Schönbrunn Palace Vienna Austria
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

Austria is a small but beautiful country situated in the eastern Alps of central Europe. Formerly the capital of the Hapsburg Empire, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna is now the capital of Austria. I first visited Austria in 1984 – Vienna and also Innsbruck, host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.

In college, I was fascinated by Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, so I landed in Vienna for an East-West Studies program in 1987. At the veritable crossroads, Vienna (further east than Prague) was the obvious choice. Our school was across the street from the Vienna State Opera, and we could hear the singers rehearsing through the window. (I also had an emergency appendectomy in Vienna 🙂 – Sometimes you bring home souvenirs, sometimes you leave one.)

Some of the cities we’ve visited:


Elegant Vienna is situated on the Danube River and is home to several Imperial palaces, such as Schönbrunn, Belvedere and Hofburg. Its historic center is organized into inner and outer rings, within which you will find St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its colorful Turkish-inspired roof, the Burgtheater, the Parliament, the Museum of Art History, the Vienna State Opera, and the City Hall. Vienna is also known for the Spanish Riding School and its beautiful white Lipizzan horses.

Lipizzan horses in Vienna Austria
Lipizzan horses at Vienna’s Spanische Reitschule


Most famous as the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is full of music, historical baroque architecture and its UNESCO-listed Old Town. It’s also the headquarters of Red Bull.


Capitol of the Tyrol region in the Alps, Innsbruck is a winter sports destination and has hosted two Winter Olympics. Its old town is over 500 years old and features Imperial architecture. The Nordkette funicular will whisk you to the top of the mountain for an amazing view.


During my stay in 1987, a classmate and I took a day trip to Hallstatt, a small alpine town nestled between a lake and a mountain that is so picturesque that China has exactly replicated it in their own country. It is renowned for its salt mine, over 7,000 years old and the oldest working salt mine in the world. Hallstatt is an easy 2-hour trip from Salzburg; upon arrival at the station, you must then take a ferry across the lake to the town. Since my visit it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the new Hallstatt Skywalk, a platform in the mountains, affords a spectacular view.