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Austria: Like Vacationing In Your Favorite Storybook

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    On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. Just seven days later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, and moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

    From Zagreb, Croatia, we started our journey on the European rail network. (We purchased the Eurail flexi pass that allows you to travel any 10 days during a two-month period.) We were headed to Austria to explore the cities of Salzburg and Vienna. Train is, by far, my favorite way to travel. You can arrive 30 minutes before departure, hop on, throw your bags overhead, and just kick back and watch the beautiful scenery go by. No security, no long waits, no turbulence.

    It’s even better when you’re traveling on Austrian and German trains. Along with the Japanese, they’re the best in the world for cleanliness, comfort, and efficiency. Compared to every other form of transportation, train travel is just a breeze. Well, let me be more specific, train travel in Europe is a breeze. Things get slightly more interesting when you’re trying to decipher a ticket printed in Chinese. (Thankfully, we stumbled upon the most informative site of all time for train travel: Seat 61. It provides an unreal amount of detail about nearly every train in the world. It’s the information you really want to know — what does the bunk look like, how in the world do I read this ticket, etc. It was really an invaluable tool for us.)

    On this particular journey from Zagreb to Salzburg, we lucked out by scoring a six-person cabin completely to ourselves. We pulled out our laptops, reclined in our cozy chairs, and happily began working away in our mobile office at our two new part-time jobs — editing travel photos and taking notes about our recent adventures. Our path took us through Slovenia on our way to Austria. It ended up being one of the most scenic train rides of our entire trip. We zipped by an endless stream of picturesque villages pocketed among forests and mountain ranges.

    I was especially excited about visiting Salzburg, because my dad comes from a 100% Austrian background. He visited the city when he was teenager on a school trip, which is the last time he left the country, and it holds a soft spot in his heart. I had to represent our family roots by consuming as much schnitzel and Hefeweizen as possible. The whole affair was so up my dad’s alley that we actually started to feel guilty every time we ordered another bratwurst. In our seven days in Austria, we dined on goulash, sausages, sauerkraut, and schnitzel. Two of our favorite meals were the goulash with king-sized dumpling at Bärenwirt in Salzburg and veal schnitzel with potatoes and cucumber salad at Figlmüller in Vienna.


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    Salzburg looks exactly like what you envision storybook Austria to be: A charming city of Medieval and Baroque buildings nestled at the base of spectacular mountains. There are perfectly manicured gardens, classical music pouring out the windows, and welcoming cafés on every corner. You half expect Julie Andrews to come tearing around a corner.

    Sadly, like most smaller cities with world fame, it’s hard to ignore the tourism — especially in the Old Town. The tiny bridges are packed with camera-wielding tourists, Mozart has become a mascot for chocolate, and you can buy a Bavarian maiden wig on the street. Thankfully, the city has enough character and natural beauty to blind you from its more commercialized aspects.

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    Views towards Hohensalzburg Castle from the Mirabell Palace and Gardens. Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau (that’s a real name) had the palace built in 1606. The adjacent gardens have intricately designed flower beds, statues, and mazes of tall hedges. It feels like it belongs in Alice in Wonderland. I’ll try to limit my Sound of Music references, but a section of the "Do-Rei-Mi" performance was filmed around this unicorn statue in the gardens.

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    Details from Mirabell Gardens.

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    Café Tomaselli has been in operation in the Old Marketplace in Salzburg’s historic center for over 300 years. They say it’s one of the finest coffee houses in Austria, complete with a pastry bar, waiters in dinner jackets, and wooden holders for newspapers — a real classy affair. We wanted to stop in for a coffee and cake, but it was packed to the brim. We found a spot in the additional outdoor patio they have set up next door...just as it started to rain. We popped open our umbrella and happily ate our treats undercover. Nothing keeps my husband from chocolate cake.

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    Along with the drinks and cakes we sampled from Tomaselli, I had to try Mozartkugeln (Mozart balls), since they were being advertised and sold on every street corner and in every grocery store and souvenir shop. I picked up one from the famous Café Konditorei Fürst, just across the street, where they were invented by Paul Fürst. They’re made ​​of pistachio, marzipan, and nougat, dipped in chocolate. I wonder if Mozart’s intention when he was composing The Marriage of Figaro was to one day become the face of balls of chocolates sold to tourists...