Monday, August 29, 2016

Off to Budapest! The journey continues...Day 5, May 30, 2016

Today Alex and I leave Salzburg for Budapest! Our river cruise will be departing from there, so that's our next stop! We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and our driver, Michael, was right on time. He picked us up at 9 am, and we had about a 5 hour drive to go. We thought about taking a train, but decided that by the time we took taxis from the hotel to the train station, took the train, and then another taxi from the train station to our hotel in Budapest, that door to door service of a driver would work out much better. Especially since we had luggage with us! 

It was a cloudy and somewhat rainy morning, so spending it in the car was just as well! Our driver was great. He talked just enough. He told us some great history and interesting stories about his life growing up in Czechoslovakia before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He told us about life under communist rule and how times were different when you couldn't just drive from one country to the other. Crossing the border from Hungary to Austria could cost you your life! 

We stopped at a couple of rest stops and and lookout stops. Again, some beautiful views, even in the rain!


The five hour drive went quickly, and we arrived in Budapest before we knew it! Michael dropped us off at our hotel and off we went...Alex and I got settled in and went to the restaurant in the hotel for lunch. We noticed right away that Hungarian food was definitely different from the food we had just gotten used to in Austria!  But we both found something we liked.  I had spaetzel with sausage and he had a meat and cheese platter.  Both were delicious. We enjoyed our lunch as the rain was pouring down outside!

We went back to our room for a few minutes to let the rain stop - this hotel was quite lovely.  It was a brand new Ritz Carlton. 

And before we knew it, the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day!  We went outside and wandered around a bit. We were a bit overwhelmed coming from quaint Salzburg to this hustle and bustle.  Budapest definitely is a big city and we were in the thick of it!  This is a fountain in a park right across from our hotel.

We found the Big Bus Hop on Hop off and decided that would be the best way to jump in and see just what this city has to offer! 

We were able to do about half of the loop before the bus was done for the day.  These are some of the sights we got to see!

This is the Royal's now home to the National Library, National Gallery and History Museum. It was the first Royal Residence on Castle Hill built in the 13th Century.

This is the Chain Bridge, the first permanent stone bridge connecting Pest and Buda.  The legend is that the lions do not have tongues, but in fact they do....however, they can only be seen from above.

This is the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill. It was erected in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary of Nazi forces in 1947. It commemorates those who sacrificed their lives.

We'll have more pictures of this spot later, but this is the Fisherman's Bastion. 

Our first real good glimpse of the Parliament Building.  It is the world's third largest Parliament Building, and it's really just beautiful!

Some more views from the bus ride...

We got back to our hotel, and it was at this point in our trip, that Alex and I met up with our two fellow travelers! We would be sharing our river cruise experience with my friend, Alycen and her mom.  They had spent their pre-cruise days in Vienna and arrived in Budapest today as well. It was pretty exciting to see one another and get to share this experience!  So, we got back to the hotel and finally got together! 

It was about time for dinner by now, so off we went...We found a place not too far from our hotel and managed to find something that we all would eat. Alex and I realized that Hungarian food may be a bit out of our comfort zone. But we were good with Goulash, meat and cheese, things such as that. I ordered a goulash dish, but the waiter seemed to think I should try something else. I think I would have preferred the goulash, as Alycen's mom got that and it was much better than mine! In the end, everything was good, and Alycen even got to help cook!

That's quite a pepper mill isn't it?

Some more wonderful spices!

Our hotel at night...

After dinner we took Alycen's mom, Katie, back to the hotel and then the three of us went down to the river for an evening cruise on the Danube. Here are a few pictures as we walked down to the river.

The cruise took us up the river and back so we could see all of the buildings all lit up at night.  It was very pretty!

After the boat ride, we walked back to the hotel...and off to bed. It was a long, long day! But we definitely got a feel for this very eclectic city! We have a busy day planned for tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

One last day in Salzburg before moving on! Day 4, May 29th!

Today was our last day in Salzburg before we moved on to our next destination...we were getting closer to boarding our river cruise, but still had some sightseeing to do here! 

