By Eugene Abrahams
Salzburg - For n75 return you can have two rides of your life – and for those more accustomed to Metrorail and Shosholoza Meyl you’ll think you’ve stepped into another world.
We were about to explore Vienna the next day, but then the idea was punted – why don’t we go to Salzburg by train instead? It leaves at 8.40am and arrives at 10.58am, and we’ll have five hours to explore this jewel in the Austrian crown.
It was drizzling in Vienna and rain was to accompany us to Salzburg. But damn if our mini-visit did not start on a sour note… the OBB railjet arrived in Salzburg three minutes late at 11.01am. I suppose that’s what you get when you stop at two stations in a journey of just over 300km.
Prior to the late arrival, the trip was a breeze, with a sort of luxury in economy class one can get used to but which locals take for granted. A full trolley service where one’s choice of coffee is prepared right there in a mini coffee machine, be it a cappuccino, latte, espresso or Americano; comfortable seats; clean windows; air-conditioning; overhead racks for luggage; toilets at the end of each carriage similar to those found on a plane; a dining car; a carriage mainly for families with TVs showing cartoons and a play area for children located at the end of the carriage; and free wi-fi.
In fact, the wi-fi speed was a lot faster than the railjet’s average of 200km/h, and I was able to have an e-mail conversation with the people back home, plus send pictures of the passing countryside, which was like a “50 shades of green”. As for the clickety-clack of the tracks, well, forget about that – it was like that Lionel Richie song, Easy like Sunday Morning, or Thursday in our case.
Now, you may think Salzburg is mainly Mozart and The Sound of Music – there are many SoM tours available if you want to be 16 going on 17 – but you’d be wrong. Close your ears for one moment to The hills are alive… and you’ll see the city has other attractions which could be your favourite things.
Things like the Mirabell Gardens, although even there you won’t escape the musical – it featured in the scene where Maria and the Von Trapp children danced round the Pegasus Fountain and then ran down the hedge arcade along the Grand Parterre singing Do-Re-Mi.
Built in 1689 and remodelled in 1730, the garden is considered one of the most beautiful Baroque gardens in Europe. If you take a moment, you can imagine the atmosphere of the past, with high society’s bewigged men and women strolling around, classical music in the background, drinking champagne, gossiping and simply enjoying the surroundings.
The central axis of the garden is aligned on Hohensalzburg Fortress, a castle set high on Festungsberg Mountain on the other side of the Salzach River. The mountain, as the city’s most dominant feature, can be seen from any angle in the city… and that was our main destination. Climb ev’ry mountain suddenly came to mind.
But before a bit of shopping – mother always said never shop on an empty stomach – there was the matter of lunch. To get to the restaurant you have to go through the shopping havens of the Altstadt (Old Town) – Getreidegasse (Mozart was born at No 9 in 1756), Judengasse, Alter Markt and Goldgasse.
These are Salzburg’s most exclusive shopping lanes and, even though it was raining and most of the luxury shops were closed for the religious holiday, Fronleichnam (the Feast of Corpus Christi), it was packed with tourists. Souvenir stores stayed open, selling everything a visitor could wish for, including The Sound of Music and Mozart mementoes.
Because the shops are expensive – Salzburg is considered Austria’s most expensive city – locals don’t frequent it, but if you’re a tourist and stacked with euros and a credit card, you’ll go mad.
This is just what I did, stocking up on Reber’s Mozartkugelns (chocolate balls that have either pistachio, marzipan or nougat centres), Austrian filter coffee, slabs of chocolates and a Sachertorte cake. My buying spree in the Reber shop was encouraged by a saleslady who offered me all sorts of chocolate samples, although the main reason I entered the shop was to get out of the rain. How was I to know she’d be so persuasive?
With that excursion out of the way, and a seafood lunch at Nordsee – a sort of Ocean Basket type place – it was onwards and later upwards to Hohensalzburg Fortress.
