I think Austria is different for every single traveler. For some of them it is made of beautiful palaces and vast museum collections. Others are fascinated by numerous restaurants and shops. And some have their heads spinning over ski resorts and mountains. And others...others...others...Everyone has his own Austria.
Salzburg welcomed us with constant drizzle. In the airport a helper from the Service Center brought us to the bus stop and gave us a hand getting into it. In about 25 minutes we made it to Motel One Salzburg-Mirabell, our hotel, which I had previously booked on Booking.
Staff in the hotel is utterly polite and nice, although unable to speak Russian. There is an elevator and Wi-Fi, a small room with a comforting bed and panorama windows. A breathtaking view of the mountains and Salzach river with dark water. A big bathroom with an ordinary chair for having a shower, toilet with a handle.
About disadvantages-a "fashionable" sink, which you can easily get to, but it is uncomfortable to wash your hands or face there, a short table in the room. There is no refrigerator, no cattle in the room, but you can get some boiled water for free in the bar. The local train station and bus station are 15-minute walk. There was no supermarket nearby, so we bought all the goods on the filling station, 10-minute walk.
When we came to Salzburg, the first thing I noticed was well-asphalted roads and pavements with really low borders. Transport in the cities and countryside moves within the timetable, and all the buses are adjusted to wheelchairs. All the buses should be entered through the second door. A driver will help you with going up the folding ramp. It is better you tell him the name of your bus stop in advance and press the button, situated on the banisters just in front of the parking place of the wheelchair.
Access to historical buildings turned out to be a problem. But our mood wasn't "museum" either. Most of our excursions were pedestrian. We went out early in the morning and came back only in the evening. The weather was sunny, but with cool wind in the afternoon and with a little bit freezing one in the evening.
Infrastructure of the city is modern and all the facilities are comfortable enough. Houses, churches and even creators of new things, who work under meticulous eyes of curious tourists,-everything is real. Souvenirs are not "in trend", but are examples of actual hand-made things, done using old techniques. I suppose, everyone who is far from home pays attention to unusual things that either don't interest us at home that much or cannot be noticed due to the lack of time or constant hurry. But on holiday, in contrary, when you have time to calmly walk down the streets and look around, especially abroad, you usually notice not only architecture masterpieces, monuments or flower gardens, but also shop windows. And that's not because they have it better than we do (that's kind of a disputable question, and everyone has his own opinion). They are just different for everyone.
There is no need to describe all of the sights of Salzburg. There are many stories about this fascinating city, full of history, souvenirs and chocolate "Mozart".
By the way, about "Mozart"-this amazingly popular brand of chocolate has turned out to be the worst chocolate I have ever tried. Actually, it's not even chocolate, just soy.
I'd like to concentrate on a few sights we have visited:
1)There is Mirabell Palace, registered in the List of World Heritage Sites in the very historical center of the city.
Despite a great number of tourists there, the garden has delighted us from the first sight with its splendor, brightness, abundance of flowers on the lawns, fountains and sculptural compositions with Greek mythology thematic, romance and royal magnificence. All the adjectives in a superlative form can be adjusted to this garden.
Mirabell Garden- it's not just a usual garden, it is one of the best examples of park-garden art.
2) "Tricky fountains"-fountains in the Hellbrunn palace, disguised in the shadows of trees and bushes. The name of the fountains fully justifies their meaning, because they can be turned on at any moment and wet a person up and down. They get activated thanks to water going down from the Alps.
Hellbrunn is a previous summer residence of archbishop Markus Sittikus, a relative of Medici family, built (1612-1619) similar to Roman villas in an Italian style for hunting, recuperating and entertainment.
Having bought the tickets (9.5€ for an adult, 6.5€ for a disabled person), we joined the group of international tourists. Visiting of fountains somehow requires going on an excursion in English (whether you want it or not, you have to do it). And because my knowledge in English is minimal, I couldn't understand almost anything. In general, something could be guessed, some things I managed to read somewhere else, and taking photos...well, that was a destiny! And “tricky fountains”, same as IV centuries ago, was the greatest thing in there. Even fish in the lakes are of noble types.
Walking with his guests, Prince-Archbishop not only led conversations about wobbliness of human destiny and ethereality of the world, but also demonstrated them outlandish mechanisms in his park. For example, a big mechanical theater, built in 1750 on the place of Kuznechnyi grot, showing life of a small town in little. Water still moves figurines of 256 people of different casts and professions and water organ that is playing a song of craftsmen, a song, which muffles the gritting of gears.
There are a lot of pensioners among all the visitors, many of them with sticks, and some of them took wheelchairs for walking through the park, they are free to take in the ticket office.
3)Mozart's Square- a small area in the center of Salzburg, always full of people. There stands a bronze monument to a famous composer. It was founded and placed here in 1842. A lot of people come here to listen to the sounds of world famous Salzburg bells, ringing melodies of Haydn and Mozart from the Bell Tower every day.
4) The main square of the city is Residenzplatz. There is a fountain in the Italian baroque style in the center of it. There is the New Residence, decorated with a bell tower, on the side of the street. This building's facade looks more like a cloister than a palace. 3 times a day, at 7 am, 11 am and 6 pm the bells of the New Residence play a famous with its sound ringing.
