While I’m of course meticulously planning towards the workshop in southern France in fall of 2020, that doesn’t mean I’m sitting at home. On the contrary! I’ve been traveling more lately than I have in a long time, for many reasons- my lagniappe kids*, my daughter’s senior year, my husband’s schedule, to name just a few things that kept me home more over the past year. But, I’ve been pretty frequently on airplanes since May, and that is indeed how I like it.
Our daughter graduated on May 17, 2019 (Valedictorian! Seriously! This former homeschooling mother is so proud!) from her small homeschool hybrid school, and at about the same time, my two lagniappe kids left to start their military careers. Now, for my daughter, senior year had felt like a year-long sleepover with her besties, with the set of twins living with us, and so this transition has been more than just a little traumatic. You see, both twins chose the military as their path after high school; one of the twins left for USAF training, and the other to Marine Corps bootcamp. They didn’t just go down the street- they left. But, to ease the transition from very full house to very quiet house, we left as well, just after waving goodbye to our future Marine, for Europe.
Touring Switzerland, Austria, and Germany? That should get your mind off of hard things.
Now, I’ve wanted to take my son to Salzburg and Vienna ever since I discovered that he has both an extraordinary talent for piano and a love for anything written by Mozart or Beethoven. After all, if you are passionate about the music of Mozart, shouldn’t you see where he was born and lived much of his life? But of course I wanted my daughter to see these places from her artist perspective, and my husband to see Salzburg because of his passion for mountains. And thus, we flew into Zurich, rented a Mercedes (a serious departure from our usual cheap-skatedness, but MUCH nicer to drive on the autobahn!) and headed out along the A-1 towards Innsbruck, the first stop on the Wright Family Classical Music and Mountains Tour of Europe 2019.
Typically, I plan these trips for months ahead of time. This time, I planned hours ahead of time. As in, thank goodness for unlimited data as I use my Expedia app on the autoroute towards my destination. But don’t dismiss this technique as amateur- we found some amazing places to stay due to our lack of planning, and our first stop in Innsbruck was just one of those places. Our room at the Hotel Eagles Inn was in fact a small apartment, complete with two rooms and two bathrooms. Of course, who really cares how many bathrooms you have when you’re looking at the snow-capped Alps? Okay, well, I do. But still! Snow-capped mountains?
Often, the first night in Europe is a catch-up night for sleep- who really sleeps on a plane, even if you’re lucky enough to be in a lie-flat up front (I wasn’t)? Catching up on sleep is even better when you’re breathing the cool mountain air of the Austrian Alps after a meal of schnitzel that you’ve walked down narrow streets to find, and all of us slept well and woke up refreshed. After an impressive breakfast at our hotel (included, by the way!), we walked around Innsbruck itself before catching a tram to take us up to the top of the nearby mountains, where the snow was still thick on the ground and still lightly falling. My daughter and I huddled inside while my husband and son braved the chilly, wet, elements in order to have a bird’s-eye view of the city of Innsbruck. After he got his fill of the beauty of this part of Austria, we got back on the road towards Salzburg.
The last time I was in Salzburg, I was barely 20 years old, and it felt like sheer magic to me. I have a distinct memory of standing on a bridge, morning pastry in hand, and marveling at the coolness of the air and the beauty of the mountains around me, such a complete departure from my native Texas. Twenty-plus years later, it was every bit as magical as I remembered. We attempted, as a family, to walk every inch of this city, more than once, on this recent trip. Wandering around the old city, we immediately came across one of the top reasons for our trip: Mozart’s birthplace! We also seemed to stumble across music everywhere we went, from a band playing in the gardens of Schloss Mirabell to a classical music concert in a church, notes pouring from the door as we walked by. They definitely celebrate their musical heritage in this place. Of course, I could have used a band playing one of Mozart’s brisk marches as I trudged my way up to Hohensalzburg Fortress– the place on top of the mountain that makes Salzburg, well, Salzburg. Quite a trek, but the views from the top definitely made it worth it.
