There is probably no place in Austria so surreal, so peaceful and so picturesque as Hallstatt.
Peiwen and I did a short day trip to Hallstatt. I came from Graz, while she came from Salzburg. We ended up on the same train. My jaw literally dropped when I got off the train.
Across the tranquil Hallstätter See (Hallstatt Lake) is the village of Hallstatt. Since medieval times, this village has be known for its salt trade. Its name, Hallstatt, means “salt place” in Celtic. Even today, you can still visit the world’s oldest salt mines. However, as we were there in the winter, the salt mines were closed, but we still had an amazing time just strolling along the lake and wandering around the “pearl of Austria”. It’s times like this that I’m happy I invested over a thousand dollars on a good camera. My photos are minimally edited on iPhoto (that’s all I can manage) and they look really good, yet, I feel that they offer only a small glimpse into the beauty of Hallstatt.
Hallstätter See with Hallstatt set against the mountains
Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Human activity in the magnificent natural landscape of the Salzkammergut began in prehistoric times, with the salt deposits being exploited as early as the 2nd millennium BC. This resource formed the basis of the area’s prosperity up to the middle of the 20th century, a prosperity that is reflected in the fine architecture of the town of Hallstatt.”
When you arrive at the train station, the only way to get to Hallstatt is to take a boat across the lake. The boats all have a schedule pasted onboard so you can plan your return trip. As the boat set off towards Hallstatt, the looming mountains became bigger and the village came into clear sight. It was a really amazing experience, just being on the boat slowly approaching Hallstatt. I can’t seem to describe the awe I felt, but I definitely hope that everyone will get the chance to experience it at least once in their lifetime.
View of Hallstatt from the boat
When we got off the boat, we immediately made our way up a hill. I can’t quite remember where we were headed for, because we eventually had to turn back after a fair bit of climbing as the roads were closed. It had been snowing in the days before and the snow had frozen up, making the climb pretty dangerous.
Slightly disappointed and a tad exhausted, we headed back down the hill and traveled to the other side of Hallstatt instead.
A tired Peiwen
Vandalized, and proud of it (Peiwen + Maddie 🙂 2013)
I had to resist taking photos every second because it seemed like everywhere I looked, there was some beauty to be captured. A quick tip: when you get off the boat, walk towards the right side, and up a slight slope to catch this magnificent view that you often see on postcards.
The best view of Hallstatt
Peiwen and I ❤
Never be afraid to ask other travellers to take photographs for you. Sometimes, you get amazing photos like this one! Also, just because someone is carrying a DSLR, doesn’t make them a professional. Oh, and also, I find that Asians are better photographers in general. Must be all the practice we get from taking photos of our friends and all the selfies too.
Right at the heart of Hallstatt is the church that has become one of the landmarks of this charming village – the Evangelical Parish Church. Its spire is the most prominent piece of architecture in the whole of Hallstatt.
Cemetery at the Ascension of Our Lady Catholic Church
I have never been a fan of cemeteries because those we have in Singapore are just eerie, but the cemeteries throughout Europe aren’t. In some places, people actually have picnics in cemeteries! GASP! We wandered among the headstones, and I felt a sense of peace rather than fear. I never thought I’d say this but this was a really beautiful cemetery.
Now, back to die Salze (the salt). Even the bottles you get here are so pretty. I regret not buying a bottle for myself. It would’ve made a great souvenir.
Bottles of locally mined salt
Instead, I got a small bottle of eggnog for Dj and I from this wonderful store. I never had eggnog before, but I knew it was a Christmas drink and I was already anticipating my favourite day of the year! It was really delicious. I shall try making my own eggnog this year!
We walked past the Market Square (Marktplatz). They were setting up a Christmas market.
Market Square (Marktplatz)
We walked to the extreme end of Hallstatt to catch another beautiful view of the village.
I actually won $50 worth of CapitaLand vouchers by entering this photo in the #TravelMadeDifferent contest on Instagram. YAY.
There was a sign that said “No entry” onto the dock, but we hopped over quickly to take this photo. Yeah, we’re badass.
Peiwen and the swans
The glassy waters of Hallstätter See are just magnificent, aren’t they?
Although we knew that the mines were closed, we walked to the funicular anyway. The funicular brings people up to the world’s oldest known salt mine. It’s really a pity that we didn’t come before they closed for the winter.
Since no salt mine for us, we decided to frolic in the snow. There’s something magical about beautiful, untouched white snow. Of course, my ass was freezing and my jeans were damp afterwards. It was worth it. I felt like a child again.
Just chilling, literally.
We walked back towards Marktplatz to grab some food.
Such a photogenic place
The narrow alleyways
I had some pumpkin and apple soup to fight the cold, while Peiwen had some yummy fish at one of the cafés.
And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We hopped on to another restaurant to have dessert. To be honest, we already had a slice of cake in the café, but you can never have enough dessert, right?
We had our dessert at the restaurant in the Seehotel Grüner Baum. It was a pretty posh place and I was worried that everything on the menu would be unaffordable. To my pleasant surprise, it was ok! We were dying for some Kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian specialty, which translates to “emperor’s mess”. It is a shredded pancake, usually dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam. Kaiser Franz Josef I loved it, and so do I!
Beautiful floral arrangement at Seehotel Grüner Baum
Kaiserschmarrn with stewed plums – €9.90
The Kaiserschmarrn served at Seehotel Grüner Baum is served with stewed plums, which was extraordinary! The pancakes were perfectly caramelised on the outside and fluffy inside. My only complaint is that there was way too much butter. We left the bottom bit untouched because it were literally soaking in butter. Nonetheless, the most memorable Kaiserschmarrn I’ve had.
We quickly made our way to the dock to catch the boat back to the train station.
