It was my first time in Switzerland last week – we went to the French speaking city of Lausanne! It was a long nine hour journey from Passau with three transport changes; train to Munich, bus to Zurich and then train again to Lausanne, but my big family event there was so worth it!
Lausanne is the fourth largest city in Switzerland and it is known as the ‘Olympic Capital’ because the International Olympic Committee is located there. The city itself is resting right on the shores of Lake Geneva,which is the largest freshwater lake in Europe and the scenery was just divine.
It was the strangest thing to be sitting on the train from Zurich to Lausanne and to halfway through have the language of the overhead speakers and train staff suddenly switch from German to French. I kept going to answer people in German, until I realised halfway through and then proceeded to dig into my old high school French repertoire for (very) basic communication.
My Dad kept saying how nice it was to hear French being spoken after hearing German for a week and I interjected (I’ve become really fond of German), but I did have to admit after a while that French was a nice language to listen to.
You know, I thought New Zealand and Japan were pretty expensive countries but Switzerland is a whole other ball game. I heard that some people live and work in Switzerland and go shopping in neighbouring countries because it’s cheaper – and I can see why!
The Lausanne Cathedral is known as one of the most beautiful gothic monuments in Europe and it is famous for its statues that have medieval paintwork still faintly visible on its surfaces.
We took a boat on Lake Geneva from Ouchy over to a cute little village called Cully. The lake scenery really reminded me of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown (New Zealand) at times.
The hills around Lake Geneva are covered in vineyards; the most famous being the 14km long terraced vineyards of Lavaux which are listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Cully was a little village with winding narrow stone streets with a whole lot of charm – I much prefer seeing the smaller places (which have a lot more character) than big city tourist traps with too many people!
I particularly adored all of the unique window shutters on the houses in Cully, they were just so colourful and detailed! (I wish my windows had them too…)
Although it was noticeably warmer in Lausanne than it was in Germany, Autumn was making her presence known here too. Golden leaves were falling all over the city.
We also went wine tasting while we were in Cully (complete with an outrageous price tag!) but it was a lot of fun, none the less. We’re actually going to be having Christmas in Lausanne with family, so I’ll be back there soon for more!
So, did you like Lausanne?
Is it somewhere you’ve visited or would like to visit?
We went to Vienna last weekend for a three day holiday and I was completely blown away by the city. The buildings were magnificent; I’d never seen so many beautiful buildings in such a concentrated area before. Every corner we turned, there was another amazing structure to be awe-struck by – I’m pretty sure we walked around the city centre dragging our jaws along the ground with us!
Vienna or Wien is the capital of Austria and it used to be the imperial capital of the Austrian Empire which was ruled by the Habsburg Monarchy. The city is known for its musical and artistic legacy and is considered one of the most livable cities in the world.
Our hotel was located near the famous Belvedere complex, so naturally we went to check that out first. The Upper and Lower Belvedere are Baroque palaces that were built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was a general in the imperial army.
The two buildings are used as art museums and have beautifully manicured lawns, fountains and flower gardens surrounding them (look at those perfectly pointy trees!).
The Lower Belvedere holds temporary art exhibitions and the Upper Belvedere is home to Austrian art dating back to the middle ages. It is most famous for its huge Gustav Klimt collection including The Kiss. I am still so disappointed that we didn’t have enough time to go into the Upper Belvedere exhibition!
We had perfect weather while we were in Vienna – three days of temperatures over 30 degrees with not a single cloud in the sky! After visiting Belvedere we stumbled upon the fountain at Karlsplatz, which people were swimming in to cool off in the heat.
The St. Stephan’s Cathedral or Stephansdom is the most important religious building in Vienna. There is also a Stephansdom in Passau (where I live) which was supposedly built in a similar Gothic style to the Vienna one before it was burnt down in a town fire and rebuilt in Baroque style.
Hofburg Palace in the centre of the city was the residence of monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty and also houses the Winter Riding School of the famous Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School. I remember reading a book called The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson when I was younger which featured the Spanish Riding School – does anyone else remember reading that book?
In the Hofburg Palace we went to the Sisi museum, which showed the life of the beloved Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary. I found it fascinating to learn about her life and she seemed very modern minded, which was sometimes not taken so well in her own time.
