Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Schönbrunn Palace

When most Austrians want to build a hunting lodge, they generally build a small shack somewhere up in the mountains. If you're lucky, it will have a well where you can draw water, and some of them will even have a wood-burning stove. When an emperor decides to build a hunting lodge, he tends to go a little overboard. The Schönbrunn Palace is not your typical Austrian place to stay.

The trouble is with the the Schönbrunn Palace, no matter how nice your Austrian hotel is, it will look distinctly shabby after you visit this exhibition of magnificence. There is a reason this palace is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is also Austria's top tourist destination.

It started off as a place for the holy Roman emperors to stay in the summer. In typical Imperial style, the holy Roman Emperor of the time, Maximilian II, booted off the previous owner and took over his mansion. He ordered a large section of the area fence, and he used it as a hunting area. Over the centuries, orangeries, gardens, and mazes were added to the palace grounds. No self-respecting Emperor would be without some sort of Roman decoration, and the Roman ruin was created in 1778.

When you choose to go there, as I am confident you will when you visit Vienna, join a tour to learn more about the palace. There are also concerts throughout the year featuring the music of Mozart and his contemporaries. It's open all year round usually between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM, although it closes a little earlier in winter and stays open a little later in summer.

We found that spring was the best time to visit the gardens, as most of the flowers and trees were blooming at that time. The scent was absolutely incredible, although if you suffer from hay fever that might sound like torture. Try to get there early, as the crowd will build up towards the middle of the day, and take a look at its website before you visit to check what is going on. In addition, the latest pricing information will be on that site.

To get from your hotel to the palace, it's usually best to take the underground, so look for Schönbrunn Station. Alternatively, you can take bus 10A and ask for the Schönbrunn Palace. Trams also offer a good way to get there, and the 10 and 58 will drop you straight in front of the palace.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hi Ho Silver! The Spanish Riding School

Horses? Check. People in fancy uniforms? Check. A beautiful venue in Vienna? Oh yeah. It can only be the Spanish Riding School. Last person I talked to about this school of dressage assumed it was in Madrid or somewhere similar. Fortunately, it is in a much nicer location—central Vienna, right by the Hoffburg. The best hotels in Austria are in this area, so you might even get one overlooking this gorgeous piece of architecture.

So, if you love horses, it’s a fantastic place to visit. Avoid July and August, though, because the 70-odd horses there are taken to the nearby summer stables to relax. At any other time of year, you can watch some of the training sessions, as well as the performances. Book early, though, because tickets are extremely popular.

The Spanish Riding School is the oldest of its kind in the world, dating back to around the 1570s. The school as we know it was built in the 1730s, and it was designed to train horses for war. The Spanish part of the name comes from the Spanish horses that were bred to create the Lipizzan breed of horses. Other than that, it has nothing to do with the Spanish.

Fortunately for us, the Spanish riding school opened its gates for the paying public in 1918. This was because it needed a bit of cash after the First World War. The performances proved to be extremely popular, and they continue on today.

So, what can you expect from one of the performances? Generally, a performance will start with the youngest horses that are just beginning training. They'll demonstrate the basics that they have been taught, and then move on to allow the more experienced horses to perform. These experienced horses will perform an Olympic-standard routine. The next part of the performance shows how the training progresses. You'll see how they are trained to do jumps, tricks, and other stunts. This offers a fascinating insight into how professional horses are trained, and it is a sight that will delight any horse lover.

You will notice that most of the riders do not have stirrups. This just serves to demonstrate the rider’s prowess with the horses. The final quadrille is one of the most difficult in the world to perform, and these riders perform it flawlessly.

If you're in Vienna, and you want to see some truly astounding moves, you can forget the local nightclubs or your hotel bar—the Spanish riding school offers an exhibition of beauty, grace, and glamour.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Turn the Heating On, Darling

It is rather chilly in Austria at the moment. Snow is currently on the ground in most places, and it'll probably stay there for another month. However, there are some great signs of recovery from the winter months. First, it is starting to rain rather than snow. This means the weather is warming up, and although the ice on our hotel room window will be there for a little longer, we can see that spring is just around the corner.

With two thirds of Austria being mountainous, the weather in Austria is quite hard to predict. However, there are several things you can be sure of. November to March in Austria is rather cold. You will want to bring a spare blanket, particularly if you are staying in a city hotel. Austrian hotels are used to cold weather, but sometimes it's good to have an extra layer of warmth.

In April, it starts to warm up. You may be able to get away with wearing just a T-shirt on some days. The average temperature stays around 9 °C, or 49 °F. May is one of the best months to go cycling in Austria, as the temperature is warm without being too hot, staying around 14 °C or 58 °F.

June to September are the hotter months, with average temperatures around 20 °C or 68 °F in July and August. This is by no means too hot, and it's easy to go hiking or biking even in the middle of summer. Just make sure you have plenty of water with you to stay well hydrated.

