A Travellerspoint blog

Swimming outside – when the temperature is -2

… the best way to recover from a day in the snow!

sunny -2 °C
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When we arrived in St. Gilgen it was a white town – snow covered everything (in fact our landlord was busy trying to clear the snow off the driveway so we could park). But in the days since we have had a number of warm days and yesterday was a day of rain – so the white town has returned to it's original colours and all the fields are green again. Which has been a disappointment because it has limited dave & Alex's ability to go snowboarding. we were told by the lady at the restaurant we went to tonight that it was only the 3rd time in her memory that it was not a true white christmas in the region.

However last night there was snow on the mountains and it was again worth the trip up to Postalm. Arriving there we saw that there had indeed been fresh snow and it could be a day spent on the snow. Dave & Alex wasted no time getting going with their snowboards and hit the slopes. They had only a couple of choices of T-bars and slopes, but it was enough for them to fill in the day. And Dave commented that it was still better than anything he had snowboarded on in Australia.

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Cathy & I watched them for a little while then decided it was time we did something ourselves. With ski lessons not feasible (timing wise & expense wise) we decided to go walking in (or where possible) on the snow. We hired a couple of pair of snow shoes and poles and set off on our own adventure. After a little getting used to the shoes we set out to climb one of the peaks that is normally serviced by a T-bar but was not in use by skiers, so therefore fair game for us. The effort of slowly climbing the snow covered peak was some awesome views back over the ski-field and also off into the distance. We reached the top off the T-bar by a circuitous route and then set our sights higher and climbed another peak for more magnificent views. We also had the benefit of going over fresh snow that no-one else had walked or skied over. At times it was hard going and the snowy surface was deceiving – sometimes it was a thin layer of snow over an icy crust and at other times it was a thick soft layer that you sunk right down into – even with snow shoes.

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Just being up on the peaks by ourselves with pristine snow around us made us realise the awesomeness of God's creation!

But we eventually had to work our way back down and hand in the snow shoes. But after a quick pick-me-up hot chocolate it was over the the 'magic carpet' and having a go at sliding down the slope on a ski-tube. Cathy took it pretty easy, but still managed to run into someone on one of her first goes, while I took a more reckless attitude and went quite a bit faster. It was fun, but as the day was drawing to a close the temperatures were falling and at minus 6 degrees it was getting a bit cold standing around on the snow, and as the boys had run out of steam we called it quits and headed home.

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A quick shower and change then we were all off to Bad Ischl (a town about 20km from St. Gilgen) for a restaurant tea as a farewell to Dave & Alex. And then it was special treat time as part of our accommodation deal we had tickets to the EurothermenResorts spa in Bad Ischl.

Not knowing what to expect we turned up and handed over our vouchers to get wristbands in return and the opportunity to read a whole lot of instruction signs all written in German. We eventually manged to work out enough to find the change area and lockers and get into our swim gear. Then it was off to find the spa – or should I say spa's (plural).
There was the 'Lazy River' which was at 34 degrees and started inside the building but then went outside and had water jets that carried you around a big loop with occasional spots to stop for spa jets. Next to it was another pool that started inside and took you outside, this one was also at 34 degrees but you had to put the swimming effort in yourself. Then there was the indoor pool at something like 32 degrees and finally the gigantic spa/whirlpool. What a way to relax and wind down from a big day. And also a great way to treat Dave & Alex on their last day with us before they head back to Scotland.

We have had a great Austrian Christmas, one that all of us will remember for a long time to come!

Posted by thomastour 11:06 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Christmas Day – and another visit from our guest blogger

… Dave!

rain 0 °C
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Hello again! Its my pleasure to be taking up the mantle of guest writer again and can you believe its been more than 2 months since I was last on in this blogosphere. Time has passed incredibly quickly and although part of Mum and Dad's minds wishes they could travel eternally they are both ready to spend some time at home and relax. I think this week in St.Gilgen has been a great treat for them and in many ways feels like the end of the trip is already upon them since they are once again with family.

