Photo of the Day: Lake Mondsee

This is from my very first Eurotrip back in 2007, a photo of Lake Mondsee in Austria, originally shot in color on my old pocket cam and converted to black and white. Keen observers will note that a heavily photoshopped version of this photo appears on the cover of my novel.

Date: 4/1/2007
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8
Click for larger view

You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.

My First Eurotrip, Part 4: Von Trappin’ in Salzburg

This series is a look back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

My original title for this post was “The Hills Are Alive in Salzburg,” but then I realized that a fellow blogger recently used almost the exact same title, and I didn’t want it to seem like I was copying. ūüėČ

April 4th to April 5th, 2007:¬†It was time to leave Vienna and head to Salzburg, passing through more gorgeous Austrian countryside. Along the way we caught a glimpse of Melk Abbey, one of the world’s most famous monasteries, over 900 years old and still functioning as an abbey and school. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and check out this impressive site, so I had to settle for a photo snapped from the moving bus.

Melk Abbey

Eventually we reached Salzburg and I got my first glimpse of the spectacular fortress that overlooks and dominates the city landscape.

Hohensalzburg fortress, one of the largest and best preserved medieval castles in Europe.

After checking into our hotel we went on a guided walking tour. I quickly fell in love with Salzburg. It was not only my favorite city on this trip, but possibly my favorite that I’ve ever visited. Salzburg doesn’t feel at all like a city, there’s not a tall building in sight. Featuring cobblestone pedestrian streets lined with historical buildings fronted with iron signs, it’s like a walk back in time. I could have spent an entire week here.

View from a pedestrian street.
Mozart’s birthplace. The museum inside is very touristy.
The Salzach River runs right through the middle of the city, with pedestrian bridges crossing it.

I was particularly fascinated with the fortress, taking many photos from many angles. Here are a few:

Hohensalzburg Fortress
View from Mirabell Gardens
Seeing the fortress for the trees…

While in Salzburg we saw many landmarks that were featured in The Sound of Music

The Fountain
Mirabell Gardens
The Mirabell Gardens archway featured in the film.
St. Peter’s Cemetery, where the Von Trapps hid from the Nazis,
though the actual scene was filmed in Hollywood.

After our guided tour we had free time before dinner. I went off by myself and ended up in the main square in the shadow of the fortress, where I spotted some men playing on a giant chess board (I saw several of these giant boards in Lucerne as well).

The man moving the knight in this photo would later be my opponent.

I watched a couple of games and then decided to challenge the winner of the most recent game. We didn’t speak each other’s language, but the language of chess is universal. I did very well early on‚ÄĒI went up a knight pretty quickly and appeared on my way to a win, but then I blundered back a knight and ended up losing a close match. Despite my disappointing loss, it remains¬†a fond¬†memory‚ÄĒhow often do you get to play jumbo chess in Europe while gazing up at a magnificent¬†castle?

After the game I made my way back to the hotel for dinner. The helpings of schnitzel¬†were very generous‚ÄĒI guess they knew they were serving Americans. ūüôā

That night we went to the Augustiner Brewery, which was founded by Augustinian monks in 1621. The beer crafted here is still based on their methods, and those monks knew what they were doing. The beer was maybe the best I’ve ever had anywhere; it went¬†down so smoothly.

I thought these were cool mugs.

The next morning we went on another walking tour.

Group portrait in Mirabell Gardens.
This monastery is built into the side of the mountain.
Closeup of the monastery catacomb windows carved into the rock.

After the tour we split into smaller groups. Some of us decided to go up to the fortress. There is a steep walking path to the top if you prefer to hike, but we opted to ride the funicular since we only had a couple of hours to spare (you could easily spend an entire day exploring everything the fortress has to offer). I was surprised at the speed of the funicular cars; they travel up the track much faster than you would expect at first glance.

View of Salzburg from the fortress.
View of the square below. In a neat coincidence, the marching band down there was from New Jersey.
Side view of the fortress overlooking the city below.
Salzburg through the eyes of a cannon.
Although this tree in the middle of the castle courtyard wasn’t white,
my first thought when seeing it was of the Minas Tirith white tree in Lord of the Rings.

