Woah! Austria really exceeded my expectations. From its super nice, fast trains, to the best beer gardens and pastries, I loved Austria.
Crossing the border from Slovenia into Austria via train, we had to change trains from a Slovenian train to an Austrian train, which seemed annoying at first until: Upgrade! Austrian trains are among the nicest in Europe. One nice but strange consequence of the particular Eurail train pass we bought was that the pass entitles us to 1st class seats.
Step 1: Select your beer stein from the wall of steins. Go for the large 1 Liter mug. I promise you won't regret it later as you stumble up the hill for a beautiful view of Salzburg.
Step 2: Take your stein to one of the giant water fountains and rinse your mug out to you own satisfaction. (I assume they were previously washed, as everyone treats this as ritual more than necessity.)
Step 3: Pay for your beer at the register.
Step 4: Take your empty stein to the counter to be filled. Usually there are only two choices, Light or Dark (Dunkel). Both are good but its more fun to say Dunkel.
Step 5: Walk hesitantly into the open beer hall to find a seat. Look awkward enough that a kindly local will invite you to his table.
Step 6: Befriend a Berlin couple who will ask you if you actually like beer. “Yes?” It's strange for a woman, apparently.
Step 7: Fail to take a photo of Berlin couple when asked because you are halfway through the Liter and don't know how to operate an iPhone.
Step 8: Leave the beer hall and follow the not-so-steep path up the Monchsburg hill. It will seem very difficult, but that is just the beer.
Step 9: Enjoy amazing views of Salzburg! You may get lost 3 times on the path, but that is just part of the adventure.
Salzburg also has one of the most interesting castles we saw in our time in Europe. The Salzburg Fortress was home to the Salzburg Prince-bishops for centuries and we easily spent a day exploring and enjoying more views of Salzburg.
I have to admit to an initial reluctance to spend much time in Europe, for various reasons (budget not least among them). However, Salzburg was enchanting enough to really excite me about the next few weeks in Europe. I realized how much I forgot about Western European history, art, music, politics, etc. Austria, Germany and the other countries that followed were an opportunity to straighten out all that in my head...oh, and to drink quality coffee and beer as much as possible.
Here are a few pics from Salzburg, Innsbruck and Vienna: