The Green Heart of Europe

The Green Heart of Europe

Vienna… an experience for all your senses. According to the World Economic Forum, Austria’s imperial capital sprawling along the famous Blue Danube River has been named the “City with the highest quality of life.” And strolling through the manicured city parks, down pompous avenues, and past baroque facades, this quality of life pulsating in the green heart of Europe puts a little spring in my step. At the festive Ringstrasse,, I breathe in its grand flair. Vienna Heldenplatz 4The Kunsthistorische Museum, Art History museum to my left, boasts the world’s largest collection of Bruegel paintings. A perfect replica, the Naturhistorische Museum (Natural History) to my right houses some 30 million objects, offering a journey through time from the very ancient to the present., These two palatial structures, built to house the vast collection of the Habsburg Dynasty, opened its doors more than a century ago. Vienna Musem 4Resting at the Staatsoper fountain,, one of the world’s leading opera houses, I daydream about Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, about the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra,, and the Viennese Boys’ Choir, Vienna Opera 2At the Hotel Sacher next door I lose myself in the heavenly desserts that made Vienna so famous. www.sacher.comVienna Hotel Sacher 2Heading down Kärntnerstrasse, the very special Viennese charm awaits you.ärntner_Straße, imperial facades, cozy coffee houses, world-class shops and restaurants draw me into a constant 180 sweep until the sight of medieval St. Stephen’s Cathedral stops me in my track. Vienna St. StephenThe very heart of the city is pulsating with an infectious vibrancy. Everywhere I look, ladies step in and out of designer stores, tourists snap pictures, while others indulge in the many outdoor cafes along the Graben, Vienna GrabenIn the many souvenir shops, Mozart’s timeless smile gleams from countless chocolate boxes while Klimt’s golden kiss, featured on T-shirts and memorabilia, fetches equal attention. Under a huge white umbrella at the regal Cafe Demel, savoring my own Viennese Eiskaffee, Eiskaffee 4my mind swirls, drenched in the city’s imperial nostalgia and delightful contemporary vibe. On a packed, rumbling subway back to the hotel, I remember the clacking of horse hoofs, the oohing and ahing tourists riding around in the Fiakers, those shiny horse drawn carriages that date back to Vienna’s imperial days. HofburgIt’s almost midnight and I’m buzzing all over. Enchanted, I can’t wait for tomorrow. Vienna’s grand past and heritage awaits me.



Horse Haven


Aubrey & Bo

It all started with Aubrey and Bo. Two gorgeous trail horses. When Aubrey showed up as Christmas gift outside Tami Marler’s ranch home, and she in turn surprised her husband with Bo, the couple didn’t have the slightest inkling about the bumpy ride ahead.

After moving into a cozy country home on the outskirts of Coweta, a 40-minute car ride southeast of Tulsa, Tami made her longtime dream a reality. And then, while scrolling through Facebook one January day, Tami’s eyes landed on the “Save a Slaughter Bound Horse,” page. Jake, a stunning lookalike of Aubrey popped up, set to be slaughtered that Jakeday. Tami couldn’t bare the thought. Her heart melted. Horrified, she searched the Internet for more info as time was running out. Taking a chance to save the stallion, Tami dished out a total of 1,200 dollars unaware that this would lead to her newfound purpose. From that day forward, keeping a close watch on the “Save a Slaughter Bound Horse” page,, Tami made it her mission to rescue a horse bound for slaughter. So far, she has taken seven horses from slaughter to salvation.

To make a bigger impact in saving these horses off the kill lot, Tami founded “Swingin’ D Horse Rescue,” First and foremost, this non-profit saves horses from slaughter with the goal of finding them loving homes for the remainder of their days.

Visiting the ranch one sunny afternoon, watching Tami feed, brush, and pet all her horses, I realized how much time and resources it takes to care for these equine beauties.  Tami Grooming Large

Besides food and boarding, veterinary check ups, dental and hoof care are continuous necessities that require ongoing funding.

It’s been a most unusual ride for this former beauty queen. The first time I saw her, I was newly married to her father, Bob Marler, and we admired her wowing the crowd with her bluesy rendition of “Since I fell for You.” After winning the Miss Oklahoma title in  Tami Miss OK

1989, a successful career in television broadcasting followed until Jake showed up on her computer screen, launching this feisty Red Head on a path she’d never imagined.


Valle de Bravo


There couldn’t be a more picturesque setting for a wedding than this utterly charming lakeside community skirting the scenic shores of Lake Avándaro. Version 2 This quaint colonial town in the pine-covered mountains of central Mexico was my destination last weekend to celebrate my friend’s son’s nuptials.