Before heading back down we had lunch at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the valley below. Unfortunately the Alps were shrouded in haze, so we could barely make out their majesty. I imagine the view must be phenomenal on a clear day. All in all, our visit to the fortress was the highlight of our stay in Salzburg. The rest of the group members who chose not to accompany us really missed out.

View from the restaurant.

Back down in the square it was time to leave for the salt mines, but we had about 20 minutes to kill, so I played another quick game of chess with a native Austrian, this time with everyone in the group watching. Since I had to rush through the game, I wound up getting my butt kicked. The Austrian who defeated me was very nice, though, even posing with me for a picture afterward. My uncle has that photo somewhere.

The bus then picked us up and we were off to the salt mines. It’s a pretty neat tour: part walking, part mine car ride, and part boat ride.

Uncle Kipp and me (everyone had to put on these outfits before entering).

One really fun part of the tour is sliding down the optional big slides to the lower parts of the mine. You ride down with a partner. Several of the students went multiple times.

One of the slides.

After exiting we toured a replica Celtic village at the top of the salt mine mountain. From here we had a nice view of the valley below

A view from the top of the salt mine.

With that, our stay in Salzburg was near an end. In the morning we would depart for Lucerne, Switzerland, with a stop at Neuschwanstein along the way, which will be covered in the next installment. Until then, I leave you with a shot of the fortress at night.

Farewell, Salzburg. I hope to return someday.

View more photos from this trip.

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My First Eurotrip, Part 3: Vienna Waits

This series is a look back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

April 2nd to April 3rd, 2007: After two days in Munich it was time to leave. We hopped on the bus early in the morning and headed to Vienna. Along the way, I enjoyed my first-ever glimpse of snow-covered mountains as the Alps came into view.

The Alps (taken from a moving bus)

We broke up our six-hour drive to Vienna with a stop in a town called Mondsee, the location of the church featured in the Sound of Music. Our overall tour was actually called “The Sound of Music Tour,” so this would be the first of many sites from the movie we would visit.

Sound of Music Church

After touring the church I made my way to a beautiful nearby lake framed by mountains.

Lake Mondsee

We then continued on to Vienna. Our hotel was right around the corner from the main drag of the newer part of the city. I took a quick walk around the area, which reminded me of walking through New York City, and then returned for dinner. On a side note, here are a few observations about dining in Germany and Austria: everything is a la carte, including butter for bread. There are no free drink refills like in the States, but glasses have a mandatory fill line. Water is served by the bottle (ordering tap water is generally not done). The tip amount on a bill is less than in the States (I think because their waiters are paid more)‚ÄĒten percent seems to be standard, and for small bills, many simply round up to the next Euro.

After dinner we headed to the Prater park and went for a ride on the famous Riesenrad Ferris wheel, which is over 100 years old. You may have seen it in movies like The Third Man or The Living Daylights.

The Riesenrad

The cars are massive; our entire 18-person group could have easily fit in one. There are also dinner cars. After the Ferris wheel we enjoyed some other attractions. An interesting feature of the amusement park was the presence of casinos, though I did not partake; I’ve never been much of a casino person.

View of Vienna from the Ferris Wheel

The next morning we visited Sch√∂nbrunn Palace, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vienna. Like Nymphenburg in Munich, it was once an imperial summer residence. It looks very impressive from the outside but I can’t recall much of the inside with no photos to remind me (they did not allow photography inside the palace).

Schönbrunn Palace

A common characteristic of palaces like Sch√∂nbrunn and Nymphenburg is a sprawling garden in the back, which must look spectacular when the flowers are in full bloom. Due to a lack of time, I never made it to the fountain or the Gloriette pictured below, one downside of being on a regimented tour. On the other hand, I saw much more in a short period of time on this trip than I would have on my own, so it’s a trade-off.

