Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 12 –Bratislava

Cake for breakfast? Absolutely when on vacation in Slovakia! What better way to energize for a full day ahead? Thanks again to Michael and Google we found Zeppelin – a charming bakery and coffee shop run by an equally charming lady. Michael had chocolate, I the walnut creme and we shared traditional poppy seed and walnut cookies with our breakfast coffees. A bit of a splurge at 20Euro but worth every cent.

We walked to the palace but found it was closed to the public. We toured the lovely grounds and gardens then ventured to a nearby neighbourhood. It housed a mix of renovated and run down buildings with every corner capturing our interest. Even gargoyles taking selfies ;-). Bratislava has quite a mix of architectures all jumbled together – more of a mix than in Czech from what we have seen.

We also passed the Czech embassy where flowers and candles were laid out for Karel Gott – a famous singer who died earlier in the week. Apparently Prague was overrun with people and flowers for the funeral.

We stopped for our second coffee at Tesla where we found some interesting ideas. They had recipes for mixed drinks made with Tatratea. One with tea, another with wine. Note to self to follow up when we get home to find new creative ways to enjoy!

Next was a walk over the Danube on the most SNP, aka UFO bridge, where the pedestrian walkway ran under the highway. Across the river is the lookout tower which is shaped like a UFO – but we didn’t go up. The walkway was apparently the primary focus of the cleaning staff in Bratislava. The workers were cleaning off the graffiti which appeared overnight – an endless job I expect.

Then off to the EURO mall – the largest on the Danube – which the river cruise ships seemed to appreciate. A mall is mall nowadays – many of the stores identical to Canadian malls – but with different merchandise and higher prices. We met up with Derek & Marketa as planned about 2:15 pm. On the walk back to their car we passed the Church of St. Elizabeth – or better known as the Blue Church, a very nice chance happening! After a quick stop at our apt, we headed for a much awaited dinner. But not before sampling the burcak D&M brought; they had bought it from a friend of Marketas. Burcak is a very fresh wine only available for a short time – and we lucked out on our timing.

Once again we ate far too much – but we couldn’t resist! Gurmansky Grob was our destination for a royal goose feast. We had soup with goose neck, carrots & parsnips and noodles. Next goose liver with apples and bread and a pickle plate. Then the main attraction of goose with red cabbage and potato crepes – all with beers and a shot of slivovitz (pear). Finally all topped off with poppy-seed strudel. We rolled out much heavier – although our wallets were much lighter after a 205 Euro dinner!

We decided that Derek & Marketa would stay at our apt to allow Derek to have a couple of drinks with us (0 tolerance for drink driving here). So we dropped the car their intended sleep spot and walked back to our place for the night where the burcak was waiting patiently for us.


Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 11 – Salzburg to Bratislava

We headed early to the train station for our trip to Vienna and then on to Bratislava where we had a rare day to ourselves. By chance we ran into Dan at the station and so were able to wish him a happy 60th in person. They were headed to Vienna to hook up with Natalie & Duncan, but on a different train.

We arrived in Bratislava to much nicer weather, but to discover that our Austrian SIM card doesn’t work here for data, but we can at least phone. So we managed to contact our airBnB host and arranged to meet him at the apartment following a taxi ride from the train station. We had expected about 10 Euro for the trip, but it was 20 which seems a lot for what could have been a 25 minute walk – so no tip this time.

Our James Bond 007 apt was in a great location and very ‘IKEA’lly perfect with several James Bond accessories (nothing as exciting as a dart gun pen, but several pieces of art). Everything was brand new and the apt seems designed straight out of the catalogue. And I can’t help mentioning … the flat iron was the best I’ve ever used – a Remington – may need to try to find one back home!

We walked up to the Bratislavský Hrad (castle) which offered marvelous views of the city. It is the site of significant buildings dating back to about 700 AD, Celtic/Roman times, and has had very many changes over the centuries. The first actual hrad was probably built in the late 1200’s.

