Sunday, February 26, 2012
Sure, we love our culture, hence the unsubtle title of this post. But a number of people travel to Austria to look at the local wildlife, and we thought we’d look at what there is to see.
There are a lot of places that cater to wildlife holidays, from isolated apartments and huts in the mountains to hotels that act as a base for nature lovers to explore. Here is a quick rundown of what you’ll hopefully see in Austria.
Mammals are abundant in Austria, and some unusual varieties exist in the relatively isolated alpine regions. Wildlife holidays often take you to the mountains to see these animals.
The abundance of deer in Austria occasionally leads to a large 500-pound animal plowing through the windscreen, so be careful on those rural roads. In the mountainous areas, fallow and roe deer run, whereas in the lowlands, red deer are more common. You’ll often find you return from your wildlife trip to be greeted with a plate of venison, such is the love of hunting and managing wildlife in Austria.
The alpine chamois is what you’d get if you mixed up badger and goat DNA and bred the result. This goat-like creature is a source of chamois leather, and it is apparently very tasty. If you want to get close to the animal, they usually look for danger below them and ignore anything above them.
The alpine ibex is a goat with comedy horns. Big curly horns. They’re normally found halfway up mountains or climbing up dams. We’re not even kidding about the dams. What looks like a photoshopped image of goats on the side of a dam is actually real.
In the valleys, particularly around the lakes, are numerous bird species. Seewinkel and the Great Hungarian Plain are great areas for a wildlife holiday.
This unusual member of the woodpecker family looks like an oversized sparrow or thrush with a Mohawk. It’s not exactly a proper woodpecker because of its tail feathers, but it pecks at wood to get at ants and it lays its eggs in a hole in a tree, so to us it’s close enough. Like an owl, it can turn its head nearly 180 degrees, which looks weird but cool.
This species is best described as a flycatcher with a red . . . behind. Absolutely lovely as they dash around catching the local annoying insects, their aerobatic displays are a joy to behold.
If your hotel owner curses as he or she lights a fire and the chimney is blocked, it might be because a white stork has nested in the chimney. As you’re travelling along, look up, and you might see the giant nests that they like to make.
Anyway, these are just a few of the species that you will see out and about in Austria. Keep your eyes open, have a good pair of binoculars, and ask your local hotel for advice on the best spots to go for your wildlife holiday.
Oh, and if you’re hoping to see a black eagle, which is on the Austrian coat of arms, you’ll need to head to Central Asia!
Saturday, February 18, 2012
I was up quite late in Salzburg, and I decided I wanted to go out and explore the nightlife in Salzburg. Our pension had a very flexible 24-hour entrance, so we decided to take advantage of it. The postcards of the snow-clad city make it look idyllic, and the reality was even better as a friend and I sought out the local hotspots.
We started by heading out to the old town, the Altstadt, to get something to eat. We passed numerous bakeries, which were unfortunately closed at this time of the evening, but the displays we saw made us very hungry. We decided on traditional Austrian food, so we went to the Herzl Tavern. The cheap but filling food, good beer, and great staff put us in a great mood.
We then set off to explore the local nightlife. There are a lot of provincial-style pubs in Salzburg that really replicate the feel of Austria. While we weren’t drinking much, wherever we were, we were welcomed, and that’s what we liked about it. No pressure, not much loud music, and good conversation. We bumped into several people who were traveling like us, so we had a great time meeting and greeting. We chatted and found our way to a few more bars. A few places stood out to us: Gastlokal Fridrich for the art on the walls and the great music, Monkeys Bar for its fantastic views over the river, and the Jazzit Musik Club for the awesome jazz being played. If you’re after a vibrant and energetic clubbing scene, Salzburg is not the best place to be, but if you’re after a beautiful city with a friendly atmosphere in its bars, I would recommend it.
We staggered back to our pension a little poorer but very happy, thanks to the nightlife in Salzburg.
The next day, we thought back to some of the places that were recommended to us. The idea of monks brewing beer appealed to us, so we went for a glass at the Bräustübl Tavern, which is in an Augustine monastery. It brews Augustine beer, which is similar to a sort of stout. If you’ve never heard of stout, it’s similar to Guinness, but this is much better. We sat outside in the courtyard, but it was a little cold, so we hurried back in. The courtyard is very pretty and relaxed, and it would be fantastic in the spring and summer. Having been in Austria for a while, we felt it would be good to speak English for a bit, so we ended up heading to O’Malley’s, an Irish pub along the river. The bar staff speak perfect English, and some of them are native English speakers, and you generally get a taste of home when you’re there, whether it’s watching rugby, football, or other sporting events.
