Category: Travel Tips

Tirolian Fairytales – Photo Essay

Tirol is a ridiculous place. I’m talking fairytale ridiculous, with mountains, beautiful lakes, quaint villages and the relaxed pace of the countryside. I always feel like I’ve stepped into a Grimm Brothers tale when I visit.

UntitledPicturesque sunsets in Autumn

UntitledGorgeous village homes

UntitledEven the cemeteries are stunning

 The fairytale aspect is only enhanced whenever we spend time with the Misters family. His grandparents live in a traditional farmhouse. It was built by hand, there’s a burbling creek out the back with fish, a cow for your morning milk next door and a field backing onto the forest. I could not make it more stereotypically fairytale-esque if I tried.

But, like all great fairytales, there’s a flip-side. A terrifying, traditional, devilish flip-side.

UntitledThese guys will haunt your dreams

They go by the name of ‘Krampus‘ or ‘Perchten’ (depending on your regionality.) They are truly horrible but put on the most spectacular show each year to serve a warning to naughty kids on the 5th of December.

UntitledDo not mess with them

While St Nikolaus is said to brings nuts, treats and chocolates to children who are well behaved on the 6th of December, Krampus is the scary devil who kidnaps naughty children from their families by throwing them into a coal sack and taking them to hell*. When they march into the village in their gigantic traditional masks, hand woven costumes and booming drums, while the fire pit burns in the village centre, you can almost believe you are back in fairytale-times and the devils will steal you away!

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UntitledThis lot weren’t taking any chances – keeping a safe distance

For the real impact though, you need to hear the drums, smell the smoke and have your heart skip a beat when a smaller teufel comes past and covers your face in black coal dust. The video below will give you a taste, but to really understand the fairytales of Tirol, you might just have to see for yourself….

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*History nerd note – This is the colloquial version of events as told by locals in bars, on the village streets and when trying to terrify an Auslander like me!

Our Italian Roadtrip

Italy in the summertime is about as close to a picture perfect holiday as you can get. Beautiful people, ancient ruins, tasty gelato and beaches of bronzed bodies, all of them talking with big hand gestures and oozing European cool. Wine, antipasto and long lazy evenings are the order of the day.

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Life is always this fantastic in Italy – breadsticks, wine and beautiful people

As a last-minute birthday surprise in August, we headed to the Venezia region with two close friends, planning to indulge in some wine tasting, stroll the Piazzas of Venice and live the bella vita – what could be easier?

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Ready to conquer Italian living

Turns out, everything. Everything could have been easier. We chose one of the wettest summers on record (according to our chatty cab driver) to visit. We ended up driving laps of the highway entrance to Venice. We lost €100 buying a single slice of Pizza.We got stuck in traffic trying to find Jesolo. We spent 1.5 hours on a local bus because we left it too late to get the direct connection to our hotel. We managed to visit Venice on possibly the greyest day I’ve ever seen there.

View of clouds from Bridge of SighsView from the Bridge of Sighs with storm clouds approaching

And every disastrous minute of it was wonderful.

They say travelling is a true test of a relationship, whether that be with your partner or your friends. I’ve seen some pretty epic bust-ups over my years of working in travel, especially when people are tired, hungry, confused and frustrated. All 4 of us were at one point suffering from a combination of those emotions, but managed to make it back to Vienna having not killed each other, which was a minor miracle.

The weekend started well:

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Roadtrip selfies! Whoo!

The itinerary was Vienna – Padua – Venice. Padua was the exciting part for me, mostly because I’d never been, plus it appealed to my inner Shakespeare nerd (The Taming of the Shrew was set in Padua, I guess I was hoping for a theatrical bout of witty banter in the city square?). The icing on my nerdy cake was that Padua boasts the second largest city square in Europe and who can resist an architectural wonder? Not I. The square was so big in fact that I couldn’t fit it all in one photo:

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Untitled It was pretty damn impressive as far as giant city squares go

Padova was classically Italian and beautiful. We even managed to find a favourite restaurant and time our visit with their epic fireworks display for the Festa di Ferragosta*. Although we got a bit lost at some points, we spent most of the afternoon discovering picturesque squares, attempting to speak Italian, taking the occasional ridiculous selfies and eating. Oh the eating.

Ridiculous Italian Dessert

This particular monstrosity could only exist in Italy as a legitimate dessert option

Day two was Venice discovery day and depending on your point of view, it was either an unmitigated disaster or an hilarious shambolic success. Despite losing €100, getting caught in the rain, killing my knees wearing stupid shoes and being frustrated by the fact that a group of 4 people on holiday take at least 15 minutes to make any kind of decision, I had a fantastic time.