The summer months are great for exploring cities such as Vienna, Salzburg, and Graz. Because June is normally rather wet, depending on where you are, it's always good to be prepared for a little damp weather. You can always reenact scenes from Singin' in the Rain is it starts to pour down. Of course, strangers will look at you as though you're mad.

September is a great month thanks to the various beer festivals and the run up to harvest. While it is still warm enough to go outside in a T-shirt, you'll probably want a lightweight coat for the evenings. Of course, the amount of food available at the local farmers markets means you probably won't want to move too far at the end of each day.

Whatever time of year it is, though, you need a great place to stay. Whether you want little zimmer in the middle of the Alps, a pension in Salzburg, or hotel in Vienna, why not pop over to our sister site to get a great deal.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Easter in Austria

Easter is a colorful time for Austria, with celebrations throughout the country. Wherever you go, you'll find people excited about Easter, whether it's your Austrian hotel, the people in the bar, or the people preparing for the Easter markets. Concerts are common throughout Easter, and what better way to experience some of Austria's regional traditions than by popping into an authentic Austrian Easter market.

Vienna's most famous Easter market is held in the surrounds of the Schönbrunn Palace between March 24 and April 9. There, the life and soul of Austria's traditional past is displayed along with regional delicacies. The site is open between 10 AM and 7 PM, and it's well worth a visit if you're in Austria. Alternatively, opening on March 23 is the Easter market on the Freyung, which offers a wide variety of baked goods, colorful Easter eggs, and tasty lamb. Don't forget to check the Easter handicraft workshop for the little ones.

As you might expect, Graz is filled with culinary delights during Easter, particularly at the Franziskanerplatz Easter market, and make sure you try the local schnapps. The Easter handicraft market on Hauptplatz is a great place for some unusual gifts, and if you're after something a little more international, pop over to Tummelplatz. These markets run from March 30 to April 7. Just to the north of the city, is Stübing, home of the open-air museum. There, you can experience Palmbuschenbinden, the weaving of palm fronds accompanied by a traditional Austrian celebration on March 30.

Tyrol has a wide variety of these markets dotted throughout the region. Whether it is the Innsbruck Easter market, running between March 30 and April 7, the Osterfestival Tirol, a series of dancing, singing, and performance events taking place around Innsbruck, or the Kufstein market, a decidedly folksy event on April 7, there are numerous places to visit to explore Austria's obsession with Easter.

Salzburg, on the other hand, is a little more muted, but there are still some great Easter celebrations in the area. The local open-air museum will hold an Easter farmer's market on March 31, along with a showcase of traditional rural pastimes. Visit Gwandhaus on March 17 – 18, and you'll find a large Easter Bunny waiting for you. Like many places, the market focuses on traditional Austria, so an entertaining time can be had by all.

Wherever you are in Austria for Easter, there will be dozens of events throughout the country. Make sure you visit a couple of them, and you have a great time learning about Austria's traditional past. Of course, you need to book a hotel in advance, as these events are very popular.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ouch! Healthcare in Austria

Despite your best plans, occasionally a trip might go a little pear-shaped. It's not uncommon in the skiing areas for an accident to happen, so it's good to be prepared and know about the Austrian healthcare system. Of course, accidents can happen anywhere, and you could sustain an injury from falling down your hotel stairs or by falling over in the street. Hopefully, none of this will happen to you, but at least you can be prepared if something does go wrong.

First, make sure you have some great healthcare insurance. This should cover you for whatever activities you are doing, so if you're going skiing, you may need to pay a little extra. If you're unsure about what your insurance covers, ask your insurance broker. The best policies cover medical evacuation in case of serious injury, and they normally cover expenses up to $3 million or £2 million. This should be the minimum that you need.

Because we travel a lot, we have an annual policy, which covers us wherever we go. However, depending on your circumstances, you may want to consider single trip or multitrip insurance. Single-trip cover is great if you only travel once a year, and multitrip cover may work out cheaper if you travel a few times a year. Again, it's best to consult with your insurance broker to ensure your specific needs are met.

If you are an EU national, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC. This entitles you to state-funded care while traveling in Europe, although it doesn't cover other expenses such as repatriation. In addition, you may have to pay certain standard charges, similar to prescription charges.

The number for the Austrian emergency services is 144. When the operator answers, ask for the Rettung. If your German is poor, it may be best to ask for help from someone who knows the language, such as a hotel worker or your instructor or guide.

If you are covered by the European Health Insurance Card, make sure you're taken to a state-funded facility. This it is important if your hotel or guide is arranging for treatment. The EHIC only covers you for state-funded treatment. If you are covered by health insurance, make sure you inform your provider as soon as possible. They will be able to advise you on what to do.

Hopefully, though, your trip will go off without a hitch. Austria is a fantastic place to visit, but it does pay to be prepared.