72 hours in poetic Linz/Austria

My writer friend Reza Amirinia, owner of www.amirinia.com fell in love with Linz/Austria on first sight. From making Linzer Torte and listening to opera to going on a river cruise and wearing the soles of his shoes thin from all the walking: here is his account!
I had only 72 hours to explore Linz, Austria’s third largest city, just enough to get an overview. For me, it was love at first sight. We walked through the old town, following our guide, passing small court yards with arches, colorful houses in narrow streets, boutiques with attractive displays, trendy cafés with colorful chairs and tables spreading out into the alleys. It was a pleasure to see some small chapels plus the Gothic masterpiece of Mariendom, the biggest cathedral in Austria which was built in 19th century.

The spires of Linz

The spires of Linz

September sunshine and all the beauty around me put music in my step. It is no surprise that the city has inspired famous musicians and composers such as Mozart and Beethoven and is proud to have its own iconic musical son, Anton Bruckner who was brought up in Linz.

After an uphill climb we reached the modern Schloss (Castle) museum, built over the remains of the castle, exhibiting the cultural heritage of the region. The museum, with its beautifully decorated restaurant, is one of the highest points in the city and offers stunning views over bell towers, church spires and the Nibelungenbridge . 250 m long and 30 m wide, the Nibelungen Bridge extends over the Danube River, which forms a natural boundary between the north (Urfahr) and south (Innenstadt). In 1497 it is was a wooden bridge replaced in 1869 by a new steel bridge. This was not wide enough for traffic to pass across and had to be replaced by a new bridge built in 1940, commissioned by Hitler.

After the war Linz was an occupied city, divided into American and Russian controlled zones for 10 years. The checkpoints were placed on the bridge to control the movement of people and cars. During the Roman Empire ,this crossing was also the borderline between the Romans and Barbarians.

We walked down the steps towards the northern part of the town which leads to Hauptplatz, a large square in the heart of the city. We passed through the narrow streets, lined by four to five story buildings painted in hues of pink, white and gray with windows ledges decorated with hanging baskets full of flowers.

The vast rectangular shape of Hauptplatz is the main hub of the city connecting Landstrasse, a street full of shops crossing through the older part of the town (the Innenstadt) in the south and leading to Nibelungen Bridge in the north where Ars Electronica, an art and science museum is located. The glass walls of the museum become a light show, flashing different colours at night.
As I walked into the square, I saw the Baroque Holy Trinity Column, which is a statute in the middle of Hauptplatz surrounded by beautiful buildings, cafes and restaurants. In the east side of the square, lie the Town Hall and Linz’s oldest cathedral built in 1683.

Holy Trinity Column/Linz

Holy Trinity Column/Linz

In the evening, I had an invitation to visit the Musiktheater am Volksgarten, one of Europe’s most modern opera houses, to watch La Traviata produced by the famous director, Robert Wilson and performed by the Linz Bruckner Orchestra. I must admit I do not know much about Opera and obviously I could not understand the Italian sung on stage, but I sensed the beauty of their acting and the power of their voices as the story unfolded. I read the subtitles which helped me to follow the plot. It was a captivating performance accompanied by a satisfying auditory experience and very effective lighting.

My second day in Linz started with a river cruise aboard the MS Linzerin. The Danube River allowed us to explore the city from different perspectives, discovering it’s past and present history.

River Danube dividing Linz

River Danube dividing Linz

Our boat departed from the quay next to Lentos Modern Art Museum. Along the river’s south bank, I found the Donaupark which is an open art gallery celebrating Linz’s industrial status. This long strip of parkland running from Nibleungen Bridge to the Eisenbahn Bridge displays very large steel sculptures.

On the north side of the river, beautiful green landscapes circle around the city. As we sail past the park the old shipyards and industrial units come into view. On the horizon, I can see the smoke coming from the steel factories. As the boat moves smoothly near the small islands, industrial buildings and cargo ships merge with open-air galleries. The huge graffiti paint façade of the buildings in this area by renowned artists creates a distinctive appeal for cruise boats passing by. These harbour galleries are one of the most popular attractions in Austria. This short boat trip was a very interesting educational experience to get a glimpse of nature and industry combining within the city.

The Linzer Torte is a typical souvenir from Linz. I visited Jindrak, the famous Linz bakery in Herrenstraße to participate in a group-baking workshop with Master confectioner Leo Jindrak. We were given a ready-made circled dough made of flour, unsalted butter and egg. I covered the dough with jam and then rolled pieces of the same dough to make several strips dusted with confectioner’s sugar. I put a matrix of thin strips on the top of the jam to form a crisscross design. I brushed the pastry lightly with egg yolks and added sliced almonds for decoration before it was put into the oven. It was a fun experience to make my own cake supervised by Leo. The Linzer Torte, a traditional cake in Austria is the sweetest gift to take home.

