Here we are sitting at Munich airport, having checked in and waiting for boarding. We’ve had another excellent day except for the last hour crossing Munich at rush hour with major road works, several km of stop start and crowded five lane autobahns with traffic travelling at up to 120km/h.
Our first stop was just over the German border at Mittenwald, a real picture postcard alpine village where we had a walk, visited a church, had a coffee and managed a sketch. Sounds much like the rest of our holiday doesn’t it, except that each place is different.
We used “Tim” to keep us off the autobahn and stopped at a couple of charming lakeside towns. The first one was Kochel, a quiet place where we had a walk around the lake and nearer Munich we had a long walk following a tourist map recommended walk around Starnberg which was very enjoyable and featured another church, a small castle and a pizza in a cafe at the lakeside.
Paulette and I have had a couple of good days since I last posted, and as we fly out of Munich tomorrow evening this may be my last post, although I might get a final one written if I find time and a wifi connection at the airport.
Leaving Salzburg yesterday morning we stopped in Berchtesgaden (back in Germany briefly) for a wander around this attractive alpine town. We then went to Konigsee, a very beautiful alpine lake which has very steep mountains descending into it. The tops of the mountains still have a little snow. We had a good walk to the lake past 500 metres of souvenir and food shops. At the lake there are around twenty boat houses built out into the lake so the tourist boats each have their own garage.
Back in Austria we drove over a highish pass through lovely alpine scenery to St Johann in Tirol. It was warm so we travelled with the roof of our convertible down. Over the mandatory coffee I sketched the church above. Our route then took us, mostly on the autobahn, to Innsbruck where we found our Gasthaus high above the city near a ski area, although the town is only a ten minutes drive away for dinner.
Back in Innsbruck today we spent our time exploring in a very relaxed fashion. Another coffee and a good chat with some Aussies who are having a longer holiday than us. They are traveling by rail with a eurail pass and we discussed the pros and cons of rail v car and decided that the jury was still out. However the 14.7 euro ($22NZ) we paid for parking today might sway the argument.
We visited two more churches, the Hofkirche contains the tomb built for Emperor Maximilian in around 1500. It took over 100 years to finish and is guarded by a dozen,or so, giant bronze statues of kings Maximilian considered his ancestors. Albrecht Durer worked on some of the statues and, interestingly one is of King Arthur.
Later we took a modern funicular railway part way up the mountain but I did not try to persuade Paulette to go up higher on the cable car.
Yesterday was, I think, the biggest drive of our whole trip. I was a bit apprehensive about driving out of Vienna, but it turned out to be pretty straight forward, the route was easy and, perhaps because it was Saturday morning, the traffic was light. Because of the distance we took the autobahn and had decided to stop in the pretty town of Enns, on the way we had another dramatic thunderstorm with rain so heavy that it slowed the traffic to below 70km/h. Our stop in Enns was only successful in that we found a nice cafe for lunch but the rain prevented us getting much of a look at the place.
The situation in Salzburg was much the same, we stayed in our hotel room until the rain eased then took a bus to town but before long it was raining heavily so we headed back quite early. We’d seen enough to know that Salzburg is a nice place, but went to bed feeling that it had been a wasted day.
Today, however, was a complete contrast, the rain threatened at times but never set in and we really enjoyed the city. We walked up to the Hohensalzburg castle (a considerable climb) and found it to be really lovely, a real medieval fortress with steep, winding access and many arched gates which could easily have been defended. It stands high on a steep hill above the town but is large enough to enclose several courtyards, one with an ancient church. I managed another drawing which includes a tower, I think many of my sketches from this trip look the same.
For a complete change this afternoon, we took a “Sound of Music” tour along with heaps of English speakers, many with an obsession with the movie. We had great fun visiting the sites where the film was made and singing along to the songs. Our guide was quite mad but made it enjoyable for everyone. The highlight for me was a visit to the lakeside town of Mondsee, a real Austrian alpine town, so clean and manicured it almost felt like a giant theme park.
Salzburg and environs are really beautiful with magnificent buildings everywhere all surrounded by mountains and with a fast flowing river flowing through the centre.
Well, with us, it is not so much of a waltz as a slow amble, but whatever we’ve been on our feet a lot over the last two days. However that’s been the norm for much of our holiday so we are very much used to it.
Having avoided cathedrals and palaces for a couple of days yesterday we managed one of each and we walked through the grounds of a second palace. Schonbrunn palace was the summer home of the Habsburg family and Emperor Frans Joseph’s palace before WW1. The fact that the household numbered fifteen hundred suggests that it might be quite large and it certainly is. It’s construction was intended to match the magnificence of Versailles, and there are similarities, but although it may not be quite quite as grand it is really awesome with very extensive grounds, lovely formal gardens and the house has around 1400 rooms. We bought the cheapest tour tickets which allowed us access to twenty five of those rooms focussing on the state rooms used by Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth known as Sisi. Sisi has almost mythical status in Austria, she was apparently a beauty and, sadly was assassinated while still comparatively young. The most impressive room we visited was the grand gallery a long hall with large windows on one side and matching mirrors on the other, decorated in white with bulk gilding.
