Category Archives: Austria

Odd One Out – Reflections

It was Venice for all the reasons you came up with.  Well done everyone.  Too easy by far, I am working on something more challenging for next time.

I thought that the cruise ship might have confused some of you…

A to Z of Balconies – Hallstatt in Austria

In 2007 we took a train ride from Salzburg to the nearby village of Hallstatt. I liked it immediately. The village was thoroughly charming and I was straight away prepared to accept its claim of being the most attractive village in Austria

The village is set on piles driven into the lake with an intricate system of intersecting timber ramps, butresses and ascending terraces like hanging gardens creating an air of mystery and the eeriness of mirage, a village that seems to be almost lost in the middle-mist of folklore and fable. The mountain flanks rise sheer from the lake, leaving no room for a road and all but the smallest of vehicles are prohibited from entering the centre of the village.

We walked through streets with houses sometimes built into the mountain, sometimes hanging on to the mountain and at other times on top of the mountain and on the other side they were built right up to the edge of the lake.

Gaudi, Mozart and a Starling

Whilst looking through my pictures for my previous post about El Capricho I came across the picture of the bird on a piano keyboard…

It reminded me of the story of Mozart’s Starling and I wondered if Gaudi  also knew about the unlikely tale.

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – Ljubljana Christmas Market

December is a time for Christmas Markets. In 2007 I was in Ljubljana in Slovenia…

Read The Full Story Here…

Thursday Doors – Hallstatt in Austria

Hallstatt Door

On a visit to Salzburg we went on a train journey and visited the village of Hallstatt, which claims to be the most attractive place in all of Austria.

The land between the lake and mountains is sparse and precious and the town itself has exhausted every free patch of it and the first road to Hallstatt was only built in 1890. The bus arrived in the village through tunnels blasted out of the rocks and dropped us off at the southern end of the village. The village was thoroughly charming and I was immediately prepared to accept its most attractive village in Austria claim.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Read the Full Story…

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

On This Day – Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 30th May 2008 I was at Lake Constance in Germany with my daughter…

Friedrichshafen 07

Germany? You’re going on holiday to Germany? But why?”  I am willing to bet that this question/response never arises if you tell people you are travelling to Italy or France.  No, there’s something about travelling to Germany that requires an explanation. Or should that be, there’s something about British people that requires an explanation if you are travelling to Germany and although I encountered this reaction before going to Friedrichshafen I didn’t really feel that I really needed to explain myself.

As Sally had recently broken the news about having a baby which I have to say came as a massive shock, I wasn’t ready at only fifty-two to be ready for that sort of commitment, I thought it would be a good idea to have a last bonding holiday together as father and daughter before the big event as it might to be a long time before we get this opportunity again.  I was straight to the Ryanair website and I quickly located cheap flights to Germany.

I really had no idea where Friedrichshafen was and I really didn’t care, I was determined to have the flights so I booked them without giving the transaction a second thought.  After it had been confirmed I set out to discover where it was exactly and to learn something about our destination.

I was delighted to find that it is in the far southwest of Germany sitting alongside Lake Constance and within easy reach of its neighbours Switzerland and Austria and I quickly realised that here was a trip where I could pull in some extra countries in my quest to visit as much of Europe as possible using the low cost airlines to get me there.  After consulting the guidebooks and planning a suitable itinerary the final plan was to fly to Friedrichshafen then drive to Switzerland and visit Liechtenstein as well.

Lake Constance

We arrived in Germany at three o’clock in the afternoon and picked up the hire car with a minimum of fuss and drove directly to the city to find the hotel Schöllhorn, which wasn’t as straightforward as it should have been but eventually we found it at the third attempt and checked in.

The hotel was a grand building in a good position with front rooms overlooking the lake but as I had booked a budget room ours had an alternative view over the car park at the back but this didn’t matter because as it was mid afternoon already we quickly organised ourselves and made our way out of the hotel and down to the lake to see what the city had to offer.