My third day in Linz began with a visit to Höhenrausch 2015 in OK Platz, a centre for contemporary art. It is set up in the city centre and is built over the rooftops of the city’s buildings linking a 60-meter tower to the Ursuline church bell tower. Art exhibits are displayed in hallways and stairwells. In 2015, the Centre focuses on birds as a means of communicating between heaven and earth to explore artistic curiosity and fantasy. Here the complex theme of birds has been used as a tool to project dreams and illusions. On the roof, the cages were dedicated to various bird species, which were transferred from various zoos in Austria.

After experiencing the exhibition, I climbed 120 steps to the top of the 60-metre wooden tower to get a 360-degree panoramic overview of Linz. I was told that, on a clear day, I could even see the Alps.

Visiting the Brucknerhaus on the Danube waterfront completed my last evening in Linz. We had dinner with the artistic director, Mr. Frey at Anklang Restaurant before joining other guests to listen to the Vienna Philharmonic as part of International Brucknerfest 2015.

Linz is a vibrant city, which looks forward to a bright future. It has a lot to offer to visitors from history to art, music and nature. I wish I had more time to explore its hidden courtyards, strolling in the old city, and hiking in parks across the river. I certainly want to return.

View more images of Linz by Reza Amirinia.

Florian and Sacher – my favorite Cafes in Europe

I grew up in a ‘Kaffeehaus’  culture. Starbucks at all weren’t even a blip on the horizon. You went to a café to meet friends and sit in style. Or read a book or the paper for as long as you pleased. Nobody would have dreamed of eating and drinking out of plastic. The cakes you took away with you were lovingly placed in a box, wrapped and adorned with a bow. Not thrown helter skelter into a paper bag which becomes a soggy mass in a matter of minutes. I have to admit, I still hate any kind of self service joint, although it can’t always be avoided.

Luckily, it isn’t as if the Kaffeehaus culture has vanished. It is alive and well and two of my favorite examples are to be found in Italy and Austria. In Venice and Salzburg to be precise.

I visited Venice’s Caffé Florian for the first time during carnival last year. Which gave the place a special magic, but even in ‘normal’ times it’s the epitome of an elegant café. Here is a bit of history.

Opened on December 29th of 1720, Caffe Florian is a contender for oldest coffeehouse in continuous operation. Originally is consisted of only two rooms, but successive owners (most of them family ) expanded the premises to include the Hall of Illustrious Men, the Chinese hall, the Hall of the Senate and the Oriental Hall. Located in the arcade which surrounds Venice’s Piazza San Marco, the café became a meeting place not only for the rich and famous like Goldoni, Casanova, Goethe, Lord  Byron or Marcel Proust but for citizens from different social classes. It was one of the few places where the new Gazzeta Veneta could be bought, read and…discussed. True, it’s also a tourist attraction, but basically it remains a Venetian meeting point. You can listen to the piano player and enjoy wonderful cakes and of course, the world famous Italian ice-cream.

Caffe Florian during carnival

Piazza San Marco

No less fascinating and enjoyable is Salzburg’s  Café Sacher. Café and hotel are side by side and it opened in 1876. The terrace is overlooking the River Salzach but  I like best the indoors and the Wall of Fame

. Not to mention the famous Sacher torte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam. The cake  is actually older than the café, having been created by Mr. Sacher in 1832 when he was a humble apprentice at the court of Fürst Metternich. Having been asked to dream up an especially delicious desert, he had the inspiration for his chocolate and apricot cake. A concoction I enjoy every time when I visit Salzburg.



Vienna 2012 and Gustav Klimt

Art lovers, pay attention. If you need an incentive to visit the Austrian capital next year, the 150th anniversary of painter Gustav Klimt may be it. It’ s certainly for me and one way or another I’ll find a gap to make my way to Vienna.

Gustav Klimt is one of my favorite painters, the other being Paul Gaugin. As you may deduce from this choice, I like my painting to have vivid colors, an exotic background and to portrait people catching their soul and essence in a unique way which makes me look at them again and again, every time discovering a new angle. I also like to know what I’m looking at. Miro, Dali and Picasso do nothing for me. I find their lives and personalities far more entertaining and interesting than their works of art. But that’s just me. Lastly, I like BIG paintings. Tiny canvasses which I have to squint at are tiresome. Again, that’s just me. Anybody who has different views, and there are bound to be a lot, please let me know and educate me to the errors in my personal view of art.

Back to Klimt. Born in Baumgarten near Vienna in 1862 he was the son of a gold engraver  and a musical artist. Klimt won a scholarship to the Vienna Art school and began his artistic career by helping his teachers paint vast murals. He later became a member of the Vienna Secession, a group which provided exhibitions for unconventional young artist and brought foreign artists to Vienna. Influenced by Byzantine mosaics which he saw in Ravenna, Klimt entered what is know as his Golden Phase, huge paintings and portraits, preferably of women with a distinct but elegantly executed eroticism, often making use of gold leaf and the distinctive elements of Art Nouveau.