St Marks Square

 Note ridiculous shoes, grey skies, the smudge of rain on camera lens…and us, blatantly ignoring it all.

I’d been to Venice so often as a tour guide that it was a delightful change to relax, go to the outlying islands and switch off my brain to meander like a tourist for once. Oh, and did I mention the wine and eating?

UntitledGelato eating in particular. This may be my favourite photo of all time. 

By Sunday we were ready to go home, having gorged ourselves on Italian life – I’m pretty sure my metabolism is not built for endless plates of pasta, bottomless wine glasses and prosciutto by the boatload. S had one last birthday surprise in store for me though. He talked us into a slight detour, which seemed like a disastrous decision when we were crawling through the Italian countryside, stuck behind campervans, geriatric Austrians and cars full of Italian families. The payoff was worth it though. After a 2.5 hour detour we arrived here:

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That my friends is a beach. An honest to god, sand in my toes, 35 degrees in the sunshine, salty ocean water beach. My Australian heart leapt at the site – it had been a long, long time between beach visits and it’s the one thing that Austria can’t offer me. Family can visit, friends can Skype but Austria just doesn’t have the long sandy salt-water beaches of Australia. Except for this particular Sunday – we found Jesolo beach in Italy. On this Sunday, with my close friends, it was just about damn perfect.

 IMG_1707The face of sheer joy, right beside the squint of a man without sunnies

*History nerd note: This festival allegedly began with Emperor Augusta from Roman times encouraging people to celebrate a ‘lazy summer break’ in reward for the hard work of harvesting agriculture. BONUS FACT in the Fascist era it was a 2 to 3 day holiday break where lower social classes could cheaply get access to the Italian mountains or seaside through Government organised trips. Nerd fact win!

Bali Tips – Nusa Lembongan

I’m jumping around a bit in my posts – I’ve been on so many little trips recently that I still need to fill you in on, from Venice, to Valencia, London, Oktoberfest and a few little side trips around Austria still to come – so I hope you’ll forgive the broken timelines. Despite all these wonderful little jaunts, my heart right now keeps returning to memories of Bali. Perhaps because the weather here in Vienna is turning grey and the daylight hours are getting shorter, or maybe because we’ve had enough distance from the after-effects of Bali-belly (yes, its real, and no, you don’t want the details). Whatever the reason my brain keeps skipping to snippets of our little paradise island and the incredible start to our summer break. So, to make my daydreams more useful, I thought I’d share a few insider tips for travelling to Bali, in particular, Nusa Lembongan.

I straight up loved Nusa Lembongan. It was the perfect mix of a small-scale touristy development and rough island escape, just off the east coast of the main island, between Bali & Lombok.

bali-mapThe teeny one beside Penida

Our main reason for visiting Bali was a wedding, so we had a lovely first week filled with family, cocktails, friends and celebrating on the mainland of Bali. However, after a week of Aussie-style partying and touristy resort-style holidaying in Legian we were ready for a change of gears, which Nusa Lembongan certainly delivered.

The easiest way to get there is via little local boats, as there’s a number of companies that run transfers direct from Sanur. We went with Scoot because the internetz assured us it was the most reliable and well priced cruise line, but we later found out any one of the 6 or so major operators would be cheaper and just as reliable. It can be a rough ride over if the weather is a little choppy, so if you’re not great with small boat transfers, brace yourself to look like this after a 45 minute ride:

Lembongan arrivalExcited-but-debating-whether-to-vomit-face

Arriving on the island felt like stepping back to how Bali might have been 20-odd years ago. Before the mega clubs, the Aussie influx and ‘investment properties boom’, before super-hotels and McDonalds and Starbucks and KFC and cheap surf-shops and Eat, Pray, Love tours. Nusa Lembongan is still a touristy spot, but I actually saw locals in the streets, grilling fish, working, riding mopeds and going about their daily lives that weren’t wholly focussed on servicing tourists. Speaking of streets – there’s one. Just one, single street. It consists wholly of broken up bitumen, gravel and dirt – suitable only for mopeds.

Nusa LembonganThe ‘main drag’ and best stretch of road on the entire island….peak hour traffic in action, obviously.

There’s also only one ATM on the whole island – which can cut out for days at a time depending on the power supply, so come to the island cashed up and make sure you have credit cards to pay at hotels and some restaurants. The warungs where locals eat will most definitely not have EFTPOS machines, but the bigger, regular restaurants will.