Although it was just a few hours in Hallstatt, the place has left such a lasting impression on me. I would love to return to Hallstatt with Dj someday. Hallstatt is unspoilt; it transported me back in time. It really is heaven on earth.
Auf Wiedersehen, Hallstatt.
Vienna, Austria (Part 2)
My second time in Vienna was a trip with Peiwen and Alex. Alex and his mum warmly welcomed us into their beautiful home to stay for two days.
We were there to see the famous Christkindlmarkt. From about mid November, many squares transform into festive Christmas markets. Yes, Christmas is a BIG thing in Austria, and all around Europe. Out of all the Christmas markets in Vienna, the main one, and by far, the most beautiful and grandest Christmas market I’ve seen, is the one at Rathausplatz (City Hall Square). It is on the top 10 lists of many of the best Christmas markets in Europe. For the locations of the Christmas markets in Vienna, click HERE.
All around town, the streets were adorned with Christmas lights, decorations and Christmas trees. It was really stunning at night.
Beautiful street lights around the Historic Center of Vienna
If only Christmas was like this in Singapore! But it would be extremely expensive!
On the first night, we visited the Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz.
Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz
At this Christkindlmarkt, you will find over 150 stalls selling everything Christmassy. What makes it different is its setting, in the foreground of the Rathaus (City Hall), a beautiful and imposing Neo-Gothic building. Then there are the myriad of coloured lights that illuminate the market. Because I suck at night photography, I don’t think I managed to capture the beauty and ambience of the Christmas market. It is definitely a must-do when you’re in Vienna during Advent, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas. Vienna might convert you!
Of course, there is a lot of food available at the Christkindlmarkt. I was very attracted (as usual) to the sweet stuff and glühwein (mulled wine). The cakes and sweet treats were so beautifully made.
Austrian specialties – Sacher, Mozart & Apfelstrudel
Das Wiener Rathaus (City Hall)
We bought a slice of chocolate cake and a huge Krapfen (a.k.a a doughnut, or Berliner) for breakfast the next day. Peiwen and I also got a cup of mulled wine each, and walked back to Alex’s place slowly sipping (and spilling) the wine. How it works at Christmas markets is that you pay for the drinks with the price of the cup included. It is not a plastic cup, or any old cup, but a special one with drawings and little pictures that are 3D. When, and if you return the cup, you get a few Euros back. If you don’t, then you simply keep the cup. So yes, I did not steal the cup. It is a nice souvenir!
The next day, we visited Schloß Schönbrunn. I didn’t manage to visit the palace the last time I was in Vienna with Cindy, so my two friends happily (or reluctantly) agreed to follow me. We just visited the garden, because apparently, just seeing the palace building and the garden alone is good enough.
Christmas market at Schönbrunn
Initially constructed as a palatial hunting lodge by the Habsburgs, the palace was later used by the courts under Maria Theresia.
The name Schönbrunn means “beautiful well” – the well referring to a well where the courts got their water. The word schön was one of the first German words I learnt. Schönen Tag (good day), people! In 1918, with the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, ownership of Schönbrunn Palace was transferred to the newly founded Republic of Austria.
Alex is smiling!
We walked up the hill, through the gardens and caught an amazing view of Vienna from high up.
I had to Google the meaning of gloriette – “A gloriette is a building in a garden erected on a site that is elevated with respect to the surroundings”.
After Schönbrunn, we made our way back to town to get lunch. I think Alex was famished! We had a buffet lunch at some restaurant before heading back home to take a break. We considered going to the opera, but decided against it since no one was really too fond of it. Instead, we went out to get some veal to cook ourselves dinner. We were going to cook a typical Viennese dish – Wiener Schnitzel!
Alex’s Oma (grandma) gave him the recipe, so we set out to get the ingredients – some flour, meat, and lard to cook. I didn’t even know they sold that lard like that. It was packaged like butter and looked like petroleum jelly. Anyway, I did most of the cooking. 😛
I think it is an extremely easy recipe. There really isn’t any way to go wrong, unless you burn it. I thought this recipe was as close as it could get: Wiener Schnitzel recipe.
We cooked some rice to go, and garnished with it with lemon. It was really simple, yet delicious. Am I a fan of Wiener Schnitzel though? I don’t care much for it, but I would eat it if someone served it (I guess).
Our homemade Wiener Schnitzel
Thank you to Alex and his mum for making us feel so at home in Vienna!
Really awesome chocolate from Alex’s mum as our farewell gift
The three of us returned to Graz after our short trip together.
Back to school! On the train ride back, I was working hard on my German homework and studying hard for my exam. Fortunately, I had two German speakers to help me 🙂
Graz, Austria (Part 4) – Christmas Season in Graz
We ushered in the Christmas season in Graz with lots of mulled wine, Christmas markets, cookies and home-cooked dinners with friends.
A particularly interesting Austrian tradition is the Krampuslauf, which is a parade where (mostly intoxicated) men dress up in the most terrifying Krampus outfits and masks. The Krampus is the arch-nemesis of Saint Nicholas. According to Germanic folklore, they punish children who have misbehaved. During Krampuslauf, these masked-demons parade down the steets of towns and cities, scaring the living daylights out of people, both young and old, occasionally even hitting innocent bystanders. In Graz, it was pretty tame. I was honestly a little afraid, which was why I stood further back. However, Alex told us that in Lienz, Krampuslauf can quickly get out of hand, with participants ending up in the hospitals. An interesting watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcCwJL-1fUU
There are many Christmas markets all around the city. The main one is at Hauptplatz. After Krampuslauf, we climbed up Schloßberg to visit another. It was beautiful, more so than the one at Hauptplatz in my opinion. I bet it has something to do with the warm glow of the Christmas lights, the smell of waffles and the beautiful ornaments.
