Monday, January 20, 2020

Meeting Martin in Gmunden, Austria

     It was a two and a half hour drive from Vienna to Gmunden, still in Austria. This travel day started the rainy travel day curse. Every day that we switched towns driving several hours or more, it always rained. Gmunden is a charming mountain lake town in Upper Austria that reminded us of Summit County, Colorado. It is surrounded by tall mountains and is a historical town and known for its ceramics.  The town was not overwhelmed with tourists, and I love that. I just want to experience the local life in each location.

     The story of how we found and why we stayed in Gmunden is pretty interesting.
Through the tourism board I got in touch with a man named Martin Kunze. I was looking for interesting things to do with the family while in Hallstatt and had asked for recommendations and explained our reason for the trip. I received an email from Martin introducing himself and his project. Memory of Mankind (MOM) takes a snapshot of our era in order to keep a durable, permanently readable copy of anything significant to life now. The copy is made on a ceramic data carrier, which is able to survive at least a million years. The tablets are stored deep in a mountain so future generations can learn something about our present time, meaning their past. Our present digital recordings (everything we read, write and do is online!) will very likely not be readable or more likely not even exist in the future. Everything is stored on data servers and on "clouds," but what happens when they collapse?  “Only those who know their past will have a future” – Wilhelm von Humboldt. MOM's mission: Today the predominant way to publish is online. Stories reflecting our present such as blogs and online-journals will vanish comparatively fast. The digital age bears the risk that the future generations may be able to recall events prior to the 21st century but not their most recent past – a phenomenon that can be paraphrased as ‘Global Alzheimer’. The MOM project aims to preserve today’s stories  in order to pass on our present to give the future a past. A gift both to our grandchildren and to a civilization far beyond the digital age. So we leave more than nuclear waste, global warming and countless energy drink cans. MOM is not a backup of our knowledge. Societies in the future who are capable of discovering MOM will be at least as knowledgeable as us. However, stories of how we gained knowledge and insight will certainly be of interest to the future. This is why PhD thesis in particular are collected within MOM.

You totally need to read this quick piece  GQ Magazine did on Martin and Memory of Mankind!

     Martin invited us to come and participate in his project and store our story in the mountain archive! Briella's story is quite significant and an amazing health and science achievement.  We get to share our story with the future world, of how micro-preemies began to be saved at such early gestation! We were invited to stay in Martin's guest apartment in Gmunden, where he lives. I had never heard of Gmunden but as soon as I saw the apartment and the lake, I knew this was the place for us! It was less than an hour drive to Hallstatt so we would still be able to do anything we wanted there.

