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AUSTRIA  (Österreich)

I have been to Austria three times. Once as a young teenager, I went on a two stop family holiday. We went to Kitzbuhel in the low alps, and then on to Pula in then Jugoslavia, now Croatia. It was the stereotypical Alpen Village with wooden ringed houses and a feeling you could bump into someone wearing lederhosen. At that time, Austria was well known for it's high prices, and I remember my meagre pocket money went not much further than a postcard. We went in the summer, so enjoyed Alpen meadows and climbing hills. It left me with a good impression of the country, other than the high prices.

Move forward a decade, and I returned to go to the capital, Wien (or Vienna being the English translation). I made the mistake of arriving in January, and it was cold, oh my god was it cold! It was so cold I had little choice then dabble in a little transvestitism, and purchased some thick lady tights to wear under my jeans. I had spent most of my teenage and twenties drumming away on my thighs with drumsticks, and as a result they really suffer in the cold. At least that's my excuse. The streets were snow lined, and the buildings and parks blanketed. I was taken about by the amazing buildings, like the Imperial Palace, State Opera, St Stephen's Cathedral, Town Hall (seen below) and of course the Hofburg. The latter is where Adolf Hitler was warmly welcomed by the Austrians, who enthusiastically joined the Nazi Empire. The Austrians tend to be right wing leaning, and with right wing one tends to associate wealth. Wealth is definitely something one recognises when walking around the country, particularly in the capital. The fine coffee shops, cake shops, tourist horse & carts that ply their trade in the centre all add to a sense of class and air of rich history and residents. On this trip I took a train over the border to Slovakia and it's capital Bratislava. It's hard to think that that Wien was so close to the former Soviet Bloc. The modern day equivalent of Seoul being close to the border (ceasefire line) with North Korea. As with most wealthy cities, there is a coldness that seems to pervade from the people. This mixed with the coldness the city experiences put left me with a less than pleasing view of the country going forward.

A third trip arose when I was in my thirties, when a friend of mine and I were looking to use the city as a launch pad for a drive around the Eastern Balkans. The weather was starting to plunge in temperature for Winter that was creeping in, reinstalling the perception I had, that this was a cold city. When we went to hire a car, we were reminded this was an expensive city. Usually I find that Europcar does good deals on car hire. However in Austria they wanted €1000 for the car hire, and then, €50 per day to go to Bulgaria and Romania! Instead, we found cheap flights down to Belgrade in Serbia, and hired a car there for €350 and a whopping €15 total to go to Bulgaria and Romania!

Although Austria is an attractive country, I just find it cold, both in temperature (if you go in Winter, obviously) and the people/places. It's not somewhere I plan to go back to if I can help it. I said the same about Romania, and loved it when I went back. However Austria has been like this for a very long time.



Essential Information

Language: German (Austro-Bavarian Dialect)

Currency: Euro

Visa: Not required for most nations

Plug: European with two round prongs


GDP Ranking (IMF): #11 £25, 975 (similar to Kuwait and Australia)

Communications: Country code is +43

Health: No vaccinations required, Austria has a first class health system

When to Visit: Austria has warm winters, and cold winters. Those looking for hiking and warm days should visit in the summer, those looking for snow based activities will visit in the winter season.

Personal Safety: Austria has a very low crime rate, although the usual common sense awareness applies in Cities. Sadly racist attitudes are not uncommon in the mostly white skinned Austria, and non-whites/caucasians, may be made to felt awkward. Racism is very rarely violent.

Getting Around: Internal flights are possible (although expensive) for those in a serious hurry. Otherwise trains and buses run throughout the country.

What to see/do: Winter is all about skiing, as there's little else to do. And conversely, Summer is all about hiking, personally recommended are the hills around Saalbach, near Zell am See. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a major attraction, as is walking out onto the glacier below Mt. Grossglockner. The salt mines of Hallien are the world's oldest, and open to the public. They involve dressing up and wooden rail slides. The capital Wien is littered with amazing buildings like the Schönbrunn Palace and Spanish riding school.

Food & Drink: All about the schnitzel, Wien's gift to the world. Basically meat in breadcrumb, although traditionally veal, it can be eaten with more humane meats like pork and chicken. Knödel are a form of dumplings. When it comes to desserts, it's Apfelstrudel all the way, along with it's less popular cousin Milchrahmstrudel. Sharing German history, when it comes to beer, Austria is paradise. Stiegl, Egger and Zwettler are the classic Märzen lagers (not owned by Heineken). Hirter Morchl is a good dark beer, and for strong beer officianados, Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier is brewed once a year and weighs in at 14%abv. Austria is also home to Schnaps (a type of fruit brandy) and the expensive Eiswein (where grapes are frozen on the vine) .