Weihnachtsmarkt on Schloßberg
Der Grazer Uhrturm
We used to host friends at our humble abode for dinner quite often. It was something we all looked forward to and really enjoyed. Cooking has never been so fun!
6 nationalities at dinner – Pakistani, Canadian, Mexican, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Austrian
What is Christmas without Christmas cookies? This was my first time being away from home during Christmas. Christmas is a big thing in my family. We put up the Christmas tree, we give and receive presents, we bake cookies and we have dinner together. It is truly my favourite holiday! I thought I wouldn’t get homemade cookies, but I did!
Kathi’s mum sent some over, and they were delicious, every single one of them! Look how pretty they are!
Another Christmas treat I got for myself – Milka chocolates in Saint Nicholas and Krampus form!
Us, crazy people, wandering down Herrengasse
Herrengasse with Christmas lights
Everyone dreams of a white Christmas. Snow came pretty late, but I was so happy to see beautiful snow in Graz before I left. I woke up one day, and found that my balcony and the chair I had left outside were covered in snow.
Snow in Graz
On our last day of German lessons, the whole class met at the Christmas market on Hauptplatz for drinks.
My German class
Have I ever mentioned that I did pretty well in German class? I really wanted to continue in Singapore, but the classes here are so expensive. I just love the language!
I forced Alex to smile, with teeth this time.
Surprise Lebkuchenherzen from Julie
Julie surprised me with this in my mail. I was so happy, I hung it up at my study table and Instagrammed it immediately!
Frohes Fest everybody (3 months in advance)! Am I the only one who can’t wait for Christmas? 🙂
DJ Visits – Graz, Austria (Part 3)
Dj and I had planned to visit Italy together – Venice, Florence and Rome. However, due to time constraints, we had to cut out one city, and we chose to cut Florence from our itinerary. Of course, I regret, especially after reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. But first, Dj visited me in Graz for a couple of days. I was proud to show off the little place I called home!
I picked Dj up at Graz Hauptbahnhof, and we went out for a quick walk around town before we had dinner with my friends. Home-cooked dinners with my friends is the one thing I think I miss most about being in Graz.
We bought groceries and headed home to cook. I was going to make paella, but I couldn’t get a lot of the ingredients. So I settled on Mexican rice, or rather, my version of Mexican rice that I cooked up with completely no recipe. It was pretty good though, if I do say so myself.
Tim and Patrick showed off their baking skills with homemade Apfelstrudel!
Apfelstrudel (apple strudel)
Us, Asians, at dinner (including Alex)
Next morning, we headed out early to explore Graz. I had been saving some places to visit for when Dj visited, so it was a new experience for me too.
Love locks on Mursteg
That very night was the opening of the Christkindlmarkt at Hauptplatz. The enormous Weihnachtsbaum was already up for quite some time, and I was anxiously anticipating my first official Christkindlmarkt!
The huge Christmas tree at Hauptplatz
Little wooden stalls were already open in the day, selling all sorts of food, drinks, ornaments, souvenirs and other handmade items. Everything just looked really pretty. It was a pity that the weather was so terrible that day.
Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) at Hauptplatz
Walking down Herrengasse, we decided to stop for a slice of Sachertorte at Café Sacher. Although Dj had been to Vienna, he didn’t get to try it. And although I am not the biggest fan of it, I would still recommend it, just for the sake of it being Viennese. HAH. Anyway, the slice we got this time was much more moist than the one I had with my mum when I just arrived. Strange.
Happy girl with her Sachertorte
I’d visited the Landeszeughaus twice before this – once with my mum and another time with my Global Business Programme class. The Landeszeughaus (or the Styrian Armoury), and is home to the world’s largest collection (32,000 pieces) of historic weapons and armour. Somehow, I’m extremely intrigued by all these medieval weapons and armour. The guided tour is free and the tour guides that I got on my visits were all excellent.
The armour and suits carried and worn by the army back in the days were big, bulky and heavy. Also, the men were prone to heat strokes because the suits would absorb so much heat. Almost every suit we saw was unique, as the suits on display were tailor made for each person. Apparently, the larger the tummy area, the more wealthy and high ranking that guy probably was!
Some of the masks also had engravings such as moustaches and smiles. These were meant to scare the enemy as they met their doom. I find them cute though.
There was also armour for the horses. This was meant for jousting. It was the grandest piece on display. Very intimidating.
After the armoury, we headed back towards Lendplatz for lunch. Dj loves mushroom soup and I had to let him try the best.
Mushroom & polenta soup
This time, they used different mushrooms, but it was still as yummy. And in the chilly weather, it was just perfect!
After a late afternoon nap, we headed out again in the evening to catch the Christmas lights around town, and also to climb the Schloßberg to get a night view of the city. It would be my first time being up there at night.
There’s something really nice about being in a city that isn’t bustling with with tourists. You can be at such beautiful places and not feel claustrophobic.
It was off to dinner with Clement and our buddies, before we all headed to the Christkindlmarkt for the first time! We went for supposedly the best burgers in town at B.EAT.
Burger with Cajun fries – Indeed, delicious
Clement and his chicken wings (and beer)
We met many schoolmates there at the Christmas market at Hauptplatz. The heavy drizzle did nothing to faze us.
We had Glühwein (mulled wine) and also some Punsch (punch) which had these amazing hot, bursting berries mulled along with spices. The alcohol really made me feel warm despite the cold weather and drizzle. After some drinks and mingling, we went back home for some good night’s sleep.
The next morning, I brought Dj to my favourite café – Tribeka, for the best chai latte.
We walked towards the biggest farmers’ market in Graz at Kaiser Josef Platz. We stopped by my favourite bakery – Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax on the way to have my all-time favourite pastry, Topfentaschen and also a fruit tart for the boy.
Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax
God only knows why I don’t have a single decent photo of Topfentaschen. Sigh. I had to screenshot this from my Instagram account.
In the vicinity of the farmers’ market is the Graz Opera. Some of my friends managed to get cheap tickets for the opera, but I didn’t go because I was out of town then. A pity, watching an opera still unchecked from my bucket list.
Farmers’ market at Kaiser Josef Platz
Evangelische Heilandskirche (Lutheran Church of the Redeemer)
This farmers’ market is about three to four times the size as the one at Lendplatz. Fresh produce, breads, cakes, condiments, you name it, they got it. Also, as it was the Christmas season, they were selling Christmas cookies, ornaments and trees.
From the farmers’ market, we walked to the church that I saw in the distance from the top of Schloßberg. The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the largest church in Graz, and also the tallest building in Graz (I think).
Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)
A question to ponder
On the way home, we entered the Graz Cathedral (Dompfarre Graz). Emperor Frederick III built the church with his new residence in Graz. He was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 to 1493.
The beautiful altar and pulpit
That marked in the end of Dj’s short visit to Graz. I only wished the weather was better. It would’ve made things much more enjoyable. Off we go… to Venezia!
Die Buschenshank – Graz, Austria (Part 2)
A big part of Styrian tradition is the Buschenshank. A buschenshank is a wine tavern where only food (cold) which is produced by themselves is allowed to be served. This includes wine, bread, cheese and cured meat. I learnt about the buschenshank in my Austrian culture class, and I really wanted to visit one. Fortunately, my buddy arranged for us to experience this wonderful tradition, and I enjoyed every second of it.
On the outskirts of Graz is the Buschenshank Sattler. When we got off the bus, I was delighted to see how beautiful and serene the Graz countryside is. There were cows roaming on the field just outside the buschenshank.
It was all Stürm season. Stürm was my welcome drink from my room mate. Stürm actually means storm auf Deutsch (surprise surprise). It is a young wine, and the alcohol percentage is about 4% typically. It is sweet like grape juice as the sugars have yet to be broken down by fermentation. Honestly, it tastes like dessert wine, but a little more carbonated. It is, by far, my favourite alcohol. But beware. Many have been known to be drunk fast because you might forget that it is actually alcohol you’re drinking! I miss Stürm!
White wine, water and Stürm
What they typically serve at the buschenschank is something called the Brettljause – a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and garnishes served on a wooden platter.
We also got some bread (Brot) to accompany the meat and cheeses, and also the various spreads that was served. I can’t say I’m too found of some of the spreads, especially the white one in the middle – it’s pure fat. But overall, it was a delicious meal with great company!
Finally, for dessert, we had Gebackene Mäuse which translates to “baked mice”. I don’t know why it’s called “baked mice” and not fried mice. It is a deep fried yeasted fritter, like the zeppole, or beignets. Anyway, they are delicious!
The Taiwanese guys, Alex, Clement, me, Julie and her friends
Clement and Julie
We left as the sun was about to go down, and it was one of the most beautiful days I had in Graz. Thank you, Julie, for sharing this experience with us! I hope we get another chance to go to a buschenschank again someday! ❤
Graz, Austria (Part 1)
Rewind to when I first arrived in Graz.
My buddy, Kathi, picked me up at Graz Hauptbahnhof. I had three massive suitcases to get off the train all by myself. Worse still, I had fallen asleep after crying my eyes out (saying goodbye to my boyfriend), and had less than a minute to get everything down. Kathi brought me to my hostel, which was just a few stops by bus from the station, and got me settled in. When I got there, I was alone at home for a while, before my room mates from Moldova came home. I went to the supermarket after putting the sheets on the bed and unpacking my clothes to get groceries and toiletries for myself. The apartment I lived in was really great. Though it cost €350 per month (Austria is expensive), bed linen is provided, it is inclusive of cleaning once a week, there is a fully-equipped kitchen, a toilet (male and female separate) and a bathroom (shared) and a laundry room in the building as well. I initially opted for the hostel just beside my school, Greenbox, as it was the cheapest and most convenient. However, it was no longer available because I was procrastinating as I looked for a private apartment somewhere else. The only place left with vacancies was Neubaugasse, where they had reserved some space for those who got the Ernst Mach Grant. And yes, I got the Ernst Mach Grant. This grant really saved me a lot of money in Graz.
The next day, my mum arrived in Graz. She was afraid that I’d go hungry there, and was worried about me settling in. But when she got there, she stopped worrying, because Graz is awesome.
Graz is the second largest city in Austria after Vienna, and is the capital of the federal state of Styria. It is also a World Cultural Heritage Site, and was named the Culture Capital of Europe in 2003. The city has long been known for its student population, with over 44,000 students in its 6 universities – this out of a population of 303,731.
Beside my apartment building is a square, Lendplatz. Every morning, a farmers’ market opens there. I was in heaven. Really cheap, fresh, organic produce just a stone’s throw away.
Farmers’ market at Lendplatz
My mum got a bag of plums and asked for the price. She was shocked to hear it was only €2.
After perusing the farmers’ market, we went for brunch at a restaurant just across the road.
1/2 fried spring chicken in a crust of pumpkin seeds, served in a basket
Gardener’s salad with sliced grilled turkey, and Styrian pumpkin oil
This is how I got fat in Graz. The bread there is so cheap and so yummy. The one at the bottom left is called Kaisersemmel, better known as Kaiser rolls. I would be eating lots of Kaisersemmel in the months to come.
At brunch, we also noticed that there are hell lot of bees in Graz, but they aren’t aggressive (towards us). In fact, the birds are more aggressive. Throughout brunch, these tiny little birds kept watching us, and waited for us to stop touching our food before they actually tore up pieces of our fried chicken and flew away.