In the center of the square is situated a majestic cathedral (1614-1655) with ramps.
There were so many tourists we started to feel uncomfortable. The Japanese were absolutely everywhere, there were whole crowds of them, so many I felt I was beginning to suffer from japanesephobia.
But it was amazing there. There were mountains in the end of the streets and too many wires.
Walking around one of the squares of the city, past street souvenir dealers, I got to know a seller, Alla, who turned out to be a Ukrainian student of the University of Salzburg. We met Alla the next day and she suggested showing us the university. This is a glass building with an elevator and all the necessary conditions for disabled people. On the roof of the university we saw a cafe and a fascinating view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Names in Austria are mostly difficult to pronounce and remember. In one of the buses a driver asked me which stop I wanted to get off the bus on, but I actually forgot the name and was just staring at him, completely frustrated. And then he suddenly asked me in Russian: "Where do you want to go?". This got me even more frustrated. This guy turned out to be Russian, who had lived in Austria for more than 10 years.
What was kind of problematic to find in Salzburg was a cafe with national food. But from Alla we managed to learn where local people ate, and consequently it was tasty there, and where to buy real Austrian chocolate. But actually Salzburg, same as the whole Austria, cannot be called a cheap city. It costs about 20 Euro to drink some coffee and eat a piece of special "Saher" cake.
Knowing myself and my fondness to move through cross-country and try to look into the inside of the place, I was making an effort to see everything possible.
I finally ended up in Gosau, a small town by the Austrian Alps. There are no streets there, and houses grow up randomly on the meadows. We decided to stay in a little apartment-hotel there.
On the day of moving it started raining again, and it was snowing in the mountains.
Having decided not to become wet while getting in and out of the taxi, I put on a rain coat and made it to the bus station in 10 minutes. A friend of mine with our luggage took a taxi.
There is a bus departing to Bad Ischl every hour. Without any further words and explanations, a bus driver helped me in and fixed the wheelchair with belts. The ticket costs 7 Euro.
In about 2 hours my acquaintance Marina, who had moved to Austria a few years ago, met us in Bad Ischl (60 km from Salzburg). We got into her car and went in the direction of Gosau. On our way we stopped by a supermarket and bought some food.
In the yard of the hotel we were welcomed by a hostess, Lubov, a real Russian. A few years ago she, her husband and 2 children had moved here from Moscow. She was a little bit closed while just talking, but a truly helpful woman.
Despite her reticence, Luba still asked me how and why I got here. According to her, Russian tourists stayed in this hotel only once. It's not that easy to come here. And she had never seen travelers in a wheelchair in this part of Austria. Well, she was shocked. Same as local bus drivers, who had never used lifting devices before and you could see they didn’t know which button to press, but, despite this, every bus was adjusted for disabled people.
At the entrance into the guest house there is a ramp. 2-room apartments are on the first floor, without a balcony, decorated in a national style. Everything was beautiful but not as comfortable as promised while booking. There were no claims neither to the kitchen nor to the living room. But the bedroom was really small, and it was almost impossible to get to the bed in a wheelchair, plus the bed was extremely soft, almost feathery. That was why I had to sleep on the couch in the living room, which could be unfolded and was stiff enough.
Toilet and shower were situated in different rooms that were impossible to enter and turn around in a wheelchair. Despite the fact the hostess had prepared a chair for having a shower, it was really difficult to get in there.
But it was nothing in comparison to what we had seen in the morning.
Austria is one of the countries I'm in love with, and which I walked around with pleasure. Pictures that appeared in front of me can be called the brightest impressions of my whole life. I was speechless, my mouth fell open, I pinched myself and couldn't believe such kind of beauty existed. Beautiful views appeared from every side.
We had luck with the weather, and so we decided to go to a really photogenic and charming lake called Gosausee.
Our hostess suggested getting us there. On the way up it was only 13-minute drive. A parking lot for disabled people and a bus stop-everything was in the order of things.
In the background of the lake there is a fascinating mountain range Dachstein, a flat path about 1,5 m wide around the lake, and it takes more than an hour to slowly walk around it. This is the perfect place to go for a walk in a wheelchair.
Near the lake there is a hotel and a restaurant. We decided to have a bite of strudel, and despite we had already went a long way, we risked to come home on foot...and didn't regret it.
The road went down the mountain, and our batteries were charged good enough to get home safely.
There were almost no cars on our way home, and we didn’t meet anyone. But we started to get used to it.
On the way we saw another lake and some kind of a museum of ancient architecture and household goods. Summer season was only beginning in two weeks, so the museum was closed, but we somehow managed to have a quick look at it and its area.
The next day the owner of our apartment presented us a ticket which allowed going by bus for free and getting discounts in local cafes. The bus stop was just in front of the hotel, the bus came in time, as usual, and we came to Hallstatt in about 30 minutes, having made only one change.
I can't actually remember where I have first seen a picture of this town. But I clearly remember my reaction:"No way this place really exists!". But at the same time I was already thinking how nice it would be to once be able to walk down the streets of it.
