Monday, January 30, 2012

Austria - an inside perspective

Salzburg - the next days.

So now that my brother Brian is in town and that there are also some Red Bull colleagues of his also from the US, I've been having full non hand waving English conversations. It's good for the brain, as well as the hands. German is a difficult language to pick up. Having worked at a German design agency years ago and having to work with their language without being able to speak it, I always admired the sheer length of some of their words which I swear could be as long as 9,436 characters! As well, I admired any person who could not only pronounce these words, but could use them in a proper sentence, all in one breath without passing out. This makes me think that I should check the Guiness World Book of Records to see if the person who holds the record for the longest time without taking a fresh breath only did so because they were speaking one of these words.

One really should admire the opportunities that the people of Salzburg have. Within a few hours by train or car, you have cities to travel to such as Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna, and even Venice. Compare this to the choices we have on the prairies, and you can see why at least some jealousy comes into play. If I had the choice of heading to Brandon, Manitoba or to Vienna, Austria, my guess is that I'd more likely choose Vienna. Nothing against Brandon, it is beautiful in its own way, but it's not Vienna and judging from my last visit, never will be. Not only do you get a spectacular change in scenery, you get a change in culture as well. Funny thing though is that not all Europeans travel as much as we think they would with these opportunities. Talking to some locals, I've likely been to Paris far more times than the average person who lives here. To me, that's just crazy! Too much shnitzel in the brain if you ask me, but it's just different.

I've always seen such an importance placed on family in most of the places I've traveled to in Europe, and family does tend to stick together. My brother has taken me to a restaurant here that he regularly visits (he travels here at least 10 times each year for business), and on our first visit after he landed on Saturday, he was greeted by the owner like he was family. We went back today for lunch, and again, he was greeted just as well, and this time, so was I. There are restaurants I visit frequently back at home, and I can't say I've ever felt that welcomed. People here seem to come first.

My adventures the past couple of days have kept me within the downtown area of Salzburg, but tomorrow, while my brother and the rest of his Red Bull crew are all heading to work, I'll be breaking out of the city via a bus and then a gondola and heading up to see a glacier up close. Funny thing, being from Canada, spending some good money and a full day to go see some snow and ice, but hey, this is Austrian ice! Plus it'll be good to see some country side. It's sadly my last full day of tourism before heading back to Winnipeg, so I'll have to make it count.

Cheers, until later.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Austria - days 2 and 3

Salzburg, part 2

There's been a bit of a delay in my blogging (technology again grrrr), but the exploring of an amazing cultural centre has certainly continued. It's Saturday morning, my brother just arrived from Los Angeles (via meetings in New York), and he's just crashed for a couple hours after not much sleep on his flight over. Somehow he was in first class on Luthansa Airlines, versus my no class on Air Canada, yet I managed to get more sleep than he did. While he sleeps, I'll catch up on my writing. I will be writing more in depth later as I've been taking lots of pictures, and some things are best explained with visual examples.

It's always a little strange exploring a city on your own, particularly when you don't have a decent grasp of the local language. My German isn't too bad - I can order food in quantities up to ten, and I'm pretty good at saying 'hello' and saying 'good-bye' and saying 'really? My drink cost that much?'. Well, maybe not exactly that last one. But the Red Bull Cola I'm drinking so that I can have the priviledge of sitting in the hotel lounge did just cost more than yesterday's seafood lunch. In Salzburg, particularly this time of year, you don't hear many English conversations taking place. I always trust a destination that the locals (in this case Austrians and Germans) like to visit. It's like walking into an ethnic restaurant and seeing people of that ethnicity eating there. It's just a feel good situation.

