Today is our last day here in Austria. The flight tonight is at 8.20pm so we are going to get some time here before then. A quick visit to Bad Ischl where the declaration of the first world war was postmarked and the summer home for royalty, Franz Joseph Hapsburg. We had a great breakfast here but didn't stay too long. Brian had decided to take the trek from St Giglen to Wolfgang so we met him there and had a quick look around. Another very nice town, bigger than St Gilgen but also well worth a look, would have liked more time. To finish off the day we took the cable car from St Gilgen to the summit of Zwolferhorn the nearly 1800m mountain that overlooks St Gilgen. More fantastic views. At 3.15pm we head to the airport and bar some traffic jams that Helga had warned us about we got there in time.
Another great trip with the lads and a truly wonderful destination. My only problem with the place is that it can be very quiet at night. In fact it can be quiet during the days with shops closing at lunch and no bars at night-time. But I think that it fits with the values and culture of the place. The locals are very proud of their background and will wear their traditional clothing and costumes as a matter of routine, and fair play to them, rather than adopting the now ubiquitous western style of dress.
Sankt Gilgen: Is named after St Giles, it has 3,675 inhabitants (Jan 2010) and it is 545 m (1788 feet above see level. It lies on the north westshore of the Wolfgansee lake and it covers 98.67 sq km (38 sq ml). It is promoted as the "Mozart Village" although he never set foot there, but his grandfather worked in the town, his mother was born there and his sister lived there after she married. A cable car takes you from the centre of St Giglen to the summit of Zwolferhorn. The other main towns on the lake are St Wolfgang and Strobl. The lake and town are naed after St Wolkgang of Regensurb who, according to legend, built the first church her in the late 10th century.
Before we head off today I have to mention a great restaurant we went to last night, Angusta. The speciality of the house is Irish beef and it has fantastic steaks. Although placed unusually in a sort of industrial estate the restaurant itself is very nice both outside and inside. A nice atmosphere, good staff and great food. I think it confirms what I always suspected all our very best beef is exported and we can never get anything this good at home! Today we decide to head to Berchestgarden, a fair trip of about an hour from St Gilgen. This was Hitler's retreat given to him by the party for his 50th birthday. The Eagles Nest on the summit of the 1800m mountain was mostly ceremonial, used for meeting with visiting guests like presidents and diplomats, but the engineering to build it was amazing. It cost about 30m DM at the time, expensive for then. An elevator takes you 124m up to the manor inside the mountain. To get to the elevator is a 124m tunnel into the mountain side. The panoramic views from the summit are amazing. The manor has now been converted to a restaurant. All the surrounding facilities were destroyed during or just after the war to deter them becoming shrines to the Nazi cause, luckily is was decided to save the Eagles Nest.
Next we decided to take in Hallstatt on our way home. Initially we got a fright when Helga (the name we gave our car sat nav) took us up the narrowest of passes over a ridge to get to the main roads but after a lovely drive of about an hour we got to this "must see" village on the side of a lake. All in all another great day
The day starts misty again but we're not bothered, Kieran and I race off to pick up Ger. We also pick up coffees and croissants in the local Spar for a quick breakfast. We are on a mission to catch the Irish Italy match in the RWC starting at 9.30am. What a match the whole Irish team just appears to be coming to form at the same time. I've been worried about our scrum for the last couple of years and felt it would never last the challenge of the tournament. Then were our backs past their best. But no the team looks like it's timed it just perfectly. To me they look like a team that can make it to the final, let's hope so. Well done lads a great game. By the time the match is over the mist has burned off and the day matches our spirits bright, warm and happy.
A correction, by the way, our Infinity car is not an Opel, but a KIA! And it's bloody great, so much for German build!
Today we decide to head to Salzburg city after lunch. I have to say we were a bit underwhelmed, as Eamon Dunphy would say "a good city, but not a great city!". We are just so happy we decided to stay in St Gilgen and not in the City of Salzburg, thanks Joe we owe you for that!!
