Friday morning we made a 1/2 hour or so drive just across the border into Salzburg, Austria (of “Sound of Music” fame). The Hotel Hohenstauffen was quite nice, with gracious hosts, nice rooms, and (HOORAY!) an elevator! The elevator was barely large enough for two people, but hey, it beat walking up flights of stairs with our luggage, as we had to do in many hotels. If you click on the photo to the right to enlarge it, you may be able to make out the printing on the red sign in the background that reads “Erotic Store.” It didn’t take us long to figure out this hotel was in a “transitional” neighborhood, and the direction of the transition was NOT upward.
Once we were settled in our room, we walked (and walked and walked) to the newer section of Salzburg, which is still very old. Nicknamed the “Rome of the North,” Salzburg has 38 Catholic churches, plus two Protestant churches and a synagogue. NO, we did NOT go into all of them!!!! We found ourselves at the Mirabell Gardens and Palace (schloss). The gardens were laid out in 1730, and have been open to the public since 1950. Some of the outdoor scenes for The Sound of Music were filmed here.
We also wandered through a cemetery at St. Peter’s Church which I can’t begin to describe adequately but will try, anyway. On one side of the narrow path and backing up to a building are large, mostly locked wrought-iron-gated spaces, each serving as a family grave site. All of these are well kept and contain fresh flowers, pictures, religious icons, and personal mementos of the deceased. The other side of the path is reserved for in-the-ground grave sites that are bumper-to-bumper, so to speak. I would guess that each plot is approximately 3 feet by six feet at the very most. I don’t even want to think about the burial logistics involved in all that. Maybe they were all cremated. Just don’t know and not sure I want to go there. Anyway, these grave sites are also very well kept and very personalized.
We learned that the graves are tended by descendants of the deceased. In Austria, grave sites are rented, not owned, and bills for the rent are sent out every 10 years. If no one cares enough to make the payment, your remains are discarded! The cemetery where the von Trapp family hid out in The Sound of Music was a Hollywood set, but it was inspired by this one.
Even given our huge German breakfast, hunger finally got the best of us mid-afternoon, so we stopped at a conditorei, which is essentially a bakery/coffee shop/cafe. These are usually tiny, hole-in-the-wall places where the locals stop for their morning coffee and afternoon pastries, but this particular place was very large and served meals, as well. Such a busy place! We enjoyed just watching the people and drooling over the pastries, drinks, and food being paraded past us by the waiters.
We walked (and walked and walked) back to our hotel, with my feet killing me. I swore that I could not, WOULD not, do that kind of walking the next day, and that we would have to figure out the bus system. And we did! But that’s another story. Our hotel had a lovely, large music/game/sitting room where they would serve “Happy Hour” wine and beer in the afternoons upon request. We requested. Enjoyed a relaxing hour or so checking our email and Facebook accounts, and enjoying some down time. Because we had eaten such a late lunch, and also because we didn’t feel like walking the distance we’d have to go to find some dinner, we opted to snack on cashews I’d brought from home and hit the sack early.
The next morning we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast that we chose from an assortment of cheeses, deli meats, cereals, dried fruits and nuts, freshly baked breads, plus coffee and fruit juices. After consulting with our hosts, we walked about three blocks to catch a bus to Alt Salzburg (old town) to see the sights. There was so much to see and do! This town reminded me a lot of a more upscale Heidelberg. Many of the streets were open to foot traffic only.
We visited and photographed several churches. In one, they were conducting an infant baptism in the forward altar area. We sat down in a pew in the back of the church and just watched for a while. I was impressed by one tradition we observed: family members standing, one-by-one, before those present for the baptism and making a short speech. I assume that they were making promises as to how they would help raise the baby to be faithful Christians. Whatever it was, I thought it was wonderful, and considered it a privilege to be allowed to observe this sacred moment.
One particularly spectacular church was the Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom), which was one of the first Baroque buildings north of the Alps, and was consecrated in 1628. The dome, pictured to the right, is surrounded by the tombs of 10 archbishops from the 17th century. Each of four balconies contains an organ, and Mozart was the organist here for two years. Steps in the Cathedral lead down into a low-ceiling crypt, which contains tombs and a chapel reserved for prayer (see below).