We have been joined by my comrade Alexander Supertramp, who I have been traveling with since I left Australia 9 months ago, and he is a welcome surrogate thanks to his tea-making ability and winning luck in games of 500. On Monday we met up in Munich and managed to cram our snowboards and backpacks into a car already teeming with the plunders of Christmas markets.

Once settled in St.Gilgen it became obvious to Alex and I that my mother's intentions were to make this a most quintessential Christmas. In this fashion there has been some incredible feats of stamina (to carry bulky Christmas items) and skill (creating a homely Christmas feel) to this years festivities. In the category of Stamina, the winner is Geoff Thomas who brought with him to Austria a 40 cm tall, carved, wooden, candle powered, spinning Christmas decoration that has been carried since Belgium (yes, about a month ago). The winner in the category of Skill goes to Cathy Thomas, who, in a kitchen the size of a large German Shepherd (and without an oven) created an excellent Christmas dinner.
So, with those awards given I should describe our fairly untypical Christmas day. It began early with a wonderful Skype session with Simon, Ben, Nanna and Pa. Then after going back to sleep for a short while we ventured out into the rain. There has been a miniature heat wave here, so instead of being minus 5 and snowing, its 5 degrees and raining at town level. There was a very open-ended goal for today, peruse the small towns in this area. I can safely say we tried our best, although the odds were against us. Christmas Eve is much more celebrated here than Christmas Day and as such we expected a lot of places to be open but sadly (not really) the only places that seemed to be open were cafes. So after a stop in St. Wolfgang for a coffee and photo opportunities (no.14532 through to no. 14620) we proceeded to Hallstatt. I liked Hallstatt, its cobblestone streets and alleys seemed to be attached to the mountain despite the odds. Every building was a testament to the strong Bavarian spirit and Germanic love of engineering, even when nature says, “you really shouldn't build a town there, its at the bottom of a cliff”. I was left admiring the engineering prowess, but there was something more spooky about this town which the word 'admire' doesn't quite work for... The ancient church that defies nature and dominated the towns skyline has its own cemetery surrounding it, within this is a macabre tribute. A Charnal House, with the painted skulls sitting upon the stacked bones of members of the local community. I have to admit, its quite surreal to see the remains of so many people in the one place.

Beyond Hallstatt we drove and checked the quality of snow further afield, it seems this heatwave has diminished some of the nearby ski-fields. There is a glimmer of hope though; on the drive home there was glimpses of fresh snow higher up on the mountains through the clouds... perhaps tomorrow we will get the deep, fresh, light powder that snowboarding dreams are made of!

So before I conclude I should update all you loyal readers with my current plans. I get the keys to a new abode on the 30th of December, I'm living in Scotland for the next 6 months it seems. I'm renting the flat in Elgin, Morayshire (about an hour from Inverness, northern Scotland) with Alexander Supertramp's cousin Shaun and his airforce workmate Chris. This will be a really new and exciting chapter for me I hope, and a genuine test of independence. In general the plan is to work for the length of the 6 month lease and then travel hopefully as far around the Mediterranean as possible till the money runs out. So if any of you happen to be in Scotland and are looking for a place to stay, please be in contact!

I Hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas, my best wishes go out to you and your families. I'm sure the next few months will fly and I'll be home to see and catch-up with you all. Until then stay safe and God Bless.
Love Dave.

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Posted by thomastour 11:05 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Twas the day before Christmas

… & our landlady came bearing gifts!

sunny 4 °C
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Another day when the weather conspired to give poor snow conditions – so we didn't even venture up to Postalm.

But when we woke up we had an awesome view out our window. Our apartment looks across the village of St. Gilgen and up the Wolfgansee toward Strobyl at the other end, with the Wolfgansee surrounded by mountains. Anyway – this morning in the pre-sunrise light we could see the tops of the mountains surrounding the Wolfgangsee and we could see the water and most of the village of St. Gilgen, but in between was this band of cloud that stretched right from one side of the view to the other. As the sun came up over the mountains it appeared as a red orb and added even further to the view.

We had a knock on our door – it was our landlady Maria with a Christmas gift for us. A handpainted wooded bowl, so nice and thoughtful of her. We wish we had brought some typical Australian gifts to give out.

