So I went to Salzburg.
When it comes to Salzburg, chances are you fall into one of 3 categories.
1) You have never heard of it, or if you have, you’d be hard pressed to place it on a map (or maybe, at best know it’s a city in Austria…or at least now you do because I told you it is)
2) You have been there, and know something about its significant in the world (a bunch of stuff to do with Mozart and/or salt I’d gather).
3) You have been there or know of it, because you are a diehard Julie Andrews fan and/or grew up with a great love of “The Sound of Music.”
(There are other categories – but did you really want me to list more than 3?)
Any guesses to which one I fall into?
We’ve been close to Salzburg a few times. It’s an easy train ride from Munich. And yet we had never been. I had considered it each and every time we were in Bavaria, but always abandoned it, given the fact I couldn’t figure out what I would actually want to see or do in Salzburg. I mean, it has a castle, but not “the” castle. It has a church, but what town in Europe doesn’t. It has a musical history with Mozart and all. But (spoiler alert), Mozart is dead, so it is just one of many European cities with great classical music. Still not enough for me to add it to the map. But none of these are the big draw for tourists. Tourists go because they want to follow in the footsteps of Maria von Trapp. That’s right, most tourism in Salzburg is dominated by “The Sound of Music.”
Confession time: I’m not a big fan of “The Sound of Music.”
I mean, it’s fine. I have nothing against it. But I don’t really LOVE it either. I didn’t grow up watching it. I saw it for the first time when I got married. I did grow up with the sounds of “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favourite Things”, because I played the piano, and, well, I feel that story is self-explanatory. Last September I went to see the play at the Q.E. here in Vancouver. It was well done. A little different than the movie. A little shocking when the giant Nazi flags fell from the ceiling (still makes me shudder), but overall an enjoyable broadway experience. But then again, I’ve also seen much better. I digress…
My point is, “The Sound of Music” wasn’t exactly my jam. BUT…..it was for other members of the group. This recent adventure is one where we (my husband and I) got to introduce some of the wonders of Europe to my in-laws, on their very first European adventure. And then my brother-in-law and sister-in-law decided to join us as well. So it became a wonderful family soiree. And thus, I planned an itinerary that had notes of interest for every member of the group (to the best my ability. Ever try and plan a trip that 6 people will equally love. No small feat. But, challenge accepted!) Anyway, my mother-in-law grew up connected to the movie, and my sister-in-law is a huge fan, so this seemed like the right opportunity to dive into Salzburg, and see it through the eyes of someone who does love the film.
Though I guess Salzburg isn’t ALL about the film.
Except it kind of is. A little.
So we did what any reasonable tourists in Salzburg for 9 hours would do – a tour! I despise big bus tours, and so, after some research, and a group vote, we ended up exploring the town on Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour.
So why did we choose bikes? Well, Europe is a bike-centric place, it’s an easy way to get to the sites within the core of the city where there are many pedestrian/bike only streets, it’s good exercise, biking is (can be) fun, and this tour was well reviewed. A few words of warning: there are hills; it’s 15 km long; they don’t wear helmets; and if you are out of practice, biking on cobblestone could lead to an unexpected tumble. That being said, the tour was awesome, company well organized, and we got to see the majority of sites from the film (and a few from the real life story), with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.
NOW, going to be honest. I don’t know the film that well; so I can’t show you all these beautiful pictures and then tell you exactly what they all mean. (And I’m not going to rewatch it for the purpose of writing this post (I promised honestly, didn’t I?)) Also, I can’t remember everything Kata (our guide) told us, because I was busy drinking water (hydration is important!), catching my breath (super out of shape), and of course, taking the pictures (now we’re talking!) She said at the beginning of the tour that there are two types of people on the tour – those that love “The
Sound of Music” and those that love those who love “The Sound of Music.” I was the latter. But the great thing was, even without the love of the movie, this tour was a GREAT way to see the city.
So here’s an idea of all the things they jam-packed into 3.5 hours:
- Biking over the river, along the market, and into the old town
- to the place they performed at the end of the film (Rock Riding School, Felsenreitschule)
- past the church, into Residenz square and horse fountain
- up the hill to Nonnberg Abbey (where the real Maria lived, and where she and the Captain got married), next to the castle
- Out to the pond/lake (Leopoldskroner Weiher), next to a house from the film (Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron)
- down a grass field, and tree lined alley, to another house from the film (Frohnburg Palace)
- down a another tree lined alley across a street to a park and Schloss Hellbrunn and the Pavillion
- Over the Mozart Bridge
- To Mirabell Gardens
And as proof, photos:
But, there’s more! (No, this is not “The Price is Right”)
When our tour wrapped up, there was more to see. But it was hot, so we needed to be smart and strategic with our choices. So we prioritized.
