Travel: Austria to Italy

Today, was an extremely tedious travel day. Who knew that getting from Austria to Northern Italy would take so long? I had the option to either transfer once to a bus in Verona, the infamous city of the tragic Romeo and Juliet, or to take trains the entire way. Rather than risk getting lost and missing my connection, I opted for the latter option. Unfortunately, this entailed two transfers, and an average of 45 min stopovers.

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As such, I awoke early to catch a train from Salzburg to Innsbruck. From here, the train from Innsbruck to Verona was the longest leg of my trip. I am a little disappointed that I became so engrossed in my novel, that I missed the fluid transition from green mountains, to watching snow gently waft down from the sky.

It was completely breathtaking, and not a view I had prepared for, having missed the gentle slope that the train had obviously chugged upwards on.

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Finally arriving in Verona, I latched on my Travel Belt (Yes, the only place I was terrified of being pick-pocketed in was Italy) and hopped on my final train for the day. I successfully arrived in Venice around 5 PM.


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Unfortunately, the hostel did not provide walking directions, and the tourist desk did not have any maps left. Rather than risk being the lost in the maze of the city, I opted for the suggested method of travel to the hostel, the water taxi. It was so expensive! Definitely an experience, but not worth the cost, when the entire city is meant to be traversed on foot.

I then acquainted myself with a lovely new Australian friend, and we ventured to a nearby pizzeria for our first Italian Dinner. 🙂

Travel: Werfen

Having exhausted my itinerary for the local culture, I took a tedious, but rewarding day-trip to Werfen. It is about a 45-60 min train ride away in the heart of Salzach Valley. From here, it was an additional 20-min shuttle ride to reach the entry point for the length path up to the Eisriesenwelt, the largest Ice Cave System in the world. This gorgeous natural wonder is only accessible from May to October, and the journey to the peaks of the Tennengebirge Mountains is not for the faint of heart.

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Even after arriving at the ticket office, to reach the cave entrance entails approximately 1-hour of inclined hiking, paired with 2 heart-rending funicular rides at a speed that makes your heart plummet to the shear drop you see below you.

On the way up, snow began to fall, and I was in awe at being able to experience part of the Austrian Alps and savor the snow in the middle of May.

2013-05-23 05.55.57The cave was discovered by Anton Posselt in 1879, he was merely able to explore into the first 200-meters. Prior to that, despite acknowledging the cave’s existence, the locals avoided it believing it to be an entrance to hell. Years later,Alexander von Mörk, recalled Posselt’s discover, and led expeditions into the caves beginning in 1912. Killed in 1914 during WWI, his remains are immortalized by an urn containing ashes in a niche deep within the ice’s recesses.


It is difficult to quantify how humble the sprawling caverns and massive ice formations made me feel. As the thawing snow seeps through the cave’s limestone, chilly winter winds blow into the cave, freezing the dripping water. Thus, the first kilometer of the cave entrance provides a radius within which unique, but characteristically similar sculptures are formed every season. The names that each have earned requires a sprinkling of imagination. Examples include Hymir’s Castle, Frigga’s Veil, and the Ice Organ.

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Closer to the train station, sits the HohenWerfen Castle, a former fortification built between 1075 and 1078. It was one of three major castles constructed to secure the Salzburg Archbishopric against the forces of King Henry IV. Unfortunately, this proved to be for naught, as Gebhard was expelled in 1077, and did not return to Salzburg until 1086, where he died at Hohenwerfen two years later.

In the following centuries, the property was used by Salzburg Rulers, not only as a military base, but also as a place of residence or a hunting retreat. It has withstood the German Peasant’s War, and been used as a state prison with a dark history; Wolf Dietrich Raitenau died here in 1617 after six-year of imprisonment.

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I enjoyed witnessing the expertise of the historic Salzburg Falconry, which helps demonstrate the heritage of using Birds of Prey as hunting companions.

What are your thoughts on hunting? Do you consider it a fashionable hobby that requires skill? Or do you consider it murder, of animals that are at the mercy of carnivorous and belligerent mankind?