      When we got there, it was like we were in a storybook. Gmunden is a beautiful vacationing lake town. In person, it blew Colorado out of the water. The apartment we stayed in was above Martin's ceramic shop and next to his family's home. The street was decorated with kites and colorful (not real) fish that were strung above the streets, from side to side. We could see Lake Traunsee and the mountain behind it, at the end of the street. We were excited to get our things in the apartment and go sight-seeing. At this point I feel like we have established a routine unloading the SUV and getting the house set up, as well as loading the SUV back up. We do not actually unload our clothes, but as soon as we get to our home for the week, I unload our toiletries bag in the bathroom, I put out all of my bedside necessities (personally my must have accessible items are my face regimen of serums and creams, baby wipes and toner for make up removing, my makeup book, because I apply while sitting in bed, my phone charger, my medicines, my retainer case and a bottle of water. Glamorous, I know, but having this routine made each place home. *Gmunden is the first time we started to "collect" food staples to carry along for the rest of the trip, such as condiments, non perishables, fruit, waters and snacks. We added a large reusable grocery bag to our list of packed items in the SUV.* We were stunned with the unique decor of the 800 year old apartment! There were two bedrooms. The master had a really old tv, I had never seen anything like it. It plugged in to the electrical outlet and had antennas so I suppose it might have worked. I was too scared to touch it though. There is also several lights in the hall which are vintage movie cameras that Martin had turned into lights! The girls bedroom had even more amazing lighting! Martin had repurposed four old globes into ceiling lights! It was such a fun idea and looked very cool at night, with a more blue glow since most of the earth is water. The bathroom, wow, I feel like it deserves its own post. It was full of watercolor tiles in all shades of blues. The floor was concrete and matched the fun industrious theme. The water spout above the sink was made from pipes and to look like a fun art piece, as well as the shower water spout thing. The bathroom is also a sauna! If I was the one to name this, I would call it the "van Gogh Starry Nights" bathroom. The kitchen, dining room and living room were all in one open room. In the kitchen, the counter was a repurposed old iron door. When I say old, I am not meaning old as in the United States version of old. Old in Europe is like 500+ years! I do not know the date of this specific door, just wanted to share the difference of the word between the two continents. The front door to the apartment was a large map of the region. The dining area had Martin's great grandfather's original farmhouse parlor and dining set and lighting. It was all hand crafted wood with special details. One of the most original ideas I have ever seen in any place I have stayed, I found in Martin's living room. It's a wooden shelf labeled "Journey of Things" and has the following instructions: "Take a little object from this collection with you. If the former owner enclosed his contact, send him a photo of the little thing as it accompanies or/and Leave a little object here which you want to send on its own trip. If you want, you may enclose your contact." How fun, right? Items that had been left were pretty funny, including condoms. I think it is a fun little activity to make the place more memorable.

A shoreline playground with a palace in the background

     Just a couple minute stroll down an adorable alley from around 1186 and we easily found the lakefront activities and shopping. The scenic views were incredible. There were swans swimming around the lake and sailboats in the distance, and there was a full path along the shoreline filled with activities as well as scenery. There is a large "frame" for photos that you can pose with the background for the most perfect photo. Not only is the lake and mountains in the background of this frame, but a castle on an island as well! Memorizing! Near the frame is restaurants and a playground. We walked a little ways up the shoreline and found a beautiful garden/park area. There was running water in a water fountain. It had a sign that said there is no water anywhere in the world that is more pure than here. So I let the girls taste the fresh mountain water. Aubrey said it tasted like water 😂 A little further up the shoreline we found a gelato stand and of course had to partake. The flavors available seemed so exotic compared to the boring ice cream we have in the states. I am pretty sure we had gelato multiple times a week for here on out on the trip, in Italy it was daily.

Picture Perfect sunset!

Smurf Gelato
 It was time to find a local grocery store so we could get something to make for dinners for the week. On Day 1's in a new town, we unload the car, set things out where we want them, then go to a grocery store to stock up for the week. That was our routine. Going to the grocery the first day was also a semi-tour of the area so we were always checking things out to do later in the week as time allowed. Martin had also warned us that tomorrow (Sunday) pretty much everything closes so to be sure to have everything we need on hand ahead of time.

Reusable Shopping Bags for sale
We (okay, I) were so hungry by the time we were done shopping that I insisted we needed to get food asap on the way home.  There was a McDonalds near our turn off and we could just run by and grab something to tide us over until dinner was made. There is not alot of drive through food options in Europe, McDon (as they say in France) is about it. I had made a goal before the trip that we would not eat at any McDons because I wanted to experience a more authentic culture, and honestly to save money and eat at "home." I will say it is kind of fun to see the different menus from all over. This McDon had micro sized doughnuts so we had to give those a try. They also had cheese curds and crinkle fries! The plus is that McDonalds in Europe use real, fresh ingredients with no meat that has added hormones and all that stuff.  Next to the McDon was a clothing store called Kik and of course I decided we needed to stop there also. Brian reminded me at every turn that we did not have anymore room in the car, but I managed to fit a couple more shirts and a dress in. Briella used her money (we gave the kids a set amount at the beginning of the trip that they could use as they wish on souvenirs or local items or whatever.) to buy a toy- a talking, moving chihuahua that spoke German and was in a pink purse. German is widely spoke in Austria and Switzerland. That reminds me...I had packed this awesome bag full of Briella's toys for the trip and it is like a black hole. It holds so much, you would be shocked to see what all I had packed in it for her. She used it on the plane to Paris and apparently at one point I may have put it under the seat so we had more room to sleep. It was never seen again and we didn't realize it was missing for quite some time. All of Briella's favs gone in one #momfail. Briella was really enjoying that toy dog since she hadn't had anything to play with in a little bit. Martin's apartment did have a large area of toys you could borrow for your stay, so she had a great week of play.