We walked for a while along the friendly waterfront and before very long selected a table at a bar with an expansive view of the water stretching across to Switzerland.  Not that we could see Switzerland however because there was a strange mist that hung over the curiously dead calm water that rather spoilt the view of the Alps in the distance.  A glance at the menu confirmed my excellent judgement in earlier purchasing a German phrase book at the airport because the menu interpretation looked especially tricky with very few words that meant anything to me.

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.” – Mark Twain, ‘A Tramp Abroad –That Awful German Language’

Friedrichshafen 01

My first attempt at the German language proved a total failure.  I ordered two beers and got three from a slightly confused looking waitress who couldn’t distinguish between my zweis and my dreis – anyway we didn’t complain and drank them all anyway so perhaps it wasn’t such a linguistic catastrophe after all, but mindful of the possible dangers in being too adventurous with food choices from an unfamiliar menu we restricted ourselves to a simple salad for lunch.

This was a perfect spot for an afternoon sojourn and we sat and watched the lake that was busy with ferry boats crossing over to Switzerland or simply stopping off at all the little towns that border the lake and we sat and practised German from the phrasebook and Sally impressed me with her natural grasp of the language.  Later we walked along the promenade to check the schedules for our planned trip to the other side of the water the next day.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

If you were wondering, the grand looking chap who has his statue it is Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin because this is where his airship was pioneered and developed.

Zeppelin was born in Konstanz, on the other side of the lake and in 1898 he founded the ‘Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt’ or the company for the promotion of airship flight, and construction of the first Zeppelin began in Friedrichshafen in 1899 which enjoyed a perfect location for launching the airships presumably because the lake provided a slightly softer landing in the event of mishaps.  The first Zeppelin flight occurred on 2nd July 1900 over Lake Constance and lasted for eighteen minutes.

Read the Full Story Here…

Not sure why I was so worried about having a grandchild – now I have four, Molly, Patsy, William and Heidi…

wp-1590252876637.jpg

Some things that make Switzerland Famous

I suppose you have to admire the Swiss.  Here, after all, is a county that is small. mountainous, has virtually no natural resources and yet has managed to become the richest nation on earth” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here, Nor there’

In April 2007 we visited Alpine Switzerland and driving through the meadows and hills on our way to Liechtenstein we stopped at a delightful little place for lunch.

It was a perfectly lovely setting and we sat in the sun and enjoyed our food but the best was yet to come because when we decided to use the washrooms before resuming our journey we were amused to find what simply has to be the best loo in the world with a mechanical cleaning process that included a 360º scrubbing and automatic disinfection of the toilet seat.

This was really impressive but I was a little concerned about health and safety risks associated with it beginning in advance of the occupier leaving the seat, which could have been especially painful for a man if he was to get his valuables caught up in the procedure.

Switzerland it has to be said is not the most exciting country in the World so this started us thinking and we tried to agree on five things that make it famous.  We were going to do ten but this seemed absurdly ambitious!

Our final choice might have included cowbells, yodelling, fondue sets or emmental cheese, maybe Roger Federer or Ursula Andress but in the end we agreed upon, in reverse order…

5. Swiss watches of course – that was rather obvious.  I have never owned a Swiss watch and never will because I really fail to see the point of spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a wrist watch when a simple Casio will do the same job for just a few pence.  I once bought one in a petrol station for £1.99 and it lasted for several years.

4. Cuckoo clocks, because even though they are strictly speaking from Germany the Swiss were important for the ‘chalet’ style that they introduced at the end of nineteenth century and is the sort of cuckoo clock where it is common to have a  music box somewhere in the mechanism with tunes like ‘Edelweiss’ and ‘The Happy Wanderer’.

I once had a problem with a cuckoo clock in Germany – Trouble With a Cuckoo Clock

World's Biggest Cuckoo Clock Triberg Black Forest

3. Breakfast cereal Muesli, which was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital in Zurich.  I imagine that this solved the problem of bed-blocking!