Yesterday (Friday) I started off exploring along the river bank - my trusty tourist map showed a couple of areas where it appeared that I could get a good view of the river, the old town and the fortress up top of the mountain using explanding red lines. So it was either going to be a good view, or the map was indicating areas of high radiation. Not knowing which, I took my chances. And boy o boy was I rewarded! Of course it ended up being some tremendous gains in elevation, but for that view, it was worth it (pictures to come in a later blog). For an area that should have been completely over run with tourists, it was absolutely quiet. I came across what I was excited to think was Mozart's grave - there was a monument that was very headstone like, a description of when he was born and when he died, so I figured heck, this must be it! Research later on at the hotel sadly proved me wrong - turns out no one actually knows where he's buried as he was originally, after a sadly short life, buried like a commoner, and the thought is that his remains were later dug up, crushed, and moved aside for someone else. His skull though possibly was spared, though that's not completely proven. Anyway, moving on from the monument I climbed up and up and up, losing a layer every 100 meters or so of elevation, eventually reaching my destination of the Franziskischlossl Castle. I should note here that when I originally lived in northern Germany, I went on a 'Castle tour' with my friend Heike and 30 of her closest tourism classmates. Excited by the thought of visiting castle after castle, it was not until I reached the first one and thought to myself 'this? This is a Castle? It's just a large home!' did I get educated on the fact that in this part of the world, a Castle is really just a large house. Not even that large, in fact. No moat or draw-bridge or even a turret were ever present. So this is what I stumbled upon yesterday, but what it lacked in size, it more than made up for this with the view.

My other gain in elevation took place the day before, when I went to visit the most visable and famous structure, the Festung Hohensalzburg. This was the old residence of the church, which is more like a fort than anything else. There are two ways of getting there - walking (I think there's a gain of at least 200 meters from the old town), or taking the FestungsBahn, a railroad type device to carry people up the side of the mountain, sparing them them hardship and sweat of climbing it on their own. My plan was to walk up, tour the buildings, take in the sites, then take it down so I could see the city from top to bottom. Turns out it closes for major maintenance only one day of the year, and that happened to be the day. It did add to the fun of the day though watching some pretty out of shape tourists making the challenging journey up, not looking nearly as festive as they would have been taking a ride.

Again, what a view, a full 360 degree panorama that just took your breath away (if you had it back after the climb). I have to say, the church certainly knew what it was doing when they developed that space over a thousand years ago. Ruling the lands and basically being able to get what you want, where you want it, who wouldn't have chosen the highest and most easily defended space? Of course those who actually built it lived below in it's shadows where they were more vulnerable to attacks from any hostile group.

With all of this climbing and continual walking, I usually have to find creative ways of keeping myself energized. Some days, after 4 or 6 or even 8 hours of exploring, my energy does fail. Years ago when traveling with my wife in Sydney, Australia, not being a coffee drinker, I discovered chocolate covered espresso beans. Believe me, being 10 time zones over, sometimes it's nice to have something to aid you. This habit though evolved - it's now iced-mochas that keep me going. The only problem is that that's a heck of a lot of liquid to take in, and anyone who's traveled throughout Europe can confirm that here, particularly in tourist areas, there is only one washroom per 10,000 people. The ratio in Paris is even worse! So maybe it's good that a) I have not found one single Starbucks here, and b) any decent coffee shop here does NOT make any espresso drinks iced. That, or the combination of my minimal German and general hand gestures is not as effective as I'd hope them to be when it comes to communicating. So that's where Red Bull comes in. Not something I'd usually drink, I justify this in two regards - it's keeping me energized (gives you wings, hey?) and it's a local specialty. Just like Weinersnitzel. As they say, go local, or just go home.

And that I don't intend to do, at least not yet. There are still more adventures to be had! Now they'll include my brother. We're not completely the same. In fact, we're probably quite opposite in many ways, so we'll see how the adventure continues.

My comfy blogging spot 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Twenty some hours later

The Canadian has landed. Actually, three times. First in Montreal, then in Frankfurt, finally in Salzburg. Being someone who loves travel and thankfully still likes flying, it was a good adventure overall. There are always lessons to be learned - such as, if someone's checking your passport and boarding pass, there's a good chance you're walking into an area that you're not going to be let out of - at least not easily. That's what happened to me in Montreal not realizing that their International departures area was like this. What it meant was that the GOOD restaurants were on the side I just came from. The BAD ones were the only ones I could access. Thankfully I was rewarded soon after with a very empty flight and four seats to myself!

