Saving Money and Living Well in Lower Austria

Hi, everyone. It has been a few weeks since I last updated you about my adventures in Austria. I have several things to share about Lower Austria and will write more in the future. Meanwhile, today I am going to give you a few tips to save money should you ever want to venture here.

LeeMy Uncle Lee lived most of his life in Europe. Our family always thought he was a bit odd (actually very much so) and must have been fairly rich to live in Europe. But I have found that I can live very well (and less expensively) here and have found several smart ways that enable me to enjoy the area and significantly reduce my expenses. So, for the moment journey with me as we pass through an alleyway where surprises are always found. Here are some of the surprises I have found that save money for my adventure in Europe..

Mobile phone calls using  American phone plans are expensive and need to be ditched right away! If you have an unlocked smartphone, there are local providers of SIM cards that are really inexpensive. Coupled with Skype or MagicJack on your phone you can greatly reduce costs for voice and data. For example, Verizon international charges in Europe are around $25 for each 100MB. At T-mobile I replaced the SIM card in my Apple iPhone and get 10GB of data for about $17. That’s astonishing and is saving me about $300 per month!image (1)

There are discounts everywhere! Public transportation is incredibly fantastic! In Austria I applied for a discount for the national OBB railway since I am over 60 years old. The card cost around $20. With the card the discount on rail and bus fares is 40%. I recovered the cost of the card on my first round trip to Vienna and now am saving everywhere I travel.

Local grocery stores, just like in the U.S., have discount cards. But in Austria, the discounts are also on travel and other things. I also bought a “Niederosterreich Card” for about $58. With it many attractions are free in Lower Austria. I have cruised up the Danube free ($28 without the discount), taken the Wachau train, visited numerous museums and wineries at no additional expense.

imageJust about every cafe has a daily special to attract customers. These are called “Menu” items and are usually posted by the door or on a placard in the street. They offer superb deals for great breakfasts or lunches. In the evening, prices go up so if I am eating out for lunch,  I eat a relatively inexpensive meal where a drink is often included! The photo is for a meal for 5.90 Euros or about $6.25.

I was able to book my apartments online through Airbnb or Home Away but couldn’t find a place to stay in June. However, I found a solution at the local Tourist Information office where I was directed to the Danube University in Krems. When school isn’t in session, the university rents dorm rooms very inexpensively (about half of what I would otherwise pay in renting an apartment) to tourists and many bicycle riders. I can also get breakfast for 5 Euros! What a bargain. So I will stay there in June.

So my Uncle Lee was pretty smart living in Europe and I hope that the tips I have provided may be useful should you venture this way!

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The “Little Rose Garden” of the Wachau Valley

My travel adventures have taken me throughout the United States and every continent. I have fond memories of the terracotta soldiers in China, huge tortoises in the Galápagos, Uluru in Australia, penguins in Antarctica, going inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt, walking around Stonehenge in England, and many more! But I must say that the Wachau Valley in Austria with the Danube River flowing through it is certainly the most beautiful location I have ever visited.

Yesterday, I journeyed to the heart of the Wachau Valley, reminiscent of complicated journeys of the past by tour boat, car ferry, hiking, and bus. The journey itself took plenty of time, particularly when I found myself on the wrong side of the Danube (thus the need for the ferry)! But my digression leads me to the heart of this blog when I visited Burgruine Aggstein, the castle ruin high atop a mountain overlooking the river. There is a fantastic aerial view of the castle by going to this link.

There is a medieval event at the ruins at the moment. People are arriving in costumes and there are tents where people are selling food, drink, medieval-looking toys, jewelry and many other things. My goal was to tour the castle, which I accomplished. However, I also ate a hearty meal of roasted ham, grilled cabbage, and a dough ball that contained I know not what except for the horseradish that lingered through the night!

It is believed that the castle was constructed in the 12th century on a natural rock formation. It is located approximately 300 meters above the river and has excellent views of the river in either direction. The strategic value was to excise bounty from the merchants as they moved their goods past this point by boat. For example, the castle dungeon held many until a handsome ransom would be paid! You can learn more about Aggstein by clicking this link.