So after a relaxed start and a review of the ski reports by the boys (courtesy of internet access through a 3G access stick provided by our landlady) we decided to head to the gondola that goes from right in the village of St. Gilgen and rises about 1,000m to the peak Zwolferhorn (1522m). On the way up we saw a number of cross country skiers slowly trudging their way up to the same point – looks like very hard work. But at the top we saw they were some of a large number who seem to do the climb, and then they ski back down. Obviously they think it is well worth the effort. However we had done it the easy way and just hopped out of the gondola near the top and climbed some stairs to get the rest of the way. We were rewarded for our efforts (!) by some magnificent views in every direction. Looking north it was over a number of lakes and their surrounding mountains. In a number of cases the lakes were covered by low cloud. And looking south it was over mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. We also had fun with a snowball fight.

Back down from the Zwolferhorn we had a wander around St. Gilgen – and again most things were closed (Christmas Eve is when most people here have their Christmas celebrations, so the shops don't open or they closed early). But we did find a nice little cafe and enjoyed coffee (Geoff), hot chocolate (Cathy) & gluwein (warm spicy wine) (Dave & Alex) with cake. The cafe seemed the most popular spot in town.

A quiet afternoon then Cathy prepared a Christmas feast for us – we decorated the apartment with some of the bits and pieces we had gathered on our travels and also exchanged gifts. It would have been nice to also have it snowing, but you can't have everything!

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After our Christmas dinner it was another round of cards – with a few hours spent playing 500 and just enjoying ourselves.

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Tomorrow is Christmas Day and we will once again see if it's worth skiing, but if we don't there are a number of other things we can do in this beautiful area. It certainly gives us a Christmas to remember.

To all our family and friends who are back in Australia – we wish you a wonderful Christmas and wish you were here to enjoy this place with us.

Posted by thomastour 11:03 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Salzburg – home of Mozart

… and they are not going to let you forget it!

semi-overcast 2 °C
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This morning the weather didn't look so promising but we ventured up to Postalm in the hope of Dave and Alex being able to snowboard. They tested the snow but decided it was too sloshy so we all headed to Salzburg for the day instead. Dave and Alex looked around the town and climbed the hill to the monastery overlooking Salzburg, the climb uphill was marked by statues showing the stations of the cross.

Geoff and I, having been there the day before, looked around a little and then set out to find a few extra items for Christmas and housekeeping (having found no tin opener or tongs in our little kitchen). We managed to find most of what we wanted and stopped for hot drinks before wandering a little further and discovering a Maccas. Hooray! Geoff had brought his laptop in the hope of finding somewhere we could access the internet. We've visited Maccas more in the last few months, for that reason,than we ever have! We were able to catch up with emails and check out train times for the guys as they're catching the train from Salzburg to Munich on Sunday and then flying from there back to Edinburgh ( don't want to think about that too much yet).
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We caught up with Dave and Alex and dropped them at another Maccas ( just out of town) so they could use the internet while we went off to do some grocery shopping. When we arrived back at the chalet the owner came to give us free vouchers for a spa at Bad Ischel (a town not far away), and we asked about an internet stick, as we had seen a note from someone else referring to it. Maria (the owner) went straight down and got it for us, hooray, that means be should be able to skype (maybe with no picture) the rest of the family Christmas day!

I'd bought some playing cards (with pictures of Mozart on of course, everything here seems related to Mozart) so after tea we all played 500. The guys seemed to really enjoy it and it was a nice way to finish an enjoyable day.

Posted by thomastour 11:00 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

And now it's feeling warm

… even though the temperature is still only 4 degrees!

semi-overcast 4 °C
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First impressions of our location were supported when we awoke to beautiful views across the top of St. Gilgen and out over Wolfgansee (the lake on which St. Gilgen is one of about 5 villages). There had been no fresh snow overnight and the temperature seemed a lot milder – which as the day transpired proved to be true with temperatures ranging from about 1 to 5 degrees (yes they're positive values!).

