Visit Austria with The Wanderers

By Alka Deshpande


The US visas for our co-travellers were not happening which meant that we had a whole week of vacation before proceeding to New York and Columbia University to attend our son’s graduation. With barely 10 days left, getting a visa from the country of our choice (Spain/Portugal/Greece) in time was difficult, if not downright impossible. Our travel consultant, Farah from Wanderers suggested Germany (of course, the Germans would be the most efficient!!) as that was the only consulate that would give us a visa in a week. So we planned to visit Munich (our port of entry), Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest.


Europe is one of our favourite traveling destinations for all the variety it offers…scenic surroundings, history, architecture, art, cuisine and good weather….if you are lucky!!

We landed at Munich and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves upgraded to a suite at the Le Meredien – what a nice start to our holiday! We wandered around the city on a Hop-on Hop-off tour that allowed us to spend as much time as we liked at any of the spots or skip ones that did not interest us. The problem, however, is that sometimes by the time the guide finishes his explanation in three languages the object of his verbosity is left far behind!!! One of the must see places in Munich is undoubtedly the BMW Museum. This ‘Mecca’ for automobile fans, it impressed and intrigued even a casual visitor like me. The sprawling Scloss Nymphenburg spread luxuriantly amidst acres of well laid gardens is beautiful too. Munich seemed a friendly city and it is a relief that English is more widely understood now than it was during our first trip to Europe in the 1990’s.

Kumar outside the BMW Museum, Munich

One of he highlights of our trip was the train journeys between destinations. Farah did not have to work too hard at encouraging us to splurge and travel first class. It may have cost us an arm and a leg, but it was worth every penny. The trains are clean, fast, and efficient and our seats were booked and marked out with our names. We were met promptly at all the stations by distinguished looking and extremely courteous chauffeurs and many of them were quite knowledgeable about the city and its history. To our astonishment we also encountered a couple of them who had traveled to India!!

Austria is beautiful…probably as good as Switzerland. We spent 2 days at Vienna which is a huge bustling city full of the most beautiful old buildings. On our first evening at Vienna we visited the Kursalon theatre for a musical performance of Strauss melodies. It was very entertaining and the female lead vocalist irrevocably reminded one of the famous Bianca Castafiore (of the Tintin comics fame) even though this lady was pencil slim and very pretty!!

An evening city tour took us up a TV tower from where we could get a beautiful view of Vienna and the Danube by the light of the setting sun. The highlight of the tour was a visit to a little tavern with live musicians and a warm and cozy ambience. We spent a lovely evening chatting with tourists from around the world, sipping wine and enjoying the lively melodies – waltzes, folk music, and even the theme from ‘Titanic’!

Outside Mayerling Hunting Lodge, Vienna Woods

A day trip took us through the beautiful countryside to the Mayerling hunting Lodge with its haunting history of the tragic romance of Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress Baroness Vetsera. The lodge has now been converted into a church and nunnery and incredulously the bedchamber where the lovers were found dead is now the chapel!!!

Kumar and I on the Danube River Cruise, Budapest

Following the Danube further south brought us to Budapest (Hungary), another old and historic city with a huge rambling castle and grounds sitting atop a hill. Our guide, Catherine took us on a 4 hour walking tour around the city and yes, up the hill to the castle as well. Because their economy is in a shambles, the city seems a bit run down but it is very beautiful nevertheless. The city has a lot of history of invasion and influences of different cultures as, pretty much like Rajasthan in India, it bore the brunt of invasions into Europe. One of the advantages of the walking tour is that one gets to see curious and interesting little known places, charming inns and buildings which would otherwise be lost in a group tour. It was also lovely talking to Catherine as she was really knowledgeable and was quite easily the best guide we had. That evening we went for a performance of Hungarian Folk dances which was exhilarating. The dances were energetic and intricate, the music foot-tapping and the costumes gorgeous.

The Danube at Budapest is broad and majestic and divides the city into its two original quarters, Buda and Pest. The evening river cruise on the Danube beckoned… and watching the lights come on and light up the elegant and historic buildings and bridges on either side of the river was a sight worth seeing. Hungary is also famous for the delicate porcelain and dainty lacework …but it is prohibitively expensive!