In terms of food there’s only really two restaurants I would wholeheartedly recommend:

Bali Hai Located on Mushroom Bay, right where a lot of day-transfer boats do drop-offs, this restaurant was connected to the Hai Tide Beach Resort and had reliably, deliciously good food. Toward our second week on the island both S and I were struggling with the delicate Bali-belly, so Bali Hai became one of our go-to restaurants, as we knew the food quality was good, nothing was going to make us sick(er) and most of all, the views were to die for. You are literally sat on the beach-front watching the waves roll in as the sun sets. It’s open seating so you can stroll up in your thongs (flip flops for you non-Aussies) straight from the beach and enjoy their excellent service and drinks list. There’s even little bean bags out the front on the sand so you can sit and relax in a group. I really enjoyed my steak here and the creme brûlée is excellent – but you could stay for the views alone…..

Sand and ocean are RIGHT THERE, behind the cute boy’s head

Sandy Beach Resort: This was our brunch lifesaver. I’m all about eating local and enjoying the culture of a place i’m visiting, but when it comes to brunch, all bets are off. Sandy Beach Resort has been designed exactly for the likes of me – a traveller who enjoys their home-style good coffee, likes to indulge in breakfasts and cannot pass up a beautiful beachfront seat. While dinner here is superb, it’s a lot pricier than anywhere else on the island. We tended to visit here in the mornings to mix up the monotony of our hotel brekkie. Sandy Bay is best when it’s near-to-empty, quiet and you can be guaranteed a table right on the sand to luxuriate over breakfast. The bliss of waking up early, jumping on a moped with your lover to enjoy a relaxed brunch overlooking the surf is as close to heaven as it gets for me. This place also hosts weddings and is jam packed at night – you’re best to book a table in advance. The restaurant will also organise a shuttle to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Otherwise the moped journey home in the dark can be treacherous!

Necessary Coffee

 We loved it over coffee in the morning….

Sunset angle

….and over cocktails at sunset

Which brings us to my final tip for Nusa Lembongan. Beware where you stay. Although looking at the map on Booking.com you will notice most hotels are situated on the main central strip of Jungut Batu Beach, do not stay there. You’ll be close to the sometimes-working ATM, but the hotels and restaurants and beachfront here are not great. They were some of the earliest built accommodations and the area is more designed for the serious surfers who want a cheap place to stay that’s super close to the surf breaks. If you want a proper island getaway resort, find a place in and around Mushroom Bay, Tamarind Beach or Dream Beach, all of which have very reasonably priced options. Or if you really want to get away from the world then there’s a few special places on the connected island of Nusa Cenigan – slightly further removed from the ‘town centre’ but completely idyllic and quiet. There’ll be more about my favourite beach there in a later post….

We stayed at the lovely Nanuk’s Beach Bungalows in traditional thatch-roof huts and enjoyed the extremely friendly staff (Jacob is the BEST) and laid-back atmosphere. Most accommodations will rent you out a moped to get around easily. For about €4 a day its an absolute must-do to explore the wilds of the tiny island and really feel like a local.

There’s a lot of reasons to visit Nusa Lembongan. For the cheesy photos, for the authentic Balinese atmosphere (even though tourism is clearly taking hold of the place) for the views, for the slower pace of daily life that forces you to relax, for the stories you’ll bring back. But mostly, you should go there to strong-arm your mister into taking freckle-faced selfies, to run around barefoot in a sarong all day and to feel completely young and free on the back of a moped, no matter what age you are.

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Eating around Melbourne

When on holiday, I always manage to eat way more food than usual. I’m not talking about eating to fuel your body, but eating as the main – and sometimes only – activity of the day. Serious food dedication. With nothing else pressing on the agenda, eating exotically can become the sole focus of holiday activities. A dangerous and delicious slippery slope! This was the unavoidable situation I found myself in when I travelled back home to Melbourne for a short visit late last year.

 

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S pondering his next meal choice…

Luckily, Melbourne has a massive foodie scene, and the restaurants you trip across down back alleys (literally) are usually gourmet delights. I could (and have) spent days trying out different cafe’s, brunch spots, hidden bars, hipster hangouts and lush restaurants. Food art is taken very, very seriously and the atmosphere of the restaurant is nearly as important as the food itself. So, what rocked my boat?? Read on…

Brunch Spots

I miss brunch. I yearn for poached eggs and wilted spinach on a sourdough toast when in Vienna. Brunch used to be my Sunday habit when I lived in Carlton. Meeting friends at a cosy cafe to debrief about the weekends shenanigans was our own kind of religion. What seemed like half of Melbourne would be doing the same. Naturally then, my first port of call on landing in town was catch up brunch:

Brunch O'clock

We went to the adorable and airy John Gorilla‘s to get my my poached egg craving  satisfied. Good service, great coffees and most importantly they allowed us to while away over two hours of catch up chats. Despite the place being near full, we weren’t hurried along or made to feel uncomfortable. Brilliant!

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Happy brunch fans

phwoar Brunch!