After our tour we walked, and rested in the gardens, climbing the hill to the Gloriette, a building with several arches which face the palace from the top of the hill about a kilometre away. There are grand fountains, the largest of which has a waterfall about fifty metres long with horses and riders rising from the water.
Later we visited Stephens Dom cathedral in the centre of the city which rates with the most beautiful we’ve seen, took a tram ride around the towns inner ring (road), walked through the grounds of the Hofburg palace and managed a sketch near the home of the Spanish Riding School.
Over the course of our holiday we seem to have been pursued by a couple of artists. I posted a photo of Tracey Emin’s infamous bed from the Tate Britain and we had run into some of her drawings somewhere else. In Cesky Krumlov I’d read that famous Austrian artist Egon Schiele had lived there briefly before being kicked out by townsfolk outraged that he’d been paying young girls to pose as nude models for him. Today they came together during our visit to the Leopoldo Museum. Schiele, a very talented artist, was obsessed with the erotic and must have been very controversial in the early twentieth century. Nonetheless his drawings are extraordinarily evocative and his larger paintings very powerful. Tracey Emin was very much inspired by Schiele and much of her recent work on show is even more sexually explicit. I wonder whether the motive of both artists was/is to shock.
Our visit to the Leopoldo Museum was primarily to see some of Gustav Klimpt’s work and I enjoyed his early work and the two or three of his works in the style for which he is best known, but the quantity and possibly quality of Schiele’s work on show overpowered it.
After a walk to the Rathaus (gothic town hall) we decided to catch a train to see the famous giant Ferris wheel which was built in the 1890’s and when we got there we found a vast modern funfair. The giant wheel was a forerunner of the London Eye and although perhaps only half the diameter still offered great views over the city. Paulette surprised me, and herself, by coming with me on the wheel and although she did not look down seemed to enjoy the ride. We had a great time strolling around the funfair which had everything from sideshows to dodgem cars. We were most fascinated by the extreme rides such as the chair o plane which rose up a 100 metre tower as it span.
This morning’s highlight was getting our laundry done, we’ve been getting by with washing a few items in our hotel bathroom and hoping they will dry overnight. So last night Google found a laundrette in Bratislava then this morning (Tim) our GPS got us there. I missed one turning and the re-route took us up a very steep, narrow and winding partially cobbled back road that seemed to run through the back gardens of houses. I was very glad not to come across a car coming the other way. The laundrette, once we got there was great, we had a coffee in a cafe opposite while the wash was underway and are pleased to have our cases filled with clean clothes.
A nice drive of about seventy km took us through nice small Austrian towns until we got near to Vienna, but the last fifteen km through an industrial area then into the city became a bit nerve wracking. This time I managed to follow Tim’s instructions and we made our hotel by about one pm.
We chose a hotel near an underground station and, after buying a three day ticket, were in the centre of the town in no time. Having sworn off cathedrals, palaces, castles for a day or so we visited the Albertina gallery which has an amazing collection, although it mostly holds special exhibitions and many of the works are not on show. We saw an exhibition called “Monet to Picasso” which had some good works from the impressionists (Monet, Renoir, Sisley), a lovely little Rodin sculpture, works by Pissaro, Cezanne, Chagall, paintings and sculptures by Giacometti , and particularly Picasso. Generally I find that, among those artists the more recent they get the less I can relate to them, but in the next room was an exhibition entitled “Bacon Wahol Richter” which (with the exception of Francis Bacon) I find much more approachable. Wahol’s large multi coloured paintings of Mao Tse Tung is great and I really enjoyed the works by Roy Lichtenstein.
Lunch/dinner followed at about 4.15pm, I had bratwurst, sauerkraut and sautéed potatoes, before a wander along the main shopping street. By about 6 pm we were pretty tired and high tailed it back to the hotel for a rest and to research our programme for the next couple of days.
I quite like the central European feel of the title of this post.
Most of these countries we are traveling in extract their motorway tolls by requiring users to purchase a vignette, or sticker, for the car windscreen. These can be bought at petrol stations for periods as short as 10 days at a cost of around $20. Because we’re only going to be in Slovakia for a couple of days and would use only about 50km of motorway, we chose to travel on lesser roads. This proved to be a pleasant, if slower option, travelling through smaller towns and attractive countryside. We left the motorway near the Czech border and pulled into a shopping centre for a coffee and didn’t know what country we were in until the menu price of a cappuccino at 45 proved they were using Koruna rather than the Euro used in Slovakia.
Tonight we have a nice room in a hostel within 20 minutes walk of Bratislava’s old town and unless it proves too noisy later it seems like a good choice although parking was a bit of a worry as it always is near town centres. We are just back after seven hours in the city visiting the old town centre, the castle (on a hill above the town with great views), St Martins cathedral (chalk another one up), the blue church and spending a while sitting on the banks of the Danube. It’s a nice town and because it is not a premier tourist destination it is not overwhelmed by people.
