Europe // Austria Part II

Part I of Salzburg can be found here. And here are parts I and II of Germany, where we were before Salzburg. 

After finishing our first night in Austria with a lovely traditional American meal of burgers, fries and beer (okay at least the beer was Austrian!) in bed, we woke up the next morning pretty early to catch our tour for the day.

First stop, though, was breakfast. We could have paid for breakfast in our hotel but it was expensive (can’t remember the price, but I know I remember thinking it was pricey for a hotel breakfast). Plus, we wanted to try something new so we found a bakery nearby.

I have no idea what I got but it was delicious. And also, a cafe Americano! That’s our version of regular ole coffee. 

Okay so our tour. We heard from two different friends of ours to book Bob’s Sound of Music tour. I know… but I’m not kidding.

It was a full day – from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. – tour of not only Salzburg, but the lake district just south of the city. Ever since I saw this photo on Pinterest four years ago, I’ve wanted to visit Lake Hallstatt and this tour got me there, so I was sold.

I haven’t seen Sound of Music in years, and I don’t think Kevin ever has, but we still appreciated the tour a lot!

We started in the old town area of Salzburg, where we stayed, and made our way through and out of town. Our group was small – just six of us – and we had the most adorable tour guide, Sylvia. She was so friendly and you could tell how much she loved showing guests her country.

Our first stop was some building in Sound of Music (sorrrryyyy), but the landscape was so beautiful. Little did we know the sights we were about to see that day – this view was chump change compared to the rest.

We went to a bunch of other Sound of Music type places… for example, they told us this below photo was when the kids (kid?) sings “16 going on 17.” I really should have watched the movie before this tour…

Okay but really, the reason I wanted to go was to see the Austrian countryside and we decided this tour was the most efficient (read: cheapest) way to do that without renting a car and going on our own.

The drive was absolutely beautiful and before we knew it, we arrived at our first lake of the day. We stopped in the town St. Gilgen to overlook Wolfgangsee Lake.

Sylvia was amazing and made sure we all got the chance to take as many pictures as we wanted. Clearly she’d done this a time or two before.

Then she recommended we eat at this small family restaurant in town. Mühlradl had a patio overlooking the lake and beer on the menu, so we had to think real hard about taking Sylvia up on her recommendation.

I got the wurst with sauerkraut and spicy mustard (give me all the sauerkraut). It came with a side of potatoes and I hereby declared this the best meal I’d had thus far on the trip.

Kevin got something that I thought was weird, but turns out Tafelspitz is a very traditional Austrian meal and it was absolutely delicious.

We couldn’t leave without trying the homemade apple strudel, which was to die for.

Once we were stuffed, we headed back in the van and down to the lakefront to get a closer look.

So we thought Wolfgangsee lake was beautiful but then we arrived at the holy Mary of lakes…

Lake Hallstatt.

Yep. This exists. On earth. In real life. And I was there.

I can’t even explain its beauty so I’m just going to stop writing and post a lot of pictures.

We walked through the small town of Hallstatt – population: 800. Even saw a cute little waterfall up in the mountains!

Meanwhile, I did some house hunting for retirement. This one will do, honey.

We only had an hour or two in the town, but we could have stayed for days. That was the only downfall of a guided tour – only one of two tours we did the whole trip – and I almost wish we would have rented a car and stayed here for a day, or even a full night. But regardless, I’m grateful we got to see it at all!

Soon it was time to go to our third and final lake: Mondsee. Again, so beautiful but Hallstatt was both of our absolute favorites.

Oh, and we passed Red Bull’s HQ.

We ventured into the town of Mondsee to see a couple churches and do a bit of shopping. While we were there, it started hailing and you would have through Kevin saw the second coming. He ran outside to watch an Austrian hail storm. Meanwhile, I took videos, photos and snapchatted him to all our friends/family back home. #meteorologistwifeproblems

Our final stop of the tour was to the Mirabell Gardens. Apparently this was also shown in Sound of Music! Again, really should have watched the movie before the tour.

The gardens were so beautiful but at this point, it was starting to rain, we were hungry and frankly, kinda sick of seeing stuff. We just wanted to sit and relax because our day had been go-go-go.

We headed back to our hotel to change and happened to pass by Mozart’s birthplace. Had to clue we were staying a block away, so I’m glad someone pointed it out to us!

And we also saw the oldest continuously run restaurant in the world, established in 803. Mozart and apparently even Christopher Columbus dined here. We did not, but we stopped in for pictures!

