23.04.2011 - 30.04.2011
Our second to last European holiday - and a means to use up Ben's remaining European airmiles - involved flying in and out of Vienna and making up the rest as we went along for a week.
We had two wonderful days in Vienna seeing the grand and gorgeous architecture, the Zentralfriedhof cemetery where 2.5 million great, good and not so good of Vienna are buried in elaborate graves along with some heinous and tacky ones, the Hall of Honour or 'Prunksaal' of the National Library (in my opinion what all libraries should be like), a day at the enormous Schonbrunn palace where after touring the palace and wandering the gardens and woods for hours realised we had barely scratched the surface, and made a friend in the manager of Hansy's where we enjoyed traditional Austria food over two nights and where he didn't mind our sleeping baby parked in the corner of the restaurant for the evening.
Next we hired a car and drove through the Wachau Valley along the (not so blue) Danube, via Durnstein where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned and later rescued by his minstrel, to the Salzkammergut lake district where we stayed in Obertraun across the lake of Hallstatten See from the famous picturesque village of Hallstatt. The ferry ride from Obertruan to Hallstatt across the perfectly still lake was simply gorgeous and the sheer mountain sides dropping steeply down to the water was reminiscent of Fiordland back home.
A short drive to Salzburg from there where we spent a couple of days, allowing me to indulge a bit of The-Sound-of-Music-spotting and where we clambered around the Hohensalzburg Fortress, ambled around the Mirabell gardens and the old town, visited one of the Mozart musems (there were a few) and out to the Schloss Hellbrunn palace gardens and its Wasserspiel trick fountains which were unexpectedly lots of fun. More fun was watching an older couple in suede jackets trying to stay dry (why would you wear suede to an attraction where the signs clearly show in amusing pictorial fashion that you will definitely get wet?) Salzburg was a much smaller, laid-back and relaxing place to visit than Vienna, with a feel more like a university city - despite the uber-tourism associated with the aforementioned TSOM and Mozart.
From there we crossed all the way East back across Austria for a night in a little town called Rust on the edge of Neusiedler See lake right on the border with Hungary, with its candy-coloured market square and the wonderful sight of stork pairs nesting on every rooftop, clacking their beaks at each other.
Finally we returned to Vienna for one last night where we stayed in the Intercontinental (another airmiles freebie), having an indulgent lazy afternoon watching the Royal wedding on TV and ordering room service. I think we were the only guests in jandals, lowering the tone slightly. We spent the last day before our evening flight wandering around more of the overwhelming Inner Stadt including the Kunsthistorisches art gallery, the market Naschmarkt which sold everything from cheese to violins and more of the Hofburg complex of gardens, squares and palaces.
We had read that Austria was not a particularly family-friendly place to visit but we didn't find that at all and were able to take the charming Arthur everywhere with us, day and night. Even the Hotel Intercontinental greeted us warmly, with Arthur getting cuddles from the bellboy and a kind waitress making me a coffee even though the lobby cafe was closed as I obviously looked like I needed it at 6.30am.