So thrilled to be eating good brunch!!

However my favourite brunch spot of the week has to go Annoying Brother on Nicholson Street. A short stroll from buzzy Lygon Street, this place was adorable, with great spins on classic brunch items, service was chatty and friendly but not too in your face. Their coffee was so great I had one pre and post meal and the smashed avocado with feta and a poached egg was scrumptious. Plus, look how cute this place is!!

Annoying Brother

They even speak my adopted language!

Main Meals

I was in town for my sisters birthday, so our family had multiple excuses to go out for meals all week. The first place we went was a surprisingly lush and high end Indian Restaurant, hidden (where else?) down an alleyway in central Melbourne. I vaugely remember the site used to be a nightclub, and walking down there you almost believe you’ll be entering a dingy bar.

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Melbourne’s famous alleyway street art

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Shoes hanging from what I hope are not electricity lines outside the restaurant!

Once you find Tonka, it is a surprisingly gorgeous open and airy restaurant looking over Flinders Street. Completely unexpected at the bottom of an alleyway! We were there for lunch so the place was soon filled with well dressed Melburnians enjoying the extraordinarily good food.

Tonka

The views before the mad lunch rush

This is not your average Indian curry and korma, this is beautifully infused, delicious and high quality Indian. An absolute highlight of the week. Service was impeccable, and the wine and cocktails were… well, lets just say our ‘lunch’ ended at 5pm, so we thoroughly enjoyed it all!!

fancy drinks

A very close second was the much hyped Meatball & Wine Bar. Located in the alley-adjacent Flinders Lane, this place was brilliant. Who knew such wonderful things could come of eating meatballs?? We wandered in late on a Thursday evening after a hearty day of touristy shopping and were lucky enough to land a table. Apparently the wait times here can get out of control in the evening. Walking in, the place felt more like a hot-spot bar than restaurant, with dim sexy lighting, couples flirting at bench tables and a party vibe throughout. Once the food came out though, all that trendy, edgy stuff was irrelevant because man, are those meatballs good!

Alleyway restaurant must-have;  artfully deconstructed brick walls. 

It’s very simple really – you choose your meatball type (beef, pork, chicken or veg), select the ‘bed’ you want it to rest on (potato mash, pasta, vegies) and the sauce you want drizzled on top. Voila! It’s that straightforward, and so so delicious. My mum  was telling people about her pesto mash potato for days and days afterwards. The extra fun part was the size and genius of their desserts. I can’t resist dessert – try as I might to be healthy – and I believe the Austrian love of sweet treats has only encouraged my weakness! Meatball & Wine bar did not disappoint on the dessert front, take a look at this delicious specimen:

Heaven. Or a heart attack. 

That, my friends, is heavenly home made ice cream sandwiched between two cookies. The best bit is, you construct sandwich the same way you construct your main meal. By choosing from six flavours of cookies and three flavours of ice cream to create the perfect dream dessert. I went for a lemon shortbread cookie on the bottom and chocolate cookie on top with classic vanilla ice cream in between.

It. Was. Incredible.

I wish I had photographic evidence of my joy but we were so caught up in the frenzy of eating such deliciousness that there was no time for photos. We headed home in an overstuffed, satisfied food coma…but not before I noticed the drinks special on offer at the Bar:

It seems the Aussies have discovered the Austrians favourite summer cocktail. Aperol Spritzers are a must have on any self respecting Austrian menu, and finding a venue in Melbourne that sold spritzer’s by the carafe gave me a little bit of hope that maybe my two homes aren’t so far apart after all. Malzheit!

Summers Day in Schönbrunn

If you happen to find yourself in Vienna during a summer heat wave, let me share a little insiders secret trail to heavenly relaxation.

First, take yourself to the famous Schönbrunn Palace and marvel at the resilience of tourists who insist on sightseeing in 36°C and beating desert heat.

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Its basically a desert wasteland – with a palace in the middle

Take a left away from the palace, away from the famous rose gardens and meander past the Marionette theatre until you reach these picturesque gates on the right hand side:

Schonbrunn Gates

Habsburg gardens don’t do understatement 

Pass through the gates and don’t be disheartened by the long, dry and dusty path ahead of you. The trees to the left and right will offer some slight relief from the heat.

Schonbrunn Walk

The snazzy Austrian man in green pants will definitely outpace you

If you stroll at a relaxed and steady pace for ten minutes, you’ll soon reach the following staircase, which may look insurmountable to your heat addled brain, but quite ordinary afterwards…

Stairs to Schonbrunner Bad

Your trek up the stairs will be rewarded with this magnificent view over the Egyptian Obelisk monument, the back of the palace and the simmering city skyline.