Fountain and Gloriette
Schönbrunn Gardens

There was an outdoor Easter market in front of the palace, which I spent some time wandering through while we waited for the bus to pick us up. We then went on a bus tour of Vienna before being dropped off in the middle of the old city for free time. One interesting aspect of Vienna is a lack of skyscrapers, particularly in the old city, which is filled with historical buildings, making for a much more interesting walk than you might enjoy in some other cities.

The famous Hundertwasser house, an apartment building designed by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The hilly, cobblestone street in front of the Hundertwasser house.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, over 800 years old.

A small group of us then went to the Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, coated in dark chocolate icing. Everyone else in the group ordered this treat, but I’m not a fan of mixing fruit with chocolate, so I ordered some ice cream and the house tea.

The tea was delicious. I enjoyed it so much that, after returning home, I searched online for a way to buy it. I eventually found a company, Upton Tea Imports, that sells a clone of the tea, called Sacher Blend (this also marked the beginning of my love affair with loose-leaf tea). The Sacher Blend is very close to the original and I have continued to purchase it every year since. In fact, I am drinking some as I write this.

Uncle Kipp and I then walked through the Naschmarkt, a famous outdoor food market.¬† I know, I keep saying “famous,” but pretty much everything in Vienna is famous. ūüôā

I stopped at one of the food stands and ordered my first ever d√∂ner, which is a Turkish sandwich similar to a gyro. Very tasty, and I’ve eaten at least one on each of my European trips since.

We then did some more walking around the city.

Sezession Haus
The gold leaf globe is supposedly based on a sketch by Gustav Klimt,
the first president of the Vienna Secession movement.

Shortly after posting the photo above, an online travel guide (whose name I no longer recall), chose to feature it in the Vienna section of their guide. I wonder if it still exists.

Behind this fountain stands the Russian Heroes Monument,
an unpopular reminder to Vienna locals of post-WW2 Soviet occupation.

With some free time left, we decided to visit an art museum in Belvedere Palace. There are many paintings and artists featured here, but the main attraction is the work of Gustav Klimt. Belvedere is the home of Klimt’s The Kiss, the famous (there’s that word again!) painting you often see adorning the walls of college dorm rooms. Having only seen The Kiss depicted in posters, I was surprised at how very large the original canvas is.

Approaching Belvedere Palace
Belvedere Palace

The rest of the night after dinner was uneventful for me. Uncle Kipp took the students out on the town, but I wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed behind and packed. In the morning we would depart for Salzburg.

View more photos from this trip.

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Photo of the Day: Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna

This is the famous Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, Austria, taken on my first Eurotrip back in 2007. The apartment house¬†was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and built in the early 80’s.

Date: 4/2/2007
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8 (pocket point-and-shoot)

Photo of the Day: Salzburg, Austria

Although this was taken on my very first Eurotrip back in 2007, Salzburg still sits atop the list of favorite cities I’ve visited. The magnificent fortress, which looms large over the entire city, is reason enough to visit, but Salzburg has so much more to offer, from the river to the quaint pedestrian streets to the Mirabell Gardens, and everywhere in between.

I wish I had been equipped with a better camera back then, as my pocket camera wasn’t great at handling the overcast conditions, but this is definitely one city to which I plan to return . . . along with my Nikon. ūüôā

Date: 4/4/2007
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8

Eurotrip 2011, Part 8: Long Train Runnin’, Destination Zagreb

Flash Forward: Zagreb, Croatia

This installment covers¬†Days 19‚Äď20 of my 2011 trip to Europe…

After our relaxing stay in Basel it was time to resume our trip. We hopped on the train in Basel at 9:30 a.m. for a roughly 15-hour ride that would take us through Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and finally into Zagreb, Croatia. That’s a long time to be cooped up in a train, but on the plus side, our Eurail passes afforded us first-class seats for most of the trip, so the ride was more comfortable than the trains we had ridden in Italy.

And the scenery was breathtaking. If you like riding trains, I highly recommend taking one through Switzerland and Austria‚ÄĒI can’t imagine a more picturesque journey. Here are some photos from that part of the trip. The quality is poor because they were taken with a cell phone through the glass window of a moving train, but it gives you some sense of the beauty of the countryside through this part of Europe.

