Vienna – Salzburg – Mayerling: A Winter Wonderland Journey

Day 1 – 9 February 2018: Vienna City Center & Stadtpark at night:

After my trip to Athens last summer, I started planning for my next one. I was excited to know where my second destination would be. And in about couple of months only, we decided, my best friends and I, to travel to Austria in February for the reason that one of us can only take vacation at this time of year. I took the initiative to plan our trip. And after several drafts and decisions, we finally made our booking and itinerary.

The day we were waiting for arrived. It was around 1.30 AM in the morning of 9 February that we met at Beirut Intl airport ready to begin our journey. It was easier and more familiar this time with the procedure to be done before we went to the gate and got seated. The take off went smoothly, the lights went down until it was done. I was a little bit nervous as usual so I was distracting myself by reading for a while and trying to see from my window for another. The scenery of the lighted islands can’t stop of amazing me with beautiful view although it was still dark.

The flight was comfortable. We were flying indirect, so we had our first stop at Sabiha Airport in Turkey at around 8.00 AM.the view of landing in Turkey was amazing, the first lights of the morning above Istanbul landscape and hills. After our transit check point, we headed to the duty free where we had ahead 4 hours of waiting for our connection flight to Vienna.

We had breakfast and coffee, and we strolled around the duty free. My friends had some sleep, but I couldn’t. the waiting was long and a bit exhausting since I only slept couple of hours the night of our flight. Then when it was time to go to the gate, we got seated for our final destination.

When we started to cross over the countries, the view was amazing from the sky, I started seeing snowy mountains and foggy lands under. It was for me breathtaking scenery. After around 4 hours, we landed over Vienna. Our taxi was waiting for us to take us to our hotel. He gave us a brief history of what we were passing through, and he told us we should enjoy some sun in the couple of days to come although it was snowing the day before, we could see the snow in the streets corner we were driving.

At around 2.00 PM we arrived to our centrally located hotel where we checked in, got a little bit of rest and agreed to stroll around the city and of course have some lunch because we were starving after this long flight.

Our hotel is considered in the central city, we had a small fountain with statues in front of it which was later as a remarkable point to locate the hotel. Our plans for the day were a bit of lazy since we were taking into consideration that we will be tired.

Our target was to find somewhere to eat, and we were walking round and round in the streets not knowing at some points where were we, but it was kind of fun although it was very cold. But also we had that planned out, we were wearing enough warm clothes. After around 45 minutes or so, we decided to go to an Italian restaurant and have our first lunch at Vienna. It was delicious as expected, I ordered some lasagna and enjoyed a glass of local wine too.

After around one hour, we decided to go Stadtpark, which was in our plan for the day. It was with a bit of lost that we found ourselves at the park somehow. It was freezing cold since it was already at night. But it was for me fun time especially when we found the famous Strauss statue. We took some pictures and we rested at some of the bunches.

This lovely 65,000 square meters park is located on the edge of the old city of Vienna and is a good place for an afternoon break given its proximity to the tourist attractions. Other than the pleasant lawn, the park is known for the many sculptures within it, Franz Lehár, Franz Schubert, Robert Stolz and the famous of them all, the gilded  monument of Johann Strauss II, the composer of “The Blue Danube” Waltz. This bronze golden status is a perfect background for a great photo.

Then we decided to go back to the hotel to get some sleep. But it was with a bit of difficulty that we found the hotel after walking round in circles for an hour. We stopped at a minimarket just across the streets of our hotel and went back to rest.

My friends soon were asleep as soon as we returned to the hotel but I couldn’t. I stayed awake until almost midnight and then slept. We were having a long day the next day.

Day 2 – 10 FEB 2018: Salzburg:

On the second day, we had to woke up very early since we were going to a tour guided trip to Salzburg, which is around 4 hours driving from Vienna by car. We took our early breakfast around 6.15 AM and at around 6.45 AM the driver came to take us to the meeting point for our trip.

For me, Salzburg it is a dream come true. Since I was a little girl, my mom used to sit with us to watch The Sound Of Music whenever they were showing it on the TV. So I became in love with the movie and with the mountains and views in the movie. And actually, all my drawings when I was at school were inspired from the snowy mountain and greenery we see in this particular movie. So yes, I was extremely excited about it, although I did know in advance that it will not be so green out there but I didn’t care. I wanted to enjoy this remarkable day as much as I can.