We paid to enter the castle but there were only limited exhibits open and many rooms had not been staged. The best was that of the Slovak painter Martin Benka who died in 1971 at the age of 80. His early painting style was reminiscent of the Group of 7, but then his work evolved and you could clearly see the Russian influence during / post WWII. We had hoped for the furniture exhibit, but alas it was not open.

Next off to St. Nicholas church which was associated with the hrad. It was shockingly small and very run down with a group of youth hanging out in the yard smoking and drinking. Much more impressive was the nearby St. Martin Cathedral.

Once back at our apt with wifi we connected with Derek & Marketa to plan our meeting the next day and then we 2 headed for a pub dinner at Mestianski Pivovar. Michael had his beloved pig knuckle, I had Moravian Sparrow (pork pieces with creamed spinach – actually very good) both with potato dumplings. We shared a starter of grilled local cheese and had 2 beers each – turns out eating out here is not the absolute bargain we had hope for, but still not outrageous.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 10 – Salzburg

It was now Friday, Oct 11 and it was very nostaligic!

We spent the day reliving our honeymoon journey up to the castle. We passed the Jesus statue Michael are rediscovered earlier, retraced our steps on the steep walk up to the castle even passing a few of the ‘doors’ Michael had captured on film in 1983. Some memories were fresh, but many more have faded over the years. Some things are the same, but mostly I feel like the whole route was much cleaner.

At the castle, we visited the ‘gold rooms’ with the ceilings designed to be the night sky. The models showing the evolution of the building of the castle were still very much as we remembered them. The armoury museum had many of the same exhibits (Michael remembers them better than I), but also several newer ones. The marionette museum seemed familiar to me, but not to Michael – I still need to check out my old trip diary to confirm whether we visited it back then!

Down from the castle, we stopped into the church in the Dom Quartier square before heading to a great coffee stop Michael found called ‘220 degrees’. We had amazing Brazilian coffees and potato soup with bread – appropriately salted for ‘Salt’zburg. We followed that up with an audio tour of the Dom Quartier where the Archbishop residences demonstrated their clear opulence.

The Prince / Archbishop had many rooms to hold audience. The rooms decreased in size but increased in decadence as you progress in importance. Only the special office of the Archbishop / Prince was simpler in decoration. Every ceiling fresco had a story – usually with subtle (or not so subtle) references to the Prince himself. One depicted the leader holding a globe/ball over a metal bowl. If he fell asleep, he would drop the ball which would awaken him. It was believed that he needed to be constantly awake to protect his people. I’m not sure how well a sleep deprived leader can function!

I was interested to learn that the short beds of the time were not due to the height of the inhabitants. It was believed that it was unhealthy to sleep lying down since you could suffocate, so they slept prone in a semi-seated position. The tour of Dom Quartier also included the gallery where many impressive paintings were on display. But in the day, the walls would have been packed with art – not to appreciate the art, but to highlight the wealth of the crown/church.

Then back home to change and head off to the party! We picked up a couple of small gifts for Sue (bath salts and chocolates) and some Sport Gummies as a placeholder birthday gift for Dan – and the shop even had a wrapping station!

Dinner was a great success with all 10 of us standing around the table and rotating to take turns at each food station. We all crowded around Suz’s Ipad to see her trip photos (we need special cables next time), and checked out a couple of Michaels other videos. And then dancing – lots of fun ending with a rousing round of “Auf Wiedersehen Good Night” from the Sound of Music.

And so phase one of our trip is over as we have said good bye to the gang till next time. Off to Bratislava….

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 9 – Fuschl am See back to Salzburg

We shared our final group breakfast in Fuschl am See, one final decadent spread. Having all paid our 2 Euro per person per night standard Austrian visitor fee, we caught the 10:16 am bus to Salzburg.

Once in Salzburg we all split our separate ways to our accommodations. While I knew our B&B had some character based on the photos on airbnb, it more than impressed us. Every room was an experience – and the artwork was spectacular!

Quite fortunately it was once again market Thursday at the local square – but it shut down by 1 pm so we scrambled around. We managed to pick up a nice selection of homemade food for the birthday potluck party on Friday night – hummus, spiced cheeses, breads and olives. And for ourselves we picked up fruit, cheese, buns and breads along with a quick stop at the SPAR to round it out with yogurt and some danish.

