July 24, 2011

Nach Salzburg

Isn't it just the way that when a big 4 day weekend comes along and you've got the whole of Europe beckoning to you with its arms wide, the weather turns suddenly cold and rainy and makes you feel like you should really just be curled up on a couch somewhere watching movies? Well, yesterday I somehow ignored that particular urge and took a 4 hour train ride through central Austria to meet up with some old friends in Salzburg. Pauline, a fellow AIMSer had asked a few days previous if it would be alright for her to come along as well, so together we braved our early morning alarm bells and set off for the train station.

Our trip through the countryside was breathtaking, despite of the low clouds that threatened to--and sometimes succeeded in--obscuring the view of the eastern Alps through which our route progressed. Pauline slept most of the way, but I couldn't pull my face off of the glass for even a second as the landscape rolled gently by...an unending sea of rolling green speckled here and there by flower-decked country houses and the odd castle perched atop a rise. It was next to impossible to get a good picture of any of it, but annoying reflections in the glass, the blur of foreground objects and vegetation, and the constant sway of our train car didn't stop me from trying...

At hour 2 my own eyelids started to droop and I found myself dozing in spite of the view.

When I woke up about 45 minutes later we were in a deep canyon flanked on either side by nearly vertical slabs of solid rock. The rugged but inviting evergreen slopes we had passed through earlier had given way to giants of stone that ruled over our narrow river valley like ancient kings. I craned my neck up against the window and could just barely see their tops, but even then, I imagined the true peaks were still hidden--soaring unimpeded behind the obscuring perspective of these initial walls. My memories of past Wasatch Mountain excursions overlaid themselves upon the behemoths surrounding me and--though grand and impressive in their own right--could not touch the enormity of the mysterious ancients that then filled my view. I found myself wishing I could venture out into this imposing wilderness, and if I plan any further trips while I'm here, a hike in the Alps is #1 on my list. There must be others here similarly inclined with whom I could collaborate on such an adventure...right?

As our train neared Salzburg the mountains diminished somewhat and the series of little rural hamlets increased and spread into a familiar pattern of suburban sprawl...while still retaining a cute Austrian flare to be sure. We got off the train and I immediately found my friends Audra, Matt, and Maggie (their 9 month old) waiting for us on the platform. I worked with Audra years ago when we were librarians at the International Music Camp in North Dakota, and since then have kept in touch via mutual blog watching. Her husband Matt is a trumpeter with the Air Force and they'll be living in Germany for at least the next 3 years (maybe more) as he fulfills his duties.

As soon as we exited the station Audra had a map out and gave us the rundown of what we'd be able to see and do in the short few hours we'd have to bum around. Thank goodness for her initiative too! In no time at all (well...with just a little minor shuffling of the map) we were headed down through the winding streets of town to the Residenz Platz where to hear one of Europe's only remaining authentic glockenspiels play at the stroke of 11.

Here is one of the charming little alleyways we passed along the way...

Most of the sights in old Salzburg are clustered around a central castle just across the Salzach River. There's an enormous copper statue in the center of Mozart Platz depicting the city's most famous historical resident...and yes, that would indeed be Mozart. We all took turns having our photos taken with his likeness and then moseyed over to the Dom Platz to watch the glockenspiel. The bells didn't actually start performing till...oh, about...6 or 7 minutes past the hour...and before they began chiming out their sweet little chorale we had almost given up and moved on to something else. I guess we should have figured that a little Italian time delay must have seeped up from Austria's neighbor to the south...

It was surprisingly difficult to orient ourselves and we spent the next little while looking at the map...then wandering in a promising direction for a while...till we noticed it wasn't so promising...and looking at the map again. It was about this time the rain started coming down. Fortunately we all had umbrellas (plus a nifty plastic stroller cover for Maggie) and managed to stay mostly dry, but the rain added a layer extra bother to our attempted map readings and our progress through the old town was slow.