My mum and I walked around town for quite some time. We crossed over from the “bad” side, to the “good” side, across the River Mur.
By the river, on the “bad” side, is this odd-looking building. It is actually a museum – Grazer Kunsthaus. It is affectionately known as the “Friendly Alien”.
It took me a couple of months until I would actually step foot into the Kunsthaus. I honestly think it’s ugly but adorable. So yes, it’s cute.
The River Mur and the Murinsel
The Murinsel is a “floating café” on the River Mur, which is held by an anchor and stabilised by the bridges that link the two sides of the city. It is also a spectacle at night, when the Murinsel is up in lights against the dark waters.
Crossing the river, I caught sight of the landmark of Graz – the Uhrturm (Clock Tower) on Schloßberg (Castle Hill). No where in Graz is there a better view of the city as on the top of Schloßberg. Mummy and I didn’t go up, because she didn’t want to climb up the stairs with me. It took me about a month in Graz before I would see the Uhrturm up close.
Schloßberg and the Uhrturm, sitting pretty
Another way to get to the top of the Schloßberg is to take the glass cabin lift (Adults: €1.10, Students : €0.60). The lift is built into the very hill. I never took the lift though – I love the challenge of climbing. Another alternative is to the Schloßbergbahn, a funicular. Once again, never took it, though it was free with my student transport pass that I got.
Just beyond the Schloßberg was the main street – Herrengasse. This is where you get almost everything you would need – clothes, electronics, groceries, restaurants etc. It was one of the things I really enjoyed during my time in Graz, walking down Herrengasse, especially during the Christmas season when the streets were decorated and the main square, Hauptplatz, had the biggest Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) I’ve ever seen, and when the Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) was up!
The cables that go across are for the trams. They are ubiquitous around many countries in Europe. I love trams!
Rathaus (City Hall)
After some walking, we decided to stop by the Café Sacher along Herrengasse to grab a slice of the famous Sachertorte. This was my first time trying it, and I was so excited. The Sachertorte is kind of the national cake of Austria, and originates from Vienna, the capital. It is a chocolate layer cake with apricot jam and chocolate icing. The original Sachertorte is said to be from Café Sacher, but there was a legal dispute over the use of label “The Original” between the café and Demel Bakery, where Eduard Sacher (son of the inventor, Franz Sacher) perfected the current recipe. Well, now we know who won that battle.
Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel
Mummy and I ordered a slice of Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), which is also a Viennese specialty. I was a little underwhelmed by the Sachertorte. The cake itself was a little dry. Overall, the taste was ok, but I felt like it didn’t live up to the hype. It was just another chocolate cake. We also felt that we could bake a better one anytime. The apple strudel, too, was a little disappointing. The apple was too tart. But I did like the pastry; I prefer it to the Ritz apple strudel pastry we get here in Singapore.
Mummy decided to get something really sinful for me – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate liqueur, while she got a raspberry fizz for herself. This was probably the best thing we had there at the café. Coffee in Austria is excellent.
Luegg Haus – spot the faces
One of the most striking buildings in Graz is the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II – a Habsburg tomb. I really love the beautiful turquoise domes and the statues that stand on top.
A quick coffee break
In Austria, there are a thousand ways to order coffee. If you ask for ice coffee, this is what you get. My mum and I were shocked. But it was fantastic. Coffee with whipped cream and ice cream. How can I complain?
For dinner, we headed back towards Lendplatz. Mummy was staying at Mercure, a hotel just in front of my hostel. We decided to try out Gasthaus Lendplatzl. We had a delightful waiter attend to us, a young man who was working there part time to earn money for his law studies. We asked for recommendations for something spicy, and he said the turkey stew was a good choice.
Spicy turkey stew served with vegetable sauce and rice
I think their idea of spicy is paprika. It was not spicy, but it was sooooooo delicious!
Mushroom and polenta soup
I ordered the mushroom and polenta soup for myself. This was, by far, the best mushroom soup I ever had in my entire life. It was creamy, chock full of mushrooms, including expensive chanterelles, and the polenta was perfectly cooked and uhhhhmazing. I still crave for this from time to time!
We retired early to get some work done, and also for me to start transferring stuff from my Macbook Pro to my new Macbook Air that Mummy had brought over. My Macbook Pro started giving me problems since I got to Poland the first time. I was so worried that I couldn’t get the important things backed up before the laptop crashed for good.
The next morning (Sunday), my mum and I went out for breakfast. We walked everywhere, but everything was closed! Typical.
We walked into the first café we saw that was open, which happened to be a Martin Auer. They sell amazing bread and pastries there. I used to go there pretty often just to get the local pastries!
Poppy seed crown
This was the first time having poppy seed and it was surprisingly good!
Nusskrone (Nut crown), sandwiches, mini Kugelhopf, honey-cinnamon swirl bun
The Nusskrone became my second favourite pastry in Graz, the first being Topfentaschen (quark cheese purses). The cinnamon mixture with walnuts is divine.
Since everything was closed, Mummy and I just headed to the supermarket to buy some groceries for me before she left. I was in supermarket-heaven when I entered the Spar, which is probably the best supermarket chain there. We bought a ton of stuff for me to stock up the fridge with. I was so happy because a lot of the things that are expensive in Singapore is really affordable there! Shocking, but true.
The last thing my mum and I really did together while she was there for just three days was have dinner at Gasthaus Lendplatzl again. We really enjoyed the food there, and so, we decided to go back there again for dinner. I had goulash again, but the highlight of the meal was the wonderful dessert that we ordered.
It was a pancake filled with crushed pumpkin seeds, and served with a caramel sauce and sweetened whipped cream. Both of us were really impressed by this. We thought about recreating this, but as of this moment, we have not!
