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The cities and countryside of Austria.

IN July 1833 the American poet, Nathaniel Parker Willis, visited Austria. He noted that |the Austrians seldom travel, and the reason is evident -- they have everything for which others travel, at home'. I had an idea to visit Austria 160 years after Willis and to prove whether or not his verdict still stands. My plan was to find smaller towns and villages outside her three great cities and to use these as bases from which to explore not just the cities but other places nearby. The country's superb, and reasonably priced public transport system, made it possible for me to test this idea. On my last visit to Austria I chose three such places: the first was Baden, which lies some sixteen miles south of Vienna. The second was Oberndorf, four miles north of Salzburg and the third was Igls, a delightful village three miles to the south of Innsbruck.

Baden, with a population of 28,000 is something like a cross between an English market town and Brighton. The name means, literally, baths, and the town started life as a Roman spa. Its sulphur springs are still going strong and are still used: one should not be surprised to see people walking round in bathrobes at hotels. At temperatures of almost 98 degrees Farenheit taking the waters can be a challenge: the springs pour forth one and a quarter million gallons daily. They are highly recommended for those suffering from rheumatism. When the wind is up the smell of sulphur is noticeable near the bath, but it is not overwhelming. It may be a factor in the lack of black-spot on the city's thousands of rose bushes in its splendid parks.

As a place from which to visit Vienna, Baden could not be better served for transport: there are trains from the capital's Westbahnhof and Sudbahnhof and in addition, trams and buses. The fact that there are, alone, 265 trains a day between Baden and Vienna illustrates my point. Because most stop just opposite the Opera the visitor is well placed to wander round the capital's inneren Stadt or town centre, to tour the Hofburg or visit Stephansdom, to sample the coffee-houses with their famous pastries, to be overwhelmed with the treasures of the Imperial dynasty in the Schatzkammer, to pay one's respects to the Hapsburgs buried in the Capuchin Church, to enjoy an opera or operetta, to visit the numerous museums, art galleries and on and on.

Should all this touring become too much one can easily and happily spend a delightful day in Baden itself. Just to walk about the streets, many of them now |pedestrian zones', is a pleasure in itself. One can stop for coffee mit Schlag at the Cafe Zentrum, dine at one of the many restaurants and afterwards buy some of the delicious ice-cream (a legacy from the Italian provinces in the old Empire) sold from kerb-side stalls. There is the parish church where Mozart's Ave Verum was first performed and the modest house, just opposite the Cafe Zentrum, where Austria's last emperor, the saintly Karl, lived for much of the First World War and from which he left to return to Vienna and exile. There is a magnificent rose park or Rosarium and the delightful Kurpark or town park with its bandstand. Here, on a Sunday after church one sees the population strolling about under the trees or seated, listening to the small orchestra which is extremely good. One of my most treasured memories of Baden is returning to the Kurpark at night, when the citizens and orchestra had long been gone, to see a young couple park their bicycles, bow and curtsey, and then execute a superb waltz in the dusk. For those who like a more exciting evening Baden also boasts one of the most famous gambling casinoes in Austria.

At the end of the park the carefully tended shrubberies and flower-beds shade into the foothills of the famous Vienna woods which inspired both Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and Johann Strauss' Tales From the Vienna Woods. There are numerous walks, all carefully laid out under the pine trees and at the top, the Kaiser Franz Joseph Museum of native art. (Less pleasing to the eye are the photographs of the damage done by Soviet troops who were stationed in Baden when Austria was under military occupation after the last war.) Outside there is a Stuberl, a cross between a cafe and a snack-bar where one can refresh oneself for the return journey.

Beside Baden and Vienna one is well placed for a wide variety of other places to visit, all, naturlich, by means of the ever-efficient public transport. Not far away is the magnificent monastery of Heiligenkreuz or Holy Cross founded in 1133: here just under 700 years later Schubert and a friend played his own fugues on the monastery organ. Not too far from the monastery is the village cemetery and in a corner is buried a part of Austrian history: it is the grave of Baroness Maria Vetsera, killed in the famous suicide pact by Crown Prince Rudolf at Mayerling, about two miles away. About six miles northeast of Baden is the village of Modling: for those who like modern music the place is famous as the home for several years of the composers, Arnold Schonberg and Anton Webern. Baden is definitely a delightful small town to savour and one whose tourist facilities are improving almost daily.

The second stop on my three cities tour was Oberndorf, three miles north of Salzburg on the Salzach river, the border with Bavaria. Oberndorf is in effect two towns: the older one, in whose parish church the Christmas carol, |Silent Night' was composed in 1818. This was the original site of the town which was |twinned' with Laufen, now on the German side of the river. The church was destroyed towards the end of the last century by the fury of the river and in its place, on a grassy knoll, is a simple, small white chapel in honour of the parish priest Joseph Mohr and his friend the composer Franz Gruber who between them gave the world one of its most beautiful Christian hymns. After the flood the population moved away to its present location, still alongside the Salzach. One of the most pleasant walks in Oberndorf is along the river which makes a great sweep round the town of Lauren on the other shore. Indeed, one of the delights of Oberndorf is that one can walk across the bridge, wave one's passport, and be in Germany for the afternoon. In addition, Oberndorf is also the home of one of Austria's leading young muralists, Johannes Plonner, whose studios are part of Hotel Plonner and who carries on the country's rich tradition of decorative art.

A superb Lokalbahn or local railway which leaves every twenty minutes means that Oberndorf is, in effect, almost a suburb of Salzburg. This city remains one of the great delights of European civilisation and, since the film, |Sound of Music', a tourist mecca. Here again one is spoilt for choice among churches, cathedrals, monasteries, squares, palaces, gardens, castles, museums and galleries. As long as one is not there outside the height of the tourist season, a walk down the Getreidegasse, or mediaeval shopping street is a delight as is a tour of the Mozartsgeburtshaus (Mozart's birthplace and boyhood home). Unless one has booked well in advance, the city should be avoided in August, the month of the annual Festival.

Salzburg as a city of 140,000, is naturally a centre for buses and trains to the surrounding countryside. There are local buses to the pilgrim church of Maria Plain and to Schloss Hellbrunn, the summer palace of one of the Prince Archbishops of Salzburg in the seventeenth century. One of Hellbrunn's most famous, and most enjoyable features is the garden with its trick fountains. About eight miles outside Salzburg is Hallein where one can visit the famous salt mines that once provided Salzburg (salt mountain) with its main financial income -- before tourism. There is a museum of the area's Celtic origins as Austrians are very keen about their Celtic past, as they are about their Roman inheritance -- something that sometimes surprises visitors. (One wonders if it is an attempt to differentiate themselves from their Germanic cousins to the north?) If one is prepared to go a bit further afield, there are the delightful Alpine villages like Koppl or the famous lakeside towns of St. Gilgen and St. Wolfgang which can be done in a day-trip out of Salzburg. When the day's touring is finished, however, the most delightful way to spend the evening is in Oberndorf beside the Salzach river.

The third centre in this tour was the Tyrolean village of Igls, just over three miles from the historic city of Innsbruck. While Baden could be compared to an English market town and Oberndorf, to an English suburb, Igls (pronounced |eegles') is uniquely Austrian. Set on a plateau in the Alps -- its altitude is almost three thousand feet -- it overlooks Innsbruck. Although the village is a favourite with English tourists it has refused to become commercialised. There are shops, numerous gasthofs and pensions, a cafe for morning coffee or afternoon tea and gentle walks across the fields of wild flowers to the neighbouring village of Vill whose parish church is well worth seeing. One of the most delightful day's outings is to get a return ticket on the Patscherkofelbahn or cable car which takes you, as the name suggests, about two-thirds up the Patscherkofel, Innsbruck's |local mountain'. You can either take a chair-lift up the remaining distance or walk along carefully graded paths. The summit, at 7,372 feet above sea level, is well worth the mild effort required to reach it. From the top you can gaze on the Alps and look down to the Europabrucke, built in 1965. It is Europe's highest bridge and, built in 1965, remains a remarkable achievement, some 2,625 feet long and at one point, 623 feet above the ground of the valley.

While the quickest way to get into Innsbruck is by bus, the most enjoyable is by the tram which runs through the midst of a dense, Alpine pine forest. Innsbruck remains one of Austria's leading holiday spots although not quite so crowded as Salzburg, at least not in the snowless seasons. The memory one carries away is of the Maria-Theresia street and the oft-photographed Anna Column. This was in place by 1706 to commemorate the Austrians' resistance to the Bavarian invasion of 1703. Behind the column loom the Alps, as if they were deposited there to act as a backdrop. Equally famous is the Hofburg, rebuilt by Empress Maria Theresia in the mid-eighteenth century. The imperial past is all round one, in triumphal arches, fountains and court theatres. Innsbruck also contains one of the most famous cenotaphs in Europe, the Hofkirche or Court Chapel. This was built in the mid-sixteenth century by Emperor Maximilian I. Its central feature is a statue of the kneeling emperor atop a large marble structure whose sides feature two dozen marble reliefs showing his achievements as emperor. He is surrounded by his |funeral cortege' in the form of twenty-eight oversized bronze statues of his ancestors and relatives.

Innsbruck is also keen to preserve two other strains in their Austrian heritage. The first is the surviving examples of Gothic art and architecture. In the Tyrolean Provincial Museum you will find the most comprehensive collection of Austria's Gothic works, left over after the Baroque revolution which swept the country in the wake of the counter-reformation. The most famous Gothic survival is, of course, the famous Golden Roof, in reality a late Gothic bay window with 2,657 gilded copper tiles on the slanting roof. It was built as a court box in the fifteenth century. The second strain is that of a peasant culture distinct from both the Baroque and the Viennese cosmopolitan. The Tyrol, of which Innsbruck is the capital, is the most famous example of |peasant' culture and the city makes the most of this. In addition to the Provincial Museum there is a Tyrolean Regional Museum and Armoury as well as a Tyrolean Folkloric Museum in the New Abbey. There are numerous shops for hand-made local goods but they are not cheap. Austrians make a great deal of Andreas Hofer, the simple peasant who led Tyroleans in defence of the Austrian mon archy against Napoleon and his Bavarian ally in 1809 and he is buried in the Hofkirche.

Just outside Innsbruck is Schloss Ambras, the first museum north of the Alps. It was founded by Archduke Ferdinand II in the 16th century to display his splendid collection of armour and historical portraits. The beautiful setting of the castle and the wonderful arrangement of the exhibits make a visit there an unforgetable experience.

Baden, the spa town, Oberndorf, the home of |Silent Night' and Igls, the Alpine ski-ing resort and unspoilt village, all three proved my thesis: they were excellent and reasonably priced bases for exploring their neighbouring cities -- Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck. Each in its own right is worth a visit but as a way to see, and escape from seeing, the three great cities, each gains an added attraction. Austria, a small country which is truly at the heart. of Europe, has splendid cities and magnificent countryside. I had discovered a way to see both.

The author wishes to thank the Austrian State Tourist authority, their officials in London and in Vienna, Baden, Salzburg, Oberndorf, Innsbruck and Igls.

For further information regarding staying in small towns and villages near Austria's cities contact the Austrian State Tourist offices at 30, St. George Street, London, W1R 0AL (071-629 0461).
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Author:Mullen, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Previous Article:Lewis Carroll and the Hatch sisters.
Next Article:The English Bible and the Seventeenth Century Revolution.

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