Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Some Notes on Salzburg

If Mozart had written the soundtrack to the Sound of Music, the Austrian city of Salzburg would be double in size just to accommodate the souvenir shops, tour buses, themed restaurants, umbrella wielding tour guides, throngs of tourists, street performers, and costume shops (yes, you can dress like a composer or a Von Trapp).

Mozart meets the Sound of Music!
As it is, Salzburg's two main tourist attractions are separated by a couple of hundred years, so there is plenty of room for both to be exploited. My favorite Mozart moment was the sign outside an Italian restaurant that stated "If Mozart was alive, he would definitely eat here". He would also love a certain brand of ice-cream, his namesake chocolates, and would probably pick up a few t-shirts. Not sure about the rubber ducks. As for the Sound of Music, one store banner read: "We have Apple Strudel, Mittens, Brown Paper Packages Wrapped in String, Sorry No Kittens". Love it.

I wonder if anybody buys these for how they taste as opposed to the packaging. Yuk!
If you don't need a rubber duck you can buy a squeezy stress ball Mozart.
If you put Amadeus aside for a moment and avoid the hawkers selling Sound of Music bus tours to the hills, which are apparently still very much alive with the above, you'll find a very charming city.

We traveled to Salzburg by train from Verona, Italy. We knew we were in for a solid seven hour journey so we had our Kindles loaded, two newspapers on deck, travel Scrabble close at hand and the snack bag filled to the top. 

Most of the time, however, we were glued to the windows! The journey to Salzburg trumped any Sound of Music Tour. Miles and miles of countryside filled with vineyards, quaint Tyrolean villages and glacier covered peaks whizzed by under sunny skies. Our ride on Austria's OBB line was smooth and efficient, and the train itself was modern and very comfortable (we had a compartment for 6 to ourselves). The complete opposite of our Italian train adventure the day before.

The view from our train window as we head toward the mountains.
We love European train travel. Sure it may take three hours longer to reach your destination by train instead of by plane, but once you factor in arriving at the airport two hours early to check in, suffer multiple security checkpoints, run the gauntlet of duty free shops and join the unhappy herd at the gate, it often ends up being a push. And it's so civilized.

There is so much to see and do at the train station you could spend a day there and not go anywhere!
Train stations in major cities are fascinating. They are vast and noisy, and filled with thousands of travelers from around the world merging under one big vaulted roof. The atmosphere pulses with sounds - trains chuffing into the station, announcements in multiple languages, whistles, and the soft click, click, click of the reader boards steadily updating arrivals and departures, and the steady hum of human voices. It can seem overwhelming as you join the fray, but it is worth it since you don't have to check your bags or chug your water before clearing security, and you can settle in your comfortable seat (and maybe even at your table) and enjoy the world passing by at eye level.  

Fresh off the train and ready for a mile walk to our Airbnb.
We arrived rested and ready in Salzburg. Our hosts were out of town so we needed to collect the keys for our Airbnb from the restaurant on the ground floor of our building. Either Eva or Abraham could help us. We were expecting a Kosher deli, but instead we found two late twenty-somethings with those Biblical monikers doing a brisk business in their very stylish Mexican Cantina called Cabreras  Eva could have been Gleneth Paltrow's younger sister! Abraham is Mexican, thus the theme and the delicious food.They fixed us up with keys, beer, dessert and the wifi code and let us into the apartment above the restaurant.

Abraham and Eva, owners of the Mexican restaurant right below our apartment.
This place was one of the most unique Airbnbs we've lived in yet. It was partially carved into the side of a cliff,  and looked out over the Salzach river that bisects the city. It was large and lovely and filled with old-world charm, a little dark perhaps, but it was basically a cave so that was to be expected. We loved it! Here's the link

The bathroom ceiling carved from solid rock.
There were a couple of other small challenges. One, having 300 year old ceilings carved out of rock meant a light dusting of grit and small stones regularly drifted to the floor, the sink and the toilet seat in the bathroom (the dust buster next to the bathroom door should have been a clue).

Michael washing dishes in a sink the size of a salad bowl.
The kitchen was smaller than the galley we had aboard the sailboat in Le Grazie. There wasn't a washing machine and the wifi was spotty. We must been so taken with the idea of cave-dwelling, we failed to do our usually thorough job of carefully reviewing the photos and the amenities list.

