Mt Kronplatz, Italy

Hiking Mount Kronplatz in Italy

Mt Kronplatz, Sud Tyrol, Italy

Under a Sud Tyrol sun, the narrow trail quietly weaves to and fro through leafy forests and thick undergrowth as it climbs the steep slopes of Mt Kronplatz. Germanic though the name may sound, the mountain is most assuredly in Italy, not far from the cute village of Brunico. Though admittedly, this region of northern Italy was actually Austrian before the wars of the 20th century. The cool thing about Mt Kronplatz is how fluently it masters the double seasons when so many other mountainous places don’t. Ever since the rise of popularity in the luxury ski resort in the French Alps, Alpine destinations have forgotten to tell the world how fantastic exploring the Alps is during the summer. At Kronplatz, it too has a fancy ski resort, attracting wealthy skiers from all over the world during colder months. But during the summer, the mountain bursts into lush forests and rich meadows blanketed in a brilliant quilt of wildflowers. For those adventurous souls who love to hike, there are (steep) trails that wild their way up the mountain, as well as mountain bike trails that head back down it. For those who want the view but not the strenuous effort, or for hikers that prefer a one-way trip, simply take the gondolas! Repurposed during the summer, the network of skiing gondolas are perfect for getting up and down Mt Kronplatz while still providing epic views of the Alpine slopes. At the top, enjoy rich views, including this one of a mountaintop cross-like shrine on a sublime backdrop of the majestic Alps, before heading into the cafe for a deliciously well-deserved lunch and cold beer at the repurposed ski resort!


Hike Other Lovely Mountains in Europe
  1. Col Vert, Alps, France
  2. Puy de Sancy, Auvergne, France
  3. Knocknarea, Ireland
  4. Mt Schiehallion, Highlands, Scotland
  5. Tatra Mountains, Poland & Slovakia
  6. Val de Susa, Italy

 

Advertisements

Vienna Opera, Austria

 

Vienna Opera house Staatsoper Austria Ringstrasse
Interior Statues of the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), Austria

Pure decadence, exorbitant elegance, genteel allure, stunning beauty. Welcome to the Staatsoper, Vienna’s State Opera House. The first of the extravagant buildings on Vienna‘s most famed street, the Ringstrasse (now a designated UNESCO site), the Staatsoper was opened to the genteel Austrian public in 1869. Built in the Neo-Renaissance style, the building was surprisingly unpopular with said genteel Viennese. (It somehow was not considered grand enough. You have to wonder about that genteel 19th century high society…). Then on the fateful night of March 12th, 1945, inferno rained down upon Vienna’s opera house, dropped by US bombers. Fire poured from the sky, bombs exploded in the streets, and flames ate their way through the Ringstrasse. Though the angry flames could not get into the walled-off foyer and fresco-filled stairways, the auditorium and 150,000 costumes for 120+ operas went up in smoke. When WWII was finally over, it was debated: shall we rebuild the originally unpopular building as per original design, or do we redesign it to modern tastes? Thank goodness the former option was chosen, and the Wiener Staatsoper was rebuilt in all its former glory (and happily, it is now beloved by Viennese and foreigners alike). Today, you can’t visit musical Vienna, home (at one point or another) to such musicians as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Chopin and Mahler, without visiting the opera. Loiter inside the foyer for a bit and if you have time, buy yourself a ticket to the opera or ballet. If you’re a budget traveller, queue in the ‘standing’ line in the afternoon to buy a €3 or €4 ‘standing’ ticket (arrive 3hrs prior to the show’s start; once you’ve got your ticket, tie a scarf to mark your spot and head out for a bite to eat). Be sure to dedicate plenty of time to explore the palatial building – frescos, statues, paintings, vast staircases and awe-inspiring architecture await!