I am not a big fan of Muesli, I always think it looks like something that I should put out on the bird feeding table…

Muesli

2.   Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar found in every airport duty-free shop that was invented by Theodore Tobler in 1908 in his factory in Bern with a design supposed to represent the Matterhorn Mountain in the Swiss Alps.

I confess that I rather like Toblerone but then I am rather fond of almonds.

Toblerone

but most of all we had to agree upon on…

1. The Swiss Army knife.

Various models of Swiss Army knives exist, with different tool combinations for specific tasks. The most common tools featured are, in addition to the main blade, a smaller second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, corkscrew, slotted screwdriver, flat-head screwdriver, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, file, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, hex wrench w/bits, pliers and key chain. Recent technological features include USB flash drives, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and MP3 player.

That is a startling collection of potential weapons in one utensil but I can’t help thinking that it was a good job Switzerland didn’t go to war with Germany in 1939 because I can’t imagine Hitler’s crack Panzer division being turned back by an army wielding nail files and toothpicks.

Manufacturers today  supply over fifty thousand a year to the Swiss Army which works out at a new knife for every soldier just about every three years or so.

Have I missed anything?

How a Starling Wrote a Piano Concerto

Mozart's Starling

These days it  is totally illegal to keep wild birds as pets as this is in contravention of the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 and what’s more, under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, there is a potential fine of up to £5,000, and or six months imprisonment.

Until we realised that we had made a mess of the natural biodiversity of the world and started getting precious about birds and wildlife it wasn’t unusual at all to keep wild birds as caged pets and of the most famous pet birds of all was a starling that belonged to the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The story goes that he had just been writing a new piano concerto and feeling rather pleased with himself he went out for as walk and was whistling his catchy little tune as he passed through the city of Vienna.

As he went by a pet shop he heard his new masterpiece being whistled back, which must have surprised him somewhat because it hadn’t yet been finished or published.   As he tried to find the source of the whistling he apparently looked up at a bird cage outside a pet shop and in it was a starling mimicking the composer perfectly and joining him in a duet rendition of his new work.

Starling singing

Now this does seem rather far-fetched and might be hard to believe but I have discovered an interesting fact.

The starling is in fact a relation of the Myna Bird, which is well known for its ability to mimic. The starling too is accomplished at copying other birds and other quite complex sounds, so perhaps it isn’t so unbelievable after all.

William Shakespeare knew that Starlings are accomplished mimics and in Henry IV Part I Hotspur is in rebellion against the King and is thinking of ways to torment him. In Act 1 Scene III he fantasises about teaching a starling to say “Mortimer” – one of the king’s enemies.

“Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion”.

When I was at school I used to have a friend called Roderick Bull (really) who had a pet myna bird who lived in a cage in the hall of his house and who was trained to scream ’Bugger off’ (or something similar) whenever the doorbell rang.

Anyway, to go with the story, Mozart was so impressed that he immediately purchased the bird and went home with his new pet starling. Apparently (and quite frankly this is a bit hard to believe) the bird assisted him in making some final improvements to the concerto and thereafter its party piece was to sing the beginning of the last movement of the piano concerto K453 in G major.

The bird and composer remained close friends for three years but eventually the bird died and the grief-stricken composer had to compose his own music again without avian assistance. After the bird’s death, Mozart gave him a first-class funeral and wrote a poem as his eulogy.

Mozart it seems was rather fond of wild birds, this is a portrait of him, aged eight with a bird’s nest ( I know it looks like a pork pie), by the artist Johann Zoffany.

Young Mozart with Bird's Nest

 

Wrocklaw – Food, Street Entertainment and Beer

We were travelling with our friends Mike and Margaret and Christine and Sue and it was late afternoon when we left the hotel and made our way to the Old Town.

The sun was still shining so after a swift circuit of the Market Square and as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast we found a restaurant with outside seating arrangements with the intention of ordering a small snack to tide us over until evening meal time.

