Austria is beautiful! There’s no better way to put it. When we visited, it was already the beginning of Fall, when the snow had all melted, yet the tall, rocky mountain tops, the green slopes, the crystal clear river that flowed alongside the road, pretty houses (mostly bright yellow) with germaniums hanging out from flower boxes in the balcony, and cows grazing in the meadows made it all picture perfect. If I had the will and a chiffon saree, I would stride on the slopes singing “Tere mere hoton pe” forever.
Travelling - Since we were travelling with kids, which meant ‘not light’ and ‘no fixed schedules’ we decided to rent a car at the airport and drive around for the trip. BMWs and Mercs are available on rent for a reasonable price - definitely works out cheaper than train tickets. Over 6 days we drove a total of 1500 kms and didn’t feel it at all. Plus since we had a car, we had the option of staying wherever we wanted. We stayed in a city hotel in Vienna just for a day and then went to Salzburg where we stayed for all the remaining days in a beautiful family owned hotel/B&B, outside the city (Absolutely recommend it – Pension Blobergerhof). From there we did day trips to Werfen, Zell am See, Innsbruck and Hallstatt. Driving was easy since it was no different than here in Dubai. Though the sign boards were in German the symbols were self-explanatory. And it never got dull. There was always a beautiful surprise set for us, at the next turn. Just when you thought you had seen it all, came a new landscape ready to be adored.
Eating – I am a preferred vegetarian. I enjoy a piece of chicken now and then but that’s as far as I go when it comes to meat. In Austria, chicken was hardly ever on the menu, maybe a lackluster dish mentioned at the bottom on the last page of the menu. Pork and beef were the heroes there. That meant I was on margherita pizza or plain creamy pasta for most days. On one occasion when the rest of the family felt sorry for me, I was treated in an Indian restaurant.
People - People in general seemed very friendly and helpful. On more occasions than one, a stranger has stopped by to help us; at one time, even opening a map on his smart phone to show us directions. Most people smiled and greeted when we crossed them. They also seemed very relaxed and in no hurry to go anywhere. It was like being in Goa – susegaad! Which is great for a vacation but..
And that was the pain point - everything closed at 5pm - shops and attractions alike. The only thing open after that were restaurants and pubs. Even the capital city Vienna wore a deserted look past 6. I would have hoped that at least between Spring and Fall when there’s daylight till 7, we could do fun things till late in the evening. But nope! The Austrians beat the Chitales in that! To add to the misery, The Pisals consider it ‘shaan ke khilaaf’ to wake up before 8 am, and even more so, if it’s a vacation. So by the time we hogged on the ‘free’ breakfast and got out, it would be 11 am, leaving us very few hours to do it all in a day’s time! After 6pm there wasn’t much for families to do - just sit in hotel room and watch German TV shows. I can't blame the kids that they got bored then.
All in all, a lovely trip. Moderately paced yet plenty covered. Some of the must do places that I would recommend are -
- · Alpine coaster near Salzburg (or any other place, there are many)
- · Sound of music tour on bicycle in Salzburg
- · Salt mines near Salzburg or Hallstatt
- · Dachestein ice caves near Hallstatt. The cable car ride up is thrilling)
- · Five finger lookout (further up with another cable car ride). Awesome views and an adrenaline rush when you stand on the fingers.
- · Burg HohenWerfen – the castle in Werfen where part of the movie ‘Where Eagles dare’ was shot. There are many such castles around, one even in Salzburg. This one was very scenic plus the funicular ride up was exciting.
- · A walk in the city of Hallstatt, a world heritage site.
- · A walk in the city of Innsbruck, a beautiful city with a lot of tourists.
I (I will be putting my reviews of each of these on tripadvisor, but if anyone is planning a trip to Austria and needs some suggestions, feel free to message.)