Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
After our first cruise to the Caribbean in 2002, we almost didn’t take another–for a number of reasons. But Gary found one in 2006 with a terrific itinerary that began in Venice and ended in Barcelona, where his son was then living. Thus began our pattern of combining cruises with a week or so in the origin city or the destination city or both.
This year we chose a river cruise on the Danube, going southeast from Vienna to the Black Sea, then by bus to Istanbul for three days–with five days on our own in Salzburg and three in Vienna beforehand. Gary looked for centrally-located hotels, then picked one that was mid-range in price, yet old enough to have some character.
It was perfect: we stayed at the Bristol Hotel. The photo on the left shows the view from our small balcony. The hotel has been in business only since the 1890s, when it was the first “electricity hotel”– but the foundation of the original structure was laid by Paris Londron, one of the more famous of the Prince-Bishops of Salzburg, in 1619. It was remodeled many times during the nearly three centuries that it was the “home of several noble families.”
Gary bought us a couple of “Salzburg Cards“. They were good for two days and allowed free rides on public transportation, free admission to all museums and points of interest–as well as one free round-trip on the cable-car to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, round trip on the Monchsberg lift and round trip on the cable car to the top of Unterberg peak.
We activated our cards early the first morning, Friday, and went up to explore the fortress. Beginning in 1077, it was built on one end of the big hill/small, narrow mountain just to the east of the Salzach River. The hill opposite, which you can see in the photo, protects the valley from the west. Men fortified what Nature provided. Salt mining was the primary source of wealth. Men from Salzburg operated boats that transported salt down the river and the town imposed a tax on all of the so-called “white gold” as it passed through.
Walking narrow old streets near the Salzburg Festival Hall, we wandered into WWII bomb shelters deep under Monchsburg that, in the 1970s, were converted into well-illuminated advertising arcades that lead to parking garages for ~1900 cars–inside the mountain. These advertising arcades are also underground pedestrian and bicycle passages from one side of the ridge to the other.
Then we found the lift that goes up to the top of Monchsberg and wandered around up there. We descended via a staircase that deposited us near Siegmundstor, the road tunnel built through the mountain by another of the Prince-Bishops in 1764-66.
Before returning to our hotel, we visited the fascinating Mozart Residence, just opposite, on Makartplaz.
That evening we walked around the corner from our hotel to the main entrance of Schloss Mirabell and up the “Staircase of Angels” for Mozart chamber music in the large gilt-decorated chamber where Mozart himself performed. The music was lovely. We think the audience was almost, if not entirely tourists–including two large groups.
This little cherub showing the way was one of dozens perched on the balustrades.
On Saturday morning, we caught the #25 bus at the corner by our hotel. It took us the ~13km to the cable car station at the foot of Untersberg.The trip to the 1,342 meter high summit was just a tad different from a tram ride up to OHSU. From the top, only 5km from the border, we looked out over Germany.
On our way back, we took advantage of the bus stop at Hellbrunn Palace. Commissioned by Prince-Bishop Markus Sittikus, the estate was built 1613-1615. Marcus Sitikus had quite a sense of humor. Over the years, he added many elaborate water features that were designed to surprise his aristocratic guess with showers in the most unexpected locations.
On Monday we crossed the border on a Panorama tour to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Hitler’s favored command center was Obersalzburg, much lower in altitude. The bus slowed down as the guide pointed it out. As we looked at the dramatic white shape of Festung Hohensalzburg off in the distance, framed by two alpine peaks, I could imagine Hitler sitting in his study, looking at the vista outside his window, thinking, “Ach, so—this is mine, all mine.”
Goering and Himmler ordered the construction of Eagle’s Nest to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday. But Hitler hated heights and was claustrophobic. He went there only twelve times—although he stayed for a few weeks each time. Because of his claustrophobia, the interior of the elevator is polished brass, to make it seem bigger.
We enjoyed lunch and a little window-shopping in Berchtesgaden before returning to Salzburg. It was less than an hour’s drive, so we had plenty of time to explore the west side of the Salzach River.
We couldn’t quite match up the directions in the sightseeing guide the hotel gave us with our street map, so we took a couple of detours on our way to the Capuchin Monastery and found ourselves on Steingasse, which means “Stone Lane.” In medieval times, it was home to butchers, potters, dyers—those whose work required much water from the river, as well as laborers and brothels. I just happened to spot a [deliberately] provocative wall plaque. It says “House of Pleasure” (or Enjoyment) in both French and German, offering “Girls with Hearts.” According to one of several accounts I found on the internet, this is another institution that dates back to Mozart’s time. Prostitution is legal in Austria.
Further up the lane, close to the stairs that took us to the next street up the hill, we spotted a plaque dedicated to the Prince Bishop who built the fine house that became our hotel also ordered this passage to the Church of John the Baptist in 1632. We also saw the plaque commemorating the birthplace, in 1792, of the composer who wrote “Silent Night.”
Climbing past that church, we found another passage which lead to the monastery. We looked inside, briefly, then admired the view of the city. Not only is our hotel in this picture, but the double-window toward the left end, with the long row of geraniums, was our small balcony.We looped back down a different way, passing several of the Baroque Stations of the Cross built along the cobblestone road.
We relaxed on our balcony once we returned to our room, listening to the horse-drawn carriages clop by and the church bells ring every hour. The bell tower of Holy Trinity Church was nearly at eye-level.
I’ve been involved with the aircraft warning lights at our condo at home, so, as it grew dark, I appreciated the warning light atop Festung Hohensalzburg. It is in the flight path of the Salzburg airport.
We spent our last day,Tuesday, exploring streets we’d found before.
We didn’t learn until later that the baroque figures representing “former Salzburg eccentrics” that we’d seen in the Bastiongarten at Schloss Mirabell had, at one point, been cleared out of the “Dwarf’s Garden” because the Prince-Bishop was afraid they would upset his many children. Most of them were brought back in the early 20th century.
We went through the pedestrian advertising arcade to the east side of Monchsburg. As we wandered through the largely residential neighborhood, we’re pretty sure that we spotted that one of those dwarf statues that was missed during that collection effort. It stood, entwined in leafy branches , in the corner of a walled garden by a small house nestled against the east side of the mountain.
And–we found our way to the famous Augustiner Braustubl in Muln for lunch.
That evening we had tickets for an excellent visiting quartet, “Lochenhaus on Tour” at the Mozarteum, right around the other corner from our hotel. They performed Beethoven, Kodaly, and Korngold for what appeared to be an audience of regular local concert subscribers and quite a few of the students at the Mozarteum. The hall was beautiful and the music dynamic.
We left Salzburg a little past noon on Wednesday. In this photo of Gary checking out, you can see into the Sketch Bar, which has a nice ’30s atmosphere. Note the painting on the right of a stylish young woman trying on shoes.
Since we travel light: one wheeled bag and one light carry-on each, we enjoyed the half-hour walk to the Hauptbahnhof to await our train to Vienna. The station is very modern, but we appreciated that they had left the 19th century, cast-iron canopy arches in place over the platforms.