Vienna – Austria

Europe Journey 2015 – Day 32 to 35vienna stamp-with-St-Stephen-s-Cathedral-and-the-word-Vienna-Austria-inside-Stock-Vectorvienna-austria_222

Day 32

We drove from Alpbach to Austria’s capital city Vienna that lies in the country’s east on the Danube River.

Day 33

Vienna austriaWe took the local tram to the heart of the city of Vienna and wandered the streets marvelling at the magesty of the historic buildings. Vienna’s Ringstrasse is 5.3 kilometers long and houses monumental buildings built during the period of Historicism in the 1860s to 1890s.

Day 34

Today we visited Schönbrunn Palace, a former Austrian empire summer residence. We wandered through the extensive gardens and saw some of the rooms of the 1,441-room Baroque palace. The decorative garden leads towards a 60-metre-high hill, which since 1775 has been crowned by a Gloriette structure. We walked to the top to see spectacular panoramic views of Vienna.

Day 35 – Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only institution in the world that has practiced for nearly 450 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the Haute Ecole.

When I was a teenager girls either liked boys, rock music, ballet or horses. For me it was horses. I read novels about them, plastered my walls with posters of them and watched movies and TV shows about them. I even owned a horse for four years. As I grew to adulthood I put my obsession with horses behind me and got on with establishing a career and raising a family.

One of the reasons we visited Vienna during our trip was to see a performance of the famous Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule). Seeing the performance was by far my highlight of this trip, or perhaps any other trip. Being in the Hofburg palace in the same arena as the majestic Lipizzan stallions and their riders sent joy through my body. I imagine people who love fine art or music would derive the same pleasure should they be in the presence of the artists. Watching the horses and riders harmoniously work together to classical music cast a magical spell over me and took my breath away. It was the pinnacle of horsemanship. All my teenage dreams came true, albeit 40 years later.

Later in the day we enjoyed a behind the scenes tour and saw the beautiful Lipizzan stallions in their stables. They were so calm and peaceful; I felt such a strong connection to them.


Alpbach, Austria

austriaEurope Journey 2015 – Day 28 to 31austria stamp2innsbruck



Day 28

Today we left Switzerlnd and arrived in Albach, Austria. Our GPS couldn’t find the address where we are staying so we asked some people in a cafe if they knew the place. They gave us verbal directions that we followed but ended up at the wrong place and asked them if they knew Gitti’s farm. They kindly said they would drive and we could follow them to the place we were staying. Eventually we found our cute authentic cottage, our home for four nights.

In Alpbach the grass is glossy green, the chalets are picture perfect and the smell of cows is in the air. It is approx 1,000m above sea level. Thanks to its homogenous architectural style and lovely floral decorations Alpbach is “Austria´s most beautiful village” and also “Europe´s most beautiful flower village”.

Day 29

Today we walked to a gondola to take us to the top of the mountain and we took a brisk Austrian walk for two hours in 0 degree temperature. The cold crisp air was exhilarating. Before coming down on the gondola we enjoyed a drink in a bar on top of the mountain.

Day 30
innsbruck austria 2 sun shone and the sky was blue so we drove to Innsbruck and ventured to the top of Mount Nordkette, which resembled what I imagine it would be like on the moon. This involved riding in three cable cars to get to the peak, definitely not recommended for people squeamish with heights. Later in the day we wandered in the old town of Innsbruck and then visited the Swarovski exhibition.

Day 31
Travelling for an extended time has its ups and downs, many parts are wonderful but it can also be stressful and tiring at times. Each time I travel I feel lucky to experience a few exceptional moments that make every trip worthwhile.  Usually they happen when I least expect them, which makes them even more special.

Today we went to an Austrian restaurant to hear live music. We hoped it would be traditional music but for all we knew it could have been a punk rock band, luckily it wasn’t. The first challenge was finding the place. After several wrong roads and u-turns on narrow streets we finally found the car park for the place, but there wasn’t a restaurant in sight. We noticed lots of people walking up a mountain and thought they were going for a morning walk. After wandering around the car park a few times we saw an arrow pointing up the mountain to the restaurant with 2km walk on the sign. We thought 2km isn’t far, no problem, but it was entirely uphill, so steep it took your breath away. So up and up and up we walked until we made it to the top to a traditional beer garden with huge wooden seats and benches overlooking the valley. We were the only tourists, which made it even better. The Austrians sure know how to enjoy themselves; the giant beers and schnapps were flowing. Turns out it was traditional Austrian music too. The sun shone, the drinks flowed, the music was great and everyone clapped, cheered and danced and had a fantastic time. The only problem was when it was over we had to walk down the hill again after many beers and wines and food. We took it slowly but we made it.


Vitznau, Switzerland

Europe Journey 2015 switzerland passport stamps
Day 25

vitznau rigiWhat a thrill it was to see Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) again rekindling happy memories of our visit last year. My heart swelled as the sun shone making the lake sparkle; I felt I was greeting a dear friend. After enjoying our brief bout of nostalgia we drove on to Vitznau, a small village on Lake Lucerne where we are staying for three nights. The snow topped green mountains dotted with traditional Swiss chalets left us in no doubt that we were back in Switzerland, what a lovely place to be.

