When Richie’s parents first started planning their trip to Budapest, we asked them if they wanted to see any other cities or just stick to Budapest. Like the easygoing people they are, they told us whatever we wanted to do was fine. Richie and I started tossing out city ideas to each other, but each one was shot down due to time constraints, expense, or both. Then, we took the train from Budapest to Munich for Oktoberfest, which passes through Austria on its way to Germany. We both saw the beauty of Salzburg from the train window and thought it might be the best option. The deal was sealed when my sister and brother-in-law visited Salzburg shortly before coming to Budapest and had a wonderful time.
Here’s a tip for any of you planning to travel by train in Europe – (almost) never book your tickets online. For places we can access by train, I usually start by looking at the train schedules on www.bahn.de. Although you can’t buy all tickets on there, they have what seems to be the most comprehensive list of train times and route schedules. But I never actually buy the tickets on there, and here’s why. For our trip to Salzburg, the fastest and nicest possible train is a RailJet. On the Bahn website, our train ticket would have cost 157.20 Euro per person, roundtrip. It’s still cheaper than flying, so you might be tempted to take it. BUT! I went in person to the train station, asked for ticket + seat reservation for the same exact train, and my ticket price per person? 39 Euro. Why such a huge difference? The international ticket office personnel are so experienced with the different ticket types that they can figure out the cheapest deal for you (such as a 1-country pass versus an actual ticket). For those living in the U.S. and visiting Europe, it may make you nervous to not buy your tickets in advance. If you have any flexibility in your schedule, don’t be. The only time I’ve ever had trouble getting a ticket for the exact time I wanted was during Oktoberfest, and I was still able to get a ticket for the same day, just a little bit earlier in the morning.
With the train tickets, plus a hotel recommendation from Steven and a copy of the Salzburg Rick book from Jenny, we were set! Richie was able to take a half-day off work on Friday, so we set out around 1pm. Our train trip was mostly uneventful, with the exception of the non-stop chattering from one-half of a couple that boarded in Vienna (her poor husband managed to get a few nods and “mm-hmms” in, but with those exceptions, the wife spoke non-stop for the next three hours). That, plus a slight detour on the way to our hotel, made us decide to simply grab some food and call it a night. We ate at Saran Essbar (another Steven / Rick book recommendation), where Richard (Richie’s dad) tried his first Wiener Schnitzel. The verdict? Delicious.
The next day dawned cold and rainy… and early, for people who like to sleep in. Our room was next to a church, which began its chiming at 6 am and then did some sort of extended bell performance at 7 am. That and the rain should have been a bit of a damper on our fun, but Salzburg is so beautiful that it was hard to complain. We started off with a walk through the Old Town, including the gorgeous Salzburg Cathedral:
The church was massive; it had four small pipe organs on each “corner” of the central dome, plus the traditional large pipe organ at the back. Mozart was a church organist here for two years. It’s crazy to think that people attended church services accompanied by a teenaged organ player who would later be known around the world for his compositions. I loved the little chapels with elaborate ceilings too.
The church was built in the 17th century, on top of the foundations of a previous church (that allegedly, and “conveniently”, caught fire right when the Prince/Archbishop wanted to construct a new cathedral). It still holds a baptismal font from the earlier church, from about the 13th century, and Mozart himself was baptized with it! (Note: I used to be a choir girl and a piano player. Fun facts about composers make me nerdily giddy.)
We also toured the St. Peter’s cemetery and church. The graveyard was gorgeous and well-maintained, probably because people “rent” graves rather than buy them. Bills are sent to the surviving relatives every 10 years and if they go unpaid, the headstone is removed. A little bit creepy, right?
Amongst the others buried here are Mozart’s sister and Johann Michael Haydn, who was once the organist for the St. Peter’s church and is a famous composer (and the brother of Franz Joseph Haydn… also an organist and composer. Apparently to become a world-renowned composer, start out by playing the organ in Austria).
The St. Peter’s church was beautiful too, although in a completely different way from the main cathedral. It had white-washed walls covered in paintings, and those walls covered up 14th century paintings that were considered unsalvageable when the church was refurbished in the 17th century.
After we finished walking through the Rick book’s Old Town section, we had lunch (at the delicious Gasthaus Wilder Mann – definitely go there for authentic Austrian food if you’re in Salzburg!), did a little souvenir shopping and wandered along the Salzach River, before heading to the Mirabell Palace gardens.
The Mirabell Palace gardens were used in the filming of the Sound of Music. I need to go back and rewatch it, because I barely remember the scenery, but people say that the Pegasus statue and the archways are featured in the film.
The Palace itself (in the background of the Pegasus photo) is now a concert and theater venue.
The gardens also include a dwarf park. I feel weird just typing that, but hey, that’s the name. The Prince/Archbishop had a staff of several dwarves (sort of like Snow White, I guess…) that were used as models for the park.
As the rain turned to sleet, and the temperatures steadily dropped, we decided to grab a quick bite for dinner and head back to the hotel. We were so exhausted from the day that the heated post-bar fight taking place directly below our window at 2 am barely fazed us… although the repeat event at about 3 am was a little more annoying. (Between the church bells’ ringing, and the bar fights, I would probably not recommend our hotel, even though it was conveniently located and pretty nice. Unless you sleep like the dead, in which case, I have a great hotel for you!)
The next morning, we awoke to a lovely field of snow. Although it didn’t stick to the roads or sidewalks, it stuck to everything else. Like the cemetery behind our hotel:
And the flowers on the balcony:
And just about everything else.
We had a brief moment of panic when we noticed that half of our clocks said one time and half said an hour later. We started checking all the clocks on the way through the city and noticed the same thing – half said 9 am, half said 10. Even weirder was the church next door chiming 9 bells at the same time that the clock read 10 am. Finally it clicked – Europe changes from Summer Time (or Daylight Saving Time) one week earlier than the US does, so the clocks that said 10 just hadn’t been changed yet. Whew. We still had time to do some sight-seeing before catching our train.
We took the funicular up to the Hohensalzburg Castle. Although most of the sites were closed, since it was early on a Sunday, we were more than happy with the views.
Since it was just before checkout, we rushed back to the hotel, gathered up our stuff, and headed to the train station – only to find out that our train was delayed first 15 minutes, then 25 minutes… then finally 45. We downed several cups of hot chocolate and tea to combat the 5˚ weather while we waited.
Our next trip will look a liiiiiittle bit different from this one – we’re headed to Dubai for a work conference that Richie will be attending. I’m just tagging along for the (camel) ride. The average temp there right now is in the mid 30s Celcius – mid 80s Fahrenheit. Bye bye scarves and hello tank tops!