Central Europe Road Trip Part 2
Even in the chill of winter this gem has everything; from cold, clear skies in the Alps to misty lowlands, to sprawling hills and fields and Baroque cities. Austria is the center of the continent and also formed the center of our trip.
We drove south from Czech into the eastern part of Austria which was low and still shrouded in morning mist. As the sun rose higher, the fog cleared a bit and we got great views of the rolling hills. On top of one of these hills sits our first destination- the Melk Abbey. Overlooking its namesake along the Danube, this Benedictine abbey is a classic example of Austrian Baroque architecture. We arrived for our scheduled tour (scheduling ahead is required in the winter) in the late morning; we learned about the history of the monks of the abbey as well as some of its famous imperial visitors. The abbey still provides religious services for the surrounding area and houses monks who run a school for area children.
When rebuilding the abbey in the 18th century, the builders wanted to create a “Heaven on Earth” which was a hallmark the high Baroque style. I personally find its gold plating and imitation marble garish–a sentiment in line with many monks at the time causing a great fission in the Order. People actually fought over whether Jesus wore/would wear jewels. Despite it being better suited for a fickle emperor than a religious order, the abbey and Melk are well worth a visit at least to learn about this important period in Austrian and European history.
After Melk we drove to the magical city of Salzburg before finding a place to sleep for the night. Our brief stay was entirely at night. In the main market square there was a small area where they sold hot drinks like Glühwein and had large couches with blankets where you could cuddle your love. We visited the cathedral there called Salzburger Dom, which was founded in the 700s and was the site of the baptism of Salzburg native, Mozart. The most magical thing of all was how dark the city was and therefore how clear the sky was. Even though we were in a city, we could see many winter constellations. Other than Mozart, Salzburg is also the birthplace of “Silent Night” and both created the soundtrack of our short visit.
As we drove further via the Austria Autobahn, the rolling hills turned into the steep Alps. Passing through idyllic towns and winding mountain roads is much more like heaven on earth to me than any gilded alter. Somewhere near Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak, we took a precarious road to a small ski stop. Because I don’t know how to ski, we strapped on our crampons, took the (ridiculously expensive) gondola up near the peak and hiked back down.
Though we followed a trail the whole time, the sun-bathing ski bunnies and the fatigued cross-country skiers definitely thought we were crazy. While I want to learn to ski one day, I just love the sound of snow crunching under my spikes. The views at over 3000 meters were stunning. The slow decent allowed us time to really enjoy them to get our figure-skater on sliding across the frozen, literally alpine lakes.
After a quick trip to Liechtenstein and Germany, we returned to Austria to spend New Year’s in Vienna. We stayed near the Museum Quarter and enjoyed the Museum of Natural History. I also finally learned what “Weiner” means (HINT: Wien is the German name of Vienna). Unfortunately we had a little too much New Year’s revelry, but I plan to make it back to the World’s Most Livable City in the near future. Hopefully I remember more next time.
Part 3 of our Central European Road Trip is our jaunt in the tiny but breathtaking Liechtenstein!