list by Ben
Last week, I went to Austria. Whilst travelling the Salzkammergut, I came across a number of things that surprised, confused and bemused me. There are so many strange things in Austria, but I have narrowed them down to ten. So here are the top ten things that fascinated me in Austria.
One of the first things I looked for when we got to our hotel was the toilet. After I’d been, I turned to flush and saw my poo sitting there. I’m used to it floating around in the water, so to have it just there, dry on like a little shelf… it was weird. I took a photo, but it didn’t look that bad, so I put a cookie in to show you what happens.
2. Elephant in the Cliff
While we were on a boat trip across the Wolfgangsee lake, the tour guide pointed out a cliff that she said looked like an elephant. Everyone looked at it, but hardly anyone could see it. After a good few minutes staring at it, I suddenly noticed it. See if you can see it here:
If you can’t see it, i’ll highlight it and show you the ‘answer’ at the bottom of this post. To be honest, it was a bit contrived. It seemed like they’d ran out of things to show tourists on this hour long boat trip and started trying to find things that looked a bit like other things that they could pass off as tourist attractions. Another one they pointed out was ‘Lion Mountain’, which is a mountain which has a peak that looks a bit like a lion. This one’s a bit more plausible. If you look at the top, it looks like a lion looking right.
The forced myths didn’t stop there either. They told us a story about St Wolfgang when he was hiding in the mountains and the devil found him. The devil tried to kill him with an axe, but St Wolfgang grabbed the axe, through it and said “Wherever this lands I will build a church.” and it landed where the church is now standing. Sounds okay, but the church is 50km away from the mountain! Either he must’ve had a hell of a right arm, or someone’s exaggerating a bit.
This place was creepy but interesting at the same time. Many years ago when someone died, they used to dig the body up 15 years after they’d been buried – when the flesh had rotted away and just bones were left – and store them in a room like this one. The family would also decorate the skull.
It was weird seeing bones of the dead on display, it didn’t feel right, but it was also an interesting collection and quite nice to see what skulls look like – I’ve never really seen a real skull up close before. I thought it was quite a nice thing to do and asked mother how she would have decorated my skull. She said she would have painted all the things I liked on there, including Doctor Who, ukuleles and Morecambe & Wise. Whilst this was a nice idea, I think it would have looked a bit tatty. I wouldn’t want all that going on on my head. I would prefer just one design. I think maybe putting handles on it to look like a Cyberman, or paint it to look like an alien from Doctor Who. Something to make people smile y’know. I would have painted mothers with white roses and lillies, cos those are her favourite flowers.
4. Hotel Peter
There were lots of hotels in St Wolfgang. We stayed in Hotel DrLeifer and there was also Hotel Margaretha, Hotel Fuschl, Hotel Franz Joseph and… Hotel Peter? I saw it and laughed. Just seemed like an odd name to call a hotel, didn’t sound very posh.
There was also the case of foreign words like Schmuck, which is a common surname in Austria, but in England it’s a term for an idiot.
5. Mild Water
My mother spent most of the holiday drinking tea and coffee. When the coffee was brought out, it was always accompanied by a small glass of water. We’d never seen this before and had no idea what it was. Mother’s initial guess was that it was to dip her fingers in to clean them. This was a wrong guess and one which made some waiters laugh. We thought it could have been to top up the drink, but the water was cold and the coffee warm. Maybe it was just a drink to have after to swill the coffee down? After a few times of getting this glass of water, we asked the rep and she told us it was a palette cleanser. You have a drink of the coffee, then sip the water, then when you drink the coffee again you get the full taste. I’ve heard of this before and it’s a clever idea. Mother tried it and said it tasted nice.
We also found it hard to distinguish between still and sparkling water, because it was in German. I bought a sparkling water by mistake the first day and it had ‘mild’ written on it. I thought that meant it was still, but I thought it odd that they were measuring the amount of bubbles in the same way you measure the hotness of curries.
Mother said she wanted to visit the Puppet Museum, and since I’m a fan of puppets I thought it’d be okay so I went along too. What we didn’t realise was that by ‘puppets’ they meant ‘dolls’. The ‘museum’ was one big room full of dolls, all staring at you with their plastic expressionless faces. The collection had been donated by an old woman who used to collect dolls but left them to make a museum out of when she died.
The majority of the collection was made up of Barbie dolls, supposedly the world’s largest collection of Barbie dolls. I felt weird walking around pretending to be interested in hundreds of different Barbie dolls. They had all sorts of different Barbies, including Elvis fan Barbie, Trekkie Barbie and Call Girl Barbie.
7. Hitler’s Lift
Unfortunately (or fortunately in my case) I didn’t visit this ‘attraction’, but I heard about it from several of the tour guides and tourists. The Kehlsteinhaus, or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ is located in Obersalzberg in Berchtesgaden, Germany. I don’t know too much about what it was used for, but the main part of the building that the tour guides were hyping about was the lift which was used by Hitler. The lift is covered with polish brass and mirrors, which were polished for hours before Hitler used it as he was claustrophobic (same as my mother curiously enough). They built it up to be some big, grand piece of history, but I later found out that Hitler rarely used the building, having used it only about 10 times for no more than half an hour each time.
So basically, it’s another made up tourist attraction. That’s the one thing I’ve found about Austria, apart from the nice views, it doesn’t seem to have a lot to offer, so they have to make stuff up or find silly things like this that aren’t really that important to keep people interested. The tour guide was telling us that before WW2, there’s nothing to say about Austria because there wasn’t a lot happening, it was just a farming town. Oh and Mozart, that’s their main claim to fame, closely followed by 2015’s Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst. Talking of music…
8. Musical Instrument Man
This one’s more ‘good strange’ than ‘weird strange’. This guy was brilliant. The Musical Instrument Museum was again a large room with glass display cabinets containing hundreds of different instruments from all around the world. It was interesting to see how different countries have put their spin on similar instruments and would have been worth the entrance fee just to see that. However, we were also treated to a ‘mini concert’ by the owner. He was a musical instrument enthusiast and could play loads of the instruments in his collection. The first instrument he showed us was the jews harp. I recently bought a jews harp and thought it was a pretty limited and boring instrument, but this guy really brought it to life! The range of sounds he got out of it was amazing. He also played several oriental instruments. One instrument he played was a Rumanian Bagpipe, which was made from a gourd. I was intrigued to know if this came before or after the Scottish bagpipes, so I asked him, but he didn’t know and I felt bad. Finally, he asked if we had any requests for instruments to hear. I noticed the didgeridoo and asked to hear what he could do with that. He also kindly showed me how to do the circular breathing pattern needed to play the didgeridoo, so now I can try it myself.
One thing that kept attracting my attention was the signs around Austria. I love how detailed they are compared to the really simple ones we have here in Birmingham. The men are fully dressed with hat and shoes, the cars are old fashioned and some of them are just bizarre. I’ll be doing a separate post looking at each one, because they’re too brilliant just to briefly mention, so keep an eye out for that.
10. Creepy Ornament
And finally we have this nightmare inducing face that greeted me every morning when I opened the hotel room door. On the wall opposite our room stood this haunting figure. Most of it’s not too bad, it’s the face that scares me. The big chin that looks like she’s glued a Jaffa Cake to her chin; the blank, piercing eyes that looks like one of those squishy balls that bulge out when you squeeze them; the laughter lines that look more like a thick handlebar moustache… all I could think of was it looked like Matt Lucas in drag.
And here’s the elephant: