We decided to spend a week in Salzburg, as I had not been back there since my year teaching English to high school students in 1988-89. Because Salzburg is so beautiful a city, I wanted to go there with Sam, and see how it felt after 28 years, and it fit in well with our trip south from Prague. I was also hoping to look up at least one friend from my teaching days. What struck me again was how beautiful the city is, and also how small. The various small hills around the city limit it a bit geographically which probably has helped it to retain its charm. Even so, there are lots of nooks and crannies, and it didn’t feel too crowded except for in a few places.
I had mixed feelings about the year that I spent in Salzburg. It was a requirement to spend time in a German speaking country for my degree. I was pretty lonely that year, and my German didn’t improve as much as I’d hoped. As sometimes is the case, as I was leaving I started to feel more at home and comfortable in the language. Most of the people that I got to know well were English teachers, who enjoyed talking English, which was good for a sense of deeper human interaction, but not so good for me as a learner of German. While back in Salzburg, I remembered how many ways I tried to be social/put myself out there etc. which made me feel better looking back. For example I found a violin teacher, joined an orchestra, and then a music group that was less formal which I enjoyed more, and also the Cathedral choir which was made up of lay people and you didn’t have to audition to sing in . So, I got to sing in Mozart masses in the Dom (cathedral) in the city he was born. I audited a Russian conversation class for a brief period, went to student gatherings that I looked for on notice boards, socialized a bit with other fellow assistants, both English and Italian speaking. Among others, I hosted my sister and my parents in my little studio flat, traveled to Venice, and Vienna, (I wasn’t very adventurous about going to other places). Salzburg is a very bike friendly city and that year I got most places on my bike.
Sam and I stayed in the old town, right by the Mozart Platz. Salzburg is distinguished by its many interlinking Platze, or squares, and also by its baroque art and architecture, much of which can be found in its churches. I remember that 28 years ago I found the baroque style rather too much, but this time around, I found it much less oppressive….perhaps after visiting so many Catholic churches in Italy. There are so many churches in Salzburg, and the bells are particularly beautiful with their varying chimes.
Our first evening we ate in a very traditional pub that specializes in Austrian wines. I had my first Austrian meal in a very long time: Kasenockern – sort of like a twisted gnocchi with grilled onions and melted cheese in a cast iron pan. Sam had a traditional Austrian meat dish. The service was very friendly and it had a cottage like feel, with simple wooden tables, curtains and lamps. Even though I hadn’t eaten in many restaurants in my time there as a student, it felt like a rather authentic beginning to our week in Salzburg.
Back at the hotel, and unfortunately our first evening was interrupted by the unpleasant realization at around 10:00 pm, that our hotel room was inhabited by bedbugs. Sam had dozed off by then, and got rather a rude awakening. He said he hadn’t seen me so focused in a long time! Fortunately we hadn’t unpacked much, and were able to get our clothes laundered by the hotel after changing to a room on a higher floor. The next day we had a very civil sit down with the manager and were offered the prior night cost free, and they agreed to our request for free breakfast for the rest of the week (it was a rather sumptuous buffet but at 26 Euros a person we had decided to forgo it and find a more economical option elsewhere).
Unfortunately the first three days in Salzburg were very wet and it wasn’t possible to spend much time outdoors, but we did some sightseeing, including going to Mozart’s residence, and also went to a lovely chamber music concert up in the Festung (fortress) in a really ancient room called the Goldener Saal. It was quite an intimate atmosphere for a concert, and the audience was very attentive which really added to our enjoyment. The highlight was Dvorak’s American Quartet, which we both love. It seemed fitting seeing that we had just left Prague.
The weather started to clear up the last three days, and we went back up to the Festung where the concert had taken place, and after a rain shower or two, were able to find our way down and onto the neighboring Monchberg, which I enjoyed walking on all those years ago. The Monchberg was very green and the trails were surrounded by trees that were just coming into leaf. That led us down eventually into the neighborhood where I had lived. A destination that I had hoped to reach was the Augustiner Brau Stubl, where you pick up the size of earthenware stein you want, and then take it over to get filled with the local brew. Also, there are numerous little stalls with food, including all kinds of meats, breads, and even a booth that sold hard boiled eggs, radishes and ground horseradish, which seems to be a long held European tradition loosely associated with bars having to offer something to eat to their customers in order to sell alcohol. We were able to sit outside in the beer garden. It was the day before Labor Day all over Europe, so people were getting into the party spirit, but it was still fairly sedate by the time we left and went onto the next destination: a Heuriger, short for heuriger Wein, or this year’s wine. They traditionally were situated in local vineyards where they vintners could sell their wine under a special license and people would bring simple food to add to the experience. Now they tend not to be connected to the vineyard, but still serve local wines picnic style food, and tend to be very affordable.
On the second nice day we took the only bike tour that Salzburg offers: “Fraulein Maria’s bicycle tour”. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we got to see parts south of the city that we would probably not have got to: open meadows and long tree lined avenues, as well as the Nonnburg Abbey, and other sights featured in the Sound of Music, including the yellow house Maria rings the doorbell at with her guitar case, and the gazebo in the garden, which is currently in the gardens of Hellbrunn palace south of the city. The tone of Fraulein Maria’s bike tour was a little over the top, but it got us on bikes in Salzburg on a beautiful day. Happily, I reconnected with my friend Brigitte from my teaching days, and she got to meet Sam. She took us on a walk in her neighborhood in Salzburg north and we sampled an Austrian dish called Flammkuchen at a local café. Flammkuchen are a bit like a very thin crusted pizza, but the sauce is made with tomatoes and sour cream. It’s a very tasty but light dish, so eating a whole Flammkuchen is a different experience from eating a whole pizza. On our way home we walked a bit in a grassy recreation area created by the hydro electric company in compensation for the intrusion they were making on the river, and quite by accident saw a beaver swimming in one of the pools on the side of the dam. Brigitte said that one of the objections the locals had had to building this hydro station was that it would disturb the habitat of a family of beavers, which were eventually relocated. However, it seemed that they had returned to their preferred habitat.
We left Salzburg on a very classy Austrian train, and then changed to one in Innsbruck with old fashioned style compartments. Immediately we met an Australian couple, Jesse and Tess, who were on their honeymoon. We had one of those experiences that one hears about on European trains, talking to them all the way to Venice, and sharing experiences about life, and travel. Amazingly we bumped into them after a ridiculously long vaporetto ride as we were looking for our hostel. They had already found their hotel and changed into nice clothes and were looking for a local restaurant nearby us. They invited us to join them and we met them a little later on and had a very nice dinner together at small restaurant with a local feel. They seemed very happy, and we wish them a good life together.