After overnighting in Mexico City, we headed out of its busy madness; people, houses, cars, all morphing into each other. Zooming into the rolling hills on fancy highways, we cruised through the mega development of Mexico City’s rising district of Santa Fe,,_Mexico_City (quite the contrast to Santa Fe, New Mexico,

Speechless, I didn’t expect to find this display of modernization and wealth here in one of the most populated megacities on the planet. Mexico CityThe gleaming skyscrapers, sprawling shopping malls, and residential towers lay universes away from the glum houses and street vendors we passed in the taxi from the airport to our hotel, the elegant Camino Real Pedregral.

As we drove west, speeding through modern tunnels and high-tech tollgates, I couldn’t believe the effective infrastructure and the ease at which we got from A to B. Two hours later, we found ourselves sipping cappuccino overlooking the lush greens of the Avándaro Golf Hotel & Spa Resort, the misty layered hills stretching across a blue horizon evoking memories of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

Today, Valle, as it’s commonly known among locals, is home to roughly 60,000 people. Prior to hosting the world-famous auto race Circuito Avandaro and the huge Latin rock music festival Festival de rock y Ruedas in early 2000, this small mountain community was just a typical small Mexican town. Over the years the clean mountain air, balmy weather, and breathtaking scenery have drawn water sport enthusiasts, nature lovers, and history buffs alike. And Mexico City’s elite.

Taking a drive down to the lakeshore, the posh mansions behind bougainvillea-draped walls and modern villas clinging to the rocky lakeside cliffs gave way to historic dwellings along narrow cobblestone streets.

At the Embarcadero,, the point of interest where all the action was, taxis and street hagglers vowed for customers, while I somehow tried to wrap my mind around the huge gap between the haves and have-nots.

Later that day, watching the sunset over a dreamy landscape, I wished I could stay a bit longer. There’s so much more to explore around here, most notably the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve., › Culture › World Heritage Centre › The List
Each November, millions of migratory butterflies from Canada and the United States arrive here for escaping the cold. That’s when I need to come back too.


Venice of the North

Venice of the North

Saint Petersburg. Russia’s second largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990, this splendid showcase of Russian glory, founded in 1703, was the brainchild of Tsar Peter the Great. A mega tourist draw and the prime destination on our Baltic Sea Cruise, we dropped anchor in this gem of a city. Formerly knows as Petrograd and Leningrad, Saint Petersburg ruled over the Grand Russian Empire for more than two hundred years until the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The arctic gust welcoming me in Mid June was a quite an unpleasant welcome but all bundled up, my hubby and I ventured out on our first tour, a canal cruise around the Neva River’s historic embankments. 

Despite the sunbeams blazing between the whitest cotton clouds, chills crept all over me as our barge bobbed alongside other crowded vessels through an expansive network of canals and bridges. Past majestic mansions, golden spires, and onion cupolas gleaming against the deepest blue, I was caught in a constant 180-degree sweep. As I tried to absorb it all, this splendid history, architectural marvels, Peter the Great’s living legacy, our Russian tour guide Barbara pointed out the city’s resemblance to Italy’s famed Venice, hence St. Petersburg’s nickname, “Venice of the North.” In her dizzying spiel, she rattled off about Peter’s ambitions to build a new capital city, calling upon Europe’s best architects, engineers, artists, and craftsmen. The western style boulevards, enchanting parks and fountains, and sprawling palaces we admired on our tour showcased his majestic vision and power. Throughout history, St. Petersburg moved between periods of upheavals and cultural achievements.

The Golden Age of Russian Culture rose from the ashes of the first Russian revolution in 1825, the Decembrist Revolt, after Tsar Alexander I died suddenly. The second cultural wave, the Silver Age, inspired revolutionary ideas in the world of music, dance, and visual arts until Russia entered World War I in 1914. That year marked the beginning of decades of upheavals, wars, and revolutions, taking Russia headlong into the iron fist of Stalin and the era of Soviet Communism. But in 1989, the tsunami wave of freedom sweeping across the Iron Curtain brought about a new dawn. The Soviet Regime fell, new nations emerged, Leningrad became St. Petersburg, and during a period of revival ensuing to this day, the city has transformed to of the most stunning destinations on the planet. Watch out for my next blog about St. Petersburg’s most famed sites.

Christiane Von Linz

Christiane Von Linz

Dear Travelsonataincmajor Followers,

I am thrilled to announce the launch of my new website, Featuring a brand new look, this website offers tons of information and is easy to browse around. From now on I will post my travel stories here, so stay tuned for news by signing up on the bottom of the site.

Thank you and enjoy my new adventures at Googlewood Castle…guglwald_hotel


Google What?


