Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Lunch at Cafe MEISSEN

Filet of salmon with pasta, part of the "Time Travel by MEISSEN" Menu,
served on the "Full Green Wine Wreath" design.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mozart's Salzburg

Few cities are so irrevocably associated with a single person than Salzburg to Mozart, and vice-versa. The city is amazing in its own right, but those interested in the life of one of the world's greatest composers will be thoroughly delighted here.

Wolfgang Mozart was born in a burgher’s house on the busy Getreidegasse 9 on January 27, 1756, and lived here in the heart of the city for several years before moving across the river. It's location means that you'll at least pass by it, even if you're not looking for it. 

The house features several floors showcasing historic furniture, letters, memorabilia, and many of the portraits painted during his lifetime. It also displays his early instruments, including violins, his clavichord, and a harpsichord, as well as locks of the composer's hair. Some are fascinated by it, others find it touristy and not as authentic as they may have hoped.

The Mozart family moved across the Salzach river to the Tanzmeisterhaus, now known as Mozart's Wohnhaus. It's located just across from the birthplace of Christian Doppler of the 'Doppler Effect' fame, which not surprisingly doesn't draw much of an audience. 

This house was where Mozart lived the most in the city, when he wasn't off traveling through Europe. The museum has a large assortment of letters, music and overall a little more interesting exhibits, including a composite of what it is believed he really looked like (oddly similar to Nicholas Cage if you ask me).

But, there's more to Mozart's Salzburg than two houses. Much of the city, from its mighty fortress to winding alleys, were more or less the way as they were during Mozart's time.  
It's not hard to imagine what it might have been like when Mozart strolled these streets, particularly when the crowds of day tripping tourists have moved on and the old town is calm. 

You can enjoy coffee and pastries at Cafe Thomaselli, one of his favorite haunts. But, many might overlook the plaque at the side of the building noting that his widow, Konstanze, lived upstairs with her second husband for a period when she returned to the city. 

And then there's the St. Sebastian cemetery where both Konstanze and his father Leopold are buried. Mozart, or at least most of him, is buried in Vienna.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

48 Hours in Innsbruck

View of the Goldenes Dachl, or Golden Roof, from the city tower

Most travelers from North America are going to arrive in Innsbruck via rail coming from Salzburg or Munich. But, they're really missing out on a very cool, low-flying view over the city and the dramatic outcroppings of mountains between the clouds. Typically the city will be a quick pass through on the way to the mountains, especially during ski season, but this small city offers plenty for visitors to fill up 48 hours. 

Day One: 

The beginning to any visit to Innsbruck should begin at the Zaha Hadid designed Congress station to take the Nordkettenbahnen, a series of cable cars, to the top of the Nordkette mountain range. Even though the thick clouds of a rainy day meant limited visibility over the city, the beauty of the rocky mountains and glimpse over the city make it worthwhile.  One stop on this trip is the Alpenzoo, Europe's highest zoo. Since I lost my Innsbruck Card here, which covers all transportation and every sight you'd want to see, I walked the remaining trek down the mountain and across the river Inn.

After checking in to Hotel Innsbruck, which was far nicer than the website images would suggest, I took a late afternoon stroll through the the nearby alleys of the old town, checking out the various small shops and cafes. Afterwards I met with a guide from Tyrol Tourism to learn more about Innsbruck and the region over dinner at Wilderin, a cozy, modern Tyrolean restaurant before coffee and cake at Katzung, possibly the best coffeehouse in town. As rain poured down we took in late night drinks with a view atop a shopping center at 360 which, as you might guess, offers 360 views of the city.

Day Two:

One of the city's most energetic and enthusiastic guides is Frau Grassmayr, whose family has owned the Grassmayr Bell Foundry for some 400 years. After a quick visit through the family business we went to the Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump Tower and were lucky enough to see someone jump - despite the fact that it was September and there was zero snow. Nearby is the Tirol Panorama, a giant 1000m2 painting in the round which depicts a famous battle on the sight. It's covered with the card and just a short walk away from the Ski Jump Tower, so it's worth a quick visit. 

Just outside the city, the 16th century Ambras Castle was built by Archduke Ferdinand II for his wife who, not coming from royal blood, wasn't allowed to live in the residence in the city. Inside there's a Habsburg portrait gallery of around 300 works from the 15th to 19th century, a Spanish Hall with wall paintings and detailed woodwork and a small armory. What's somewhat unique is the Chamber of Art and Curiosities, with some off the wall and some flat out morbid collections by Ferdinand II, from rare coral to portraits of Vlad Impaler. 