More to see in Austria
  1. The Belvedere Palace – Vienna
  2. Kreuzenstein Castle – Leobendorf
  3. Hundrertwasser House – Vienna
  4. Hohensalzburg – Salzburg
  5. Downtown Linz – Linz
  6. Streets of Innsbruck – Innsbruck

 

Chiesa di Santa Maria, Brunico, Italy

BrunicoChurch-Edit.jpg

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta in Brunico, Italy

Italy is full of churches. To no one’s surprise, it’s one of the most church-dense countries in Europe. The Chiesa di Santa Maria is surprisingly old – it was built in the 1300’s. It’s charm, however, comes largely from its location in the quaint, Germanic village of Brunico (Bruneck in German), nestled in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy. Brunico is the perfect base for exploring the rugged backcountry of Sud Tyrol (Trentino-Alto Adige in Italian), a relatively new region of Italy (only becoming part of Italy after WWII). With an interesting melange of Italian and Austrian cultures, even the smallest of villages of Sud Tyrol feel wildly diverse. In the winter, this northeastern corner of Italy is well-known for fantastic skiing. The summer season draws adventurous travellers in with the promise of narrow mountain paths weaving through sunny forests and emerald meadows, full of chirping birds and rustling undergrowth. In the village of Brunico, visit the idyllic castle perched atop the hill for panoramic views of the village and beyond. The castle, now a museum of mountain climbing and the Himalayas, is situated on a lush forest backdrop, complete with meandering mountain paths and a rustic WWWII cemetery. Coming down from the castle’s hilltop path, enjoy this perfect view of Brunico and the lovely Chiesa di Santa Maria, the turquoise mountains forming a magnificent backdrop. Back in town, settle down to a pizza in the family-run restaurants in the historic old town as the sunsets over this adorable mountain village.


More Beautiful Churches in Europe
  1. Church of Saints Clement & Panteleimon, Ohrid, Macedonia
  2. Gran Madre di Dio Church, Torino, Italy from the Po River, Torino, Italy
  3. Fantoft Stave Church near Bergen, Norway
  4. Svenska Gustafskyrkan Church, Copenhagen, Denmark
  5. Hallgrímskirkja Church, Iceland

 

The Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria

vienna (1)

The Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria

Few places can supersede Vienna for splendour or elegance, and one of reasons for this comes in the shape of the splendid Belvedere Palace. Baroque to the core, the massive estate comprises of the Upper and Lower buildings, the Orangery, the Old Stables, the beautiful jardins francais modelled on Versailles and many intertwining paths amongst the flower beds, marble sculptures, tree-lined paths. In a way, we can thank the Ottoman Empire for this marble monument: the Belvedere was built during a period of renewed construction by the Hapsburg family after the successful end to the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire into Central Europe. Much like the Belevedere, the city of Vienna itself isa work of marble and art: from the soaring grey towers of St Stephen’s Cathedral to the massive Staatsoper opera house, from the seat of power at the Hofburg Palace to the many marble and bronze statues scattered around the broad avenues and finally to the many cafes that have made this city famous. Walking Vienna’s avenues and boulevards and gardens is like visiting a living museum, one dedicated to Baroque and Art Nouveau and Gothic styles. From the historic extravagance of the cafes to the vast grandeur of the palaces, Vienna will make you feel like royalty in another era.


Other Underrated Beautiful European Palaces
  1. Royal Palace, Warsaw, Poland
  2. Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England
  3. Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria
  4. Neue Schloss, Stuttgart, Germany
  5. Sforza Castle Palace, Milan, Italy
  6. Palaces of Piazza de Vittore Veneto, Torino, Italy

 

Innsbruck, Austria

Elegant street in Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

Stately elegance, the central streets of the Austrian Capital of the Alps beckons both cultural and nature travellers. Despite the city’s terrifyingly clever name – ‘Innsbruck’ translates to the self-explanatory ‘Inn Bridge’ (referring to the Inn River) – today’s city is an internationally renowned winter sports centre, attracting hikers, cyclists, skiers and other athletically-motivated travellers from all over the world. Case in point, Innsbruck hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, not to mention the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics, making one of only three destinations to host the Winter Olympics more than once. Innsbruck owes much of its cultural significance to the fact that in 1429, it began the capital of Tyrol and thereby assigning a political and cultural importance to the alpine city for centuries to come. We have Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria and his successors to thank for the beautiful Renaissance buildings gracing today’s city centre, making a stroll feel both elegant and nostalgic. Today, Innsbruck remains a European pillar – a beautiful central European city (interestingly enough, one that resembles the not-too-far-away Croatian capital Zagreb just a little) that just so happens to be on the doorsteps of the Alps and Italian Dolomites making it a perfect starting point for anyone looking for adventure.