This minor annoyance wasn't entirely bad, and during our meanderings we were treated to many interesting sights and sounds that we may have easily breezed over if our progress had been more efficient. For instance, the town is filled with sundials. Not the typical cement ones you usually see in city parks, but gorgeous painted murals on the sides of buildings with their gnomons fashioned from thin pieces of ornamental iron. Some were small enough to fit between two neighbor's windows (like the one you see to the left), while others took up the whole sides of buildings and were too big to fit within a single camera shot.

Salzburg is famous for the ornamental iron signs that overhang it's streets and add lively filigree to it's otherwise dark and narrow alleyways...

And...my favorite...yes, even in Salzburg!!!

(by the way, did you know you actually have to pay for those little ketchup packets you get with your fries...sheesh!)

On the Kapitelplatz there was a row of horse-drawn carriages lined up to give throngs of eager tourists old-fashioned and romantic rides around the city. I smiled when I noticed one of the drivers lovingly sharing an umbrella with his two stalwart steeds. The trio were huddled together like best friends while the rest of the drivers continued to scan the horizon for potential passengers and let their horses tough it out. Not that I'm criticizing--I'm sure rain isn't usually that big of a deal for these animals--I just thought this one driver's special care was heart-warming and couldn't resist taking a picture.

We saw a band of balalaika players strumming out classics underneath a protective overhang (have you ever seen a bass balalaika?!)...

...a pair of intensely concentrating men duking it out on a giant chessboard...

...and a completely terrifying sculpture (oddly entitled "Cloak of Peace") tucked away in a nearby corner. Dementor anyone? (shivvvvver!)

Finally we found an entrance to our next destination, Petersfriedhof: a cemetery that contains within its baroque arcades several generations of Salzburg's wealthy and most noble citizens and runs right up against a vertical rock wall out of which some extremely creepy catacombs had been hollowed. Michael Haydn is supposedly buried somewhere in here, but we weren't able to find him. It's centered around a lovely little gothic church and beneath nearly every tombstone (or fantastically ornamented iron grave marker) is a small well-maintained flower garden. It was certainly one of the least morbid or depressing graveyards I've visited and reminded me more of a cheerful backyard garden than a repository of the dead.

The catacombs are a completely different story.

Carved out from solid rock they hang above the garden cemetery like a primitive cell reserved for souls under some immortal quarantine. The dark and uneven staircase leading to the main chapels wasn't very stroller friendly, so Matt stayed down to mind the baby, and Audra and I ascended alone into the gloom (right after I banged my head on the low-hung door of the entryway despite its being plastered with WARNING! signs in many languages). I wasn't able to find much information about the structure except that it likely originated in the early days of the christian church. Off to the side of one of the chapels a large stone plaque was carved with roman numerals (as well as Rob could make out they give a date of 477 AD) followed by a long Latin text. Beneath it was a gaping rectangular hole in the rock...about, oh, 2' by 6'...where I'm assuming somebody's remains...umm...should have been?...creepy!!!

Because all of us are musicians the main goal of our visit was without question a visit to the Mozart houses. First up: The Birth House.

Although Wolfgang was recognized as a prodigy from an extremely early age, I still doubt that his extraordinary skills would have prompted his parents to so prominently advertise his birth with a gilded sign on the facade of their apartment...so that part must be a fairly recent addition. The museum within was interesting enough. We saw his first violin, a shock of his hair (medium reddish brown), the clavichord upon which he is said to have conceived "The Magic Flute," and (my favorite part) a large collection of stage setting models from various productions of his operas. Maggie had her diaper changed in one of the restrooms there--now there's some serious future bragging rights!

Later, we visited the house Mozart had shared for a time with his wife and children and saw more of his instruments (including a beautiful small organ), a number of family portraits, facsimiles of musical manuscript and personal letters, and the bolt gun and some (somewhat obscenely painted) targets he once used for leisurely sport shooting. The wohnhause was all but destroyed in WWII and had been subsequently rebuilt so although it felt more like walking around a modern-day apartment than "treading where Mozart once had," it was still enjoyable to imagine his day to day quotidian taking place there.

