The Hills Really Are

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Austria  ,
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Salzburg is a dainty little city broken into neat halves via the central Salzach river.  On one side is the old town and on the other lies the new.  Both sides of the river appear to be equally wealthy (with Schloss [Castle] Mirabell and Mirabell Gardens on the one side and the Residenz, Mozartplatz and the exclusive Getreidegasse ´indulgent shopping street´ on the other).  Most importantly, both sides of the river appear equally capable of extracting Euros from tourists (in their 100´s).

Baroque statues adorn every cobbled platz and garden: the end result a charming, refined and picturesque city.  Despite wandering through the city numerous times during our 3 day visit we seemed to discover a new fountain, new church or new embellished statue every single day.

We lived in a homestay ´Haus Lindern´ on the very edge of town (read: a 15 minute ride by public bus landed you in the heart of downtown).  This was a delightful house situated in a delightful meadow with delightful, colourful flower pots up a hideous hill.  The place was very nice, but the ascent and even the descent were absolute killers!  We were so removed from Salzburg city, TVs and tour agencies that it would have been possible for us to not even realise that this was Sound Of Music Town. [Most hostels play the movie every night when they aren't pushing 'Walk In Maria's Footsteps' Tours].

Salzburg is famous for being Mozart Town - he was born in the old town, lived in the new town and then hit 24 and abandoned the place.  For this reason, there are 4 types of Mozart chocolates in violin-shaped boxes, numerous flavoured Mozart alcohols, Mozart books, Mozart key rings, Mozart stuffed toys, you name it - they've got it.  However, Iain pointed out, quite correctly, that the one thing they don't seem to be flogging all over the town is his music.  It was much harder to find a CD of his work than it was to find Mozart alcohol.  There were a few concerts being promoted but I suppose it is a lot easier to sell grog and chocolates than classical music.

Our last day in Austria (and Germania) was spent ascending Monchsberg under a magnificent blue sky to peer out over the town from one of its most expansive (and breath taking) viewing locations. Our lunchtime splurge of goulash, bread dumplings and a traditional Sacher Torte was the perfect farewell to such a pretty city.

On a separate note: Does anybody know why Aldi is called Aldi all over the world but in German-speaking Austria it is called Hofer?  I suppose this is something for me to contemplate on our onward journey to London tonight.

* * *

Salzburg has many lures to tempt the visitor. It's scenic. It's where The Sound of Music was filmed. It is the birthplace of Mozart. It has big ass salt mines to visit and an epic fortress it built with the proceeds. Most importantly, it acts as a hub for the dodgy el cheapo airlines (the one's calling Air China to buy charred wrecks just for parts, 'melted planes mean hot hot prices!') - and it was the prospect of flying to London for $15 that saw us drawn here.  

This blog will be somewhat short - not because of a lack of things to do nor the fact we only spent three days here - but because of price elasticity. Price elasticity is the phenomenon where you would go on the tacky Sound of Music tour for $20, you'd think about for $30, and you laugh at the merest possibility of dropping $85 each on it. Guess the price, and you will know just how firmly the cash stayed put in the wallet.

Claude, through all this time, has been good in only asking me incredulously every 12 minutes "so you really haven't seen the Sound of Music???". No.

Its nigh on impossible not to enjoy a couple of days in Salzburg. They've had a 1000 years to build a graceful city and they've spent the time well. Funnily enough, by all accounts Mozart himself didn't think a great deal of the place, and left the city at 24 never to return. Fair enough too: no Sound of Music tour back then, and no one to care he was born there. Just "I'm from Salzburg, city of salt mines. How you doin'?".  

Mozart's tale is a salutary one: a child prodigy whose appeal dulled and career waned once he was shaving and stopped being cute. Dead at 35, and buried in an unmarked grave, never to know the success of his fledgling chocolate and booze industry.  

I have been told he contributed also to the field of music, but having visited his birthplace I can see no evidence of this. There are 437 chocolate shops featuring a lifesize cut out of an oddly middle aged Wolfgang selling a 12 euro box of chocolates, and even a few instances of this same sign being augmented with cardboard to help move bratwursts and Austrian style hats. But not much actual music.   

As a city, Salzburg borders on being too affluent. It has too many tourist attractions, and thus far too many tourist dollars washing through it. Our little homestay was charming, but the feeling our wonderful hostess was minting it (so nice she even threw our dirty gear in with the family washing for free, thank you) was re-inforced by the fact that we slept on the basement floor underneath her red Porsche Boxster. Hmmm.

Seeking some budgetary restraint, we took the Lonely Planet advice to try the local university cafeteria for a nice cheap eat. Bad advice. All evidence points to them using the same caterers as UTS: this was such a disaster that I fear Claude has permanent tastebud damage, electing as she did to have muesli and sardines for dinner that night. I left the room, not even able to watch. Freak.  

Salzburg, though, has been used to wealth from day one. Those with an understanding of German naming will get it: Salt Town. We spent a while scratching our heads trying to figure out how there was so_much_money in salt. To my mind its basically free, even McDonalds don't kick up a fuss when you buy one Cheeseburger and take 20 salt sachets (unlike the sugar, where they watch you like a hawk). Then it twigs: this was like having a monopoly of refrigerator sales. Hello moolah.  

With the proceeds of taxing and tolling the salt merchants, the prince/ archbishop/ whatever-your-philosophy-I'm-the-guy-in charge started building a fortress upon an old Roman ruin. We hadn't really planned to visit it, but then on a walk around the hill it sits on we came face to face with its sheer scale and decided it was worth seeing.  

Indeed it was. Festung Hohensalzburg (High Fortress at Town with the Salt: naming flair again) is mammoth. Upon traversing a winding an impossibly steep gravel driveway to the top you begin to wander if they even needed gunpowder or just waited for the sausage and no doubt high in salt diet to take its toll on any attackers. It is proudly advertised that the fort was never taken by force, although they are a little sketchy about why, given the preceding fact, it was surrendered to Napoleon basically on the basis of reputation.   

Within the fortress is a gallery to the princely archbishops. The Holy Roman Empire clearly favoured those who got things done: if you enlarged the fortress you got a portrait here... if you left it the same, then no fame for you here bookworm. Among them, one archbishop stood out. For while across hundreds of years the reigning archbishops took a shield, sword, dragon or other associated scary 'don't mess with Texas' icon as the basis for their coat of arms, one archbishop took the turnip.  

History records that the archbishop told his people that once as a rash young man his father took dead aim with said turnip to the back of the not yet royal head, to knock some sense into him. Sense evidently knocked in by virtue of his claiming the highest office in the land, the Archbishop exalts the turnip. Poor old dad.  

Adding to this, the archbishop - despite the painters best efforts - bears a passing resemblance to Baldrick. That, I think, is the historical linkage we are all seeking in these musty places.  

From atop the highest point of the fortress you get the clearest view of the lushness of the surrounding plains and hills. Occasional grand mansions sit amongst meadows cleared from a forest that neatly lines all sides.  

I can see why Mozart left: three days is enough here. If only he had been around long enough to enjoy the benefits of Ryanair...  
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lala on

Hofer was bought by Aldi in the 70s i think, and they kept they strong brand name recognition of hofer instead of scrapping it

claude_and_iain on

Thanks! I had no idea!

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