The Hills Are Alive……..

It was onward to Salzburg from Vienna.  My ticket cost $65 for the 2 1/2 hour train ride. My apartment was conveniently a 10 minute walk to the train station.  I got up early Friday morning, the 28th, finished packing and walked to the station. I was about an hour early and my plan was to get a cup of coffee and relax while waiting for the train.

Ha!  That wasn’t what the universe had planned. I arrived to a very quiet station.  The train board said something about my train being canceled.  Actually, the whole board read canceled for all trains.  There were two men giving people an explanation.  The man I spoke with could speak little English but I understood the German word “kaput” when he said the “train was kaput”.  He told me to make my way to another train station….I think it was Hadersdorf.

I arrived to utter chaos!  This was an extremely small station and there were an over abundance of people on the platform waiting for various trains.  It seems that there was some kind of an accident with a train in Vienna and it closed down the West Train Station, one of the major ones in the city.  What a nightmare that must have been for the person having to coordinate the trains to go to other train stations for people to catch.

Fortunately, I found an Austrian who could speak English and was kind enough to help with the translation of the announcements.  A train arrived bound for Salzburg and my new friend asked if I had a ticket for Westbahn and I said yes.  So, he wished me a safe trip.  I got on, got settled and the young girl across from me asked if I had a ticket for the train.  I showed her by ticket and she said it was for the train OOB, not this train which was Westbahn.  My confusion when the man asked me is the train station I was originally leaving from is called Westbahnhof and the private train is called Westbahn….see what I mean?

I was back to waiting for another 45 minutes for the OOB train.  This train had small individual compartments that seated 6 people. I was in one with 5 other adults who spoke mostly German.  One lady did speak a little English.  It was a lovely ride. The day was sunny with blue sky and we rode through country side dotted with pastures of cows, small villages with the quintessential church steeple.  Closer to Salzburg we started having views of the mountains and at one point, we passed by a lake.  It was a lovely ride.

I arrived at 3:30, rather than 12:30 as originally scheduled.  The apartment that I had rented was a 20 minute walk from the train station. It was a lovely apartment!  The original apartment that I had inquired about was much smaller.  That one wasn’t available but the landlord had this one available and was willing to rent it to me for the same price.  So, I accepted.  It was decorated very contemporary…not my taste but still, the apartment was nice.  I was amazed by the shower….it did just about everything but wash me!  It had a spray system for the body, an overhead nozzle and then a regular nozzle.  There was a small seat which folded down.  Plus, system which allowed you to turn on a light inside, play the radio or a CD and answer the phone!

Having arrived so late, I dropped off my backpack and headed out the door to explore Salzburg before it got too dark.  My apartment was located on the newer side of town but to get to the Old City, it was a nice walk through the back part of the Mirabell Gardens and along the Salzach River.  There are nice walking/biking trails that follow the river and about five bridges to cross to the Old City side.  Along this walk, I got my first view of the fortress standing proudly over the old city.  Again, it had been 35 years since I was last in Salzburg and I really couldn’t remember all that much about the city. I remembered the streets being narrow but I had forgotten about the fortress…how, I don’t know, but I had!

The small, narrow streets that I remembered were still small and narrow and were full of tourist visiting the variety of souvenir, clothing shops and restaurants that were lining them.  I walked along Getreidegasse street and came upon an open air market in the Universitatsplatz. They were selling cheeses, vegetables, wonderful breads, pretzels and lebkuchen cookies – they are like our gingerbread cookies.  I continued along the narrow streets passing through various squares – the Alter Platz that has the well known Cafe Tomaselli.  Continuing on, I walked pass the Cathedral in Domplatz and into Kapitelplatz which brought me to the base of Festungsgasse.  It was a street that went up, so I started climbing.  I got to the entrance of the fortress but it was close to closing time and I decided to wait until I had more time to tour it properly.  As you can see, I was rewarded by a nice view of the Old City.  The Gold Sphere was a piece of art work on display as part of the Salzburg Art Project of the Salzburg Foundation. This piece of art was in the Kapitelplatz.

I retraced my steps down the road and rather than turning left, to continue the way I came up, I followed the road around the hill and was given a wonderful surprise of a beautiful view of the mountains!  While I was standing there, I kept hearing the tinkling of a bell….like one that you would have on a goat.  I looked around but I couldn’t see any animals.  There was a tall wall behind me and I thought that it might be behind that.  There was a young man next to me and I asked him about it.  He couldn’t speak much English but he understood the word “bell”.  He took me through the gates behind us into the courtyard of a small church and pointed to the steeple of the church.  I understood what he was suggesting but the bell I was hearing wasn’t a church bell and of course, whatever it was attached to, had stopped moving!!! So, I couldn’t have him listen when I did hear it.  I believe that he worked at the church as he left me in the courtyard and disappeared behind a door.