Travel: Travexhausted

To the few followers I have. I sincerely apologize for my lack of regular posts in the last month of my travels. It became increasingly difficult for me to maintain them since I have so much to say about the uniqueness of each location and the emotions evoked. Additionally, my dear Macbook Air is quite old, and cannot keep up with the rate at which I am trying to upload pictures. It overheats, thereby requiring me to shut it down, and forego any commentary for the night. Hence, the reason for the back-posting that will follow in the next few weeks.

I originally meant to spend a few days in Innsbruck, leaving Salzburg behind.I discovered that Innsbruck did not have a diverse array of hostel options, and the few available had acquired terrible ratings. Rather than move on, I chose to stay in Salzburg, using it as a base for a day-trip, and another day just for me to re-energize myself.

As such, today was a completely lazy hazy day. I spent the majority of my day in bed, shifting between napping, snacking, and avid reading. I myself didn’t expect that traveling would exhaust me so; the truth is, having your brain constantly engaged by the medley of fascinating sites that greet you everywhere, is physically taxing. Who knew?!

Travel: Mozart’s Town and the Sound of Music

My primary motivation for visiting Salzburg was to walk in the steps of Mozart. It was only after arriving that I realized that the city had also gained fame as the home of Maria Von Trapp and the location for the movie ‘The Sound of Music.’ As such, my day was filled with musical melodies and dancing magic.

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First stop was at the Mirabell Palace. Although I couldn’t go in, I enjoyed walking amongst its meticulously landscaped garden, and dancing around the Horse Fountain (Do-Re-Mi Scene). The building was constructed in 1606 at the behest of Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau according to Italian and French models for his mistress. He was deposed in 1612, and during this era, the palace received its current italian name, bella meaning ‘Amazing’ or ‘Wonderful’. Subject to much remodeling through the years, its current  neoclassical appearance dates from about 1818.

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Next, I visited the birthplace of the only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If you don’t recognize the name, then I am no longer your friend. 😛 He is recognized as one of the most prolific and influential composer’s of the Classical Era. As a child, Mozart showed prodigious ability; He was competent on Keyboard and Violin, and regularly composing pieces and performing for European Royalty from the age of five. Eventually, he grew restless, and was dismissed from his Salzburg position while visiting Vienna in 1781. It is in Vienna where he spent his final years composing some of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas.

Last on the list for my meandering day was a stroll through the Hellbrunn Palace. The Schloss is best known for its jeux d’eau, the magical fountain filled with unexpected water delights. The water-park was conceived by Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, an individual with a keen sense of humour who employed practical jokes, which were performed on guests. I personally was incapable of avoiding these deviously hidden mechanisms that would sprout water up through seats and overhead when least expected. Water-pressure also allowed for ingeniously designed mobile figurines, best illustrated in a musical-playing theatre that was built-in 1750. There was always one location where the Archbishop would stand or sit, that was protected from water.

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So, I know the pictures here look the same. but if you look closely between the two, you will notice an extension and retraction of the face’s tongue. This is achieved by a small pail mechanism, that when filled, lowers the jaw, automatically extending the tongue. Once emptied, it retracts, and the process repeats.

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I stopped by the Glass Gazebo on my way out to relive the ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’ moment from the movie.

Travel: Guten Tag Salzburg

Leaving South Germany, I returned to Austria and the city of Salzburg, home to the classical composer Wolfgang Mozart, but made infamous by the movie Sound of Music. It took me a little longer than usual to get my bearings after checking in; I was also generally indecisive about my wardrobe options given the contrasting weather report and what I was witnessing outside. Eventually, feeling optimistic, I opted for a sundress and light cardigan (as you will see in my pictures); this proved to be an unfortunate choice, we will get to that reason later.

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Nonetheless, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the beautiful city, capturing a multitude of scenic views on my way, while simultaneously absorbing some sunshine. At the base of the mountain, I had the option to be lazy and take the funicular up, or hike 20 mins to the castle. Seeing how I am asian and enjoy conserving money that is better spent on quality food, not to mention the warm weather, I opted to complete the climb.

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At the top of the hill lies the Hohensalzburg Castle, more commonly called the Salzburg Fortress. Construction began in 1077 under Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein. During this period, the Archbishops of Salzburg were powerful political figures, which necessitated expansion of the castle in order to protect their interest. Most notably, Gebhard’s conflict with Emperor Henry IV during the Investiture Controversy.

