We caught the first train possible into the city and got off at St. Michel station. Our first stop was Notre Dame: the Church of Our Lady. Surprisingly small, it was nevertheless a wonderful example of Gothic architecture with some beautiful stained glass windows.
We walked along the Seine river – a vile smelling cesspool – and crossed Pont Neuf to the Louvre where we spent a couple of hours. The important thing we saw there was, of course, the Mona Lisa, but there wasn’t much else of interest apart from some early Monet and Renoir paintings. The majority of the works were the familiar biblical scenes of martyred saints and hovering cherubs. The Egyptian wing, however, was very interesting.
Movin on, we walked along the Quai d’Orsay then through the streets of the 7th Arrondissement to the Eiffel Tower. We paid 18F (francs) to climb up to the 2nd level with its impressive view, then another 40 francs to go to the top in the lift. Incredible [pronounced as the French would: “en-cray-arr-ble”]. At nearly 1000 ft the view of the sprawl of Paris stretched off as far as the eye could see in all directions. A sign a fixed to a wall stated that Wellington was 18,392 km away. At that height however, many of the city’s landmarks – Notre Dame, the Arc du Triomphe, etcetera, blended into the uniform grey of the city. Grey squalls coming across the city from the north combined to camouflage them completely.
Back on terra firma, we walked back towards St Michele and went to the Musee d’Orsay. Oh those fabulous impressionist works! Monet, Cezanne and Renior… exquisite colours and moods on canvas. But what grabbed our attention most were the Van Gogh’s. The vibrant colours. The thick, almost violent brush strokes, conveyed the madness of the painter in an almost palpable way. They were mesmerising.
By 5:30 we were sick of trudging around Paris so we caught the train back out to Arpajon and bought some food to cook for dinner. We spent the evening talking to a couple of New Zealanders who were also staying in the hostel.
DIJON TO CHALON-SUR-SAÔNE We caught a bus up to the Gare at 9:00 and bought tickets to the town of Chalon-sur-Saone, about 50km south of Dijon: a place we’d picked at random. When we arrived, we hiked in the heat for 3km to the campground and set up camp. We filled in the rest of the day with non-strenuous activities such as lying in the sun and…
In the evening, we had dinner at a nearby Moroccan restaurant called “Les Emirs.”
DIJON We had a very quiet day today as Linda was getting over a cold and I was coming down with one. We spent a couple of hours in the morning at a laundrette in town then spent the rest of the day slobbed out in the sun listening to our Walkmans. In the evening, we caught a bus into town and had dinner.
BERN TO DIJON We left the hostel at 9 a.m. and walked in the rain up to the station. We bought tickets to Dijon in France then settled down to wait for our 11:50 a.m. train. We looked around a few of the shops out on the street but it was so wet and miserable that soon were back in the station and sat in one of the cafes writing postcards.
Our first train took us down to Lausanne where our train to France left from and not long after we got there a couple of policemen in plain clothes stopped me and wanted to see my passport. They must have been looking for a criminal of some sort and perhaps I fitted his description!
At 17:30 we caught the train to France and after about three quarters of an hour, high up in a misty mountain pass, we crossed the border into France. As with most European countries, the border formalities were perfunctory and we didn’t even get a souvenir stamp in our passports. The train arrived in Dijon at 7:30 p.m. and we walked the 1 km to to the camping ground where we pitched our tent for the first time. We have named it Vern after a character in a Far Side cartoon. It is very easy to erect and will be warm and comfy. We finished the day with a short walk along the nearby River.
SALZBURG TO BERN We left the hostel at 9 and walk down to the station where we bought tickets to Zurich Switzerland. While we waited we chatted to a Canadian girl who was hustling rooms at the hospital.
We found a seat in an empty compartment and settled in to munch on our salami rolls and chocolate bars had bought with our remaining Austrian change, commenting on how plush the on Austro/Swiss train was. We left Salzburg dead on time and soon we were speeding through the countryside past green crops and plots of pine and birch. The mountains were spectacular, especially around Innsbruck where the towns was dwarfed by massive towers of sheer rock.
About midday, we were injected from our First Class cabin buy an officious train guard who obviously didn’t believe we were in there by mistake, and we spent the rest of the journey to Zurich slumming it in the second class accommodation which, was none too shabby either. As we crossed the border into Switzerland, the Swiss customs officers came through the cars and only sullenly complied when we asked for our passports to be stamped. The last leg of the journey was alongside Lake Geneva and a violent thunderstorm was raging when we arrived.
We bought onwards tickets for Bern (which stung us £18 each!) and caught the next train which pulled into the station. When we arrived in Bern an hour later, we tracked down the YH which was like a cross between Colditz Castle and a battery hen house run with the precision of a Swiss watch!