Find More Beautiful Places in Austria
  1. Belvedere Palace – Vienna
  2. Hundretwasser House
  3. Kreuzenstein Castle
  4. Linz
  5. Salzberg

 

Kreuzenstein Castle, Austria

Goodbye awesome castle!

Kreuzenstein Castle

There are some places you keep going back to, if only in your mind’s eye, and Kreuzenstein Castle is one of them for me. If you have ever read a fairy tale or a fantasy novel, or if you’ve ever seen a fantastical film, then you know – there’s something magical about turrets and towers and crinolines, something supernatural, something that makes one think about fairies and elves and dwarves and impossible beasts, something that effects you so deeply that you can’t shake it. This castle – it seems as if it popped up from the pages of a fairy tale or a Games of Thrones-esque novel. Being there, or even just imagining being there by gazing at the photo carries one to another time, another world, another dimension. Not far from Vienna, Kreuzenstein Castle may be a hodgepodge of several European castles, manors and religious buildings (composed somewhat randomly to re-build a ruin quickly), but the very essence of it feels so real. Even years later, I cannot shake the spell cast on me by this place – the same spell that seems to exude from Tallinn, Estonia, from the Gauja Valley in Latvia, from Andalucia in Spain, from St. Petersburg, Russia, Largentiere or Auvergne in France or Slea Head in Ireland, as well as a few other select spots. Needless to say, I don’t think that Kreuzenstein is finished with me yet…

Linz, Austria

Linz trainA.jpg

Linz, Austria

Home of the Linzer Torte (a kind of pie or pastry), the Austrian city stays largely off the tourism radar – with the exception of this little yellow train. Yet, Linz is quietly bustling – it is city where the wayward traveler is guaranteed to meet the “behind-the-scenes” Austrians (as opposed to those working directly in the tourism industry). People come, and people go (talking of Michelangelo? You’ll get the joke if you’re a literature nerd!). They go to school, they go to work. They stroll in the park with their families, they have a beer on a terrace, they shop in stores in the town centre, they wander along the river banks, they play fetch with their dogs in the grass. This is not a tourist city. This is a real city where you will catch a look “backstage” look at what it means to be Austrian.

Vienna, Austria

20100623-Vienna2-Edit.jpg

Vienna, Austria

Splendor. Grandeur. Elegance. Beauty. Magnifigance. Luxury. Marble. Sophisticated. Refined. These are just a few words we associate with the splendid Austrian capital that is Vienna. Old world charm, the age of the steam engine, the golden days, the Victorian era. Vienna, for one reason or another, seems trapped in a snow globe from the turn of the century. It is a city full of grand palaces, of tree-lined avenues, of magnificent churches, of stately gardens, of bustling cafes. Exquisite sculptures like the one above seem to stroll through the city, and fountains trickle in marble basins. This is city that gave us the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, the Empress Maria Theresa, the doomed Marie Antoinette, the scientist Schrödinger and his famed cat. It is the Capital of Classical Music, a hub that entices some of the best classical musicians  to call Vienna home: Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and of course the infamous Mozart. The Pole Fryderyk Chopin (better known as “Frédéric”) made his debut here. Franz Liszt, the composer Gustav Mahler (buried in Vienna), Max Steiner, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Antonio Vivaldi, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss senior and junior – they were all here. This is a city that exudes music. This is a city where you can see an opera for €3. This is a city were there is classical music playing even in the public toilets. Music, marble and cafes – the three things make Vienna the elegant exemplar that it is today.

 