It was time for laundry and organizing and mundane tasks like paying bills back home. Michael went off on a photo expedition while I did the chores. He came across the lecture hall where Einstein delivered his first public presentation of his Theory of Special Relativity.

It was a miserable day again, so we passed on the ‘view hike’ and instead invited D&S over for cards. Post euchre we headed to Alter Fuchs for dinner. We shared a table with a wonderful family from Perth. The couple, along with their 2 teen-aged sons just returned from hiking the Dolomites and were continuing travelling around Europe for a total of 4 weeks. She is a music teacher and was exposing her kids to many musical experiences.

Then back ‘home’ for a final laundry swap (which includes creative hanging of clothes around radiators for drying) and to bed to ready for one last day with our whole entourage.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 8 – Hallstatt back to Fuschl am See

🎵🎶”Oh Yeah, It’s Raining Again” 🎵🎶 I suppose a suitable way to end the trekking experience this time in keeping with the theme of the week. But we did manage to complete our days trek before the rain set in😊. Today we hiked over 22 km along a well maintained gravel path with very little elevation change. I feel great – no knee issues and no plantar fasciitis pain, so I’m very pleased.

We were meant to follow the salt water pipeline today, but it was under repair. Fortunately the alternate route was easily accessible and followed a similar path.

We have all started to mull over our next excursion. Ideas include Japan, Nova Scotia / Maritime provinces in Canada, Madagascar, Sicily (with cooking school intertwined as a consideration), and Alaska. Research is needed on cost and availability. Biking was also put forth as an option – everything on the table right now.

By 9 pm most had packed it in but D&S and Michael & I stayed playing cards and drinking a schnapps and beer till about 10:30.

And so the formal trekking is over 😢. Tomorrow we head to Salzburg where Mike & I have our own spot, D&S have theirs and the others have a shared B&B, but all are reasonably nearby accommodations. It will be Dan’s 60th birthday on Oct 12, and Sue has hers the next day so we will all get together at the Aussie/American abode for a potluck party.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 7 – Lake Ausseer to Hallstatt

We hiked in a beautiful rain free, partly sunny day. We started the day with yet another scrumptious breakfast. We had arrived on Sunday evening, and the place was deserted – we had to let ourselves into our rooms. So we were not quite sure whether breakfast would even be served. But the hotel was well populated when we came down – complete with 3 Austrians having their breakfast beer in the bar lobby. Although Michael & I didn’t partake, there were custom prepared bacon and egg options. There was even a champagne option with your orange juice. We all packed a bit of fruit and/or bun with meat and cheese for our lunch. I am quite certain that one of the waitresses spotted me however and I don’t think she was too pleased. She didn’t say a word, but kept a close eye on me. I’m still feeling guilty!

We started the day by retracing our steps back to Bad Aussee – although this time we all traveled together and we took the riverside route the girls had found. We hiked along the path which ran between the River Ischl and the back yards of many lovely homes with manicured plants and odd chicken coops and more horses. The river had many sets of rapids, and there were fish ladders for the spawning trout along side the damns.

Past Bad Aussee we encountered a section of the trail which was closed due to bridge reconstruction. We were directed to hike up to the main road for 2 km and then follow the bike trail to come past the construction. Our attempt to follow an alternate trail which appeared on our trail map apps failed when an older couple caught us and wouldn’t let us pass on their private land. So we took the longer route without any further issues. At the end of the detour was a rustic riverside stop. Unfortunately it is the end of the season and it has closed during the construction, but we stopped and had our makeshift lunch.

The walk for the rest of the day was still beautiful with breathtaking cliffs along the river and then onto Lake Hallstatt. The recent rains filled the mountainside waterfalls and rivulets everywhere and the snow peaked mountains in the distance enhanced the views. We came to Obertraun where the River Ischl meets Lake Hallstatt and there were more densely space lovely homes and boat houses along the shore. The lake was again the unique grayish colour here and clear enough to see to the bottom.