A long, long time ago, long before the idea of a world wide web and the Google search engine was conceived, a sleepy hamlet along the Iron Curtain, as the Austrian and Czechoslovakian border was called back then, bore the cute, funny name Guglwald, Googlewood. img_9622

I was quite lucky to get to know Guglwald in the days when a yellow Postbus, the identical one Julie Andrews rode in The Sound of Music to the Van Trapp Mansion, was our only way to reach this promised patch of earth. When the bus stopped in Guglwald, the little knoll by the woods, nestled at the end of a dusty road 50 kilometers north of Linz, we had indeed reached the end of the “Free World.”

Since my Dad worked in a somewhat high government position, we had the privilege to spend summers in one of the reserved flats in the Zollhaus.

The Zollhaus stood three-stories tall, and its gabled roofs evoked quite the storybook setting. Just steps from the border, it was primarily constructed for housing border patrol employees and their families. Imagine, living in a community of merely fifty souls. Most people had radios and TV back then but except for the one time daily arrival of the Postbus, this farming community was little known to the outside world. Life was very, very lonely along the border. Indeed. And quiet too. A rough existence for the family running the Inn cum Pub cum convenience store hugging the Gugl, the famed hill, along the vast Boehmerwald region,, in Northern Upper Austria. http://www.oberoesterreich.atguglwald_bikeride

Besides farming and living off the land, families invented ways of making do. A sweet faced lady, Frau Schauflinger, with a big Saint Bernard living on the other side of the glen was famous for her butter and buttermilk. Whenever my Dad and I stopped by to stock up our supplies, I would sit at her table, the big orangey-white monster of a dog snuggled against my calf. Perking my ears to her tales, shots being fired at night, fleeing people seeking shelter, a feeling of fear and curiosity seized me.

A short hike down the road, a small weaving shop cranked out dishtowels and throw rugs, and over another grassy knoll, a family tended to bees, producing some of the sweetest honey I’ve ever tasted since those innocent Muehlviertel, Mill County, days.


Even though life took me away from those Guglwald summers, I held on to my memories; skipping across the pristine landscape, listening to the singing brook as it bubbled over rocks and meadows, scouting the mossy grounds for edible mushrooms, falling asleep under the shimmering Milky Way.

But then in the fall of 1989 history was made. The Berlin Wall came down and so did the rusty barbed wire fences and watch towers that had become the symbol of Communist Rule since the end of World War II. guglwald-mahnmal

Borders opened, and from then on, life in Guglwald was never the same. But that’s another story.guglwald_border


The Manhattan Project


Heading north out of Santa Fe, curving around a rugged canyon,

the unusual town of Los Alamos beckons after a scenic 33-mile drive.

Tucked away in the Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico, this sprawling community once housed Pueblo Indians and the Los Alamos Ranch School until the early 1940’s.

Today, the world renowned Los Alamos Science Laboratory,, dominates every aspect of life around this progressive science hub that changed the course of world history in 1945. Cruising down modern boulevards, it’s hard to picture the immense transformation that took place here after government officials scouted the area for a top-secret mission, The Manhattan Project,, in the summer of 1942. This remote mesa offered everything for a central laboratory: west of the Mississippi, far away from both coastlines, a suitable climate, isolated for safety, and sparsely populated. So, once the ranch school and surrounding land was purchased in November 1942, things snowballed. The school closed in January 1943, bulldozers arrived, serenity was shattered, and in the blink of an eye, an entire town rose from the dirt. Scientists from every corner of the globe descended on Los Alamos with one common goal: to develop the first atomic bomb that would put an end to the German war machine’s conquest during World War II. Spearheaded by General Leslie R. Groves, physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer directed the scientific developmentsimg_1710-1and designing of the two atomic bombs that came to be known as Little Boy and Fat Man.

The story about the Manhattan Project is an astonishing one. The many exhibits at the Bradbury Science Museum, depict a vivid narrative of the challenging times between 1942 and 1946. img_1698-1Watching the historic movie offers another fascinating glimpse into the lives of the thousand men and women who tirelessly worked in this town unlike any other. img_1701-1There were no poor, no jails, no unemployment, no sidewalks. The area was kept in total secrecy. Access in and out of Los Alamos was limited. Tight security checks were the norm whenever leaving or returning to the secret city. All newcomers had to report to an office on 109 East Palace Avenue,, in Santa Fe for processing. Secrecy required everybody to share the same mailing address, Post Office Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that address also appeared on all birth certificates issued during those years. By the time testing of the atomic bombs was completed in April 1945, the war in Europe was over. So the bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought about the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II in 1945.

