In September and October 2011, I spent a wonderful 6 weeks in the ideallic country of Austria. I was traveling and working on my own in a country I didn’t know much about. When I travel I like to be immersed in a country’s culture; eat the local cuisine, take part in events and do the things locals do and of course some touristy ventures as well. No matter how many guide books or internet articles you read, you can never really capture everything, so I thought I’d share some things I learnt:
1. Learn some German
The national language in Austria is German and even though you can get by with English it is (in my opinion) more useful and polite to know the basics of the language when conversing with the locals. Staff at Hostels and hotels and tourist sites will definitely speak English however not all locals, especially the older generation who haven’t had English lessons since they were 16 and people who live in the less touristy areas.
2. Always greet people
I think Austrians are one of the most polite people I have ever encountered. It is common to be greeted when you enter and leave a store or cafe. I was even greeted as a medical student every time I entered a patient’s room! Always! So it’s a nice touch to say “Grüß Gott” (Greet God- very common greeting in Austria & Southern Germany) or “Guten Tag” (Hello) when you enter and “Danke” (Thank-you) or “Auf vedersehn” (Good bye) when you leave.
3. Austrian cities are walkable
Bring a good pair of walking shoes and you’ll be able to reach most sites on foot!
Although tipping in Austria is not compulsory it is common to show your appreciation of good service even with just 10 cents. The tipping system is different to what I know in Australia, instead of leaving change at your table and leaving the restaurant or cafe, you give the tip directly to the waiter/waitress while you’re paying. For example, if your meal cost €10 and it’s time to pay and you would like to tip the waiter/waitress €1. You hand her €20 and say “11 Euros” and she will thank you and hand you over €9 change. At first I found it intimidating because the perosn would n know how much you’re tipping them, but then I got used to it.. my rule of thumb is to tip around 10%.
5. Sundays are quiet
Sundays is still a rest day in this part of the world. So if you need to do an emergency run for snacks or a toothbrush do it on Saturday, as most shops are closed on Sunday. If you are really desperate, you can go to the main train station or petrol station however it is expensive. Tourist sites are still open and some restaurants too.
6. Bring your passport and student card (if you have one) everywhere
If you are under 26 years of age you are considered a student. Any proof that you fit into that criteria (ie. a passport) is enough to get you discounted prices to local attractions.
7. Discounted train tickets
If you’re interested in traveling around Austria or to the surrounding countries, here are two cheaper ways:
VORTEILScard: is a concession card which you can purchase at most major train stations. All you need is a passport, an ID photo, €20 and someone to help you fill in the form :p With this card you can purchase tickets with 40-50% off! Also it is best to purchase tickets at the ticket machines when you can because they are a little cheaper than over the counter.
SparSchiene: I heard about this from a Czech student I befriended and it’s an absolute bargain! You can be traveling from city to city for as little as €9 (€19 Euro for first class). Of course you have to be trawling the timetable and snatching it up quick smart and be willing to travel at weird hours for this bargain!
For more information, go to the transport site, OEBB.
8. Try the veal!
I love food as you know, so the first thing I asked when I arrived in Austria was “What local foods or drinks should I try?”
Here’s a mini list: Viener Schnitzel (veal is the traditional meat), pumpkin seed oil, Fritattensuppe (Pancake soup), pumpkin soup, Radler (beer which is often mixed with a herbal tea or soda), apfelstrudel (applestrudel), Bechhendel (fried chicken), Stürm (young wine only available in Sept-Oct), Mozartkügel…
9. Visit the bakeries
Everywhere you go there will be the smell of fresh bread and pastries. You’ll find bakeries which have recently opened to bakeries which have been creating delights since 2-3 centuries ago. Grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and try some European delights or just enjoy the atmosphere.
10. Keep your eyes and ears open!
Austria is truly a wonderful place with friendly people. Keep an open mind, talk to locals and fellow travelers, don’t be afraid to get lost, sometimes the more “out of the guidebook” it is, the more fun and interesting .. like this Turkish warrior I found on the side of a building :)
Hope this was helpful! :)