Salzburg is one of the many places I associate with Christmas, though we visited there earlier. I guess it’s the mountains, the winter scenes the name conjures up, the whole “Heidi” thing. (I know, Heidi lived in Switzerland, but it does LOOK the same) Nothing says Christmas to me like a re-run of Shirley Temple’s Heidi. (Don’t forget I used to think I was Shirley Temple. I can show you the pictures.)
Apparently The Sound of Music has made Salzburg more famous than ever. Such is the power of the silver screen. (Look what Heidi did for me.) One of the biggest tourist attractions in Salzburg is the Sound of Music Tour, which is taken by 300,000 people per year. I confess I was one of them, but I hope that as many people also show up for the Mozart Festival.
We left Prague on a sunny day and drove through bright green fields bordered by bursting apple blossoms, patches of deep green firs, and fields of yellow rape. In short we drove through heavenly country all day, right through the now famous Cesky Krumlov. (Worth a trip, or at least a detour) I’d been there before, or I would have freaked as we passed it by. I spent a very memorable day there in1994. Unfortunately like most of the rest of the planet, it has been discovered.
However, our leaders had arranged a stop at Fara Zaton, a former monastery and church on a hill above the Moldau, in a valley of great natural beauty, eight miles south of Cesky Krumlov. This fourteenth century monastery is now a hotel. Here we spent a couple of hours wandering the property, comparing it to Vermont, snapping photos, and consuming a delicious lunch at the restaurant. It would be fun to stay here in this little known spot, where the owners were most accommodating.
On to Salzburg: It is a very walkable, fairy tale town, with the most beautiful church steeples, lots of green
copper domes, and a white castle high above the town. It is also where the clever Austrians transformed Nazi bunkers (in the side of the mountain) into underground parking, thus hiding one of modern man’s most persistent eyesores.
We stayed at the Hotel Altstadt right on the Salzach River, with a shopping street out the back entrance. Luckily, we drew much better digs than we had in Prague, with views of the river and mountains all around. Shops and restaurants were a stone’s throw from our door, as were the museums, churches and squares of Salzburg. There are other hotels, including the Schloss Monchberg, a Relais & Chateaux, which is high up on the mountain overlooking the city. There is also the Schloss Fuschl, a delightful spot 20 Kilometers from Salzburg, where I might be tempted to stay for a few days.
On balance, staying at the Altstadt or the Goldener Hirsch make the most sense for those without a car. There is so much to see in the center part of town, where shops and restaurants abound, all within a few pedestrian streets.
We enjoyed a walking tour with a well-informed local guide who had a bright perspective and a good sense of humor. Among the things we saw, the outdoor food market in the old town is a must, but it will make you want to rent a kitchen to cook in. Across the Mozart Bridge, the Mirabell Gardens on the other side of the river surround the Mozarteum, where we marveled at the baroque-ness during a period concert. We took the funicular up to the Castle for the spectacular views in all directions. Along the way, I made mental notes of the shops to which I felt a need to return.(You could do lots of Christmas shopping here. I did.)
First, there are many churches, the cathedral, and several art museums to visit, (and there may be a Guggenheim in the future, according to our guide, Helmut.)
We had had dinner at a sidewalk café the night before, soon the second evening, we dined with our group leaders, the Boyds, at St. Peter’s Stifftskellar, where I had the most delicious tender wiener schnitzel I ever had, accompanied by a white Gruner Veltliner (my new favorite Austrian wine)and ending with white chocolate mousse.
The successful evening continued with a concert in the “grosse saal” of the Festspielhaus. This “Jugenstil” (Austrian version of Art Deco) building is a knockout, with curved back arm-chair-like seats, which were stunning to look at, but decidedly uncomfortable.
The Mozarteum orchestra played Mozart’s clarinet concerto,KV622, probably my all-time favorite, and then Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. I was not looking forward to the Bruckner, but was richly rewarded for listening. I would gladly sit in those uncomfortable seats again to hear such well-played pieces. By the way, Ferdinand Steiner, a bass clarinetist, apparently well known to the audience, played the Mozart with a riff cadenza at the end that sounded for all the world like a Benny Goodman improvisation. Apparently, there is a place in the score for such a thing. The audience loved it.
Our Sound of Music Tour was led by Steve Clark, of Bob’s Tours, by way of Boston. He soon learned that our little group was not composed of dyed-in-the-wool Sound of Music lovers, so he proceeded to give us the shadow side of said Tour. This proved to be hilarious, as we learned how stupid the locals thought the movie makers were when they had the final scene showing the Trapp family “escaping” over a mountain right in the wrong direction. Hollywood apparently changed history and locations, and the Austrians still don’t understand the cult movie status of this film. It was a great outing around Salzburg, and gave us a chance to see the Salzkammergut Lake District, at ST. Gilgen, in addition to other sites in the movie.
Our concert at the Mozarteum was a period piece, and put us in mind of living in Mozart’s time. We learned much about the music of the time from the charmingly serious young conductor, whose enthusiasm was catching.
On our last day we were fortunate to have a boat ride on the Wolfgangsee across to St. Wolfgang, an extremely pleasant place, where we saw two wedding processions with the principals and the guests dressed in very up market versions of traditional Tyrolean dress.
Our final meal was again at the, with the Mozart String Quartet playing. It was a fitting conclusion to this unusual trip. By the way, we left from the small but efficient Salzburg airport, a simple, uncomplicated way to leave Austria.