On the road, we passed through Wachau Valley area, known for its wineries, but I was on the other side of the bus so could not take pictures of it. As soon as we were getting father from Vienna, the snowy and foggy scene was getting stronger. Everything around was in white, which made it even more a magical drive. As usual, I was holding the camera the whole time and couldn’t stop taking pictures from the closed window of the bus. We stopped for a little snack then continued our way until we reached Wolfgangsee Lake for 10 minutes pictures break. And then here it was, finally Salzburg !

Salzburg is the city of the Sound of Music, Mozart and Austrian royalty, the important sites are all within easy walking distance and the atmosphere buzzes with culture and excitement – yes, the “hills are alive with the sound of music.” Salzburg, Austria has the Alps on one side, green fields on the other and the Salzach River which runs through the city. The city’s name is derived from the barges which once carried salt down the river from the nearby salt mines.  Being only 150km from Munich the city was ruled by Bavaria until the 4th century when it became a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire. th Later in 1805 the city was annexed to the Austrian Empire only to revert back to Bavarian hands in 1809. In 1866 Salzburg became part of Austro-Hungary and the city entered the 20th century. Following WWII Salzburg was briefly occupied by the Americans and in 1955 the city began to flourish as part of the independent Republic of Austria.

The bus stopped at the croner of the Paris-London-Strasse where we should meet after we finish our tour. Our guided walking tour took us to our first stop: the Mirabell Garden. I remember this Garden very well from the song “Do-Re-Mi” of the Sound of Music movie.

The world-famous Mirabell Gardens were built along a north-south axis and oriented towards the Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Salzburger Dom cathedral. The original gardens were re-modelled according to plans by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach under the reign of Prince Archbishop Johann Ernst Thun in 1689. Only some decades later, Franz Anton Danreiter altered them again in 1730, shaping what is now considered to be one of the most beautiful Baroque gardens of Europe. In the 19th century, the Mirabell Gardens were changed once again, several parts were destructed, such as the originalZwergerlgarten (dwarf garden), some arcades facing Mirabell square and the so-called Sala terena in the Northwest of the Mirabell Castle. The “Grand Parterre” is the oldest part of the Mirabell Gardens that is still preserved. The Grand Parterre is embraced by a marble railing decorated with vases by Fischer von Erlach. In the heart of the garden, you will see a large fountain, with four statue groups around it: the rape of Prosperina, rape of Helena, Aeneas and Anchises, and finally Hercules and Antaeus. These statues were made by Ottavio Mosto in 1690. Next to the main part of the Grand Parterre, set apart a little towards the Mirabellplatz Square, you will see a court with a Papagena fountain echoing the Papageno Fountain near the Pfeiffergasse. This court also hosts the “Orangerie”, which is still used as a greenhouse and can be visited without charge. To the opposite of the Orangerie there is a pavilion that is used by the “Salzburger Barockmuseum“, the Salzburg Museum of Baroque. The “Small Parterre” is the part of the Mirabell Gardens just along the backside of the Mirabell Castle. It is directly attached to the Grand Parterre and also bears a fountain in its core: a Pegasus statue that was transferred to this location in 1913, previously it had been part of a horse well in front of the Mirabell Castle. However, the Pegasus was made of copper by Kaspar Gras for the well on the Kapitelplatz near the Salzburger Dom cathedral in 1661. There it stayed until1690. After that time, it was used for the well on the Mirabellplatz Square until the great fire of 1818, and finally transferred to its current location in 1913. The Pegasus fountain is a good starting point to run down the hedge arcade along the Grand Parterre: this is what Fräulein Maria and the Trapp childrendid in the movie “The Sound of Music” and remarkably popular with many visitors of the site.

We continued our walk towards the Old Town, crossing the Salzach River. There were lock chains on the bridge that believed to be the symbol of locking the love of couples that were there. First we encountered the quaint Getreidegasse, a cobbled street with old-fashioned shingles outside enticing stores (and tourist-traps). On this street we visited the house where Mozart was born (1756), Mozart’s Geburtshaus.

We continued on to the wide open plazas of the Old Town. On Alter Markt Square we found more picture-perfect stores and in Mozart Square we saw the memorial to the great composer. We entered the huge Dom zu Salzburg on Residenzplatz, the cathedral’s architecture was eclectic with grand Romanesque and baroque features, then we passed across St. Peter’s church and continued our walk to the catacombs where our tour ended.

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Some of the group went to see the catacombs, but my friends and I decided to go for our free time to see Hohensalzburg Fortress, a mountain-top castle. The fortress is very well maintained and preserved and contains a museum of medieval weapons, torture instruments and a restaurant overlooking the gorgeous Austrian countryside. The view from the top was a breathtaking landscape that shows snowy panorama of Salzburg. It was like a winter fairytale scene. We spent almost 45 minutes there then we decided to go back to the meeting point of our group to return to Vienna at around 4.00 PM in the afternoon.

