjunction
with Ascension Day.
search for an overnight stop took us into the town of Schweinfurt, which
seemed about as pleasant as the name indicated - so we drove further
back towards the A7, until we finally saw a neon sign saying 'hotel'
some 200 m before the meeting with the autobahn. We had found the hotel
Frankentor, and at 9 pm it was a welcome sight. Although the standard
was somewhat less than what we were used to - there were no complaints
at all. We made an attempt at enjoying the breakfast (which was good
enough in itself) while an American nearby smoked his breakfast.
The rest of the return journey included a reunion with the middle age
town of Goslar, as well as a final detour via Celle back to Kiel. But
when having experienced Goslar - Celle was a bit of a letdown, as it was
not as thoroughly medieval by far as Goslar. The most enjoyable part of
the town was the Hohes Schloss and its park (no, we didn't visit the
castle, but took a stroll around it).
UNESCO sites visited on the journey:
Historic Centre of the
City of Salzburg
Historic Centre of
Palace and Gardens of
Town of Bamberg
Füssen official website:
Salzburg official website:
Vienna official website: