• Slovakia!

    Slovakia: Tatra Mountains. Go Now!

    Slovakia
    The Tatra Mountains (pictured) form the backdrop of this rural country, whose culture is rooted in this beautiful landscape. Go Now!

  • Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

  • Finland!

    Finland: Finnish Sauna. Go Now!

    Finland
    Unlike its neighbors, the Finns are unique ethnically & linguistically, but are wholly European in many other ways. Begin Your Journey!

Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Vienna

October 26, 2004
Hofburg Palace, Schönbrunn, & More

We got into Vienna at about 10:00am, but got off at a bus station well out of town. At first, the city appeared nice, but there seemed to be empty canals that looked like they were run down.

We exchanged money as soon as we could, then bought brats on the street from a vendor. We wandered for awhile and got ourselves on the map (literally). Perhaps it was my tiredness, but at first I wasn't very fond of the city, it seemed like the people were unhappy, they were quiet and no one seemed to be talking. We continued our walk and the city was still less than impressive, dirty, under construction and the people just seemed down. However as the day went on the city really grew on me and I realized I would be unhappy and anti-social at 5:00 in the morning, which in fact I was, since that was about the time we arrived. The sun however spotlighted the unique architecture and buildings, which are beautiful as the palaces are indescribable. One could definitely tell that this was a seat of power and that the ruling family, the Hapsburgs, put a lot of money into their capital; even today it feels like a city of power and prestige.

The food here was also good, beginning with that brat stand we discovered about 7:00 am and as the sun started brightening the sky the people seemed happier. The parks were great (especially Stadtpark and Volksgarten) and the construction which may not look good, is really just keeping up the appearance of the city. I guess I was a little surprised however because I pictured more of a historical city, like a medieval city, something like Prague. However, Vienna is without a doubt a baroque city, the history (basically built after the Turkish invasion of 1683) is much more recent than I was expecting, hence at first slightly disappointed.

We spent the better half of the day seeing the downtown area, including Volksgarten, Burggarten, Hofburg, Parliament, and simply wandering around the streets. I misjudged how large the city was and thought I could walk to Schloss Schönbrunn, a palace that looked close on the map… only about seven inches, but turns out… three hours later that it's much farther than I had imagined. Next time I'll probably look at the scale. This was perhaps my greatest mistake though because I got to see true Wien, not Vienna. It was more real, it went from nice, to run-down, through China town and then out of almost nowhere there was this incredibly enormous and decorative palace with amazing gardens.

As I was taking the subway back to the center of the city and I was amazed at the honesty of the people; as I pulled my map out of my pocket I accidentally dropped some Czech money and a woman ran after me to return it. Granted this wasn't worth much, especially in Vienna, but it was about 200 Czech crowns, which, if you don't know the conversion rate, looks like a lot of money, yet she immediately returned it. I think this says a lot about her character and, so far as I could tell, the city as a whole.

Once back in the city I met my friend Derek at Belvedere Palace, also very impressive, then jumped next door to the train station to try to book a hostel before buying a ticket to Bratislava; however this came with many difficulties. Every hostel in Bratislava was booked full, so we settled with a hotel that was expensive, however still cheaper than any hostel in Vienna. We reserved a room then bought our train tickets... another catastrophe: the tickets were 18 Euros, that was more than our tickets from Krakow to Prague, but this trip was only an hour long! It's times like these that I remember why I rarely travel through Western Europe.

After planning the next stage of our trip, we met Phil (my old boss from the embassy) at Stephansdom (the city's main church), who took us out in the student district; Phil bought us beers and explained his theory on Germany being the epicenter of the world's beer. He says the best beer is from Germany and the next best is from the neighboring countries: Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It was an interesting conversation, but the best part was just catching up with Phil and having a chance to relax with someone who truly knows the city.

After our reunion we departed, grabbed another brat from the train station and jumped on our train. The border control on the train was fairly relaxed now that Slovakia is part of the European Union (EU). They simply check to see if you are the person on the passport and that's it, nothing else, this is truly a relief after going to Ukraine on a train numerous times.

Continue the above trip to: Slovakia

*    *    *

Salzburg

June 25, 2005
Salzburg's Downtown & the Castle

The train trip from Slovenia to Salzburg was great, extremely beautiful and we entertained ourselves by playing some games. We arrived to Salzburg late in the day and discovered the city in a downpour. The rain didn't bother us much though, since we were extremely dehydrated and focused on getting water and food at the train station. I had a kebab and drank water quicker than I ever have before.

After inhaling our food, we got a cab to the old town, which is where our hotel was located. We arrived late and the reception had closed, but left us a note and the keys to our rooms on the front desk.

My brother, Brent and I discussed our street performance and he met "Blue," his blanket, who was called blue because he was sad, not because of his color... don't ask.

June 26, 2005

After breakfast we headed out to wander around Salzburg, then up to the castle, which had great views and a slightly-frightening puppet museum. The castle was nice, but I spent much more time looking out at the city, away from the castle, than I spent looking at the castle itself; the views from here were well worth the time and trip to the top

Later, in the evening, we stopped at Mirabellgarten, St. Peterkirche, and the catacombs, which were unfortunately already closed. We ate at the restaurant next door to our hotel for dinner, the schwein snitzel was good, as was the ravioli and French fries, which seemed like odd offering in Salzburg. Our waiter was great and we made it an early night after watching some German television, of which we didn't understand a word.

St. Gilgen & the Lakes District

June 26, 2005
Sound of Music Tour

For lunch I grabbed an apple strudel then we headed out on the Sound of Music Tour. We got a personal van and our tour guide was pretty good. He showed us the castles that were used for the filming and then the lakes district, which was well worth the trip in and of itself.

The highlight was St. Gilgen, the town that Mozart's mother was born and grew up in. It sits on Wolfgangsee (lake) and I couldn't help but wonder if this is where Mozart got his name from. We visited four or five lakes and stopped in two towns. In the last town and our final stop, we got gelato and headed back to Salzburg on the autobahn.

Continue the above trip to: Germany

Tirol Region

June 28, 2005
Lonely Mountains

While driving through the Tirol Region from Bavaria to Liechtenstein we made a stop at a castle in ruins. It was on a hill in Austria, just over the border from Germany. It took a hike to get to so only a handful of us made the trek.

After this we left for a luge run. The luge was great, over 2 miles and about a kilometer drop in elevation from the top to bottom. It went extremely fast and was a complete thrill. We each made a luge run then again got in the car and headed west to Liechtenstein.

Learn more about Austria Return to Justin's Travel Blog