So now here I am, sitting in my hotel room, working on what I still intend to be a daily blog (if the frustrations of wifi don't eventually bring me down), snacking away. I could be out wandering the quiet streets of Salzburg - it is a beautiful town, and don't get me wrong, but I already did that in a half-dazed state earlier today while waiting for my hotel room to be prepared. Keeping me company are a Stiegl 500 ml beer, a bag of paprika chips, and a bar of one of my favourite chocolates in the world, Ritter Sport Mousse au Chocolat. This was all acquired at the Shell station 100 meters from my hotel. Now this isn't the fanciest dinner in the fanciest of places, but after 3 long flights and sleeping and eating with everyone else around, it's nice to have a little bit of quiet and privacy (and no seat belt signs). Plus I'm not worried about what the attendant is going to think when I take my time nursing this beer. And I have to say, what a huge disappointment Air Canada has turned out to be for flying over seas. The planes and the seats were more than fine, but talk about poor (and grumpy) service, and about the worst airplane food I've ever had. Plus, on the Montreal-Frankfurt flight, they might have done us all the favour of letting us know before we boarded exactly how miniscule the dinner would be! Plus, breakfast was a plastic-wrapped day old (at least) muffin with a choice of beverage. I won't even ask what ever happened to the hot towels.

The first day in Europe is always the most challenging - with the multiple time changes, not sleeping, eating breakfast at your usual dinner time and eating your dinner at your usual breakfast time, things tend to get a little messed up. But I love it - it shakes things up, as it 're-sets' your days and takes away the normal routine.

So as my adventure begins, I'm again reminded of how different Europe is. I guess it's fair to say, especially looking at my choice of dinner tonight, sometimes you just make different decisions and live life a little bit differently here. My first trip to Europe, back with my buddy Jamie after finishing university, was a budget based trip, and I find I've never lose that sensibility when traveling here. Jamie and I shared some amazingly cheap wines on that trip that I'd never even cook with let alone drink today, but sometimes that's just the way it is - and it all works out fine. Except for that period of 24 hours in Greece where Jamie, after some cheap drinks completely lost his memory, lost his way back to our hotel, and supposedly had an hour long conversation with a Pelican (see previous blog entry for details).

I have two full days to explore Salzburg before my brother arrives Saturday morning. Two days to adjust to the time zone, two days to work on my German, two days to explore and see what I can discover on my own. And two days to figure out why my bluetooth keyboard keeps disconnecting from my Blackberry Playbook as I'm typing. Otherwise, my entries will be becoming VERY short, and a certain un-named keyboard (you know who you are...) is going to go for a short swim in the river!

Cheers for now!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Off to Austria! The typical winter holiday...

While most Canadians are packing up their short and sunscreen and heading south, here I am, heading East. Way East. Not the far-East East, but the Europe kind of East. I'm off to Salzburg, Austria. The only chance of me wearing shorts might be on the way to the hotel gym and the only chance of me getting a sunburn might be on my nose if I manage to get above 3,000 meters on the nearby slopes (sadly as a sightseer rather than a skier).

Winter this year has been pretty easy, as winter goes. Usually our winters are long and they can be difficult to manage, like a long lost relative who drops in to live with you for 5 or 6 months. This year  it's been more like just an annoying week or so. I haven't felt that usual burning desire to escape to somewhere where bars come in two types: outdoors, and swim-up. When my brother tempted me to meet up with him before some meetings at the Red Bull European offices, I made the rash decision to join up and keep him company (brothers are supposed to do this for each other - it's part of the bro code). 

So I'll be blogging, hopefully daily during this journey. If there are gaps in my posts, I blame it either on my bluetooth keyboard acting up (which it's already doing), or on too much Austrian beer the night before. Or maybe both...

Blogging station number 1. Airport comfort at it's best.