We arrived at the last stop in Austria late in the evening. The next train would take us into Slovenia and Croatia. The station was a bit creepy, tiny and isolated. Huge, long-haired guards were patrolling the grounds. They did not look like the kind of people you wanted to cross.

The layover was fairly long and we were starving. We had been on the road since the early morning without really having a meal. The only available food in the station was the finger food being served by a casino/bar, so we decided that we would wait and eat in the dinner car on the train. This turned out to be a mistake because the train to Croatia was basically equivalent to an old commuter train, so there was no dinner car, not even someone walking around serving snacks. Alas, we would not be eating until we reached Zagreb.

Riding through Slovenia at night was an interesting experience. It’s hard to put into words but it had a different feel than riding through Western Europe. I kind of felt like I was traveling behind the old Iron Curtain or something. When we reached Croatia we had a bit of a scare around 11 p.m. when Croatian police boarded the train to check our passports. One officer looked at my uncle’s passport for the longest time, and then began asking us questions about where we had come from and why we had no entry stamp.

I explained that customs never stamped our passports when we landed in France. He replied, “They must! They must! That is why we have stamps.” I thought we were going to have a problem but he finally said, “It’s not your fault,” and stamped our passports. ¬†So word to the wise: when you land in a foreign country, make sure you get your passport stamped.

We finally arrived in Zagreb around 11:30 that night. It was obviously too late to go out for dinner so I settled for a sandwich being sold by a shop in the train station. Fortunately, the hotel was right across the street from the station, so we didn’t have far to walk. We didn’t do much unpacking since we would only be here one more night, so I gobbled up my sandwich, went online for a bit, and then straight to bed.

We spent the entire following day walking around the city. It was the only day we would have to check out Zagreb on this trip so we tried to make the most of it. We didn’t have any planned excursions; we just meandered and soaked in the sites. I noticed right away that more people spoke English in Croatia than they did in Italy, so I wasn’t at all hindered by my failure to learn any of the Croatian language before the trip. In fact, I don’t think I encountered one person in Croatia that didn’t speak English, a much different experience than in Italy, where the tiny bit of Italian I picked up before the trip came in very handy.

For lunch we had some good doeners (a Middle Eastern/European dish similar to a gyro) at a little caf√©. Later on we snacked on some tasty fritule, which are like fried donut holes or zeppoles. Uncle Kipp had his with powdered sugar while I opted for cinnamon (I never turn down a chance to have something with cinnamon). Later that evening we had an excellent dinner at a cute restaurant called Hansel & Gretel that featured a rustic, fairy-tale d√©cor. I don’t recall exactly what I had, but I remember that it was a very rich and creamy dish, and quite delicious.

Here are a few photos from our day in Zagreb:

We didn’t stay out too late because we had to be up early the next morning for our train ride down to Split, which will be covered in the next installment.

Zagreb was a hopping city, kind of like Croatia’s version of New York. ¬†It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to take in all it had to offer, but who knows–maybe I’ll see it again.

View more photos from Zagreb

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Eurotrip 2009: The Movie

I finally got around to compiling the little videos I shot during my 2009 Eurotrip into a movie. ¬†These were shot with my old pocket camera, so it’s not HD video quality and I didn’t have the ability to zoom in and out during shooting, but it’s still a decent companion piece to my journal.


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Eurotrip 2009 Part 3: Neuschwanstein and Innsbruck

This is the third part of my Eurotrip 2009 Revisited series, a special edition of sorts in which I have divided the original post into smaller parts while incorporating minor copy edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images.

Flash Forward: Innsbruck, Austria

After spending our last night in Munich, we had a (gasp) 6:15 wakeup call the next morning, though I actually awoke on my own at 5:45. Following breakfast we were on the road to Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle of King Ludwig II. The Sleeping Beauty castle of Disneyland was based on Neuschwanstein . . . and for you Spaceballs fans, it was also used as Castle Druidia in that film.

