Monday
Dec192005

Austria Vacation Log: Interlude


The Hills are Alive! (photo illustration credit: Jason Brewington)

Yes, Salzburg is the setting for The Sound of Music. Although there are plenty of tour companies selling "Sound of Music Tours", we didn't take any. I just saw the movie last weekend for the first time ever. It was fun to pick out places in Salzburg that we visited while watching the movie:
- The pegasus statue and dwarf garden in Mirabell Gardens
- The Horse Baths
- Mozart Square
- The Cathedral
- The Mozart foot bridge over the Salzach river
- A staircase that ran alongside the Mönchsberg
- General city scapes
And probably more that we didn't catch.

Sunday
Dec182005

Weihnachtsbaum 2005

Sunday
Dec182005

Austria Vacation Log: Day 9, The City of Salzburg

(Note: As I stated previously, I didn't own a digital camera when we made our trip to Austria. Unless otherwise credited, the photos in these entries were taken by other people. Right-click on the image to find the web site where I found them.)

We slept in, and barely made it to breakfast in time. That was the only slow part of the day, however. We started by taking a round-about way to the Old City via the medieval Steingasse street- very atmospheric and medieval. We walked back along the river on a bike path and then over to Mozartplatz to buy our Salzburg cards. The Salzburg card is a fairly pricy (€29/each) tourist pass that gives you free admission to basically everything, including public transportation. We priced it out after our trip and we barely broke even. More importantly, we didn’t hesitate to step into any attraction that looked interesting- since it was already paid for. There were a couple of times when we ignored the guidebook’s advice, which really paid off.

The first example of this was the Residenz- the palace of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. It was filled with very beautiful rooms and furniture. At one point during the audioguide, the narrator explained “Mozart gave us his first public concert in this room.” I instantly got goosebumps all over my arms. I went to show Dorinna and she had the same. The Residenz turned out to be our favorite attraction in the Old City.

Leaving the Residenz, we started to follow the walking tour in the Rick Steve’s guidebook. The Dom (cathedral) was pretty interesting. Two angels holding a crown helped make up the façade.

In the square in front of the cathedral is a statue of the Virgin Mary. When viewed at the correct angle, the angels appear to be crowning Mary.

The Dom was still busy with mass, so we walked past it and out into a big square with a giant chessboard.

I thought to watch for a few minutes, and ended up staying over an hour, while Dorinna patiently shopped for souvenirs. It was hot in the sun, but street musicians were playing classical Mozart behind me, and the ebb and flow of the game was fascinating. I thought black had a much better board position, but white rallied, and soon black was playing for a stalemate. Dorinna returned with a chocolate-covered doughnut-shaped pastry, as white finally won the game.

Continuing the walking tour, we entered the very peaceful and tranquil St. Peter’s Cemetery. The cemetery abuts the cliffs of the Mönchsberg, the giant mountain that fills the center of the city. Hidden in the cliffs are a series of “catacombs”- small caves were hermits would go to pray and escape the bustle of the city. Old stone stairways ascended to the chambers and chapels built into the rock.

We broke for lunch at a small bakery. We sampled a series of Austrian sweets- a lemon crem brulee pie, a chocolate tube-shaped pastry filled with cream, and a cream puff. It still amazes me that we didn’t gain weight in Austria, but the constant all-day walking apparently made up for the four major food groups that I consumed- pork, cake, cheese, and alcohol.

After lunch we visited the interior of the Dom, and two other churches, before making a walk down the crowded the hectic Getreidegasse. This is a narrow street filled with small shops, each identified by a wrought iron sign hanging overhead. Even the McDonald’s has a wrought iron sign. Also on the street was the Mozart Gerburtshaus- the house where he was born. The small museum inside was very under whelming. Even for a Mozart fanatic such as myself, the only thing that interested me was Mozart’s first violin. We had heard that the Mozart Wohnhaus across the river, where he lived as an older child, was more interesting, but that wasn’t very interesting either. It was quite a relief to get home and showered.

We ate dinner at a local café. I filled up with pork and mushrooms with gravy in a bread bowl, along with a salad and beer. After dinner, we ambled over to the Mirabell Palace and Gardens.

We wandered around looking at the flower beds, hedges, and fountains. There is even a dwarf garden- filled with life-size statues of dwarves who worked for the Prince-Archbishop. As the sun set, we went into the palace to catch a concert. We heard three Mozart pieces- a string quartet, a piano sonata, and a violin concerto. The concert concluded with a Haydn encore. A wonderful and memorable way to end a very long day.

Saturday
Dec102005

Austria Vacation Log: Day 8, Trains to Salzburg

Most of today was spent traveling to Salzburg. We walked to the train station in Reutte and found the ticket window closed. Someone else was there waiting, and I used my German to find out that we could buy tickets on the train:
“Wissen Sie wo wir Fahrkarten kaufen können?”
“Im Zug.”