Monument View

Take your breather here and admire the view

At this point you will start to see children skipping and locals carrying what looks suspiciously like beach and bathing gear.

Strolling to the Bad

 Ignore the overly dedicated runner on the right, and follow the family with the swimming bag!

Suddenly, like a mirage (because who could imagine a swimming pool inside the palace grounds??) the Schönbrunner Bad will appear on your right hand side, and it will be a revelation.

A rolling hillside of green, a bright, clean and cooling pool, big enough for lap swimming, the occassional divebomb and lots of poolside lounging. Most importantly, it is cold and wet and so so soothing after your trek to get here.

Heavenly Pool

Simply pick your spot, splay your towel, and kick back for an afternoon of sunshine and relaxation. Of course because this is Austria, there’s options for activity available…

Beach Volleyball Court

 This particular round got very intense – volleyball is not for the faint of heart

 …but more exciting is the fact that you can order a drink from the on-site cafe and enjoy it while kicking back on the grass.

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A secret royal pool including drinks and summery vibes? I’ll take that option any day of the week!

An Aussie takes her Austrian abroad….

Travelling to Bali was always going to be interesting. From the very beginning my Australian understanding of Bali and the Germanic/Austrian version were completely unrelated. Bali always seemed to me like an awful cross between hippie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’  retreat and bogan party central. In Bali’s defense, I had years of being a travel agent in Melbourne to cultivate this blatantly unfair prejudice.

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 Julia has a lot to answer for….but can you blame her?

S on the other hand, was getting his version of Bali from German blogs, guidebooks and online forums. He assured me that Bali was a cultural paradise, filled with idyllic islands and delicious culinary delights. Although every blog told him to avoid Kuta beach and all the Australians there….bit too late for that now…

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 Can you spot the Austrian surrounded by Aussies?? He didn’t stand a chance!

Thankfully for both of us, Bali turned out to be paradise, we just had to know where to look….but more tips on where to stay in a later post.

On top of this divided understanding of Bali, it became clear that our individual ideas of what a ‘dream holiday’ entails were er, pretty different. Some may say extremely different! Austrians, as I’ve mentioned before, are super into exercise, fitness, movement and activity. They love a good walk. They love a good hike even more. A good long walk toward a mountain on which they can hike is pretty much heaven. Point being – this is an active culture.

schafbergHeavenly relaxation if you’re Austrian

S reliably informed me that at an Austrian holiday resort you’d find no end of beach volleyball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools for doing laps and of course, every Austrian would be up for 8am breakfast to make the most of their wonderfully healthy day. In my every day life I absolutely adore this attitude, it keeps everyone active into old age, but while on vacation??!!

My version of a holiday  is the chance to sleep in to a leisurely hour, enjoy a long breakfast then relax on a sun-lounger with a good book, trying to tan without getting completely sunburnt. This seemed pretty in-line with what many other Aussies had planned for their stay at Legian beach, with the added benefit of drinks being delivered to your sun-lounger at super cheap Balinese prices.

Australians on Holiday

 My family, flat out on holiday

Pool lounging

My perfect holiday view – note the nearby pool and sun lounger in shot

So, how do you take an Austrian abroad when we have these wildly opposing views on what a holiday should be? Our survival tactic was to mix an even balance of activities & island exploring with the required amount of sunbathing and book reading. So we did manage to venture out a little from the sunbed;

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 We snorkeled – the incredible fish & coral reef are sadly not in shot…

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 …we explored lookout points and rocky outcrops…

S riding on the horizon

…and we got to ride this badass scooter all around Nusa Lembongan like locals!

I think on balance my relaxing idea of a holiday perfectly suited the quiet island of Nusa Lembongan. Unfortunately for my Austrian mister, the places we stayed just didn’t have any facilities to play sports, or hike, or generally be extremely fit while on holiday. The takeaway lesson was that an Austrian abroad needs some pre-arranged activities, no matter how ridiculous that may seem to an Aussie. To really drive this point home, when we landed back at Vienna Airport, it was full of Austrian families heading for their Spanish resort holidays – and they were literally playing volleyball in the airport halls. Dedicated to fitness?? Damn right they are!

 

 

 

6 steps to Survive an Austrian Winter

We don’t do snowy winters in Melbourne. Its more like, windy, grey and maybe a low of 7 degrees celsius. Nothing so serious as a snowy Austrian winter. Although Vienna has been remarkably warm this year, its still a lot bloody colder than Australia. So, when my family came across for their first Austrian winter, I offered them the following survival tips:

1. Invest in a decent jacket

Critical decision at the start of winter – what will be your jacket of choice through these long, dark, icy months? My heart always wants to get something fashionable but my thin cold skin needs the most effective gear in the business. Last year S got me an unbeatable Dynafit jacket and I haven’t been cold since. Seriously I can ski in this thing, walk to work, wear only a t-shirt underneath and it still keeps me warm. I love it – but its not exactly high fashion. My family took the same approach – warmth was #1 priority over look!

