September 2021 – Austria and Bavaria have been on our minds. Why? Opulent Vienna, Mozart’s Salzburg, Bratislava’s wine, Munich’s beer, the Bavarian Alps, Disney-like castles, and Sound-of-Music Hills and lakes!
We decided to leave the warm Greek Mediterranean and explore Austria and Bavaria in September. We had hoped to celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich (typically in late September). Alas, it is cancelled again this year due to Covid. There was still plenty of beer though, and friends to drink it with! And there is so much to see. Here was our trip in summary, with details to follow in future posts!
First stop was Vienna, Austria. The one word to describe this city is “Opulent”. The Habsburg family reigned over the Holy Roman (and later Austro-Hungarian) Empire from this city for nearly 700 years. They grew their empire through savvy alliances and marriage, and wealth rolled into this city. Amazing Baroque architecture, sculpture, and paintings are everywhere. As the seat of the counter-reformation, the Church and religious art thrived here as well.
Just an hour by rail from Vienna, Bratislava, Slovakia is an unexpected gem. As a satellite and ally of Venice, it has the opulent buildings, but on a much smaller and more accessible scale. And as a part of communist Czechoslovakia until the 1991 “Velvet Revolution”, it has interesting communist remnants also. Now it is a vibrant city in a thriving democracy. Our biggest surprise – exceptionally good white wine.
West on the Danube from Bratislava and Vienna is the Wachau Valley, where the scenery is beautiful. Our plans included the Melk Benedictine Abby, which is the most beautiful church we’ve seen on the trip (and that’s saying something). Biking along the Danube, with a river cruise completed our stay.
Munich won the title of “most livable city in Germany”, and it is lively! Beer halls abound. The capital of Bavaria for centuries, Munich also has a more recent and dark history. Hitler gave some of his first political speeches here in the “Beer Hall Putsch”. It failed, he was jailed, but that only fueled his rise. We explored one of those beer halls, the Nazi Documentation Center, and Dachau. Dachau was the first concentration camp, for Hitler’s political enemies, and later many many others. Walking the halls was wrenching.
Mad King Ludwig’s Palaces
Ludwig II, the last King of Bavaria, succeeded to the Bavarian throne in 1864 at the age of 18. Two years later, he was deposed and made a “constitutional monarch”, with no political power. He became obsessed with knights, kings and castles of the medieval period. He focused all his time on building homes to fit his daydreams: Neuschwanstein Castle, which inspired the Walt Disney logo; a sumptuous small palace, Linderhof, built in the style of Versailles; and a huge palace at Herrenchiemsee. He nearly bankrupted the state with his fanciful projects while his people went hungry. Eventually, his creditors had him declared “psychologically unfit to rule”. He and his psychiatrist drowned under mysterious circumstance shortly after. His beautiful palaces live on though, and are today huge tourist draw. We visited all three sumptuous estates.
230 years ago, Salzburg’s favorite son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in Vienna aged 35. He composed more than 600 works of every known genre of music of the time. We heard his music performed in Fortress Hohensalzburg. The city is also where “The Sound of Music” was filmed; looked for Julie Andrews with no luck, but we did find gnomes from “Do, Re, Mi” fame – they were carved in the 1600s!.
Rivers, Castles, Lakes and Mountains
Later, we visited the Bavarian Alps and Salzkammergut region and it’s beautiful lakes for hiking. And of course the Grossglockner High Alpine Road for driving! I wish I’d had a Porsche instead of a VW…
Whew! You can see why we needed a break from travel after this journey!
Here is our approximate route, which you can view and add as a layer in your own Google Maps. The map outlines cities where we stayed, our route, some historical sites, and hikes along the way. Each pin has a short description and often a link to our planned hike or other adventure. I plan to update the map as we go and tag any “Travel Bytes” we post on the map.
If you are interested in a similar trip, the attached PDF itinerary is a good place to start!
For more about this journey, check out the Travel Bytes below!
We will share Travel Bytes along the way, and I’ll update this narrative after the trip.