Having grown up listening to SD Burman’s renditions of Mozart and the tale of the Sound of Music and having studied Freud, Austria was definitely on my bucket list when it came to Europe. So I was glad to find a tour that started with this country. The itinerary included Vienna and Salzburg which were the main places that I wanted to visit.
The Schengen visa took forever to come. While travel agents may say that it takes 4-5 days, it took a full 10 days for me despite my passport being filled with visas. So plan a bit ahead when applying for your Schengen visa for Austria. I was literally on the edge as I had to board the flight on Monday and my passport came back on Saturday evening.
Our first rendezvous in Vienna was with the Schonbrunn Palace, a magnificent palace with the most amazing collection of paintings. Like other palaces and castles in Europe, photography was not allowed inside. Audio tours are available. We took one and it was helpful as we travelled from room to room going through the history of Vienna and the empress Maria Theresa. The palace gardens were huge and pleasant though nothing exceptional.
A city tour of Vienna included a drive around the Opera House, the cultural district of the Museum Quartier, The Imperial Palace, The Natural History Museum and the Town hall. A visit to the St. Stephen’s cathedral was memorable. The city center is a buzzing place. You can find lots of options for food and shopping. It’s a crowded place. The other palace we saw was the Belvedere Palace. Again an imposing structure. However, it was full of paintings which got monotonous after a point of time.
For a Psychology student, Freud’s home which is now a museum is like a pilgrimage. To be able to see where he saw his patients, his study, the room where he kept his famous couch was thrilling. Considering it’s a small house, the entry at any point of time is restricted to a certain number of people. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait to get in. Everything in that lane is now named after Freud. A quick coffee at Freud Café next to the museum was delightful.
One cannot leave Vienna without a date with Mozart. Concert tickets are available online. Even the hotel can get you tickets. There are no seat numbers so getting in earlier will help get better seats. The Mozart concert is an experience. Dress up well for a great evening. The concert is for about 90 minutes and extremely enjoyable. Many of us who were not great connoisseurs of music were also able to relate to it and enjoyed it tremendously.
Bidding adieu to Vienna, our next stop over in Austria was at Salzburg, most famous for the 1965 Hollywood movie, The Sound of Music. Our guide took us through a Sound of Music tour across the places where the movie was shot. It was interesting to see the places which were shot as the residence of the Van Tropp family, the lake across which a lot of shots with the Captain and the Baroness were taken, the gardens where Julie Andrews and the children sang most of the songs. It was enchanting specially for those who remembered minute details of the movie. Others were enthused enough to watch the movie once again to relive the memories of these spots.
The next day was our big hike to the Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves, the largest ice caves in the world located in the village of Werfen near Salzburg, a labyrinth of nearly 42 kms of trails through the ice caves. If we thought the trek up to the caves was daunting, the climb inside was no less than a rude shock. 700 straight steps to and fro with a few stops of a few minutes in between. At one point of time I nearly thought I was going to have an ice grave but for my trip mates who kept me going. Definitely not for the faint hearted or week kneed. The caves are totally dark and visitors are handed over lamps to light up the stairs. So if you are left behind, its not only the climb ahead that scares you but also the pitch black darkness of the caves.
After the knee breaking but spirit uplifting visit to the ice caves, the rest of the evening was spent exploring more sites in Salzburg at the main square which also houses Mozart’s birth place. Do not miss the statue of Mother Mary with baby Jesus which is placed so artistically in the center of the square that from a certain point you feel the angels of church are place the golden crown on her head. Quaint shops were a shopper’s delight in Salzburg. Food of all kinds was available in plenty. We even found and Indian restaurant there. After two delightful days there, we proceeded Prague for the rest of our trip.
While all of Europe is beautiful, Austria definitely has a special place when it comes to arts. A great place to visit for a holiday and to bring back memories to be cherished forever.