It was probably around 7 or 8 p.m. at this point and we were just wandering the streets of Old Town Salzburg. You’d think by the looks of the below photo, it was 3 in the morning. Nope – just a typical Tuesday evening.

Thankfully this time, we learned our lesson from the night before and decided to eat “early” (8 p.m.). I wish, for the life of me, I wrote down the name of this restaurant and I kid you not, I just spent an hour Google Mapping the entire town of Old Town Salzburg and I can’t figure out where we ate. BUT, it wasn’t that good, so oh well.

It was a place that served Austrian, Italian and I think, Indian food. I can’t remember what I got here (again, wasn’t that good), but Kevin got some sort of pasta with salmon and we agreed his was the better meal that night.

(Sidebar: I brought a tiny notebook to write down restaurants and little tid bits from our trip along the way so I wouldn’t forget these things. Didn’t write a single thing down. Super helpful, Gab.)

Okay so anyways. After dinner, we went back to our hotel to charge our phones and change once more. You see, we decided it was a good idea to take a night train from Salzburg to Venice, Italy. It was perfect, you see! The train left Salzburg at 1:40 a.m. and we’d arrive in Venice at 8 a.m. We “splurged” on a sleeper cabin on the train so we’d wake up in Italy feeling super refreshed and energized.

WRONG.

We didn’t realize everything in Salzburg closed by 9 p.m. so we thought we were SOL and would have to just hang out at the train station all night. But when we were walking back from dinner we found a little wine bar that was open until midnight. And our hotel was kind enough to hold our luggage for us, even after we checked out earlier that day, because they knew our train was super late. The hotel let us use this one room to keep our luggage/change/freshen up/etc. – again, couldn’t recommend this hotel enough!

So instead of just sitting in the hotel for a few hours, we decided to leave our luggage there and go to Seppo, the wine bar we found earlier that night. It was so quaint – probably could hold 20 people max – and everyone was super friendly.

We were eavesdropping (my favorite past time) and quickly noticed these guys speaking German were trying to pick up these chicks from France, so they used English to communicate. I don’t know why, but we thought that was really interesting.

We downed a bottle of wine and turned it upside down, like you would in the states. Our waiter didn’t bat an eye and said it’s common to do that in Europe too. We didn’t even think that it might look weird (or rude?) to do that. Also thought that was funny.

Ah okay so the train. The night train. The infamous night train! Ready for this story? Great.

So we left the wine bar, picked up our luggage and took the last bus out of Old Town to the train station, which was just a quick 10-minute or so ride. We got to the train station around 11:30 so we still had two hours to kill. Prime people watching! The station was nice and had a waiting room to sit and charge your phone. I tried to sleep but the people watching was too good.

Eventually, 1:40 a.m. rolled around and we got on our train. We were tired and started to get sassy with one another over finding our car, especially when the one we thought we were supposed to go in was locked. Turns out, there were already people inside.

We knew when we booked the train we might have to share with two other people because we bought a four-person room, but I naively thought it wouldn’t be that crowded. WRONG.

The people in our room already were from Nigeria and spoke no English. They boarded the train in Vienna, so they had already been on for hours and were sound asleep. You can imagine the confusion/situation when they opened the door for us, and we tried to communicate we were also in their room.

And by the way, here’s the size of the room:

And here’s my 5’10” husband standing in the room to give you a sense of HOW FREAKING TINY IT WAS FOR FOUR HUMANS.

So as you can imagine, we got a solid zero hours of sleep that night. I assumed we’d have a space to change, brush our teeth, etc. but because we woke up our roommates from their slumber, we just hopped into bed with our jeans and shoes still on, and slept like that. Oh and we had no room for our suitcases so we slept with those too.

Here’s the size of the pillow – it actually looks large here but I promise you it was the size of my cheek.

In the middle of the night, at around 4:30 a.m., we heard loud banging on the door to our room. I think we actually might have been drifting off to sleep somehow, because we were really out of it by the wake-up. Turns out, we were on the border of Austria, Italy and Slovenia so they had to do a passport check. Kevin hands the guys our train tickets. #facepalm

We finally realized wtf was going on and Kevin dug our passports out of his handy money belt thing he wore on the inside of his jeans (seriously this was the best!). The passport guys were really nice but they were armed with automatic weapons so again, you can imagine our state of minds at this moment. All the confusion.

