Sunday, July 19, 2009

Austria 7-18-09

Up bright and early on Saturday morning, we piled into the car with the goal of visiting Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgarden, Germany and the Ice Caves in Werfen, Austria. The rain had started in the early evening Friday and hadn't let us since. The sheets coming down made for slow moving on the autostrada (freeway) and the fact that Austria limits the number of cars that can drive through the tunnels at once did not help us arrive any faster. We must have passed over 100 hundred waterfalls in the mountianous drive and even in the rain, the Austrian hillsides appeared illuminated against the gray skies.

Hungry, we all got somewhat excited when we saw a McDonald's just off the autostrada. Now, I must say that this is by far the nicest McDonald's I have ever been to. You could order some of the McDonald's staples we are familiar with in America but you could also get beer, calamari fritters, or an Italian burger. They also had a whole seperate area for the McCafe. Here, you could get any variety of coffees, lattes, cappuccinos, and pastries all served in real cups and on real plates.

After many narrow and winding roads, we reached Berchtesgarden. The rain had let up to a drizzle and we were excited to get on the bus and go up the mountain to Hitler's Eagle's Nest Retreat. Imagine our disappointment when the ticket office informed us that the retreat was closed for the day due to too much snow from the night before and the day. What?! It's July! How is this possible?! Double checking with several others to make sure we understood correctly, the retreat was indeed closed due because of the snow. The museum was open and we settled for that since we had come all this way.
Walking into the museum there is a portrait of Hitler and to the right is probably the most disturbing photograph I have ever seen of skin and bones bodies just piled on top of one another. Throughout the museum, you could witness the horror that was the Holocaust in the photographs of firing squads performing mass executions and Nazi dictatorship.

Checking online we realized that the Ice Caves were already closed for the day and not wanting to head back in the traffic quite yet, we decided to head for Salzburg, Austria.

After more narrow streets, we found a place to park and began the 30-minute hike up the steep hill to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which can be seen in the Sound of Music. The 900-year-old Hohensalzburg Fortress, the city's chief landmark, is the biggest and most fully-preserved fortification in Europe. Built by Archbishop Gebhard during the investiture controversy in 1077, it served to protect the clergy and the population.
In the fortress, you could wander the streets, see exhibits on the Sound of Music and string puppets, and enjoy a meal and drinks at the bar. All with stunning views of the city rooftops below. After Tim quenched his thirst with a German beer and I sampled an Austria white wine, we were ready to make the descent back down the hill and head back to Italy.

We decided to have dinner before leaving Austria and stopped in Villach at a restaurant called Josef. Muddling through pointing to the menu and making hand gestures (guess we better learn some German phrases), we were pleasantly surprised when my veal cordon blue and salad arrived along with Tim's mixed meat plate and garlic bread. Josef's was one of the best meals we have had since living in Europe and it was the perfect way to end a rainy, yet wonderful day in Austria.