Snowy Schönbrunn

I’m so cosy, I can frolic at the Gloriette!

2. Shoes will save you

A decent pair of warm boots will make or break your winter. You spend so much time trudging through slush, trying not to slip on ice or simply standing outside in the cold when you’re drinking Glüwein at the Christmas Markets, that a decent pair of shoes is essential. Ideally a warm, comfy, fur lined pair of knee-high boots will do the trick. Otherwise you’ll be wearing thick socks a lot, paired with soggy runners and probably be in a really really bad mood the whole winter!

3. Protect yourself

In the snow you need to protect your skin from the sun on those beautiful clear days. Sounds unlikely but trust me on this – sunburn from snow can be a surprise horror as the reflected glare from the white snowy ground hits your unprotected skin as much as the rays from above. Save yourself from the panda-eyes effect by using sunscreen on those gorgeous blue bird days.

4. Accessorize darling…

In Australia I thought winter was all about wearing lots of cozy layers and big thick jumpers and coats. Here, I’ve learnt that its the little things that make a huuuuge difference. Winter accessories are a must – you 100% cannot leave the house without a scarf, hat and gloves or you will freeze. The icy winter wind will sneak down your neck, your fingertips may turn purple and without a hat you can forget about ever feeling your earlobes again. The most shocking thing I saw over our Christmas break was an Irish lad skiing without gloves….I don’t know how his hands survived. Accessorize every day!

First night in Vienna

Mum and Dad luvin’ their hat investments…

5. Use the right products

S managed to terrify my mum into thinking her lips were going to freeze and fall off completely when he shared this particular tip, but it is an important one. In winter you need to use different moisturizers and lip balms than you would in summer. A lot of beauty products have water based ingredients, so if you use them in winter weather you will only dry out your skin/lips, causing more pain than you had in the first place. Apothekes here in Austria sell winter lip balm for about €4 so treat yourself to the right products. I promise your lips won’t fall off!

6. Get into the Spirit

Winter can be cold, grey and wet. Or, if you have the right attitude it can also be beautifully white, magical and the perfect time to develop new skills. This is my third winter in Austria and there’s at least 3 new skills I’ve developed in that time. My skiing has improved massively – only possible in winter. I’ve gained an excellent ability for choosing delicious Glüwein – only possible in winter. I’ve ice-skated outside a hilltop palace – only possible winter.

Ice skating at Wilhelmenberg

Ice-skating very carefully at Schloss Wilhemenberg

Overall a cold winter is what you make it – so embrace the many wonderful opportunities winter brings and enjoy it- no one ever had fun spending 3 months inside whining!

What’s your best survival tip for winter? I’m sure I’ve missed a few crucial ones so let me know your strategies in the comments.

Weekend in Wien…pt 2

So, you’ve had a taste of Schönbrunn Palace, a swim on top of the city and enjoyed the heights of Prater Park. If you missed it, check here.

Now for the seriously cultured side of Vienna.

Head first to the Museums Quartier, or MQ as it’s known to the locals. A hub of Museums surround an enclave of cafes and comfy hang out spots within a gorgeous courtyard. This place is always energetic and inspiring.

Official photography from MQ site http://www.mqw.at/de/presse/pressefotos/das-mq/

To fuel the next few hours of looking at art, its imperative to indulge in good coffee. I’m sure that’s why MQ has so many funky cafes, the better to fortify yourself for artistic discoveries!

Graceful Art Excitement

Artistic Prep time in the Leopold Cafe…good to go!!

The Leopold Museum is currently housing a magnificent exhibition of Schiele & Klimt, two big names of the Vienna Secession art movement. An artist friend of mine (http://sarahmasson.com.au/) was in town recently so it was the perfect excuse to finally check out the famous works.

Klimts art is pretty unavoidable in Vienna – he’s a hometown sensation, born and raised in the 14th District of Vienna. Consequently, all souvenir shops are plastered with cheap reproductions of his most famous paintings. 

Pretty sure he never envisioned his work on Tins of Tea

The exhibition in the Leopold is a fascinating exploration of Klimt & Schiele’s lives, well worth spending a few hours exploring. Personally,  the Schiele piece ‘Couple Embracing’ was my favourite, with Klimts  ‘Life and Death’ a close second.  If paintings aren’t your thing , MQ also has museums dedicated to Dance, Architecture, Musical Theatre, Modern Art and even a KinderMuseum for children.