Innsbruck, Austria

20120720-Innsbruck Reflection

Innsbruck, Austria

Lost in the Dolomites, Innsbruck is the perfect starting point for a mountain trek. You may already know that Innsbruck is in the Austrian Alps, in the province of North Tyrol – what you may know is that just south of it is South Tyrol: a German-speaking, Austrian-looking province of…wait for it…Italy! Yes, you read that right – all due to shifting borders after the War. This region, including Innsbruck and its province North Tyrol, along with two regions in northern Italy, correspond closely with the historical Tyrol region. This accounts for the huge resemblance these regions have with one another, despite being separate (usually very different) nations! Today, only 23% of the Italian Tyrol region speaks Italian as a first language (63% = German). The Italian Tyrol is also one of the richest regions in the EU – despite its rural and mountainous nature. On the Austrian side, many of the Tyrol-Italians come to live, work, and study in Austria for both economical and cultural reasons. These three regions are an interesting example of a cross-border shared culture – the same kind of trans-border relationship that exists in ‘Pays Vasco’ (Basque Country) seen on both sides of Pyrenees (in France and Spain), or in the Alpine regions (ie the ancient state of Savoy between France, Italy and Switzerland), or even the relationship between L’vov, Ukraine and Poland, to which it has historical ties. At the end of the day, borders have to be drawn somewhere – but just because it’s marked on a map, it doesn’t mean one cultural stops and another starts immediately. No; culture, history, language, architecture and heritage are much too fluent and gradual to be that abrupt. So, rock on Tyrol!

Kreuzenstien Castle, Austria

kreuz-Edit

Burg Kreuzenstein, Austria

The film set for Ken Follet’s World Without End is probably one of the most interesting castles in Europe.Why, you ask? Well, in some ways it’s not a castle at all. Some consider it authentic, but for others, it’s nearly akin to a hoax. You see, Kreuzenstien Castle is a bought castle, a ‘Frankenstein’ castle. It has been created from a hodgepodge of other castles from Austria, France, Romania, Germany…you get the picture. A ‘Frankenstein castle.’ The owner, Count Johann Wilczek, made rich from coal mining, decided that the ruinous medieval castle that predated the current structure was not a fitting for the Counts of Wilczek, so he built his own, using the original foundations as well as bits of any other medieval structures that his coal-mine money could buy. In this way, it is considered both a ‘neo’ and ‘original’ medieval building! Regardless whether you view it as ‘authentic’ or not, the castle remains a beautiful building with an interesting history, and well worth the  day trip from Vienna. Add bonus? If you’re into history, try to spot the different styles, eras, and buildings!

 

Dolomite Moutains, Italy

nov15--3-Edit

Castle in the Dolomite Mountains, Italy

If you want a unique, cross-cultural experience, try driving from Verona (Italy) to Innsbruck in Austria. It’s only at the very end–when crossing into Innsbruck–that you arrive in Austria. Yet, arriving in in South Tyol (also known as Alto Adige or Sudtirol) in northern Italy, it already feels Germanic–and Italian at the same time (and everyone is bilingual)! These mountains hold some of Europe’s most precious, unexplored gems: a trip through the Dolomite’s, especially outside of ski season, feels like a trip back in time to the age of exploration. And even better, the Dolomite region of Italy has the highest concentration of medieval castles in Italy, with 400 fortresses, castles and medieval structures rising up from its hills.  Whether you play “I spy a castle” from your window while traversing the region, or whether you find a snug mountain town or village to use as a home base to discover the region on foot, the Dolomite mountains, especially South Tyrol, is not a region to miss!

 

Hundretwasser House, Vienna, Austria

vienna2-Edit

Hundretwasser House, Vienna, Austria

Rarely celebrated for its modernity or eccentricity, Europe is known for old, historic and elegant buildings. However, there are a few odd pockets here and there, treasure troves of modern oddities that are worth seeing for yourself. Places like the Guggenheim Museum, anything by Gaudi, the Singing House in Dresden, Valencia’s City of Art and Science, Sopot’s Crooked House…and the Hundretwasser House here in Vienna are a few such examples. Created by Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1983 to 1985, the house represents the expressionist style. Inside, there are 52 apartments, four offices, 16 private terraces and three communal terraces, with about 250 plants growing on them. Today, it remains one of Vienna’s most celebrated (and visited) landmarks–which is certainly saying something as Vienna is a large and beautiful city. It’s beautiful, funky, enticing and dizzying all at the same time!


