Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Lake Region of Carinthia, Austria

Several years ago when we were planning a trip to Austria I did a lot of research on the beautiful mountain and lake region of Carinthia where we intended to visit but ultimately did not.  I see no reason not to share my information with others, even without being able to give firsthand recommendations.  Of course I'll have to borrow a few Google images, since I don't have any photos of my own.

What I found very appealing about this area, is the many, many bathing lakes (as opposed to the usually frigid lakes in the Alpine regions) ideal for families and children.  Seems the most popular are the Wörthersee (See means lake in German), Millstätter See, Ossiacher See and Faaker See.

Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia, and Villach are the largest towns in the region and can be used as a home base for exploring other lakeside villages.  Most train connections will come through Klagenfurt or Villach.  There are also medieval towns like Friesach and Gmünd nearby if you prefer to station yourself in a smaller, more charming place.  Besides sunny beaches on crystal-clear bathing lakes, in Carinthia you can explore cathedrals (Gurk or Maria Saal), abbeys (St. Paul's, Millstatt or Viktring), castles and palaces (Hochosterwitz, Griffin or Porcia).

Burg Hochosterwitz near Klagenfurt.
Photo credit:

In my research I noted interesting towns as well as hotels, which I probably singled out at the time because they are family-friendly.  Here's a general regurgitation that might help you with your planning to visit Carinthia, Austria:

On the Wörther See:

    Hotels:  Seehotel Europa, Hotel Goritschnigg, Hotel Post-Wrann, Hotel Kärntnerhof, Hotel Schönblick (has a nice beach), Hotel Samonig, Flairhotel am Wörthersee, Seehotel Engstler, Seehotel Hubertushof, Seeschlossl Velden, Golf Parkhotel, Familienhotel Villa Flora

Velden on the Wörther See
Photo credit:

    Hotels:  Striedinger’s Lust & Laune Hotel, Werzer’s Hotel Resort Pörtschach, Hotel Schloss Seefels, Ferienhotel Wörthersee, Strandvilla Seefried



    Hotels:  Gasthof Liebetegger

Maria Wörth
    Hotels:  Strandhotel Harrich, Pension Seevilla Annelies, Hotel Perdacher

    Hotels:  Familienparadies Reichenhauser


On the Millstätter See:

Seeboden am Millstätter See
    Hotels:  Haus Oberwinkler

Millstatt am See
    Hotels:  Hotel am See Die Forelle, Familienhotel Post, Hotel Postillion am See

On the Ossiacher See:


Bad Bleiberg


On the Brennsee:


Warmbad Villach

Feld am See
    Hotels:  Alte Hof Brennseehof

Okay, I lied.  I DO have a personal photograph from Carinthia.  Let's just call it vintage:

Me, in the back of the boat, with relatives on the Wörthersee in 1971.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The View From Up Here

Quite some weather they've been having in Europe.  These last few weeks flights have been cancelled at Heathrow, Rome had its first heavy snowfall in 26 years, and the City of Lights was blanketed in white as well.  Although the photos look magical to me, it's usually not the kind of weather travelers hope for.  Blizzard conditions like these are actually what I obsessed about potentially affecting our trip to Switzerland in December - airport closures, zero visibility, intolerable cold.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of
Photo taken from

But we were lucky.  Sooooo very lucky.  Our first day in the Alps it snowed softly all day long, and the girls were overjoyed.  True divine intervention, however, happened on our ski day, New Year's Day.  Six of the girls in our group had never skied or snowboarded before and were scheduled to take a lesson.  I know from personal experience how miserable lessons are when you're cold and wet and can't see past your hands in front of you.  But I was more concerned with my daughter and another girl who were planning to take to the slopes on their own.  One look at the Adelboden trail map and its 42 lifts, 85 runs, and 106 miles of ski surface and I was sure they would end up in Austria if they got lost in poor visibility.

Imagine our joy when we woke up on New Year's Day to glorious sunshine!  The view that morning was intensely spectacular:

Adelboden village on New Year's Day.

In town that morning, all eleven of us took the TschentenAlp gondola up to the top of the mountain and were greeted by even more fabulous views.

I felt immediately confident that the two young snow bunnies would have no trouble finding the lifts or seeing the runs, so I sent them on their way with a trail map and a few granola bars.