Water Level Measurement Statue
     Sunday we returned to explore more of the lakefront area. The city had provided unique seating for people to just sit down and experience the scenery all along the path. We were excited to find a water level measuring thing  in the lake, that we had seen in my Grandma's hometown in France. I like when something boring can be turned into art!  That seemed to be a theme in Gmunden. Before we knew it, we had walked pretty far and we decided we were close to the bridge of the castle on an island, so let's just go explore it now. There wasn't a clear way displayed to get to the castle, so we just kept walking in that direction. Turns out we weren't that close to it, but it was a fun adventure none the less. The sun at the time of evening (6:45pm) we were there provided the best lighting for photographs. We could see fish that were new to us, swimming in the lake from the bridge.  Once on the island, we walked up to the castle. There was a sign that looked like it was set up for someone's wedding. I went around the sign and into the courtyard area inside the castle grounds and the wedding had already taken place and the castle was now empty. We followed a trail of flower petals around and up some stairs. We were able to open some of the doors on the upper level of the castle and see inside. We saw where the ceremony had taken place, a bridal suite and random rooms. After exploring all we could inside, we walked the grounds. There was a restaurant open on the backside. We wondered around more after going back across the bridge and found a trail we followed into and through the woods to a secluded opening  to the lake and resting spot. Again, we were instantly in a fairy tale with the prettiest views. The clearing had a single bench and an art installation of iron hearts where people had attached many locks that were inscribed with their names. This was once popular in Paris on the bridges, but proved to be damaging to them. It was a clever idea to make something for the purpose of hanging locks to detour locks being placed in unwanted areas. We sat on the bench in awe of the beauty we were surrounded with. I am not sure there is a prettier mountainous lake area in the world, especially at this golden hour in late May. The pictures we took here on my iPhone were simply stunning. It's hard to take a bad photo when the background is lit perfect! This seemed like a good area to be able to swim from, a little rocky at the shore, but the rocks were smooth. I dipped my foot in and it was cold. I imagine the water might be cold year round in Austria but swimmers in Europe tend to like it cold I gather. I don't like to be in water unless it's a nice 90* or warmer, like hot bath water. Even at home in the Midwest in the sweltering heat of August, I won't get in the pool unless it's a really sunny day. I am so so glad we came back and played along the shore that first night because it was just the most amazing sunset colors of purple and pinks, once I knew about it, I had to come back nightly.

Love Locks

     Day 3: We were set on taking a day trip to Salzburg to do and see all things "Sound of Music."  It was only an hour away. We were invited to Martin's home for breakfast. He is such a genuinely awesome person. While conversating at breakfast we learned there wasn't severe weather other than snow. This was a safe region without wars and gun violence and one that people stayed in for generations. To me it sounded like the perfect place to live! Later, while making sandwiches to take on our next adventure, a noise started. At first it sounded like a motorcycle revving up faster and faster. It grew loud and constant, and we quickly figured out it was a siren. I was racking my mind what it could be since there was no severe weather or was a little nerve racking. I kept bugging Brian to go outside the apartment and find a local to ask what is going on, he wouldn't. Then we heard cannon blasts! What the heck? I mean, I have never heard a canon blast, but the noise echoed loudly, probably bouncing off the mountains. There was not much else it could be. We decided it must be some sort of memorial reenactment honoring lost souls for Memorial Day weekend. I honestly thought that it was a US celebrated day only, at least on that date. Maybe it was just a coincidence.