More Quirky European Architecture
  1. Gaudi’s Casa Mila in Barcelona, Spain
  2. Gaudi’s Casa Batllo in Barcelona, Spain
  3. Flower Tree in Lyon, France
  4. Warsaw National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland
  5. Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum in Spain
  6. House of Chimeras in Kiev, Ukraine
  7. La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia, Spain
  8. Fantoft Stave Church in Norway

vienna3-Edit

Salzburg, Austria

salzberg2crop

Fortress Hohensalzburg, Salzburg, Austria

Travel and weather have a tricky relationship. The power of weather is so strong that it often has the ability to make or break a trip, to render your day magical or miserable depending on its mood. Imagine you are walking along the same cobblestoned street that Mozart once lived on, and it started to rain. Wait, no, not it’s not raining, but hailing. One minute it’s bright and sunny, and the next minute, little droplets of frozen rain have begun falling from the sky, obscuring the view of the beautiful Hohensalzburg Castle and attacking you as you scurry for shelter. You, as the tourist, can take this in one of two ways. On one hand, you can get angry and feel cheated out of a beautiful, magical day in the famous Austrian city. But on the other hand, you can take the experience at face value and enjoy it for what it is: a memorable, crazy afternoon dodging balls of cascading ice in the shadow of Salzburg’s beautiful schloss. Sometimes the weather doesn’t match up with the image you have in your mind–but does that make it any less magical? I think not.

Vienna, Austria

vienna edit

Vienna, Austria

One of Europe’s nicest cities and snuggled right at the top of the World’s Most Livable Cities list is the beautiful capital of Austria. Read the linked page and it will tell you all about Vienna’s perfect scores in education, healthcare, jobs, etc, and one must admit that these things are important. But even more so, one of the things that makes Vienna so attractive to its citizens and foreigners alike is the attitude of the people within its borders. Take this photo, for instance. Taken outside the famous Hofburg Palace, a group of balloon-laden parents take their children to the park, just for the mere sake of doing so. Whether it was indeed a birthday party or other such ‘special’ occasion, think about how incredible that over a dozen adults drove into the middle of the city, into one of the most crowded parts of town carrying armloads of balloons, just to take their kids to the park? Most kids get to go to the local pizza place or ice cream parlor, and these kids get a visit to a palace and have a picnic in a park within a cluster of balloons. The Viennese are just genuinely happy, healthy, sociable, and well-to-do people, and any visit to the city is likely to make the intrepid traveler immediately start looking for ways to learn German, find a job here and rent a flat somewhere along the Ringstrasse!

Bratislava, Slovakia

 bratislavaredo1

Hlavné námestie (Main Square), Bratislava, Slovakia

Did you know that Bratislava and Vienna and the closest (geographically-speaking) capital cities in Europe? Just one hour by train, and only 55 miles as the crow flies! Bratislava is also directly between Vienna and Budapest. There are Americans commute that same distance every day! Therefore, there is no excuse not to add Bratislava to your Austrian/Hungarian itinerary. Not only that, but Bratislava is still relatively “undiscovered.” While Vienna and Budapest may be grander and more inherently beautiful, they are also unavoidably touristic. In many ways, this is a good thing (i.e., foreign languages such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, etc, are prevalent), but this does take a way a little from the experience. To really get into the heart of central/Eastern Europe, Bratislava provides an excellent gateway. A smaller, and easily walkable city, Bratislava affords a quaint Old Town, a magnificent and glowing castle on the hilltop, many fine restaurants for very affordable prices, a lovely promenade along the Danube, funky statues and street art (including Cumil), and an overall fun and relaxed scene. During winter, everything is covered in a light layer of snow, pure and white. At Christmastime, Christmas markets abound, full of handmade gifts and trinkets. Meanwhile in the summer, sunny days blanket the city, glistening off the Danube–reminding us that it is, indeed, the Blue Danube.

Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria

Viennapalace

Neue Burg section of the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria

Vienna is certainly one of Europe’s grandest cities. Tracing centuries of history along Vienna’s Ringstraße makes one feel awe-inspired and breathless amongst all of the elegant buildings, grand churches, beautiful opera houses and theatres, and never-ending palaces. In fact, it seems as if the city is nothing but palaces! The Hofburg Palace, along with the Belvedere and Schönbrunn makes up the three most famous palaces of Vienna. The Hofburg has housed some of the most powerful people in Europe and it has been in governmental use since 1279. The Palace was the centre of the Habsburg dynasty, (the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and from 1438 to 1583 and from 1612 to 1806, it housed the Holy Roman Empire. It continued to be the home of the Emperor of Austria until 1918 and currently serves as the official residence of the Austrian President, Heinz Fischer. Over the years, it has been expanded and re-worked and rebuilt. Bits have been added; other additions have been planned but never came to light. Vienna, lovely and beautiful Vienna, is in so many ways the heart of Europe. It is in almost exactly in the geographical centre of the continent, it has housed many important governments, it has produced, hosted or inspired many of Europe’s important peoples, it is–and has been for some time–one of Europe’s biggest cultural hubs especially when it comes to classical music, and it serves as the gateway between Western and Eastern Europe. With this beautiful, moonlit Hofburg at its governmental centre, Vienna truly holds Europe’s vibrant, beating heart.