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Aggstein Chapel
The castle contains interesting places such as a blacksmith shop, bakery, chapel, etc…but the title of this blog is about the “little rose garden” of owner Jorg Scheck who acquired the castle in 1429. He was a very brutal person. He is someone you just didn’t want to mess with as those he determined he didn’t care for soon found themselves on a rocky outcrop high on the mountain. It is about 1 -2 meters by 7-10 meters. Prisoners had a choice from this perch. They could starve as they were exposed to the elements or they could jump to their death from this steep cliff. Scheck was a cynical person and referred to this outcrop as his “little rose garden.”

The "little rose garden" with a prisoner contemplating his fate
The “little rose garden” with a prisoner contemplating his fate

Rose Garden Entrance
Rose Garden Entrance
I have included a photo leading to the rose garden through the thick castle wall. Note the carved out steps worn smooth over the centuries. And also pictured is the rose garden itself.

Many visit the Wachau Valley but river cruises may not stop at a place convenient to visit Burgruine Aggstein. This is really too bad. If you come to the area, this is one place to not miss.

Inside Aggstein
Inside Aggstein

The Architecture is About the Lines

Hello, Friends.

The past few days as I roamed through parts of the Wachau Trail in Austria, I came to realize that I am taken not only by the beauty of the buildings and ruins but also by their simplicity and unique architectural lines. As I see these buildings with lines that are not straight, have bulges, and often lack symmetry, I understand that I am finding them to be very beautiful. I look at the craftmanship that has gone into the buildings and see works of art.

imageFor example, today I enclose two photos taken in Durnstein and Krems. One is of a Krems house that was built in 1210 and the other is ruins from the Durnstein Castle built in the twelfth century. IMG_0248Notice the lack of symmetry in the house and imagine the castle ruins taking structural shape based on the rocks high in the mountain overlooking the Danube River.

Of course there are architecture representations where engineers of the day constructed buildings that have almost perfect lines, like the Steiner Tor built in the fifteenth century. This photograph isn’t mine as I just can’t seem to capture it well. But it is beautiful at the western entrance to old Krems.

IMG_0271There are numerous statues in Krems many IMG_0181of which are depictions of religious figures. One that I have not yet learned about was constructed in 1682. It appears to me to be an old knight, possibly from the crusades. Crusaders traveled this way.

Signs of Spring are everywhere now! The apricot trees are in bloom and soon the millions of grape vines will be growing again on the Wachau Valley slopes on both sides of the Danube River. Both apricots and wine are specialty products in this area and I am looking forward to enjoying them throughout the Spring and Summer.

One last photo for today is taken from the castle ruins in Durnstein. King Richard I of England was imprisoned here in 1191 on returning from the crusades. The castle overlooks the river valley below, the town of Durnstein, and the numerous vineyards. The Wachau Valley is a very beautiful place!

All for now!

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“Old” is a Relative Term in Krems, Austria

So the past few days I have been out and about in Krems, Austria and there is so very much to absorb here! Yesterday alone I walked over 7 miles in awe! I am like a sponge soaking up Krems and I admit it is overwhelming! I will be writing more in the future about what I am seeing and doing as well as my reflections of this beautiful, historic town and area along the Danube River.

As I have said previously, Krems is “old” and I am so consumed with the architecture that I am rapidly filling the memory in my iPhone as I take one photo after another. But today I felt like I have to draw a line otherwise I would be taking pictures of everything! So the line I drew is this…unless it has some particular aesthetic value, I want to take photos if the structure (or whatever) came about prior to 1600! So that, for now, will be my guide for photographing and sharing “old” Krems.

FullSizeRender (4)Krems is the eastern gateway to the Wachau Valley which is a World Heritage Site. Today I want to share with you a photo of a local fountain and the story that goes with it, The fountain is near my apartment and is of a man on a knee before a woman with the inscription “SIMANDL”. I thought it was a man proposing marriage but it turns out that “simandl” means “henpecked!” The monument is about the story of the town’s men and, in this case, a man imploring his wife to give him the house key so he can participate in a man’s night out! You can read more about this very interesting fountain at this link here.