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The fortress only came under siege once during the German Peasants’ War in 1525. A group of miners  farmers, and townspeople attempted and failed to oust Prince-Archbishop Matthaus Lang.


Notable Historical events further include:

  • Death of the deposed Archbishop Wolf Dietrick von Raitenau while imprisoned here.
  • Surrender to French troops during the Napoleonic War of the Second Coalition in 1800.

It was then used as a barracks, storage depot, and dungeon before being abandoned as a military outpost in 1861.

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As I this hill also contained the Nonnberg Abbey, I opted to head in this direction as I left the castle. Unfortunately, dark and ominous clouds encroached on the sky. Believing it would rain as the weather forecast predicted, I was prepared with an umbrella. Therefore I continued to amble along the cobblestone road.

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Turns out, that it did not rain as anticipated; Rather, it started to hail. First, the torrents came down as small pebbles, however they immediately progressed to index-nail sized rocks. It was at this point that I used my better judgement to wait out the hail-storm under a bridge. The wind also picked up, and my think cardigan and skirt did not quite provide the necessary insulation. Hail finally gave way to rain, and rather than continue to be miserable and cornered, I completed the rest of the walk to the Abbey.

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Alas! I was unaware that we were only able to visit the church. Nonnberg Abbey is known to be the abbey at which Maria August Kutschera was a postulant after World War I. It is her life that was the basis for ‘The Sound of Music’ film.

In the short time it took me to meander a circuit around the pews. The sun re-emerged scattering light and warmth across the garden. What strange and unpredictable weather!

Travel: Vienna Churches

Despite my growing impatience for the medley of iconic religious frescoes, alters, chapels, and biblical interpretations, I continue to struggle with avoiding the visitation of churches. It is not hard to deny how intrinsically the tie into european culture; the strength of the populations devotions has deep roots with the development of heritage. As such, the following two are presented briefly.

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St. Steven’s Cathedral is an icon of Vienna, and dominates the shopping streets of the city center. It is  the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, and the seat of the current Arch Bishop, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn. The site stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the former dating from 1147. As a symbol of the city, it has borne witness to vital moments of Austrian History. The tomb houses the Bishops, Provosts, and Ducal crypts. Furthermore, it was only spared damage from the World War II bombings, when Captain Klinkicht disregarded orders from the city commandant to leave it in just debris and ashes.

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Interesting Fact: “The composer Ludwig van Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower as a result of the bells’ tolling but could not hear the bells. ”

The roof is multicolored, and despite its exterior having been marred black by pollution overtime, significant restoration projects have helped it regain its glossy tiled and white facade.

The Interior is a rainbow of colors that interplay with each other along the Gothic/Romanesque pillars, high spanning nave, and mass of windows. It is a current art feature, and provides a creative, modern-day take on the limestone cathedral.

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I also stopped by to visit St. Peter’s Church. It lies but a few streets away, but the two couldn’t be more different. This other one reflects the Baroque style, and maintained by the priests of the Opus Dei. Despite having origins dating from the early middle ages, the current building was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with construction beginning in 1701. The interior golden stucco is particularly eye-catching given how solemn and dark the interior is, due to the current scaffolding that masks the exterior.

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The infamous Plague Column also lies within mere spitting distance. It was designed, and installed to fulfill a vow made by  Emperor Leopold I in 1679, when he fled the plague epidemics, saying that if it would end, a mercy column would be erected in remembrance.

Travel: Hofburg Imperial Palace Complex

Within the Hofburg complex, there is a dearth of iconic buildings that provide cultural insights into classical art and Vienna culture. Despite a limited amount of time, I sought ought two of these, namely the Albertina Museum and the Spanish Riding School.

The Albertina Museum houses one of the largest and most vital print rooms in the world. The collection numbers at 65,000 drawings and 1million old master prints, including, but not limited to graphic works, photographs, and architectural drawings. The building was erected on one of the last remaining fortifications, the Augustian Bastion. It lies on the original site of the Hofbauamt, which was built in the second half of the 17th century.

