Thursday, October 3, 2013

Salzburg, Austria

[I wrote this post several days ago, but our Internet was super spotty in Salzburg and Munich. I tried to post with photos, but I became so frustrated with how long it took (and didn't want to spend all of my time in Europe uploading photos) that I eventually just quit. Now we're in Prague, and I'll continue writing updates, but some may need to wait until we're back in the US.]

I’m writing from a train on the way from Salzburg to Munich. Talk about an interesting and uniquely European experience! When our train arrived at the station, half a dozen men, some in lederhosen, spilled out the doors to smoke a cigarette before the next leg of the trip. They were obviously—and obnoxiously—drunk, singing songs, chanting, yelling, laughing, completely oblivious to everyone around them. Terry pushed past with our huge bags and managed to find a spot for our luggage in the overhead racks, but then we were greeted by another dozen or so men, also mostly in lederhosen, also completely wasted. They were all singing “Wonderwall” as we walked past them, and I noticed the empty Jaegermeister bottles strewn all over the place.

Suddenly, I’m feeling a little less excited and a lot more apprehensive about Oktoberfest! When we sat down, I said to Terry, “All I can think is why did we decide to come to Munich during Oktoberfest?” It seems like an awful idea. Then again, hopefully once we arrive and get into the tents (and down a liter of beer?) we’ll feel more part of the atmosphere and less overwhelmed by the obnoxious drunkards.

Anyway, I’m here to recap about Salzburg, not fret about Oktoberfest (talk about first world problems). We all loved Salzburg, and I liked it better than Luzern.

Salzburg is famous for its people (among them, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), for its music (The Sound of Music is based on a true story and takes place in Salzburg, plus many of the scenes were filmed there, and the Salzburg Music Festival lasts all summer), and for its salt (salz means “salt”). We only had one weekend (one full day plus two nights), so it was a quick trip, but we felt we took advantage of the highlights of this small city in that short time.

We arrived to Salzburg after a stunning train ride from Luzern,Switzerland. I had been looking forward to this specific part of the trip for weeks, and it absolutely surpassed my expectations. I must have been staring out the window for four of the five hours we were on the train because I could not believe how gorgeous the views were. I wish I could describe how beautiful the hills, waterfalls, cliffs, mountains, clouds, villages, buildings, farms, and houses were, and my pictures certainly don’t do the sights justice, but hopefully you’ll have a chance to make the trip yourself someday. (I'll post these photos when I can access my phone photos--so technically I lied about writing only one post per city. Okay, I'm a liar. You caught me.)

We made it to Salzburg around four in the afternoon and found ourselves in pouring rain. Thankfully, we had already agreed to take a taxi to our hotel, which would have been a twenty-minute walk away. The ride only took a few uneventful minutes, but my dad decided to spice things up by leaving his backpack in the car and sprinting after it down the streets of Salzburg. While he ran, the front desk worker at the hotel (I believe it was Marianne, daughter of the owners) quickly started making phone calls to help locate his bag. I was immediately impressed by the customer service, even though my dad (thankfully) was able to stop the taxi and get his backpack.

The rest of check-in at Cityhotel Trumer Stube moved a lot smoother. Maybe Marianne checked our passports and sent us to our rooms; Terry and I were on the third floor and my parents were on the fourth. Both rooms were small, but ours was a little bigger, with room for a couch and a small desk in addition to the huge, comfortable bed (the pillows left much to be desired). The closet was small but good enough considering we didn’t need to hang much, but I was bummed at the lack of a dresser. As with our hotel in Luzern, we had to live out of our suitcases, but obviously we survived.

The hotel is dated and feels cramped, but it has character and provides excellent customer service. We were offered a continental breakfast for 7.50 Euros, which Terry and my dad opted to do the second morning. I joined but only had tea, and they didn’t charge me. They had a spread of croissants, cereals, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, a few fruit options, salami, cheese, and bread, plus tea and coffee. I’d say it’s worth it if you’re tired of eating pastries for breakfast every day.

Our first order of business in Salzburg was Rick Steves’ self-guided walk around the Old Town, which was far superior to that in Luzern. Thankfully the rain had let up, and we saw all of Salzburg’s most iconic Old Town sites within about two hours and stretched our legs. It seems late September is a quieter time in Salzburg; throughout the weekend we never hit crazy crowds, even with the occasional tour group here and there.

My favorite stop along this walk was the Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom). I find myself drawn to big churches wherever we travel, and this one was as beautiful as some we saw in Italy (actually, Salzburg is known as the Italy north of the Alps, so much of its food and art reflects Italian influence). St. Peter’s Church (Stiftskirche St. Peter) was also stunning, along with the cemetery behind it. We also loved and ended up spending a lot of time on Getreidegasse, a busy street of shops with ornate signs.