The warm sunshine lasted all day and I was so thankful for our stroke of luck with the weather.  The six girls who took snowboarding lessons had no complaints, except about the bumps and bruises on their backsides from repeated falls on the slopes.  Most of the conversation that evening bubbled around Thor, or Dag, or whatever strong one-syllabled Norse name their handsome young instructor had.  More wise and worldly than I might have given them credit for, the girls figured out soon enough that most of his gratuitous bungling of the English language was aimed at flirting with his cute teenage pupils.  I'm sure I know what they dreamed about that night, but I dreamed about the incredulous view of the snow-covered Alps and Adelboden valley from up on top of that gorgeous mountain.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Guess We'll Fly Separately Then

Just booked four tickets for our family to fly to New York City in August.  May I whine again about frequent flyer programs?  As much as I love the money they save me, they sure can cause travel inconveniences.  I had enough points with American Airlines to acquire two free tickets.  For the departure I had many choices of times and layover cities on, so I selected a convenient non-stop flight.  For the journey home, there was only one option on the date I chose to travel so I booked it.  Fortunately it was a fairly convenient itinerary.

The attempt to purchase the other two family members' tickets is when it became difficult.  I couldn't find the return flight available for purchase anywhere:  not on, not on Kayak or Expedia.  The not-so-fun result?  We're not flying home together.  I had to find a different flight home for my husband and daughter that departed approximately the same time from the same airport (LaGuardia).  Managed it, luckily.  But it sure would be nice to be on the same plane with my whole family.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Photo Friday: Feeling Bullish

Plaza de Toros Las Ventas in Madrid.

I know it's not PC, but should we take our kids to a bullfight this summer when we're in Spain?

Thanks to Debbie Dubrow for hosting Photo Friday every week at

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tips for Spring Break

Need some ideas for spring break destinations?  My fellow travel blogger Monique Rubin has some fine suggestions on her blog, Mo Travels, today, featuring several exciting contributors, including moi!  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Photo Friday: Holy Cow!

I've posted numerous times how much I love alpine cows, but much to my disappointment we didn't see any grazing in Switzerland in December.  It was much too cold for them to be out and there was no grass, of course, for them to graze on.

No worries though.  The Swiss love their cows, and they can be found everywhere:

This post is part of Photo Friday at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lebkuchen Valentines

Happy Valentine's Day!

Lebkuchen always looks so delicious.  As a child I loved seeing the fancifully decorated Lebkuchen hearts and other shapes strung from every booth at town fairs in Germany, especially popular in Franconia where we most often visited because, in fact, Lebkuchen was invented in the 13th century by Franconian monks.  And one of my relatives almost always bought me one of these hearts as a treat, but to my disappointment I never thought they tasted very good.  The icing was hard as rock and just broke off the cookie as soon as I took a bite, and the cookie itself is hard and dry as well.  Lebkuchen tastes a bit like gingerbread but a little spicier with a hint of clove.  Maybe Lebkuchen is something to be enjoyed more like biscotti, dipped in hot coffee or tea.

In Zurich after Christmas there were still a few remaining little huts around Bahnhofstrasse selling Christmas goodies such as Glühwein, Raclette, handmade ceramics, roasted chestnuts, and, as you can see here, Lebkuchen hearts:

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Lisbon-Madrid Sleeper

You would think Lisbon to Madrid and vice versa is a popular rail route, no?  I mean, Lisbon to Madrid sounds as important to business travelers, locals, and tourists as, say, Paris to Brussels or Florence to Rome, don't you think?  Well, you and I think wrong.  There is only ONE train a day between Lisbon and Madrid, and it is a night train, a sleeper.  Huh?!  This is how business people travel between two bustling capital cities?  They all take an 11 hour long sleeper-train ride?  I don't think so.  Maybe they all fly easyJet?  Maybe they all drive?

I was hoping for a nice little train ride out of Lisbon towards Spain with maybe a stop in between in some cute little town along the way.  It just doesn't exist.  Looks like it's time to introduce our kids to sleeping on a train!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Photo Friday: Toblerone for Me

Couldn't believe the size of this Toblerone bar we found in a souvenir shop in Switzerland!

This post is part of Photo Friday at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

If you read travel articles even occasionally, you've surely come across the term "UNESCO World Heritage Site."  I've read it so often over the years I finally decided to investigate what the criteria are to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The palace and gardens of Schönbrunn
in Vienna, Austria, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The acronym stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a group founded in 1945 originally to reconstruct Europe's systems of education after the war.  Nine years later, in response to Egypt's Aswan Dam project and its potential flooding of ancient Egyptian treasures, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign.  The program now includes the protection and conservation of places of outstanding cultural as well as natural significance.  As of 2011, 936 sites are listed, with the most (47) in Italy.