After we had settled in I went back to the station in the pouring rain and bought some grub for tea. We spent the evening in the common room of the hostel.
BICYCLES FOR THREE I got up at 5:00am and walked over to the Old City in the hope of getting a few sunrise photos. However, a low bank of cloud kept the sun from making an appearance so it was to no avail. But I did get a few pictures of the cathedral without the crowds of people that would soon be about.
Back at the hostel, we showered and had a meagre breakfast then set off over to the hostel where Rebecca is staying. We found her sitting outside in the sun and as the hostel was closed for two hours until 11:00 we set off to walk up to the castle. The cobbled path led up the steep hill below the castle walls through a shady canopy of deep green foliage which every now and then opened to give a view out across the hazy rooftops to the Old City. Half way up we found that we couldn’t get any further without paying an extortionate entry fee so we turned and followed another path which ran around the hill. Away in the distance we could see a range of jagged mountains with a cable car suspended between two of its highest peaks.
Back at the hostel, we hired a bike each for 50AS and set off to explore. A smooth, level pathway ran along the left bank of the Danube River and we followed it upstream and out of the city in the direction of the mountains. After an hour or so we stopped for a drink at a pub then carried on until we reached a dam across the river where we crossed over and set off up a side stream to find somewhere to have lunch. Our picnic consisted of bread, salami, cheese and fruit, eaten beside the river on a bank of bright green grass.
After lunch, we carried on following the river and after about half an hour or so we ended up at the foot of a range of unbelievably jagged mountains – the Untersberg – beside the cable car station which serviced the cable car we’d seen earlier from a distance. We decided that the fee to ride the cable car was too expensive so we settled for photographs of ourselves with the descending cable car in the background!
The road led deeper into the tree-clad mountains and a sign told us that Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s summer residence, was only 15 kilometres away, over the border in Germany. The border itself turned out to be just around the next corner so we stopped there for photos and a cold drink before we began to retrace our route back to Salzburg.
By the time we got back to the city, an hour and a half later, we’d had enough cycling for one day so we took the bikes back and said goodbye to Rebecca.
That night we dined in the hostel restaurant and went to bed early.
HALLSTATT TO SALZBURG We left the youth hostel at 9:30 and went up to the little church perched on the edge of the lake with a huge granite cliff behind it. As with all Austrian churches, the tiny graveyard was beautifully kept, with ornate wooden headpieces and bright colourful flowers. At the back of the graveyard was a small stone hut with grizzly contents. Because the graveyard is so small, every 25 years all of the graves are exhumed and the skulls, arm bones and femurs are placed in this tiny mausoleum. The piles of bones along three walls of the charnel house and the skulls arranged on top of them were a grizzly yet melancholy sight: endlessly staring out across the lake.
We caught the Post Bus down to Bad Ishel then another down to Salzburg. At the Bahnhof an Aussie girl gave us directions to the International Youth Hostel: a laid-back, boozy backpackers not far from the station. We checked in there and put our stuff in the dormitory then indulged in a very cheap beer in the bar.
We had arranged with Rebecca to try and meet up in Salzburg so after we had finished our beers we set off to try and find out where among the city’s seven youth hostels she was staying. After a bit of a search we found out that she was staying in the Main Hostel on the other side of the Old City. We crossed the river and in the centre of the old town was a large square with an imposing Gothic-style Church and the ubiquitous statue of Mozart at the centre of a smaller adjoining square. Eventually, we found the large hospital-like hostel where she was staying. She’d gone out for the day but had left us a message to contact her so we left a return message suggesting that we should meet up tomorrow and hire bikes for the day.
We took a different route back, following the narrow streets at the foot of the huge cliffs upon which the castle of Salzburg’s olden days was built. We sat in the square on the Eastern side of the church and watched a game of chess being played with outsized pieces on a grid painted on the footpath. The square was full of an interesting mixture of drunks, tourists, punks and locals.
Dinner that night was at a joint called Pizza Land then we went back to the hostel to try and ring home. The best way to do this was to ring home and give the hostel’s number and ask to be rung back. So, I rang Joe (waking him up at 7AM New Zealand time!) gave him the number of the hostel and waited for him to ring back. After a while I hadn’t heard anything so I rang him again and told him to get hold of the dialling code for Salzburg and try again. Ten minutes later he managed to get through and we delivered the news that Linda and I were engaged. I asked him to ring Linda’s mother, Helen, and give her the number of the hostel and try to ring us as well. Not long after Joe rang off, the phone rang again and this time it was Helen so we conveyed the same news to her. She said it was about time!!
About half an hour later we were sitting in the bar having a beer when another call came through for Linda. It was her best friend Pippa…news travels fast!!
