A Magical Day in Austria

Suggested by our program directors and Metropole, a Viennese magazine published in English, Ester and I went on a day excursion consisting of a bike ride through Wachau Valley from Melk to Krems directly along the Danube River. We took a one hour train ride to Melk and explored Stift Melk (Melk Abbey), the most famous abbey in Austria.

This 11th century abbey sits up on a rocky hill and overlooks the Danube. It contains 500 rooms and houses a museum and impressive library. Benedictine Monks still live and work in Stift Melk. I spy.. eine gelbe Kappe!

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It seems like anywhere I go in Austria, the views never fall short of spectacular.

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The view from inside, looking out the window above a stairway

With our entry ticket we were able to walk all around the building– inside and outside–including the museum, the library, the outdoor deck, and the monastery.

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We also had access to the gardens and pavilion. We sat in the grass beneath some trees on the back side of the pavilion and ate the packed lunches we brought– fueling up for the long bike ride ahead!

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Standing inside the pavilion

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Rose garden next to the pavilion

We spent a good while wandering through the garden paths. At the end, we found winding stairs that led up to the roof of one of the buildings, and took some shots from there.

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After spending the morning at the abbey and strolling through the very quaint town of Melk, we found bikes to rent using a shared bike service. This way, we paid just a couple euros to ride them to Krems (~36km) and leave them in the assigned bike racks there. It took us a total of about 4 hours, double the amount of time Google Maps initially proposed to us.. However, we took numerous breaks along the Danube and a ferry ride to other side of the river, bikes and all! The entire ride we were surrounded by green hills and mountains and tiny villages and vineyards and rows of Marillenb√§ume (Marillen are like apricots –> apricot trees). It’s hard to put the experience into words and capture the full effect on camera.

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Wonderful wonderful Ester, my model for the day ūüôā

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At our destination, we treated ourselves to many scoops of Eis. Oh, how I miss the Eis Caf√©s! Bellies full of ice cream and legs like jelly, we caught the train back to Vienna. It was the most magnificent day. Imagine in the movies when people go on picturesque bike tours through Europe.. That was us. There is nothing I would have changed about that day. Wundersch√∂nes √Ėsterreich!¬†‚ô•

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Schloß Schönbrunn

Surprisingly, it took me until late April to finally make my first trip to Sch√∂nbrunn, one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions. This massive palace and garden is the former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph. Blooming yellow roses lined the sidewalk leading up to the entrance.

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Accompanying the palace are vast gardens and Europe’s oldest Tiergarten (zoo, or translated directly to “animal garden”).

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Following my first visit, I frequented Schönbrunn a few more times thereafter. On this particular evening, I came with buddies from my dorm to watch the Sonnenuntergang (sunset). We had to hike up a hill towards the gloriette to get a perfect view of the palace, with the city and mountains in the background.

Group shot- Notice the gloriette in the background and the cans of Stiegl in the foreground!

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Uni Wien

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Founded in 1365, the University of Vienna is one of the oldest in Europe, and the oldest in the German-speaking world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t attend classes here, but my friend Cassie did.

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And I envied her- Imagine taking classes in a building like this!

We decided to have a mini “photoshoot” and play around in the main building one day after a few hours of studying at the library.

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Cassie being goofy!

Me pretending I go to school here-

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The Castle Complex

After my long hike, I finally made it to the infamous Prague Castle. This complex dates all the way back to the 9th century, and is still the official residence of the Czech Republic’s president.

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I spent the rest of the day wandering these large grounds. In the photo below on the left, you can see the St. Vitus Cathedral peaking out from behind the other buildings.

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My favorite of all the buildings was the Schwarzenbersk√Ĺ Pal√°c because of its intricate Baroque-style detailing.

This palace was built in 1567. The walls are amazing!

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I walked through the courtyard and onto the terrace out back, where the bricks were painted bright red.

Next, I went through security to view the MASSIVE St. Vitus Cathedral. This cathedral can be seen from the other side of the river, distinguishable from far away, and from all sides.

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To me, some of the features reminded me of a mixture of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Stephansdom in Vienna.

Because of its size, photographing it in its entirety was difficult.

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The inside was extremely impressive, with its high ceilings and seemingly endless corridor.

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I walked around the backside of the cathedral down a bumpy cobblestone path to the Black Tower, previously a Roman castle gate and one of the oldest buildings in Prague. Strange that it’s called that, because the stone is light with a red roof. From there, more views of the city and river can be seen.

