Sunday, June 29, 2014

Salzburg Austria

Photos here:  Salzburg

Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart.  Many tourists who come to Germany make the short two hour side trip here, seeking great music and a historic ambience.  After having straightened out my train ticketing earlier, I was ready for my day trip to Salzburg.  I planned on catching the 8:54 am train from Munich and gave myself plenty of time in leaving my hotel.  I ate a decent breakfast and was walking to the station by 8:15.  As it turned out, the train left from one of the remote tracks that took a lot more hoofing, so I actually didn’t give myself as much spare room as I thought.

Although I rode on a “commuter” train, I thought the seats were fine.  I spent most of the ride working on the laptop I lugged along in order to be productive.  The scenery was beautiful, especially once I hit the Alps.  As in Poland, my camera proved totally worthless in shooting from the train.  The scenery, however, actually did evoke the Sound of Music in me, as cheesy as it sounds.  I had forgotten how much I loved that movie as a kid.  I could picture that scene where Julie Andrews runs through the meadows twirling and singing.  But no, I did not burst out in song in the middle of the train, or at any time during my day trip.

The train arrived in Salzburg around 11 am.   I went immediately to the information center.  I had done some research the night before, and had decided start at Untersbergbahn, a mountain which sits just outside Salzburg.  Afterwards, I planned to head to the town and perhaps visit either the Mozart Residence or Mozart Birthplace, and then spend the remainder of my time exploring Old Town.  Most of the organized day tours from Munich to Salzburg allot about 5 hours in the city, so I gave myself 6 or 7 hours.  My ticket, however, gave me flexibility on the return time so I didn’t stress.

Most of Untersbergbahn’s reviewers had used the Salzburg Pass ticket to travel to the mountain.  The pass costs E26, so it wasn’t cheap, but offers discounts on many of Salzburg’s tourist sites.  I didn’t think I would use it much, so I inquired at the information center as to other ticket options to reach the mountain peak.  The staff informed me that the Untersbergbahn ticket alone would cost E28, so that made it an easy decision to buy the Salzburg Pass.  I left the station and hopped on the bus to the peak.  I had just arrived in Salzburg and I was already leaving it!

It was about a 40 minute bus ride to the base of Untersbergbahn, and then I had to wait for the cable car to leave for the peak.  By the time I exited the cable car, it was already past noon.  I didn’t care.  The views were marvelous, with Salzburg on one side, the Alps on another, and beautiful countryside and peaks in between.  I no longer heard the Sound of Music.  I was reminiscing about Heidi and felt like yodeling.

One can take various hikes around the mountain.  I chose the rather modest 1 hour hike.  The views along the trail were terrific, and I shot a lot of photos hoping my camera would function.  Just in case, I started to shoot duplicate photos on my phone.  I was glad to be wearing T-shirt and shorts in the warm day, and chuckled to notice that there was still snow on the ground in a few spots along the trail.

The trail ended atop another peak.  I wished I had packed a lunch as other smart travelers did.  The area was perfect for a picnic.  Instead, I sat down and took in the scenery, and shot more photos.  Eventually, I decided to head back down and continue my journey.

I had to wait a bit for the bus back toward Salzburg.  I had noticed that we passed Hellbrunn Palace on the way to the peak.  The positive reviews mentioned “trick fountains” and made it sound like a place more for kids, so I hadn’t originally planned to go.  But if the palace was actually on the way back, and admission was covered by the Salzburg Pass that I had bought, why not just peek in?  I hopped off the bus at the palace, making a note of when other buses would be coming by so I would know how to time my departure.

The palace was a nice diversion.  From a historical perspective, it was used by a fun loving archbishop with a quirky sense of taste and humor.  I toured the palace interior and found it kind of small with a couple of interesting stories, but not much more.  The key attraction of Hellbrunn, however, is the garden.  Here, the archbishop had installed a waterworks of sorts to create traditional beauty (such as fountains) as well as play pranks (spray his guests).  The tour guide obliged us by surprisingly squirting us as well during the tour, which was an effective way of demonstrating the archbishop’s humor.  The whole tour took a bit longer than I thought it would, but it was fun.

