A Truly Austro-Bavarian Weekend

Beginning June 5th I was fortunate enough to have 2.5 weeks off from work which I spent extravagantly celebrating my (number undisclosed) birthday while traveling Northern Europe and Scandinavia. But more on that later, because chronology is overrated; excepted in the cases of measuring your height on a door frame or reading the Harry Potter septology. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that this past weekend in what I used to call “Boring Ol’ Salzy” has been just as jam-packed with excitement as the previous 2 weeks as a vagabond had been.

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Having dedicated Friday to lots of meditation, a bath and a seriously full night of sleep, I was rejuvenated after the long travels and ready to conquer some terrain. Beginning Saturday with an early alarm that I was eager to wake up to, I scarfed down some fruit and granola then met my match in Salzburg: Gaisberg. The second largest mountain within Salzburg city, this beauty had been on my to-do list for quite sometime. Nothing too treacherous, the roughly 1300 meter high mountain offered a great new view of the city below as well as the towns and farms sprawling outwards, despite the stratus clouds. It must be said that Austrians are incredibly fit human beings. Two women that must’ve been in their mid to late 60’s had no problem powering ahead of the 4 spry young women that we thought we were. This is nothing new in the area. People here love their outdoor sports (mountainwear being the fashion of choice in the city) and it is absolutely inspiring. Looks like we needed to up our game!

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Thankfully with energy to spare it was time to rush home for a shower and a meal and let the Summer Solstice festivities begin! Later that evening my hiking buddies and I hitched a ride to Leogang, Austria; a ski and sport town a little over an hour away. There we attended a bonfire- Austrian style. Not the drum circle, nude dancing around a fire that I was hoping for, I wasn’t disappointed nevertheless. Atop the mountain was a small burning pyre and dozens of sticks you could light to carry your own torch. This method was practiced on mountain tops all across the range creating a surreal panoramic view of red-flame lined mountains. Unfortunately I have no pictures of this, so you’ll just have to take my word for it or try it yourself next Solstice.

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Now, Sunday in the Western world is typically known as a day of rest and that is doubly true in ultra conservative Austria/ Bavaria but Australian Meg, English James and I had to rebel against this notion and treat ourselves to a grueling 40km (round trip) bike ride to Hoeglworthsee in Bavaria. The hilly landscape made for yodel-inspiring views and ice bath-inspiring climbs for our legs.

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The landscape in Bavaria is certainly less pronounced than the imposing mountains of the Alps in Austria, but it is also certainly more placid than the craggy stone faces you’d find across the border. Green rolling hills covered in green leafy trees creates an openness that is completely relaxing, accessible and centering. As far as the eye can see is really freaking far without a giant mountain in front of your face. It is a different kind of joy to appreciate the long range of the blue-violet mountains in the distance. Plus, the crystal clear lake at our destination didn’t hurt a bit either.

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Trying out Nuremberg

It is easy, and presumably natural, to feel down and out once the high of a great adventure/ travel/ vacation has worn off. I think that’s why most of us need a “vacation from our vacation,” or at least one day of mundane normality before we jump back on the work wagon. In my case, after a 3 week Balkan backpacking tour, I was back to work at 6am the day after I returned (10pm the day prior!). It was a listless week back in boring ol’ Freilassing, Germany and I was in desperate shape to get out. Cue Nuremberg: home of Europe’s largest flea market!!

Last weekend I hopped on a three hour train ride with a fellow Australian au pair, Meg, with visions of fun thrifted threads and tacky knick-knacks dancing in our heads. Thanks to geographical advantages we were able to make the round-trip journey for just 27 euro each on the Bayern Ticket, which allows unlimited travel within the state of Bavaria.

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Trempelmarkt, held for one weekend in May and September ever year, was a never ending labyrinth of stands and tables, of which our tactic was, “Okay, we’ll have to circle back around.” Did we ever actually get to circling back around? I have no clue. We were far too consumed with treasures we lusted for to pay any attention to our surroundings or location. Regardless, I am beyond pleased with the loot I was able to bring home. As pictured, I picked up an old Croatian postcard, a bomb-ass silver ring, 2 old photo albums (probably my current most prized possession- photo project to come soon!) and a Tracy Chapman vinyl. Now, technically I got the record at a market in Salzburg, but I have to throw it in with this post because I wept for days after picking up.

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Later that evening we met up with our CouchSurfing host and ventured over to Volksfest to fill our bellies with a few liters of beer. The event is Germany’s third largest beer festival and is held on the old Nazi Rally grounds.

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Day 2 in Nuremberg was dedicated solely to eating bratwurst and site-seeing throughout the old Medieval city. I found more interest in the people watching the robotic clock tower show than the show itself.

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Entitled Ehekarussell, the designer of this water fountain was inspired by a16th century poem by Hans Sachs about married life and depicts the many stages of marriage. Although all parts of the sculptures are beautifully crafted, complete with a tinge of snark, this is by far my favorite.