The next morning, I had to attend my first day of orientation at FH, and my mum was also due to leave Graz. It was a pity she was only in Graz for such a short amount of time. She really loved the cool weather there; I would be wearing a sweater and she would be feeling completely alright with just one thin layer on. I hope we get to go back someday. I know I would love to.
I waited for until I could finally meet with Cindy to visit Vienna. Ivy had hinted that she wanted us to visit Vienna together, and as best friends, we very willingly went along with it.
Vienna, or Wien, is the capital of Austria. The city has a rich history as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is, till today, one of the richest cities in the whole of Europe. Known as the City of Music, famous for its operas, palaces, Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte, I quickly found out that there was more to Vienna than just that.
I arrived in the night, and was jumped on from behind by Miss Gwee. We were both crying and laughing hysterically, totally elated to finally reunite after over 2 months or so. You must understand that we are “neighbours”, and live just a few minutes away from each other. We also used to see each other so often. Naturally, I missed her so. I’m sure she missed me too.
The next morning, we did what we do best – walk.
St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)
St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)
Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)
Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
We decided to visit the Kaiserappartements where the Imperial Treasury (Kaiserliche Schatzkammer) and Sisi Museum can be found.
I really enjoyed looking through the thousands of jewels and pieces of gold-adorned treasures such as plates, cutlery, candle holders and china. Just imagine, the excesses!
Photos were not allowed in the Sisi Museum, but it was worth the visit as well. Empress Sisi is definitely one of the most interesting characters in the Habsburg Dynasty, and maybe even in history. Definitely read about her!
We bought some chocolates at the gift store at the end of the audio tour, and just chilled outside the Hofburg, people-watching.
In true Cindy and Maddie fashion, we continued walking
We crossed the park and lo and behold, another grand building!
The Parliament Building is located along Ringstraße, a famous boulevard in Vienna. Tripadvisor recommends taking the Ring Tram to explore Ringstraße – the Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, City Hall and other sights.
Just beside the Parliament is Vienna’s City Hall, or Rathaus. I would say that this is my favourite building in Vienna. It is beautiful, majestic even, in the night.
Rathaus (City Hall)
We were in Vienna in November, before the Christmas season (Weihnachtszeit) began. They were in the process of setting up the world-famous Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt). I knew I had to return to Vienna again to visit the Christmas Market, and I did! But that’s for next time!
Tired and famished, we headed back to the area around Stephansplatz to look for some food. We came across a decent looking restaurant and decided to give it a shot. I ordered some beef goulash with spätzle – a very hearty and comforting meal for the chilly weather.
Beef goulash with spätzle
The next morning, we decided to do the free walking tour which started at our hostel – Wombat’s City Hostel – The Naschmarkt. Wombat’s is a really good chain of hostels and it can be found in various countries around Europe. I would highly recommend Wombat’s. Always affordable, clean, spacious, safe, and the staff are always very friendly and sociable. Definitely value-for-money. Seeing Cindy and I cry and hug each other on the first day, the receptionist might have thought that we were lesbian partners reunited, but we got extra free drinks each for being so emotional.
Our first stop was to the Naschmarkt, which the hostel is named after. Naschmarkt translates to: a market for eating tidbits, and that’s exactly what they sold here – snacks, small eats, fresh produce, bread etc.
Around Naschmarkt are many famous buildings designed by Otto Wagner, an Austrian architect and urban planner. Along the way, our tour guide showed us some of his pieces of art.
We were also introduced to the world-famous Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper).
Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)
We never did watch an opera, mainly because we simply had limited time in Vienna to do so. You are able to get cheap tickets before the shows, if you are willing to queue with other bargain hunters. I hear they go as cheap as 3 Euros for standing tickets. Well, maybe next time round!
Our tour guide
Our tour guide was really good. Lots of insights into Viennese life, recommendations and stories. She brought us to many of the places that Cindy and I had already visited, but this time, we had commentary to better understand the history of the places.
Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)
I would highly recommend this free walking tour. This lady was a great guide!
The last thing we did was to stop by Café Sacher – a must-do for all tourists! I had already tried the Sachertorte, a famous Viennese chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam, back in Graz, where they also have a branch. But I had to try the ORIGINAL, and also, wanted Cindy to try it too. We ordered a slice of Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and coffee.
Once again, I was slightly disappointed with the cake. Although a tad more moist than the one I had in Graz, I still found the Sachertorte very… unexceptional. The first thing that I told my mum when we had a slice was that we could certainly bake it better. However, for the sake of being all touristy and indulging in the history of Vienna, I’d still say go try it. The cake has an interesting story too. But order other things as well. The coffee there was superb.
We packed our stuff, and we were ready to leave for Prague. Vienna had been a relaxing trip for us both. The weather was fine, the city was safe and clean – as close to Singapore as you can get (in that sense), and the company – the best!
Innsbruck is the capital of Tyrol. Known for its winter sports, this picturesque city is surrounded by the mountains. The name, Innsbruck, means “bridge over the Inn”, which is the river that runs across the city. Stepping out of the train station, my jaw just dropped. Everywhere I looked, I saw the mountains, and as I’ve mentioned, I really fell in love with mountains when I was in Austria.
I was to meet Dj and his friend Shannon, who decided to cut their Prague trip short to come to Innsbruck. I hope they didn’t regret their decision, since they only got to stay in Prague for a day, while we had 2 days in Innsbruck.
I tried Couchsurfing for the second time, after such a wonderful experience in Salzburg. Our host, Max, didn’t have a big place but he, and his girlfriend, warmly welcomed us to their home.
On the way to Max’s place, we passed by the Triumphpforte, which was built in 1765 to mark the marriage of archduke Leopold and the spanish princess Maria Ludovica.
After settling in, the first thing we did was go straight for the mountains for a hike. Max brought us to Nordkette. We enjoyed a quiet hike. Max very kindly joined us though he said he hadn’t hiked in ages.
