Advice


Swiss Traffic jam (viewed from the gas station)

Swiss Traffic jam (viewed from the gas station)

We recently (7/27/13) left Italy to head over to Germany. The drive is about 7 hours, so we planned to leave early, go by way of Switzerland, enjoy the many photo opportunities the alps had to offer, and make it to our next destination by early evening. Alas, the best laid plans…

We made it into Switzerland with no problem, and enjoyed driving through Italy away from the city. Crossing the border was fairly easy, though you do have to purchase a 40 Euro sticker to drive in Switzerland. I think it’s good for a year since this one had a 13 on it (and we didn’t have to say how long we intended to stay like we did in Austria) So, we affixed our sticker and headed on our way. For a while, it was the beautiful scenery we expected (though as I was driving, and there were no pull outs, I got no pictures.) Then, we got to the San Gottardo tunnel (which I think sounds like retarded for a reason). It was a nightmare. It quite literally took almost three hours to get to go through. While it is long (16,942 meters), the line to drive through it was a major traffic jam, completely stopped with people peeing on the side of the road. Apparently, this is normal for summer. So, instead of enjoying a picnic lunch overlooking beautiful Swiss scenery, we ate our lunch in the car with the windows open.

View from the balcony of our German flat

View from the balcony of our German flat

Finally, we made it to Germany (this border we just drove right through) and found our lodgings. Since this is short, I decided to include some tips I’ve learned for driving in Germany and Austria (in no particular order.)

1. Stay in the right lane unless you’re passing–then, watch out.
2. Bus stops are marked by a green H in a yellow circle surrounded by a green circle.
3. Eingang/Einfahrt = Enter Ausgang/Ausfahrt = Exit
4. The white arrow in the blue circle tells you which area of the road to drive on.
This is especially helpful at medians, roundabouts, and other places you might be
confused.
5. Lights turn yellow both before and after they turn green.
6. Yellow lines are only used in construction or to indicate the fast pass lines.

Alas, no shoulders

Alas, no shoulders

7. White lines close together show some degree of separation (either an exit or traffic
going both ways. If the broken white line looks like the States’, it’s a one way.
8. A black forward slash or 3 lines of a forward slash indicate end of or leaving (This
one is sometimes red too.) For example, you’ll have a speed limit sign (black
numbers in a white circle with a red circle around it). Then, a bit down the road,
you’ll see the same number with 3 forward slash lines. This means that speed limit
no longer applies (watch out!)
9. Blue lined parking is paid parking (or the credit card line in a toll booth), while
white lined parking is business or residential. You usually have to use paid
parking unless you are going in the business.
10. Be aware that very few roads have a shoulder. Often times, houses will mark the
end of the lane. Additionally, cars may park halfway in the street, taking up part
of an already miniscule 2 lane road. Small towns aren’t fun for driving…

Tips in Italy: Be fully aware of everything–especially motorcycles, which do not drive in the lane like they do in America, but often between two cars going in opposite directions on a tiny road.

Uffizi Gallery

Uffizi Gallery

Today (7/23/13) started off a bit slowly; not because we weren’t ready, though we did sleep in. We are quickly learning that transportation in Florence is either, as my mom calls it, “walk your fool self to death” or wait forever for a bus to pick you up (A bus, mind you, that may come every 20 minutes (undoubtedly you just missed this one), every hour, or not at all (meaning it stopped running sometime right before you arrived.) At least that’s the case with us. To arrive where we wanted, we drove to Piazele Michelangelo, dropped off our car, took the bus back home to catch another bus to take us to the right part of the city to buy Firenze cards. This process took us 2 1/2 hours. (each leg of the journey should take between 10 and 15 minutes).

So, by the time we got our Firenze Cards, we were already tired. We did decide to go ahead and get the Firenze card, even though they just recently changed the price from 50 Euros to 73 Euros. If you look at bus ticket prices and entrance fees to the major places, it still saves you money if you’re going to be in town for a while.

Victory by Michelangelo

Victory by Michelangelo at Palazzo Vecchio

We started at the Uffizi Gallery. Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures in this area, so I only have a photo of the outside. It is a virtual feast of artwork, from incredible sculptures to famous paintings, including the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, to more modern pieces, virtually any great artist you learned about in Art history is represented here. I will say, I have seen enough nakedness to last a lifetime, so if you come, be prepared to see a lot of nudes. One of the things that most struck me was a throw back to reading The Agony and the Ecstasy (story of Michelangelo.) I remember them talking about how both Michelangelo and Leonardo Di Vinci dissected corpses in order to understand the way the muscle structure worked. Why I was reminded of this grotesque fact is that as I was looking at sculptures and art work, I could definitely tell which artists had dissected and which hadn’t. I know that sounds weird, but there is a way muscles work underneath the skin that you can’t really understand unless you’ve studied anatomy. Thankfully, we have the computer to see diagrams.