 

 

Lovely Ljubljana

Ljubljana (lyoob-lee-ana), the capital city of Slovenia, proved more enticing to me than I could have anticipated which led me to un-regrettably extend my stay from 2 nights to 4. That makes 5 days of pure, unadulterated fun in the city I least expected.

With a population of just 270,000 inhabitants Ljubljana is quaint, charming and endearing in its simplicity. Stepping into Stari Trg, Old Square, you will find enchanting architecture, various buskers, and busy folk wandering about- all not uncommon in most major cities town squares. However Ljubljana stands out from it’s competition with a not so old history of war, socialism and the absolutely heartwarming hospitality that welcomes curious travelers and locals alike. Situated between Austria and Croatia, it is easy to love Ljubljana with it’s Central European vibes, but with its proximity to and history with the Balkans it is different and unique enough to feel like you are in an other worldly place. This is not just another Baroque carbon copy.

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Dragon Bridge. Locals say that if a virgin crosses the bridge the dragon will shake its tail- which led to a very awkward moment between a couple on my walking tour… glad they weren’t staying in my hostel.

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Not quite planking….

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“Well that’s a horse of a different color!” – Pope JP

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Tivoli Park

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I stayed at Hostel Tivoli, which I could not recommend more. Despite being technically outside of the city center, I listened to my gut (read: dwindling pocket book) and booked a bed in the 8 person dorm. This hostel is unlike the other dozens that I’ve stayed at before because it was only a few months old (a sure sign that Ljubljana is a booming destination) and houses only 20-some bodies. The atmosphere is more intimate than the larger chains of hostels. With the lounge and the front desk sharing the same space, I was able to get to know the staff which in turn helped me get to know the city a bit better. And I’m never going to argue with free welcome shots of mead.

This is a group shot of the free walking tour I went on with some people from my hostel. If you look very closely the gentleman in the white hoodie in the front is indeed holding a bottle of milk. At the town market there is a vending machine where you can fill up a bottle with fresh, unpasteurized milk. Sure we were all curious, but this fella had the audacity to fill up a Coke bottle with the stuff and chug it intermittently throughout the entire tour in the blistering sun. It was off-putting to say the least. Milk was a baaad choice. 

The “oscar selfie” concept has spread to Slovenia….

 

a stint in sLOVEnia

The start to my 3 week former-Yugoslavic-country adventure began with a hitch hiking excursion and an obsession with the tiny country Slovenia that unfortunately is overshadowed by larger destination spots in the region.

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Cherrie and I cycled around the 6.5km/ 4mile lake of the same namesake in the town Bled, pausing for photo ops and coffee- served at a fraction of the hefty Salzburg prices that we’re familiar with. The environment, lush with greens and bird calls, transported us to a place that felt much further than we actually were.

Our hostel was about 2km from the lake and town but we didn’t mind the mini trek as we got to experience the landscape more intimately there. We walked a long, straight, desolate road situated between mountains speckled with evergreens and vast open fields blooming with Spring trees. As lovely and quaint as the area around the lake is, this felt much more genuine to the country as our walk lacked the Swarovski stores and gelato shops that the town boasted.

Parting ways with Cherrie who had to return to Austria for work, I continue on my way by bus to the capital city Ljubljana. Contently on a local bus, my rucksack resting on the seat next to me, my head resting on the window pane, I soak in every street sign, every blooming tree, every passing car heading to a destination of their own. I realize that most things I have never seen before are wholly and intrinsically beautiful for that reason alone; they are a gift to my eyes. I can’t imagine that it is well accepted notion that the motorways of Slovenia are particularly breathtakingly beautiful, but in that moment, on that bus, with that trashy pop song playing on the radio, it was really really pretty.

I made a pit stop in the town Radovljica where, by a stroke of luck in my timing, a festival dedicated solely to the product of gods, chocolate, was taking place. Overwhelmed with cacao, I walked away happy. The town was sweet- both literally and figuratively, and I left with a few too many calories consumed and several old photographs I thrifted at a used book store. Also, there is such a concoction in existence as the “chocolate kebab” which I will refrain from describing because the thought of it alone is enough to give you diabetes. 

The only picture I took in the tiny chocolate town. The kids were taking over.

The only picture I took in the tiny chocolate town. The kids were taking over.

Hitch-Hiking: A Trial of Patience and Friendship

Reviewing the events of the past day in Bled, Slovenia it feels as if I left Salzburg eons ago although it has only been roughly 28 hours when I get to jotting in my journal.

An emotionally successful, although technically not, hitch hiking adventure brought my British travel-pal Cherrie and me down to Villach, an Austrian town on the Slovenian border with the aesthetics of any other in this country. Cherrie and I are reaching the point where we feel almost on par with the most frugal of globe-trotters as we have worked our way up the travel ladder utilizing resources such as CouchSurfing and Mitfahrgelegenheit, a ride sharing website. Lacking the interest in delving into dumpster diving, hitch-hiking seemed like the next logical step in our conquest to see Europe on a shoestring.