Somehow all my photos turned out like paintings. I guess the beauty of the place is simply surreal.
We didn’t make it to the top due to time constraints. I was a little disappointed, but the hike had been an enjoyable one with the most amazing views and the freshest air.
On the way down
We decided to walk around Innsbruck Altstadt (Old Town).
The colourful houses along the river
It was a short walk and decided to head back to Max’s place, as his girlfriend had made us a meal – delicious homemade Mexican fare.
That night, Max brought us out to have drinks at one of their favourite haunts to watch some football. Needless to say, the guys had their fun.
The next day, we decided to give Max a little break, and headed out on our own to the Old Town again.
Annasäule (Anna Column) along Maria-Theresien-Straße
The weather was much better the second day compared to the first, which allowed the colours of the houses to pop even more against the blue sky.
I have to say that Innsbruck was probably the most chill trip I had throughout exchange. We made no plans at all before going, relying on Max’s recommendations and our own feet to take us places.
After lots of walking, we stopped for coffee and dessert.
Kirschtorte – cherry cake/tart
Apfelstrudel – apple strudel with vanilla bean custard
Bienenstich Kuchen – bee sting cake
Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of the café anymore, but I think it is a prominent one along Maria-Theresien-Straße with outdoor seating. The desserts were excellent. They had the best Apfelstrudel I had in Austria, and the Bienenstich Kuchen – a German specialty, was my favourite of the lot. The crunchy almond top perfectly complemented the soft sponge cake and smooth cream in the middle. They definitely aren’t stingy with the cream. There was a thick layer of it. But no complaints here.
That night, we spent some time with Max and his friends at a bar, having drinks and chit chatting about our countries. I guess Singapore is infamous as a “fine city”.
On our very last day in Innsbruck, we woke up bright and early, packed and said goodbye to Max before heading to our final stop – Swarovski Kristallwelten (Swarovski Crystal Worlds). Before visiting Innsbruck, I hadn’t questioned the origins of the Swarovski brand. My friends highly recommended visiting the Crystal Worlds, and I would recommend it too!
Unfortunately, we had terrible weather that morning. It was wet and gloomy, and we had to rush for the bus at the Hauptbahnhof that would take us to Swarovski Kristallwelten.
When we arrived, it was raining even heavier, so I couldn’t take any photos of the beautiful outdoor of Kristallwelten. We were also carrying our big backpacks with us, and couldn’t afford to get our stuff wet, especially not my camera.
I was definitely not expecting what I saw inside. Crystals, everywhere, on the walls, on the floor, in all shapes and in all forms.
The most impressive was the Crystal Dome. It’s as though you are standing inside a giant crystal, watching the colourful lights refract off the mirrored surfaces.
The Crystal Dome
The museum is huge, and it takes you through many rooms, each showcasing different crystal pieces and telling different stories. Some of the displays are plain quirky, but I guess that makes the tour much more enjoyable.
At the end of the tour, you can purchase all sorts of crystals. Of course, most were beyond my price range.
I managed to buy a gift for my dear Cindy’s upcoming birthday, which I would be spending with her in Vienna. Nope, not the tiger, but a simple keychain with a letter “C”.
Once again, I said goodbye to Dj, not knowing when I’d see him again. But thank God traveling around Europe is so easy.
Goodbye, Innsbruck. I’ll be back someday for some skiing!
Salzburg is known as one of the most beautiful places in Austria. It is also known as the birthplace of that composer, Mozart. Heard of him? Oh, and also The Sound of Music – a childhood favourite!
This was my first trip with Peiwen, who invited me to join her and her friend Angela, from Taiwan.
I remember catching the train at about 6am that morning, after a night partying with the Erasmus students. I was completely exhausted, but stayed awake for the most of the train ride because the scenery on the way from Graz to Salzburg was just so beautiful. I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.
Peiwen and Angela picked me up from the train station, and brought me to our flat which we had found via Couchsurfing. We cut through Mirabell Palace and Gardens, with its baroque gardens which was featured in The Sound of Music.
After lunch with our host at a surprisingly good Asian buffet restaurant, we headed to St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, a pretty long bus ride from Salzburg Altstadt (Old Town).
St. Wolfgang is an idyllic market town which has a similar feel as Hallstatt.
The highlight of the trip to St. Wolfgang was Wolfgangsee. As with the name of the town, it is named after St. Wolfgang of Regensburg, who built the first church there by the lake.
The church was pretty creepy. I stepped in, and immediately out because I felt something. Have I mentioned, I believe I can feel the presence of ghosts pretty strongly?
We left as night fell, and it was awfully cold as we waited for the bus. My leather jacket just didn’t cut it.
The next day, we woke up early to take a trip to Eisriesenwelt – the world’s largest natural limestone ice cave, which is situated in Werfen, about 40km away from Salzburg.
We were lucky to be in Salzburg at that time, as the cave was just about to be closed in a couple of days for the winter. It was such an amazing experience! Definitely the highlight of my trip to Salzburg.
Getting to the cable car that brings us closer to the cave can be quite a journey. From the Werfen train station, there is a van which shuttles passengers to the ticketing office, which is a distance up the mountain. Then, with the ticket, you then take the cable car until you are 1586m up the mountain.
Once you get off the cable car, it is an arduous climb up the mountain to the mouth of the cave. However, the view makes it far less painful. This was the first time I truly fell in love with mountains. I was just in awe. The view is spectacular and the colours in fall are just so vibrant.
At the entrance of the cave, we waited for the English tour to start. We were each handed a lamp with a small fire to light our way through the ice cave. Entering the cave, a huge gust of wind is expected due to the difference in temperature between the inside and the outside. My lamp had to be relit again. That rush of cold wind nearly blew my beanie off.
