Last winter, Victor and I felt like we were in the mood for travelling somewhere not to far away but different enough to change the scene. I am not keen on flying (and when I say not keen, I mean I fear for my life with every flight I take), so a road trip seemed like a good plan. And what is close enough to Romania, where we are from, and with enough locations to explore? Austria. We had a few vacation days left around New Year’s day and decided we were going to use them to drive there, few hours a day at a time. Like this we would be able to enjoy the trip without getting exhausted (it takes a total of 15 hours). After that we were going to work remotely and drive 2 or 3 hours once a few days to change location and enjoy a new place.
Until this winter, seeing more of Austria was not on my bucket list necessarily, as I had been previously there for their snowboarding slopes. From what I knew about it, it was just an European country not so different, architectural wise, from the other ones near it and only popular in winter time. Boy, was I wrong! We started the trip with a plan just for the first 3 days spent in Austria, with Vienna being first on the list, and then let the faith and our mood decide the next stop.
New Year’s Eve in Vienna
For a few years now we have been hearing about the Christmas/New Years Markets in Vienna being the most beautiful in Europe and we definitely needed to see them. We booked 3 nights there, one of these 3 nights actually being the New Year’s Eve. We have never spent New Year’s Eve in a different country and we were eager to experience something like this, see what are the traditions here or how people enjoy this day. We did not have to work during this time, so it was perfect for us just to enjoy the days with long walks and exploring what the city had to offer. Our accommodation (found here) was close to the Opera House, a serviced apartment very comfortable and with breakfast included served at the restaurant on the main floor.
Something that we didn’t experience before in another European capital is that during these days, the streets of Vienna were full at any moment. It was a feeling of celebration in the air, always hearing laughs and seeing people from different countries with the traditional cup of mulled wine from the New Years markets in their hands. Oh, yes, about these markets! At every other mile, a New Year’s market was popping up with the smell of street food making you eat more than you would wish. We have visited six of them and we can now say that we got the full experience of the holiday markets of Vienna.
On New Year’s Eve we did not have any plans made other than have some relaxing walks into the city and then enjoy the fireworks from a square at midnight. It was the first year when we did not organise or went to a party, but we would not have it any other way. My surprise was that in Austria, people don’t focus that much on this day like they do in Romania. When in my country people plan what they are going to do on New Year’s Eve a couple of months in advance (either a trip away from the city or renting an entire place for a party) and celebrating until the dawn of the 1st of January, in Vienna it seems to be like an usual day for the Austrians. Even in the restaurants you could find available seats for the New Year’s dinner without previous reservations.
Tip: If you plan on spending New Year’s day in Vienna, choose to stay at walking distance of the places you want to go. Is hard to find transportation through the crowding streets.
At midnight, we went to the Rathausplatz (the city hall square) and did the countdown watching some amazing fireworks. The streets at this time were full of people and you could find it difficult to move through the crowds, but there was this feeling of friendship and joy between people. What has surprised me and Victor was that at 00:15, after the last firework has sparked, everyone was heading home. In Romania, at this point, the parties would have just begun. We decided to get back to the apartment too, as we were starting to get cold, and marked the Austrian New Year’s Eve as a wonderful experience.
The next day, we visited the Schonbrunn garden, as the palace was closed for visiting. The weather was warm and the location not crowded at all, making it perfect for a long walk and planning the next places to visit in Austria, with a remaining of two days vacation.
Since before we started this trip, Victor had one wish: to see as many lakes from this country as possible. Because we had only two days of vacation remaining on which we could spend more time on the road, we chose to see Hallstatt and Zell am See.
Hallstatt is being known as Austria’s most beautiful lake town, also considered to be one of the oldest still inhabited settlement in Europe. With very few inhabitants and the most spectacular traditional houses surrounded by the mountains, it gives to the tourists the most amazing views across the lake. We have arrived in Hallstatt at approximately 4pm and soon learnt that we didn’t plan the arrival that well, because the day light was already starting to fade. This meaning that those amazing views we wanted to photograph would not be snapshot during the day.
Because is a small popular village, cars are not allowed here from May to October, but we were feeling lucky being winter and hoped it will be easier for us to get to the spots we wanted. I must say that this was not exactly the case, because even if the cars were allowed through the village, we could hardly find a parking area. Or when one would be found, it would be full. When we finally parked the car, it was somewhere kind of far from the main attractions that, until we got to the centre of the village, it was already night. Needless to say, this is how we realised how visited and popular this small town is. Also, something was very strange for us: 80% of the tourists here were from China, something that wasn’t the case in the rest of the country. This made us wonder and do a fast google search and see why. And like that we discovered the following fun fact: China has developed its own clone village of Hallstatt (see here). The replica looks identical, except no one is living there, but the village is mostly used for wedding and other similar events.
Tip: Plan to visit Hallstatt during the day, the views are breathtaking.
We did a walk around the village and stopped to admire some of the views which were pretty spectacular, even during the night. The town being so small, it didn’t take us more than one hour. We quickly became hungry after this and decided to go in search of a restaurant, when we learnt the hard way we might not have dinner that evening. We didn’t find any restaurant that didn’t belong to a hotel. This would not be a bad thing, except they were serving only the people that were staying in that specific hotel. I think it took us another hour to find a place to eat and that was because we were lucky enough to find a restaurant with only one available table. We ate one of the best fish we ever had there and then continued our trip to Zell am See where we wanted to spend the night.
Tip: Restaurants in Hallstatt are closed from noon until the evening. So if you plan on having a meal during this time, you might not have where. Also, try and make a reservation prior dinner to be sure you will have an available table.
We might not have been lucky on taking some good photographs of Hallstatt, but maybe these ones will convince on adding this village to your bucket list.
Zell am See
We arrived in Zell am See very late at night, at a hotel with such an amazing balcony view we almost regretted we didn’t book more days. Zell am See is known for its ski slopes, but we did not have too much time to spent in this place to try them. Because of this, we chose to spend the day enjoying the views from our balcony in the morning and then a longer walk through the city. And what a good choice it was! Zell am See is not a big town, but its buildings were so cute and with such a romantic style that made our choice worth the while. See below some of the beauties.
After spending the day in Zell am See, we continued our road trip driving to Innsbruck, where we were going to spent 2 days working and then in the weekend try some of their popular ski slopes. Starting working remotely from Innsbruck until the end of our trip made us learn some lessons of how we should organise our time and accommodation during the trips. More about this is to be continued in a next post about working remotely and travel through Austria.