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Museo Nazionale del Bargello

From the Uffizi Gallery, we headed towards the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore), but stopped at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello along the way. This area had a gorgeous central courtyard of statues and shields, but also boasted a collection of antique weapons. What most interested me was a statue on the first floor: Bacchus by Michelangelo. Having read about him in junior high, I was amazed to be close enough to his statues to touch them. They weren’t high over head or out of reach, but eye level and in vivid detail. (I do want to mention here that it is one of my pet peeves when people call him Michael Angelo instead of Michelangelo (short i). His first name is not two names, and he does have a last name: Buonarroti. Anyway, that’s my rant…)

Duomo Cattedrale di Santa Maria

Duomo Cattedrale di Santa Maria

Leaving the museum, we continued our trek to the Duomo. While the outside of this cathedral is awe inspiring, the inside is nothing to write home about. After all the incredible artistry we have seen, the inside of the Duomo was, well, drab. It was 90% stone with no embellishment or decoration other than the amazing dome. It does have free admission, but is also a “No Hoochie zone,” so cover up or you’ll have to by a cover there. The Baptistery, on the other hand, had all the artistry I’d expected the Duomo to have. Gorgeous gold inlaid mosaics decorated this smaller structure outside the Duomo. Definitely worth seeing!

Pieta by Michelangelo in Museo Dell'opera del Duomo

Pieta by Michelangelo in Museo Dell’opera del Duomo

Leaving the Baptistery, we made our way to the Museo Dell’opera del Duomo. Tucked away behind a wall of construction, this museum, I had read, contained Michelangelo’s Pieta and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Doors of Paradise. We saw the doors right as we walked in–the ones on the Baptistery are replicas. When we reached the second floor, we saw the Pieta. It wasn’t the one I was expecting–the classic one with Jesus laying on Mary’s lap. This one had more people in it–and was rough and unfinished. Apparently, Michelangelo found something wrong with the grain of the marble (broke a chunk off of Mary’s arm) and declared it not good enough to finish. I think it’s beautiful.

We ended our journey with dinner by the Palazzo Vecchio, former Medici residence and current town hall. After dinner, we decided to tour the museum here, which is open until midnight, except on Thursdays. The central area in the Palazzo is incredible! Statues line the walls in front of gigantic masterpiece paintings, topped by a golden inlaid and painted ceiling. Unbelievable.

Palazzo Vecchio's central area

Palazzo Vecchio’s central area

Having finished as much sightseeing as we could for one day, we set out for home, only to discover the busses within the city stop running at either 6 or 8 (it was 8:30). So, after another long trek, three busses, and a car ride, we made it home. We still have two and a half days left on our Firenze card, so we’ll see what other mischief we can get into.

First looks at Siena

First looks at Siena

We headed out this morning (7/22/13) for Siena. We are loosely working off of Rick Steve’s guide book, and this is one of the areas he covers that we thought would be fun to check out. The drive out was good for me (though we passed two accidents) until we got into Siena. We had very loose directions from the guide book on how to get to parking, and it was challenging to reconcile the guide books, the map, and the GPS. Finally, we opted to scrap all three and just follow the signs and figure it out. This worked far better (though was much more stressful for mom.) But, we made it to the parking lot we were trying to find and started the long walk into the city, accompanied by the sounds of piano and opera from the University across the street.

We finally reached the Duomo, an incredibly beautiful structure dating back to 1215. We purchased the Opa Si Pass for 12 Euros which allowed us to view the Cathedral, Library, Baptistery, Crypt, Museum of Opera, Oratorio, and Panorama view. It was a bit more than normal due to the exhibition of John the Baptist (Youth with a Ram) painted by Caravaggio in 1602.

Siena from above

Siena from above

We started our tour with the Museum, as advised by the ticket agent, since there wasn’t much of a line. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Museum–only on the top. The Museum is filled with amazing statues and other items preserved from the Original Duomo–You can even see the original Stained glass window. It was interesting to see the way the sculptors carved each apostle differently. Also, I got to see my first reliquaries–I’ve never seen the bones of a martyr before–definitely a unique experience. After climbing the many steps through the Museum, we ended up in the line to the “Panoramic view.” Silly us–we assumed from how high we were that we merely needed to go out on a deck of sorts to see the view from the top. Not the case. After climbing up a narrow spiral staircase (probably two feet wide with steps starting close to the center pole at about 3 inches and working out to about 10 inches) Pretty crazy! And that was just to get to the first deck. You could climb another 70 stairs to another tower point. We decided we’d had enough stairs for one day.

Duomo Siena

Duomo Siena

From there, we went to the Duomo, where you are allowed to take pictures. The Duomo is a gorgeous building both outside and in, and offers many treasures to see. Be aware, though, the Duomo is a strict “No Hoochie” zone. In other words, if you’re a female, you’d better have both your shoulders and knees covered. Go in shorts and a tank top, and you will receive something resembling a cotton poncho to cover up with. If you’re a man, you merely need to remove your hat. Thankfully, we knew this ahead of time and dressed appropriately. While some may find it offensive, I think it’s neat that some cathedrals still have standards of dress. It is also expected to be a place of reverence and quiet. I think the view itself will accomplish that–it is literally breath-taking.

St. Paul by Michelangelo

St. Paul by Michelangelo

Some of my favorite treasures in the Duomo were the inlaid floor tiles (be careful–these are roped off, and the iron poles are easy to trip over when the visitor is looking at the ceiling–i.e. me…), the intricately carved figures on a pulpit dating back to 1268, and small carvings made by Michelangelo himself. The one referenced in the guidebook is St. Paul who is said to look like a self-portrait of the sculptor himself–you can be the judge on that.