      On the drive there, we saw a turquoise lake off the B158 Highway and had to turn in to see this majestic spot up close. I have always wanted to go to Lake Louise in Canada, a glacier lake, and this looked just like that! Turns out this was a glacier lake as well, Lake Fuschl. We knew nothing about it, just that I had to go see it up close. When I got out of the car and realized it is just as gorgeous upfront, I walked around trying to find a place where we could rent a boat, paddle boards or canoes. I was willing to try anything to get on this lake and gave up all thoughts of Salzburg. We found a (really nice!!!) resort and I wandered around looking for someone to speak with. We ended up on the terrace of the resort, just looking at the lake in awe. All of our running around resulted in nothing, we never found any rentals. I did find a topless supermodel. Pouting I got back in the car and reluctantly went to Salzburg.

Movie location where kids sang "Do-Re-Mi"
Driving up to Salzburg I was a little sad there wasn't just a big red sign on a green pasture saying "This is where the hills are alive." I totally envisioned getting photos of my girls and I spinning around singing like Maria. We drove up to the city center, parked and checked out Mozart's home, then we went to explore Mirabell Palace and its gardens. Several scenes of "The Sound of Music" was filmed here including where Maria and the kids sing 'Do-Re-Mi" while dancing around a pegasus fountain. There was a pretty rose garden maze and plenty of flowers as well as tourists. We next went to a park and saw the gazebo used to film "Sixteen Going On Seventeen."  Feeling let down, I made Brian take us to the Villa Von Trapp. There was almost no one around. I say almost, the only people we saw happens to be a pretty funny family memory. I am extra over protective with the kids when we are in unknown spots. All of a sudden a female in her twenties came biking up near us and fell off the bike right next to us! She fell down and kind of rolled down a small embankment. I yelled, "It's a trap! Brian! Do not help her!!!" I am so used to seeing the scams that happen in Europe, I was for sure this was another. She wanted Brian to come help her and then next thing you know his wallet is missing. But turns out this one may have not been a scam. Her friend rode up shortly and picked up her cracked phone and helped her up. She seemed to truly be mildly hurt. The kids, without skipping a beat, say, "it's not a trap, it's a Von Trapp!" Being that we were right outside the Von Trapp home, it was absolutely hilarious and will be forever remembered.

Schloss Frohnburg is now the home to the Mozarteum Music Academy and allows no sight-seers.The grounds are fenced off and there were many signs saying No Trespassing, so we (I) obeyed. We walked around the property instead and peered over as many walls as we could. In the back of the house was a tree lined road overlooking a pasture, not a water like in the movie. A lot of the movie was filmed in Hollywood sets. As we walked by we could hear music coming from inside and it was a good moment to end an otherwise lacking day. Guys, don't hate me, but, I did not care for Salzburg. I was bummed about this because this is one of the places on the trip I was most excited about. I figured we would recreate a ton of movie scenes. But it was a dud. At this point in the trip we had seen so many castles and palaces, it was like, 'oh hey, look, there is another one. Oh that one was built in the 1200s, we have seen so much older.' Who takes seeing castles for granted?! They were like seeing golden arches here in the states.
Mirabell Palace Gardens

Von Trapp home

Von Trapp house 

Side yard of the Von Trapp house, the kids calling to the sheep

Scene where the Von Trapps quietly tried to escape

Hellbrunn Palace

Sound of Music Gazebo

     On the way back to Gmunden, we drove through Bad Ischl, a popular spa town I had read about frequently.  I never found anything worthy of getting out of the car for, so we literally just drove through. I went to bed that night trying to figure out how to squeeze in a boat trip on Lake Fuschl.

To find other hotels, apartments, bed and breakfasts and hostels in Gmunden, click here.

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