A few days in Salzburg (in yet another lovely apartment, I might add), and then we were on to our real destination: Vienna. But first, one must nourish oneself, right? Alas, we did not eat anything particularly memorable in either Innsbruck or Salzburg- I do not count schnitzel served by an irritable waitress in a touristy restaurant as memorable, at least not in a positive way. However, I often use an app when traveling called Culture Trip in order to get away from that sort of touristy, mediocre place. I first discovered it when we were in Santiago, Chile, and it led us to several amazing places, and it didn’t fail me this time either. It led us to Alte Welt, in the city of Linz along the route from Vienna to Salzburg, where I had the best meal of our entire time in Europe. Not to mention the fact that the tucked away courtyard where it is located made me feel like I’d discovered some secret passage back in time.
And then, Vienna. Ah, Vienna, I hadn’t seen this gem since my 20s either, and while she was just as beautiful and just as magical, I honestly think I could have just stayed in Salzburg the entire time. I’d forgotten what a huge city this is! In any case, it was still wonderful, AND also we found the Bosendorfer showroom, where they graciously allowed my son to indulge his need for piano practice for over an hour. Highlights of Vienna include stumbling across an a cappella choir concert in St. Peter’s Church, the Bosendorfer showroom, of course, and the warm apple strudel the kids and I enjoyed in a cafe near the opera house while sitting out the rain. And, our apartment in Vienna was quite an Expedia find. The name doesn’t exactly draw you in- Cube 70– but put that aside and check out their website if you’re going to be staying in Vienna. Remember the feeling I described from Alte Welt, of having discovered a secret passage back in time? The courtyard and hallways of Cube 70 have that very same feeling: Black and white tiled floors with a patina that can’t come from anything but the passage of time and many, many feet, curving stone staircases, inexplicable yet beautiful fountains mounted on the white plaster walls. But step inside the apartments and you find clean, spare, modern comfort, complete with gorgeous parquet floors and a wonderful, sparkling clean bathroom. These apartments are located a little further out of the city center, but when you’re traveling with 4 people, that’s often what you get if you are on a budget, as we always are.
And then at last, we turned back west and began the surprisingly long journey back towards Switzerland. We had not realized how very far to the east Vienna is, but now we do. We really, really do. It is a long drive, and so to make it less painful, we went back through the very, very bottom of Germany, fully intending to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, but due to my and my family’s complete aversion to large buses filled with selfie-stick bearing tourists and long lines (what you find at Neuschwanstein- it’s very famous, you know), we ended up instead at the world’s longest Tibet style bridge, located back in Austria. Highline 179 was without a doubt the better choice, if not a little unnerving! But, this delicate-looking bridge that spans from mountaintop to mountaintop AND from castle ruin to castle ruin was yet another trip highlight.
Also a highlight was the “hotel” we stayed at in this part of Austria. Back on my Expedia app, I discovered another apartment, Haus Wotzinger, this time located inside a typical Bavarian-style** house. While it was cozy and charming and our host was wonderful, it was really the location and the views that made it so special. That evening, as we were settling in, we saw, in the meadow stretching out before us that turned sharply into forested mountainside, two enormous, stately elk silhouetted against the alpine backdrop. They eyed us, curious but wary, for several minutes, until at last they turned and dropped behind a hill and out of our view.
Did I mention it was snowing again?
And I can’t think of a nicer was to spend our last night in the amazing country that is Austria than enjoying watching elk in a meadow at sunset, with snowflakes falling against the Alps.
*Lagniappe: From Cajun French, means “an unexpected extra gift or bonus.” These two kids came to live with us for their senior year of high school, and while we never saw that coming, we’re so, so glad they did. They are part of our lives now. Thus, they are our lagniappe kids- our little something extra.
**They are Bavarian style perhaps only in my head. We were actually in Austria, but the border of southern Germany was only minutes away.