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Anyway after a reasonably relaxed start it was off to the ski fields at Postalm – this involved about 12km drive around the lake to the village of Strobl and then another 12km climb up to over 1,000 metres to the Postalm Plateau. We got our ski passes (part of the package at our accommodation) and discovered that the person issuing the passes was actually our landlady (now we know why they are able to offer ski passes with the accommodation!). Dave & Alex kitted up for a day of snow boarding while Cathy and I made enquiries about ski lessons. Turns out the group lessons for adults always start on a Sunday so our only option was expensive individual lessons, so we've decided to give that a miss and look at other forms of entertaining ourselves in the snow.

So we left the boys to it and instead drove off to Salzburg (about an hour from Postalm & ½ an hour from St. Gilgen) to have a look around. We were able to wander around the old part of Salzburg with it not being too crowded, Overlooking the city is a citadel/castle built over quite a few centuries by the archbishops who ruled the area. It is very imposing with the town right below it and to get a better look we took the funicular up to it and looked around. In the city itself there are quite a few churches built in the same periods as the castle and lots of narrow winding streets.

Off course we found yet another Christmas Market, which wasn't swarming with people, so was quite easy to look around.

We had to get back to Postalm around 4.30pm to pick up the boys and then back to the Chalet for tea. After tea we all walked down to St. Gilgen hoping to join in the Christmas festivities around their famous Weichnachts Markt – but everything was dead quiet. It seems they only open Thursday to Sunday and then only until 7.30pm. But anyway I was a nice walk around the town in relatively mild temperatures (probably around 1 degree). But the climb back up to the chalet really warmed us all up.

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Posted by thomastour 05:09 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

St Gilgen at last

… we arrive at our 'home' for the next 7 days.

sunny -1 °C
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Once again we awoke to snow – this time it was falling quite heavily in Munich and the view out of our hotel window was of a street covered with snow and lot's of local traffic edging their way through it. As well as small snow ploughs clearing the road and footpath, the locals were out shoveling snow off their drives.

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We had the morning available to us to look around Munich before we needed to head off to Austria, so we left the car in the hotel carpark (underground and out of the snow) and walked for 5 minutes to get to the station. It was quite a nice experience walking in the falling snow with the temperature quite reasonable at just under freezing.

In Munich we found our way to Marrion Platz which has a number of historic buildings around or near to it and is also the site of their Christmas Markets (why do we keep stumbling upon these things?) and we spent an enjoyable 2 hours looking around as the snow finally stopped falling and the temperature even approached positive numbers.

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Then all too soon it was back to the hotel to pick up the car and then to go and pick up Dave and Alex for the trip to Austria. It was quite a squeeze getting all the luggage into the car with the boy's snowboards keeping them apart in the back seat.

About 2 hours later we were past Salzburg and into St Gilgen – and found our destination quite easily. We have 2/3rds of the top floor of a traditional looking chalet with magnificent views over the town, lake and valley which are all surrounded by mountains. Everything is white with snow and the boys are looking forward to their first day of snowboarding tomorrow, while Cathy & I look around a bit more and plan our time. We all have 4 days of ski passes as part of the accommodation, so it will be interesting when Cathy & I hit the ski school and discover how good (or bad) we really are at skiing.

It will be good to have some home cooked meals for the next few days and also to have Dave and Alex here so we can actually have conversations in English.

We don't have internet access at the chalet (or even a Macca's in town with free wi-fi) so the blogs may need to be loaded whenever an opportunity arises.

Posted by thomastour 05:06 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Why are you driving an Austrian car?

... which is the question asked to us by the Police!

semi-overcast -14 °C
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Another cold morning - poking our noses out the window we discovered how cold it was (-14 degrees), but htere had only been a very fine sprinkling of snow overnight.

After only having the car for 2 days it is already filthy due to the snow and mud that you get on the edges of the road, so we had to clean the windows in the cold just so we could see well enough to drive around.