On our return way, we were tired but still I was enjoying for some time the road until it went all dark on the highway. Our bus stopped across Vienna Opera State where we walked a little bit, ate dinner at Mc Donalds which was the nearest place to the hotel because we were starving and tired of finding another place, then went back to our hotel. It was a beautiful memorable day with the Sound Of Music Spirit carved in my heart forever. And definitely I could come back again to visit its charms in another season in the future. That night we did not go out at night, we decided to stay at the hotel and sleep early for our next day plan.

Day 3- 11 FEB 2018: Mayerling Woods & Hofburg Palace:

Our third day started with the breakfast at the hotel, until it was time to meet our driver around 9.30 AM for our second guided half day tour to Mayerling Woods.

Mayerling is a small village (pop. 200) in Lower Austria belonging to the municipality of Alland in the district of Baden. It is situated on the Schwechat river, in the Wienerwald (Vienna woods), 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Vienna. From 1550, it was in the possession of the abbey of Heiligenkreuz. In 1886, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Empress Elisabeth, and heir to the Austro-Hungarian crown, acquired the manor and transformed it into a hunting lodge. It was in this hunting lodge that, on 30 January 1889, he was found dead with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, apparently as a result of suicide. Exactly what happened is unknown, but on 31 July 2015, the Austrian National Library issued copies of Vetsera’s letters of farewell to her mother and other family members. The letters—written in Mayerling shortly before the deaths—state clearly and unambiguously that Vetsera was preparing to commit suicide alongside Rudolf, out of “love”. After the deaths of Rudolf and Vetsera, Emperor Franz Joseph, who wanted to found a new church, had the building changed into a convent which was settled by nuns of the Discalced Carmelite Order. Visitors may view the statue of the Madonna in the Lady Chapel of the church. It has the face of the Empress Elisabeth, and has a dagger in the Immaculate Heart. The position of the main cross in the chapel is supposed to be where the bed of Rudolf and Vetsera was situated. Today, the building is a museum and tourist attraction in Austria. Prayers are still said daily by the nuns for the repose of the soul of Crown Prince Rudolf.

Passing the ancient Roman city of Baden bei Wien, we drove through the romantic Helenental Valley, which was the inspiration for the most important musicians of Austria. And no wonder that it was, beautiful landscape with green, rivers, mountains and snow. We reached then the former Mayerling Hunting Lodge for a visit of around 20 minutes. This is the infamous location of the Mayerling Incident. In 1889, Prince Rudolf, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, committed a murder-suicide of his lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera.

Then we continued our visit to reach Heiligenkreuz Abbey for another around half an hour tour. It is the oldest continuously-occupied Cistercian monastery in the world, this abbey was opened in 1133. Different sections of the abbey incorporate various architectural styles, since the building had to be rebuilt and renovated after Ottoman hordes set fire to it.

Then we headed to the Seegrotte in Hinterbruhl for a boat ride of the underground lake. This system of caves is remarkable for containing an underground lake, on which you can take a boat tour. It was discovered under an old gypsum mine. During World War II, the Nazis used it to produce fighter jets. I wanted to take this tour but since I am a claustrophobic person I could not pass even the first steps of the Grotto. So I decided to wait for my friends and the group outside, exploring a little bit the area and resting on a bench on the streets listening to music and enjoying the calm and cold. It was after around 45 minutes that they finished this tour and we went back to Vienna State Opera and to our hotel for some rest.

Then it was time to go to our next stop Hofburg Palace. We took guided audio tour to visit. The Hofburg Palace in Vienna provides an authentic view into the daily life of what was once the center of the powerful Hasburg dynasty, a family that once ruled the Austria-Hungry empire. The house of Hasburg was one of the most important dynasties in Europe at the time as it produced some of the kings that ruled Western Europe for several decades starting from the 15th century. It also owned the Roman Empire throne during this time which was a significant source of power. Today, the Hofburg palace hosts some very interesting museums that offer a unique opportunity to learn about the traditions and history of the imperial court. To begin with, we started with the Imperial Apartments that hold some impressive royal furnishings and decoration. Then, there is the Imperial Silver Collection, a museum dedicated to the facilities and tableware that were once used by the royal members of this great dynasty. We continued and visited the Sisi Museum which is dedicated to the life of the empress, where we learned about the life of the Empress. The Hofburg Palace is one of the most educational yet charming and interesting places in which one can observe the life during the era of the great kings that once ruled Europe. These days, the palace serves as the official home of Austria’s president.

