My adventures in Europe (Week 1 – Austria)

Day 1 – London Gatwick to Salzburg

Well what a start to the trip… After little sleep due to excitement and nervousness, I got up at 7, had breakfast as usual and set about preparing for the day ahead. Mum was a little bit emotional this morning but held it together surprisingly well… There weren’t many tears which was a relief as I would probably have succumbed to them myself… Feeling very tired today! After a last minute panic about the size of my bag and quick repack (I’m only taking hand luggage) Dad and I set off to the airport. It seemed further than I remember to Gatwick, but eventually we arrived and ended up driving round the car park for ages. For some unknown reason half the spaces were cordoned off, making it very tricky to find a parking space! Eventually we did and after misreading my luggage drop off instructions and thinking I could only do it 40 minutes before the flight, we read the printout again to find I had completely misinterpreted– not boding well for the rest of the trip! My bag was a little bit big (perhaps I’ve over packed after all!) but fortunately the kind lady at the desk feigned ignorance and let it go – will need to pack better coming home! Going through security was a breeze fortunately (despite the lady trying to jump the conveyer belt tray queue in front of me) as that is usually something I find quite stressful.

After a quick wander round the terminal to buy lunch for the flight and having taken the essential selfie with the Harrods Bear, (bit blurry because I was shaking!) I sat on the rickety row of chairs that bounce every time someonemoves, messaging friends and fiddling about on my tablet, making sure I had all the essentials I’d need to entertain me during the 90 minute flight. We boarded the flight a little late at 12:35, the time we were due to take off. I was ready to go as it felt like I had been doing a lot of waiting around for this trip, both in recent weeks and today. Little did I know that this was just the start… Due to congestion we did not take off until 2:20pm, almost 2 hours later than scheduled… Thank goodness I had downloaded some TV programmes from iPlayer. I managed to watch an hour long programme before we even started moving or looked ready to go anywhere!

After this things seemed to calm down a bit. Take off and landing were pretty standard – not something I particularly enjoy and I got through Salzburg airport and navigated the buses without a hitch… feeling quite proud of that! I even just managed to get to the Spar supermarket before it closed at 6pm to get food for dinner and breakfast… Albeit fish finger butty and chips because I couldn’t be bothered to cook and was very hungry! I took the slightly longer route walking from the bus stop as the street signs weren’t overly clear and it was getting dark, but got helped out by a nice local couple who took pity on me! Eventually I made it to my room about 6:30pm, cooked and collapsed in a heap! Not quite the start I had planned to my first proper solo travelling experience, but hopefully things will be a lot more plain sailing and smoother from now on!

The view from my window

Day 2 – Salzburg

Wow! What a beautiful day… I didn’t sleep overly well, but then I don’t often so can’t complain! My bed is ridiculously comfy and the view out my window is stunning, particularly on days like today. I had a leisurely start, leaving the house about 9am local time after all the usual morning routines and wandered down into Salzburg City through Lehener park and alongside the river Salzach, a stroll which takes about 35 minutes (unless you are inclined to stop and take lots of photos!). The sun was shining brightly, the scenery was spectacular and it felt like Spring was finally here… A real turnaround from the previous day where I was beginning to think that travelling wasn’t going to be all that its cracked up to be! Impressively, I only took a couple of wrong turns and with the aid of Google maps and a little help from home, I was soon able to find my way again.

Eventually I arrived in the centre and wandered around some quaint little streets near the market square (getting lost a few more times) and climbed up a very steep hill to enjoy the views of Salzburg from above. It seems the city is stunning from almost every angle! Coming back down, I was surprised to find two buskers singing in English at the corner of one of Salzburg’s many bridges. They were pretty good…almost like a crossover between traditional Austrian folk music and Ed Sheeran! I stopped to listen and appreciate the surroundings for a bit and after stocking up on some essential food supplies from the one shop I could find that was open (most are shut on Sundays and it takes a long time when you have a sensitive stomach and need to work out the ingredients of every item, when you don’t speak a word of German) and made my way back to my lodgings on the bus… It’s a pretty efficient service and an all day ticket around the city perimeters costs just 4 Euros from the machines at the bus stops. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of ticket inspection though and you don’t have to walk past the driver to get on the bus… I guess they just rely on human honesty, which is quite refreshing.

