The Dreamy Cultural Mix: Austria, Germany and Switzerland
One friend will celebrate a birthday anniversary in Austria; another one is living in Germany, you haven‘t seen him for years. And you wish to see Switzerland finally.
Then where do you go? Correct, no need to pick one.
You just combine it all into a multiple stop road-trip, thus visiting eight cities of 3 countries in a week. Believe me – Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are perfect ingredients for the most energizing travel cocktail!
For anyone willing to recharge the batteries in Europe. Because if life is a journey, then is there a better way to relax and reconsider life than while traveling Europe by train? Especially when you are longing for international friends and also want to spend some time on your own, just writing a diary on a train, soaking in beautiful views through the window.
Therefore just after midsummer, I packed my backpack, and…
Start: Old and New Vienna
If you‘ve ever read Stefen Zweig‘s book The World of Yesterday, you would have that sharp image of Austria as the ultimate cultural center of Europe. Before the World Wars people were so and interested in literature, arts, confident that peace could never be lost.
Thinking of those time, I started the trip from historical Café Central in Vienna, which is known as having been the key meeting spot for the Viennese intellectual scene. I took my first breakfast here waiting for two friends to arrive. On the way, I tried to imagine all artists, scientists who were walking these streets back in the days.
You can feel the spirit of Vienna in the early morning. You see it in the eyes of elderly couples having breakfast and reading newspapers in old cafes.
This Vienna blossoms in the morning and seems to be hiding from the crowds later on. Turning into a queen of modern art in the evenings around Mumok museum.
With friends, we took a walk in the old town, parks, museums, passed by the Hundertwasser house. And then some palaces, of course.
Out of them, Schönbrunns was the most remarkable one. Fabulous gardens behind the palace are open for public.
Small tip – every year the Vienna Philharmonic performs its annual free admission open-air Summer Nights Schönbrunn concert here! So try catching the date for this spectacular event.
Caution: there‘s a serious risk to gain weight in Vienna due to the variety of great desserts both for eyes and your stomach. All were delicious – apple strudel at Cafe Central, Sacher cake at Demel, cakes at Gloriette, where Emperor Franz Joseph I was used to having breakfast.
On our last evening, we had a lovely dinner for friend‘s birthday anniversary at Motto am Fluss, a restaurant serving contemporary international cuisine on the bank of Danube river.
While walking home we spontaneously took some yummy healthy vegan ice cream from Eis Greissler – the poppy seeds one was unusual and delicious!
Innsbruck, Salzburg… Hallstatt!
Moving forward by train towards UNESCO listed city Hallstatt, a fascinating landscape of Austria evolves.
Although there is a shorter train to reach Hallstatt from Vienna, I would recommend “wanderlusters” taking a train via Loeben. That way you will have a one-hour longer ride, though via the Semmering railway – the first mountain railway in Europe. Surely, it is UNESCO world heritage site as well!
Arriving at Hallstatt station, I took a boat to the town while enjoying the stunning views, again. The town itself is a real fairytale, with picturesque wooden houses and atmosphere inviting for a slow walk. Be sure to bring your bikini, as you will want to take a swim in the clear green water of the surrounding lake!
When you get hungry, remember Seehotel Grüner Baum has a relaxing lake terrace and serve delicious fish soup as well as the best Kaiserschmarrn dessert I´ve tried in Austria!
Visiting Salzburg and Innsbruck by train, I was surprised how different and unique every city in Austria is! The typical and most genuine detail everywhere was seeing seniors having their morning coffee at old cafés, such as Tomaselli in Salzburg. I assume this was the Salzburgese prototype of Café central Vienna. Cozy place and, as the smiling waiter told me when I wanted to pay by card: “Sorry, we are old-style and only take cash.“
Disney‘s Castle original – The Neuschwanstein Castle
Leaving Austria to spend time in Germany with friends from studies, the rainy weather caught us. We had to park an idea to visit the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze. And therefore in Munich, we didn’t do much of sightseeing either.
However, Bavaria region has a lot more to offer. We drove southwest to the Neuschwanstein Castle – the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. As complicated as it is to pronounce the name, in English, it means the New Swan Stone castle. A masterpiece worth visiting, thus having a pretty sad history…
A question I still cannot answer is why did the architects put tiny little windows for a building in such a spectacular nature? Trying to respond to this issue, take a swim in the beautiful lake Alpsee down the hill!
Zurich. And about trains.
Four days have passed, and my head was full of memories. I thought nothing in Switzerland would fascinate me more.
Oh my god, how wrong I was! As the train passed Innsbruck, more green rivers, mountains, and fields started popping up. While writing my diary book (which I write since I was 7 years old) on the train, I was feeling the luckiest girl in the world! I was just so thankful to be able to see those landscapes.
Although Austrian railways have neither Wifi nor snacks in the first class (not to mention their tickets had to be printed out on paper), I didn‘t have time to get disappointed. The scenery you see through the window steals your heart and makes your soul wander.
Reaching Zurich, I had to admit a funny thing – it was the first central station with no bad odors around, so standard for central stations across Europe and the globe.
Zurich is a lovely cosmopolitan city, although it alone wouldn‘t probably be enough to say you saw and felt Switzerland. Sprüngli café here is a must for all chocolate lovers. And Bürklichplatz for a short break by the lake after shopping. Haus zur Schauffacherin was a cute hostel for women I had a pleasant stay in. Very clean and with the kindest person ever.
Head in the Alpine clouds
Next day I saw only a tiny bit of Luzern city, but it was more charming and genuine than Zurich. The city of Luzern had yet another clean station – is it so everywhere in Switzerland?
I was thinking about it while taking a cable car and panoramic gondola to the top of the Pilatus mountain. From there, the amazing nature invites you to relax. The outstanding beauty of surroundings is not easy to cope with, so be ready. Spend a day hiking around. Your feets will hike, and soul flies around. All nature-lovers will be satisfied to the fullest!
After all when I was going down the steepest cogwheel train in the world, the Pilatus Bahn.
And I burst out… Crying! People around me got so confused that they even stopped doing selfies. Started explaining to me that as the railway is steep, it still is very safe. I shouldn‘t worry. However, it was not the fear that made me cry. It was the striking beauty of nature!
The mountains have been here for ages. The glory of Alpine flowers, the birds flying slowly between clouds. Green and blue lakes you see from the summit. It is the heaven on Earth, 360 degrees of serene beauty. Here I suddenly got an unexplainable catharsis*, perhaps that energy boost I expected to get the start of the trip. I painfully understood here how temporary your physical body is.
At the same time, the calmness and confidence come as you deeply realize that your soul is just like these mountains. It remains. It hosts trees, flowers, and rivers, clouds, birds, and insects. All people, moments, pain, love that we nourish in our lives. Life will pass, but the base – the mountains, the souls – will remain. And this is what we are reminded of while in the hills, this is what they are calling to tell about. What makes you go and listen. Feel. And understand.
Cogwheel train parked at Alpanstad, and there was only one-hour boat trip back to Luzern left. With the heart full of gratefulness and mix of the purest emotions, I tried to express what I felt to my diary. But this time words couldn‘t describe anything.
Looking at the sparkling clear water of Lake Lucerne, also known as the Vierwaldstättersee or “Lake of the Four Forest Cantons,” I realized it‘s time to get some tan on a boat. And travel back home. To smile and cherish every new day as if it was the last.
*Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing”) is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.
Article and pictures by Anna Balciune.