We began our journey to Lake Bled by taking a bus to the edge of Salzburg where we waited at a tanksteller just before the entrance of the motorway. Our destination being a straight shot south we began the journey with optimism. Regardless of how things were about to turn out, I was contently exhilarated sitting on the curb of a Shell station, sipping a weak, sweet coffee dispensed from a vending machine and soaking in the sun rays that had been hiding the past few days. There wasn’t much to worry about when I was with good company and at least 90% of the letters on our cardboard sign were legible.

First picked up by a young interior designer and hitch hiker herself, Tina was able to get us out of the city and dropped us off 15 minutes south at a roundabout in the town of Hallein, where she was driving to her own birthday party. Here, after about 20 minutes and a few taunting looks from drivers, we were picked up by 2 big Italian mamas in a black SUV. The car was filled with plastic bags and, concerned that they were suffering from a severe pheromonal imbalance, they reeked of b.o. A pleasant conversation led us to find out that they were fishers (hence the foul smell) with a few restaurant in the area and that the route we were on is a drive that they do several times a week.

The drive was a quick 90 minutes, however when asked if we wanted to be let out at a roundabout on the motorway or at the Villach Hauptbahnhof, the prospect of a beer proved too tempting and we foolishly opted for the train station. Proud that we safely made it this far we figured we could take a train to Bled, but alas, the last train left an hour ago and there wasn’t another coming until 4am. We began this journey at 4pm. It was 7pm in Villach. We were 50km and 10 hours from our destination. What now to do but find a cozy bar and settle in.

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Made it to Villach, at least.Image

 

Drinking as slowly as possible and on the verge of curling up in the bar booth to nap, closing time rolled around and the prospect of relocating was imminent. It is miserable traveling like this, but often it does happen and that is what makes part of the adventure so worthwhile. We walked around the small town in the dim light of the chilly morning foraging for WiFi. Making it to a heated waiting room in the station, we vaguely rested for the remaining 2 hours under the fluorescent light that illuminated and exaggerated every pore, blemish and line under our tired eyes. That Cherrie and I can can still enjoy each other after an experience like this is a true testament to our friendship.

Once in Bled, it was still dark and the air damp and crisp. Facing the lake with the rising sun behind us it felt worth all of the exhaustion just for this one moment, sort of.

 

 

Krampus: Terrifying Children for 2 Millennia

Naughty children in Austria are whisked away by the Krampus, a devil-on-earth type character, every year in early December never to return; or so they are so veraciously told by their parents. I have never seen children so genuinely fearful of a fictitious creature, all because of this unfalteringly practiced tradition predating Christianity.

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Arranged by the parents, a Krampus and St. Nicholas may come knocking on your door bearing gifts, sweets and ruining adolescence. The children I look after haven’t experienced this but I’ve spoke to some who quiver just at the mention of the K-word. I can’t say I blame them considering how cruel this tradition can be. In America naughty kids, full of avarice, merely don’t get presents, but here if you mess up, well, you ain’t never coming back.

To celebrate and instill fear, Krampuslauf, a “run”/ parade commences over various weekends in the region. Different organizations dress up as the Krampus, an old hag or less excitingly so, St. Nicholas. I guess there has to be some sort of balance there. It is an interactive event, as the monstrous beings approach the bystanders while shaking their bell-clad hineys. Families flock to the event to damage their children’s psyches every year. It wouldn’t be a true Christian holiday without some Pagan influences and phallic imagery. The Krampus, with their horny heads and birch bundles roar in the faces of children, wiggle their long tongues outwardly, lash their whips in the air, literally pick up children and occasionally dab soot on their faces. I wouldn’t be surprised if a video of a Krampuslauf was confused for some lost footage of a scene in Rosemary’s Baby.

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However, the craftsmanship on some of these costumes is absolutely exquisite! I was warned not to bring my expensive DSLR because it is such a wild event, and although the shots I have don’t do much justice for the event, I am glad I refrained nevertheless. These Krampus have no boundaries!

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End of 2013 Recap

My journey through the tail end of 2013 has been less than arduous so I will briefly recap a few of the high moments and refrain from indulging the nights I spent in bed streaming movies online.

*The elder of the girls turned 12 and I made it on to the birthday cake. I’m officially part of the family! And I completely advocate all cakes being frosted with Gran Marnier icing.Image

* I visited what may be the most beautiful place on Earth (I’m sure I will overuse this title as I travel but for now this one takes the Gran Marnier frosted cake!) Konigssee in Berchtesgarden, Germany is a Fjord like lake positioned between the German and Austrian Alps, boasting crystal clear water, electric boats to take you across, a 900 year old church at the end and the freshest air your nasal passages have been blessed to inhale. These pictures are worth 2,000 words, I dare say.

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*Salzburg saw snow that lasted only about 1 day but it was enough for some flawless snow angels to form. Image

*I made my way through as many Christkindlmarkts as I could find. Salzburg’s Schloss Hellbrunn’s being my favorite, despite the only stand that sold hot cocoa tasted like a luke warm chocolate milk, the gifts and trinkets were by far the most unique. And the palace setting didn’t hurt either. Image

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