We enjoyed dinner in a restaurant right on Lake Lucerne and watched a beautiful the superb sunset on the horizon.

Day 26

No visit to Vitznau would be complete without a boat cruise around the 38 km long Lake Lucerne with rugged mountains and picturesque villages to observe as the ship gracefully moves through the water. I felt at peace.

Day 27

lucerne switzerland222This was our last of a three day stay in Switzerland and we spent it exploring the wonderful city of Lucerne. We wandered the Altstadt (Old Town) and saw the 14th-century Museggmauer city walls,

Lucerne is known for its turreted buildings and covered bridges including the iconic Kapellbrücke. It has a huge fortress wall (Musegg wall) built in 1386 that we climbed to the top of and walked along to reveal spectacular views of the city.

I’ve always felt disappointed that I was unable to climb the Great Wall when I visited China, as my knee was quite bad then. Today I was very pleased to easily climb the steep steps to the top of the turret.

Day 28

The church bells are ringing to announce 9am and I’m feeling melancholy as I realise I leave Switzerland today probably for the last time in my life. I’ll always treasure memories of the mystical presence the Swiss lakes inspire, the rolling green hills with cows grazing while their bells gently tinkle and the beautiful traditional Swiss chalets shrouded by snow topped mountains.

Sarlat and Aix-les-bains, France

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Sarlat- Day 19

Sarlat FranceArrived in beautiful Sarlat, a medieval town representative of 14th century France located in the Perigord Noir region, a few kilometres from the Dordogne river. I’m fascinated by the fact that the buildings in the old town are up to 700 years old.

The area is well-known for ducks, every restaurant menu offers fois gras, duck gizzards and every other French inspired duck delicacy. On Saturdays the old part of town transforms into a market, which we enjoyed strolling around. We spend the afternoon exploring the intricate maze of narrow streets that branch off like rivers from The Rue de la Republique that runs the length of the old town.

Day 20

We took a short drive to Beynac and sailed on a restored riverboat on the Dordogne river. The sun was shining making the river sparkle.  Later we walked up a steep hill to see panoramic views of the beautiful valley and landscape.  Photos are wonderful but never show the intricate detail of the scenery nor the experience of having your breath taken away.

Day 21

Every French town has a monument bearing the names of the people who lost their lives in the wars. For much of my time in France I have been thinking about how the wars must have impacted on the everyday lives of French families. I wonder how people lived in their houses for six years facing the fears and burdens that wartime in your country brings. To me home is a sanctuary, a place to feel safe.  As we drive through towns I imagine how awful it must have been with husbands and sons away fighting in the war while worrying about soldiers invading your home.

aix-les-bain france2Aix-les-bains – Days 22-24

We spent our last three days in France in Aix-les-bains at the foot of the Alps. Unfortunately the weather was against us and we couldn’t appreciate all this town has to offer. Even though the weather was rainy and overcast we took a short trip on Lake Bourget and walked along the marina.


Bordeaux, France

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Day 16

Today we left our cottage in the Loire Valley and drove 4.5 hours to Bordeaux in southwestern France, our home for the next three nights. The weather is still cloudy with intermittent rain and we are hopeful it will soon brighten up. There is much to see in Bordeaux and we intend to experience as much as possible.

Day 17

Before coming to France I thought Bordeaux was a rural wine growing district but today I discovered how wrong I was. Bordeaux is an architecturally stunning city with unaltered buildings from the middle ages. When we arrived in the city we jumped on a sightseeing bus for a tour around the historic landmarks. We then walked around to see these amazing sites up close. There are many restaurants to choose from and we found the perfect one. Jenna had carrot soup followed by salmon and vegetables; Pierre chose steak and crème caramel. We encountered some language barriers trying to understand the menu and order so the people on the next table helped translate what we wanted to the waiter, (and they were Spanish) so the Spanish people translated our English to French for the waiter. Incredible. After a further four hours of walking and sightseeing we returned to our accommodation feeling exhausted but very appreciative for the opportunity to visit such a wonderful city.

Day 18

Even though the rain was pelting down again we stuck to our plan and drove to Arcachon, a seaside town about 50km away. Luckily the rain held eased for most of the day, except for one mad downpour, but the wind was strong and blustery. Arcachon has similarities to many seaside holiday destinations in Australia. The seaside is something we hadn’t considered as French. Before we came to France we associated it with; Paris (chic big city), vineyards, pretty rural villages, historical grand buildings and medieval townships. The seaside was a surprise addition to our knowledge of France.

We had a seafood lunch overlooking the ocean but the food was a bit disappointing. C’est la vie. Even with the gale force winds we ventured out on to the ocean in a boat for a two-hour trip that took us around the inlet, passed the oyster beds, seaside villas and the famous and largest white sand dunes of Europe, Great Dune of Pyla (white sand in Europe is unusual). We took the tour to find out more about the local area but as soon as the boat took off we realised the captain’s commentary was only in French.

