Doe, a dear...or was that Beer?

Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
Trip End Oct 18, 2006

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Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Sunday, September 24, 2006

September 24-26

I had booked myself into a traditional little Gasthaus called Hinterbrühl, about a five minute walk from the main square, Mozart Platz. I forgot to mention when recounting my time in Vienna just how crazy they were (all of Austria in fact) about Mozart when I was there. You see, 2006 was the 250th anniversary of his birth.
I took a bus from the train station to the hotel which took about 20 minutes. Once there, I got directions to the center, which basically went like this, "Walk that way, stupid." Not really. The guy was actually pretty nice, but it really was just a couple of blocks away. I had a great location really. Salzburg is like two towns; the small, localized old town that consists of all things a tourist would think the small Austrian town where Mozart was born should and the newer section to the north where most of the residents actually live and work, which looks much more like any-town Europe. Needless to say, I didn't go very far north except to get back to the train station.
I was pleasantly surprised to see what looked like a carnival taking place when I hit the center of the old town. As it happened, Bauernherbst Fest was in full swing. There were kids rides set up and booths selling pretzels and sausages, beer and sturm, all kinds of stuff really. As I rounded the corner just past the Cathedral I saw a thing of beauty - a huge beer tent with a full-on oompah band kicking out some great accordion & tube led tunes. I stopped in for a Käsekrenner and a Stiegel (Austria's brew of choice) and called that dinner. The Käsekrenner was an amazing discovery for me in Vienna. Pippi turned me on to 'em. They're essentially like a cheddar wurst (if you've heard of those) or cheese filled sausages, but oh so much better. Think I ate like five of them while in Wien.
It was too early to just hang there all night, so I decided to explore some more and come back later. As I walked through town, I was surprised by how hip it was. There were lots of cool shops, bars and restaurants in the little passageways that connected the streets from block to block. It seems that Salzburg grew up a very densely populated town, which makes sense considering its founding date and the need to be able to protect villagers from raids and what not. Each passageway seemed to lead to another cool archway, opening onto another quaint courtyard about midway through the block. It's a crazy little layout actually on the west side of the river - just courtyard after courtyard with three or four story buildings surrounding them. And all packed into just a couple of square miles. The whole complex seemed to be connected as well almost the whole length of the old town for the first three or four blocks closest to the river. One of these buildings included Mozart's Geburtshaus (birth place).
I walked from one end to the other and back again taking detours here and there to check out various side streets and passageways. I made my way back feeling like I'd seen a good bit of the town and was happy to see the party in the beer tent was going strong.
I took a seat at one of the many long picnic tables and listened to the band play, enjoying another Stiegel. Pretty soon I noticed an argument breaking out to my left. There were two couples who had begun bickering. Voices were raised and it looked like the two dudes were gonna throw down when all of a sudden the fat blonde chick grabbed the short red hair of the other woman and it was on. The blonde literally ripped off the shirt of the other woman, tearing it lengthwise. Their men separated them and started to go at it themselves just as a couple of barmen made it from their posts to the scene and got between them. Ah, beer. Does wonders for social harmony sometimes. Other times, not so much.
It was unbelievable. There were drunks everywhere - young and old. I saw one guy who had to be in his sixties, wearing a cheap grey suit, shirt half un-tucked, who was literally stumbling his way between the tables. He nearly fell down a couple of times (that I saw anyway - might have been more) until finally he found some folks he apparently knew and stopped for a chat. And this was a Sunday night. Wow.
I went to get another beer and chose a different table when I came back; one with more young people who looked to be having a good time. There were a dozen or more Austrians in their 20's & 30's, all decked out in Lederhosen and Dirndls and one couple in more modern attire. I started chatting with one of the Austrians (Manfred) and the couple next to me noticed I was American, so they introduced themselves.
It turned out that Stewart and Marta had recently moved to Kansas City, but had been living in Chicago before that. Small world. So we all enjoyed the rest of the evening together watching out new Austrian friends climb up on top of the table periodically to sing a song when the band played a favorite of theirs. They would invariably clash their huge liter-sized mugs together so hard I was sure they were going to shatter and shower us all in beer and shards of glass. But no, it turned out to be just good fun.
The next morning I got up early and strolled across town to the funicular rail way that rockets you up the substantial hill to the castle which overlooks the city. The castle is called the Festung Hohensalzburg and can be seen from everywhere you go in the town beneath it. And from it's walls and parapets there are tremendous 360° views of the town below and the countryside extending far into the distance.
This highly defensible medieval fortification was built over 900 years ago by the Archbishops who ruled the Salzburg region as a Principality within the Holy Roman Empire. Construction of the fortress began in 1077 under Archbishop Gebhard von Helffenstein. The original design was quite basic with little more than a wooden wall. In Salzburg, the Archbishops were powerful political figures, and they expanded the castle to protect their interests which ran counter to the King's. The Investiture Controversy influenced the expansion of the castle, with the Salzburg Archbishops taking the side of the Pope. The castle was gradually expanded during the following centuries. The ring walls and towers were built in 1462 under Burkhard II of Weißpriach and Prince Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach further expanded the castle.