We were a bit confused by two different houses, one on each side of the river, claiming to be the birthplace of Mozart. The one on the “old town” side of the river is shown below. Maybe neither is the original–who knows?
John says the one on the “new town” side of the river is just a former residence of the composer, but I truly think the sign says “birthplace.”
We headed off to the market square to find some lunch, and enjoyed curry wurst, which is essentially a huge hot dog on a roll, with curry powder mixed in with the mustard. Deeeeelish! The vendor in the picture to the right is serving up some mustard on a wurst.
There are always interesting and unusual things to see at these markets, from tacky souvenirs to fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, and baked goods. Makes for good picture taking, and could provide lots of temptation to buy.
Atop the cliffs above the town, 400 feet above the Salzach River, is the Hohensalzburg Fortress, or castle. The fortress dominates the skyline and offers incredible views. About 300 nights a year, musical concerts are held there. Visitors can get there either by foot (stairs) or via the funicular, an elevated train that goes pretty much straight up. We opted not to go up–a “seen one, seen them all” kind of thing, perhaps, but mostly we were just tired. We had every intention of touring St. Peter’s Church, but that was not to be. More on that in a later post.
We knew that to get back to our hotel, we had to cross the river, since it appeared from the schedule that the bus only went only one way on either side of the river: approximately East (away from our hotel) on the Old Town side where we were, and West (toward our hotel) on the newer side of town. John felt sure that if we got on the Eastbound bus, it would eventually cross the river and take us back toward the hotel. We hopped on the bus, so proud of ourselves for having bought a 24-hour pass the afternoon before. We weren’t too sure when the 24-hours began, but it seemed to be when it was first used, rather than when it was purchased.
The bus kept heading East for a couple of miles, until it was obvious that we were heading out of town. I turned around and could hardly believe my eyes–we were the only people left on the bus, and we had no earthly idea where we were going! We kept consulting our map and wondering where we would finally end up. We were greatly relieved when the driver pulled into a “turnaround” bus station and stopped. John said, “Go talk to him!” I said, “Me? Why do I have to talk to him? Why don’t YOU talk to him?” But of course that meant attempting to speak German and he would NOT, so I gathered up my courage and approached the young man, asking if he spoke English. Well, he understood a few words, so in my pidgin German I showed him where on the map we wanted to go, and in his pidgin English he assured me he was eventually going to cross the river and take us within a few blocks of our hotel. WHEW! The panic subsided and we enjoyed the view from our window as we headed toward our home-away-from-home.
Walking back to the hotel from the bus stop, we walked past a jazz club that used to be headquarters for the Austrian Communist Party once upon a time (see picture on left). We also passed a nice little local restaurant about two blocks from the hotel, and decided to see if we needed a reservation for dinner, since it was Saturday night. The hostess took our names and gave us a reservation for 6PM. We availed ourselves of “happy hour” once again, and then rested in our room until time for dinner. There were only a handful of tables in the restaurant side of the establishment. The other room, which we could see from our table, was a bar where locals, including the owner of our hotel, sat drinking beer and visiting. Our meal was quite enjoyable–delicious food and interesting entertainment as we watched other patrons come and go. When we got back to our room, we were ready to crash–and so we did! We knew a busy day was in store for us the next morning.
Travel Tip of the Day: For reasons of personal safety, do what you can to blend in with the locals! Even though it’s probably obvious from the moment you open your mouth, it’s never a great idea to advertise the fact that you’re an American, no matter how proud you are of that fact. We’ve been told that one sure sign you’re an American is if you’re wearing white athletic/jogging/walking shoes–so we don’t! Another security tip: do NOT travel with expensive jewelry, or carry so much that you can’t keep a hand on your purse and/or camera at all times. Women should never wear a shoulder bag, unless it’s one that can be carried across the body and held close to and in front of the body. And men, don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket!
Since we only got German TV stations most of the time, we were oblivious to the terrorist warnings that were being broadcast for American tourists until our very last day. In reality, there is not much you can do if crazy people want to threaten an entire nation, but you CAN do a lot to keep a low profile while you’re traveling.