After this visit we made our way back to the street that we were familiar with by that time that is near our hotel. We went for some lunch. We wanted some traditional restaurant but instead we found an Italian one that was recommended by my friend’s colleague at work. And it was totally worth it.

We stopped for buying some souvenirs and went back to the hotel. We decided that night to go out since it was the night before my birthday. We passed near St. Stephan Cathedral but we could not visit it, we just went inside for a while. Then we spent the night in a Turkish or Moroccan café where we enjoyed some tea and shisha. It was a beautiful ending for our third day.

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Day 4 – 12 FEB 2018: Schonbrunn Palace, City Walk & Café Central:

We started our day as usual with our breakfast at the hotel. Then we were planning to go to Schonbrunn Palace for this day. we went our way to St. Stephan metro station and bought our roundtrip ticket to go there. we walked through a long distance of gardens until we reached the gate where we bought our tickets with audio guided tour for the palace.

The Schönbrunn Palace, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vienna, is a Rococo style summer palace of the great Hofburg monarchy, a ruler of Europe and the Church for many decades. The 1441 room palace was originally built by Emperor Leopold I in 1696 but modified considerably by the empress Maria Theresa 40 years later as the original constructions came to a stop due to their cost. The palace with its lovely gardens demonstrates the vision and aspirations of the Habsburg family and stand in contrast to the somewhat grim Hofburg Palace. An unforgettable event in the history of music took place here as one young Mozart, a six year old phenomenon played here before Maria Theresa in the Hall of Mirrors and where he also met the seven years old Marie Antoinette. The last of the Habsburg house, Franz Joseph, was actually born in the Schönbrunn Palace and spent a considerable amount of time out of his final years of his life here. Going into the palace, seems that the interior does not fall behind the gardens. There are 40 rooms out of the 1441 which are open to the public.

Then we went back to St Stephan place and we wanted to visit the Butterfly House. But since we were Monday, the museum was closed. We passed near Albertina Museum but since we decided not to go to museums we went back to our hotel because it started to rain for a while.

At around 4.30 PM, we wanted to go for a walk to Stadtpark but since it was getting a little darker and we were a bit of lost, we decided to take our lunch at another Italian restaurant because we could not find any traditional restaurant on our way. And we walked for a while in the streets, bought some souvenirs and then went back to the hotel.

At night, we went for a coffee and cake break to celebrate my birthday at Café Central. It was a gift from my friend’s work suppliers with whom we booked our trip. It was delicious and the place was fancy. It felt like sitting in one of the palace’s room. At around 10.30 PM we went back to the hotel concluding our last night at Vienna.

Day 5 – 13 FEB 2018: Farewell Vienna:

On our last day at Vienna, we decided to go up very early and take our breakfast then to pay a walking visit to Stadtpark and St. Stephan Cathedral. And I can say it was the best moment of the trip.

We went to the park where we took pictures in the daylight. It was beautiful peaceful morning walk. Then we headed to St. Stephan cathedral with a little help of one nice local old men who took us in a shortcut to reach the cathedral faster. We went up to the rooftop of the cathedral where we spent around half an hour enjoying the view and snapping pictures. Then we went walking inside of it for a while.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, an impressive Catholic church located in Stephansplatz, right at the center of Vienna. As the most important and most recognizable church in Austria’s capital, along with the recognizable colorful roof, it is seen and easily recognized practically from almost anywhere within the city. When the church was constructed more than 800 years ago, it was actually built outside the city and was supposed to have two towers. The distinctive and unbalanced look of this Church was given due to the fact that the funds simply ran out during the constrictions which left it with only one impressive tower. Like many of other Vienna buildings, this cathedral was also severely damaged during World War II and reconstructed later on. A climb of the 343 steps is well worth the effort – the view of Vienna from this 450 feet high tower is simply breathtaking. The interior is highly decorated which even makes it difficult to get all the richness of the details. One piece of work though is not to be missed – the stone stage on which you can find decorative carvings created by Anton Pilgram who worked on this piece for several years during mid-16th century.

At around 11.00, our taxi driver came to our hotel to take us to the airport for the way back home. It started to snow that day. it was the first time in my life seeing the snow falling down. It was the perfect ending for our unforgettable trip. I was excited to go back home but yet sad for leaving behind amazing city.

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Till our next trip !

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