Upon returning to Austria, its difference to Hungary was as sudden as passing through the now-defunct border checkpoint. Properties were immaculately maintained, all gardens were well-groomed and colourful flowerboxes adorned everything from windows to road-signs and guard-rails.

Beautiful cottage in Austria, September 2014
Much of Austria is as incredibly beautiful as our friend's cottage outside Graz.

This trip has shown me how little my American-curriculum education taught me about Europe. In driving across the continent, I’m dismayed to only discover now — at 37! — that many of the place-names I know have been distorted by English-speakers.

Austria’s beautiful capital is Wien, the Nazi war criminals were tried at Nürnberg, and the 1972 Summer Olympics were held in München. Surely we English-speakers don’t have to be so dominant that even endonyms (natural place-names) are supplanted! (On a related note, the inspiring Lainie recently shared this world map of countries in their native names.) I’m also wishing that I knew some German so I could communicate better in Germany and Austria!

I’ve loved driving in Austria. An Australian Rainbow friend accompanied us in the campervan for a couple days, and together we marveled at the engineering precision of the roads. The Austrians build bridges over the top of villages, sliding the roads neatly into the sides of mountains and out the other side so the road traverses rivers, valleys and craggy peaks — all without a single degree of gradient! I love the novelty of the long tunnels and we would eagerly read the signs at the entrance, always hoping for a longer tunnel. The girls particularly enjoyed the tunnels, too, and would try to estimate our exit by counting down.

The Austrian Alps are also so beautiful, and the wooden chalets that dot the slopes so precisely carved and decorated, that everything appears as a postcard. We took detours off the highway — sometimes on purpose, sometimes not — and found that the scenic route was so rewarding we didn’t mind the extra time on the road.

Minimundus

Iconic world buildings (heavily favouring European architecture) have been recreated in miniature form at Minimundus near Klagenfurt. We spent several hours touring the facility, identifying the buildings we recognised and reading about those that were new to us.

Minimundus, Klagenfurt, Austria
Buildings from all over the world are represented — mostly in a 1:25 scale. We wander around, looking at those that take our fancy.

“Overview Minimundus” by Andreas E. Neuhold (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many of the model choices are obvious (Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, Statue of Liberty) but others were more obscure (the Maiden Tower of Baku, Azerbaijan, a random mansion from the southern U.S. and lots of railways). The scale of the buildings wasn’t consistent, which was disconcerting at times, but the girls were entertained by the animated railways, the sights they recognised and a small playground off to the side.

Some of the information was disturbing (it took seven years and cost around $800,000 to build the two-square-metre St Peter’s Basilica), and other exhibits awakened a desire to travel further afield (and particularly visit the University Library in Mexico City). The staff at Minimundus provided us with English-language workbooks that were based on theme of Phileas Fogg touring the world, and these gave the girls hours of entertainment later on. I appreciated the inclusion of English descriptions on each of the exhibits.

St Barbara’s

It’s been hard to navigate and research attractions without access to the internet. However, I managed it a lifetime ago, and so with a little bit of ingenuity, I’m managing again. Roadsigns have become my best friends, and when I saw a sign flash by with “Hundertwasserkirche”, I took the exit and followed the brown sign-posts, hoping that I was going to discover something cool. It was.

St Barbara's Hundertwasserkirche, Barnbach, Austria
We were happy to have time to explore the exterior of the church and its grounds, although the building was locked so we couldn't go inside.

By Zairon (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

When we reached the town of Bärnbach, I caught a glimpse of a golden onion spire in the distance and pointed it out to our friend who was still along for the (now detoured) ride. “That’s it!” I exclaimed, “That’s the mark of a Hundertwasser building!”

I was first introduced to the work of Hundertwasser in New Zealand, and I find his style very appealing. I mourn the loss of my photos of this amazing church, simply because I haven’t been able to locate a webpage that shows all the details I saw that make this Hundertwasser building so amazing! This is a conventional chapel that was redecorated by the Austrian artist in the late 80s.

His mosaic artwork, bright ceramics, golden spire and wonky edges extend into the garden, where 12 gates represent the major religions of the world, a unusually unitarian approach for a chapel in a small town. I liked the rainbow circles on the roof tiles which resembled the circles of a peacock’s tail feathers. The stain-glass windows were also included in the design, and strange gargoyles hang from the building at odd intervals. If we ever come back to Europe, I’ll make an effort to return to St Barbara’s and to visit other buildings designed by Hundertwasser.