From there, we went to the crypt where we got to see the painting of John the Baptist–an amazing piece. The crypt also contained places where the old frescos were still visible. Beautiful. Alas, no pictures in there, either. We also walked through the Baptistery, which was a tiny area, but beautifully painted as well.

Finishing that, it was time to try to find our way to our car via the Il Campo–the heart of Siena. It was a neat square edged by the city hall–the largest secular tower in Italy. The chapel at the base of the tower was built in 1348 to thank God for ending the Black Death, which had killed 1/3 of the population. An amazing site to see!

Il Campo

Il Campo

We returned to our car, paid our parking ticket, ate lunch in the car, paid our parking ticket again (apparently, we had exceeded the amount of time you’re allowed to linger in the parking garage after paying), and headed to San Gimignano. We’d read in the guidebook that the medieval towers were incredible, but it wasn’t worth going inside the city, so we decided to take a drive by. It ended up being a lot longer drive than we planned–twisting and turning–but with gorgeous scenery. We had debated going to Volterra, which was also reported to be an incredible drive, but we wanted to get home to get our Florence tickets.
Views along the drive

Views along the drive

Apparently, Volterra has gotten a new boost of tourism due to the Twilight movies (Volterra was supposed to be the home of the the Volturi in New Moon), though most of filming was done in Montepulciano. But, alas, this was one side trip we had to skip. Since Rick Steve’s called this a windy road (and San Gimignano was windy enough), I was okay to skip it.

Sunset in Florence

Sunset in Florence

We returned to Florence in time to walk around the city and affirm that nothing is a short walk and the maps are deceiving (leaving mom a bit less of a Rick Steve’s fan…) But, we ended our day back at our amazing cafe by Piazzale Michelangelo watching the sunset.

Despite the fact that rain was predicted for this morning (7/18/13), it was a beautiful day when we got up. We debated taking the drive through Zell am See, but decided to stick with our original plan of trying to find a second hand store. There are some amazing Austrian clothes that traditionally cost around 100 Euros, so we wanted to see if we could find them cheaper.

Austrian Second Hand Store

Austrian Second Hand Store

We were in a bit of an unfamiliar driving territory, and at one intersection, traffic was coming from 4 directions. I saw an opening and took it, maneuvering around crossing pedestrians to do so. The next thing I knew: Polizei. Yep, that’s right: Police. Mom’s biggest nightmare (that and pickpockets…) So, I pulled over. The nice policeman approached and immediately started speaking in German. When I said, “I’m sorry,” he asked if I spoke German (in German), and I said, “No, English.” He switched and asked if I had noticed the pedestrians in the street. I allowed that I had, but had also noticed the cars coming swiftly towards me while I was in the intersection. He took my international driver’s license, which by good fortune I had put in the car that morning, my regular license, and my vehicle registration. Finally, after I’d taught him the English word “Crosswalk,” he explained that if there are people there, you need to let them go. (Incidentally, giving pedestrians the right of way is the only question I missed on my Indiana driver’s license test–In Ohio, they don’t have the right of way.) Thankfully, he let us go with a warning to watch out for people. Lesson noted…(I didn’t ask for his picture, though the thought did cross my mind…)

A block later, we arrived at the second hand store. This one was a small place, but had good Austrian clothes and shoes–unfortunately, none in my size or that mom would wear. The lady did direct us to another second hand store, and we headed there. This one was a lot larger. It had the kinds of things you usually find at thrift stores in the states: books, knickknacks, clothes, shoes, paintings, etc. We found a few interesting things, but nothing we had to have. Definitely a fun experience, though!

Celtic Charioteer (holding his enemy's head)

Celtic Charioteer (holding his enemy’s head)

From there, we headed back to Hallein to the Celtic Museum (Keltenmuseum Hallein). We had wanted to see the Silent Night Museum, but first were told it was only open at Christmas time, and then were informed that it’s open the second Friday of every month. So, if you happen to time your visit right, you can see where Silent Night was written. Parking in Lot 1 was free (after we actually managed to locate Lot 1–there are signs, but they’re hard to find.) Entrance to the museum was free, as well, because we had been on the Salt Mine tour. Traditionally, adults cost 6 Euros, but if you want a guide in English, you have to pay an additional 1.50 Euros. Since there is nothing in the museum in English, you really need the guide, though it covers mainly the story of salt production and leaves out a number of other artifacts.

Grave of Celtic Nobles

Grave of Celtic Nobles

There were a few things I found especially interesting. The first was a gravesite displaying a noble husband and wife. They were buried, as was tradition, with a great deal of jewelry and weapons. In fact, there were a number of graves that started being excavated in the 1930’s. Many artifacts are on display that were found in these tombs. As the tombs were found around one of the salt mines, they also display another skeleton of a man preserved in salt.

Hitler at a ground breaking ceremony

Hitler at a ground breaking ceremony

Another interesting area contained three rooms where 74 oil paintings are displayed. These paintings, which were commissioned by the prince-bishop, are of the salt miners and salt mining process and are painted directly on the walls of the room. These are beautifully done. The room also contains cases of hand painted playing cards of some kind, but there was no information on them in our guide book.

