I want to start off by saying that Salzburg is a picturesque, beautiful small city nestled between mountains. There is an imposing fortress protecting the city, easily noticeable whenever a tall building is not blocking your way. You see it from the train, you see it from the bridges… well, you get the picture.
I also want to say that my one visit was more than sufficient. As a small city it is also a quiet city, unless you happen to be a fan of The Sound of Music or a particularly strong Mozart fan who wants to make a pilgrimage to his place of birth. I didn’t get the chance to frolic through an alpine meadow, or dance in a gazebo, so it could be that Salzburg’s many charms are wasted on me. This is a city which seems to thrive on its tourist dollars, especially in the downtown area, and it never lets you forget it. Looking for your very own Sound of Music fridge magnet? That will be €5, please. One hour walking tour? Please leave your €15-20 fee with the guide, tips appreciated.
I stayed at the Yoho International Youth Hostel, a decently sized hostel that was less than ten minutes walk from the train station. They were quick and efficient but the place seemed a little bit like the hotel ran by the Thénardiers in Les Mis – if you didn’t look out, there could be another surcharge tacked onto your bill. It was definitely a different experience after the small town charms of Cesky Krumlov and the nearly deserted Hostel 99. My room was clean, it was quiet enough and there was a sink so I couldn’t complain too much.
Salzburg still allows smoking in its bars, which was a surprise to me. There was a little bit of smoking in the bar at the youth hostel, but I shrugged it off and figured that Salzburg would be like Munich or North America where smoking rates are on the decline. I headed off to a bar specializing in foreign beers a few blocks from the hostel with a group of people I had met and the minute I walked in the door I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay. We decided to sit outside, in the fresh air, but after ordering our beers and finishing about half someone came to say that the outside patio area was closed and that we needed to venture back into the smoke pit. I quickly finished off my drink and headed home, coughing violently the entire way. I remember smoking being allowed in Korea, in Calgary, in Halifax – I’m not that young – but the room was heavy with an oppressive haze. My throat was dry, I was coughing like crazy and I spent the most of the night fairly miserable. And cranky. Salzburg, this wasn’t starting off well.
The next morning I showered the smell of smoke out of my hair, hand washed the shirt I was wearing in the sink and did the sniff test on my coat. Despite that, when walking around the city, I couldn’t help but notice how many people had cigarettes and reflect on how often I smelled smoke. Maybe I was being overly sensitive, but they swooped by on bicycles with a smoke hanging out of their mouth or walked their dog along the river, cigarette in hand. Is Salzburg going to be the new hot bed for smoker’s rights?
I was really impressed by the bike lanes in Salzburg, however. I thought that Munich was doing well, but after seeing the excellent signage and infrastructure in place for cyclists in Salzburg I was completely blown away. I think that Ottawa is probably Canada’s best city for cycling with its extensive system of pathways and bike lanes, but Salzburg took things to an entirely new level with lots of covered bike stands (to protect your ride from the rain) and even turning lanes. I was also surprised to note that a lot of bicycles were just left propped against buildings or leaning on their kickstands, but without any locks in sight. Anywhere else I’ve been, that’s an open invitation for a thief. No one seemed to look twice in Salzburg, however.
The walking tour suggested by the hostel weaved along several of the pedestrian shopping streets, across the river and into the old part of the city. It passed by churches, monasteries, monuments, grand town squares and a few stops on the Mozart pilgrimage route including his birthplace and former residence. It should be noted that Mozart actually left the city in his early 20’s because he didn’t like it – and the majority of his output and fame came in Vienna… but that doesn’t stop Salzburg from celebrating its native son! You could buy Mozart chocolate, Amadeus perfume, a Mozart on a string that bounced up and down, Mozart rubber duckies… I can’t help but wonder how he would have felt about his likeness being slapped on everything in sight.
There was also an interesting focus on contemporary art in Salzburg, which was both unexpected and welcome. I read the information on each piece as I encountered them, trying to appreciate the artist’s vision and goals, but I generally ended up more confused than anything else by the end of it. The piece below, for example, consisted of five gherkins and the informative plaque included the phrase “a gherkin is a gherkin is a gherkin – or there again, perhaps not?” I will leave it to the experts to decide.
This piece was supposed to have a companion sculpture, a woman, located in a rock face. I tried scanning the exposed areas under the fortress but to no avail. Further reading of the plaque – seriously, these were really hard to get through – showed that the companion sculpture was only 135cm tall, so I suspect she would have been hard to find even on the best of days.
At one place I had to take an underground passageway to cross the street, and I was less than impressed. They often smell like urine, are really dirty, and can be a bit questionable. Not so in Salzburg! Mozart even gets top billing in the graffiti. This made much more sense to me than the sculpture of five gherkins.
I haven’t successfully sat through the Sound of Music in about 20 years, and trying to watch the movie in the hostel was no exception. I made it up to the point where Maria and the Captain are in the gazebo, or something, possibly professing their love in the darkness. This means that I was woefully unprepared for Salzburg and its myriad of Sound of Music related places to visit. I went to the Mirabell Gardens, which I later found out were famous for the Do-Re-Mi song as the von Trapp kids ran around the pathways and sculptures. People were waiting to get their picture taken on the stairs, from which I shot the below picture, and I had no idea why – they weren’t particularly nice and there were much better vantage points elsewhere in the Gardens. Once I watched the song, however, I quickly realized why this was such a popular location.
One of the guys I met in the hostel on the first night was doing the Sound of Music tour and he was pretty excited about the entire endeavour. I found the tickets for it to be surprisingly high – the full, classic tour would run about €35-40, depending on where you bought your tickets. I remember my mom telling me that she didn’t do the tour when she was in Salzburg back in the 70s due to the price – and she likes the movie!
I didn’t realize this above scene was in the song as well, I just thought it looked really pretty. No frolicking von Trapps, however.
Very close to the Mirabell Gardens was Mozart’s Residence, where he lived sometime after his birth until he moved to Vienna to seek fame and fortune. I didn’t go in and the museum itself didn’t seem that busy… it was actually really easy to overlook. It should also be noted that the residence is a reconstruction – the building where Mozart really lived was destroyed during World War II. I had walked by the site on my first evening in Salzburg as I did a bit of preliminary exploring and didn’t even realize that this was the Mozart residence. I had to seek it out on my second day.
Mozart’s birthplace, meanwhile, is almost impossible to miss. It’s painted in a deep yellow, which stands out from the paler buildings which surround it, and is surrounded by tourists and souvenir stalls. I’m not sure whether this was the original shade of yellow or not, but except for the matching architecture it doesn’t blend in with its neighbours.
I found the graveyard below while taking the extended walking tour and couldn’t help but notice the way in which the graves were laid out and decorated. Each grave – and many of these dated to the past 20 years or so – had a beautiful raised flowerbed with well tended and weeded plants. I’m not sure who manages each grave site, whether it’s the responsibility of the church or the family, but I think it’s much more beautiful than the grassy cemeteries we see at home.
A few shots of one of the main public squares, complete with giant horse fountain. You could take a horse drawn carriage ride here, and I saw a few families who did, but it was raining quite heavily at this point and horses kind of smell.
This is another example of where I didn’t realize something was in the Sound of Music until I watched a bit of it at the hostel. Maria stands around here, singing about something, in the time period between leaving the abbey and heading to the von Trapp family estate for the first time. I just thought it was a pretty cool statue.