Lucky numbers 8 and 9 at the Green&Clean.
Laundry had built up so Michael headed to a laundromat about a half hour walk away. It was closed (as in never opening again) so he asked for help finding another one at the Tourist Office. He was directed to one a further half hour away called Green&Clean. Now Mr. Campbell knows his way around a laundromat, so he was comfortable with the system where you pay at a terminal and then push buttons to activate the machines you will be using. He did however, need to buy some soap. The dispenser for that didn't really sell anything that said "soap" so he bought "washing additive" and hoped for the best. Later he learned from the owner that soap is added to your wash automatically and you are not to add any more - Probably part of the Green&Clean bio system that keeps people from putting unsavory chemicals into the environment. Fresh, clean laundry made it home and Michael made friends with a "laundrymate" who was a professional Italian violin player in town for a prestigious music festival. You never know who you'll meet on the road.

We actually enjoyed feeling right at home in Starbucks for couple of hours.
So a bit about the wifi. The Internet signal for our apartment had to travel through thick rock walls from the restaurant below and it didn't like that very much so the signal was weak. If Michael and I were traveling for a couple of weeks on vacation this would be annoying, but not a game changer. But in our case, reliable access to the internet is critical as we book future travel, take care of day-to-day business and stay in touch with family and friends. Then there is Michael's voracious news consumption and our desire to catch up on Downton Abbey and Newsroom. We always include wifi in our Airbnb search filters, but actually, looking back we didn't check that box when we booked this place. It didn't list wifi on the features list - so our fault. We limped along and found a Starbucks nearby for doing the most critical tasks. Lesson learned.

We had rain most of the week but it didn't stop us or any other tourists from having a great time!
Once we had our bearings we discovered no matter which direction you headed, within a few minutes walk you'd be experiencing one of the Top 10 Things to Do in Salzburg. And, if you dodged the tour groups you'd find free outdoor concerts, stands offering grilled sausage and frosty beer, fantastic churches and uncrowded squares and gardens. All under the watchful eye of the magnificent Hohensalzburg Fortress on the hill.

Despite the crowds there were plenty of restful corners of the city to enjoy
We had a little business to attend to in Salzburg as well. Michael has been interested in an event we discovered last May in Vienna called The Late Night of Churches. It is an annual event where churches open their doors to the public on a Friday night in May for a free evening of concerts, tours, entertainment and discussion. A sort of "Open House" concept to encourage people to visit churches without pressure. We found out this event takes place in other European cities as well, so as we travel we meet with the event directors when we can. In Salzburg that was Johannes Wiedecke. A strapping young man who organizes this, and another week long event for Salzburg's Catholic Dioceses. He is also talented opera singer and father to an 8 month old girl. We had a great lunch discussing a wide range of topics and learned more about how the event works. Someday, we may bring it to Seattle.

An example of what Late Night of Churches could look like. This was a youth event at the Cathedral.
Our hosts came back to town and we had an enjoyable lunch together. They are really interesting people - they own a small advertising agency and have three children, 16 and 17 year old sons, and a beautiful 10 year old daughter they adopted from Ethiopia. They had just returned from three weeks in Ethiopia where they shared the story of their daughter's adoption as a baby. All three kids are talented musicians (I think it's something in the water here) but the oldest boy, Ferdinand is an exceptional pianist. He is still in high school but he also studies at the Universitat Mozarteum, one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world and nearly impossible to get in to.

Just one of dozens of concerts available for free at the Mozart Universitat
The students there perform concerts on campus on a daily basis and our hosts invited us to join them for one of their son's performances. They also told us that we'd find dozens of free concerts at the school where the talent is so rich you could be sitting in any concert hall in the world and barely tell the difference. They were right about that! We would have never known about this treasure trove of music without having met our hosts. Almost every time we've spent time with the person that owns the home we are renting we've come away with our best and most unique experiences in that city. And that's what makes Airbnb work.

Not only did we enjoy Ferdinand's performance along with two young girls playing violin and cello, we attended two fabulous opera concerts, and three more string performances all by students ranging from 16 to 25 from all over corners of the world.

A talent scout spotted in the audience.
However, one performance we attended that will not make the "amazing" list was the Salzburg Marionette Theatre's performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Puppets performing opera is not a good thing - we would have been better off on the Sound of Music Sing- A-Long tour bus. Another lesson learned.

Great interactive art in the city center. Kids and adults alike loved racing the balls down the stream.
Coming up next our visit to the Czech Republic with a stop in Brno to meet with the Czech Long Night of Churches directors and then on to to Prague. See you there!

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

1 comment :

  1. Thanks Debbie &'s great following your adventures!!