After such a stretch of time inside, you’ll be in need of some sunshine & fresh air – head to the skies my friends. There is a wonderful rooftop cafe about 5 minutes walk from MQ where you can see across the entire Ringstrasse of Vienna. Dachboden comes with views over some of Vienna’s most famous monuments: the Natural & Art History Museums, the Rathaus, the spire of St Stephans, Hundertwassers’ Heating Tower, the WWII era Flak Towers

Dachboden

Stunning blue skies not guaranteed daily!

Rathaus ViewViews over the civilised intersections also included.

The bar itself is very comfy, lots of cosy couches, big communal benches, the terrace is glorious (if you can get a seat) and they serve excellent local cocktails – try the Kaiser Spritz or a Hugo!

Dachboden Terrace

The first of many family rooftop reunions – even Dad is stoked!

From here you can round out the cultural day with a wander into the city centre, known as the 1st District. Stop by the historical Hofburg Palace en route for the must-have photo opportunity. The Hofburg was the winter palace and seat of power for the Habsburg dynasty, and the modern day President of Austria still has his residence here. Its grand, imposing and still as stunning today as when the Kaiser was in power

Hofburg

Spot the symbol of Imperial Austria up top – the double headed Eagle holding a crown 

Maria Theresa

Maria Theresa – mother of modern Austria & Marie Antoinette – will give you her benediction on the way by

Then get up close with some statues, fountains and spectacular architecture in the 1st District

Chilled TritonTriton is looking a bit weary…

Hofburg Palace

...looking at this view all day must be exhausting for him… 

The 1st district is full of historical buildings, cobbled streets and ‘Fiaker’, the traditional horse & carriages of Vienna . Wandering up little alleys is the best way to find hidden treasure bookshops, cafe’s and artisan stores.  More about my favourite stops to come in a future post! Wrapping up your short weekend in Vienna with a leisurely stroll through the historical centre is the best way to soak up the spirit of a city hundreds of years in the making.

Staying longer in Wien? Then check out these suggested activities: Wachau Day Trip or Schloss Belvedere

Wiener Weekender

Some friends of mine were asking me about the best way to see Vienna as a tourist. How to find something ‘other than classical music and Schnitzel’.  Slightly outraged on my adopted city’s behalf, I replied that there is a huge variety to Vienna, you just need to know where to look! So, to prove the many wonders of this incredible city, I devised a plan for a  Weekend in Wien….

Right, it’s summer, you’ve had a long overnight journey and the last remaining days of sunshine are calling you to the water – but you’re traveling, you need see the city too! The perfect solution to this dilemma? Krapfenwaldbad:

Krapfenwaldbad

Beautiful people guaranteed to be in attendance

Krapfenwaldbad has incredible views over the city of Vienna, being perfectly placed near the top of the Kahlenberg Mountain. There are multiple swimming pools, the main one being nicely deep & cold for swimming . Don’t expect anyone to be doing laps though, this is serious ‘see and be seen’ territory for the young trendy locals. It’s also relaxed enough that you can while away the day in relative peace. There’s an on-site cafe & bar too, so any and all your chill out needs are attended to. Plus, did I mention the crazy awesome views?

DSC01473

Pool Views

That’s all of Vienna at your feet!

Ok, now that you’re relaxed after a day spent poolside, let the tourist activities begin! First, there’s some really excellent gardens to spend a morning roaming around….

Gloriette & Gardens

That little building up top is a Gloriette, where Emperor’s have breakfast – ‘cos being an Emperor is kickarse!

…which are conveniently attached to the glorious Schönbrunn Palace. Schönbrunn was the Habsburg’s Summer Palace, which, when you see the size of it, tells you just how awesome it was to be Royalty in the Golden Age. The best Apple Strudel & Iced coffee in Vienna can be had in the cafe to the left of the entrance – trust me I have done thorough research on this.

Once Schönbrunn has been conquered, you may find yourself in need of a drink, or just  a change of location for further drinks- based activities. The über cool Donaukanal is the perfect location. Wander down the canal steps from the city centre and you’ll find brilliant street art, a huge choice of bars, pop-up shacks selling different food & drink, all nestled beside the gorgeous Danube Canal.

Donaukanal

‘Beach’ Bars – bit different to beaches back home!!

Pineapple Street Art

Danube Street Art

Wicked street art along the Kanal paths

Once you’ve satisfied your inner hipster with a few riverside drinks, I’d round out the day at the the historic Prater Park. Prater is a huge nature reserve and set amongst this leafy gloriousness  is Vienna’s famous amusement park,  home to the worlds oldest Ferris Wheel, built in 1897:

DSC01537

With some slightly younger specimens in front of it.