The medieval old town offers a few 'must-see' attractions. The 16th century Hofkirche has the tomb of Emperor Maximillian joined by 28 bronze statues of the Emperor's ancestors, wives, and a couple random inclusions, such as King Arthur of England. The court palace, the Hofburg, offers the usual period furniture and other antiques, perhaps notable for an apartment used by the beloved (by Austrian royalists anyway) Empress Sissi.

One of the most popular sights is the Goldenes Dachl, thought it is little more than a copper tiled roof. After a quick look, wandering through the arcades and winding streets is a far more rewarding experience with this medieval gem. Further along Maria-Theresien Strasse offers a more open space to check out the 17th and 18th-century houses and shops, and provides a beautiful vista of the mountains. 

One of Austria's most famous attractions is the recently expanded Swarovski Kristallwelten, which is part art exhibition, part museum and part shopping experience. I was particularly happy to see an installation by Brian Eno. A special bus runs from the Congress station to nearby Wattens well into the evening during peak travel season. Taking the final bus meant that it wasn't crowded. 

Not surprisingly, this is one of the more expensive attractions, with current day tickets costing € 19. Considering the Innsbruck Card costs costs € 33 for 24 hours and includes virtually everything else you'd want to see and transportation, it's especially worthwhile if you plan to go here. 

Want to know more? Click here for my AFAR guide to Tyrol and Vorarlberg.

Click here for current prices and details for the Innsbruck Card.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

AFAR Guide to Austria


After working on a guide to Salzburg early last year, I was invited to create the entire country guide to Austria for AFAR, which happens to be one of my favorite magazines and websites. There will soon be a special hotel section I created last fall and updates throughout the year. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Summer travels and newly published stories

So, here it is October and ... where did the summer go? Well, let's see...

In June I traveled through the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, which was just as beautiful  as you might imagine. Great weather, fresh seafood, wine and the amazing city of Dubrovnik. Even when it's filled to the brim with cruise passengers it's still one of the most beautiful cities I've seen. (Thanks Croatian Tourist Board!)

Since I was in the neighborhood I took a nearly 7 hour bus trip to make a long overdue visit to Sarajevo. The city, while still showing the scars of war, is an absolute delight. The mix of Imperial Austrian and Ottoman influence has given the place a very special east-meets-west feel. And then there's the Cajdzinica Dzirlo tea house ... I'm definitely ready to explore more of the Balkans.

From Sarajevo I flew to Berlin and took time to visit friends in Saxony-Anhalt before flying back to the US. It reignited my passion for the city - and Germany in general.

In July I traveled with the family to Michigan, exploring Grand Rapids and Holland, taking my youngest daughter to the beach for the first time. It was cold and rainy, unfortunately, but I'm sure there will be another chance to go back to that coast.

I worked on a destination guide on Austria for AFAR.com, one of my favorite websites and magazines, which went live in September. (The second of three projects with them to date.) Stories I wrote last year came out in AAA Highroads (Finland) and German Life (Tallinn's German Roots), proceeded by a story in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper about Stockholm's Hornstull neighborhood.

Looking forward to what's next ... not that I necessarily know what that will be.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Zlatan Otok Winery: Croatian wines with a view

After a morning of winding roads, one-lane mountain tunnels, and a disturbing lack of guard rails, I came to the third and final stop on a wine tour of Hvar in Sveta Nedjelja. It’s a small village nestled along the coast overlooked by slopes of grape vineyards of Zlatan Plenkovic's family winery, Zlatan Otok.

Their Bilo Idro Marina and Restaurant was a couple days away from opening during my visit, so instead I tasted a few of the wines and enjoyed fresh octopus salad and prawns under a shady tree on the terrace of the Tamaris restaurant up the hill. A better choice, in fact, thanks to the beautiful views overlooking the Adriatic. 

The winery is best known for its Plavac Mali, a rich, full-bodied wine with a high alcohol content (12%-17%) that is native to the Dalmatian Coast. Genetic testing revealed that it’s actually a cross between Zinfandel and Dobricic grapes. In fact, those Napa Valley Zinfandels you’ve probably enjoyed actually originated Croatia. They are also the only producer of Grand Cru in Croatia.

On the already sunny Hvar island, grapes on the south slope receive an additional boost of light from the sun's reflecting of the water. The climate, soil type and shape of vineyards means pesticides aren't necessary to protect the crop, though the rough terrain means harvesting must be done manually.

While much of Croatia's wine production is consumed domestically, the wines of Zlatan Otok are available across parts of Europe and through a distributor in New Jersey. They have also been negotiating a deal to bring their wines to Trader Joe's. 

Of course, nothing beats enjoying a glass on Croatia's most beautiful island.