The food is terrific! I have eaten pork in many ways and there are so many cafes to grab a fragrant coffee, bold wine, or warm strudel in vanilla sauce. Even though it was cold today, I along with others ate fresh-made ice cream! Who can resist a cone for 1 Euro (about $1.10)!

More soon, my friends!

From 28 C in Mijas, Spain to 5 C in Krems, Austria!

I Love SpainYesterday I arrived in Krems, Austria where I am residing on holiday from Mijas, Spain. It was a chilly 5 degrees C (41 F with snow flurries) when I arrived in Krems which is in stark contrast to the 28 degrees C (82 F with people sunbathing on the beach) when I left Spain!

After six months in Spain my lease had expired and people are returning for the hot Summer. My plan has been to stop next in Austria for several months and Krems became my choice after visiting in January. I am posting a few scenes of the architecture in Krems.

Krems 2The town of approximately 25,000 may be the oldest in Austria. A few years ago a child’s grave was found in Krems and is thought to be more than 27,000 years old! The town is along the Danube (Donau) River and is easily accessible by train to nearby Vienna and elsewhere throughout Austria. Many tourists will soon be arriving by bus, boat and train to explore hiking trails, the river, food, culture, architecture and nearby castles. Since I like these things too, I will be a tourist for the next few months!

Krems 1On arrival my landlord recommended I eat at El Gozo in Krems. It is his favorite restaurant so I met Lu, the owner. She is recently from Madrid and enjoyed helping me order tapas and wine. The food and value were outstanding and I have written a separate review of the restaurant on TripAdvisor. What a coincidence arriving from Spain and eating my first dinner at the sole Spanish restaurant in town!

After eating I had planned to shop for groceries… after all it was only 8:00 PM. Lu reminded me that in Krems, the grocery stores close at 7:00 PM which is sharp contrast to life in Spain where things are just beginning then for the evening! So I went grocery shopping today!

More to come so please return to my blog in the future and read about my adventure in Krems an der Donau!

Auf widersehen!

Update from Mijas Pueblo, Spain

Here’s an update on my adventure following retirement. Read about what’s happening and my plans for my next stop.

IMG_2787It has been several weeks since I blogged about my odyssey to obtain my residence card from Spain. Hopefully, when I go to the local police station to retrieve it on 16 February, everything will be found to be in order and I can be granted residency.

A lot has transpired since my last update! Recently I was out for a walk and on a whim just decided to begin hiking up the 1600 meter mountain I live on (see the photo). You may recall from a previous posting that I did this once before in October and got thoroughly soaked. This time I took a different trail and went a good deal higher up the mountain than I had previously. Probably I made it half way up. You can see a picture of the white pueblo in the photo from Fuengriola, Spain. As you can see in the other photo, the views from the side of the mountain where I went to are terrific! Mijas is the white area in the lower left corner and the Mediterranean Sea is in the middle left.

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I could have gone much higher on the trail but decided to not for three reasons. Since I was really out for a stroll, I didn’t have proper shoes as the trail became more challenging. I also hadn’t brought along water (not a good idea on a hike) and I didn’t bring any protection if it rained. The getting wet part really was the clincher as the clouds became threatening and were enveloping the top of the mountain. I went back down the mountain to Mijas and it promptly began to rain. I had made a good decision to return when I did!

Other things have been happening also. One day in December I lifted a canister of butane incorrectly and developed a hernia. My tests are complete and my worldwide medical coverage is in place so I am to have surgery on Thursday to fix it. The surgeon, anesthesiologist, and staff are all women and so far the process has been very efficient. I admit though that I am more involved with the insurance company than I would be in the U.S.

Finally, my stay in Mijas will end on 31 March. I have made my next plan to move from Mijas on 1 April. My next stop then will be in Krems, Austria where I will stay for two months. I will post more about Krems in the future. It is a lovely town of about 25,000 inhabitants and is located on the Danube River about an hour by train from Vienna.Here are a couple photos.

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That’s all for now from my adventure after retirement! I don’t think about work at all!