Getting on the bus from Munich was a bit of a challenge. Why? Refugees.
Now I had heard about the plight of the Syrian refugees back in Copenhagen from fellow travelers, but I hadn’t seen them until now and it was quite a shock. I had no idea how much of an impact this situation was having on locals, tourists, and refugees alike. Because of the “camp” that was created outside of the train station to provide medical care and shelter to those in need, many trains were cancelled or restricted solely for refugee travel. It was a chaotic time for many of my peers. I was fortunate because I was taking the bus, but not all were as lucky. Many travelers with the Eurail pass were forced to shell out additional cash to buy bus tickets after they had purchased the already pricey train pass. It was a very frustrating time for many people, refugees included.
But once on the bus to Salzburg, the chaos of the Syrian refugees seemed to be left behind and I was on my way to the land of the Von Trapps!
Salzburg was not originally in my plans. But when I asked Rich, my travel consultant at Rick Steves what he would add to the trip, Salzburg was at the top of the list. And now I see why.
Due to its convenient location on the border of Austria and Germany, it makes for a great little stopover on your way to Vienna (which was my next destination). Also, it’s small size and very tourist-friendly layout allows you to see much of the town and surrounding area in the course of a day or two. So you really don’t need much time to get familiar with these famous hills, but at least one overnight would be my suggestion.
The popular opinion of seeing all of Salzburg in a day seemed odd to me. Surely it can’t be that small, I thought. It is.
The neat thing about this quaint little city is how pedestrian it is. While there is a river that separates the old town from the new, you can reach the old town in about a 10 minute walk. Once there, you can see all the famous sites in a matter of a few hours, depending on what your interests are. I had already researched the important things to see and had stretched it out of the course of my two night stay. However, when I got to the hostel, they gave us city maps complete with self-guided walking tours. The first one was short, but if you were feeling especially energetic, you could expand it into the second, then the third if you so desired. Quite handy!
At any rate, I found my two day itinerary reduced to a one day agenda; and that’s still a bit of a stretch. In truth, it was more like 5 hours. So, here’s what I did:
First, I followed the path outlined by my hostel through the narrow pedestrian streets over to the Market Bridge where I crossed into Old Town. The walk along these quiet streets felt like “Europe” to me. When you think of Europe, you don’t think of discotechs and pub crawls (or I don’t, anyways). You think of cafe-lined streets, with laundry strung across balconies, and people leaning against door frames and porch steps having a smoke and enthusiastic conversation about the high price of groceries in the neighborhood. That’s Linzergasse for ya.
On my way to “the other side” (of town) I walked into a private tour where a nice Austrian gentlemen was explaining a small church to a traveling couple. Trying not to intrude, but also being very curious as to what the deal was with this church, I casually cocked my head a little closer to the group to catch the goings on.
From what I overheard, this church was where some of the Mozart family is buried. The graves of Leopold (Wolfgang’s father) and Constantia (his wife) are quite easy to spot (with or without a private tour). So of course, I took a picture because I’m a tourist and I’ve learned that’s just what we do. Then I was back on my merry way.
Once in the Old Town, this historic little labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways is essentially at your fingertips. At the epicenter of this time machine that is Salzburg is the Salzburg Dom.
This magnificent cathedral is a sight to behold. Beautiful both inside and out, you would be hard pressed to find a church with similar high quality craftsmanship. It truly is a wonderous sight. And I’ve seen enough churches by now to tell the difference!
From there, it’s all within arms reach essentially. Across from the Dom you can visit Residenzplatz, where Salzburg stores all of its treasures and entertains guests in its luxurious state rooms. There is an entrance fee however, and while I would’ve considered paying, the state rooms were closed at the time of my visit. Since that was really the only thing I had a strong interest in, I figured I might as well save a few euros for something else down the line (probably food, who are we kidding?). But, I did make it far enough in to see the bathrooms and I have to tell you I was quite impressed! With the toilets that is. Now, I know people don’t write blogs to talk about toilets, but if they did this bathroom would be my standard of comparison. To this day, it is still the coolest bathroom I’ve ever seen. Once you flush, the seat rotates (yes, full circle) around the basin and passes through a sanitizing station that cleans off any…misgivings you may have had. When you think about any public restroom you’ve ever been in, this service is beyond appreciated! At any rate, it was too impressive not to share. If you get the chance, try it out!
