The Sound of Salzburg

As always, our arrival in Salzburg began with our orientation to our Air BnB. We were picked up from the station by Dietmar – a 40/50 something year old guy who lives with his Mum and drives an Audi. I’m not quite sure what we were expecting when we got to his apartment, the reviews of his place made us feel like there might have been something a little odd about the place. I can’t put my finger on quite why, but it was.

On the fourth floor (yet again) of a massive, probably early 70s, apartment block the place looked like it hadn’t changed a whole lot since it was built. Our room was decorated with things like strange little ornaments and red plush pillows with ‘I love you’ written on them. There was a wall near the door which had a few postcards on it – a couple of nude women ones. I thought it was a bit off you’d have these on display with guests there.

On entering we were told not to wear our shoes and that his Mum was in the room down the hall but was deaf and wouldn’t hear us (we didn’t get an introduction). We were shown to our room, which had one of those old school fold down sofas – definitely not room for two (luckily there was a single foam fold out, so we had to split up).

But the thing that got me the most was the bathroom door. It was frosted glass with tiny little dots on it. On the first day I suspected they might be holes, but I couldn’t see out them, so I thought I was safe. It was on the last night I realised with the light on inside, they were in fact holes and you could see through. Creepy. I’m not saying there was necessarily anything untoward about it – but something about it was, like I said, odd.

Safe to say, we avoided spending too much time there. It was also about a 40 minute walk out of the centre, so our Salzburg days were a bit different to the rhythm we’d gotten used to over the past weeks of travel. Rather than returning to the apartment in the middle of the day for a rest, we were out all day (from about 8-10)- which was pretty tiring.

Salzburg itself is a lovely old city, but for some reason just didn’t capture us how many of the other places we’ve been had. It did slowly grow on us, but has probably my least favourite stop so far.

I think some people would be shocked to hear me say that. Many people we ran into raved about it and said how much they loved it. Most of these people were the slightly older generations though, so maybe we’ll appreciate it in a a decade or so. =)

The day we arrived we did another of Rick Steve’s free guided audio tours of the Old town. We learned a bit about the history of Salzburg. It’s known as the birthplace of Mozart, the setting for the Sound of Music, an important city for the export of Salt from nearby saltmines due to the river and for its never defeated castle/fortress (however it was wisely conceded to Napoleon with no battle). We learned all of this on our first day and continued to hear the same stories over and over at every attraction. It was a little over done.

The main things we did over the course of our two and a half day stay were:

A Sound of Music bike tour with Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours: Although not massive fans of the movie, we heard this was a great way to see a bit more of Salzburg and was a bit of fun. We really enjoyed it. It was a leisurely journey on big cruiser bikes, mainly on bike paths through both the town and the outskirts. For movie fans, we saw the cemetery, the square where Maria splashes water in the fountain, the family house (the movie one, not the real one), the lake they fall into, the pavilion where Maria is proposed to and the I am 16 song is sung and a few more things I’ve forgotten. But the highlight was really seeing a bit more of the countryside on our bikes. If I had to live in Salzburg, I’d definitely want to be out of the city. It was just gorgeous. Lovely old houses, farms, horses, beautiful wide bike paths. It would be a great place to take Jaxx for a walk.

Hellbrun Palace and Trick Fountains: This place as a real hoot. Built byArchbishop Markus Sittikus basically as a party palace (it was built with no bedrooms) it’s main attraction is the hidden water traps that spray unsuspecting guests. The tour guide who takes you around must have one of the best jobs in the world – soaking tourists all day long.

Fortress HohenSalzburg: This is the main fortress the sits high up on the hill (the undefeated one). You take a small funicular up to the top and can roam around the different buildings. There’s also a museum and a small tour up into the main tower. It was a little bit ho-hum in my opinion. I love it when historical buildings really give you a sense of what they were like back in the day, but there wasn’t really much of that in this building. They museum and a few interesting artefacts, but they had nothing on the lesser known Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck.

Augustiner Braustubl (Brewpub): This was probably our favourite find in Salzburg. It is basically a pub and massive beer garden, but it’s in an old monsestary. We almost though we were in the wrong place when we went there. You go through a door, down a hall, past an old religious statue, down some stairs and then you slowly get the waft of pork and sausages. You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. Finally you get to a small food hall selling mainly traditional Austrian fare (Pork, Schnitzel, Sausage, Saurkraut, Strudel) – there is a big beer hall to one side (which was virtually empty due to the nice weather) then you go down one last set of stairs and emerge in a massive beer garden – shaded with beautiful old trees. They serve one type of beer only in your choice of big or bigger. We spent a couple of evenings there. The second time we met our second contemporary abstract artist of the trip Rachel McCaulley, who was doing a short residency.

Stiegl Brewery: This large brewery close to the centre has a great museum and even better beer tasting. You could have spent hours looking through the museum, but the large old building was sweltering hot and we had beer drinking to do (there’s also only so much I need to know about beer). We looked through most things, but skipped a lot of the detail. What I found really interesting was that big breweries like this were apparently responsible for the death of many small monastery breweries, which were where most beer came from until the large ones were founded. They just couldn’t complete. A little bit sad really.

Hallein Salt Mines and Celtic Village: On our final day we were going to do one of two things depending on the weather- head to one of the lakes the surrounds of Salzburg are famous for) or go to the Hallein Saltmines (Mum raved about this and said we absolutely must go). The day was a bit dreary with a bit of rain expected – so we headed to the salt mines. This was a bit of a journey, but we (read Tim) managed to figure out how to get tickets from the little machine at our closest station and headed off.

The salt mines were fun, but not entirely informative. You go down into them with tours that leave every 10 minutes. I felt a bit like a lemming getting herded in. They even put you in these awful white suits to stop you getting dirty. But it’s kind of funny. You clamber on to this small train, straddling a long wooden bench. Everyone is packed in. If you don’t know the person in front of you, you’d better be ok getting cozy with a stranger. This little train was transports you underground down thin tunnels. We both quite enjoyed it. The next little thrill is when you get to go down these slides the miners used to get further down into the mines. They are just wooden tracks which you sit on and whiz down. Super fun. I could have done that all day. We also took a boat across an underground lake.

At one point you end up about 200m below the surface and walking through the tunnels you even cross into Germany for a little while. The disappointing part of the tour was that there was very little information about the actual salt mining. It’s really built around the train, boat and slide. There’s a bit about the history of Salzburg in relation to salt (cue very tacky video), but that’s about it.

The celtic village was interesting and more informative, but again didn’t blow me away. We definitely had a fun day, but sorry Mum, I’m going to have to disagree on it being a must see. 
So the highlights of Salzburg were really two Bs. Beer and bikes. Would I go back? Probably not (unless someone wants to buy me a nice little house in the countryside). It’s a nice place, but I think once you’ve seen it once that’s probably enough.

Honourable food mention: Johanneskeller for their awesome traditional Austraian food, great prices and friendly staff.

If you’ve been there and loved it? I’d love to hear from you. What did you love about it?