The historic center of Rome
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are ten criteria for cultural and natural heritage.  Nominated sites must be of "outstanding universal value" and meet at least one of the ten criteria, such as "represents a masterpiece of human creative genius," "bears a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared," or "contains superlative natural phenomena."  (Source:

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece,
is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What I find particularly cool is that UNESCO World Heritage Sites are legally protected under the Law of War per the Geneva Convention.  Attacks and other acts of hostility are prohibited.  With the political and economic rioting we see so often nowadays in some historic locations (Athens comes to mind) I worry sometimes about the world's precious monuments.  I remember watching on TV the destruction by dynamite of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  How tragic that that was permitted to occur!  Although UNESCO vigilantly opposed the proposed destruction of the statues, they were not a listed site and therefore not under protection of the law.

I like to consider designated sites as worthy of a visit when I travel, as they are always unique and interesting.  When we are in Spain and Portugal this summer we will explore the Alhambra in Granada, the city of Córdoba, the Monastery and Site of the Escurial in Madrid, the town of Cáceres in Spain, the Cathedral and Alcázar in Seville, the Tower of Belém in Lisbon, and the town of Sintra in Portugal - all listed by UNESCO.  I'm grateful that this organization exists to preserve the world's cultural and natural treasures for my children and all future generations.

Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay, in France, are preserved by UNESCO.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Let's Talk Money

Let's talk money.  I just reviewed my bills from the Switzerland trip.  I was curious to see which method provided the most favorable currency exchange rate:  credit card, ATM withdrawal, home bank currency purchase or foreign exchange booth?

Definitely not the currency exchange booth.  Found at airports, train stations, and sometimes on the street in larger European cities, these locations charge a commission, of course.  I exchanged cash at the booth inside the Zurich train station on December 26, 2011, and paid a net $1.14 per Swiss franc.  That was also the same rate I paid for the francs I bought at home before I left from my local bank.

My ATM card was not only a convenient way to pick up cash, since ATM machines can be found in even the tiniest European villages nowadays, but also gave a competitive rate.  Even with the $5.00 per transaction fee, the net rate I paid for my ATM withdrawals in December and January was $1.07 per one Swiss franc.  And I had no problems regarding the previously posted concern about chip-and-PIN v.s. magnetic strip technology.

I love my Capital One Visa credit card.  Unlike some of my other credit cards, Capital One Visa charges no overseas transaction fees.  This is major, since, for example, my American Express card charges 2.7% of each foreign transaction after conversion to US dollars.  The average exchange rate for my Capital One Visa purchases was about $1.08 per franc and I had no trouble using it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Superbowl Sunday and Orangemania

I'm not much of a sporto, but I love a good Superbowl party.  And I love dedicated sports fans in any country who throw a great party.  In July 2010, Holland's World Cup soccer team was returning home from South Africa as the 2nd place champions, and we were in Amsterdam for the wild orange celebration.  (Orange is Holland's national color.)  The team arrived by boat and made a victory cruise through town.  It was a fantastic cultural experience.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Photo Friday: At the Bus Stop

Our group, waiting for the bus to take us out of the town of Adelboden.  Part of the reason I think many tourists to Switzerland don't visit Adelboden is its lack of train service.

This photo is a contribution to Photo Friday at

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Flying SWISS

One of the other moms who chaperoned the Switzerland trip is also a frequent traveler, and we were both eager to fly SWISS for the first time when we departed for Zurich last month.  Given the Swiss proclivity for civility and orderliness, we both imagined wide passenger seats with generous legroom, or perhaps electrical reclining mechanisms, or maybe lavatories you could turn around in.  But alas, the plane was a standard Airbus A340 with no particular upgrades and slimline economy class passenger seats, which I swear every time I fly are getting narrower and narrower.

The girls did enjoy a feature that is now mostly standard on overseas flights:  the in-seat video on-demand entertainment system.  (Since he was 6 years old, this is the first thing my son asks before we get on an airplane . . . will there be a personal video screen in the seatback in front of him?)  A large selection of feature films, television programs, and in-flight specials were offered on our SWISS flight and most of the girls watched movies back to back for both the entire 11 hour trips.

Personally, I was very impressed with the removable power remote.  You know how compromising it is when there's a stranger in the seat next to you and every time you want to change channels or adjust the volume on the shared armrest, you run the awkward risk of accidently making physical contact with that person?  Well, not on SWISS!  Instead of being integrated into the armrest, the remote control is removable, as shown below, and can stay in your possession throughout the flight, meaning only the dreaded lavatory break lap-crawl-across-your-row remains as undesired intimacy with strangers.

We were all impressed with the in-flight service.  On an 11 hour flight we were served three meals, and they weren't too bad.  During the hot dinner service the flight attendants actually came around with a basket of extra bread rolls for us lowly coach passengers!  Snacks such as mini Toblerone bars were served, and warm, moist handtowels were distributed near the end of the journey.  The flights departed and arrived on time and didn't lose our luggage . . . all in all, an A+ airline!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...