The final thing I found most interesting were cards of people in one of the display cases–two of them portraying Hitler. One of them merely shows a picture of Hitler with the Caption of “The work he provided” (Rough translation off Google Translate. The second is a ground breaking ceremony, which from translation seems to be some kind of factory or rail station. It struck me as an oddity to find a picture of Hitler at a groundbreaking ceremony in the midst of Celtic History.

The Celtic Museum

The Celtic Museum

There were many more interesting items: Log books from ships dating back to the 1500’s, The seals of Salzburg rulers, and signs of tradesmen to name a few. But, it is time for us to leave Austria, so we said goodbye to the Celtic Museum and headed back for an early dinner and to pack to go to Italy tomorrow.

In the Liechtenstein Gorge--Walkway visible (R)

In the Liechtenstein Gorge–Walkway visible (R)

We were blessed with another warm and sunny day today (7/17/13) despite weather forecasts to the contrary, so we set out for the Liechtenstein Gorge (Liechtensteinklamm). Our concierge said we could walk there from our hotel–We think they have a different sense of what is a “walkable distance” than Americans do–or else they know a shortcut. We opted to drive, and about 15 minutes later arrived at the parking lots. After parking at one of the first ones we came to (the closer ones being full, we thought), we began the hike up to the entrance. When we finally arrived at the entrance (after a long “American walk”), we discovered there were parking places right next to the entrance. So, always check the closest spot. Also, it seems that Austrians also have a habit of creating their own parking spaces, as we saw numerous cars parked on the side of the road, in pull outs, or other random places.

Waterfall at Liechtenstein Gorge

Waterfall at Liechtenstein Gorge

There is no charge for parking, but a $4.50 Euro fee to enter the gorge, which we paid and set out on our way. The Liechtenstein Gorge is thus named because Johann II (Johann the Good), who was the Prince of Liechtenstein from 1858 to 1929, had the walkways installed in 1875 so that visitors could walk through the Gorge. It is, therefore named for Liechtenstein (and I’d assume Sankt Johann is named for him as well…) It is an amazing walk through caves and over wooden walkways, all interspersed with breathtaking beauty. They estimate this walk will take about an hour and a half, and we made it through at a leisurely pace in two hours, so the estimate was pretty accurate. Whatever you love in nature, you will probably find– blue-green crystal water, rocks in incredible colors and designs, trees, flowers, mountains, sky, waterfalls–you name it. Even though the sun wasn’t shining on the waterfall, it was still beautiful.

Hallstatt

Hallstatt

From there, we decided to take a scenic drive (recommended by Rick Steves) down to Hallstatt. It is considered the oldest continuously inhabited village in Europe and has a large exhibition of prehistoric items. It is a beautiful drive, albeit down windy roads, into the quaint little town. We passed a number of cars parked in pullouts or the side of the road on the way into town. This made sense when we passed the parking for $18 Euros parking lot. We considered ourselves blessed to have found $2.50 Euro an hour with a maximum of $7 Euros at the absolute farthest parking lot from the town until we walked down to the lake and discovered free parking for 30 minutes. We debated on walking up to the old town, but in the end (and watching our time) decided to just take a few pictures and drive around the lake.

The other side of the lake (with free parking)

The other side of the lake (with free parking)

After we found our way back to the car, we headed across the lake, only to find a large area of free parking on the other side of the lake. It is a spot where apparently you can swim, a since many people were. Additionally, there were picnic tables and a lovely place to sit and view the mountains. So depending on the reason you visit Hallstatt, you may want to park there instead of on the town side, though I’m not sure how to walk from there to the old village. All in all, another beautiful day. Tomorrow, we are planning to head to the Celtic Museum, especially if it does, in fact, rain. We may also try to locate an Austrian Second-hand shop, then pack for Italy. More adventures to come!

The image of Hitler as we usually see him

The image of Hitler as we usually see him

Today (7/16/13), we headed up to Obersalzburg in Berchtesgaden, Germany, to the Documentation Museum. I think mom expected it to be a shorter trip than it ended up being, but I have been fascinated with the plight of Jews in World War II almost as long as I can remember. (I did my eighth grade research paper on Jewish persecution.) So, the opportunity to “get inside Hitler’s head,” if you will, was one I couldn’t take for granted. Additionally, understanding ethnocentrism as I do, I wanted to see how the Germans would portray their own history. Would they gloss over the ugly parts? Would Hitler be venerated or despised? It was a chance of a lifetime for me, and I took full advantage of it (about 5 1/2 hours worth.)

The unseen faces of Hitler

The unseen faces of Hitler

Rick Steves recommends giving yourself an hour and a half for the tour. I’d say it depends on how interested you are in the subject. We chose to pay the $2 Euro cost for an audio tour (in addition to the $3 Euro entrance fee–parking was free in the section we were in–P2) The audio tour itself recommends two hours. The tour intentionally starts you on a higher, lighter level and then moves you down through time into the dark, dankness of the bunker. A large section is devoted to Hitler’s decision to make Obersalzburg his “second home” and how that impacted the people who were living there. What I appreciated most is that it shows Hitler as an entire person. You see him smiling at children, lounging in his home, throwing dinner parties, studying for speeches, and a million other mundane activities.