He shared his personal life with companion Emilie Flöge, wrote and traveled little, concentrating on his work which, apart from portraits included a few landscapes and fathered 14 (!) children. He died in Vienna in 1918.

One of his most famous portraits, that of Adele Bloch-Bauer can be admired in New York’s Neue Galerie located on 86th Street and 5th Avenue which I had the pleasure of visiting two years ago. The museum is dedicated to 19th century German and Austrian artists and established in a building which, all by itself, is a work of art.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Next year sees the 150th anniversary of Klimt and Vienna is preparing to celebrate big time. At least 10 museums of the city are arranging  special exhibitions, among them Wien Museum, Kunstwerk Museum, Albertina and Villa Klimt, the last remaining studio of the artist.

Many paintings and drawings will arrive on loan, but as far as I could make out, Adele will firmly  remain in her New York home, which doesn’t really come as a surprise given that the portrait was acquired  for a record $138 Mill.

Neue Gallerie New York

For a great selection of images of Klimt’s most famous paitings, visit artsy’s Gustav Klimt page.


A summer day in Salzburg/Austria

After last night’s rain, a brilliant summer day was dawning over Munich’s rooftops. The leaves were polished and shining and when I looked out the window everything seemed to whisper to me: come out, this is the ideal day for a trip. On the spur of the moment, I decided that I wanted to take the train to Salzburg which I hadn’t visited in a long time. Salzburg and a summer day are just too enticing to be missed.

An hour later I was at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof and boarded the EC to Salzburg. The trip takes less than 2 hours and leads through the wonderful countryside of the Priengau, passing by the Chiemsee, historical Traunstein and other towns which would be well worth a stop, but not on this occasion.

It’s an open border between Germany and Austria which means nobody comes and looks at your passport. You don’t even notice that you are in another country except for the switch of server on your cell phone.

Salzburg’s Hauptbahnhof is undergoing major construction which will last for some time and is a bit tedious to negotiate. Just follow signs (they are a bit small though) which point you in the direction of the city center and you come out in the Rainerstrasse. From there you can’t go wrong, it’s a straight run towards the Salzach with her many bridges across into the historical part of Salzburg.

On the right is the entrance to one of the most beautiful places in Salzburg, the Mirabell Garten. It’s a huge park with artful paths, fountains and statues and when I entered I got a surprise: a wedding was in full swing. Who doesn’t adore to see  the happy couple in their great outfit, surrounded by their guests in the most perfect setting imaginable and, the crowning glory, brilliant sunshine. A horse drawn carriage was waiting to whizz them away  and I silently sent them my best wishes.

A wedding in Salzburg’s Mirabell Garten

Somehow the wedding had put me into a festive spirit too and when I came to the Salzach, Hotel Sacher caught my eye. I couldn’t resist a stop at the legendary hotel and to sit down in the café and sample a Sacher Torte with Einspänner (coffee with milk).

Sacher Torte and Einspänner

You can either sit outside on the terrace facing the river or, as I did, inside, because I just love the old-fashioned atmosphere. It seems that time has stood still since Salzburg’s poets, journalists, writers and other celebrities stopped by here on a daily basis to see and be seen. As is documented by the Wall of Fame with its many signed photographs. Certainly a touch of glamour in this place.

Cafe Sacher’s Wall of Fame

Salzburg and Mozart go hand in hand and I looked at the composer’s birthhouse and the place were he lived, both small museums today with period furniture and many memorabilia. Listen closely and you may hear the strains of  Die Zauberflöte (the magic flute) if only in your imagination. You can’t possibly leave Salzburg without buying a box of Mozartkugeln. I never found out if they are called this because he actually liked them or whatever else the reason is.

A box of Mozartkugeln in the shape of a violin-what else?

Crossing over a foot bridge into the old part of Salzburg I happened upon a beautiful flower shop. Tiny side streets and alleys criss- cross this part of Salzburg and each one is dedicated to something else. One is called Goldgasse and features jewelry shop after jewelry shop, another has art galleries and antiquities and so on.

An intersting clock in Salzburg

I had every intention of climbing up to the mighty Burg(Festung Hohensalzburg)  towering over Salzburg, but got distracted by all the things to look at and admire around the Domplatz, like the Residenz, a quirky clock, fountains and dirndl shops. When I discovered a pretty boutique hotel in the Goldgasse called  Hotel am Dom which is quite reasonably priced (EUROS 90 for a single room in high season) I knew that I could come back and tackle the climb to the Festung another day.

Reception Hotel am Dom

Sunshine, a wedding, Mozart and Sacher torte, I couldn’t have hoped for a better combination to enjoy a perfect summer day in Salzburg.