Having spent a while in there, we ended up heading back to our pension as we were going to go hiking the next day. We met a bunch of awesome people, though, and that made our Salzburg trip very memorable.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Austrian Alps form a stunning backdrop to any visit, particularly for a long-running musical set in Austria. Of course, I am referring to The Sound of Music. Set in Salzburg and the Austrian Alps, the majestic scenery adds to this classic musical film. And you can walk, eat, and sleep in it, just as thousands of others have.
Innsbruck is a great destination to start a walking tour. Nestled in the Tirolian Alps, Innsbruck was built around the bridge over the river Inn (bruck means bridge), where travelers could find rest at one of the city’s hotels or inns. To the north of the city are some great hikes and treks in the Karwendel Alpine Park. This can be reached by cable car from one of the resorts around Innsbruck, and day trips are easy to arrange. Buses travel frequently to the outlier villages around Innsbruck, such as Igls, Mutters, or Telfes, where you can enjoy the wildernesses available in Austria.
One unusual walk we’ve discovered is a herbal walk that starts in Oberau, barely just inside Germany. It features a herb farm, Holzalm Farm, at 3,600 feet, and the knowledgeable expert who accompanies the walk every Tuesday will leave you filled with the knowledge of herbal lore. It’s only a short bus ride from Innsbruck, so it’s well worth seeing if you’re interested in herbs.
Achensee is a lake in the center of Tirol between Rofangebirge to the east and the Karwendel Mountains to the west. This warm alpine lake, fed by a glacier, offers the chance of wonderful nature walks. We got some lovely shots of flora and fauna during our hikes, so it’s a real photography lover’s area. Part of the Tyrolean Eagle walk passes through Achensee, so if you are cycling or walking through the area, spend a day exploring the stunning scenery.
Spas and baths are another attraction of Tirol, which lead to a visit to The Bad Häring Spa Center. Bad, as it happens, just means the town has a spa or hot water spring (i.e., a bath). It’s a sulfur bath, so it has an interesting smell, but the treatments offered were very relaxing—just what we needed after a week of walking.
If you’re up for some mountaineering, the via ferrate (iron road) or Klettersteige offer a great way to explore more isolated mountains without the risk of injury or falling. These routes use iron ladders, maintained ropes, and other methods to make the mountains more accessible to all. While my partner thinks it’s cheating to use a ladder to scramble up the side of a cliff, it does make the higher peaks available to anyone, and experienced mountaineers can always use the traditional (harder) methods of scrabbling up the side of several billion tons of rock. Either way, pay attention to the difficulty of each route, and you can often find extra information in your hotel or apartment about the precise routes and difficulties.
Tirol is one of the most travelled to areas in Austria, so be prepared to find lots of like-minded people trekking with you. It’s a great experience wherever you go, and as long as your voice isn’t as terrible as mine, you can even sing something from the Sound of Music.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
We love staying in Vienna. Whether it’s at the end of a long cycling trip (see the Donauradweg cycle route) or at the start of a new trekking adventure, Vienna offers diversions galore. Vienna is food, is wine, is beauty, and is culture.
Our trips to Vienna often start with an intense planning session in our hotel room. Where have we been, where haven’t we been, and where shall we wander. We try to include as many sights as possible, although sometimes we still don’t have enough time to see everything!
The Spanish Riding School is one of the oldest dressage schools in the world. Sure, it’s a bit pricy, but the elegance of watching horses trot in complex patterns, jump over gates and barriers, and generally be controlled by expert hands is a pleasure in itself. Not to mention the architecture. Book well in advance, however, as tickets are sold out very quickly.
Schönbrunn Palace and the zoo accompanying it are classic Baroque marvels that can take all day to explore. You mustn’t miss a tour of the residence and the chance to admire the opulent surroundings. We loved the Tirolian gardens there and nearly became lost. Fortunately, we stumbled across one of Vienna’s big secrets: a surprisingly good puppet show hidden near the back of the gardens. The zoo has everything a zoo could want: pandas, giraffes, and thousands of butterflies. The Borneo exhibition is always worth a look, although it does get very warm in there.
Vienna’s Ringstrauss (ring boulevard) is an awe-inspiring piece of architecture. Around four miles long, it circles the city center like a set of walls; indeed that’s where the city walls were until they were torn down in 1857. For a lovely walk, start at your hotel and follow the boulevard around. On the way, you’ll encounter the State Opera House, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Austrian Parliament.