We wanted to see a bit of the Fortress Marionberg which overlooks Wurzburg, but not having a town map we drove around a bit - backtracking and doing U-turns to try to get to a position where Cathy could get some photo's. This seemed to bring us to the attention of the local police and we were followed and when I stopped they pulled up behind us and wanted to see my licence and the papers for the car. I asked if I had done anything wrong and they assured me that I hadn't, but after looking at my licence and the rental car papers they asked - 'why are you driving an Austrian car in Germany?'. It would have seemed obvious to me that the fact that we were foreign tourists in a hire car was answer enough - but I needed to tell them we were touring around. Anyway they were happy and left us alone.

From Wurzburg we headed toward Munich with a planned stop in Nurnberg ( more commonly known to us as Nurringberg) which the only thing we knew about it was that it was the sight of the War Crimes tribunals after WWII. Anyway, it turns out to be a city with some great historic buildings and a walk (in minus 14 degree temperatures) to them brought us to yet another Christmas Market. This one was quire large and spread ver several squares in the old part of the town and one group of stalls even had moving figurines on their roofs. I thought it rather funny that the baker was pulling a trowel full of snow out of his oven.

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to warm up after the markets we stopped at a McDonalds and along with coffee and soup (great idea that should be picked up in Australia) we discovered a thing called 'curly fries' - turns out they are curls of potato seasoned and cooked like potato wedges - very nice.

Anyway it was onto Munich - with the weather getting warmer and warmer (it's all relative) and finishing at a balmy minus 5 degrees. Our hotel is in the suburbs about 10km south of the centre of Munich, but is in a street named Hauptstraße (which we gather means 'central road' or something similar). Anyway our very clever GPS took us to the wrong Hauptstraße which was in a nearby suburb and we had to break out the original GPS unit to find the right one. It was worth it as the hotel is very nice and even has underground parking to keep the car out of the freezing weather.

Tea was at a local Bavarian Restaurant that had a real local and family feel to it - the food was great and the atmosphere really nice.

We've also had a day of catching up with friends in Australia via Skype and with Cathy's parents via Skype again and Dave and his mate Alex have also arrived in Munich today so we can pick them up tomorrow for the drive to St. Gilgen in Austria and our Christmas chalet rental.

Posted by thomastour 12:53 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The Romantic Road.....

and falling snow

snow -16 °C
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We woke to find that lots of snow had fallen during the night and it was still snowing! The place looked like a white wonderland but it also added a whole new dimension to driving! Frozen snow on your windscreen can be hard to remove and even when you do as you drive more snow is flung up by other vehicles and sticks to the windscreen all over again. Our comfort was that the locals seemed to be having the same problems. e noticed people pulling up and throwing snowballs at their windscreens so as to clean them.

We continued along the now very white romantic road with brief stops at Ulm and Aalen before discovering the delightful Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This is another gorgeous walled city without a single modern building. After the Thirty Years War the town was too poor to carry out any modernisation and remained unchanged for 250 years. then tourism brought economic benefits and a good reason to leave the town as it was. It is a beautiful Bavarian German town jsut made more lovely by Christams markets and fallen snow. The only catch was that so many people were visiting and turning the snow into slippery slush around the markets! The town was almost like one giant Christmas market, decorated beautifully, serving hot foods and beverages and one handmade craft after another.

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It was so cold though, about -16 degrees! Our long johns have more than proved their worth and I've been very happy with my woolen socks and goretex shoes but even with these my toes were starting to suffer in the cold. I had to take my insulated glove off to take photos and my fingers really started to complain, fortunately there are lots of gorgeous shops with heating to warm you up! Geoff was given a print of a hand painted map of th town signed by the artist herself. She had quite a conversation with him having lived in Australia while her husband worked on the Snowy Mountains Hydro electric scheme.

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Then it was onto Wurzburg, our stop for the night. As it was still snowing we decided to eat at our hotel. Though the hotel was lovely the restaurant couldn't cope with so many people eating in! It took about and 1 and 1/2 hours to get our meal! The food was delicious fortunately but they had a few not so happy customers!