Salzburg is the home of Mozart, and I still wanted to check out his digs.  The problem was that many of the venues close at 5:30 pm, and it was already approaching 4 pm.  Using my Salzburg Pass, I hopped back on the bus and asked the driver which stop I needed for the Mozart Residence.  The driver was quite gruff and actually told me to get off at an earlier stop, so I had to walk a bit farther than I needed.  Admission to the Mozart Residence is normally E10, but it was covered by my pass, which was a good thing because the place was a boring bust.  The building is where Mozart grew up, and thus is a museum of sorts.  They also hold concerts there.

No one told me that you couldn’t take photos and I didn’t see any signs.  When I snapped a photo of a harpsichord, however, a brusque Austrian with a ridiculous goatee (I think he was seriously trying to be artisitic) snarled “No Photos!”  OK, no problem.  Just say so.  I then noticed that they had set up chairs in the room and some other visitors appeared to be waiting for some kind of performance, as a piano had been set up in the middle of the room.  I asked that same staff member whether there was a concert.  He sneered: “Only for a speshhhhhial group” and literally turned his nose up.  I kid you not.  I don’t know if he was being a drama queen but he literally lifted his nose to the sky as he said “speshhhial”.  Geez.

With that setting the tone, I went through the rest of the rooms.  I love Mozart, but frankly didn’t find this museum interesting.  It is small.  Good thing it was covered by my pass; I would have been a little upset at shelling out E10 for this crappy museum with staff members who are wearing their panties too tightly.

I started to wander through Old Town, which is quite small and can be covered in a couple hours.  The architecture was gorgeous, but more than other cities, Salzburg felt extremely touristy.  It’s difficult to explain, but it felt like the entire town was geared purely towards the tourist trade, hence making the buildings’ historical significance seem less prominent.

I noticed that I would be walking by the Mozart Birthplace, so decided to give this museum a shot since it, too, was covered by my pass.

This museum was much better than the first.  Although it, too, is small, the layout makes much more sense and the information is presented more clearly.  Plus no one yelled at me for taking photos.  I suspect that there is a bit of a competition between the two Mozart museums.  I had noticed that one large exhibit in the first museum had made a big deal about how many paintings of young Mozart may not be of Mozart at all, but some other child.  That ah-ha exhibit highlighted one particular painting, and yet, here in the second museum, that same painting was being touted as actually portraying Mozart!  Weird.

It was also a bit weird that the Birthplace museum also had a lock of Mozart’s hair on display.  But then again, I took a photo of it so maybe I am weird as well.

I next went to the fort which dominates the skyline.  I took the cable car up to the top of Hohensalzburg Fort, since it was covered by my pass.  The views from Hohensalzburg were beautiful.  If the Untersbergbahn mountain peak provided a macro lens view of the valley, the fort provided a close up look at the beauty of Salzburg and the surrounding countryside.  I snapped a ton of photos from various vantage points.

I did an audio tour of the interior of the fort, which had some good historical tidbits.  However, the fort itself isn’t as interesting as the views down from it.  By this time, I was getting very hungry since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  It was already 7 pm.  I debated eating at the restaurant at the fort so I could linger with the views, but I could hear music from the city below and wanted to check that out.

The town squares were all jammed with people, and it appeared that a different band was playing raucous music in every square.  I tried to find a place to eat, but literally could not find an empty seat anywhere in about 40 minutes of wandering.  The crowd was getting drunker by the minute, but seemed to be having a great time.  I then noticed some fliers.  I was in Salzburg in the middle of a two day celebration, Kaiviertelfest!

The festive mood was contagious, and I had a good time.  Normally, I might have stuck around longer that evening but I also needed to get back to Munich and pack.

I checked the return train schedule and reluctantly headed back, thankful for at least having an open return ticket.  I actually couldn’t see the train station on the map, so had to ask somebody, which wasn’t easy since everybody was drunk.  The station seemed farther than I remembered, so I waited for a bus (using my Salzburg Pass) and got to the station with enough time to grab a sandwich and beer to go from a local store.  I boarded the 8:20 pm train back to Munich.

Many people visit Salzburg as a day trip, but I think it’s possible to spend two to three full days here and have enough fun and interesting things to keep one busy, depending on one’s interest.  The big positive is the beauty of the Alps.  The big caveat is the touristy nature of the Old Town area.  I personally have no particular desire to return here.  I love the mountains, but I would be just as happy in Colorado.  Having said that, I had fun and am glad I came to Salzburg to see it once.

Photos here:  Salzburg

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