On December 20th, early in the morning, Diane and I made our first trek into continental Europe together. Our plane was supposed to leave at 6:20am, which is entirely too early! We had a plan: to catch the still running night-luas (during Christmas weekends, the tram line runs until 3:30am) a couple stops over to catch the Aircoach -- a comfortable and cheap way to get to the airport. Unfortunately, as we were walking towards the place where the aircoach picks people up, we saw it turn the corner and leave, and the next one didn't get there for another hour that early in the morning. So instead, we caught a taxi that was conveniently coming by and took that to the airport instead -- getting there ridiculously early: 3:30am! They hadn't even opened security up at the airport yet ... they did that at 4am. Salzburg is a short 2 hour direct flight from Dublin. Both Diane and I slept most of the way there, but not without missing sunrise on the plane. I didn't get any pictures though - the sunrise was more to the front of us than the side of us.
We arrived in Salzburg and had no issues claiming our baggage and going through customs and were greeted by two of my cousins. Our first stop was a small bakery in the airport for some Austrian style buns. They were fresh, warm, and tasty! The plan for us was to wander around Salzburg a bit before heading home to Linz ... so we drove into town from the little Salzburg airport and found a parking spot and started wandering around a bit on foot. We wandered into the Christkindlmarkt, which is an amazingly large Christmas market. There were booths selling arts and crafts, food, hot drinks, and all kinds of other stuff! Salzburg is a rather charming town, with lots of old buildings. One of its easily seen features is the Festung Hohensalzburg - a huge castle/fortress on top of a hill overlooking Salzburg. To get up there, you can either walk up or take a railcar up a very steep slope. We tried the railcar and it was pretty cool -- I sure hope those cars have good brakes!
There sure was a lot to see in the castle! Tons of displays and information to absorb about the castle. It was built over several hundred years, with a lot of the wealth required to do so coming from the salt trade. We learned that the castle had never been taken by force, but it had been surrendered to Napolean.
After walking around the castle grounds for quite some time, we found the railcars again and headed back down to the town where we walked back through town a bit and visited Mozart's birthplace. At first, this little museum felt a little underwhelming with the first few rooms seeming a little odd. But the museum was actually quite a bit more extensive than we first thought and we explored several rooms detailing quite a bit of information about Mozart's life. The requisite gift shop had quite a few Mozart themed items including Mozart perfume (eww?), Mozart chocolates, and of course, Mozart t-shirts.
We explored that museum for awhile and then went back out to the street where our cousins looked for a place for us to eat at. We ended up at a charming Austrian pub called Sternbraeu. There we tasted austrian beer (Kaiser), and had some tasty Austrian food: Diane had some incredibly tender deer stew, and I tried Wiener Schnitzel. Both were excellent and tasty and made for a nice end to our explorations of Salzburg.
The drive to Linz (where all my Austrian relatives live) is about an hour and a half, and Diane and I were both pretty sleepy on the ride home. We arrived and said hi to everyone and soon after that we were eating again! I have a feeling this trip will involve lots of food.
Both Diane and I were pretty tired so we got to bed early and slept in which was quite nice. The next day was pretty quiet and relaxing. We got up late, and after a bit of breakfast my cousin Kien showed us around SolarCity: the development that he lives in on the outskirts of Linz. The development is pretty neat -- they have a bunch of buildings that are built to conserve energy and most of the buildings have solar panels on top to help supplement the energy supply. It's quite a new place, built in the last 5 years or so, but it's pretty cool.
We walked around for a little while and then returned back to the house where we had some lunch, and met up with the rest of the family. We spent a little time planning out the next few days and then my cousin Sabine and her husband took us into Linz to see a little bit of the city. The city was alive with more Christmas markets. Our destination though this night was a little candle-making place which was pretty cool. We got to make our own candles by starting with the wick and dipping it into pots of hot liquid wax repeatedly until we got a desired thickness. Our candles didn't quite turn out as nicely as I might've liked -- no one told us how fast we should dip them, so we went a bit too fast. Our candles are a bit bumpy, but it was still great fun! Some people were doing some pretty neat things with the wax! It was a great atmosphere, and a surprising amount of fun.
After our candle making foray, we attempted to go have dinner, but were thwarted by closed restaurants (many of them aren't open on Sundays or open only from Tuesday through Saturday. Eventually we did find a place to eat though ... and after we made our order we quickly learned that the portions at this restaurant were *enourmous*! Each of us got a large frying pan full of food -- which none of us finished entirely. Mine had Roast beef, ham, a white bread dumpling, and an egg/potato thing stuffed with little chopped pieces of ham on top of saurkraut. Diane had bratwurst sausages with potatoes and saurkraut. It was all very tasty, but also quite plentiful!
We returned to Solarcity stuffed and happy and quite relaxed! So that was our first two days in Austria. There's a lot more to come, but I'm tired so I'll write more when I next get the chance.