36 hours in Salzburg
If you dislike music and chocolate, then Salzburg may not be for you. I joke, of course, but despite being steeped in all kinds of history, Austria’s fourth largest city is intrinsically linked with Mozart, whose image adorns many signs and windows here, along with his own brand of confectionary.
I arrived in Salzburg late at night – the journey from Zurich was uneventful enough, but spending over five and a half hours on a train isn’t all that great when the air conditioning goes into overdrive and heats the carriage to a temperature just a couple of degrees cooler than the centre of the sun. Fortunately I used my initiative and found a much cooler place in the impossibly empty quiet coach.
So, Salzburg in the morning looks rather fine, and the temperatures are heading towards 18 Celsius today. It feels like summer, and a short walk from the hotel brings me to the Mirabell Palace.
Several scenes for The Sound of Music were shot here – but the building dates back to 1606, when Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raineu built it for him and his mistress as a pleasure pace. Old Dietrich suffered from gout, so needed a small retreat to escape the narrow streets of the old town.
Today, the Palace is run by the city – and a couple of statues at the entrance to the garden remind me of my own city, Nottingham. At home the tradition is to meet friends by the lions. Here, it’s unicorns, and NewsMutt can’t resist having a closer look.
The River Salz divides the new town from the old, and it’s here that the full on tourist experience begins. A cobbled street with high end names in fashion and jewellery entice the crowds – though at this time of the day it’s not too busy. Just about everyone stops for a photo at Mozart’s birthplace – mainly to reflect on a poignant moment in musica history, but also to top up on snacks from the Spar shop that sits at street level. The kid in my photo even dressed up so he would blend in.
The Mirabell Palace wasn’t the first example of Arbishops showing off. High on the hill – minus a lonely goat – stands the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Building work here was started in 1077, and various extensions continued until 1519. If you’re feeling brave, you can walk all the way up – but easier access is found via the Funicular Railway. Yes, this may be a rest day, but I’m still using trains. The current one opened in 1892 – but an early form of it existed as long ago as 1515, when goods were hauled up the hillside.
Today it’s teeming with tourists. A basic adult ticket comes in at €14, which includes a return trip on the railway and access to most of the fortress. A bit extra gets you access to the State Rooms – but the real attraction here are the views. NewsMutt got his picture just before a large and enthusiastic group of Japanese visitors got in the way.
Back at ground level the streets are filled with a combination of visitors and local people. It seems a lot of the restaurants have missed out on a trick here. During the height of the summer every square and pavement would be filled with tables and parasols, but perhaps these few warm days are an exception to the rule in March, when rain and snow would deter any idea of alfresco dining.
Everywhere is a picture postcard, and so impossibly beautiful that you could easily forget about regular lives. A few beggars are dotted around corners and on the roads leading from the new to the old town. But unlike some other European cities there’s no sign of mass homelessness, no tents in parks or difficult walks near the railways station. Perhaps the city’s leaders have cleaned it up and hidden them eleswehere.
And so to the evening. I’m in search of the perfect Salzburg pint. And it doesn’t come much more authentic than at the Augustine Beer Hall. Housed in a former monestry, brewing here dates back to the early sixteenth century. The vast complex means there are enough seats for everyone. And it’s self service, so no awkward waits at the table. You just present your stein (a half or one litre) at the counter and choose from three our four house beers. To soak it all up there are a selection of independent food traders serving up everything from schnitzel to sausages, or just a simple pretzel. It’s a brilliantly basic concept – and it works.
There’s just a few hours to enjoy the city by night. And having sampled the true spirit of the city, I end up in familiar territory, At the Celtic Spirit Irish Bar. It’s described as the “best Irish bar in Salzburg”, and I can’t file a complaint with trading standards. Tending the bar tonight is Fionn from County Clare and his mate James from Westmeath. They are both in their early twenties and so typically Irish in their conversations, humour and outlook I may as well be in Cork. The Guinness flows and we’re joined by Diego, a Mexican mate of the lads – who is studying something international and “seeing all of Europe”.
Well why not? It’s been a brief but enjoyable stay here – and the place looks just as attractive by night than it does during the day.
Auf weidersehn, Austria. Tomorrow, Slovenia.