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Just outside the castle complex is a beautiful garden, so I decided to stroll slowly through and rest on the benches.

From the garden you could see just how big the Vitus Cathedral really is, and how far back it stretches.

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The Other Side

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Colorful buildings line the river

The next day, I decided to cross the river and explore the massive Prague Castle complex. On the other side, I stopped for brunch before taking my time to walk through a big green park on the way there.

There is a gondola ride that takes you up & up to the top of the park, but I hiked it, stopping often to take photos. The higher I got, the bigger view I had of the city I just came from.

Sneak peak of the iconic St. Vitus Cathedral! And another church I passed. I had to veer slightly off the path to take these photos through the fence and through the trees.

 

 

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So green. So lush.

More greenery along the way… Summer was in full bloom and the sun was blazing, causing me to work up quite a sweat.

Kids chilling on the steps of this Catholic church.

I walked around the corner and slightly down a path to the other side.

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There, a tiny vineyard boasted, yet again, another lovely view.

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Keep walking a bit further and you’ll pass another row of this picturesque wine.

Turn around and you’ll see deep red roses blossoming overhead.

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The final stretch to the complex was down a cute street lined with cafes and apartments.

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I noticed many of the buildings either had plants growing up their walls or from their balconies.

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A few side streets away from the Old Town Square I stumbled upon an open air market selling hand crafted souvenirs. At the end of the street was another church.

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During our tour, we were lead through the Jewish Quarter, the area that was once the Jewish ghetto. It is home to Europe’s oldest active synagogue!

The features of this Spanish synagogue almost resemble those of a mosque. Unfortunately this time I didn’t have time to go in, but one day when I return I am curious to peek inside!

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This Old Jewish cemetery is the largest in Europe. Our tour guide explained to us that it is composed of alternating layers of dirt and bodies because over a period of 300+ years they ran out of ground space to bury their dead, so instead they had to bury upwards.

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Prague Jewish Museum located next to the cemetery

We also learned that this area around Old Town is the most expensive area to live in Prague. This was made evident by the expensive name brand stores lining the streets. The building shown below on the right was one of the prettiest ones I saw.

After the tour, our guide recommended we cross the river a couple bridges away from the famous Charles Bridge and take a walk through the vast park on the other side.

Like Vienna, Prague also uses red trams as a means of transportation. I think I still like Vienna’s trams better (although I may be a little biased ūüėČ).

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Later that evening I went to dinner, took a walk, and enjoyed a beer along the river. There were a few men at the bar who gave me a strange look, probably wondering why I was alone drinking a beer at a random pub in Prague.

The Fairytale Square

The Old Town Square is one of the main attractions in Prague, and despite the herds of tourists and overly priced tourist trap restaurants, it still had fairytale charm. Every building was a different color, with different designs and different styles.

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These buildings looked like illustrations straight out of a fairytale book, each telling their own story.

This terracotta-colored building was one of my favorites, showcasing coats of arms in a row across the top, and gold accents in the main windows.

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I could not stop taking photos; I wanted to capture every unique building!

Regardless of the fact that it is listed as one of the most disappointing attractions ever, the Astronomical Clock still lures in tons of tourists for its hourly “show,” consisting of figures spinning and popping their heads through the windows. Although most people find the show to be anticlimactic, our tour guide convinced us that it is actually a very impressive and intricate mechanism that is hundreds of years old. The clock displays the time according to the Old Czech time scale, which sets 24:00 o’clock at sunset and consists of numbers 1-24.

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Church of Our Lady is a gothic church built in the 14th century. Its striking and prominent features remind me greatly of the castles and towers you read about in fairytale books. It is unlike any building I have seen before. I’ll say it again- I am so amazed by the architecture of these historic European cities. You don’t see this in the US; some of these buildings are older than our country itself!

This is the Jan Hus Memorial. Hus was an influential figure in Prague during the 14th and 15th centuries. He symbolizes opposition to the Catholic Church, and thus Habsburg rule of Czech lands. In my history class I learned about the Thirty Years War, which was a religious war between Protestants and Catholics from 1618 to 1648. It is said that the start of the war was triggered in Prague, when Catholic diplomats were pushed out of a third story window. This event is now known as the “Defenestration of Prague.”

Baroque-style Saint Nicholas Church:

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