BAD ISCHL It must have been a combination of the fresh clean mountain air and the noise of the mountain stream rushing by outside the window that kept us asleep until 10:30 a.m. We got up and after showers we went out into the still overcast day. We were out of money and none of the banks in town could give us a cash advance on the Visa card. We were told that the town of Bad Ischl, 20 km away, was the nearest place where we could get money.
So we caught a Post Bus down the lake and an hour later we were in Bad Ischl. The banks were all closed for lunch, so we sat in a cafe and had a piece of sacher torte each along with a Coke and then walked around town looking in shop windows.
The bank came across with 3000 Australian shillings and we set off back to Hallstatt on the next Post Bus. When we got back we had a snooze for an hour or so we went out to meet the Aussie chap, whose name was David, and his girlfriend Leanne. They were both pretty dizzy but we spent quite an enjoyable evening with them eating pizza and drinking beer and wine.
WIEN TO HALLSTATT We were up quite early and after packing up and having breakfast we left our packs in the hotel lobby and walked down to the Palace to see if we could get in to see the morning training session of the famous Lipizzaner Stallions. We couldn’t!
After grabbing our gear we caught trams to the Westbahnhof and bought tickets to a place called Hallstatt up in the hills near Salzburg in the area known as the Saltzkammergut. We changed trains at a place called Attnang-Puchheim and almost immediately the climb up into the green, rocky and wet mountains began.
We got off the train by mistake at a town called Bad Ischl and had to wait 2 hours for the next one to come along. The valley we were travelling up closed in and the rocky, pine-clad mountains were dusted with a light coat of fresh snow beneath swirling grey clouds. The shades of green were amazing: from the bright lime green of oaks to the deep dark green of pines.
We got off the train at the stop marked Hallstatt which was merely a wooden hut above the lake known as Hallstattsee, where a boat was waiting to take us across to the town itself. Stepping off the boat was like stepping into a postcard scene. The two churches, their wood-slate spires topped with gold spheres rose on either side of the pier and behind them the tiny timber houses climbed almost vertically up the rocky cliffside overlooking the lake. The village swept away in an arc to our right, clinging precariously to the water’s edge and spread more levelly off to the left around the bay. It was so still and quiet that not a single noise save the lapping of the water against the pier could be heard.
A man showed us the way up to the Jürgenauberge (YHA) and we booked in – the only people there save for a group of drunk and locals who had apparently been drinking non-stop for 24 hours. Later on we went out for a walk around the silent and nearly deserted lakeshore past rows of neat, well-kept timber houses: the ones closest to the water with adjoining boathouses at water level.
We ate dinner that night in the hostel and spent an hour or so talking to an Aussie guy who had come in for a beer.
We checked out of the hospital at 9 and walked around the corner to a plush hotel and booked in. There weren’t any rooms available at that time of the day so we left our packs in the lobby and went out to explore. First of all we sat on a bench in the Hofburg Palace gardens and wrote some postcards, then wandered over to St Stephansplatz where we had arranged to meet an Aussie girl called Rebecca. We had all seen most of the sites around the centre of the city so we caught the underground out to the Danube River. We sat at a cafe in the sun and drank cold Coca-Cola then bought a schnitzelsemmel (schnitzel sandwich) each and sat down by the river to eat them.
The Danube runs in two parallel channels, somehow flowing in different directions. The small, slower channel is The Blue Danube but the main channel is a poisonous brown colour. So much for Strauss’s imagination!
We walked over the bridge heading back towards the city and stopped to look at an impressive church of distinctly Bavarian architecture, then caught the underground back into the city where we spent an hour or so at a street market along the Donaü Canal.
A half hour ride on a tram around the ring road aligned us with the bearings of the last few buildings we hadn’t looked at, starting with the foreboding Volkskirche church. The exterior of the church was definitely Gothic with spikes and spires and gargoyles aplenty, and beneath the darkening grey of an approaching storm the black and stone of the church would have dragged down the spirits of the most charismatic of believers. But if the outside of the church was foreboding, the inside was positively malevolent! Almost completely dark, the only points of light were a few lighted prayer candles and some dim sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows. The pillars rose up into the shrouding blackness of the ceiling and the place was as cold as a newly dug grave. Not a place to seek comfort and enlightenment!
Back outside it was coming on to rain so we sought the comfort of a cafe while it pelted down for about half an hour then cleared to give us a brilliantly fine evening. We walked along the Karl Renner-ring, stopping to look at the Rathaus, or state buildings, and the ornate parliament buildings. Back at the hotel we said goodbye to Rebecca and checked into our room: a grand affair complete with antique chairs, a chandelier and a balcony.
That evening, we went out for a meal at a French restaurant then we went back to the hotel where, out on the balcony under a bright full moon, I asked Linda to marry me. And she said yes. It was perfect: Vienna, a balcony…and a yes.