It was a beautiful, peaceful place.  The church was closed as it was late.  There was a note on the door saying that it was a place of worship and requested no tours enter.  If one did want to go in, to please respect the privacy.  In the courtyard were lovely graves that had beautiful flowers planted on them.  The one with pansies reminded me of my grandmother, who loved pansies and had them planted around her home.  Some of the headstones were ornate crosses.  All of the graves were of women, so I assumed that it was an abbey that I had stumbled on.  I later discovered that it was indeed an abbey. It was Abbey Nonnberg, that was founded in 714, making it the oldest women’s religious order in the German speaking world!!  It is also the abbey that Maria von Trapp had been in before she went to be a governess for the Captain von Trapp’s seven children.  All of which was made famous by the movie “The Sound of Music”!

As I was walking back down the hill, I encountered this friendly guy….who only had eyes for his ball!!  Isn’t he great??  I, also, saw him the following day while I was out and about!

It was getting late and I was getting hungry so I went to the grocery store and bought some food to prepare at the apartment.  Walking back over the bridge, I had a beautiful view of the Old City lit up at night.  I just love how they have the fortress lit up and the Collegiate Church in the foreground.  How fortunate I was to see such a wonderful sight!

Since doing so many museums in Prague and
Vienna, I really wanted to do something totally different in Salzburg. I felt as though I need a “museum break”.  So, on Saturday, I decided to hike along the Mönchsberg, one of the five mountains that surrounds Salzburg. I researched it and if I started at the west end, I could hike along the top of the range and eventually end up at the fortress.  The plan was to do the hike to the fortress and then tour the fortress.  It was a nice trail and I met several other who had the same idea of walking that day as well.

This view shows the Salzach River and part of the wall of the Muelln fortification (1614-1648).

As you can see from the pictures, the views were incredible and I got some really wonderful views of the fortress.   It wasn’t a real sunny day but it was comfortable.  I really enjoyed the walk. I came upon the Modern Art museum that was open in 2004.  It is a modern building design which incorporated a 19th century water tower that is next to it.  Munich-based Friedrich Hoff Zwink team of architects won a competition over 145 other designs submitted for the art museum, because he included the water tower.

Richferhöln Fort with Salzburg basin in background

Continuing on, I came upon the Gasthaus Stadtalm cafe.  It was a lovely day and many people were at the various tables outside enjoying the view and nice weather. I sat down thinking I would have a coffee but at the last minute, I changed my mind and kept walking.  The walk took me  along the ancient wall that once protected the city.  I took a path that took me to Richferhöln the fortification built in 1367 and gave me a view of the southern Salzburg basin.

After taking several pictures in this area, I continued on my walk and five minutes later, I was at the gate of the Hohensalzburg Fortress which overlooks Salzburg’s Old City.

By this time, it was about 2:00 in the afternoon and the line to get in was considerably long.  However, it moved very quickly and before long,  I was inside and took the tour that was offered with the ticket.  The fortress has such rich history.  It was built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard. Through the years 1495-1519, it was expanded by Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach.  Today, it is the largest, fully-preserved fortress in central of Europe.

The tour took us up one of the towers with stops in various rooms that gave more of the history of the fortress.  At the top of the tower, we were treated to a magnificent view of all of Salzburg.  Once back in the courtyard, I went to the Golden Hall and Golden Chamber that are both decorated in Gothic with intricate wood carvings and decorative painting on the walls and ceilings.  Today, the Golden Hall is used for classical music concerts.  As you can see below, the decoration was quite impressive!

There was a Palace Museum and Marionette Exhibit but I had seen enough and left the fortress by going down the funicular.  That took me to the Old City.  I decided it was time for a coffee at Tomaselli, the oldest cafe in Austria having been established in 1703!  It was nice to sit and relax with the coffee and watch people walk by outside.

I had a ticket to a Mozart concert at the St Peter Church.  As I was walking toward the venue, I came upon a group of about 20 couples dressed in traditional Austrian costumes walking around.  It was really a wonderful sight.  The women are wearing the dress called a Drindl.  It is a form fitting bodice with colorful aprons covering the skirts.  The men are in Lederhosen that can be knee length or calf length and made out of leather.  People tend to wear these outfits more in the autumn.  It was a fun sight to see.

The concert was a piano concert of Mozart, Salzburg’s son, played by Biliana Tinlikova from Salzburg.  She was an amazing player. First, she played his Sonata in A minor all three movements without any music.  It was lovely.  After a brief intermission, she played Mozart’s Sonata in A major.  Again, by memory.  For an encore, she played an amazing piece by Listz Tarantella….it was a very complicated piece and it was such a pleasure to watch her fingers fly over the keyboard.  It was a wonderful evening.

Sunday was my last day in Salzburg and on Saturday, I had signed up for a tour of the “Sound of Music” which included the village of Hallstatt.  On my first trip to Europe, when my mother came over for a visit, we did the Sound of Music tour which I remembered very well.  I really didn’t care to repeat the tour again, but I really wanted to go to Hallstatt and being Sunday, it would have taken me hours to get there with public transportation.