If it’s food you want, we would recommend the sublime Hotel Sacher in Philharmonikerstrasse. It’s the ultimate in Viennese cooking. If you’re after something less pricy, try the M Lounge in Hermanngasse or the Restaurant Der Kuckuck in Himmelpfortgasse. Both are excellent restaurants serving great Austrian food. We felt the M Lounge was very cheap for the food it offered, and we were surprised it wasn’t full when we went there after our epic cycling trip.
Finally, you must visit Vienna’s historic center. It’s like looking at an old photo of how city centers used to look and then realizing you’re in the present. Vienna has so much to offer every visitor, from great zimmers, apartments, and hotels, to delicious food, great coffee, and amazing attractions.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Like many places in central Europe, Austria is a major beer-producing region. As we’ve travelled around Austria, we’ve tried a lot of beer. We’ve already mentioned one in this blog: Gösser. While I prefer it to the other mainstream Austrian beers, particularly for the lack of hangover it gives me when waking up in my hotel room, there are several major types of beer. Beer making is endemic in Austria, so you may even stay in a pension or zimmer that brews its own beer. Be sure to try it ... carefully!
Styria, in the southeast of Austria, produces Gösser, Puntigamer and Murauer. These three are fairly different to each other, so let’s have a quick look at them.
This is a light lager that is very easy to drink. When we’re in Styria, this is our lunchtime and dinnertime lager as it goes with pretty much anything. It isn’t particularly complex in terms of taste, but it goes down very easily. Out of the three Styrian beers, this is easily the best.
This is very similar to Budweiser in taste. Very light and watery with very little flavor. Unless you really love Bud, try something different. There’s so many beers to choose from!
This is another typical light lager with a slightly sweetish taste. It’s the sort of beer that is drinkable, so you have it when you want something you recognize or when you can’t see anything else you like better. Personally, I would stick to Gösser when it’s available.
Upper Austria produces another three major brands of beer: Kaiser, Zipfer and Kapsreiter.
This comes in two brands: Kaiser Fasstyp and Kaiser Premium. Kaiser Fasstyp has quite a mellow taste that lingers with a bit of yeastiness. I found the aftertaste a little odd. The premium version is a little better, but they both scream mass-marketed beer to us.
Those who like a slightly bitter lager will love Zipfer. It’s not my cup of tea, but it adds a bit of variety to Austria’s major beers.
This is one of the better beers in Austria. It smelled wonderful, and the taste was great. It is a little stronger in flavor than Gösser, but it’s fantastic for savoring. Drink this as a treat if you love full-flavored beers.
Vienna and Salzburg have their own breweries, and these city beers can be quite pleasant when enjoyed on a hotel room balcony or outside in the summer.
Very light beer with little taste. It’s good for getting drunk on as you can drink a lot, but why not explore Vienna instead?
Produced in Salzburg, this beer is somewhat earthy and slightly darker than most lagers. It’s one of the better beers, and it’s great with dark meats or as part of a meal.
If you’re visiting Salzburg, you must go to the monastery to try this beer. With a solid taste and a good fresh feel, this beer is one of the best lagers I’ve tasted. OK, it helps that the experience is also quite cool—you stand in line to get your beer and you drink it at long narrow tables. Very friendly and very sociable.
Finally, I must mention Edelweiss as a great wheat beer. It’s got a fantastically rich flavor and works well if you love porters or stouts.
No matter where you are, though, you will find a beer you like. Whether it’s in the hotel bar, in a monastery, or with friends in a pub, Austria has a beer for you.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Austria is full of little towns where we have stayed and enjoyed the local delicacies. While big metropolitan areas are always fun to visit, both my partner and I grew up in rural areas, which mean we love the little towns and villages that dot Austria’s landscape. Whether we’re staying in a small pension or hotel in a town or have found a zimmer in a village, we find these small clumps of houses really reveal the heart of Austria.
For sheer Austrian beauty, you cannot go wrong with the town of Hallstatt. Set on Hallstatter See, a large lake in Upper Austria, it is one of the most picturesque towns you’ll ever visit. When covered in snow, it looks like a gingerbread house town, although it may be a little salty thanks to the salt mines in the area. These mines serve as one of the town’s tourist attractions, as does the town’s ossuary, a place where the bones of the dead are stored. The reason everyone goes here, though is for the relaxation, the walks, and the views. It’s a wonderful place to be.