For dinner, we ate at Saran Essbar (we tried the recommended St. Paul’s Stub’n Beer Garden but were promptly turned away because they were full—we weren’t sure whether to feel offended or whether restaurants prefer to send away customers rather than making them wait). Luckily, Saran Essbar was fantastic, and we all ordered Austrian specialties: schnitzel, sausage with sauerkraut, and goulash, plus an apple strudel. We also enjoyed some beer and wine with dinner and stopped at two more bars (Fridrich and Saiten Sprung, which were great but smoky and therefore difficult to enjoy) before calling it a night.

The next day, Terry and I took a walk to the train station to try to find a currency exchange (closed on Saturdays) and found an ATM instead, which Rick Steves actually says is better than a currency exchange for the rate. Then we met my parents at the hotel for our Bob’s Special Sound of Music tour!

The Sound of Music tour is absolutely a must if you like the movie. People warned me it would be cheesy, but I have to respectfully disagree. Our tour was in an eight-person van, much more enjoyable than the giant buses packed with dozens of people we saw along the way. We got to know our guide a little bit as well as the other four people in our group, and pictures only took a few minutes, which meant we got to cover more ground. The tour included:
  • Start in Old Town or pick up at the hotel (they picked us up)
  • Stop across the bridge for some scenic photos of Salzburg
  • An extensive history of the real von Trapp family, the making of the film, and the scenes from the movie, all provided by our guide in excellent English
  • Visit to the lake to see the building used as the back of the von Trapp house in the movie (lakeside)
  • Stop at the small road where Julie Andrews sang “I Have Confidence”, plus the trees where the children hang off the branches, and the gazebo exterior (the interior had to be reconstructed on a movie set to be big enough for the “16 Going on 17” dance)
  • A drive through the hills, which took my breath away and wouldn’t have been accessible on a bigger bus; we got to see small villages, gorgeous views of the Alps, and beautiful hills like those where Julie Andrews sang the opening scene of the movie
  • A stop for a (optional) toboggan ride down one of those hills—so fun!
  • Lunch (not included in the tour) at a small authentic Austrian restaurant high atop the hills, where Terry and I split the schnitzel and a pumpkin-apple strudel with homemade whipped cream
  • A stop at the church where Maria and the Captain are married in the movie (not where they wed in real life, though)—and we actually got to see two wedding parties here! One wedding was just ending and the other was just beginning when we arrived. The town here was adorable.

I would only recommend this tour if you’ve seen and enjoyed the movie, but it showed us parts of Salzburg and Austrian culture we never would have seen or learned about otherwise. All four of us (eight of us, if you include our tour group) loved it and said we would recommend it to others. It was four hours total, including lunch, and we paid 40 Euros per person (Rick Steves book gets you 5 Euros off the normal price of 45).

We made it back from the tour around two in the afternoon and stopped at Universitatplatz, where a market fills the square every day but Sunday, and grabbed some sausages and a pretzel (giant by our standards but about the same in taste). Then we headed up the funicular (same as the one we took up to Mt. Pilatus in Luzern, but only about three minutes instead of 30) to get up to the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. It offered beautiful views and some interesting history, plus a huge array of exhibits. Some of the rooms provide English explanations, but those that don’t are less than thrilling for non-German speakers. On the way back down, we met a couple who had just gotten engaged on top of the fortress! They were adorable, and we told them we had just seen a lovely little church where they could get married.

Terry and I did a little shopping next and my parents stopped at the police (polizei) station (my parents were in law enforcement and try to visit police stations wherever they go; they give a police patch from their station and usually receive one in return). For dinner, we chose Biergarten die Weisse, an awesome place with spectacular beer and terrific food (and no smoke!), plus incredible service. We ended up staying for several hours and several beers. We had more Austrian cuisine, including the spinachtoken (sp?), a cheesy pasta-like dish similar to gnocchi, which I loved.

This morning, before leaving Salzburg, Terry and I took another long stroll around the city but focused on the New Town area (we followed Rick Steves’ Steingasse Stroll in his Salzburg book). We even found a stairway (mentioned but not elaborated upon in the book) that led to a Capuchin monastery after LOTS of stairs and also gave us some more gorgeous views of the city. Then we gathered our bags from the hotel and walked (almost all downhill, no rain) to the train station, stopping for a pastry along the way.

Salzburg was a lovely city, and we would definitely go back in the future. And now we’re off to Munich! Wish us luck at Oktoberfest…here’s hoping we make it out alive.

[Obviously, we survived, but it was quite an adventure! We'll see if I'm able to get Munich up tomorrow. Otherwise, see you back in the US!]


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