The Princes made their coin by mining the ample salt deposits nearby, which was a very important commodity as there was no better way to cure food back then. Salt, translated into German, is salz and burg means city, so Salzburg is the city of salt. The mines made the Archbishops fabulously wealthy.
I toured around there for a couple of hours taking in the history of the joint and imagining what it would have been like to dwell within those walls. I'm sure others have done the same and I'll bet that all of them, like me, imagined they were one of the Princes or a Princess and not one of the lowly surfs there to feed the cattle or what-not. But without those cattle, Salzburg may not have persisted.
During the only siege of the Festung, things got fairly desperate for it's inhabitants. In 1525, when a group of miners, farmers and townspeople tried to oust Prince Archbishop Cardinal Matthäus Lang, the food supply inside the castle began to run desperately low. In an attempt to prove to those who had laid siege to the Festung that things were going just swimmingly inside, the Archbishop ordered his men to parade their last remaining cow along the fortress walls for those below to see. The guards took the white cow up to the wall and did as they had been instructed. The Archbishop then told his men to quickly paint the cow brown and lead it along the same path they had just traveled. The insurgents below saw this and surmised that the Archbishop had the means to withstand the siege for far longer than they themselves could hold-out and so gave it up. Which just goes to show, sometimes a great strategy can overcome logistic deficiencies.
When I was done poking around the Festung, I headed back to town to see the Residenze, where later rulers of Salzburg lived in more opulent and "modern" quarter. However, it was closed. So I set off for Schloss Mirabell, another old palace; this one on the other side of the river. On the way I detoured along a steep set of stairs up a hill opposite the Festung and got some great photos shooting back across the river.
Mirabell was all right - nice gardens, but I didn't realize when I decided to head that way that they had turned most of the palace into office space available for rent by the public. So I puttered around a bit more that side of the river, saw where Mozart lived as an adult, and then headed back across the river.
As I crossed, I saw a river cruise that was about to sail, so I bought a ticket and queued to board. We had some nice views of the town on both sides of the river and the castle up on the hill. More than anything though, it was nice to sit down for a while as I'd been walking most of the day.
I had considered doing the Sound of Music tour earlier in the day. A bus picks you up and drives you around to various sites where the shot the film in and around Salzburg. Along the way, your tour guide not only explains the sites to you, but leads you in singing the songs from the film. Cheesy? Yes, but I had heard from more than one person it was fun none-the-less. Alas, one must book ahead and I just couldn't be bothered at this stage of the trip. As it turned out, I had a nice day doing my own thing anyhow.
After the river cruise I was walking back towards the center when I passed a lift that went up a sheer cliff, transporting me to a viewing area right out in front of a modern art museum. The museum was closed, but looking back across nearly the entire length of the town was a fantastic view of the Festung Hohensalzburg. I got some great snaps of the castle from yet another angle and was able to capture a fair bit of the town below at the same time.
In a couple of days I was scheduled to be in Munich where I was to meet up with my friends Sean and Amanda. Her aunt and uncle live on the outskirts of Munich and had graciously invited us to stay with them, so as I headed back to my I thought I should stop off to buy them a thank you gift. I passed a shop with a sign advertising Frisches Sturm, which is kind of like a fruitier version of Lambrusco and is only available for a few weeks (I think) each fall. I'd had some with Pippi back in Vienna at the Naschmarkt and thought it would make a nice gift for Pia and Norbert. But after I paid for it, the gentleman handed me the bottle and made sure to point out that the foil covering was only loosely fitted over the bottle's opening. It was only then that I remembered Pippi telling me that they can't cap this stuff. Because of its fresh nature, it is still producing CO2 and it would cause the bottles to explode if they did. Oh well, guess I'll just have to drink it here.
After my aperitif and a little reading time at the Gasthaus, I set out for dinner. I selected a traditional-looking place near the center and had a goulasch soup - es schmeckt gut - and a venison stew with cranberries and dumplings. Some nice brown beer complemented both dishes.
On the way back to the hotel I ran into Stewart and Marta from the night before. They were on their way to find a place to eat and I recommended the joint where I had just been. We chatted for a few minutes about what we had been up to that day and I wished them bon apatite.
As I approached the Gasthaus I heard someone whistling Mozart's Serenade No. 13 in G major, better known as Eine Kleine Nachts Musik. Like I said earlier, this guy is big in Austria - still. Especially this year.
It was a beautiful, crisp night and the walk back again made me realize how much I was liking Austria. Everything was clean and pretty and old. This is what I had thought of when I envisioned Europe before I started the trip.
The next morning the clouds hung low on the mountain sides the whole train ride to Innsbruck. I didn't get any great views of the peaks as I had hoped for, but in their own way, the clouds provided some very interesting scenery. Unfortunately, they were also about all I would see on my last stop in Austria.
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