Belvedere Palace, Vienna, Austria

belvedere

Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria

Ah, Belvedere. What would a trip to Vienna be without a promenade around these beautiful gardens? Comprised of two main complexes, the Upper and the Lower, the area also includes a few very lovely gardens. The area surrounding the palace is neatly manicured (in the French style) while the other is far more wild and natural. The oldest sections of the Baroque palace, which date back to 1717 (completed 1723),  was built for Prince Eugene who, like all monarchs, wanted a nice, cozy place to relax outside of his taxing duties of being a prince. Various important people have entered these doors , including Franz Ferdinand, Marie Antoinette’s daughter Marie Thérèse Charlotte, and Maria Theresa, though she never lived here. Instead, she decided it would make a nice place to store the Imperial family’s art collection. After the first world war, the Palace officially became a museum, and was eventually opened to the public. Most people go here to visit a particular piece, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Even though the piece is surely worth your attention, don’t miss the rest of the exhibits, or the architecture, and especially not the gardens–because it is the whole experience that will make your visit special!

Linz, Austria

linzwires

Linz, Austria

Landstrasse is the main thoroughfare in little-known Linz, Austria. As it is equidistant between Salzburg and Vienna, it is literally wedged between two giants, and it is always overlooked. No, it doesn’t have Mozart, nor does it have the splendour of the Ringsrtausse, but it does have a bit of that Austrian charm. It feels a bit like a step back in time, Linz. Wires criss-cross the sky, and tram tracks run down the centre of the narrow street. Bakeries and small shops line its edges. People hurry down the street with the day’s shopping under their arms. This is a place that people live, this is a place full of energy and life, not just pretty buildings–making it that much easier to become part of the city, instead of just looking at it from a distance. There’s something about staying with local friends in Linz that makes you think you found the heart of the Austrian people–instead of the heart of the Austrian tourists.

The Riesenrad, Vienna, Austria

reisenrad

The Riesenrad, Vienna, Austria

Right, so, this is a Ferris wheel. It just so happens to be a Ferris wheel called the Wiener Riesenrad located in Vienna’s amusement park, the Prater. The Riesenrad also ranks as one of the most famous Ferris wheels in the world – as well as a historic one. At 64.75-metres (212 ft) tall, this wheel was the tallest in the world after the Roue de Paris was demolished in 1920, and so it remained for 65 years. Constructed 1897, it was one of the earliest additions to the new attraction called the amusement park. As usual, this massive undertaking wasn’t built just because they could build it; it was built draw further attention to a famous person. In this case, it was constructed to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. Sadly, it wasn’t a lucrative business in the beginning, and its engineer died broke and obscure. Today, the Reisenrad is one of Vienna’s top attractions – though at 9 euros a ride, it has since made up for its early poverty!

Linz, Austria

linz

Hauptplatz and Pestsäule (Plague Column) in Linz, Austria

Grey and dismal, this is Austria before a storm, and pretty much how the world views Austria. Yet, storms or not, Linz is far from dismal. In fact, the 3rd-largest city in Austria is teeming with life. For a time, it was the most important city in the Holy Roman Empire, as it was here that Habsburg Emperor Friedrich III spent his final years (though it lost its status to Prague and Vienna when he died in 1493).  Its New Cathedral also sports the largest cathedral in the nation (though not the tallest; during construction, the tower had to be limited to 135m to keep it—by only two meters—shorter than St Stephen’s in Vienna). Cafés and shops line the boulevards; joggers and bikers span the river. The Baroque Plague Column rising from the cobblestones designs to protect Linz from plagues, fires and wars. Linz is a gem on the Blue (grey…) Danube.