If you keep walking through the courtyard, you will arrive at St. Peter’s abbey. While the interior of the church varies immensely from the Dom, it is equally exquisite. However, in my opinion, the best part about the abbey is its cemetery. Wrapped around the circumference of this structure are headstones and tombs of every color shape and size.
Varying in age, it was a fascinating stroll around the grounds looking at all the names and dates of past citizens of Salzburg. This Abbey was also featured in The Sound of Music musical which was filmed in part here in Salzburg.
My self-guided hostel tour suggested that I detour from the Abbey up to the Hohensalzburg fortress, as much a symbol of this historic city as the aforementioned musical (which you can never escape by the way..like, never). There is a funicular that will take you to the top of the fortress if you so choose, but I opted for the climb. It felt more authentic, like I was a real citizen back in Salzburg’s medieval days. I wasn’t entirely sure what the entrance fee would be for such an iconic attraction. Considering the small size of Salzburg and its limited opportunities for price gouging, I assumed I’d be spending a pretty penny.
But much to my delighted surprise, entrance was cheap (by European standards) at €8. And, it’s not just your ticket through the gate, but also includes entrance to the museum of the fortress and a guided tour of its major rooms and coveted round tower with panoramic city views. This, my friends, makes it the best value I have found in the whole of Europe. High praise coming from a pretty thrifty individual!
The museum was interesting, but I’m glad I didn’t have to pay extra for it because I would’ve been a bit disappointed if I paid anymore than €5. It was interesting to see what the original chambers, dining hall and living room looked like, but this is an old place so much of what is left is in poor condition. That said, it’s impressive that any of it is still left standing.
From the museum I walked to the other side of the fortress where you could pick up your audio guide and begin the second half of your parsimonious visit. I was a little bit early since the next tour was not to start for 20 minutes so I was free to explore the outskirts of this old garrison. Not a whole lot to see, but it is an impressive structure!
Once the tour started we were taken through a total of about five rooms culminating in a magnificent view of the city from the round tower. That alone could’ve been worth €8 and a bargain at twice the price! I was fortunate enough to enjoy a perfectly sunny day so you could see for mile and miles!
As often happens when an awesome view presents itself and you’re traveling alone, you try to take a selfie. While some people really enjoy this ritual, I detest it. Not because is narcissistic and obnoxious, but because I can never get it right! Somehow I always end up with way more chins than I actually have. Luckily, someone saw my struggle and offered to help a sister out. From there we had a bit of a solo traveler chain reaction where this gaggle of girls are passing cameras around, striking a pose, then moving into position to snap a pic for the person behind them. It was quite a photo frenzy. After the tour guide gave us more than one eye roll and hasty “time to go” gesture, we got the hint and headed back down to turn in our guides. On the way, I began chatting with my fellow photographers and as we continued our conversation out the door, Dana (a girl from California) began to tell me abou a street food festival happening that weekend in Salzburg. As you should be well aware by now, street food is my jam. A place where you will find a bountiful selection of foods from all over the world and you can afford to go back for round two? Sign me up!
Dana was fortunate to have friends currently living in Salzburg and working for Red Bull (which is headquartered here, I had no idea). So we exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up later that night and get our grub on.
Until then, I continued my walking tour down from the castle and towards the Mitabell gardens. No surprise that this is another famous sight from The Sound of Music. The steps of the Mirabell Gardens is where Maria and the Von Trapp children jump iconically during “Do-Rei-Mi“.