We started the day by heading back into the Old Town, crossing over the Locks Bridge...

Our next stop was another one that we could use from our Salzburg Card, Mozart's Birthplace!

Another museum where other than in the entrance, no photos were allowed, so here is the kitchen....

And a view from one of the hallways

And that's about all you get to see!  But this was a pretty interesting museum. This one had much more about Mozart's life and his original compositions and letters as well as his instruments.  It was really very fascinating! 

Afterward we walked through town a bit and did some souvenir shopping

Then we made our way back over to the other side of the bridge for our afternoon tour!

This afternoon we were going on a tour to Hallstatt, in the Lakes and Mountains region. Hallstatt is Austria's oldest and we're told, also Austria's most photographed villages, surrounded by the Dachstein mountains and located along the Salzkammergut Lake Region. As we waited for our bus, a little lunch break! Instead of hot dog stands, it was more like a brat stand!

We drove through the picturesque countryside, although it was fairly overcast...and we didn't have any photo stops along the way.  When we arrived, we had a few options. We could take the funicular up to the top of the mountain for the spectacular views, or head right into the tiny town. We went up to the mountain top! Hallstatt was inhabited as early as 800-400 BC in the iron age, and is therefore considered the oldest, still-inhabited village in Europe! It is also one of the salt mining towns in Austria and you could visit the more than 250 year old salt caves here, which are similar to the ones we visited in Hallein.  Hallstatt is also a World Heritage UNESCO site.  So, off the bus we went and we started heading to the funicular!

This was going to be a tall one!

Some information about what's up at the top!

The view was just beautiful.  

That down there is the tiny town of Hallstatt, or most of it anyway!  It's said you can walk it in 10 minutes...I think yo can!

We had a nice overlook, picture spot here!

Then after taking our pictures up top, and enjoying the view, we went down to the town and browsed around and enjoyed the picturesque little town!

We really enjoyed visiting this town.  We would have liked for it to have been a full day tour though.  It did feel a bit rushed. The guide kept telling us all of the things we could have done, but that we wouldn't have time - we could do the boat ride on the lake, but we didn't have time.  We could go up to the top of the mountain, but then we didn't have time to visit the "bone church".  We could go to the salt mines, but we'd miss the bus. Of course we had already seen salt mines, but it would have been nice to see the other exhibits up there.  It seemed to me that a full day tour here rather than a short half day tour would be nice, given that it took as much time to drive there and back as we actually spent there.  But we were glad that we went and we liked the visit!

And before leaving Salzburg, and Austria for now, here are just a few pictures of our hotel!  The Wolf-Dietrich

And we'd find that these "fancy" ducks were everywhere in Austria, Hungary and Germany....but here, they were special Mozart ducks. And our lobby had their very own display!

Tomorrow we would be moving on to Budapest.  Alex and I absolutely loved our time in Salzburg. It was a perfect choice for us! A great combination of history, nature and adventure. We were looking forward to the next leg of our journey!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Our 3rd day continues! May 28, 2016

After finishing up at the Hellbrunn Palace, we continued on to the Salzburg Zoo.  This was at the same stop we got off of our Hop on Hop off Bus, and also one of the admissions we could use with our Salzburg Card! 

By looking at the map at the entrance, the zoo didn't seem to be very large, but once we started walking through, it just kept on going! It was a big, full blown zoo!  It was very nice and many of the animals exhibits were built into the side of a mountain giving them quite a large, natural area to roam around in. Below are just some of the many, many pictures of some of the animals that were there!

There were some animals you wouldn't necessarily expect to see at a zoo, including a cute little mouse, in his mouse house!  

There were some field mice too in there little field grass exhibit

And a very cool insect exhibit too!

I'm not sure I've ever seen guinea pigs at a zoo, but these guys seemed pretty happy to be there!

The setting for this zoo was unbelievably beautiful!

This guy was just begging us to take his picture!

And while it's hard to pick a favorite, because all of these animals are just adorable, these little red pandas are a real hit!

