As the world returns to some sense of normality after Covid, I had the privilege to once again work as an International Tour Manager and lead a tour from South Africa to Europe covering beautiful places in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany, including the iconic Passion Play in Oberammergau.
Although tourism is not yet back to the numbers of tourists experienced in 2019, there is definitely a move in a positive direction and it was pure joy to walk around and experience a bit of Europe after almost three years.
This article touches on some highlights experienced on tour.
Firstly, I have come to, once again, appreciate and enjoy the public transport system in Europe. And nowadays, renting a bicycle or e-scooter on every corner is as easy as eating ice cream….it takes a few seconds to download an app, read the QR code and off you go, very convenient and cheap. What I love most is that you cover more ground and see more of a city in this manner. Although I love to walk and run in a destination, this is becoming a firm favourite.
I have been to Budapest before and enjoyed the House of Parliament, cruising on the Danube and Castle Hill. This time I focused on a different experience in the hot weather by visiting Margaret Island and enjoying this beautiful park and the tranquility in the centre of a big bustling city. Fabulous area for strolling and jogging and with very easy access on public transport. This is also the park that hosted the 2022 FINA World Swimming Championship in June / July.
Although this was only a very brief stop en-route to Vienna, I found Bratislava to be charming & friendly. The small tourist tractor train / hop-on hop-off taking a 25-minute ride through the old town is a lovely way to experience a little bit of what Bratislava has to offer.
Fun fact on Slovakia….this country has the world’s highest number of castles and chateaux per capita and Bratislava is the only capital in the world bordering two countries namely Austria & Hungary.
Vienna is considered the birthplace of classical music, has spectacular Baroque architecture and I have always associated Vienna with the home of the Lipizzaner horses, never knowing that it is only stallions that participate in the performances. Interesting that the home of the Lipizzaner horses in Vienna is at the Spanish Riding School which is also the only school in the world to practice classical riding for over 450 years.
Our local guide started our walking tour and said exploring Vienna is like an African safari….you want to see the big five….we started at Belvidere Palace and continued to the city centre and saw Hofburg Palace (the winter residence) and St Stephens Cathedral amongst many other fabulous buildings in the area as well as parts of the Ringstraße. I completed the big five the next day by visiting Schonbrunn Palace (the summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty) as well as Prater, a beautiful public park established in 1766 including the amusement park which houses the oldest working Ferris wheel in the world, constructed in 1897, thus 125 years old in 2022.
I also had time to visit Hundertwasser House, a very unusual apartment block. There are many other places to see and things to do in Vienna, such as a performance at the Vienna Opera House and spending time at the Albertina Museum…..unfortunately this will have to wait till my next visit.
I have completely fallen in love with Salzburg…STAGE OF THE WORLD…much smaller than Vienna but absolutely beautiful as the stage with a fabulous back drop of Alpine Mountains.
The Altstadt is quaint, the river beautiful, especially the light colour of the water and Mirabel Palace and gardens is a tranquil haven in the middle of the city.
A short drive from the city centre one can visit Hellbrunn palace, fountain and gardens, yet another beautiful public green area and also home to the Hellbrunn parkrun (I am a crazy parkrun tourist). Hellbrunn means, among other things, ‘healing spring’ and all who visit there will understand why.
Hogensalzburg Fortress was well worth the visit, describing the history of the Fortress and affording spectacular views.
One also needs to immerse yourself into all thing Mozart….his place of birth, the house where he grew up and his connection with the fortress AND….do not forget the delicious Mozart chocolate balls.
Innsbruck, capital of Austria’s western state of Tyrol, is a city in the Alps that’s long been a destination for winter sports. Innsbruck is also known for its Imperial and modern architecture. The Nordkette funicular, with futuristic stations designed by architect Zaha Hadid, climbs up to 2,256m from the city centre for skiing in winter and hiking and paragliding during summer. Innsbruck is an internationally renowned winter sports centre and hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics as well as the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics. (Source: Wikipedia)
Innsbruck city centre is rather small, the pedestrian street starting from the Golden Roof is home to the fabulous Swarovski store, restaurants, souvenir shops, international clothing brand stores and a few other interesting shops, dotted with the ever important ice cream bars, essential on a hot summers day
The Inn river with its distinctive green colour forms a vein through Innsbruck with beautiful bridges and wide sidewalks on either side for strolling. During our visit a road race was taking place, the route taking the runners along the river and through the Hofgarten. I regret not knowing about the race. It would have been excellent to take part.
OBERAMMERGAU & PASSION PLAY
Oberammergau is the quintessential Bavarian village well known for its performance of the Passion Play every 10 years (except during the World Wars) since 1634. This is a once in a lifetime type of event and we are very fortunate to have had this experience.
The small village of Hogenschwangau and castle is well worth a visit. Th palace was commissioned by King Ludwig ll of Bavaria as a retreat and in honour of Richard Wagner, the famous German composer. The castle construction started in 1869 and opened in 1886. It is a popular tourist spot with as many as 6 000 visitors per day in summer.
Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is well known for the annual Octoberfest, the famed Hofbräuhaus founded in 1589, the Altstadt with Marienplatz and the Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall) with the famous and much loved glockenspiel attracting many tourists daily.
However, I discovered The Englischer Garten (English Garden), a very large public park in the centre of Munich. It was created in 1789, and is one of the world’s largest urban public parks, its size of 3.73km², thus bigger than Central Park in New York. (3.41km²) Due to limited time available I could only explore a small section on my hired LIME e-scooter.
Amongst approximately 75km of pathways the park includes restaurants, beer garden, a beautiful lake, the Kleinhesseloher See, the Japanese teahouse and garden and various other areas, buildings and memorials. Fun fact: It is interesting to note that:
- in the Schonfeldweise (beautiful field meadow) nude sunbathing has been permitted since the 1960s, quite a controversial decision at the time
- in one of the artificial streams flowing through the Englischer Garten, there is a standing wave produced by the change from laminar to turbulent flow, therefore surfers line up along the bank taking turns entering the water with their surf boards. Note: The signage states that surfing should only be done by expert or skilled surfers.
We had a very pleasant experience flying with Turkish Airlines and very happy to report all our flights were on time.
Thank you to an awesome group….it was great to experience this part of Europe with you.
As a freelance tour manager for C the World, I can highly recommend all their tours. See the world with www.ctheworld.co.za, a very affordable South African based tour operator. Visit their website for information on group tours for the rest of 2022 and 2023.