Posted by thomastour 11:26 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hop, Skip & Jumping across countries

… 4 countries in 1 day (a new 1 day record for this trip)

sunny -16 °C
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During the night I looked out our hotel window to see a layer of snow in the mall at Innsbruck – but by morning there was none left on the ground – the only real evidence was the piles of snow of the roofs of the Christmas Market stalls. But in my walk across town to pick up the hire car you could see plenty of other evidence. And finally the car itself had plenty of snow on it.

That snow was just the start of a day full off snow and temperatures that got as low as minus16 (mind you we were in the car at that point and neither of us intended to stick our noses out the window to feel what it was like). However temperatures in the range minus 6 to minus 11 were common for most of the day. Apparently all of Europe is going through a cold snap at the moment with temperatures up to 7 degrees below average. However we also had a top temperature for the day of 19 degrees – but that was at the halfway point in a 15km long tunnel so probably doesn't really count.

With some of the parking fees we have had to pay on this trip it was a pleasant surprise to find that the parking station in Innsbruck didn't charge for the first hour, so I was able to park, load up the car and even do a couple of other things without it costing us.

First stop for the day was across the border into Lichtenstein – you have to be quick because when you do cross the border you have only about 10km before you drive out the other side into Switzerland. Lichtenstein is a principality of about 30,000 people spread across 11 towns, with the capital Vaduz having a population of only 5,000. Even our guide book struggles to nominate a day's worth of activities there so includes bathroom breaks and discussions with tourist office staff as part of a suggested 1-day itinerary. Anyway, we settled on driving into Vaduz, parking and having a very quick look around which included seeing the palace which is quite obvious being halfway up the mountain overlooking the town.

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Then it was off toward Germany, but the route took us briefly into Switzerland and Austria again. Once we got into Germany we turned off the major roads and headed west toward a town called Fussen which is the start of the so-called Romantic Road up through Germany. The Romantic Road is so-named because in summer it goes through a region abundant with sunflowers and vineyards and hills dotted with almost 100 castles. At Fussen were the first 2 castles, both built by King Ludwig II (Ludwig the Mad), with the more famous one being Konigsschlosser. It apparently was the inspiration of Disney's Cinderella Castle.

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Traveling to Fussen was along minor roads up and down through foothills covered with snow and even through a couple of towns with skiing facilities. The traffic was fairly light and it was great to just be seeing the country rathr than rushing along an autobahn. But after Fussen it was starting to get dark and we still had around 90km to go to our nights accommodation, so it was onto an autobahn to watch the km's slip away rather than to watch the scenery. We are staying in a town called Altenstadt in a very nice hotel, but on arrival we were greeted by the comment 'you're the Australians' – obviously visits from folk from down-under are not a common occurrence. And after tea at their associated restaurant (which is across the carpark) we came back and had to unlock the front door of the hotel (the 'manager' was helping in the restaurant) and there was a minibus load of people who had just arrived. We let them into the foyer, with Cathy holding the door open for them as the manager rushed across – and she said to Cathy 'thanks Australia'.

Posted by thomastour 08:10 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A tale of 2 cities

... and a train trip in between.

overcast -6 °C
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Wanting to see as much of Zurich as possible before we caught our train to Innsbruck we caught a taxi to the railway station (Hauptbahnhof) and booking our luggage in there we set off on foot. The Limmat River splits Zurich down the middle and is only a couple of blocks from the train station, half a dozen blocks and the river flows into Lake Zurich. Highlights of our wanderings were; Fraumunster, Grossmunster and St Peter's Kirche( all steepled churches close to the river), the old town and large indoor Christmas markets at the Railway station. In the middle of the market is a towering Christmas tree sparkling with over 5,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments!

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At 2.40pm we boarded our train for Austria arriving just after 6pm - having traveled at speeds of up to 160kph. We got to see a little more of Switzerland and some of Austria by train. Our hotel is only 700m from the train station so we walked our luggage down. Though Innsbruck is chilly there was no snow on the roads or pavements making for easy walking compared to the last few days!

After settling in we walked around the old town full of Christmas markets and beautiful Christmas lights before having pizza and salad for tea at a much more reasonable price than anywhere in Switzerland!

Posted by thomastour 08:33 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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