Monday, June 27, 2011

Salzburg AND Salzberg

On Sunday, June 19, a friend of mine and I took a road trip to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is about 2 hours from Penzberg, just across the Bavarian border, so it was a perfect day-trip destination.

Salzburg is a quintessential middle-European city. Situated in an Alpen valley, Salzburg boasts a rich cultural history. It is the home of many musical masters such as Mozart, Johann Haydn (Joseph's brother), and Mohr, and, for science geeks like me, Christian Doppler (Doppler effect!). Salzburg is characterized by Baroque architecture, much of which was preserved and/or rebuilt after the World Wars ravaged parts of the city. Several abbeys and universities are located within Salzburg as well which add to the reverent and academic feel of the city (in addition to the "liveliness" that the student presence injects, according to the tour books).

As for its name, Salzburg literally translates to, "Salt Castle," which is a reference to the enormous fortress situated on top of a hill overlooking the city. I kept confusing "Salzburg" and "Salzberg" (which translates to, "Salt Mountain"), and I couldn't remember how to spell it. My friend set me straight that the name is an homage to the fortress, not the mountains, and somehow that stuck with me (that, and I remember that the "burg" of "Salzburg" is not the "berg" in "Penzberg," and Penzberg definitely doesn't have a castle or fortress within it :)).

Needless to say, Salzburg, no matter how you spell it, is beautiful.

We arrived in Salzburg around lunchtime and immediately set out on our adventure. My friend led me into old town Salzburg, and, before I could get my bearings, we were already standing in front of Mozart's birthplace. It was incredible to stop and think that such a musical genius could have stood in the same place as I was, 300 years before. As soon as this dawned on me, I expanded my gaze and immediately understood the possible inspiration for musical masterpieces (not limited to Mozart, of course) - Old town Salzburg is breathtaking, and the fresh mountain air is crisp, clean, and refreshing. I could envision composers sitting in their flats with the windows open or in one of the many cafes around the town getting lost in their music.
Apparently, to add to this feeling, the open courtyards and streets of the old town are often filled with live Baroque and other classical music. However, since the day we were visiting was rather rainy, there were no consistent street musicians. I can only imagine what Salzburg is like during the music festivals...

After we saw the house, we wandered through the streets stopping at various churches and abbeys along the way. Specifically, we stopped at the Franzikaner (Franciscan) abbey and the Salzburg Dom (cathedral). The abbey church was surprisingly ornate with elements (like massive neutral columns) that reminded me of the Bamberg Dom. Because folks were within the church praying after mass, I only took a few pictures, as my camera makes obnoxious noises when in use. The mental pictures and feelings from entering the abbey will stay with me forever. That was probably one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. Just amazing.
Then we went to the cathedral, where mass was just letting out. Holy cow - the cathedral was incredible. Everywhere you looked (even on the ceilings), there was something new and significant to take in. Everything within the church obviously had a purpose, and half of the fun of exploring it was guessing the mysterious reason for some of the more obscure characteristics or facets within it. More obvious to the eye were the Stations of the Cross which were individually separated into their own sections, indicated by Roman numerals above the arches. It was impressive to see basically ENTIRE rooms/altars dedicated to each Station. The organs (yes, plural) were also simple but gorgeous, and there were so many crevices and upper rooms that I would have loved to tour, but, alas, they were roped off. The crypt, however, was not roped off, and it was a peaceful and cool escape from the busy nave. It houses many tombs of significant religious figures of the region, a small chapel, and an art exhibit. I must be honest and say that the art exhibit, which had a very macabre theme (not in the religious sense, either), just didn't fit with the rest of the crypt, ironically. I found it reminded me more of a Hallmark Halloween celebration...
As we stepped out of the Dom, we were greeted by accordion music. We followed it and, much to my surprise, found a small boy (probably no more than 8 or 10 years old) playing an enormous accordion with great perfection. I'm not a fan of the accordion, but I could have listened to him play all day, and it could have just been because he was an enthusiastic performer. Just incredible.
We walked through the adjacent courtyard and found ourselves in a remarkable, old cemetery. Cemeteries in this part of the world are different from those we see in the States, as each grave is essentially topped with a raised flower garden. Family and designated guardians are responsible for maintaining the graves, and it is very apparent that a lot of pride and care is taken at every plot. Flowers and greenery abounded, which made a place of beauty and joy out of what could be a dark and sad site. I love this aspect of Austro-Bavarian life.
The cemetery itself was extremely old - I think I might have seen a couple of graves that were from the 1900s, but many of the graves dated as far back as the 17th century (that I saw). A small chapel was also located in the cemetery for visitation ceremonies, and it was dated in the 1400s, so I assume there were probably graves that were much older than those I saw. Additionally, catacombs had been built into the mountain side, so we toured those as well. People must have been MUCH smaller than we are today when they built the tunnels and chapels in the mountain, as I was feeling a bit cramped making the hike up into the catacombs. Regardless the size, the view from the catacombs was, of course, breathtaking and led to an intense sense of calm and peace. Amazing.
When we came down from the catacombs, Baby A and I were starting to get really hungry, so we convinced our partner in crime to go down into town for a bite of lunch. We wanted to eat at Cafe Tomaselli, but when we looked at their menu, we realized they primarily serve desserts and coffees, so we settled for a street vendor instead. I had a hot dog, which is traditionally served on a bun with ketchup and mustard only (the way I like it!), so I was happy as a clam. And my friend got a cheese bratwurst, which was also delicious.

Once we had an appropriate lunch, we decided to go back to Cafe Tomaselli. Established in 1705, this cafe has hosted many of the significant historical figures of the past few centuries. And their desserts (and supposedly their coffee, though I couldn't try any) definitely attest to their longevity - it's good there isn't a Cafe Tomaselli close to my house, as I would probably visit it every day (and exponentially gain weight!), both for the delicious treats and the classic atmosphere. While we were indulging in our treats (I had a Viennese cake and a hot chocolate), it started to rain heavily, so we took that opportunity to rest our feet and chat for an hour or so. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: How European of us! :) I loved it.

With happy bellies and a break in the rain, we headed out of the old town and up towards the Mirabell Palace and gardens. I'm a sucker for formal gardens, so this was right up my alley. We didn't tour the castle itself, but the grounds kept us busy sightseeing for more than an hour. Combinations of flowers and colors I hadn't considered before were in front of us, and statues and fountains were heavily sprinkled across the grounds. Aside from flowering plants, there were shrubs and trees that lined narrow walkways that gave us the sense of walking through a labyrinth (yes, I thought of David Bowie at that moment). And as we came out from the secret passages through the greens, we would come upon a statue or fountain. I was particularly taken with one fountain that highlighted a beautiful woman washing her feet and legs. There was something so serene on her face that I probably could have sat in her presence all day.
On the flipside, there was a courtyard of freaky Medieval miniature statues that I could have done without seeing. I tried to appreciate their artistic value, but I couldn't get over how disturbing they were: Many of their faces were distorted (and not from being exposed to the elements for years, either), and they were in odd and striking poses. I am sure I did not appreciate them fully for what they represented, but I was disturbed enough not to really want to linger too long in their presence. I included a picture of one of the least freaky statues below.
Once we finished touring the Mirabell gardens, my hips were starting to really hurt, so we decided it was time to head back to Penzberg.

There is still more that I would like to see and do in Salzburg, such as tour the Salzburg fortress or attend a Baroque concert or try one of the Mozart chocolates, but I will have to save those for my next trip. For being only a few hours, we made the most of our trip and I feel like I got a great feel for Salzburg. I look forward to visiting it again one day.

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