We spent about 3 hours at the zoo, and between our time there and the palace we thoroughly enjoyed our day!  We caught the bus back to Salzburg and had a fantastic pizza dinner.  Afterwards we stopped at a little grocery store for some water and candy for Alex. 

Another successful day in Austria!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Trick Fountains! What a Way to Cool Off! - Day 3 con't 5/28/16

Continuing on the Hop on Hop off Bus tour, the next stop we had on our list to visit was the Hellbrunn Palace. We weren't really sure what this would be all about, but I kept reading descriptions of trick fountains and who doesn't want to see trick fountains right?  We arrived, and purchased our tickets and on the outside, everything looked like pretty much your everyday far as palaces go!

We had a bit of time before our tour began so we walked around the park area a bit. We came across yet another Sound of Music bit of history!

Look familiar? 

After walking around the park a bit, it was time for our tour...we walked back up the drive to the Palace towards the entrance.

We went into the courtyard area with our group and walked back into the grounds of the Palace.  We realized then, that the tour would be of the outside areas of the palace.

I think the Hellbrunn Palace website explains it best, Hellbrunn Palace is 

"The passion of Markus Sittikus. Imagine a man who is simultaneously a prince and an archbishop; a man of power with a wealth of gold and salt. His name: Markus Sittikus. His vision: to create such a place that had never previously existed. The power of Markus Sittikus reached far beyond Salzburg. He ruled a region from Carinthia in the south to Regensburg in the north. But why did he have Hellbrunn built in only three years…? Well, it was simply his love of life. You can still feel this passion today: Hellbrunn is more than a summer palace with a park and the unique Trick fountains – Hellbrunn is a love of life.

In 1613 prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus assigned the construction of Hellbrunn. His vision: to create a place that is beyond believe. The palace,  the extensive park and even the Trick fountains of Hellbrunn are a gorgeous jewel on the outskirts of Salzburg.

This was not a residence but a place for celebrations, a location for summer fun and recuperation. This spirit can be felt now just as much as 400 years ago: Whether you stroll through the expansive park or get a tour of the Trick fountains.

Visitors to Hellbrunn are drawn particularly by the Trick fountains. They can enjoy the water automats, grottoes, fountains and other water-operated tricks – nothing else in the world can match their forms and variety.  One thing is certain: all guests can look forward to a refreshing, fun experience for young and old. The water sprays from all spouts and tubes, it trickles and ripples – and sometimes it even gets someone wet. Surprises are guaranteed!"

So, first thing, we all sit down behind this table and our guide tells us how Markus Sittikus would invite his guests over and have them sit at this table and when they'd all be sitting there, the fountains would turn on and they'd get soaked.  What fun for them!  Then fountains came on everywhere!  You can see them around the sides and coming out of the chairs.  This guy had quite the sense of humor...we wondered what would be next!

Then we started walking along the pathway towards the palace

We went inside and found the decor to be quite interesting, at least in this section!

Yes, it does look like a cave...

We went outside and lookout!

You just never know what's going to come out of a deer nose or antlers!

Then all along this little stream were these little figurines. The water automats they're called. They are powered by the stream, and they're a bit interesting as well!

Next is a mechanical theater with over 200 water driven figures that move to the beat of an organ piece, also driven by the end, the guests watching it are surprised by some more water.  You'd think it was going to come from the theater but it catches you off guard coming from an unexpected source. Which I'm not giving away in case anyone makes their way there!

This thing was huge - you can get a better idea here with the people in front of it

Next we went into a room called the Grottos

This water rose up from the floor with this cone on top...

and of course to exit the Grotto....

Alex and I had a blast here.  It was a hot day and the fountains were cool, and very unexpected. You never knew where one would pop up. It was a totally unique place! Outside of the tour area was the garden area and we spent some time walking around. The grounds were beautiful! Many people were just sitting there enjoying it or picnicking.

So far, we were very happy we had hopped off at this stop! And there was still much more to see here!...