It didn't take long to find the name of the place: Hallstatt. City-card. A door into a fabulous world.
Most of the tourists who are offered to visit Hallstatt don't try to hide their surprise: "What could possibly be interesting in a commune with no more than 1000 inhabitants?". However, having come back from there, you unwillingly start comprehending what to begin your story with in order to be able to fully show the exciting atmosphere of this amazingly beautiful and historical place.
What defines the uniqueness of Hallstatt is that ubiquitous Chinese have built an exact copy of this place, that's how much it has once charmed them. The interesting fact is that after that flow of Chinese tourists not only hasn’t run low, but, instead, has grown. Having seen their own Hallstatt-copy, most of them flash with fire to see the original.
What fascinated me most of all in Hallstatt was a feeling of being really far away from the civilization and that of peace.
Indeed, fully surrounded by mountains from all sides, Hallstatt with its sheltered on the slope toy-looking houses, a blue lake with swans swimming in it and the blue sky, where clouds get to reflect from the glassy surface of the lake, gives a feeling of unusual sense of security from all possible troubles, of sweet home and paradise calmness.
In spite of the fact Hallstatt is not the smallest settlement in the world, its inhabitants are bothered by lack of living space. There are several floors in all the houses of this town. Moreover, the second line of houses starts from the roof level of the first one. That is why residents of the first line, being by their friends from the second one, can easily get on the second floor of their flats from their friends' backyards.
Saving of space in everything has given birth to one of the most important traditions of Hallstatt that never ceases to impress tourists. People of Hallstatt put all died countrymen in the ground, however, in 10 years, they dig them out and leave to lie under the sun for a few weeks. After the remains become ivory, they are sent to this special ossuary called Bin-Haus, situated on the first floor of gothic chapel of Saint Michael's Cathedral. And then in the free grave goes a coffin with a body of newly deceased person.
I didn't go to the cemetery as I don't like visiting them. But we saw a funeral procession on the way.
The town itself has in fact only two streets. But driving a car for local people is only possible down one of them.
A coastline here is so narrow transport highways are situated in separate tunnels, dug out in the rocks just above the town. No space for a train station either- it was built on the other side of the lake. Arriving passengers are to be ferried over the lake to Hallstatt by boats.
I also managed to take the cable car and enjoy beautiful places of the region. Unfortunately, we didn't make it into the salt mines.
It caused no problems for me to get into the funicular, then we used the elevator and, going through the cafe, found ourselves on the observation deck.
A ticket on the cable car costs 11€, but I bought it only for 6€, having pretended to be a local resident.
A few words about privileges: buying tickets for transport or visiting some sights, Russian disabled card isn't valid almost anywhere. You can't use a special parking place showing your disabled card either. I see this as one of international foolishnesses.
On our way into the heart of the Upper Austria we had a look at the city in retro style, Bad Ischl, where, having eaten another portion of chocolate in a famous sweet-shop "Zauner'' , opened in 1821, started moving towards the summer residence of Kaiser Emperor Franz Joseph. But, unfortunately, we only managed to get to the first floor of the villa, where there was nothing to see except for a souvenir shop. We didn't walk around the park either- there were steps everywhere as well as repairs. So we couldn't understand what we had paid for and why no one in the ticket office had told us about this inaccessibility.
Our last asylum happened to be a rented house of Marianna, an English-teacher and a music-teacher, in the commune of Vorderstoder. The mountains are lower there, but meadows are wider, and milk is sweeter. Here we mostly walked down the paths, roads and even around meadows, breathed crystal-clear air, ate, slept, read, kept silent, looked out the window at the Alps in the rain and drank milk! What kind of milk they have in Austria! Every morning our hostess brought us some milk from the farm. And Austrian milk is the sort of milk you want to cry from its taste. Thick and sweet!
On the streets of the cities and villages there were a lot of people in national clothes. At first we thought people wore them for some kind of holidays, but it turned out people in Austria, supposedly only in this country in the whole West, still wore traditional national costumes. Marianna has more than 40 of those.
Marianna showed us around and all the beautiful places and agreed to take us to Linz, the third largest city in Austria and also Hitler's favorite city. The rain started just as we came to Linz, so, in order not to lose any time, we decided to go for a boat trip along the Donau. It was a good idea itself, but the thought of going along the second longest river of Europe made us feel a lot better. I got onto the ferry without any external help and sat at the table of the local cafe just on the stern. We offered some tea and a traditional pie "Linz", and I, constantly turning my head from one coastline to another, was listening to a story about this territory and Austria itself.
Before our departure Marianna invited us to her place for lunch. On the terrace, looking at the mountains, we were laying under the sun, eating knödels with sauce made out of local mushrooms, carrot pie and arugula salad, which was actually growing by the house just as weed, and drank strawberry compote. We decided to go home on foot. Marianna gave us some crackers so that we could feed lamas and donkeys, pasturing on the meadows.
We flied home the next day, with our suitcase filled with gingerbreads, chocolate, pumpkin oil.
I want to believe I will come back to this kingdom of candy-gingerbread houses and yet to visit sights. And, of course, come to the Alps-because mountains are simply created to come back to as often as possible.