LAND OF MOUNTAINS, LAND BY THE RIVER: AUSTRIA (by Dalal)

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LAND OF MOUNTAINS, LAND BY THE RIVER: AUSTRIA (by Dalal)

When people ask me where I grew up I usually answer with: Styria, Austria, to be completely truthful would be to say I spent the first years of my life in the mountains in the West of Austria, in Tyrol and to this day, I still feel at home up there…

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The name Austria in our native language means “Eastern Realm”.

Austria as it is today is comprised of nine federal states, going from east to west as follows; Burgenland, Vienna, Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg… but let’s go back to “kind of” the beginning, shall we, before The Sound of Music has minted the postcard picture so many people now have of Austria.

Once upon a time there was a central European land occupied by Celtic tribes called the Kingdom of Noricum, which later became the client Kingdom of the Roman Empire (some years after the assassination of Julius Caesar…to give you a feeling of where we are floating in time). The biggest Roman army camp during the Empire’s reign was Carnuntum, bringing us to our first “touristy” destination:

Petronell Carnuntum gives you a little “taste” of Antiquity, a sort of “Colonial Williamsburg” in Austria. From a Roman bath to a Gladiator school… it is quite worth a visit.

Okay, so where were we, ah yes.. no wait, aha, right, so, after the Celts bowed to the Roman Empire for many hundred years, the Roman Empire fell, the Celts went in all different directions, and the Franks came, saw and conquered everything under Charlemagne.

Much of the land ruled under Charlemagne was bequeathed to Leopold of Babenberg.

The Babenbergs were later replaced by the Habsburg dynasty.

Fast forward through the middle ages, yada yada yada, the Ottoman Empire, yada, the Thirty Years’ War, France blah, the Netherlands, Sweden and Prussia, blah, blah, political marriages, blah blah, “Oh du lieber Augustin” blah, Napoleon. Stop. Let’s go back a tiny little bit to the times of Empress Maria Theresia, (Maria Theresa) – mid 18th century, quite a notably monumental figure in Austrian History – you might have heard of her daughter Maria Antoinette, who “has seen all, heard all and forgotten all” and was subsequently guillotined during the French Revolution while Maria Theresa’s other child, Joseph II invented the reusable “economy” coffin. :/

Maria Theresa abolished the witch trials (around 1776) and reformed the Austrian education system. She was furthermore the sole female ruler of the House of Habsburg and was born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, which brings us to Austria’s capital, preferably in a golden state coach with ten Lippizans up top.

The Vienna Hofburg was the imperial winter palace of the Austrian Emperors, its counterpart being the summer residence, Schoenbrunn.

The Hofburg is surrounded by the Museum of Art History, Museum of Natural History, the Imperial Court Theater (Burgtheater), The National Library and The Spanish Riding School.

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Schoenbrunn Palace

Schoenbrunn Palace will present you with the story of another imposing emperor from whom you will find memorabilia throughout the country: Sisi.

But we’ll come back to her later… first let’s look at a few inspiring personalities living during the times of Maria Theresa. Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Let’s move from the capital further west to Salzburg, the birthplace of one of Austria’s most beloved composers.

The most obvious place to pilgrim to in Salzburg is Mozart’s Birthplace and Residence, but another site you shouldn’t miss when in Salzburg is the baroque Mirabell Palace and Gardens.

If you happen to like music and drama and you happen to be in Salzburg between July and August you might as well get yourself a ticket to the Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg Festival).

Speaking of festivals, if you travel further West to almost the border of Switzerland and Liechtenstein to Bregenz you can engage in another beautiful concert experience; The Bregenzer Festival, a musical drama event held on an open air amphitheater with a floating stage over a lake…

Any-who, back to Vienna, you must be hungry by now! My apologies, where are my manners.

Conveniently nestled between the Vienna State Opera House and the Albertina Museum you will find my favorite restaurants; The Cafe Mozart and the Hotel and Restaurant Sacher.

Do yourself a favor and order the chicken a l Austria with the potato salad and for dessert have an authentic warm Viennese apple strudel or a Kaiserschmarrn…or maybe a Sacher tort?

It’s also a great place to experience the coffee-house culture that Austrians value highly… if you get homesick…there’s a Starbucks across the street

After you’ve eaten your heart out you can take a couple steps around the corner to the Kärntner Strasse and its many lovely souvenir shops. Come in, don’t be shy… here you will find delicious Mozartkugeln (a confection made out of marzipan, pistachio and nougat) and many little keepsakes of the Austrian’s “People’s Empress”; Sisi.

The story of Elizabeth of Austria has been magic fuel for Literary works, Films (animated and live action), Musical Adaptations, Jewelry…

It all started when a young Bavarian princess was supposed to marry the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria but he chose her sister instead… the other Bavarian princess.

They got engaged at the Imperial Villa in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria. The Kaiservilla in Ischl is quite a lovely travel destination itself if for whatever reason you decide to visit Upper Austria…just kidding…

The newlywed Emperor and his Princess moved into their Vienna residence and that was around…the mid 1850s…

Elizabeth was quite a site to behold and many “Highnesses” and “Politicians” traveled to audience with the Emperor of Austria just to see his 5 foot 8 tall, 110 pounds small with a 16 inch waist, wife. She was said to be obsessed with her looks, washing her hair with eggs and cognac and brushing it for two hours at a time, the first monarch to install a fully functioning gym into the Hofburg Palace, she went on fasting cures, walked many hours a day and was considered among the best riders in all of Europe.

While quite an imposing cult figure to her people, the Habsburg etiquette and the rigid Viennese royal regime posed to be an emotional enemy to the young princess. Her written poetry gives an intimate proposal of the “unwilling Empress” she really was, bemoaning the misery she thought herself caught in.

