Tucked in between the soaring Alps, Austria is an enchanting country with magical landscapes, picture-perfect meadows and grasslands, stunning baroque architecture, tiny villages, and magnificent cities. It is a country of music, culture, baroque architecture, grand palaces and Viennese coffee shops serving cinnamon-soaked Apfelstrudel, Austria’s iconic dessert.
Innsbruck: where the past and present meet Flying from Vienna to Innsbruck was the start of a week-long journey across Austria by coach, riding a ski lift up a mountainside, and sliding deep into the bowels of the earth in a salt mine.
Nestled amidst majestic peaks, the city streets are full of Baroque and Gothic architecture in the Old Town, to modern districts such as Mariahilf or St. Nikolaus, popular with university students. In a city famous for its winter sports, the Nordkette funicular, with its futuristic its stations, climbs up to 2 256m that in just 20 minutes, reaches the Seegrube with its spectacular views of the Inn valley and the surrounding mountains.
The Imperial Palace, Ottoburg, and the Wilten Basilica tell of Innsbruck’s eventful past and its great figures, especially Emperor Maximilian I, who built many of the monuments as well as the Golden Roof and his tomb at the Imperial Church. No visit is complete without seeing the city’s most famous landmark. Completed in 1500, the roof was decorated with 2 657 fire-gilded copper tiles for Emperor Maximilian I to mark his wedding to Bianca Maria Sforza.
There is much to see in this city that for many a long time was the seat of the Hapsburg government. The Hofburg Palace, home of Maximilian I was remodeled by Empress Maria Theresa in 18th-century Baroque and Rococo styles and a visit to the palace includes the royal apartments, marble Giant Hall (Riesensaal), and the painted ceilings throughout.
The highlight of the Hofkirche, or Court Church, is the spectacular Tomb of Emperor Maximilian I, who died in 1519. Its central feature is the massive black marble sarcophagus with a bronze figure of the Emperor, 24 marble reliefs depicting events in the Emperor's life, and around it stand 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of the Emperor's ancestors and contemporaries (look out for King Arthur).
Our time in Innsbruck was short and next stop was Hall in Tirol which has the largest Old Town in the state of Tyrol and is one of the best-preserved old towns in Austria. Heading east out of Innsbruck on the motorway on a 'voyage of discovery, lies the medieval city of Hall, surely one of the most beautiful Tyrolean towns. Hall has a rich minting heritage – in fact Burg Hasegg has had a 300-year career as a mint for silver Thalers (coins, the root of the modern word ‘dollar’). The Hall Mint Museum displays water-driven and hammer-striking techniques and houses a number of coin presses used over the centuries as well as a number of coins minted over the centuries. Visitors can mint their own coin. For the energetic, or even if you are not, summon up the curiosity and willpower to climb the spiral staircase with 186 steps that coils up to the 5th floor of the dodecagonal tower. From there the views go on forever, reaching far out over Hall and Inntal Valley.
Down the Crystal Rabbit Hole
The entrance to the Swarovski Kristallwelten, a 20-minute drive outside of Innsbruck, leads deep inside a grassy Tyrolean hill, with a large, water-spewing face – the “Giant” – looming over you. If the entry is strange, the displays are magnificent – and that does not do them justice.
You’ll find yourself in a giant dome consisting of 595 mirrors and making you feel like you yourself are inside a crystal. Every display is a wonderland – they have to be experienced to really capture the sheer beauty and magical aura of Swarovski crystals, - “Silent Light”, a spiky, sparkling crystal tree which evokes a frosty winter forest with thousands of shimmering crystals catching the light, reflecting all the colors the imagination can conjure up; the garden is filled with a striking black and white carousel made from 15 million crystals, a hedge maze shaped like a human hand, and, the centerpiece, a cloud made of 800 000 crystals.
Divided into 17 “Chambers of Wonder”, this whimsical museum is is a journey through the crystal-studded visions of famous artists and designers like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí. It is definitely a ‘have to visit attraction.
SEMMERING/ AUSTRIA JULY 12, 2020: The famous grand hotel Suedbahnhotel was opened in 1882 after Semmering was made accessible by train. The hotel business ended in the 1960's - By Karl Allen Lugmayer
City of music
Heading slightly north we entered Salzburg, birthplace o of Mozart and location of the Sound of Music. It is a charming, pretty city with its green meadows (in summer), majestic historical buildings and of course the ever-present mountains. Salzburg is dominated by the Hohensalzburg fortress, which claims to be the last preserved castle in Europe. The summit is just a swift 54-second ride away on fortress funicular. One area of the fortress offers visitors the chance to look down on a field below to find only one house, the executioner's residence. It was believed that to live anywhere near the executioner was bad luck. Inside the fortress are rooms showing medieval weapons, life on the fortress, and torture instruments.
The old town Aldsten with its stunning baroque buildings is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The grand extravaganza of culture, music, and the arts, the Salzburger Festspiele during summers is an experience to remember. Unfortunately, we were there before any of the festivals but the atmosphere within the city was one of anticipation. Music, the arts, and cultural activities are extremely important and recognized in Saltzburg.
The name means ‘Salt Fortress’ and is derived from the barges carrying salt on the Salzach River which was subject to a toll in the 8th century.
The tiniest village
Leaving Austria’s fourth-largest city behind we headed for one of the tiniest. Described as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Austria, Halstatt’s pastel-coloured houses, underground salt lake Salzwelten and Ice Cave on Dachstein Mountain are certainly breathtaking but for me the village was claustrophobic. With the houses built one on top of the other, the towering mountains behind and the brooding Lake Hallstatt in front, it felt that I could not easily escape.
It is a lovely, quaint tiny town with hospitable, friendly people and definitely a place that must be seen, but it takes a special person to live in such isolation.
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