Österreich: Salzburg

Writer Hermann Bahr once described the city of Salzburg as “Music transformed into stone.” As the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of the film The Sound of Music, it is a saying thrown around there a fair bit. I’m not sure I would have said it myself, but after exploring the city for 6 days I can see why others would. I went into this trip not knowing terribly much about Salzburg, not caring about Mozart at all, and having never seen the Sound of Music, and I still had an amazing vacation.

I guess this guy is a big deal or something.

The first important thing I did I did before I arrived: I bought a Salzburg Card. These things are amazing: they give you one-time free admission into pretty much every museum, tourist attraction, and sightseeing opportunity in or near the city for 24, 48, or 72 hours. It also acts as a bus ticket, allowing you to take (most) public transportation for free while it’s active. My 72-hour card cost me something like €37 and paid for itself by the second day. I think I got about €60-70 worth out of this thing, and it was such a good deal that when it expired I bought a 48-hour one the next morning. If you’re doing more than about 3-4 things in Salzburg, get it and marvel at what insanely good value you’re getting.
The second thing I did to cut down on costs was to book a bed in a youth hostel instead of a hotel or using AirBnB. Basically, you get a room that has 4-8 bunk beds in it, a locker for each bed, and one tiny desk and two chairs. You go there to sleep and store your things and that’s about it; you use the common areas downstairs for socializing, and share bathrooms and showers with the entire floor. I stayed at a place called Yoho, which I’m told is one of the best hostels in Europe for the price that you pay. It even had a bar that served breakfast,and dinner (though you paid extra for those). I paid around €18/night, compared to €100/night for hotels and €65/night for AirBnB. The quarters were definitely cramped – you have no privacy, ever – but I never felt unsafe and the facilities were very clean and well-maintained. It was also close to both the train station and the city center, making it a choice I’m glad I made.

I decided to pack light for this trip, taking only what I could stuff into a single backpack. I took about 2-3 changes of clothes, toiletries, a hairbrush, a book, a miniature tablet, and chargers for my devices, all to last me for a 10-day trip. With non-essentials stowed at the hostel, I embarked on my adventures. I won’t bore you with a total breakdown of everything I did, but I’ll show you some of my favorite bits. Suffice to say I did a lot in 6 days.

The first day was kind of unfortunate. This was my first proper vacation I’ve ever been on without my parents; I love them dearly, but on our family trips I often got frustrated with slow decision-making, or when they wanted to do things I didn’t want to do, or when we had to stop and rest when I wasn’t tired yet. I didn’t have to deal with any of that this time, so I went a bit overboard. Leaving my hostel at 8:45am, I went to three museums, including walking up to and through the Fortress then back down again, finally returning home at about 5:30pm. I had walked the entire way, and woke up the next morning with a truly nasty sore throat that progressed into a head-cold. It didn’t ruin the trip, but it definitely taught me the importance of restraint and pacing myself.

There are two things I did that compete for my favorite thing. The first was climbing to the Fortress. It really is an imposing sight: it dominates the city’s skyline and is visible even from the outskirts. Construction began in 1077 (one-thousand seventy-seven!) as a small castle with a wooden wall and, since the castle never fell to invaders, each subsequent Archbishop who called it their home over the centuries just kept adding to it. The rest of Salzburg is very baroque and Renaissance, but the Fortress is downright medieval and I love it.

Located some 1660 feet above the ground. Try taking that thing with ladders and wooden rams.

 There is a funicular that takes you up and down to the Fortress in something like 49 seconds, but as a maker of poor decisions in life I walked up to it. The walk was nothing special, honestly; nothing like the walk up to the Heidelberger Schloss. The funicular ride is even covered under the Salzburg card, so I truly had no excuse. Oh well.

The interior makes me think of Mount & Blade, though I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.

The interior is neat. While you’re inside it feels almost like a small, walled town; which, I suppose, it once was. There are a couple of restaurants, a museum, and a gift shop there now. It’s very stark and ornamentation is minimal, limited to carvings and murals on a few of the walls. Some people would be mad that it was overcast and rainy for 5 days out of the trip, but I felt like it fit the aesthetic of the city – and the Fortress especially – very well.

This tree was one of the only living, non-human things in the Fortress. A couple potted plants and some moss otherwise.

A big reason you ascend the castle is to walk the ramparts and look out over the city. Since it’s atop a hill, almost every direction has a magnificent view.

The blue-domed building in the front there is the famous cathedral. It looks much better on the inside, I promise.

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold…”

I actually ascended the Fortress twice, once a couple days after the first time. I’m glad I did, because it was foggy on the first day and there were some mountains I didn’t even realize were there! I come from Minnesota, where the only mountains are deposited next to parking lots by snowplows every winter; I can never get enough of these things. And it’s not like there’s only one big mountain and everything else is flat; they just keep rolling into the distance, gradually fading into the background and merging with the horizon. In Freiburg the mountains aren’t tall enough to be snow-peaked, but in Salzburg they are, and my jaw hits the floor every single time I see them.

My environment descriptions in my D&D campaigns will definitely be improving after this trip.

The view is amazing and breathtaking, but I found the inside of the Fortress just as engaging, because there’s a huge museum showcasing the military history of the castle and of Salzburg in general. It has some medieval stuff, but mostly focuses on the Renaissance and Industrial eras and even has a whole exhibit devoted to World War 1, the most important war that history keeps glossing over.

If I have to show only one photo of this museum, it’ll be this diorama. Note the cannon in the background, and the live humans for scale.

 The Fortress gift shop is the coolest gift shop I’ve ever seen, by the way. Souvenirs you find in places like this are often hideously overpriced, mass-produced junk, but the prices there weren’t bad and they had so much cool stuff! Wooden swords and shields (have fun taking those through customs), figurines of knights, miniatures of the Fortress itself, and all sorts of neat things. I bought 3 things and would have bought more if I had had more space in my bag.
The other thing I would describe as my favorite would be the Untersberg mountain. I’m not actually certain which one it is from the perspective of the city, but it may very well be visible in one of the above photos. You take a bus to a cable car that climbs 1776 meters (about 5800 feet, or over a mile high). If I can go on a brief aside: I’m slightly peeved because the hostel front desk told me that the bus going there was not covered by the Salzburg Card, but I saw people successfully using it as their bus ticket. I could have saved 5!

Anyway, after taking the rickety old cable car with scratched up windows up the side of the mountain, you step out into fresh snow. As a born-and-raised Minnesotan, I paid money to see fresh snow on my summer vacation and I couldn’t be happier with the decision. If the view from Hochsalzburg was cool, this was downright otherworldly.

I hiked from about here to that cross atop that peak on the right.

“Yes, indeed. It is called Lothric, where the transitory lands of the Lords of Cinder converge…”

This picture does not adequately display just how steep this U-shaped hill was. I slipped and fell many times, both ways.

I skipped Mozart’s birth-house, the house where he lived, and pretty much anything to do with him or the Sound of Music. The former two buildings are very unassuming, located in the middle of the main shopping street sandwiched between chain clothing stores and whatnot. I did watch the Sound of Music for the first time at my hostel, which was entertaining for an evening but is definitely not necessary to enjoy Salzburg. What a rich history and vibrant, yet stark and reserved demeanor the city has, complemented by the grim weather but not at all diminished when the sun shined on the last day either.

The sky is blue but the river is still green. I’m not sure why.

I felt like I accomplished a lot, and after the 6 days felt “done” and ready to come home to Freiburg.
But I had another 4 left to go. More on that next time.

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