Sisi was born in Munich to Bavarian royalty and met Franz Josef when she was fifteen, who became infatuated with her even though it was Sisi’s older sister he was there to meet. They married and Sisi moved to Vienna to start her royal duties. Throughout her life Sisi disliked Viennese court life and preferred to travel and do things on her own. She was famous for her beauty which she kept a strict routine of daily exercises and hours of dressing her long hair to upkeep.
The museum also included an audio tour of the imperial apartments where Franz Josef and Sisi lived. The rooms were gorgeous and rich with detail!
The Museum of Fine Arts or Kunsthistoriches Museum holds the Habsburgs’ art collectionand itwas amazing from the inside and out.
Marble staircases and gold leaf decorations adorned the main hallway, along with the huge fresco painted on the ceiling.
The Austrian National Library or Österreichische Nationalbibliothek is also located in the Hofburg and is also another gigantic building which includes four museums and boasts the title of being the largest library in Austria.
The University of Vienna is one of the oldest and largest universities in Europe. It really looks more like a palace than a university, doesn’t it?
Vienna is also famous for its traditional coffeehouses, one of the most iconic being Café Central. The café opened in 1876 and famous people of Austria were noted to be regulars there.
A pianist was playing live in the café while we ate and the ambiance was just beautiful.
When we got to the main train station in Vienna, we went to buy the Vienna Card, which cost 21,90 Euros and it was a great investment for our trip. You can buy the 48 hour card or the 72 hour card (which we got) and it enables you to travel on all public transport for free (buses, trams and subway) and gets you discounts for the main attractions and museums in the city. When every museum or palace costs 10 Euros or more to get in, this card seriously came in handy for a cheaper deal.
As you can probably tell, there was A LOT to see in Vienna – almost too much! There is so much fascinating history there, especially involving the Habsburgs that what we saw was just the tiniest tip of the Viennese ice berg. Three days was definitely not long enough!
I already have a mental list of things I missed that I want to see when I go back there, starting with the Upper Belvedere art collection, Albertina, inside the National Library, National History Museum and maybe even a show at the Spanish Riding School.
I’m really looking forward to going back there sometime!
So, did you enjoy my Vienna post?
Watch this space for my next Vienna post about Schönbrunn Palace!
I absolutely adore Kyoto, it’s like a second home to me. Not only is it where my mother was born and raised, but I also studied there during my exchange year abroad, which was hands down the best year of my life so far. I’ve been there so many times and yet I can never get enough of it!
Kyoto is known as the historical and cultural center of Japan and it was the imperial capital of the country for over a thousand years. The city is home to over 2,000 Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. So without further ado, here are some of Kyoto’s most famous sights:
The Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji is a famous temple in Kyoto and it is one of the most popular buildings in Japan. The temple is covered in gold leaf and the surrounding gardens are based on Muromachi Period garden design. You can’t actually enter the golden temple – you can only walk around it and through the gardens (I know, I was disappointed by that too).
Warning: The Golden Pavilion is extremely popular with tourists and Japanese school trips and it can get very crowded, so avoid going at peak hours!
Kamigamo Shrine in northern Kyoto is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan and it is classed as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Kyoto’s Kamo River runs north-east through the city (this direction was believed to be inauspicious) so Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine further south, were both built to protect Kyoto from misfortune.
Kiyomizu-dera is another famous temple of Kyoto and it is also classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main building is supported by wooden pillars that are 13 metres high and not a single nail was used to build the whole structure. Every autumn, there is a light up event held there where visitors can go at night and see the temple and surrounding trees’ red leaves illuminated by lights.
Heian Shrine or Heian-jingu is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto with a huge torii gate at its entrance – one of the biggest in Japan.
The Kyoto Tower was built in 1964 and it is the tallest structure in Kyoto, standing at 100 metres high. The shape and colour of the tower is supposed to represent a candle and the observation deck allows visitors to see a 360 degree view of the city.
Maiko and Geiko are famous icons of Kyoto and are masters of traditional Japanese dance, song, calligraphy and musical instruments. The Maiko are young apprentices who are typically aged 15 to 20 years old. They train and master their skills until they are old enough to be a fully fledged Geiko.
The Gion district and Pontocho are famous Maiko and Geiko spotting areas, but be careful that they aren’t just tourists dressed up in their costumes! (I also got to dress up as a Maiko in Gion and I was mistaken as the real thing by people passing by!)
The Silver Pavilion or Ginkaku-ji is a famous Zen temple in Kyoto which was supposed to be layered in silver foil, but was never finished. The gardens around the temple are beautiful and I secretly liked them better than the Golden Pavilion’s garden. You could even get a nice view of the city from the Ginkaku-ji’s gardens.