First – food! We headed to Cafe Tomaselli, a Cafe Mozart was known to frequent (he was into their Almond Milk before Almond Milk became trendy (and before it started destroying California. And come to think of it, before there was a California to destroy). Pretty little cafe on a popular square, which means shelling out a few extra pennies. But the ambiance was great, and they had simple, but delicious sandwiches for lunch. They have a “cake lady” who sells only the desserts and you pay her separately from the rest of the bill. I wanted all of them, but was too dehydrated and in need of liquid, which left no space for dessert. Also, I don’t fare well in hot weather (I’m one of those weird people not phased by cold, and snow, and 4 months without the sun. What’s the opposite of someone with seasonal affective disorder? I’m that).
Second – church! Every town in Europe is centered around a castle, a church, or both! I happened to love Salzburg Cathedral. I found it absolutely stunning. Like most in Europe, it had been bombed, and rebuilt (that pesky world war mid-century did a fair amount of damage to the cities. And to the people – but that a whole different can of worms. Or salt. Does salt come in cans?)
Third – castle! Who isn’t a sucker for a castle on a hill? Great history AND views. Well, in the case of Hohensalzburg, there was good views, and medium history. The tour came with an audio guide, but the whole walk through took about 30 minutes. The views were decent, but castle access limited, and I felt rather underwhelmed. The real history of Salzburg is one of Salz – or Salt! Salt was gold in the olden days. It preserved meat, which fed the people, which kept them alive. And what’s more valuable than that?! Salzburg is in a region rich in salt. It was mined, and transported on the Salzach river (the river running through town), which connected to the larger Danube River, and allowed it to transport (and be sold). So in turn, Salzburg had money. which means it’s pretty. The castle less pretty than the town though. The castle was built with a goal of protecting the salt. Again, salt = gold. There is a funicular that takes you to the top – this was important as it was hot out (above 30 degrees + humidity. ugh. humidity), and because the castle is on a very decent sized hill (see my previous notes about my *love* for the heat, and also being out of shape.)
By the time we were done, it was hot, we were committed to the shady side of the street, layered in sweat and ready to get to our final destination. Our stop in Salzburg was a 9 to 5 visit, en route from Hallstatt to Munich on our 3 week European road trip adventure. (Actually, I lied. It was a 9 to 3:30 visit. But Dolly Parton didn’t write a song about 9 to 3:30, and 9 to 5 is catchier. Also, it was suppose to be 9 to 5, but we bailed after we succumbed to his majesty, the sun.)
So verdict – would I recommend it? Yes-ish. Salzburg is a beautiful town. It is a great place to bike around, with gorgeous, well-maintained buildings, and elegant architecture. There are lovely bridges, and a market along the river that, sadly, was just too hot to visit, and some great sites. And I hear there is also great music, but we didn’t get to experience it this time around. And, as a bonus, if you are a fan of some Julie Andrews movie I can’t quite remember the name of, you might love it all the more. However, on a first trip, or a trip with limited time, it wouldn’t be my first choice. I got to it on my 12th trip to Europe. And that seemed about right. Would I go back? I don’t know. I’m unsure of what I’ve missed. I would go back to other neighbouring towns in the region. The alps, and pretty much all of lake country, are stunning, and I will definitely be returning. I am more likely to stay out in the country and day trip into Salzburg, than the opposite.
I’m sure you were hoping for this wonderful inspired ending to my post. I know I didn’t quite “sell” Salzburg to you. But I still loved my day here. So what haven’t I mentioned?
The only thing as amazing as having experiences that light you on fire, is getting to share or create experiences for those you love that light them on fire. Watching my mother-in-law make connections between her childhood and the sites of Salzburg was the best part of it all. Watching my father-in-law and sister-in-law singing show tunes on bikes, stairs and fountains. The family sing-a-long in the car on the way into the city (that Josh may have protested) while singing “My Favourite Things” in harmony – well – those are the moments I savour the most. Because at the end of the day, it’s not where you go, but who you go with, that matters the most.