It seems that Sunday’s are very quiet, traditional rest days in Austria. The majority of shops are closed and people appear to spend their time in the park, pursuing leisure activities such as cycling and running or else just strolling along the river enjoying the views of their beautiful city. The predominant noise that echoes throughout the land is that of church bells, which seem to chime constantly from some tower or another… There are a lot of churches! It was also lovely to notice people and families all talking to each other and doing things together… A big contrast to what you might see in the UK! It’s been a very chilled kind of day, soaking up the relaxed vibes of the people of Salzburg and Austrian culture. The only thing that could possibly make it any better now is a crisp apple strudel, but I am saving that treat for when I go on the Sound of Music tour! 😊

My walk into Salzburg

Day 3 – The Sound of Music Tour & Salzburg

Well I guess the thought of a crisp apple strudel was just too tempting, as today I found myself embarking on the Sound of Music tour. I woke up to a beautiful pink tinged sunrise against the backdrop of the mountains which was very pleasant to sit and stare gormlessly at while my body woke up. It was an early start as the tour bus was due to leave Salzburg at 9:15, so no time for faffing this morning! Catching the wrong bus towards town, (they drop off at different sides of the river, which I hadn’t realised) I sprinted across the city centre (not easy when you have a well stocked backpack on) and made it to the tour office just in time, with only a couple of minutes to spare. The bus was very comfortable and packed with tourists from all around the world…with quite a lot from America. The guide was great… a bald Spanish man with a vivacious personality and infectious smile. He was extremely knowledgeable and good at his job and passed on a lot of information about both The Sound of Music and the city of Salzburg in an entertaining manner… Incidentally, did you know that until about 200 years ago Salzburg was actually its own country? Seems hard to imagine as it’s not actually that big a place, but there was great wealth, so I guess that with that comes power and status.

The tour started off by taking us around the key places in Salzburg where they filmed various scenes such as the Von-Trapp house and the gazebo from ‘sixteen going on seventeen’. From there we took the scenic route out into the hills (with the option of singing along to the films soundtrack album, which was entertaining!) and on to the quaint little town of Mondsee, where we were able to go inside the church where the captain and Maria married and enjoy a delicious apple strudel from the local bakery by the lakeside… I even managed to find a swing to sit in – you’ll never get rid of my inner child! The scenery was spectacular – gorgeous crystal clear lakes (some of which you can actually drink from apparently) set against a backdrop of imposing snow covered mountains with a smattering of traditional Austrian houses to complete the picture. I could quite easily have been looking at a travel brochure today, as the sun was also shining brightly which just enhanced the views further.

On returning to Salzburg early afternoon, I decided to have a little wander around the multiple avenues of quaint boutique shops and managed to lose my way a couple of times in the process! To my delight, I discovered 2 Christmas shops (Salzburg is apparently the Christmas capital of Europe) selling beautiful hand painted/crafted decorations at allbeit rather hefty prices, but still lovely to look at! As the weather started to turn very suddenly becoming dark and threatening rain, I hopped onto a bus which was the right number to get back to my lodgings, but sadly heading in completely the wrong direction! It only took me about half an hour to realise this, (the joys of being dyspraxic!) when I noticed we were heading into open countryside with very few residences around. Fortunately I still had enough brain power to get off and cross the road to wait for one going in the other direction. It may have added an extra hour to my day out, but the ride was pleasant and there doesn’t seem to be an ugly part of town (that I have discovered yet anyway) so I wasn’t overly bothered by my own ditziness… I’d say it all adds to the adventure but not sure mum would agree! This evening I am going to chill out, cook a bowl of stodgy pasta and hopefully watch the sound of music… What better way to end the day?