To get there you have cross the Salzach River and a unique part of the Makartsteg Bridge is the padlocks on its railings. The reason? Love locks. This worldwide craze, which seems to have hit Salzburg in a big way, is the latest way for lovers to declare their devotion to each other. Couples write their names and other sweet musings on padlocks and attach them to the fence along the bridge.
Standing in the Old Town square and looking up at the Hohensalzburg Fortress, you can understand why it came under siege only once. In 1525, protestant miners, peasants and farmers formed a coalition and Prince Archbishop Cardinal Matthaus Lang von Wellenburg, fearing for his life, fled to the fortress. However, the attackers were repelled by the cannons and armed soldiers, and in the Goldene Stube you can still see the crack in a marble pillar caused by a bullet during the attack.
The fortress, constructed in 1077, has never been conquered. When Napoleon invaded Austria in 1813, the townsfolk of Salzburg, wishing to keep its reputation of never having been vanquished intact, simply surrendered.
And though the fortress repelled invaders for centuries, today tourists gain access via a funicular constructed alongside the mountain. The trip costs n11 (which includes your admission ticket to the grounds and museums) and it takes you to the top in less than two minutes. You could tackle the steep walk but you should rather save your stamina for inside – there is lots to see and many steps to climb, up and down.
However, once at the top and looking down from the ramparts and its cannons – which were installed to defend Salzburg against an Ottoman invasion – the sights of Salzburg spread below are enough to distract you from seeing the true reason the castle was built.
During different historic periods, the fortress functioned as a prison and residence. With its dungeons, state and medieval rooms and bastions, it has three parts – a courtyard, the fortress itself, and the palace museum.
The museum is the best exhibit as it shows castle life – from music to torture rooms, a room used for nightly concerts, the Rainier military museum, dedicated to Salzburg regiments that fought in World War I and II (complete with uniforms, guns, rifles, armaments and armour), and the World of Marionettes, an exhibition of marionettes from around the world.
Before leaving Salzburg we had to make one more stop – no, not Mozart’s birthplace or two museums dedicated to him – but the Dom zu Salzburg, the town’s cathedral. On our way to the fortress I had spotted it and now was my chance to visit it.
The cathedral is, like most of the churches one visits in Europe, beautiful, steeped in history right up to its painted ceilings. Its interior is decorated with elaborate Baroque murals. Near the entrance is the Romanesque bronze font at which Mozart was baptised – the composer later served as an organist in the cathedral from 1779 to 1791. Mozart also wrote many of his compositions in the cathedral and the Coronation Mass was performed there for the first time.
In the modern crypt, traces of the old Romanesque cathedral that once stood on the current cathedral spot have been unearthed and can be viewed by the public. And, if you’ve given yourself time, make an appointment to see the cathedral’s treasures, collected in the 17th century. They are displayed in the nearby Dom Museum.
The cathedral, dedicated to Saints Rupert and Virgil, is among the treasures of sacred building art in the country. Not even an allied bomb that destroyed its dome on October 16, 1944, could leave a scar that time and effort could not erase. The archbishop at the time, Andreas Rohracher, organised the dome’s rebuilding. It was rebuilt in its original shape and the cathedral reopened for church services on May 1, 1959.
On leaving, I couldn’t help smiling when a man handing out cards thanking people for their donations asked “Where are you from?”. “Cape Town, South Africa.” “Well then, totsiens en dankie.”
If You Go...
Visa: Yes, a Schengen is required
Austria’s railjet: http://www.oebb.at/en/index.jsp
The Sound of Music tours: www.soundoftrudy.com/www.salzburg-tour-guide.com
Classic Expo of old cars (October 18-20): www.classicexpo.at
Salzburg sightseeing: www.salzburg-sightseeingtours.at
Hop-on-hop-off city tour: www.hoponhopoff.at (n15)
Hohensalzburg Fortress: www.salzburg-burgen.at/en/ hohensalzburg
Salzburg tourism: www.salzburg.info
Mozart museum: www.mozarteum.at - Saturday Star