We've left a gloomy Dublin in the afternoon heading for Munich and our final destination, St Gilgen on Wolfgangsee lake, an half hour outside Salzburg. We meet Brian in Munich airport around 7.30pm who came in from Zurich and we head to pick up our car. But before we go collect the car, and most importantly, we make a beeline for McDonalds. Isn't it great you can head anywhere in the world and get the same McD meal wherever you are. Fortified we go and pick up our "luxury car", an "Infinity sport" which we think is an Opel, what happened to our promised BMW 5 series? Anyway it's big enough for us all and it's automatic. We begin our 2 hour journey, but first I have to figure out how to get the sat nav working in the car. Eventually we're on the way. I manage to get cruise control up and running. In fact this car isn't half bad, it's got lane control, tells you about cars coming up on your blind spots, and it even senses cars in front of you, how fast they're driving and slows down and speeds up accordingly. These Germans sure know how to build cars!!! By 11.30pm we make it to the apartments and by midnight we are knackered and in our beds.
Now, early is a relative thing, it's 8am which I remind you is 7am at home, and I'm up! My wife will tell you that's early for me! A look out the window and it's so disappointing that I can't see a thing out the window with the mist, it's supposed to be 25 degrees today!! Anyway we're up and out by 9, though we spend a good few minutes trying to find the handbrake and turn it off. We're off to St Gilgen village for breakfast but first to find parking. We find a lot and leave all the valuables in the boot, but it doesn't seem to lock, eventually it locks but we can't figure out how we got it to lock. Later in the day I figure it out, the car senses when the key is within a few feet of the car and allows you to open the boot and doors without pressing the key. What a car!! By now the sun is taking strength and the mist is burning away to reveal the magnificent scenery, the lake and the majestic mountains that surround it, just heavenly!
After breakfast and we walk around the village and it's very beautiful, the cleanliness, the architecture, the weather helps, the lake front, and the place just appears to encourage good living: walking, cycling, sailing, swimming, tennis and all sorts of activities.
The waterfront is fantastic and we decide to head up Schaftberg mountain, not as energetic as it sounds. We first have to get to St Wolfgang which is a lovely boat trip away on the lake, then we take the mountain rack railway which uses antique steam and diesel locomotives to scale the steep incline of the 1783 metre mountain of Schaftberg. You can feel the strain of the engine as it forces the carriages up the side of the mountain at a slow pace due to the steep climb. The heat is climbing as well and its a magnificent day and we are going to have clear blue skys and get great vistas. We're not disappointed if feels life we are on top of the world and the panoramic views of the surrounding, mountains, valleys and lakes are stunning. In fact photos and video just can't do justice to the views. There is a hotel perched right at the top and on the northern side it looks over a steep cliff and makes you admire the work and effort it must have taken to get the railway and buildings up here. From virtually the very top we see hang-gliders begin their amazing flights. They lazily fly high above the vistas like soaring eagles, it must be hugely exhilarating for these guys to fly on the updrafts and wind currents of this truly amazing place.
Time to return and take the train back down. Only problem is Brian disappears and we miss the last boat! But every cloud and all that, and we nonetheless have a nice trip home by bus around the lake, through the different lakeside villages. Home, a quick shower, and out again for dinner, which is a treat in a local restaurant the name of which escapes me now! A fantastic first day, as Kieran says "I sort of felt this place was going to be good, but I wasn't prepared for how great it would be, it will have great memories", and we still have a couple of more days! Now in the morning let's hope Ireland can beat Italy in the RWC and make it an even better weekend, "come on you greens"!
This Friday the lads are heading off again, and this time it's to the Wolfgangsee area just outside Salzburg, Austria. The forecast for the four days is excellent, sunny and up to 24°C and it looks like it is going to be clear. I've never been to Austria and I believe the scenery is fantastic, so I'm looking forward to it.