City of Salt

Many people around the world have seen the musical or movie adopted from the memoirs of Maria Von Trapp. It is from this musical that numerous songs became legendary, played over and again. Remember that the Austria from before 1918 is very different from today. At that time, it was the center of a very large empire that covered much of central and southeastern Europe.Mirabell2

Recall Von Trapp was a captain – of what? The Austrian Navy of course! But that was before WW I and the story was set in those inter war years leading into WWII.

Mirabell1This journey was made because we found an offer at the local travel agent around the corner from our apartment in Amsterdam. For a princely sum of approximately €990, we had 3 nights’ stay plus flights packaged in. Now you need to remember that back in those days there wasn’t much in the way of budget airlines yet. So this was quite a deal. Plus the Austrotel Hotel’s location is quite good, located close to Mirabelleplatz. So it was off to the,

City of Salt

Mozart birth houseWe were in Salzburg, which in the local language referred to the enormous amount of salt that could be found in the mines surrounding the city. It can be said to be the equivalent to Salt City – a little like Salt Lake city… though the difference could not be any more stark.

A visit to Salzburg cannot be complete without visiting the home of famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Born to middle class musician parents, he is one of the city’s most famous sons but passed away when he was only 35. But by that time he had already gained acclaim with his work. It is such a pity that such a genius died so young.

Hohensalzurg4Growing rich on the salt mining and trading of the surrounding area, the diocese (ie the local head of the church) grew increasingly important. A city came to being at the foot of the fortress located in the center of the modern city on a rocky outcrop. That was our first destination and we spent a good deal of time exploring parts of the fortress that took about 600 years to take its current form. Now you wonder why these men of God built such fortifications. You see, back in the day these were princely positions which is not something you or I could aspire to. It was mostly reserved for members of the nobility. And they take these offices of authority seriously, running the territories governed by such mini theocracies like little countries, often enriching themselves in the process.

Take the funicular up the outcrop. And climb. Yes, climb to the very top for that is the best view one will get of the entire city. Little ants of people can be seen milling about the square beneath with horse carriages lined up to snare the unwitting tourist. And when you are done get across to Mirabell garden and palace, nicely laid out in a style reminiscent of Versailles. In a twist this was constructed by one particular Archbishop for his mistress…Residenz area2

We also visited the Residenz, the more luxurious palace of the archbishops whereas the fortress was a place of refuge if danger lurks. In the middle ages, Central Europe which would comprise most of Germany and Austria were splintered into numerous princely states. They fought each other continuously in a game of “dog eat dog”, with the victor absorbing the territories of the defeated. Now you know where the inspiration comes from those online games? Here in Salzburg, the archbishop was elected or appointed to his position and held the title for life. Now you must also know one of them was a,

Playful ArchbishopHellbrunn1

Without a car, we had to explore the city by foot or public transport. The Salzburg card back then cost €19pp for 24 hours, so time it wisely to use from noon till the next midday. It came to pass that we took local bus number 55 and came up to Hellbrunn palace, before noon. Just 10 minutes’ ride to the southern side of the city, this palace was the brainchild of Archbishop Markus Sitticus.Hellbrunn2 Built in the style of an Italian villa (because the Archbishop hailed from there), it was designed to be a temporary residence perhaps for the hot summer!

The palace has numerous sculptures all fitted with water piping. In fact, it was said that the archbishop enjoyed playing tricks on his companions with the sprouts of water spraying on them! Hellbrunn3This was the sort of entertainment the invited noblemen and women had in those days. The principal gag was for the guests to be seated by a table supposedly to be waited upon by the servants. But little would the guests know that the Archbishop, seated at the head of the table would have a lever at his disposal to cause a crack in the stone seats to spurt out water!

You can also find the gazebo that was used in the filming of the sound of music in the palace grounds. Given the countryside setting, it would be no surprise that many of the other filming took place here!

Did you hear the sound?

Leopoldskron 3Of course the “important” thing to see while here is the “home” of the Von Trapp family. Naval Captain Georg Ludwig Von Trapp and his family lived in a large home in the movie. It was none other than Leopoldskron castle, located near a lake where a lot of the film focused on. Surrounded by mountains of the Alps on the southern side, you can enjoy the great outdoors just minutes outside of the city.

Numerous farm houses with large open fields beckon you to run across, much like what Maria Rainer (played by Julie Andrews) while singing the title song. In reality it was sort of an anti-climax when we finally did get around the places in the movie. It probably looked better and felt different watching it on the silver screen.

Enjoy the grounds of the castle/palace. For the tall pines afford shade while the large pools cooled the breeze. See the Suan frolic about and put on an Austrian hat! Doesn’t she look swell in one? Make sure you buy local ok?

Real Salt Mines

Salt Mine 1Now being named after a commodity means that this was really important. Thus, when one is in Salzburg, it would be only natural to get to the mines which made the city wealthy. Now the city is merely 10 minutes’ drive to Bavaria and we decided to join a trip that took us to the famous mines of Berchtesgaden.

Salt Mine 2As it was in the old days, the salt mined in this area was the source of the wealth of the region. Today they mine mind the tourists. As part of the excursion we were taken on a small train into the heart of the mine. It had been enlarged to allow tourists to comfortably see how the miners worked tirelessly to haul their treasure to the surface from the great depth of the earth. Salt Mine 3One of the highlights of this little tour was to slide down a shaft, which is why Suan wore that funny looking suit. Yep, it was dark and you don’t really know what is coming. But that’s the fun of it right?

Salt Mine 4The tour within the mine concluded with a boat ride. Brine had built up in the lowest part of the mine (water flows to the lowest point), one large enough for a mini barge to be used. And this is all under hundreds of feet of rock!

Out in the charming village of Berchtesgaden, we saw numerous cottages dotting the mountain sides, all in tranquil quietness of nature. Berchtesgaden2Meanwhile in the background, towering mountains, one of which housed Hitler’s summer retreat (the notorious famed “Eagles’ Nest”). Well, we weren’t interested to see the hideout of a mad man, so we passed.

Berchtesgaden1There are so many things to do within the 4 days we spent here! Walking in the beautiful palaces, strolling in the open plains beneath mountains and imagining how filming an iconic movie took place. These are just some of the activities that you can enjoy while visiting the city of Salzburg.

And it is a city that is well served by flights from many parts of Europe. The compact city is easy to traverse on foot and really tourist friendly. So, pack your bags, this is definitely one of the destinations you want to be in your own long journey!

We tried to bring music to life in the hills during April 2003

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