Austria: Mozart, Monsters, and More Markets (Mike)
After our stay in Nuremberg, we boarded a train to Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Perhaps more importantly, this is also where they filmed The Sound of Music. After staying in the middle of the city in Nuremberg, we were in the mood for some rural accommodations, so Laura booked us a room in a functioning farmhouse in the middle of a meadow surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Continuing the pleasant trend of Germany, our taxi driver spoke English, so when we told him that we were headed to “Moosestrasse,” without giving him and address, he was able to say “that’s the longest street in Saltzburg, I have no idea where to take you .” After looking up the actual address, we were on our way. As he drove, he told us all about the city where he had grown up in and lived for the past 70 years, at one point literally jumping out of the car in the middle of traffic to grab a hand-made guidebook from out of his trunk, which he had put together from magazine cutouts – very cute. Cab drivers over age 65 get to do whatever they want as far as I’m concerned.
The first day, we caught the bus back into the Old Town area which is sliced in two by a beautiful river and sandwiched between two large hills. After strolling down the main shopping street, we got off the beaten path and climbed straight up on of the hills for a stunning view of the city and a stroll through a wintery forest landscape lit up deep orange by the setting up. We passed the former burial ground of Mozart and explored a small castle on the other side of the hill before descending back into town.
At the Tourist Information Office, we learned that we had arrived on the night of the Krampuslauf, which is a pagan custom dating back hundreds of year in which townsmen put on incredibly scary and realistic yeti costumes with loud cow bells and run screaming through the narrow cobblestone streets to scare away the evil spirits for the coming year. Along the way, they whip onlookers with horsehair whips and smear people’s faces with coal. We found ourselves smack in the middle of this crazy event and Laura got nailed right in the face. She quickly cheered up when we ducked into a rum bar and ordered hot orange-flavored rum, which was incredible on a freezing cold night. Yetis and orange rum…great stuff!
Here are some videos of the madness, notice how the guy in the first one looks scared, but unsure what to do about it:
The next day, we enjoyed perhaps the best single afternoon/evening of our entire trip. Saltzburg is crowned with an imposing white fortress which dates back to the 1000’s and we bought tickets for a dinner/classical music concert in the fortress. Around 3pm, we started the slow walk up the rather steep hill. Meanwhile, to set the stage, Christmas carols sung by a children’s choir drifted up from the town square below (not unlike the Who’s down in Whoville) and a light snow swirled around us. As we got closer to the fortress, the view of the city got better and better. As we entered into the fortress, we were met with the cutest little Christmas Market of all time, laid out around a huge and ancient oak tree, strewn with bright orange star lights. There were people selling all kinds of Christmas goodies out of little decorated wooden huts: candles, salamis, wood carvings, hand-made soaps, ornaments, and, of course, more gluhwein (steaming hot red wine with spices)! We loaded up with gluhwein and stood at a table by the oak tree, soaking in all the Christmas cheer. We were so giddy that we went back to the gluhwein stand no less than three times in 20 minutes, and at that point we were literally loopy with Christmas cheer, as these photos demonstrate:
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, snow started falling gently and a three-piece horn band started playing Christmas carols. As we reached our Christmas climax, Laura shot this video which perfectly captured the moment:
Laura was loving every second of this despite a broken shoe which was rapidly filling with freezing cold water. Finally, the need to save her from frostbite forced us away from our yuletide revelry and inside the fortress for a guided tour. The tour showed the evolution of the fortress over time (and explained that Salzberg is named after the salt mines which made this area strategically important all the way back in Roman times), but the main attraction was the view from the top of the lookout tower. It was stunning and we got to see the entire city lit up just as the sun was setting.
The fun wasn’t over yet. We made our way over to the far end of the fortress for a surprisingly fantastic German meal with another great view of the city. Conveniently, we were seated next to a super-powered heater, so Laura was able to revive her literally frozen foot while we enjoyed beer, wiener schnitzel and potato dumplings. Then we made our way up to a stateroom at the top of the fortress for our classical music concert. We looked all around the impressively decorated room, with its huge carved wooden pillars and a ceiling painted with coats of arms from rulers of the fortress dating back to the 1000’s, as beautiful works by Mozart filled the chambers. Between the history, the music, the food, and the view, we were totally enchanted the entire time and talked about how great Austria was all the way back to our rural lodgings. It was definitely one of the most memorable days of our entire adventure.
The next morning we spent hunting for new shoes for Laura, which were rapidly filling with snow. Unfortunately, even though we were in the middle of a huge blizzard, there was no relief for poor Laura, because in all of Europe, her size 43 shoes literally cannot be found. It’s become a running joke here in Spain. When she goes into a shoe store to ask if they carry her size, the usual response from the clerk is to burst into laughter, only to recover a few seconds later when they realize that she is not joking with them. Then they just look sorry for her and say that she’s out of luck as 41 is the largest size. After getting rejected about 5 times, and with snow really coming down hard, Laura sunk her head in despair – just then a huge bus drove by and, in the most Hollywood-cliche manner possible – added insult to injury by splashing and soaking her with ice cold mud-water. If it hadn’t been so hilarious, I’m sure she would have cried. To make it up to her, we ducked into a warm-looking cafe and ordered a delicious- looking chocolate tart from a famous hotel bakery and drank hot coffee while we watched the snow fall outside. Bliss!