The Von-Trapp family house(ish)

Day 4 – Anif & Salzburg Zoo

I had a bit of a slow start to the day today as the last few days of being active and travelling are starting to take their toll… Honestly I’m feeling pretty whacked and like I have a cold coming, but that’s nothing new so I’m determined to plough on through! I did however take it slightly easier today as the weather was not particularly favourable, although it is extremely interchangeable here I have noticed… One minute it can be warm and sunny, the next cold and pouring with rain! After spending a while contemplating the various options of places to go, I finally settled on the zoo with the reasoning of there would be shelter if it started drizzling and it wasn’t too far or complicated to get to (although I still managed to miss my stop and ended up walking for half an hour back the way the bus had come from, but on the plus side this did provide the opportunity to photograph some spectacular scenery!)

After a few more detours and pauses to curse google maps, as well as tears of frustration at my own incompetence with instructions and directions, I eventually arrived at the zoo. It was a lot smaller than I had expected and to be honest was somewhat disappointing, although I did see some adorable baby pigmy goats frolicking about which was delightful! I’m not an animal rights/behaviour expert or anything, but I felt that they didn’t all have enough space to roam around in and that the place was more geared towards tourism rather than conservation. Most of the animals were either asleep, pacing around their enclosures or else looking to see what food visitors had to feed them… nothing felt particularly ‘natural’ but like I say… I’m no expert!

Just spending those few hours out and about this morning left me feeling completely zapped, so I decided to head back to my room, via the supermarket to stick up on a few treats for a lazy afternoon reading and watching TV, with the possible chance of a siesta too! Not the most exciting of days, but I’ve learnt the hard way that sometimes you’ve just got to stop and take care of yourself in order to sustain a healthy well-being. Tomorrow is supposed to be the best day weather wise this week so I am planning to get back in full swing with a journey to either Hallstatt or the lakes of St Gilgen and St Wolfgang, depending on how I feel in the morning and how far I am prepared to travel… Or perhaps that should be where I am less likely to get stranded if I mess up on the journey!

Day 5 – Hallstatt

It was an early start to the day today… I was up, fed and dressed ready to leave my accommodation by 7:45am to catch the 8:45 bus to Bad Ischl, where I could then take the train onto Hallstatt… Well that was the plan anyway. As usual things didn’t quite work out the way that I’d hoped. I thought I had allowed plenty of time with an hour for the 25 minute walk to town, anticipating my usual detours and stopping to work out which way Google maps is telling me to go, but once again I found myself hopelessly lost in the middle of Salzburg with no idea which way I should head or even what street I was in! It seems the odds were stacked against me this morning as when I eventually reached the train station, I could see the bus I wanted to catch waiting at the stand. Perfect I thought, only as I got on I realised they don’t take card payment and I didn’t have enough cash on me to but a ticket. So trying the machine instead, unsuccessfully, as that also was not accepting cards, I had no option but to wait half an hour for the next one as the bus drove off. After a long and somewhat strained conversation with the ticket clerk who spoke minimal english, (though fortunately more than I speak German) I managed to get sorted.

The bus journey itself, although long was lovely. We took the scenic mountainous route past some of the beautiful lakeside towns and villages, which helped greatly in passing the 90 minutes and before I knew it, it was time to get off and catch the train to Hallstatt. Fortunately the bus and railway station are right next to each other and the ferry which takes tourists across the lake is timetabled to fit in with arrivals and departures, making the whole process seamless and idiot proof – even for me, which was a welcome relief! I had seen pictures on the internet and done a bit of research before I went today, but the sight that met us as we crossed the water still took my breath away. Sheer cliff faced mountains sprinkled with snow and a plethora of multi-coloured traditional style Austrian houses hugging the hillside… I’m sure that my pictures will not do it justice, but needless to say, I was glad that I decided to bite the bullet and make the two hour plus journey because I would not have wanted to miss that view.

In terms of things to do, there wasn’t much except a few cafes and touristy shops, as well as a salt mine and funicular car…both very popular attractions in this area, but I would definitely recommend visiting if you’re ever in Austria. If you can time it right to avoid the bulk of tourists, then I imagine it’s a bit of a ghost town, but I feel that would add to its enchantment and rustic beauty. After a few hours wandering round admiring the scenery, looking at all the various trinkets in the souvenir shops and finding a picture perfect spot for a picnic, I decided it was time to head back, as the temperature was dropping and the sun beginning to fade.