Neuschwanstein from down below
Hohenschwangau Castle, Ludwig’s childhood home, located beneath Neuschwanstein

The long climb to the top of the mountain where Neuschwanstein¬†sits was much easier for me than it had been two years ago when I was carrying around 30 extra pounds. We toured the amazing inside of the castle (Ludwig was like an overgrown child; all of his rooms were extravagantly themed on Wagner operas, and he even had an indoor cave built just outside his bedroom). Unfortunately, they don’t let you take any pictures inside (I tried to sneak a few pics from under my jacket but they didn’t come out), so here’s an exterior shot of the valley taken from the castle:

One of my favorite scenes at Neuschwanstein

After the tour we made our way to the Marienbr√ľcke, a bridge over a gorge that normally provides a stunning view of the castle, but unfortunately the entire side of the castle was covered in scaffolding. Luckily, I had gotten great pictures when I was here in 2007, so it wasn’t a huge loss.

The Marienbr√ľcke
Neuschwanstein unfortunately covered in scaffolding

Amber and I crossed the bridge and began climbing the path to the top of the mountain, during which I took my obligatory Karate Kid photo:

The obligatory Karate Kid pose

After a short climb we decided to make our way back, but were separated from the rest of the group, so we started walking back down the mountain on our own. We came to a fork, at which a sign seemed to indicate that we could get to the bottom taking either path, but one was shorter than the other. We took the short path, which was steeper than the traditional path.

About halfway down we reached a dead-end, so we climbed back up to an intersection where the path appeared to continue on down the hill, but we didn’t want to take anymore chances and wind up late for the bus, so we climbed all the way back up the steep path to the original fork, an arduous climb with the clock ticking‚ÄĒAmber had never heard me curse so much in her life ūüôā

Eventually we made it back to the original path on which we had climbed up to the castle, but way too late for lunch, so I grabbed a Bavarian hamburger and munched it on the way down. We made it back to the bus just in time, putting a little scare into Uncle Kipp, but as it turned out, the leader of the NY group was 15 minutes late, so we would have been fine.

Our next stop was the Wieskirche (also known as the church in the meadow). Here’s one shot of its amazing interior:

Wieskirche interior
The meadow that gives the Wieskirche its nickname

Following that we stopped in Oberammergau, a town famous for its Passion Play, as well as its wood carvings and painted buildings. I was still worn out from our mountain experience, so I just explored the town briefly before sitting down with a radler at an outdoor cafe, relaxing, and enjoying the view:

Alps in Oberammergau

We eventually arrived at our hotel in Innsbruck, Austria around 6pm. My room had a nice view of the alps:

View from my Innsbruck hotel room
View from an Innsbruck street
(McDonald’s truly is everywhere)

After unpacking and eating a hotel-provided pork dinner, we went on a brief walking tour. The kids wanted to find a nightclub, so Uncle Kipp befriended a group of local kids and had them lead us to a bar. A few of the girls did not want to stay, so I led them home, which was fine with me because the smoke in the bar was disgusting. Everyone who stayed at the bar apparently had a great time, but as my uncle is fond of saying: “To each their own.” After a very long day, I slept like a log for most of the night.

The next morning we went on another brief walking tour, culminating in a visit to a church with cool statues:

Innsbruck church statues

After that I did a little shopping with Amber, as well as Sam and her grandmother. I picked up another t-shirt (which I would only get one use out of because it shrank to nearly a half-shirt after I washed it). This was the same store where I bought my nephew Jamie’s t-shirt, so I hope his fared better than mine did.

Amber and me trying on some hats

A little later I bought a small bottle of absinthe, just to see what all the fuss was about. Amber and I then walked down to the river, where we got some great photos:

View of Alps from Innsbruck
Alps over river in Innsbruck
Innsbruck historical district at riverside

We then ate lunch at an outdoor cafe where I had a good spaghetti bolognese (even though I was enjoying the German food, I couldn’t go a whole week without eating Italian :-)).

Following lunch we hopped on the bus for a very long drive to Switzerland, which will be covered in the next installment.

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