Hallstatt, in CHINA

At the very end of this long day of trekking (over 22km), we took the ferry across to the Unesco site of Hallstatt. Our hotel met us dockside at this beautiful town where the houses are built into the hillside. As Michael had warned us, it was overrun with tourists. The Chinese especially love it as it is the real-life version of the town which has been replicated in China. Unfortunately the town has become over run with kitschy tourist stands from end to end (think Niagara Falls). I did splurge and buy some scented bath salts for a nice soak in the tub – I went with Sisi’s (the wife of emperor Franz Joseph) favourite blend of roses and lavender.

Dan & Suz were on dinner duty and they wandered the town and also up the hill to the church overlooking town. Michael went wandering to photo and I caught up with the other ladies who had gone out for a wine. After 3 or 4 failed attempts at getting served, we gave up and headed back to our hotel where a wonderful waiter from Croatia served us and even rustled up some grilled fresh bread with olive oil despite the kitchen being closed. He spoke many languages; English fluently and he had learnt German in just 3 months. He left Croatia due to extensive Mafia type extortion and taxes. So he no longer works in IT – he is now a waiter but much happier.

After another fine dinner, we all decided to pack it in a bit early. Tomorrow is our last day of trekking, and this was our last new town as we return to Fuschl am See tomorrow.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 6 – Bad Ischl to Lake Ausseer See

The weather once again played havoc with our hiking. We awoke to rain and decided to skip the formal trek.

We took the train to Bad Aussee – another quaint little town with interesting shops. Dan picked up some dried sausages and later we stopped in a bakery for some cakes and breads. Sue, Kaylon and Lucy decided to stay in Bad Aussee to shop and tour the town and to hike to our destination at Aultersee later. The rest of us headed straight there. The 3 girls lucked out by finding the riverside path, but our group took the roadside path. Not really much of a disadvantage as it was raining the whole time anyway. As we left Bad Aussee, we couldn’t resist photoing the ‘not Bad Aussie’s of the group.

Again we passed many typical Austrian homes and farmsteads – all beautiful and well manicured. Our transferred bags again greeted us at our hotel where we had a great snack of our purchases along with schnapps and TimTams. Mick, Doug, Dan, Suz, Michael & I headed to the salt mine (after all, we are in Saltzkammergut) while Paul went to search for our evening dinner venue and to pick up some beer for 500.

We took the ‘new road’ to the mine which ended up being about 5km all uphill rather than the quoted 3.5 km on the road signs. But it was a great walk at any rate and combined with our hike to the town made for a full day of hiking in the end. We arrived at the mine for 2pm, but the next tour wasn’t until 3pm. So time for a beer while we waited. In the end, Doug and Mick decided to head back to PK but D&S, M& I stayed for the tour – which was well worth the wait. Too bad for them as they missed out on sporting the very trendy outfits for touring the mine (to protect your clothing)

Altaussee, May 1945 after the removal of the eight 500 kg bombs at the Nazi stolen art repository.

The salt mine here is still active, and most interestingly it was used by the Nazis to store their plundered treasures during WWII. When it was realized that the artwork in the underground chapel was in pristine condition, they knew they had found the ideal spot to store the stolen artwork and other artifacts. In the end over 6000 paintings, plus tapestries, statues, sculptures and other craftworks were stored here and were well catalogued. At wars end, the German army were to blow it all up rather than relinquish. But miners and army collaborated and they smuggled the bombs out overnight and all was saved. Still, much has gone missing as there were many hands involved.

There is very much interesting history to the mine which has been active since the 14th century. The chapel for St. Barbara is a highlight, as was sliding down the miners route to enter the lower sections of the mine. It is still an active salt mine where blasted caverns are filled with water, then after the salt has dissolved, the brine is pumped out and the salt extracted. Much is used for road salt, some for medical, some for smelting and about 10% for the food industry.

For the trek back to our hotel we followed the ‘old road’ which was much shorter and steeper but much faster and prettier as it was through the forest…. but still through the rain of course.

We all reconnected back at the hotel and after admiring Lucy’s new shoes (worthy of hiking yet stylish and multi-purposed) and Sue’s swanky new backpack purse (very nice handmade unique style), we headed for dinner. Another great meal but once again we were perhaps (no, definitely) too rambunctious and loud. At least by the time we left the restaurant it was finally not raining.