The journey back was just as pleasant as the outbound one, but with a very different feel due to the dramatic change in the weather. As I write this blog entry on the bus back to Salzburg, it’s dawned on me that I am over halfway through my first week already and will soon be leaving Austria to start the next leg of my journey (blimey that’s gone quick!) and I still haven’t tasted a schnitzel! Ooh, I’d love a slice of sachertorte too, but think I’d better wait until I find or make a lactose free version… Can you tell it’s getting close to dinnertime?!

Day 6 – Wallersee and Mattsee

How the heck did we get to day 6 already? It’s been a day of mixed emotions today, but I think I that is probably due to the once again extreme contrasts in weather that I’ve experienced. This morning was beautiful… Warm and sunny to the point where I even took my coat off! 😯 Big shock, I know! This afternoon has been grey, very wet and with a sense of wildness in the wind. It’s been a very relaxed and chilled out kind of day where I have winged my travelling as I’ve gone along and oddly enough, I did not get lost once…there’s another shock for you today!

I started out catching the train to a place called Seekirchen am Wallersee and took a leisurely lakeside stroll which took about 40 minutes to the next village along called Wallersee, which literally means lake Waller, so of course I had to go and check it out (and take an obligatory selfie by every sign and space by the lake I could find on route!) The scenery wasn’t as dramatic as some of the other lakes I have visited in Austria, but it was still as beautiful in an understated way, due to its softer landscape. It was blissful – I love just soaking up the sounds of nature and letting any worries drift away for a while. The penultimate leg of my journey involved hopping back on the train to a place called Neumarkt am Wallersee and then catching a bus that would take me to Mattsee, my final destination before eventually heading back to Salzburg.

The views on the journey were once again mesmerising even though it was starting to turn grey and drizzly and I couldn’t help but think about how stunning the places we passed would be when the sun shone down. Sadly by the time I reached Mattsee, the heavens had opened, so I found sanctuary in a large cafe / bakery in the centre of the village and waited to see if the weather would improve. After an hour or so, I began to realise that things were not going to clear up anytime soon, so reluctantly I gave up hope of getting any decent photographs or exploring done and decided to head back to Salzburg and the warmth of my room, where I could sit and watch Disney films to my hearts content, thanks to a free trial of an app that I downloaded prior to beginning my travels.  Tomorrow will be my last day in Austria, which seems to have come round really quickly. I have a few practical bits and bobs to sort out before the next leg of my journey, so it will probably be a very quiet day, with perhaps one final trip into Salzburg to pick up a small souvenir or to send a postcard to family members who don’t have internet access and maybe even a skype session with my folks to catch up with all the news from back home. Oddly enough, I’m not feeling too homesick yet, which surprises me, but perhaps I am more independent and adult than I give myself credit for… A sobering thought indeed!

Day 7 – Salzburg (again)

Where the heck did that week go? I guess the saying is true that time flies when you’re having fun! I can’t believe that today is my last day in Salzburg. I feel as though I am just getting to know my way around and tomorrow I shall be moving on… I didn’t do a lot today. It was mainly a day for catching up on things, including news from back home, laundry and budgeting for the rest of my trip… All very exciting stuff! I did nip down into Salzburg one last time though as I think it is a truly beautiful city and wanted to acquire a little keepsake to remind me of my time here. I chose a beautiful hand-painted egg shell… Seems they are a somewhat traditional decoration in Austria and I have the idea of creating a ‘travel tree’ for my room when I get home from which I can hang photos, souvenirs, money and other memories from my adventures. Might sound daft, but in my head it works!

Although slightly sad to be saying goodbye to Austria tomorrow, I’m looking forward to arriving in Slovenia and seeing what is on offer there. It’ll be a similar accommodation set up to where I am currently staying, in that I will have my own room, but share a communal kitchen and bathroom with fellow travellers. I hope to perhaps meet a few more that speak English, as sadly I have not come across many yet which has made communication tricky at times! Time for me to set my alarm now as it will be another early start tomorrow. I am hoping to leave my room no later than 8:30 to allow plenty of time to get to the station and ensure I do not rush because otherwise I’d probably end up in completely the wrong country, going by my experiences this first week! It’s been a great start to my journey though and I’m excited to see what lies ahead.

Bye Salzburg! It’s been fun! 😁

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