The first train of the day took us to Garmish-Partenkirchen, former host of the Winter Olympics, and a place I visited on my first visit to Germany two years ago. Our original plan was to take a second train to Innsbruck, and a third train to Salzburg, but our conductor gave us another option. This option added another two hours to our trip, but saved us about 70 dollars. I’m not sure it was worth it- we ended up on two more slow trains and a bus, and actually had lunch back in München (White bratwurst sandwich with a cheese pretzel). We were very hot, tired, and cranky when we finally arrived in Salzburg (English link) in mid-afternoon. The walk to the hotel felt like a long way, but it was probably under a mile. The hotel (English link) itself had a big crowd inside, but the innkeeper Silvia asked our name and handed us our keys in 10 seconds flat.

After a shower and short rest, we set out across the river and into the old town.

The courtyards and narrow streets felt crowded, but that was really just our mood. We recognized this, and took immediate steps to correct it. When we arrived at the Café Tomaselli (German link), we ascended a little spiral staircase to an upstairs deck. We grabbed an table on a terrace overlooking a square and relaxed with glasses of white wine. Ahhh! Great people watching from up here- apparently Salzburg is a real shopping destination for the rich and famous of Europe. There are enough woman walking the cobblestone streets in stiletto heels to rival Italy.

Finally relaxed, we wandered up to the base of the castle and found the Weisses Kreutz (English link) restaurant (it means “White Cross” in English).

We got an outside table in an ivy covered porch. We had peppers stuffed with herb cream cheese for an appetizer. For the main course, I had a Baltic Grill plate: different kinds of meats in various spicy sauces. No, I have no idea what I was eating. Yes, it was fantastic. A mug of the local brew, Steigl Heller, saved me from the spice. After the meal we had a Yugoslavian plum cordial, and then a beautiful walk home through what was quickly becoming our favorite city in Europe.

Sunday
Dec042005

Austria Vacation Log: Day 7, The Ruins of Reutte

We slept in, and it felt great! Our German friends were back in Germany, and we were by ourselves for the rest of the trip (the digital cameras went back to Germany with our friends, so I’ll be relying on Internet photos for the rest of my commentary). We had a light breakfast of Müsli, cheese, and bread, packed some light bags, and left the Goldener Hirsch hotel (German link) for the day’s adventures.

We walked through the town of Reutte(English link), heading for the surrounding mountains. The town itself was cute and charming, but with a surprisingly large amount of traffic that diminished it somewhat. We walked a mile or two out of town until we found the correct path leading up to the Ehrenberg “Klause”.

This was the first part of the Ehrenberg Fortress Ensemble (English link), a set of four castles outside of town. The first of these was a large fortified building that guarded the pass into Reute. Next year there will be a big museum here- for now it is a restored castle with empty rooms, and a small gift shop. We had thought that we heard thunder as we walked up from town, and as we left the Klause it started to rain. Our rain jackets were safely back in our hotel room, naturally. They didn’t sell umbrellas, but they had some in the lost-and-found, so we borrowed one for the day. The rain stopped a few minutes later, and we climbed through humidity to Burguine Ehrenberg.

This ruined 13th century castle guarded the town, and played a role in both the Thirty Years War (stopping the Swedish advance), and the Spanish War of Succession. Just as we made it to the ruins, the rain started in earnest. For the next hour we took refuge under an intact archway, eating some snacks and writing in our journals. As this was the first rain of our trip, we couldn’t complain. During periods when the rain lightened, we went out and explored the ruined towers, walls, and arches. After checking out every nook and cranny, we descended down to a small col, and tried to decide what to do next. We were uncertain about the weather, but we eventually decided to make the steep climb up to “Festung Schlosskopf” (mountaintop fortress).

When Bavarian invaders overran in the early 1700s, the townspeople dragged some cannons to the top of this mountain and used them to pound the castle below. A few years later, 1733, they built a real castle here. We had snacks and water at the top, just as the sun finally came out. We enjoyed the sunny ruins, the views of Reutte below us, and the cool damp tunnels underneath. One of the underground tunnels had a large area to turn around a loaded wagon. Pretty cool. We took a roundabout way back down, and debated a trip to Fort Claudia, the fourth castle on the other side of the valley. We eventually opted out, and took some scenic trails back down to the town, following a pleasant brook.

Back in civilization, we had pastries and coffee at a small bakery and then meandered through the shops. I bought two German books and Dorinna bought a German Yahtzee pad.

The day ended with a relaxing dinner at Hotel Zum Mohre. I had Tyrolean cheese soup, and Wildererpfandl- different cuts of venison, wild mushrooms, and gravy served over spätzel. Of course, I washed it down with a local beer- Kaiser Helles. We ate at a wonderful outside table on a one-lane cobbled street. It would have been absolutely perfect, except for that cars the drove down every minute or so. Bleah. As it was, it was still pretty nice, and the food was fabulous.