The park itself has been set up with adults in mind as much as children.  Along with loads of awesome rides, there’s gigantic Beer Gardens to meet all your Beer & Pork Knuckle desires.  There’s also adult games like  Bowling, Mini-Golf, Clubs if you’re very keen  and terrifying rides for thrill seekers:

File:Prater Turm 01 .jpg

Fear. Pure and simple. 

That up there is the Prater Turm, which I absolutely refused to go on, right up until I was strapped in. It was at once terrifying and beautiful – at 117m, this is the world’s highest flying swing. The pay-off you get for braving it is stunning views over all of Vienna. It only gets nauseating on the way down, when, near the bottom, they speed up the pace of the chairs swinging in circles. But if you can stand that for 2 minutes, the view is well worth it!

Prater Turm

Super cute old fashioned token to ride!

After all that adrenelin, rounding out the day with a sugar hit is highly reccommended.

sugarrr

Fairy floss and chocolate fruit on a stick = heaven.

Exhausted yet?? Well stay tuned…part two of your awesome Weekend in Wien will be posted next!

Wachau Wine Weekend

It was mini-adventure time this weekend, so despite the weather being less than summery, we set out on a daytrip to explore the Wachau. What is Wachau I hear you cry? Well for starters, its this….

Only a big glorious beautiful area about an hour’s drive out of busy Vienna, completely hidden a little further down the Danube from the more famous Melk Abbey & Krems. I was gobsmacked. I know Austria is beautiful, but the countryside keeps hitting me in the face with just how stunning it is, right when I start taking it for granted…

Countryside in background, badly done selfie in foreground

We had a pretty little drive to get out there, through lots of cute little villages, even saw a few weddings en route – but the effects of recent flooding were still evident along the sides of the road.  The spot where we took the photo above would have been completely unerwater a few weeks ago. So to revive local tourism, S had a surprise in store for me, in the form of a Giant Castle!! I love castles! On top of A Mountain! Beside the Danube! Glorious!

Aggstein panorama

Lost the pointy bit on top, but you get the idea, no? CASTLE!!

Aggstein Castle is a big, reconstructed Fortress that was first built in 1350. Most of the roof has gone but a whole heap of the original rooms and castle walls remain. Its been really well restored and you can roam about freely to get a good feel of the place as it would have been in its heyday. Battlements, wells, cellar’s and original kitchen elements are all still there.

Huge stretch of castle to frolic in!

And if geeking out over historic details isn’t your thing, then the views alone are worth it!

Note adventuring Austrian’s paragliding in background

Peeking through a lookout point

We spent a good two hours here, wandering about, enjoying the views, pretending to be from Medieval times and, of course, snacking. Austrian style snacking which is…large:

yowze

Blurred photo and half demolished plate due to marauding hungry Austrian & Australian

The cafe restaurant is very traditional style Austrian, super homely and lots of wood. Because the weather was a bit scheisse we headed for a table indoors, where they had dellightful bay window seats and kitschy posters.

retro ad

cafe Aggstein

The manager/waitress revealed the upstairs area had been a hostel in the ’70’s. Can you imagine staying here as a backpacker for about ten bucks a night??!! Luxury!! I was tempted to request an overnight but S is yet to stay in a hostel (travel princess much??) so I thought this was maybe not the best induction one could ask for.

After conquering the castle our next mission was to cross to the other side of the Danube to the adorable village of Spitz. This proved harder than expected as the regular ferry was non operational after flooding. We had to loop around a bit but this took us past a few different kinds of street vendors selling fresh peaches, cherries and natürlich, schnapps.  I got to taste my first Steckerlfish, which was, hand on heart as a seafood lover, one of the freshest, tastiest best spiced fish I’ve had:

Taste’s better than it looks, I swear!!

We rounded out the day at a local Heuringer, which is like a winery but on a smaller scale, where you sit in someone’s home. Basically, for different periods of the wine season, local winemaker’s open up their backyards or courtyards as a place to drink and eat while tasting their produce. They only have a licence to selll their wine, no beer, spirits etc, and only cold food. Which, as you may have gathered by now is more than sufficient when Austrian Granny’s are making the snack plates!! We went to one owned by a friend’s family, and it felt like we were in Italian Wine country – stunning views, sunset, delicious cheap wine, and good chats with the locals

good cheap wine

                            I can never go back to Australian prices for wine….

spitz kiche

Spitz Kirche from Heuringer terrace

After whiling away 3 hours ‘tasting’ the beautiful wine the weather came in on us, but it had definitely been well worth braving it all day!

For those who want a visual on where we were, try this handy dandy map:

map wachau

If that doesn’t help you, stay tuned, because I think we’ll be headed back here soon, hopefully with friends in tow!!