I went with Bob’s Special Tours as it sounded like their tours were with smaller groups.  Plus, it was recommended in my Rick Steve’s book.  It was a wonderful tour…there was only another couple, myself and the tour guide!  We only hit the highlights of the Sound of Music.  We visited, Leopoldskron Castle which was used as the house for the von Trapp family. Today, it is owned by Harvard University.  The gazebo was a prop built for the movie. It used to be on the property but fans of the movie would trespass to visit it, so it was moved to a public park at Hellbrun Palace in Salzburg.  After seeing the gazebo, it was onto the church where Maria married the captain.  That was in the town of Mondsee.  It is the Basilica of Saint Michael.

It was a Sunday and the church service was just finishing up.  We saw the procession as the priest and choir exited.  It was the feast day of St Michael, the saint the church was named after.  There was a group of men dressed in a uniform of Liderhosen and purple wool jackets carrying these large  black powdered rifles.  It was a special club of men that fire these guns on special occasions.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good picture of their rifle but you can see the large barrel they have resting on their shoulder.
They made a loud “boom” when they fired them!

The tour continued on through the lake district, of course listening to the Sound of Music CD…which we all sang along with.  As we passed the green pastures…listening to the music, I just wanted the guide to stop the car so we could hop out and run through the fields singing “The hills are alive….”   You could really get caught up in the moment!!!

The next stop was lunch.  It was at a great restaurant that was full of locals and not tourist…thank you, Martina (our tour guide).  The restaurant was on a hill near the town of St Gilgen on Lake Wolfgang and we had a wonderful view of the lake.  I had a lovely meal of salad, roasted potato and lake trout.  All very good.

Then, it was onto Hallstatt!!  As we got closer to the village, the mountains got more rugged.  These mountains contain an ore of salt and the villagers have been mining the salt since beginning of time. I read that it is the oldest salt mine in the world and they are still mining it today.  In earlier times, salt was a valuable commodity used for trading goods, preserving foods, etc.  It made Hallstatt a very wealthy town.  In 1890, the first road to Hallstatt was built. Prior to that, the village, which is located on a lake, was only accessible by boat.

Today, along with salt, tourism helps the economy.  It is such a cute little town built on the side of a mountain.  There are no roads but stairs and walkways to get around the village.  We made our way to the 12th century Church of Saint Michael at the top of the town.  In the chapel of the church is the Bone House.  There is very little room to bury the dead in Hallstatt and in earlier times, cremation was not allowed.  Every 10 to 15 years, in order to make room to bury the dead, the graves are open to remove the skulls and some of the bones.  The skull is then bleached by being placed in the sun and moon light for several weeks until they were ivory white.  The family would then decorate the skull by painting it with a wreath of flowers….much like putting flowers on the grave.

This tradition started in 1720 and the last skull placed in the Bone House was in 1995 by the request of the woman.  She died in 1983.  It was a sight unlike anything I have seen in my travels.  When I first heard about it as the guide was describing it, I thought it would be very gruesome to look at.  Actually, I felt that it was very respectful.  Now that I think about it, I saw a catacomb at the Monastery of San Francisco in Lima, Peru. There were an estimated 80,000 people buried there.  The dead were buried under dirt and lime, as the bodies decomposed, the bones would be removed and stacked neatly to make room for more dead.  Today, the skulls and bones are arranged in neat, geometric patterns and other bones, are arranged together….for example, the femurs are all together in a pile, the humerus are arranged in another pile.  Other than that display of bones, I have not seen any others until I saw the Bone House.

The rest of the time, we had about an hour, I spent just walking through the walkways and clicking pictures…everywhere was a “kodak moment”.  I loved this village and so wished that I had planned to stay here for a night or two.

After we arrived back in Salzburg, I had Martina drop me off at the Mirabell Gardens as I hadn’t had time to see them.  It was my last day in Salzburg and I spent an hour walking through them before heading home to pack.

They are lovely.  I am grateful that there was still enough daylight to enjoy them.  They are located next to the Mirabell Palace which houses the office for the Salzburg mayor and municipal council.  The gardens are done in the Baroque style using symmetry, fountains and elaborate ornamental arrangements of the flowers.  I was so lucky, considering that it was the end of September, that I was visiting and the flowers were still beautiful!

Apart from the garden on an upper level was the Dwarf Garden.  This is a small area with several statues of odd shaped people. It was created in 1715 by Prince Archbishop Franz Anton Harrach.  Many of the statues were modeled after the dwarfs who were entertainers for the archbishop and lived in the court.  For over a hundred years, the Dwarfs were absent from the gardens.  Crown Prince Ludwig had them removed out of concern for his wife and their unborn child.  It wasn’t until 1921 that the Salzburg Society for the Preservation of Local Amenities brought this part to Salzburg’s cultural heritage to the attention of the city councilors and convinced them to place the nine statues back in the garden.

One final note about the gardens. It was in this spot that Julia Andrews and the seven “von Trapp” children sang “Do, Re, Mi” in the movie!

So, that was my time in Salzburg. It is such a lovely city and the green space surrounding it offers some many options for hiking. I could have easily spent another 2 or 3 days here.  Next to come is my time in Munich and visiting with my dear friend, Lydia…who I met 35 years ago, two weeks into my first trip and had not seen for 28 years!  Stay tuned!

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