I think I’ve mentioned before that David and I have a list of “must visit” places and since we purchased “1000 Places to See Before You Die“, our list has gown. Well you can cross a few more places off our list! Over the October and November time frame (of last year) David and I took a driving holiday covering a bit of Germany, Austria and a small corner of Slovakia. And anyone whose driven the area knows the motorways are great – outside of the normal city center traffic we had little to no delay in going from one city to the next. Which made for a better holiday experience.
We decided to kick off our trip in Munich. Both David and I were interested in checking out Oktoberfest, although I’ve been to some Oktoberfest celebrations years before and in other cities, I’ve never attended a festival in the birth place of Oktoberfest. I was very much looking forward to seeing people in traditional dress, taking in the celebratory vibe of the city and walking away with one or two souvenirs from the experience. What I didn’t expect was the stark and manic nature of the Munich festival and its grounds.
Now, I’m not sure if it was the fact that David and were older or that we only had a few beers by the time we got there or the fact that I was about 6-8 inches shorter (on avg) than most people there – but I definitely felt intimated. I was either being pushed, shoved or ran over – at one point David had to act as a blocker for me to get through the crowds, to say it was claustrophobic at times would be an understatement. There were loads of people, loads of excessive drinking, and loads of testosterone on display. Although there was a clear police presence, there were also loads of medics running about the place seeing to the fallen and injured – it was like every 40-60 feet we came up on someone who had either drank so much they fell over and cut themselves (alcoholic drinks were being served in glass containers – mostly those really heavy glass steins) or they were seeing to multiple folks involved in some sort of scuffle. All of this made it all a bit too chaotic for David and I to really enjoy.
So we decided that after we finished our (initial) lap of the festival grounds, we would head back to our hotel bar. At least there we wouldn’t have to fight the crowds or have to deal with any long lines. I would say, if you are interested in experiencing Oktoberfest and you want a calmer and more festive feel – try out one of the smaller cities. I loved the festivals in Hamburg and Frankfurt – you got all the experience without all the chaos. But if you want more of a … 20-something experience and plan on going with loads of people, then Munich would probably suit you (and your friends) just fine. Being in a larger crowd would have definitely helped me and David, and I’m sure we both would have appreciated being 15+ years younger! 🙂
Outside of Oktoberfest, David and I enjoyed wandering around the city for the 2 days we were there. As we always seemed to do, we took an open bus tour so we could get the lay of the land and then struck out on our own. Munich’s street layout is fairly simple and everything really is fairly close. I think the longest walk we took was maybe 30 minutes and that’s because we wanted to check out the Cathedral. Munich has some beautiful architecture and some lovely tourist sites. Make sure you check out the Old Town and the Munich Cathedral located in Marienplatz, it’s absolutely breath taking (during the day at at night).
After two days in Munich, we were off to Linz, Austria. I had visited Linz many years ago with one of my dear friends (Eve G.) – between her and Maria O., we covered most of Europe in our 20s and 30s. I tell ya, if it weren’t for my beloved friends I definitely wouldn’t be as adventurous as I am now with traveling. And because I had such fond memories of traveling in and around Austria, I wanted to make sure David had a chance to visit as well. So it was Linz for 2 days, followed by Vienna for 3.
We really didn’t have any particular sight seeing goals, it was more wander around and check out the city. And because Linz is so compact, 2 days was more than enough time to explore the city and take in some of the old world charm of the city center. The laid back nature of Linz really impressed David – so much so, he said he wouldn’t mind relocating to Linz! “I can learn German, shouldn’t be a problem for me”, this from the man who still struggles with ordering 2 beers and 2 tacos in Spanish! :).
I would say Linz is a very typical Austrian town, it has a rich city center, with old buildings, great architecture and a massive Cathedral. People are warm, friendly and don’t mind giving you directions and/or advice. Getting lost and finding your way around the little cobblestone streets is really the best way of exploring. Unlike other cities, we didn’t see any open top bus tours, we did see a little train tour – but again, with the city being as small as it was, we preferred taking our time and walking around to explore.
If you happen to find yourself in Austria, I’d highly recommend dropping in on Linz.
There were 2 reasons for visiting Vienna, #1 as mentioned above, I wanted to give David the experience of traveling in Austria and taking in some of the wonderful Austrian cities. And #2, David’s birthday gift required us going to Vienna… to watch The Levellers in concert.
The concert itself was held just outside the city at the Vienna Arena and as far as venues go, I have to be honest and say it wasn’t too bad. The vibe of the arena was more punk or thrash than folk rock, but it worked. It was big enough to house their loyal following while at the same time being intimate enough to really feel connected to the band as they played through their set. And as picky as David and I are about venues, we were very pleased with our choice of traveling to Vienna to catch the show.
The rest of our time in Vienna was spent wandering the streets and exploring the city. We especially enjoyed our walk through the city center and exploring the various little neighborhoods that seemed to trickle out of the center. Definitely a place where you’d want to skip the tour bus, strap on your walking shoes and go exploring.
If I could recommend one place, make sure you make a point of dropping into St. Stephen’s Cathedral for mass. Although I didn’t get a chance to stay for the whole mass, for the little bit I was there I found the whole experience overwhelmingly moving. From the welcome, to the reading of the scripture, to the choir – the whole atmosphere was so moving. So if you enjoy visiting Cathedral’s as much as I do, make sure you set some time aside to attend a mass.
Definitely a place we’d visit again and again.
Visiting Bratislava was a last minute decision, another reason we love driving holidays – being able to make travel changes while we travel… and we were pleasantly surprised with Bratislava.
We stayed in the Old Town area of Bratislava – our preference is always to explore the older neighborhoods and buildings over the more modern areas of a city. And Bratislava’s Old Town didn’t let us down, being compact, you can explore the whole area in one day or even one afternoon. To change things up a bit, from our normal walking or open top bus tour, we decided to take the “Noddy” train tour of the Old Town and we loved it! Besides being informative, it was good fun – even David enjoyed it!
Although we probably wouldn’t go back to Bratislava, it was a nice experience and good relaxing point before heading back to Austria and onto Germany to head home.
If you are looking for an opportunity to take a stroll through the past make a point of visiting Salzburg in Austria. The old town is alive, thriving and very welcoming. The small shops lined down the narrow cobblestone streets were bustling every day we were there. David and I enjoyed exploring the different types of shops, trying authentic Austrian fair and making one or two purchases along the way. One of the shops we especially enjoyed going into was the traditional Christmas shop – unfortunately I don’t remember the name but you couldn’t miss it, it had the most fabulous egg ornaments on display.
For the 2 days we were in Salzburg, we were very happy and wished we could have stayed a few more days. The laid back atmosphere, easy going locals and the vibe of the old town were more than welcoming. If you are heading to Austria and interested in an authentic Austrian village, make sure you add Salzburg to your list of towns to visit and you won’t be disappointed.