Eventually, we maybe once again drifted off to sleep and were woken up by the train people delivering our breakfast. Two stale rolls and a cup of cold coffee. YUM.

I really shouldn’t complain this much because it could have been a lot worse and we arrived safe and sound. The whole experience is something we laugh about now, but I can’t say we’ll be doing a night train again anytime soon.

And plus, we arrived to this beautiful view!

Europe // Austria Part I

If you’re just catching up, we returned home from a two-week trip to Germany, Austria and Italy. I wrote about our time in Germany here and here. And here’s a full Germany travel guide if you’re planning a trip there yourself! 

When planning our trip, we knew we wanted to go to Germany and Italy and I’m so glad we made time to visit Austria as well. Salzburg was conveniently on our way from Germany to Italy so on our fourth day of our trip, we caught an 8:30 a.m. train from Frankfurt Hbf and headed into the mountains.

I must say, I had always heard great things about the rail system in Europe but now that we have taken five train rides throughout Europe I can attest to how great they are.

I listened to music/podcasts, read, slept very comfortably, and never once felt unsafe. The ticket-buying process, stations and trains themselves were easy to navigate despite not knowing the language. All of our trains except the night one (more on that… ugh) were open seating but it wasn’t hard to find a pair together. Most of the trains were fairly empty so we could share a section of four seats and spread out. Bottom line: if you’re cautious about the trains in Europe, don’t be! They’re amazing, cheap and incredibly convenient.

Okay so know how I said I read/slept on the trains? Kevin looked out windows and took pictures of things. I think we have 17 photos of this view – our first glance of the Alps! – but I’ll just share the one.

We arrived in Salzburg around 2 p.m. and grabbed a seat on the local bus to the hotel. Again, we read public transportation in Europe is great so we purchased two bus tickets in the train station and hopped right on. (Sidebar: we quickly discovered that nobody really checks your bus tickets, but morally and ethically, you should still get them. They’re like a euro each.)

A short bus ride later – around 15 minutes – we were at our hotel! The bus stop actually dropped us off a few blocks away from our hotel because we stayed in the heart of Old Town and not many cars (let alone big busses) can get there.

We stayed at Hotel am Dom – a place we found by doing some online research – and we have nothing but amazing things to say about the place! It was in the perfect location, completely adorable, safe, quaint and the staff couldn’t be more friendly. And the bed was extra comfy.

We dropped off our luggage, put our passports in the safe and changed clothes for an afternoon of exploring. We didn’t have a map or anything planned – we simply wandered around.

That’s one thing I loved so much about Salzburg – it’s small and quaint – and so walkable.

Plus the buildings were so beautiful! Here’s our view from lunch. I mean… so picturesque!

Okay speaking of lunch. Know how I said the best wine we had was in Germany, and not Italy? Well the best pizza we had was in Austria, and not Italy. After eating schnitzel and potatoes for four days straight, we were in the mood for something else. We split a pizza and salad, and the pizza was unreal. If you’re in Salzburg, ya gotta go to Trattoria da Pippo right in Old Town, near the river.

We walked off the pizza by going over to the river to check out New Town area – equally as neat but not quite as charming as Old Town.

So back to Old Town we went…

…And saw Festung Hohensalzburg – a huge fortress resting on top of the city.

The fortress was closed by the time we got there but we were able to go up to the top and walk around in the courtyard. We quickly learned that was the best way to do it anyways because we weren’t exactly looking for a tour – we wanted the views.

Literally the most beautiful place (up until this point) I’d ever been. We just stood on the top and soaked in the views.

The courtyard goes all the way around so we saw the views from all sides.

There are two ways to get up to the top. You can purchase a ticket to take the tram up (what we did), or you can walk up to the top. In our defense, we didn’t know you could walk up or else we would have done that. But the tram was pretty convenient!

Once we walked around the top, we noticed a little cafe serving beer and snacks. Sold!

Beer + Alps? Horrible day. 😉

Eventually, we talked ourselves into returning back to town and walked around a bit more.

By the time it got dark, we quickly realized almost every store and restaurant was closed. I’m almost too embarrassed to admit that we got burgers, fries and beers to go from a convenient store but I’m sharing so everyone reading this knows to not wait until 9 p.m. to eat dinner on a Monday night in Salzburg.

However, dinner in bed was pretty wonderful after a long travel day and lots of sightseeing.

We went to bed early and woke up on Tuesday bright and early for our tour to the Austrian lake district the next day. But, more on that later!