But regardless of its cinematic significance, it is beautiful. Perfectly landscaped and color coordinated with patches of petunias, roses, and miscellaneous other horticultural favorites. I’m not much for gardening, I have a bit of a black thumb; but I can appreciate a well-done garden and this is definitely worth seeing. Also, it’s free and kind of in the center of town so you don’t quite have a reason to skip it, in my opinion.
After my introductory, and conclusionary, walk about Salzburg, the fateful hour had arrived when I was to meet Dana and her friends for the street food festival. They picked me up, in a car (a complete novelty to me at this point), and we were off. Josh and Laura, Dana’s Salzburgian comrades were fellow U.S citizens that found themselves in Austria for work. At Red Bull of course. I didn’t know this at first, but apparently most of Salzburg consists of Red Bull employees, which either makes Red Bull look like a really, really big city, or Salzburg a very, very small city. In fact, both are true!
Also in the car was Agnes, a Swedish girl who also (not surprisingly) worked at Red Bull as well.
I was more than grateful for the rise because once we arrived, I realized the festival was quite far out from the city. Considering that basically everything is in walking distance, that’s really saying something!
Walking up to the entrance, I was already teeming with excitement! There was food as far as the eye could see and it was all amazing. There was a small entrance fee (though I couldn’t quite understand why since you didn’t get anything for free..) and then we began making the rounds.
As is the case with any food Mecca, the first phase is the recon. You never choose the first thing you see because the chances are high that ten feet down the road, you’ll be wishing you bought that instead of this. So, we started perusing and dang if there weren’t a lot of choices! Anything from gourmet hot dogs, Peruvian food, Turkish dumplings, tacos, chocolate fondue, burgers, Indian, “New York” bagels, steak; the list goes on. But then I saw it. Surf and Turf burger. Sold.
So here’s the story, from A to Z (or from Copenhagen to Salzburg). As you recall, I detailed in great length my infatuation for a little something called Paper Island. What I may have failed to mention, however, was one particular food item I desperately wanted to try, but didn’t for fear of calories. Yes, it was the surf and turf burger from a place called Fish Art
This magnificent piece of food beauty consists of a perfectly cooked angus beef patty, three scrumptious grilled prawns, a triple cheese sauce containing, but not limited to, Guinness and some bomb cheese, all topped on a homemade bun. The first time, I said no out of pure stupidity. But I was not going to repeat the same mistake twice. So I said “yolo” and dived right in! In one word: amazing.
Laura and Josh are vegetarian (poor things) so they got some sort of potato thing from South America. Dana something Asian inspired, and I can’t quite remember what Agnes got, but in the end everyone was pleased.
Then Josh asked “What’s for round 2?”, and the hunt was back on! I went for dim sum, even though I was already stuffed to my gills. If I hadn’t seen the man preparing it with all the seaweed sprinkles, peanut powder, and finely ground cayenne, I would’ve been content with the calorie bomb that was currently exploding in my stomach. But after watching that work of art, I once again evoked the right of yolo and consumed the entire confection. Not a mistake in the slightest.
Then after we had all done round 2, there was still a smidgen of room for round 3. I opted for the healthy choice of fresh fruit. Covered in chocolate, that is. But it was dark chocolate so it was heart healthy… I think.
After pretty much eating the festival out of house and home, we rolled out fat little selves back to the car and went home. Josh and Laura were kind enough to drop me back off at my hostel so it was a very sweet deal for me!
Unfortunately I missed the nightly showing of The Sound of Music at my hostel, but I was singing my own praises so it all worked out in the end.
I’ll never cease to be amazed by how serendipitous one’s life becomes whilst traveling. One minute, you’re taking selfies at the Hohensalzburg fortress and the next you’re riding in a car with four strangers who by the end of the night you consider to be friends.
People always say to me “You’re traveling alone?!”, mouth open and jaw completely dropped like I’m the pioneer of insanity. But then I say to them “I’m never alone.” Case in point.