Oh that I had not left the way

That would to freedom me have led,

Oh that I had not gone astray

On vanity’s broad path instead.

 

Now in a prison cell I wake

The hands are bound that once were free

The longing grows that naught can slake

And freedom thou hast turned from me.

She wrote in her diary that she “wishes her soul to flee through the finest hole into heaven”, an eerie premonition maybe that foretold her assassination. She was attacked with a needle and what seemed like a passer-by accident was later revealed to be an assassination attempt. Elisabeth bled out from a small hole and was dying before anyone could know. Before she sadly met her untimely death she was an imperial figure in solidifying the dual monarchy of Austria- Hungary.

The Austrian- Hungarian empire and the new way of capitalism have changed the economy and the industrialization changed the world.

The dual monarchy of Austria – Hungary gave rise to very many inspiring artists that to this day hold national acclaim. Many of these artists are now considered Austrian, Hungarian, Romanian, or even Ukrainian and Polish after the first World War saw an end to the Austrian – Hungarian empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and Monarchy as it was.

Hedy Lamarr was a silver screen maven and part developer and inventor of a radio signal technology that later helped defeat the Nazis in WWII. Her invention also led to the technological rise of the mobile phone, on which you now play Pokemon Go and run into things…

I guess some like it dangerous, Some like it hot, others may like it lukewarm or all together frozen. A pioneer of Hollywood’s golden film age, Billy Wilder made more than 60 films.

And the shark, it has teeth,

And it wears them in the face

are the beginning lyrics of the Threepenny Opera sung by Lotte Lenya, who would later play a James Bond villain, be nominated for a Academy Award and win a Tony. The “master of expressionistic darkness”, Vienna born Fritz Lang created masterpieces such as M, or the Dr. Mabuse series.

The 24-time Oscar nominated composer Max Steiner was also born in Vienna during the Austria-Hungary unity. As was Johnny Weissmueller, who defined the Tarzan role and yell, which btw Weissmueller claimed was inspired by Austrian yodeling, MGM might agree to disagree, maybe, I don’t know…

Speaking of yodeling, chop chop, back to the mountains.

Austria is considered a mountainous country, the Alps covering over 2/3rds of the Austrian terrain, it seems only natural that our national sport is skiing and we have quite an array of Winter playgrounds. I had the pleasure of growing up in one of them. Kitzbuehl, famous for its iconically loud Hahnenkamm Race, with its notorious course: The Streif (the streak).

The Streif is one of most technically difficult downhill races in the world and it’s quite a site to see this spectacle live!

Film Tip: There is a fantastic, slightly terrifying and equally exhilarating documentary titled

”The Streif: One hell of a ride”, a documentary I forced on many of my friends here in California.

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skiing in Präbichl (Styria)

 

If you travel further west from Kitzbuehel to the capital of Tyrol you’ll find yourself in Innsbruck, and if you happen to end up there…you might as well visit one of the treasures of the Ski Jumping World Cup, the Bergisel Schanze. You should also pay the heart of Innsbruck a visit and sip some Austrian Ice Coffee (it’s coffee with Vanilla Ice Cream. Oh, What a shock it was when I first ordered Ice Coffee in the States..and they gave me coffee with ice cubes in it…it’s just so very, very wrong), anyway, you should sip that said “Ice Cream Coffee” under the golden roof of the “Goldene Dachl”. 

goldenes Dachl

“Goldene Dach” (Golden Roof)

The “Golden Roof” is the most famous landmark in Innsbruck and originally designed to be a royal lodge it is now the office of the Alpine Convention.

Should you decide to say, “screw Winter”, I’m going to get myself a smart car and race down (and by race I mean go 5 mph) down the Timmelsjoch, fair enough.

The Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrassse connects Tyrol to Italy. You can drive up on the Austrian side…and downhill on the Italian. It’s quite a nice, from time to time nerve-wracking summer adventure. The road is only accessible before the sun sets and only from June to October as it gets too dangerous to drive it in the icy winters…

Should you also decide you don’t feel like driving around on dangerous roads and you would rather go shopping, preferably for something sparkly, look no further. Ever heard of the beautiful Swarovski crystals? The Disneyland for jewelry and glass aficionados, Swarovski has its own theme park in Wattens, Tyrol. The Swarovski Kristallwelten (crystal worlds) feature a full crystal forest, a crystal dome and ice passage, a mechanical theater and more…and before you leave the premise you can shop till you drop!

After all this time traveling and topographical map hopping and castle- walls climbing you deserve a dessert… Wait, sorry, I didn’t

With my friend Fran Capo, (Guiness Book of World Records Fastest Talking Female), in Austria, for my birthday in Dirndl Tracht, our national garment.

quite catch that? Come again? You haven’t climbed any castle walls yet? Oh my, let’s rectify that.

Riegersburg Castle lies in the hills of East Austria, where they may or may not have been alive with the Sound of Music. A medieval fortress owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. The castle has sentimental value to me as my great-great-grandmother was born and raised among its walls. It is now a museum guiding its visitor through the medieval history of the castle all the way up to the Second World War, as it was the only castle in Austria that was left unscathed by the Nazis. The castle features its own Birds of Prey Show AND you can even climb its walls. Now you deserve a dessert!

How about some chocolate? How about a whole chocolate factory?

The Zotter Chocolate Factory is TADA also located in Riegersburg and holds its top spot among the world’s best chocolatiers. Not only organic and fair trade, Zotter combines the most original taste for your buds. Wine, Banana, Elderberry and cheese combined, or Fish and Green Grapes, Poppyseed or butter caramel…

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written by Dalal