A view of St.Wolfgangsee from the yacht

And finally we reached Salzburg is probably one of the quaintest and most charming places we have seen. Right from our heritage hotel, the Aldtstat Radisson Blu to the Salzach river, its just picture perfect.

The hotel is housed in a 600 year old building and has been renovated most tastefully. The coffee shop, called Picnic, had delicious food and we found ourselves eating there almost every day. There are many well organized tours to see every part of Salzburg including the hugely popular ‘Sound of Music’ tour (and, NO, we did not take that tour. Its like one of our chauffers said, “The movie was made 40 years ago and people still want to run around like Maria Von Trapp!!”). One highly recommended trip is the one to the Salt mines and another to Eagles nest and the Nazi bunkers. The latter is a chilling experience. Also, not to be missed is the Lakes and Mountains trip that stops at the tiny village of St.Wolfgangsee. Yes, its all very touristy and recreates the ambience of tiny picturesque village with hazaar quaint shops selling zillions of overpriced souvenirs, but its fun as long as you don’t think this is the real Austria. What is worth seeing at St.Wolfgangsee, however, is the winged Gothic altar by Michael Pacher (one of only 2 that he made). Pacher’s masterpiece is considered one of the leading and most remarkable carved and painted altar shrines in all of European art. Do not forget to pick up your supply of ‘Mozart Balls’ before you leave Salzburg, they are available everywhere!


So what did I enjoy most about the trip to Austria? Undoubtedly the lavish breakfasts that were spread out each morning no matter where we stayed. Nothing like starting a day with a King sized repast and then walking it all off exploring the fascinating and engrossing cities and countryside.

So here’s a HUGE ‘Thank You’ to Farah and The Wanderers – All the meticulous planning and the excellent arrangements certainly made our holiday a truly memorable one.

Indian tourist in Europe

We would like to share the experience of one of our clients, Rishiraj Singh who has just returned from his holiday around Europe and couldn’t stop raving about the experience he has had.  Here he gives us a detailed account of his journey.

Starting off the tour to the Arctic Circle !!!

Commenced the long journey to Helsinki via Frankfurt. Slept throughout the plane journey to Frankfurt, only to get soaked in football fever in Germany. Kind of a festival atmosphere at the airport. Ventured out in the 7-hour stopover with Kiran, my wife. Met a Brazilian named Eugenia in the subway train to Frankfurt city central. The helpful local took us to the old city as against her plans to show us around. What a sweet way to start the sojourn !! enjoyed the tranquility of the atmosphere there in, feasting on a fantastic pork pizza and strawberry cake along the way only to end up having yummy pasta on the onward flight to HELSINKI. And now it’s 11:30 pm here and we can still see daylight and scores of youngsters soaking in the atmosphere. Sitting in a pub called Teerenpeli wherein the Jack Daniels and amazing scenes have helped get over the jet lag!! Not to forget the picturesque Hotel Helka where we are staying. DAY 2 will take us to Rovaniemi.

A Colourful day in HELSINKI …

Helsinki had a lot of surprise in store for us. Instead of booking city tours, we set off on our own for a walk around to the main places in the city. All the key locations were nearby, the market, the station, STOCKMANN- the departmental store for bargain lookers like us and the main attraction – The Senate Square + the Lutheran Cathedral. With green and white decorating the beautiful monument, the Square bore a very lively look. The entire youth brigade with balloons had descended in thousands on what was a parade. Crossdressers as air hostesses, decorated canines, even a few nude chicks, varied hairstyles, Bavarian girls.The colors were endless and to back it up was live music. A local named Oulen briefed us on the significance of the party atmosphere. Headed further to the Orthodoxan Cathedral and then to the Esplanade market, studded with souvenirs. Bought some tasty fresh strawberries and even witnessed a Finn wedding. A long walk for 4 hrs and we had seen the heart of the city. Made our way on foot to the station in the evening to head for the Arctic Circle. A cute twin cabin and a cozy bed. Santa here we come…

Rovaniemi – high up in Lapland !!!

Rovaniemi was full of nature which one could come across only in Lapland. Luckily we were there when the Jutajaiset festival was on and it was actually the last day – 4th July. A Folklore Festival with World Music. We had Finnish, Europeans, Africans, and Asians amongst the performers.

