Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Austrian countryside
Rainy days and cloudy skies overshadowed our first few stops in Austria but could not hide the beauty of this country --- magnificent mountains, sheer cliffs, hills lined with green velvet grass and dotted with alpine houses. 

View from chairlift
Ron and Rainer at the grill 
Fortunately, we had been forewarned that Austria (like Slovenia) requires a highway pass that must be pre-purchased, so we arrived in a small town on Lake Millstatt without mishap. Our hotel had a spa and offered breakfast and dinner so we did not have to venture out in bad weather.  Between rainfalls, we were able to get in a little biking and walking.  

Traditional Austrian music
Sampling local cheese

Taking the boat around Wolfgangsee
The heart of  Mozart Square in St. Gilgen

St. Johann in Tirol

Our next stop was a small town 45 minutes south of Salzburg and one of the highlights of this trip.  A friend I had known in Florida moved back to Europe 25 years ago. For the past 12 years, Rainer and his wife have lived in Muhlbach am Hochk√∂nig.  Formerly a copper mining site, the town is part of an idyllic area known for its magnificent scenery, hiking and skiing.

There is nothing like seeing a country through the eyes of a native.  We got to tour a replica of the copper mines, hear traditional music, meet a local cheese maker and ride a chairlift to the top of a ski mountain. From there, we could see countless miles of ski runs.  Thanks to cooperation between various ski centers, you can spend the day skiing from one mountain to another  All in all, it was a wonderful few days. Rainer and his wife could not have been kinder, more gracious hosts.  

The weather was gradually improving as we continued on to St. Gilgen on Wolfgangsee, a beautiful lake created long ago by the erosion of a glacier.  The lake was named after Wolgang Amadeus Mozart's patron saint.  Though Mozart never visited St. Gilgen, his mother was born here and his sister lived in St. Gilgen after she married. 

We took one of the boats that circle the lake and stops at various towns along the way.  We also enjoyed pleasant walks along both sides of the lake. 

Driving past Salzburg and west into ever higher mountains, we came to St. Johann in Tirol. From 1540 until the 18th century, the economy thrived thanks to copper and silver mines.  Today it depends on tourism --- skiers in winter; hikers, bikers and paragliders in summer. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse again and we had rain and cloudy skies during our stay. Fortunately, we had a little apartment with a kitchen so Chef Ron was able to whip up some nice, healthy meals.  
Austria was once part of the Holy Roman Empire.  Today it is a member of the European Union and an independent democracy.  Lying within the Alps, Austria is bordered by Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Italy.