The Aoi Matsuri or Hollyhock Festival is one of three big festivals held in Kyoto every year. It is a festival of the two Kamo shrines I mentioned earlier – the Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine. Over six hundred people dressed in traditional Heian costume participate in the festival procession, which starts at the Kyoto Imperial Palace and makes its way to Shimogamo Shrine and then Kamigamo Shrine.
Kyoto’s annual Gion Matsuri is the biggest festival of all and one of the three great festivals of Japan. The Gion matsuri is a month long and the parade at the end of July involves huge wooden floats draped in historic tapestries to be pulled through the main streets of Kyoto.
In the nights leading up to the parade, main roads in the city are only accessible by pedestrians and are full of food stalls and viewings of traditional Kyoto houses and family heirlooms. It was the most amazing festival I have ever been to!
Fushimi Inari Shrine which I covered in an earlier post, is my favourite shrine in Kyoto. Thousands of red torii gates standing one after another wind their way up the Inari mountain and the result is just magical.
The Kamo River that runs through Kyoto is a popular place for locals to walk, bike or sit beside – especially in spring when the banks are lined with blooming cherry blossom flowers. In summer near Sanjo, restaurants open up their famous decks that overlook the river and the banks are full of couples sitting by the river enjoying each other’s company.
So, did you enjoy Kyoto? Would you like to go there?
Last weekend we went on a road trip to the magnificent city of Salzburg in Austria. It only took two hours to drive there from Passau and it turned out to be an amazing day trip. Salzburg literally means ‘salt fortress’ and it is the fourth largest city in Austria.
Salzburg is famous for a lot of things, and one of them is the Hohensalzburg Fortress. It is located on a small hill (called Festungsberg) overlooking the city and it is one of the largest and best preserved medieval castles left in Europe.
You can walk up the hill to the fortress (like we did) or you can take the Festungsbahn cable car right up into the castle. The castle is also known for its private Reisszug line, which was a primitive cable railway built around the 1500’s to provide freight access to the castle – the first of its kind in the world.
It cost 8 Euros to get in and it was almost like a small town inside the castle walls. There were a lot of lookout points in the fortress and the view of the city from up there was breathtaking.
The money we paid at the gate also included the admission fee for the museum and viewing the Prince-Archbishop’s residence inside the castle. The Archbishop’s residence had three beautifully preserved rooms and my favourite was The Golden Chamber which was richly decorated with rosettes, golden foliage and animals.
There was also a part of the castle where you were given a headset to listen to an audio tour in your own language while you looked at various rooms (like the torture chamber). From there the spiral staircase lead up to the 360 degree view of Salzburg from one of the high towers. It was a brilliant experience!
After descending the fortress hill, we walked to the Salzburg Cathedral or Salzburger Dom.
The cathedral is a Baroque style Catholic church and the interior, especially the dome, was stunning. It was a kaleidoscope of colours, paintings and intricate engravings!
Next to the cathedral was the Residenzplatz, which featured the largest Baroque style fountain in middle Europe, which was made of marble and known as Residenzbrunnen.
There was a lot of imagery of horses throughout Salzburg, from the fountains, to engravings and paintings on buildings to real live horse carriages traveling on the roads.
From the Residenzplatz, we meandered through the Salzburg Altstadt or ‘old town’ which is known for its well-preserved Baroque architecture and it is marked as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
18th-century composer Mozart was born in Salzburg and his childhood home was located in the altstadt, which is now a popular tourist destination. The admission fee was 10 Euros so we decided to skip this particular attraction, but you could also visit the Mozart Wohnhaus where he lived later on in his life.
Salzburg is also famous as being the main setting of the 1965 musical film The Sound of Music. My mum loves this film and I watched it with her a lot when I was younger, so she was pretty excited when I told her I was visiting Salzburg!
As anyone who has seen the film would instantly recognise, the Mirabell Palace gardens were used as a setting for the song sequence of ‘Do-re-mi’.
The von Trapp children skip and sing around the pegasus fountain (above) and use the garden steps like a scale as they sing (below). The view of the fortress and cathedral from the gardens was also spectacular.
All in all, I really enjoyed Salzburg – a day trip really wasn’t enough to see everything. There is so much history and awe-inspiring sights here that it’s a treasure trove of wonders just waiting to be explored further. I would love to go back and show my mum around (and maybe even take The Sound of Music tour together)!