Post a quiet soothing walk across the Ounaskaki river which passes through Rovaniemi overlooked by the Ounasvaara peak, we crossed the CANDLE BRIDGE to reach the venue for the festival. Luckily the finale of the evening – a Finnish Band Piirpauke was left and we decided to go for it. Had a kick-ass pizza at Valde – Mari, studded with reindeer meat and then we were a witness to the best music for a long time. With Ghanaians joining the impromptu jugalbandi with the Piirpauke, it just proved one point – music builds relations very strongly. The music still rings in my ears. The same day we visited ARKTIKUM – an encyclopedia on the Arctic Circle – quite an experiential tour.

The next 2 days were a toast to the area’s wildlife, the Ranua Wildlife Park which had the polar bears, musk ox, brown bears, wolverines and the snowy owl (finally saw a park without lion, tigers and elephants) and the Reindeer Park Safari which was the actual place where we crossed 66.32 latitude – THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.

The reindeer were against our assumptions, extremely noble guys, clean and furry and even WHITE – one in 1000 is white and we saw 2. But the cherry on the cake was the husky dog Safari, ferocious looking cute canines. The customary visit to the Santa Claus village filled in the itinerary. With Lapland done, the definition of Finland was complete – a large forest with a 1000 beautiful lakes and rivers and a few inhabitants. A truly different experience.

Fascinating Tallinn – Estonia !!

The last day in Helsinki was an extensive tour of the city by foot, and studded with loads of shopping – KARLFAZER chocolates are a must and designers clothes (if the pocket helps the same). The clothes are bizarre and beautiful at the same time – and they prove the fact that Helsinki is the WORLD’S DESIGN CAPITAL. A visit to Soumenlinna – an adjoining Sea Fortress and sipping on coffee at the beautiful cafes therein relaxed us before the oncoming hectic schedule.

The next day was Tallinn – Estonia and undoubtedly the most picturesque city which we would have ever seen. Surprising to find how beautifully an Old Town has been preserved and maintained – complete with Cathedrals, Mosques, passages and culture. Felt a part of History at St. Catherine’s Passage, tried my hand at archery and roamed a lot at the marketplace which was complete with locals in traditional costumes selling traditional wares. Made a pretty sight. Had a stage wherein performances, recitals, fashion shows (dressed up as Russian Czars) rounded up the beauty.

Tallinn made the trip complete. Finished off the first leg of Europe – Finland and Estonia in the traditional Finnish SAUNA – a must do for every tourist in Finland. Relaxing and Unique!!!

Unplanned trip surprises us – SALZBURG …

After a good fulfilling tour of Finland, Munich was a little bit tiring esp as the flight was at 6.55 am. Sort of trudged our way to the hotel and then rested till afternoon. The restlessness of not traveling took us over as well as the eagerness to see SALZBURG in AUSTRIA as was recommended by a good friend.

Unplanned, spontaneous and exciting – left the hotel at 3.25 pm, got tickets from Hauptbahnhof at 3.38 and caught the 3.42 train to Salzburg to see something which could match Talinn in all its grandeur. Salzburg Old Town (Altstadt) with its world famous baroque architecture is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps and made a picturesque location with its green domes and the castle in the background.

It is the place where “Sound of Music” was shot, the art and culture inclination was visible in every aspect –  Mozart, the Cathedrals, Riverbanks et all. Saw the Panoramic view of the city from atop the Museum of Modern Art.
On the way back we caught with a Somali student and an Egyptian national in the train and imagine what connected us and got us talking – SHAHRUKH KHAN. They would literally know each and every movie of his with the release year – believe that he connects to their emotions !!!

Atop Germany – Zugspitze !!

10th of July was atop the highest peak in Germany – Zugspitze – laden with snow and giving a great view of 4 countries surrounding it. Was a perfect goodbye to a fantastic tour of Europe.

The evening saw us catch Germany in its fullest as the 3rd place playoff of the FIFA WORLD CUP – Germany v/s Uruguay was on roaming around Marienplatz we saw all cafes jumping in joy at each goal. A German victory it was to get the entire town on the streets, in cafes, in front of the screens. The lit and lively city with its street performers saw us off with a well rounded off long holiday !!! Too many must dos on a tour like this and too diverse a holiday to match.

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