Propaganda aimed at young people

Propaganda aimed at young people

But, in the next area, you see the propaganda techniques used to portray these images. It shows the hard truth of how many people lost their generational homes in the area to accommodate Hitler’s compound. It traces his journey from his portrayal of himself as the people’s chancellor to his portrayal of strength and brutality.

Three of the founding members of the White Rose--all were beheaded

Three of the founding members of the White Rose–all were beheaded

Because I work with youth for a living, I was especially fascinated with the role of young people. True, there are a number of images of young people looking adoringly at Hitler, but the displays were also brutally honest about the lengths Hitler went to to court such adoration. For one season of time, it was only the youth who were allowed to visit his Obersalzburg home. Yet, there are also those who stood against Hitler and his ideas. Most notably among the young people were the members of the White Rose, an organization made up of students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor. Hans Scholl (left in the picture) read a sermon by an outspoken preacher on the evils of Hitler’s use of euthanasia and was incensed, as was his sister Sophie. The two obtained permission to reprint parts of the sermon, and the White Rose began. The group believed that if people were informed of the truth, they would do something to change the situation. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. The prominent group members were eventually caught and beheaded by the Nazi party. Hans’s last words were (translated) “Long live freedom!” The words of these passionate young people should challenge us today as our rights are being taken: “…why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right – or rather, your moral duty – to eliminate this system?” (From Leaflet 3)

Entrance to Hitler's Bunker

Entrance to Hitler’s Bunker

Finally, after the exhibits, we made our way into the bunker. It is indeed a creepy place, as one would expect from the location from which Hitler planned a lot of his strategies for world dominance. There is a small display of pictures in the beginning of the bunker which chronicle items found in the bunker when Allied troops arrived. Inside, you are able to see the different chambers where officials stayed, as well as the guard posts equipped with three machine gun holes to “dissuade” anyone who entered the bunker unwelcomed. It was an incredible experience, though thoroughly chilling.

The Eagle's Nest viewed from the Documentation Museum

The Eagle’s Nest viewed from the Documentation Museum

We had the choice (for an additional $21.50 Euros) of going up to the Eagle’s Nest. This house was a gift from the Nazi party (planned by SS leader and Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann) to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday. We opted not to take the trip, since the Eagle’s Nest was only visited by Hitler between 10 and 14 times, due to his fear of heights. His mistress Eva Braun loved to go there and sunbathe. Additionally, the Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant, though parts of the lower levels can be seen on private tours. Mostly, the only thing remaining is a mantle given to Hitler by Mussolini, parts of which were chipped away as souvenirs by Allied troops. The house Hitler lived in which was near the bunker was destroyed by Allied forces, much to the joy of the townspeople.

From the Documentation Museum, we went to Konigssee, where incidentally Eva also liked to sunbathe–apparently, she did that a lot. It boasts a beautiful lake and a boat ride you can take (for $13 Euros) to see beautiful scenery and St. Bartholomä Cathedral. Unfortunately, since I spent too much time at Hitler’s bunker, we arrived just after the last boat had departed.

Front of the von Trapp family home used in the movie

Front of the von Trapp family home used in the movie

On the way home, we decided to drive through Salzburg and try to find the house used for the front of the von Trapp family home in The Sound of Music. This time we were successful! I had gotten the address off the internet, and, after driving down a pedestrian and bikes only lane, we parked on a street we COULD drive on and walked down. The house is The Mozarteum Music Academy, but the gates were open, so we decided to look around 🙂 Another beautiful day!

When something is considered “Worth its salt,” it is thought to be worth what you paid for it. Both literally and figuratively today (7/14/13), we got to experience a number of places that were definitely worth their salt.

Model of salt mine workers including the "slide" and the brine lake

Model of salt mine workers incliding the “slide” and the brine lake

We got a bit of a late start this morning (had to change out our refrigerator in the room), but we got it fixed and headed out to the Salzwelten Hallein Salt mine. This salt mine advertises itself to be the oldest salt mine in the world–that allows visitors. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but it was actually a fun experience. We had a discount through our Salzburg Card, so we got tickets for about $15.00 a piece. We had dressed in warmer clothes and clothes we could get dirty, but needn’t have bothered because the salt mine provided us with what looked like white scrubs to put on over our clothes. All suited up, we then began our tour. The tour started off with a “shuttle” (more of a long pole you straddle behind everyone else doing the same) to one of the caverns in the mine.
One of the old tunnels at the salt mine

One of the old tunnels at the salt mine

We watched a movie that set up the importance of salt (Unlike us, when something wasn’t cold, they couldn’t just get a new refrigerator. Salt was what kept their food preserved.) Then, we took a boat across a brine lake (we got to sample the brine as well). That was a really neat experience. Then, we saw the tools and tunnels used by the Celts and others who mined in this mine. One of the most fascinating experiences (which we decided to forego) was a “slide” modeled after the way miners used to get around the mines. Once again, it was essentially a wooden pole (about 6 inches wide) you straddled, lifted your feet, leaned back, and went down 2-3 at a time. Mom and I decided to take the stairs, since neither of us really enjoy going down long distances at a pace you can’t control, but for those who DO enjoy that, I’m sure it would be a lot of fun. We finished the tour with a view of a man they had found mummified in the salt. It was definitely interesting–and we got a free little salt shaker sample to boot.