Fingers crossed that we can get the last 2 days of hiking in. We need it – I think I’ve gained 5 lbs with all the wine, beer and amazing food!

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 5 – St. Wolfgang to Bad Ischl

Oct 6 was thankfully another dry walking day. Although Michael & I were oblivious to it, apparently the Harvest celebration included bell ringing all night long. Several of the rest of our party were aware however, and had interrupted sleep. The celebration continued as the band marched in the congregation, the priest and his entourage for Sunday mass early in the morning. It was a photo op that Michael couldn’t resist visiting.

Sunday was Paul & Lucy’s 40th, so we rose early to get down to breakfast before them. Sue & Kaylon had already set up the chocolates, champagne & heart cookies. Lucy arrived sporting a beautiful new ruby ring from Paul.

Our luggage transfer driver arrived early, so breakfast was a bit of a mish mash as we all went off scrambling to get our luggage in order. The scramble continued as we had headed to the wrong dock for our ferry. In the end we got to the right spot, but only after adding a couple of kilometers to our days trek.

The walk to Bad Ischl was flat for the most part. It took us through villages, meadows and along the Ischl river whose water was a unique grey-green colour – I suspect from the limestone clay. We came across many more people today – after all it was Sunday on Harvest weekend. And lots of farm animals – especially chickens of every variety imaginable. Each farm seemed to have cows with bells on in addition to chickens and many with horses. I surrendered by pear to one of them, but unfortunately it’s partner lost out as I only had one with me.

The 6 Aussie/Americans dashed ahead, but us Canadians took our time as Mike & Dan photoed and we stopped to enjoy a beer. Suz had visions of dipping into tiny Lake Nussensee but alas it was not ideal swimming weather – not even marginal swimming weather! All in all it was a nice leisurely day.

We arrived about 4pm just as the other guys were returning from a town tour / beer run to play cards. The other ladies were out browsing, so Suz & I took a walk around town.

Michael had taken our restaurant selection task challenge and had asked one of the locals walking our route for recommendations. She made 2 suggestions – one cheaper, the other more costly. After more consulting with google and the receptionist at our hotel, we landed on the more costly one (not that much more really). We booked a reservation online at Attwenger Weinhaus for 7pm by which time it was of course raining again. It was another great dinner and no one was disappointed with our choice.

Back at the hotel for 9:30, we all checked out the massive bathroom and large room which Doug & Kaylon had landed before dispersing for the night. 7:30 meet up tomorrow morning for what looks like another cold, wet day for a long but simple hiking day.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 4 – Mondsee to St. Wolfgang via St. Gilgen

That was one wet day! Despite our combined efforts at influencing the weather, apparently hiking that day was not meant to happen. It turns out that we skipped the hardest day – which not everyone was displeased about 😉

Bussing options were obtuse as we would need to return to Salzburg to get to our next hotel town. After much deliberation, we (being Kaylon) arranged for 2 taxis to pick us up in Mondsee to take us to St. Gilgen. As we drove off the rain stopped for a brief 5 minutes making us think we had made the wrong decision. But it was a short respite and it returned in droves for the rest of the day till about 3 or 4 pm with tornado like winds at that point, so absolutely no regrets on opting out of the trekking.

St Gilgen is a lovely little town even in the rain with fantastic woolen sweaters and coats and very nice shoes. But all resisted purchases as it means carrying whatever you buy for the rest of the trip – too early! We found a very nice church there with a well manicured cemetery attached. There were even watering cans which you pay a deposit to withdraw (like a shopping cart). From there we took the ferry across Lake Wolfgangsee to the town where our luggage was already awaiting us.

The mountains were fog covered but so green. There were flowers everywhere with no garbage to be seen; every property is so well maintained. The town is full of window-boxed, fresco’d chalet homes. With the mountain backdrops everywhere it is postcard view overload.