It seems however that the Polish people have a different interpretation to the English of what constitutes a small snack and what we thought would be a modest sharing platter turned out to be a mountainous plate of sandwiches, pastry, chips, bacon and sausage and something called Zapiekanka (a sort of baguette, about twice the size of a double Big Mac,  with nothing left out and then smothered in tomato sauce) which provided in one setting our entire calorie allowance for the day and completely eliminated the need to make any more plans for evening meal.

After all of that food and drink the only sensible thing to do now was to try to walk some of it off so we left the Market Square and headed out-of-town along one of the long boulevards which brought us eventually to the City’s main railway station and being a train enthusiast was to be the highlight of Mike’s day.  It was refurbished in 2011 in preparation for the Euro Football Championship and although it is an impressive structure it looks rather out-of-place, designed as it seems to be in the style of a North African Palace that would be more at home in Marrakech or Tangiers..

Image by Tim Richards – Lonely Planet

By the time Mike had tired of train spotting it was dark and becoming quite cool so we made our way back to the Market Square where various entertainments were in full swing.

This is one of the great pleasures of travelling to the Continent because the evening time is so very different to being in England where the town centres close up and empty of people very early and everyone rushes off home, close their gates and retreat behind their front doors.  Generally we are suspicious of people who hang around town centres at night – when Polish people living in England walk out at night people get upset and start writing letters to the local newspaper complaining about anti-social behaviour.

Once in Krakow I asked a tour guide why Polish people walk out at night even in bad weather and his explanation was that many people live in small overcrowded units in apartment blocks and rather than spend the evening getting in each other’s way they go out instead for some recreation and to be neighbourly….

… and sometimes to get drunk!

Here in Wroclaw the Market Square was buzzing and vibrant and families and friends were flowing like lava into the Old Town from every side street and alleyway and filling the bars and cafés around the perimeter.  I don’t know what they call it in Poland but this was the equivalent of the La Passeggiata in Italy or La Paseo in Spain and it was wonderful to be a part of it.

We walked around the square, several times I think, stopping frequently to watch the street entertainers and to throw some small coins in the collection boxes as we passed and when we had seen enough we looked for somewhere to stop for a drink.

We knew a place from our previous visit, a little place close to our hotel which is rather simply called ‘Drinks Bar’ which may seem unimaginative but avoids any confusion about what you are going to do in there or any other possible catastrophe such as inadvertently walking into a shop by mistake.

The really good thing about the ‘Drinks Bar’ is that it serves a variety of good beers and it is cheap so we stayed longer than we planned and drank more than we should have before moving on.

The Poles are statistically the fourth highest beer drinkers in Europe with per capita consumption of around one hundred litres a year just slightly behind the Germans and the Austrians at one hundred and five but some considerable way behind the Czechs who are way out in front with one hundred and forty-five litres per head.  So we thought we might make a contribution to a Polish challenge upon the Czech Republic beer consumption statistic and on the way back to the hotel stopped off several times at anywhere that looked bright and cheerful and would dispense foaming glasses of ale!

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

Travelling – The Grand Tour of Europe

Tourists The Grand Tour of Europe

“…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”  –  Mark Twain

People have always travelled to other parts of the world to see great buildings and works of art, to learn new languages, to experience new cultures and to enjoy different food and drink…

…In 2008 I flew to Athens and in the departure lounge queue behind us was a couple of girls and one announced to the other that ‘I only go on holiday for three things, to get drunk, get stoned and get laid’, I had to see who this person was and when I turned round she turned out to be so unattractive that I was tempted to say ‘Don’t build your hopes up, if I were you I would concentrate on the first two!’ but she was bigger than me so I said nothing of course!

In 1936 the League of Nations defined a foreign tourist as someone travelling abroad for at least twenty-four hours and its successor, the United Nations amended this definition in 1945 by including a maximum stay of six months.  In early 2010 the European Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, unveiled a plan declaring tourism a human right and introduced it with the statement that “travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.”

Young English elites of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (early Rahs really) often spent two to four years travelling around Europe in an effort to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography and culture in an experience known as the Grand Tour.