View from the Celtic Museum

View from the Celtic Museum

Just outside of the mine is a Celtic Museum. It’s not THE Celtic Museum–we hope to visit that later this week–and we can get in free because of our ticket to the Salt mine tour. This Celtic Museum was a little village of about 6 houses which explained how the Celts in this area lived. It reminded me a lot of Jamestown in America–similar housing arrangements and styles. It was a neat place to look around as well.

On the way back to Salzburg to get ready for our evening show, we again passed the house that’s used as the front of the Von Trapp house, but once again, it was a road over, and we couldn’t find the road we wanted. Alas, maybe we’ll try again.

The artistry of St. Peter's

The artistry of St. Peter’s

We arrived in Salzburg about 4 hours before our “Sound of Salzburg” show. We had planned to do this show while we were still staying in Salzburg and could just take the bus, but the show wasn’t playing while we were still in town. So we had to park in paid parking to the tune of $18 Euros for the day–reminded me of Chicago parking! A friend had recommended we take the park and ride ($5 Euros/day), but we didn’t know the bus system well enough and didn’t want to try to find our way back to our car at 10:00 P.M. after the show.

Detail work in Salzburg Cathedral

Detail work in Salzburg Cathedral

After locating the building we would be meeting in, we proceeded to continue our tour of Salzburg while we waited. We decided to look inside St. Peter’s Cathedral and Salzburg Cathedral while we were waiting, and it was an excellent choice. These two cathedrals were equally breathtaking. There’s such an artistry in the architecture of old cathedrals that I dearly love. It just saddens me that we don’t have that kind of artistry today–I don’t mean we don’t have artists. We do; and some are incredible. What I mean is that we don’t have the kind of artistry that takes a group of artists between 15 and 31 years like parts of the Salzburg Cathedral did. Thirty-one years on one project! I can’t imagine. Not only is Salzburg Cathedral gorgeous to behold, it still contains the baptismal fount in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized!

View from dinner

View from dinner

After touring the cathedrals, we decided to go grab dinner. For this show, we had opted to attend the show only instead of paying for the dinner. The show alone was $26 Euros while the show with dinner was $42 Euros. Mom and I decided we could choose our own food for less than $16 Euros apiece. As it was, we stumbled across an amazing restaurant simply called Cafe-Restaurant. It served excellent food at a cheap price, and it’s claim to fame is its view of the Salzburg fortress. Guests get to dine while looking at this amazing piece of history. We choose the seat in the corner (a local artist’s favorite spot, he confided), and enjoyed an amazing dinner and dessert for just over $16 Euros for the two of us.

We went to Steigl-Keller to get our tickets, and still had about an hour to wait, so we headed down to Nonnberg Abbey. You may or may not know that Nonnberg Abbey is the Abbey Maria von Trapp attended and was used in the Sound of Music. As a special gift from God, we arrived just in time to be at the gates when the nun came to lock up. Between that moment, the police sirens we heard, and the sound of the carillon, it was an incredible surreal moment.

Nun locking the gate at Nonnberg Abbey

Nun locking the gate at Nonnberg Abbey

Finally, it was time for our show to begin. The Sound of Salzburg features 4 performers who are classically trained at the Mozart music school. Their program started with footage of the real Maria von Trapp discussing various aspects of her life. My favorite was the story of her engagement. Apparently, it was the von Trapp children who decided their father should marry Maria so she would never leave. When they informed him he should marry her, he responded, “I don’t even know if she likes me.” They promptly went to ask Maria if she liked their papa. Well, what do you say to that kind of question? She said, “Of course I do.” When they informed Captain von Trapp, he apparently considered their engagement settled, since later that evening, he came into the library where Maria was cleaning, and told her that was sweet of her. When she asked what he was talking about, he mentioned their engagement. She promptly dropped the expensive vase she was cleaning, which shattered on the floor, and ran to the Abbey. Discussing the situation with the Reverend Mother, who then spent some time in prayer with the other nuns, Maria was informed that it seemed to be God’s will for her to leave and marry Captain von Trapp. She was crushed. To her, it felt like they were kicking her out. By this time, it was later in the evening, so Maria had hoped to get back into the von Trapp house without waking anyone, but she saw the library light on and knew the captain was still awake. He greeted her at the door, saying, “And…?” to which she promptly burst into tears and said, “They say I have to marry you!” And the rest is history!

Location of the Sound of Salzburg performance

Location of the Sound of Salzburg performance

The show continued with several numbers from the Sound of Music, music from Mozart, Austrian folk songs sung by the Von Trapp Family Singers when they immigrated to America, and a few dances. Both the singing and the dancing involved the audience (I got to do the minuet with one of the performers). While I am glad we did the Mozart dinner because of the atmosphere and tradition, I think if I had to choose, I would definitely pick this show to see. It was an amazing time indeed! (And we did manage to find our way back to our car and make the drive back to Sankt Johann safely.)