Loire Valley, France

Europe Journey 2015 france


Day 13

We drove from Paris to St Clement, France and are staying in a typically French cottage bordering the Levée of the Loire River. It is a beautiful old stone two storey cottage furnished with a mixture of traditional French furniture and modern comfort. There are fruits and vegetables growing in the garden.

Day 14

Unfortunately the rain has returned and the sky is overcast again. We drove to Saumur and enjoyed a delightful lunch followed by a tour of a local winery. On my first long trip last year I was far more anxious and was expecting to feel homesick, but to my surprise this didn’t happen. However this trip sometimes I feel tired and homesick but I am sure this will pass.

Day 15

On our last day in the Loire Valley it remained cool and overcast. We visited the Rochemenier village of the Troglodytique. The village consists of 250 underground rooms, excavated out of the rock. It is fascinating. Everything in the village is manmade and dates back to the end of the 17th century.

Later on we visited the Château de Brézé, a small, dry-moated castle over a thousand years old. The current structure retains medieval elements including a drawbridge and 12th-century underground living and working areas.




Paris, France

Europe Journey 2015

Day 9

france paris stampSome days in your life are destined to be memorable for eternity and today was one of those days. The sky was blue and clear when we awoke and a predicted weather forecast of 24 degrees celsius made us smile after the cloudy, rainy skies we’ve seen so far on our trip.

paris-landmark-lettering-set-vintage-hand-drawn-doodle-sketchy-french-words-good-travel-hello-notre-277130300Before coming to Paris I had preconceived ideas it might be seedy, dangerous and dirty but today I discovered this was untrue. The sheer size and presence of the Eiffel Tower was breathtaking. You felt like you had to keep looking at it to believe your own eyes. A relaxed atmosphere surrounded the streets. People lay on the grass around the Eifel Tower enjoying the sunshine and the view of the famous Paris icon. We all enjoyed the day without imposing on each other’s space. It was a completely different experience to the frenetic tourist hysteria we encountered last year when visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.
The Arc de Triomphe  built in 1805 to honour those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is an equally stunning structure. It is located at the top of the Champs Elysees, a boulevard 1.9 kilometres long and 70 metres wide. Later in the afternoon we walked to the impressive gold domed Hotel de Invalides, a hospital and the burial place of Napoleon.

Day 10

Like yesterday we set out in the brilliant sunshine and travelled to the city via the metro system. We went to Montmartre, the art district located up a steep hill that reaches a height of about 130 meters located in the north of Paris. Although a bit touristy we saw artists painting and musicians playing in the busy streets. At the bottom of the hill stands Le Moulin Rouge, a famous cabaret dance theatre located in the sleazy end of town. The price to see a show with dinner is 199 euros ($300 Australian dollars each), a bit too pricy for us so we declined to do this.

Later we visited Notre-Dame Cathedral followed by an enjoyable one-hour river cruise on the Seine taking in the sights of all the beautiful historic buildings. To conclude our day in the city we sat in and had a relaxing drink in a bar on the street.

The only down side about Paris for me is travelling on the Metro because I get a little anxious about being underground and the implied threat of any incidents. However it is the most efficient way to get to the many interesting districts of Paris. It is incredible how large the city of Paris is. The city itself is divided into 20 arrondissements (areas), each with their own style and identity, that spiral out from the center in the shape of a snail.

I love the old buildings, the boulevards and the millions of apartments all similar in Parisian style with lots of large leafy trees lining the streets. Not a skyscraper in sight, although there are some taller buildings in the heart of the business city area.

Day 11

Although leg-weary from our trips to Paris during the past two days we once again took the Metro back to the city. This time we visited the Louvre located on the right bank of the Seine, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century. The building structure is imposing and you have to pinch yourself to believe you are standing there. Unfortunately a visit to the Louvre is on the ‘must see’ list for EVERY tourist making the inside the museum  crowded with people whose main objective is to get a photo in front of the exhibits. I couldn’t enjoy or appreciate the artworks as I became distracted with loud overbearing tourists pushing and shoving. We did get to see the Mona Lisa but the clambering of tourists trying to get a photo of it marred the experience. C’est la vie.

Later we explored the Latin Quarter situated on the left bank of the Seine, around the Sorbonne. It has a lively street atmosphere with many café’s. We enjoyed a lovely lunch, the best so far on our trip.

We strolled to the Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Garden, created in 1612. This exquisite garden covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, the model sailboats on its circular basin, and for the picturesque Medici Fountain. It was wonderful to stroll through the perfectly kept gardens and soak in the atmosphere of Parisians enjoying the open space and sunshine. We even got to hear lovely French music by a group of musicians playing in the rotunda. It was one of those surreal moments in my life where I felt I was lucky being part of something so simple yet so special.

Our four days in Paris have been outstanding and I’m sure we will remember them with great fondness forever.

arc_de_triomphe vintage-postcard-eiffel-tower-paris-france-31710099 ParisPostcard1