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Monet – The Water Lily Pond

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Henri-Edmund Cross – Les Petites Montagnes Mauresques

I readily enjoyed the large collection of impressionist painting which was comprised of the works of Monet, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. This period of artistic expression is by far one of my favorites. Impressionism uses blatant, yet subtle thin brush strokes, and emphasizes a picture of a moment. Each painting is incredibly textured and you can feel the hardened ridges of oil paint on the canvas, and the movement behind the artist’s bold, aggressive composition. Ordinary subjects are made extraordinary with the play of light and shadows.

Prints are pretty self-explanatory. 😛 Detailed engravings utilized such techniques as woodcuts, and etching. These were then printed on paper, and often expressed vital artistic, historical, or social motifs of the current period. My favorite collection included a set that depicted the artist’s take, namely  Pieter Bruegel Der Altere, on the seven deadly sins. Can you guess which print represents which evil?

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Unfortunately, due to my schedule, I was not present in Vienna during a show of the infamous Lipizzaners. As a condolence prize, I attended one of their daily practices instead, and observed how the students, and their mounts achieve harmonious precision. It was far duller than I planned :/. The majority of the two hours involved a trio of riders, exercising a rotating trio of horses in choreographed steps, and typical gaits, around the floor. I kept thinking that some more coordinating and fancy tricks would be put into action, but this was far from the case. Two hours later, I was only using half my attention, and multi-tasking via my Kindle.

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The highlight however, was watching the horses being led by the groomsmen from the stables into the ring. They are an absolutely gorgeous and majestic breed that date from the 800 A.D. It emerged as a powerful, yet agile horse in the 16th century, and became increasingly fashionable for the emerging prevalence of riding schools. In 1920, the Piper Federal Stud was selected as the main stud for the Vienna horses. Breeding is thus very selective, and only proven stallions can stud with mares that have passed rigorous performance testing.

I absolutely LOVE the grace and power you can sense within these majestic beats. It is hard to miss the noble air with which they hold themselves. A long time ago, it was my childhood dream to be a horse jockey or own a dude ranch, living the simple life in the mountains of Montana.

Travel: Palaces of Vienna

Finally summoning the willpower to leave Prague, I found myself in the capital of Austria. As home to Sigmund Freud, and a history of providing philanthropic support to inspiring composers, Vienna is indeed the ‘City of Dreams and Music.’ It is hard to miss the beauty of its streets, as merely a stroll down any avenue will greet you with gorgeous architecture, baroque décor, and green landscapes.

I never considered myself ‘Palaced-out’ until I visited Vienna. The city has enough imperial palaces to satisfy the requirements of a minor ‘Disneyland’. As such, I averaged a royal residence a day, and each had its own unique quirks. Though I will admit, my enthusiasm has begun to wane in regards to both palaces and churches.

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My first visit commenced at the Schönbrunn Palace, as it was within easy walking distance of my hostel. It consists of 1,441 rooms designed in the  Rococo Style.  Once again, as in the case of Versailles, it originated as the court’s recreational hunting ground on an estate that was purchased the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II in 1569.

A mansion named Katterburg was subsequently erected, and then an Orangery added on by Eleonora Gonzaga, wife of  Ferdinand II in 1643.

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The next palace was the Belvedere Palace complex. Prince Eugene of Savoy purchased a sizable plot of land in 1697, and chose Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt as the chief architect. His vision was to construct a landscaped garden and a summer residence. He had to wrest the upper portion of land from imperial Grand Marshall Count Heinrich Franz Mansfeld, Prince of Fondi, by taking out a large loan secured against Stadtpalais. Thus, Lower Belvedere and Upper Belvedere became a united estate.

2013-05-14 10.35.45Vienna’s last, but most renowned palace is the Hofburg Palace, the primary residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth. It was a rare love match for the royal couple, despite ‘Sisi’ neglecting her duties as Empress, and spending much of her time traveling abroad. The complex itself is stunning, and incorporates many buildings, which have since been converted to accommodate museums, libraries, and theatres. This area has been the document seat of government since 1279, and the residential portion is now termed the ‘Sisi Apartments.’ Although not well respected in life, due to her indifference to participate in royal court, ‘Sisi’ was remembered fondly in her death after she was assassinated by the radical Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva.

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Overally each palace was unique and rested on absolutely gorgeous grounds! The architectural landscape is so elegantly crafted and detailed, that despite the centuries past, you can almost feel the royal presence strolling through the gardens.