We checked out of our hotel in Salzburg today (7/13/13) and made our way to our new lodgings in Sankt Johann. Because we had bought the Salzburg Card, we made a few stops along the way. The Salzburg Card can be bought for one, two, or three days (Jan. to April and Nov. to Dec. prices are $23, $31, and $36 Euros for adults, $11.50, $15.50, and $18 Euros for kids. From May through October, Adults are $26, $35, and $41 Euros and children are $13, $17.50, and $20.50 Euros).

Villa Trapp

Villa Trapp

It gives you free bus passes, plus free or discounted prices on a number of attractions. True, you may not have planned to visit a number of the places, but we’ve found it to be an amazing way to see the city and get ideas of things to do. With it, so far we have gotten our free CD from the Mozart performance, free entrance into the Mozart Residence and Hellbrunn, a free boat trip down the Salz River, a free funicular trip to the fortress and tour of the museum there, a free cable car ride to the top of Mount Untersberg, and a discount for the Sound of Music tour.
Seminary on Von Trapp property

Seminary on Von Trapp property

We bought the 3 day ticket (72 hours, depending on when you activate it), so we still have another day and a half to use it. As many of these activities are $10 Euros or more a person, it’s a great deal, in my opinion.

Our first stop was the Villa Trapp. Told by Rosa-Maria that we’d be unable to get in, we decided to try it anyway. While it is true that we were unable to get inside the building (no one answered when we buzzed the office), the gate was open, so we were able to get our own pictures of the house. We also visited the seminary next door, but couldn’t get in there either. Alas…

Trick Fountains

Trick Fountains

We continued our journey to Hellbrunn, home most recently of the Sound of Music Gazebo, but for centuries before that, home of the trick fountains. The Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Markus Sittikus von Hohenems apparently had quite a sense of humor. He constructed Hellbrunn between 1613 and 1616. The trick fountains are a series of fountains around the property which Markus Sitticus could control by building pressure which could be released by a servant at a signal from him. Since this was a summer day property (no bedrooms in Hellbrunn), Sitticus had a stone table built outside. This seemingly innocent construction has eight chairs around it, each with a hole in the center. At a signal from Markus, usually when his guests had had too much wine and were having trouble leaving, he would shoot water through a hole in their seats. His is the only seat with no water pipe under it.

Miniatures which are actually a water pump

Miniatures which are actually a water pump

Additionally, the many garden areas come equipped with holes in the floor or wall through which water shoots. Not only is this a great way to cool off on a summers’ day, but it also provides an amazing grounds with many hidden treasures including statues, ornately detailed rooms, small caves with mini figurines, and an entire musical figurine stage. The architecture and design is truly breath-taking, and one of my favorite spots so far.

View from the mountain top

View from the mountain top

From there, we went to Untersburg to take the cable car up the mountain. If I thought the funicular was scary, this was 10 times worse, since you were traveling up to a height of 6,470 feet, but the beauty at the top is breathtaking. There are a number of things to do at the top (www.untersbergbahn.at/en), but we simply walked around and enjoyed the beauty.

Finally, we settled in our new hotel for the week in Sankt Johann–more gorgeous mountain scenery. More fun tomorrow!

We rushed around this morning (7/12/13) in order to meet Rosa-Maria from Bob’s Tours (http://www.bobstours.com/som.php)

Back of Von Trapp House

Back of Von Trapp House

She was to be our guide on our 4 hour Sound of Music tour. She picked us up from the door of our hotel. We chose to do the van tour, as it was more personal than the bus tour, and to our great delight, we were the only ones on this particular tour, so we had Rosa-Maria all to ourselves.

"I am 16 Going on 17" Gazebo

“I am 16 Going on 17” Gazebo

After acquainting us with some other non-Sound of Music related sites (Mozart’s Residence, etc.), she took us to the house used as the back of the Von Trapp home (Schloss Leopoldskron.) This house is actually a private college. The popularity of the movie led to enough “crazed fans” coming that the college requested the gazebo be moved. (Our guide told us one woman broke her ankle dancing around in the gazebo!) Schloss Hellbrunn is its new home (and home of the trick fountains–we’ll explore there more tomrorrow…). Scholss Hellbrunn also houses a tree lane which looks like the one in the movie–the one in the movie is now a lakeside road with very small trees.

The "Escape Route"

The “Escape Route”

We also drove by the house used for the front, but it is a private residence, so I just got a drive-by picture. We’re going to try to get closer tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Next, we headed to the Lake District, which contains some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The mountain that the Von Trapps escaped over into Switzerland contains two errors: First, the one used in the film is Mount Obersalzburg, which actually leads to Germany, not Switzerland. Additionally, the Von Trapps did not escape by mountains at all; they took a train to Italy, then a boat to the United States.

Opening scene of the movie

Opening scene of the movie

The Lake District was breathtaking, and the view from the terrace of Muehlradl Cafe-Restaurant provides and excellent view of the landscape used in the opening sequence of the movie (and also provides good desserts).

From there, we headed back over the winding roads to the Mondsee Cathedral, which was used for the captain and Maria’s wedding.

The Wedding Chapel

The Wedding Chapel

In the movie, the church is entirely white. This was because some brilliant person many years ago decided it was easier to paint over all of the beautiful frescos with white paint rather than to restore them. $4 million Euros and three years of work later, it’s been returned to its original glory.