Pertisau in Tyrol is a lovely summer and winter village. In winter, it has the great ski slopes that dominate the Tyrolean Alps. In summer, it has access to the lush warm waters of Achensee and the gorgeous mountains around it. It’s not as pretty as Hallstatt, but the food is better.
Feldbach in eastern Styria is a lovely sleepy town set in the rolling vineyards. It has a great mediaeval feel about it, and the castles surrounding it just reinforce that sense of being back in 1200. Of course, the wine that comes out of that region also makes you feel like you’re somewhere in the dark ages, although that could just be the hangover. While you’re there, visit Bad Gleichenberg where there is a spa.
Mürzzuschlag in Lower Austria is always worth a visit as it has some great wild trails and some lovely cycling routes. If you’re interested in railways, there is a railway museum and several other sights. In winter, it has some great skiing nearby, so it’s a fantastic place to eat and sleep between days of skiing. The hotels are often cheaper than their Tyrolean equivalents.
Villach and Landskron in Carinthia have several little interesting bits to explore. The nearby castle, Burgruine Landskron, dominates the local landscapes, and falconers regularly display their birds there. In addition there are a lot of monkeys there, and no, we don’t mean our fellow tourists. The castle holds a collection of macaque monkeys in the Affenberg. When you’re done with the castle, you can explore Ossiachersee, a nearby lake that offers the usual scenic walks and diversions.
Austria’s towns and villages are far too numerous to be listed here, but these are some of our favorites. Hotels and zimmers are usually easy to find, so enjoy your trip to Austria in comfort.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Carinthia, one of the nine states in Austria has some of the finest Zimmers and small hotels in Austria. Carinthia is also your gateway to exploring Slovenia and Italy as it shares its border with those beautiful countries.
Check out the latest Family hotel to join the AustrianZimmers.com website:
You can relax in a calm atmosphere near the Alps of Austria. You will be served the lovely Austrian breakfast and overall you will have a great country side experience. Come back to tell us and share your story and photos from this hotel with us.
Need a hotel in Austria? Click here to find it at Booking.com
Thursday, February 2, 2012
As with any country, it helps to speak the native language. While some of us, particularly myself, are very bad at languages, it does pay to know the basic phrases of German, Austria’s mother tongue. Whether you are trying to ask for a room in a hotel, say please or thank you, or ask for a beer, these brief phrases will help you to communicate in Austria.
Greetings are usually similar to English. Hallo is a basic greeting used to cover most situations. Guten Tag (good day, pronounced gooten taag), Guten Morgan (good morning), and Guten Abend (good evening, pronounced gooten ah-bun) are similar time-specific greetings. Auf Wiedersehen (Goodbye, pronounced owf veeder-zayn) and bis bald (see you soon, pronounced biss bauld) are good ways to see someone off.
Continuing on the conversation, you’ve got wie geht es Ihnen? (how are you, pronounced vee gate is eenen). You hear a reply of Danke, gut. Und Ihnen? This indicates the speaker is well (good, thanks. And yourself?, pronounced danker goot. Unt eenen?).
Yes and no are ja and nein (yaa and nine) respectively.
The one I came to rely on for a while was sprechen sie Englisch? (do you speak English, pronounced spreken-zie Engleesh). However, when the answer was nein or ein bisschen (a little, pronounced eyn beeshen) I found I ended up resorting to an ever-handy phrasebook.
Please and thank you are bitte (pronounced bit-ter) and danke (pronounced dan-ker).
Now for the important stuff I found incredibly useful.
Numbers one to six are ein, zwei, drei, vier, funf, and sechs (eyn, szvei, dry, fear, foonf, and zex). So if you were asking for four beers, you would say “veir Bier bitte.” A number of German words are similar to their English counterparts, so this makes pronouncing them a lot easier.
Although the point hold up the number of fingers for the items you need approach can work well, it does painfully indicate you know nothing about German. I find it’s best to garble the German pronunciation a little, as that seems to make it more easily understandable. For a real rustic accent, a raging throat infection is recommended.
Ein Zimmer,bitte is what you need to say if you’re looking for a room for the night. Of course, if you’ve already booked your hotel room (hint hint), all you might need to say is Ich habe ein Zimmer reserviert. Meine Name ist *name* (I have reserved a room. My name is ...).
Hopefully a few of these phrases will help you to get around a bit more easily. It’s amazing how far you can go by remembering a few simple phrases.