The Luxury Leg: Part 1

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Oct 11, 2008

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hello from Prague! Because we haven't written in so long, I guess we should start all the way back in Salzburg, Austria, around September 10 and 11. We drove from Innsbruck to Salzburg the long way. Ryan talked me into taking a 6 hour drive instead of a 1.5 hour drive so that we could drive through a national park. I was not happy about this extended schedule, but (not for the very first time) I was wrong. Austria's Hohe National Park is stunning to say the least. Let's just say that it was raining for most of the time we were driving through the park, we had already been driving for 4 hours, it cost 28 euros to enter, and we still loved it. We saw mountains galore (even the highest one in the eastern Alps), alpine glaciers, kilometer-long waterfalls, the works. Check out our pics. On a stranger note...Alpine Austrians seem to have a nearly-unhealthy obsession with their mountain marmots. Yes, marmots. Giant beady-eyed gophers. At least that's what they looked like to our untrained eyes. In the Hohe Park (and all over Austria), one can buy all varieties of marmot products, from "healing" marmot salve to "Achtung!(Careful!) Marmot Crossing" signs, to your very own stuffed marmot (plush or once-living). It must be a large Austrian industry. At the end of the day, we finally made it to Salzburg, and enjoyed wiener schnitzel and Austrian beer for dinner at our hostel. We ventured out and found a really cool beer garden. It was a bit intimidating to find (it is located in the heart of a creepy Augustinian monastery), but we were rewarded with amazing beer straight out of a huge wooden barrel. See video of Ryan sneezing from his "grain allergy." The next day, we explored an old fortress atop the city, wandered through some beautiful (and very expensive) Christmas ornament stores (Ryan had to keep his hands to himself and head down the whole time), and took a very lame, very bee-filled hike around a city park. We finished up the day with another delicious hostel dinner of fried mushrooms and some Austrian potato dish. Over dinner, we met some Australian and Scottish friends and shared a few beers and a few stories. It was fun, but we had to head to bed early to get some sleep for the next day.

We picked up Mrs. Hayes in Munich. She had been on 3 flights, and Ryan and I hadn't showered in 3 days, so we made a scraggly trio, but it was great to have a friendly face along for the adventure. We managed to pile all of our luggage and ourselves into our slightly beat-up station wagon, and we made our way to another of King Ludwig II's castles. This one was called Herremchiemsee. The extravagent king modeled the palace after Versailles, and he did quite a good job -- until he ran out of money (so only the main hall is finished and neither of the wings) and was found floating in the lake that surrounds the island. At least the one finished wing is gorgeous and oh so extravagent, so it made for a beautiful tour. After seeing the castle and grounds, the three of us headed to Vienna.

Vienna is beautiful! And so was the Marriott we stayed in (especially to our backpacker-eyes!). At first, Ryan and I forgot that we ever used to stay in hotels so nice, but soon our shock turned into excitement as we found the robe and slippers in the room, felt the down pillows, and looked in the mini-bar. The room even had free little soaps and shampoos lined up in the bathroom (We promptly shoved them into our luggage...Hey! We are still backpackers after all). The next day, we explored the massive Schloss Shonnbraun -- a huge (1400 rooms!) Hapsburg summer palace that housed all those famous Hapsburgs, from Maria Teresa to Franz Josef to Marie Antoinette to Sisi (Empress Elizabeth). We took a tour of the state rooms and wandered the gardens and hedge-labyrinths surrounding the enormous palace. Later that day, we saw a church (don't ask me the name...churches have begun to blend together after nearly 4 months of looking at them), ate a wonderful Marriott dinner, and saw a wonderful concert of Mozart's music in a beautiful Viennese music hall. We heard most of his most famous works, and it was all performed by a talented group of musicians dressed in period clothing. A little cheesy, but a lot of fun. Sadly, that was our only real day in Vienna, and we headed off to Budapest the next day.
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