Finally, we concluded our amazing trip with Mirabell Gardens which contains the majority of the set of the Do-Re-Mi song, including the fountain the children splash in, the Gnome garden, and the steps on which Maria sings. We said good-bye to Rosa-Maria. She had been an excellent tour guide. In addition to sharing the sites of the Sound of Music, she made it her job (and joy) to share facts you couldn’t learn in a guide book. Having had the opportunity to interview three members of the Von Trapp family personally, as well as many townspeople who were present when the movie was filmed, she had been a wealth of all kinds of information.

Mozart residence

Mozart residence

She had also pointed us to fun places to spend money–from food, to souvenirs, to opportunities to luge (we declined)–given us insight into customs and key sites, and even shown us fun sites like the headquarters of Red Bull.

After Mirabell Gardens, we concluded our Sound of Music experience, and we began to experience music of a different kind by touring the Mozart Residence. This was Mozart’s childhood home (when he wasn’t travelling all over Europe with his father and meeting important people.)

"I HJve Confidence" Fountain

“I Have Confidence” Fountain

The museum there is mostly a portrait gallery–interesting in its comparisons of true paintings and forgeries, but that’s about it. From there, we went to Mozart Platz to see the statue of Mozart, and the fountain Maria splashes while singing, “I Have Confidence.”

By rounding the corner from Salzburg Cathedral, you not only find an amazing bakery, which is the oldest in Salzburg where bread is still sold for a Euro, but you will also find the entrance to the cemetery or catacombs. While this is not the one used in the movie, the Hollywood set was modeled after it. (The iron crosses in this cemetery were too small to hide behind 🙂

The real cemetery

The real cemetery

It is an amazing experience to walk down the gates and look how how each person chose to be remembered.

Upon leaving the cemetery, it was a short walk to the funicular for the fortress Hohensalzburg. If. like me, you have no idea what a funicular is (and assume someone is mispronouncing vernacular), it is a cable rail that goes up a cliff while another comes down to balance the weight. It’s actually a cool and terrifying experience, if like me, you’re afraid of heights. This one was built in 1910 to replace the ones that utilized animals to pull carts up the mountain–I can’t imagine.

Hohensalzburg

Hohensalzburg

But, it is actually an incredible experience for the view you get and the fortress itself. The fortress at Hohensalzburg reminded me a lot of the Tower of London–not in appearance, but in some of the items inside. The museum was interesting with displays of armaments and ornately decorated rooms. What is unique about Hohensalzburg is that, in addition to being one of the largest fortresses in Europe and that it started being built in 1077, it also has never been taken by force (Apparently, they just gave it to Napoleon, but other than that . . .)
View from the top of the fortress

View from the top of the fortress

We came down from the fortress in time to catch the last boat tour which gives an entirely different perspective of the city as viewed from the Saltz River. Completely exhausted (especially after an extremely late and challenging dinner), we got home about 11:00. But tomorrow is a new day and more adventures will follow!

St. Peters--outside the oldest restaurant in Europe

St. Peters–outside the oldest restaurant in Europe

Today (07/11/13), after 2 flights, we landed in Munich, Germany where we rented a car and drove to Salzburg, Austria. Thus begins a month adventure.

If you’ve never travelled to Europe before, I would recommend a few pointers. First, copy the international road signs. While I was pleasantly surprised at how drivers acted on the legendary Autobahn (just stay out of the left lane), I was infinitely glad to have the international signs. This is the version I used: http://ygraph.com/chart/2029 I also discovered that the Autobahn uses “speed zone” and “end of speed zone” signs, which are either posted on the road (the ones that never change) or on an electronic sign (these change.) In short, as you’re driving, there are times when you will have a speed limit, times you may have a limit, and areas where people drive however fast they jolly well please (It is at these points that you want to avoid the left lane!) People DID tend to obey the posted speed (Surprising for one from Chicagoland where standard procedure is to add 10 mph to the speed limit.), and I felt the signs were clearly posted. Additionally, we had purchased an international GPS on loan, which is a helpful option.

One thing I didn’t expect was to have to pay to go to the bathroom at rest areas. The price where we were was $.70 Euros, or about $1.00. (In public places, it’s usually $.50 Euros, but museums and restaurants have free restrooms, so go while you’re there. Just another something to be aware of. A helpful feature is that the signs for rest areas will count down from 300 meters away.

Performers at Mozart Dinner Concert

Performers at Mozart Dinner Concert

After a quick nap and buying groceries (Bring your own bags–another tip), we set off to the Mozart Dinner Concert. This concert features a collection of Mozart favorites, costumed musicians, and food from the era. It was an amazing experience.

Dinner is served in four courses with music in between. It is an elegant experience. (Check out the website: http://www.salzburg-concerts.com/salzburg-mozart-dinner-concert/mozart-dinner-concert/home for pictures and samples of the performance.) For a formal critique, I would have to say the food was good (bread, cream soup with a cheese dumpling, capons and vegetables, and a frozen honey desert), the music was incredible, and I was disappointed by the “historic costumes” which included such modern inventions as zippers and hair pulled back in scrunchies. I’m glad we went, though not sure it was worth the $54 Euros price tag (though if you show your Salzburg card, you get a “free” CD–normally $10 Euros.)

Tomorrow, we’re off on a Sound of Music tour. More fun to come 🙂

Next Page »