Sky on Fire

Sky on Fire

Have you ever dropped everything to step out into the stunning aftermath of a thunderstorm? When the scenery prompted you to take a twirl in the moisture-tinged air?The last time I did, the clouds and blue banner of sky had transformed into a ferocious twirl of ominous shades, spewing across the horizon like a dragon. As you may know, Santa Fe is quite the place for the most spectacular mountain vistas, deep blue skies, and bold orange red sunsets. But that late afternoon as I stretched my arms skyward, the monstrous cloud train colliding with the setting sun left the sky on fire.



Octogenarian Passion


Meet a very unusual woman. Miss Erna Haselgruber, octogenarian and artist who stumbled on her ultimate passion late in life.

It all began one dreary Austrian fall day when, out of the blue, inspiration struck. 69-years young back then, something compelled Erna to buy a paintbrush, art supplies, and enroll in an art class. What simply began as a past time evolved into a lifelong calling.

Over the course of 20 years, this vivacious Austrian has brought to life a myriad of flowers in watercolor, dreamy pastoral scenes, and bold cityscapes in acrylic and oil.

During the Holiday Season, Erna switches the big canvas for greeting cards, creating unique designs with her favorite winter scenes.

When Erna and I met twenty years ago, we felt an instant bond. Over the course of our wonderful friendship, I‘ve been witnessing her phenomenal creative growth. Admiring her new work during a recent Austrian visit, I almost fell off the chair when she told me she’d be celebrating her 90th Birthday later this year. Not showing any sign of old age, this powerhouse of a woman is definitely my inspiration.

Her inspiration is running rampant. She has to paint, paint, paint. To date, her passion and staunch drive has produced a staggering output of over 200 paintings to her credit.

Over tea and cookies, Erna confessed with a hearty laugh, “I just can’t help it. It’s like the air I breathe.” And adds with a twinkle. “It’s keeps me young. It’s my life.”

Alamo City


The stifling heat couldn’t stop my adventurous self, trading my air-conditioned hotel room for a stroll along the famous River Walk right in the historic heart of downtown San Antonio. 23.21.55

The call from the river below my window was just too strong. Heading downstairs and out the cool lobby, I stepped up to the river’s edge. A postcard perfect setting nestled between towering hotels, tall church steeples, and historic landmarks took my breath away. The majestic Cypress tree branches bending over a quaint stream, people lingering, strangers holding hands, and happy folks riding tour boats,, induced a laid-back feeling. It was love at first sight.
2016-07-20 23.41.24Elated, I took a quick look at the map and headed off into the hot, muggy air. Winding and looping my way under idyllic bridges and along beautifully landscaped patches of flowers, cute little shops, picturesque dining patios, and charming cafes lining both sides of the banks San Antonio River.

The coolest thing about San Antonio is that all major tourist attractions are located within close proximity to the River Walk. So, after we parked our car in the hotel garage, despite the pelting sun and temperatures way in the nineties, my husband and I ventured out on foot, exploring this five-mile long system of meandering walkways.

Amidst a bustling vibe and fellow visitors, wandering around the river’s southern bend, the historic La Villita Arts Village charmed. Browsing specialty shops and galleries along shaded walkways, I could still see relics of Spanish heritage in every façade, establishing San Antonio’s first and oldest neighborhood way back in the 1700’s.

A visit to San Antonio would be incomplete without visiting the Alamo, San Antonio’s most famous historic landmark. www.thealamo.orgIMG_1508

First established as a Spanish Mission, this notable edifice holds the epic story of one of America’s bloodiest battles on March 6, 1836 in which about 160 brave soldiers defended the fort against a strong Mexican Army under the ruthless General Santa Anna. Considered the cradle of Texas liberty, over the years, the Alamo has gone from Mission to fortress to battlefield to warehouse to shrine and to the current Alamo.

The fortified compound dominating the Alamo Square stands proud just a block from the river next to the historic Menger hotel,, the most beautiful post office guarding over a quint line of historic buildings and the River Center Mall.

I’m not much of a history buff and don’t really get much joy out of wandering around museums either, but touring the Alamo was quite a different story. Stepping into the shrine, the original church, I was humbled and touched. IMG_1500A feeling of solemnity spread amidst the crowd of hushed visitors. I thought about these 160 young men; their unshakable courage, determination, and independent spirits. Their desperate, yet heroic struggle for freedom. Even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice: Giving their lives for a bigger cause. Contemplating this, I made my way around the hallowed ground, the fallen heroes’ pain, anguish, and tears etched into every crevice of these stonewalls I ambled past.

As I wandered around the serene gardens, admiring the immense oak trees, I reflected on the pivotal battle in the Texas revolution. Today the Alamo is a symbol to the unyielding power of the human spirit and the heroic struggle against overwhelming odds.