We’ve travelled around 190km today and still managed to fit in some bizarre and interesting things. In the interest of research into other cultures our first stop was at the Sedlec Ossuary just down the road from our last nights accommodation in Kutna Hora. We found a smallish chapel in the middle of a cemetery, the interior of which was decorated with the bones of (an estimated) 40000 people. There is even a chandelier made from human bones along with a representation of the coat of arms of the local noble family. And nearby is the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist, a restored gothic cathedral. As you will have noticed we’re visiting our share of cathedrals but we are still enjoying them, each one is different and they are all beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Three hours on the road followed some of it on small local roads and some on major motorways. The motorways are mostly paved with concrete and older ones have deteriorated badly, especially in the slow or truck lanes, there are often large cracks between sections and often the centre of a section has sunk so the ride is bone jarring, and with a speed limit of 130km/h we were not very comfortable.
Our destination for the day was the Moravian Karst area north of the city of Brno. The area is riddled with limestone caves and we visited the most popular of them, the Punkva Cave. The tour walks you through a series of natural caves some with excellent formations, stalagmites and tites, and into an enormous cavern open to the sky where, sometime in the past, the roof had caved in. The caves are joined by man made passages but the highlight of the trip was that the second half was through water filled caverns on an electric boat. The whole place was beautifully set up with good lighting, concrete paths and steps with stainless steel handrails but (perhaps because we could not understand the Czech commentary) it all felt a bit like a production line.
As promised here is the pen and ink work I started in the Golden Lane in Prague castle on Friday.
Yesterday was pretty nice but by the time it was over we were pretty fed up with the hoards of tourists. Walking in the popular districts is like driving a dodgem car, it’s effectively impossible to walk briskly or to avoid being bumped.
We decided to take a short cruise on the Vlatava, the river which runs through Prague, there are lots of boat trips on offer but it was pleasant to be on the water in a breeze because it was threatening to become very hot.
After our cruise we walked across the river and into the small canal area they call (rather tongue in cheek I suspect) Prague Venice. Under one of the arches of Charles Bridge we came across a couple of buskers with a big crowd so we sat for half an hour or so listening to them. Really good buskers seem common here, the other night we listened to a brilliant four piece group playing jazz standards, and today in Kutna Hora we came across some sort of music festival with two brass bands and a group of girls doing a traditional dance with flags.
Back to yesterday leaving the buskers we wandered into a park and quickly turned back as a thunderstorm started. A rush to a local restaurant ensued, and a salad and beer enabled us to stay under a veranda out of the rain. I managed several sketches including one done standing amongst the hordes on Charles Bridge.
This morning a 70 km drive quickly got us to Kutna Hora, east of Prague, this town was wealthy in medieval times from silver mining, consequently it has some spectacular buildings, notably St Barbara’s Cathedral which I sketched while we were enjoying a pizza lunch.
Later we went on a guided tour of a 16th century silver mine. We were all dressed up in traditional, white mining jackets with hoods a wore helmets with lights. The tunnels were about 50 metres below the surface and were narrow and, in places, only about 1.2 metres high. Interestingly they are so old that in wet places they have lime formations building up on them.
How you spell the place depends upon where you come from, but whichever way it’s spelt this city is one of the most important tourist attractions in Europe and with this popularity goes hoards of people. You’ve got to be pretty good to get photos without tourists in them, especially in the old town square or on Charles Bridge (two of the main tourist sites/sights).
Yesterday we drove from Cesky Krumlov to Prague, stopping at the town of Tabor for a late morning coffee in the town square, it’s on a smaller scale than other towns we’ve visited but still attractive.
After negotiating the increasingly busy motorway and driving across the city we found our, pretty basic but cheap hotel. We’d booked it because it had parking and was near to a subway station for access to the city. About 3pm we headed off and had a great walk around the centre of the town then out onto the Charles Bridge and with its statues along its considerable length and medieval towers at either end it justifies its rating as one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe. Got back to the hotel about 8.30 after a beer and an ice cream sundae. They brew some excellent drops in this part of the world tonight’s was a Pilsner Urquell. Oh, and earlier I’d had a Caesar salad with ducks hearts, a bit rubbery but not bad.
Today we dedicated to Prague castle, still the official residence of the head of state. It’s an enormous complex (they claim it is the biggest castle in the world) the oldest parts of which date from the 10th century. We got a ticket which gave us access to St Vitas Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, the Old Palace and the Golden Lane.
St Vitas Cathedral is a gothic building which holds the tombs of St Wenceslas and St. John of Nepomuck made of over two tons of solid silver. The cathedral was started in the 1300’s but finally completed in 1929 and has some brilliant modern stained glass. St George’s Basilica is one of the oldest parts of the castle dating from the tenth century, a smaller and simpler structure but also quite lovely. I stood and sketched for a while in the Golden Lane and will try to post the finished picture soon.