No photographs are allowed inside the cave, and they are really strict about this. Peiwen snuck a few, but I shall not post them here. The ice formations, such as the stalagmites and stalactites in the cave are really amazing. The total length of the cave is over 40km, and the one hour tour involves climbing lots of stairs in zero degree temperature. Needless to say, bring your gloves, wear thick socks and the appropriate clothing when visiting.
After the tour, we saw a few other tourists taking photos on a bench which sits precariously on the side of the mountain. No way we were going to miss this awesome photo opportunity!
Getting off, I almost fell to my death. The photographer kindly snapped that exact moment for me. Also photographed – Peiwen laughing at me. Thanks.
We left Werfen for Salzburg Altstadt.
Mozart is pretty much a big deal in Salzburg. You can find Mozart’s geburtshaus (birthplace) and wohnhaus (residence).
We went for dinner at Stieglkeller. The restaurant is quite famous in Salzburg, and offers delicious Austrian cuisine and beer. It also has outdoor terraces which offer an amazing view of the Old Town. Otherwise, you may choose to sit indoors in their elaborately decorated halls.
I ordered the Salzburger Fiakergulasch mit Semmelknödel, Spiegelei, Grillwürstel & Gurkerl (traditional beef goulash with dumplings, fried egg & grilled sausage). At just €12, it was totally worth it. My only complaint would be that it was too salty. But then again, I don’t usually add salt to anything. I survived my entire exchange without buying salt or sugar!
Dom zu Salzburg (Salzburg Cathedral)
After dinner, we took a walk up Hohensalzburg Festung (fortress), which is located on a hill above the city.
The view of the city is really spectacular. My photo does no justice.
To end the day, we decided to indulge in some traditional Salzburg desserts at Café Mozart. We ordered the Salzburger Nockerl, which is a soufflé-like dessert that is a specialty of the city. It is always made fresh, so our dessert took about 15 minutes to arrive, but it was worth it. It was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. Under the golden dumplings is a berry compote.
We also ordered Topfenstrudel mit heißen Himbeeren (Topfen strudel with hot raspberry sauce). Topfen, or quark, is a soft cheese that I fell in love with when I got to Graz. It also happens to be healthy (if not sweetened) and is a good source of protein!
Topfenstrudel mit heißen Himbeeren
The desserts and the service at Café Mozart is great! We had a good chat with some of the waiters there, and even took a photo with one!
The next day, we visited another place where The Sound of Music was filmed – Schloss Leopoldskron. The route to the castle was extremely scenic. As usual, the Festung is visible from a distance, as it sits pretty above the town.
It was a great stroll to start the day.
Next, we headed to Schloss Hellbrunn. Peiwen had previously visited the palace, so Angela and I went in. She didn’t want to spoil the surprise of this magical place, but when I found out it was known for its Wasserspiele (trick fountains), I pretty much expected that I wouldn’t come out dry.
Once the summer palace of the Archbishops of Salzburg, the palace and its gardens were largely used for celebrations. Markus Sittikus, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, was a man with a sense of humour. He built the trick fountains to play practical tricks on his guests.
Steintheater (Stone Theater)
Needless to say, I did not volunteer for anything.
Throughout the tour, I was repeatedly caught off-guard by sprinklers that suddenly came to life from the least expected of places.
Sometimes, you just have no choice but to walk through such paths (as pictured above). This one was my favourite. But I shan’t spoil the surprise!
Schloss Hellbrunn is definitely a place for family and friends to have a good laugh. And also to laugh at complete strangers.
Within the compound, there is also a zoo. However, coming from Singapore, I thought it wouldn’t be worth it to pay it a visit, considering it will take a lot to beat the Singapore Zoo! We decided to climb a small hill to take a panoramic look of the palace grounds instead.
After Schloss Hellbrunn, we headed back to the Old Town to have some food at another popular café – Café Tomaselli, which is a traditional Viennese coffee house, and the oldest in Salzburg. The café itself is over a hundred years old, having acquired another that was opened in 1705. It is also said that Mozart used to have his almond milk here.
The waitress goes around with a cart of cakes to choose from. I chose the chocolate and marroni torte, and we also had Apfelstrudel and Eszterházy torta. All were scrumptious!
Chocolate and marroni torte
Eszterházy torta – Vanilla cream, cinnamon and walnut cake
The café also offers fragrant Viennese coffee and so many other variants I never heard about until I got to Austria. They really love their coffee!
After coffee and cakes, we set out to find the original Mozartkugel, which is a chocolate bonbon that was created by the Salzburg confectioner, Paul Fürst, in the 1800s. However, since the confectionery Fürst does not own a trademark for Mozartkugeln, there are numerous imitations out there, such as the gold ones you find everywhere. DO NOT BUY THOSE. Please, please look for Fürst if you are in Salzburg. Even though pretty pricey, I highly recommend giving it a try. As a true chocolate-lover, it receives my stamp of approval.
die Original Salzburger Mozartkugeln from Cafe-Konditorei Fürst
The difference between the quality of the chocolate and marzipan is obvious. Think Godiva versus Hershey’s. The original Mozartkugeln has a chocolate-hazelnut nougat creme core with a small piece of marzipan, and is coated in dark chocolate. Two thumbs up! So, go for the silver, not gold!
We continued to walk around the Old Town, and looked for the famous Bosna. Yes, more eating! Bosna is like the Austrian version of the hot dog bun.
We ordered the original, which has onion, parsley and curry powder sprinkled on top. It was delicious, but I think the Americans win this time.
Salzburg is truly an amazing city, and remains one of my most memorable trips. I would definitely return again if I had the chance. I got to see beautiful architecture, savour the traditional foods of the city, see the best nature has to offer and most importantly, got to know more about the history of Salzburg.
Until we meet again.