Though it was fun to see all of this, I came away with the slightly uncomfortable notion that Mozart's legacy in Salzburg has been far too commercialized and somehow cheapened. Inside the Mozart houses it was jam packed with noisy tourists clamoring to view the displays before making a mad dash into the gift shop to purchase little plastic figurines, t-shirts, or some version of the ubiquitous Mozartkugeln (marzipan filled chocolates) that fill the shelves of every restaurant and trinket store in the city.

I guess I can't claim to have been entirely immune from all the craziness either. I came to Salzburg with a mission to pick up a few of the ORIGINAL Salzburg Mozartkugeln to bring home for Rob who tried and fell in love with them years earlier while on a family vacation. The Mozartkugeln you see here in the fancy red packaging are industrially produced by Mirabell and are one of the many (and probably the most popular and widely distributed) imprecise knock offs of the original hand-made delicacy first produced in 1890 by master confectioner Paul Fürst. To be fair, I tried one of the Mirabell Kugeln to see how it compared to Fürst's original hand-dipped recipe and found it to be every bit as enjoyable to consume as you'd imagine any chocolate-covered marzipan and nougat concoction to be. Upon biting into the candy you discover colorful alternating layers of green marzipan, white marzipan, nougat, and chocolate and if you're craving something sweet and sinful, the Mirabell Kugel will do the job just fine.

Fürst's original recipe is a bit more simple: a ball of pistachio marzipan is placed on a stick, coated in nougat and then dipped in a hard coating of thick dark chocolate. Once the chocolate has hardened, the stick is removed, the remaining hole filled with dark chocolate, and the candy is finally wrapped in its characteristic blue and silver wrapper. The original kugeln are sold exclusively from 4 shops in Salzburg and through the Fürst website--though due to the delicate nature of the chocolate they only ship to locations in Europe. Though simple and without frill, the Fürst original is a delight to the tastebuds--a melt-in-your-mouth indulgence that is worth the extra bit of seeking.

Our final group destination for the day was the Mirabell Garden--an ornamental display of sculpture and flora surrounding Mirabell Palace that offered stunning stroller-friendly views of Salzburg's central castle without having to deal with too much congestion from the rest of the tourist hoard (Which--as you can see from the picture on the right--was well worth avoiding). I think there were some scenes from The Sound of Music filmed here as well, though it's been ages since I last saw the movie and don't remember for sure.

We all said our goodbyes around 4:30 so Audra and Matt would have time to get to a brewery tour they were interested in and Pauline and I would have time to make it back to the train station for our 6:15 departure. We were standing outside a church across from the Mirabell palace and trying to figure out how we could get a big group picture when these two little old Austrian ladies came up and started coooing at Maggie. I said, "Why don't we ask them to take a picture of us?"
My camera was the simplest so I walked up to one of the ladies and asked if she'd take our photo. She leaned in a bit, clearly unable to understand my request in English so I gestured to the camera and back at the group and said "Photo?"
"Ah, ok!" she said, and hobbled off to the side to set down her cane--which instantly made me feel bad for asking and worried that she'd fall while trying to complete my request.
I handed her the camera and pointed at the large shutter button and tried gesturing as best I could to communicate my instructions--basically just "point-'n-shoot."
She held the camera to her face and with a confused expression on her face and attempted to find the right place to look through. I tried showing her, "No, you just have to look at the screen. The picture's just on the screen."
But nothing I tried seemed to help her understand and finally we just stood back and smiled as she blindly pressed the camera to her face and pushed the button...good 'nuf!

1 comment:

  1. I had SUCH a great time reading this one!!! What a fun and entertaining day!!! Miss you SO much!!!!!!