St. Wolfgang town had more touristy shops than St. Gilgen. Lucy did splurge and bought an umbrella; which immediately broke. And when she tried to exchange it she was severely reprimanded and denied an alternate. Some Austrians can be very brisk and brash!

In the end, even our alternate plan short hike didn’t transpire. We split up – Sue had the restaurant selection task this night. It will be our turn tomorrow when it will be Paul & Lucy’s 40th wedding anniversary so lots of desire to select well. Sue has arranged for a surprise at breakfast tomorrow also – should be fun.

I would be remiss not to rave about the fantastic wine stop us ladies found. It was a shop with mostly Italian shoes and woolens but also a wine bar. The girl serving us was lovely and made a recommendation for dinner which we ended up switching to (with much thanks to Lucy for daring to push the ‘Franz & Marta’ buzzer to ask for a reservation!)

After dinner we came across a large ‘oompah’ band in the town square, right outside our hotel. It was Saturday evening and Harvest Festival time. A group of 4 ladies in costume were offering schnapps shots for a contribution to the band. Lots of fun, although I didn’t get to polka 🙁 Michael was too busy photoing! After they played several tunes, we followed the band thru town to a grand hotel lakeside where the band members retired to the bar.

Back at the hotel the guys played 500 where I subbed for Michael as he was still out shooting. By 9:30 we all dispersed to our rooms – Michael did some yoga and I did some stretching. Tomorrow is a bit of a later start as the first ferry isn’t till 9:30 am to get us to our starting point. Currently no rain in the forecast for tomorrow with only one ascent of about 200m on the lengthy route – so it should be a good day!

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 3 – Fuschl am See to Mondsee

Our 2019 trekking plan – Day 2 of the tour started the actual trekking from Fuschl to Mondsee.

By 4pm we had day one of hiking under our belts. All knees partaking were in good shape – just some tender feet to keep a watch over.

The hiking was spectacular with mountains, lakes and ‘Sound of Music’ vistas all around. The weather was the only downer. We hiked to the 13th century (1259) castle ruins of ‘Wartenfels’ with views of Lake Mondsee and Irrsee. The mountains surrounding were dusted with snow just 2 days earlier which made for even more picturesque views. Several of the group decided to take the optional challenging hike to the top of Schober peak. But Sue, Lucy and I opted to be cautious on our knees and chose to carry on without the challenge. Seemed that it was a good choice as the climb was quite steep with large steps and cabled sections and the weather was cold and windy. Those in shorts (yeah, the Aussies) were feeling the cold and so didn’t hang around. Coming back down would have been nasty on old, fragile knees I think.

Us 3 ladies floundered a bit trying to find the path at one point and with our lengthy lunch break the rest of the gang caught up with us, so we finished the day heading to Mondsee reunited as our ensemble.

Some of the male gang members went off to buy the mandatory beer supplies while Michael & I did our documenting. The group decided to assign dinner restaurant selection to one couple each evening. Lucy had selected last night and Kaylon headed off searching for tonight’s eatery choice. Sue & Lucy went off on their habitual shop browsing venture and to have a glass of wine. When the beer delivery boys returned the men decided to finish their 500 game from last evening while Suz and I sat and chatted. When the other ladies returned, we took turn subbing into the 500 game as members swapped in and out to shower, go photo shooting, and visit the church used for filming the Sound of Music wedding.

We all headed out to walk to dinner through the lovely town … even if it was in the rain. Kaylon found a fabulous place for dinner where we even had our own room so as not to bother the other patrons – just as well as we are rather rambunctious. She had pre-warned them – her fluency in German is a great benefit! Lucy and I shared pumpkin and green bean gnocchi and lamb schnitzel – fantastic! Everyone shared 2 desserts – apple strudel and strudel with quark and vanilla creme. With generous wine all around, the whole bill split came to 55Euro /couple – nothing to complain about!

Back at the hotel, some folks headed for an early bed (still time zone challenged) while the rest of us reviewed the plans for the next day. The weather forecast was very ominous and all consulted advised not to hike if the path is really wet as it’s not safe. In the end we deferred the decision till morning, but with a backup plan in place. No cards this evening as we readied for the next day with foot taping and more editing and writing.