In fact the word tourist has its origins in what used to be more correctly called the Grand Tour of Europe, which was a term first used by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book ‘Voyage or a Complete Journey through Italy’ and after that it came into general usage to describe the travels in Europe of wealthy young men and women in the years of the Enlightenment where it was quite normal to take a gap year (or four) in the quest for a broader education.

Lassels was a Roman Catholic priest and a tutor to several of the English nobility and travelled through Italy five times. In his book, he claims that any truly serious student of architecture, antiquity, and the arts must travel through France and Italy, and suggested that all “young lords” make the Grand Tour in order to understand the political, social, and economic realities of the world.

The Traveller Oviedo Spain

The primary purpose of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance and an an introduction to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent.  In addition, before museum collections went on tour themselves,  it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music and it was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.

The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance as the historian E.P. Thompson observed, “ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”

While the general objective of the Grand Tour was essentially educational (and this probably what mum and dad thought that they were forking out for) they were also notorious for more frivolous pursuits such as getting hammered, partying heavily and sleeping with as many continental lovelies as possible and so began a tradition that thousands of holiday Brits continue to this day in the party hot-spots of Europe.

When young men on the Grand Tour weren’t misbehaving like people on a stag weekend to Amsterdam they were mostly interested in visiting those cities that were considered the major centres of culture at the time, primarily Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples.

90 Rome

The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend some time in smaller towns and up to several months in the three main cities on the itinerary.  Paris was considered the grandest and most cultured city and was usually first en-route and tourists would rent apartments for several weeks at a time and would make occasional visits to the countryside and adjacent towns.

From Paris, they travelled south either across the Alps or by a ship on the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then they would pass on to Rome or Venice.  To begin with Rome was initially the southernmost point they would travel to but when excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 the two sites also became additional major stop-off points.

Other locations sometimes included as part of some Grand Tour included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic States. However, these other spots lacked the cultural and historical appeal of Paris and Italy and the substandard roads made travel much more difficult so they were not always the most popular.

Some of them didn’t have vineyards either so I suppose that might have reduced their appeal somewhat.

The British it seems have always been rather keen on travelling abroad and we have left our mark all over Europe (and not just through football violence either) in Nice one of the first and most established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, the long esplanade along the seafront is known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais and in many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well-established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, the Hotel Carlton or the Hotel Majestic, reflecting the predominance of English customers.

In fact there are nearly three hundred hotels around the world called Bristol. They take their name from Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, who spent most of his life travelling around Europe enjoying the best hospitality money could buy.  What a good life that would have been, to be sure!

This sort of thing really appeals to me; both the exploration and knowledge and having a really good knees up at the same time and I have become determined to travel as much in Europe as I possibly can. There are forty-six countries in Europe and I have only so far been to twenty-nine so I am just over half way towards my objective of visiting them all.

Ryanair was Europe’s original low fares airline and is my favourite which is lucky for me because the airline has over eleven hundred low fare routes to one hundred and sixty-one destinations in Europe and North Africa.  In the last three years I have flown thirty times at a very reasonable average cost of £40 return all inclusive.

Not all of these flights were with Ryanair of course and I have been forced to use others but I generally find that these work out more expensive.  A return flight to Athens with Easyjet for example costs £120 and my biggest bargain so far was with Ryanair to Santander in Cantabria, Spain at just £10.02 return.  To put things into some sort of perspective it costs over £80 to go to London on the train from Peterborough with National Express and for that you are not even guaranteed a seat.  That is about .90p a mile and on that basis it would cost approximately £1,800 to go to Santander and back by train!

Ryanair over the Alps

In 2015 the most visited country in Europe was France, followed by Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany.  Spain made the most money out or tourist revenues and on average the Germans spent most while away from home.  The most visited city was London (although as usual France disputes the official figures) and the most visited place was Trafalgar Square, followed by the Eiffel Tower and then the Vatican.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which has its headquarters in Madrid, produces the World Tourism Rankings and is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism.

For the record I visited Trafalgar Square in 2008, the Eiffel Tower in 2005 and the Vatican in 2003.