Saturday, 15 November 2008

Salzburg - Day 1, Mozart & Julie Andrews

It was an early start again for the breakfast flight to Salzburg but there was no need to rush because I received a special offer on car parking and for a reasonable £60 booked four days in the short stay car park right outside the terminal building. On-line check in made it even easier and even though Christine was selected by the airport Gestapo to turn out her bag for their perverse amusement we cruised through security and choose a table in Wetherspoons pub and had a sit down and a leisurely cup of tea.

A little too leisurely as it turned out because Kim decided to go browsing in the duty free shop and, not for the first time, completely last track of time and I had to go and fetch her and remind her that we had a plane to catch. We walked all the way to the departure gates but then realised something was wrong because our gate number was not there. I had brought everyone to the wrong end of the airport (and it is a very big airport) and we had to turn around and walk briskly (very briskly as it happened) back to the shops and then onto the monorail to go the correct gate. This put me in a bit of a flap but the others were all quite calm and we made the plane and settled in for the short flight to the W. A. Mozart Airport in Salzburg.

It was still early when we arrived and the thin cloud was still clearing but by the time we were through arrivals and passport control and waiting for a trolley bus into the city the sun was beginning to burn through. The bus arrived and the journey took about twenty minutes but this was not my best day with transport and I made another mistake and made us all get off of the bus about five stops too soon and that meant a walk of about a kilometre to find the Hotel Mozart. It turned out that the people of Salzburg are not too imaginative and almost everything is named after the famous composer.

Mozart was born in 1756 and was baptised with an excessive and unnecessary collection of names, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart! No surprise then that as he became famous he shortened that to Wolfgang Amadeus, which was a much better name and what great foresight he had because that way it fits so much easier on the album covers. Wolfgang was an interesting man, probably the eighteenth century equivalent of a modern rock star; he earned a huge amount of money, spent it all and died a very poor man. I do like his music and he was extremely prolific. He started composing at five and died young only thirty years later but during his life he managed to compose over six hundred major pieces of music and I calculated that as nearly one every two weeks. That was impressive productivity!

Although it was only eleven o’clock our rooms were ready so we were able to check in and freshen up and after the long walk we were glad of that. We didn’t waste a lot of time however and within fifteen minutes we were ready for a stroll into the city. The friendly man at the reception desk gave us a map and a brief guide with some restaurant recommendations and then we were away.

We walked straight to the old town crossing the River Salzach on the way, negotiating some busy main roads and then through an archway into the world of Mozart and Julie Andrews. The sun was shining in a watery sort of way and the pastel coloured facades of the riverside buildings looked cheerful set against a backdrop of pale blue sky and hillsides radiant in autumnal yellow, russet and bronze. We walked through the main town squares, the Alter Makt and Residenzplatz, and around the streets underneath Hohensalzburg fortress that rises high above the city on an impregnable rocky bastion.

It was lunchtime by now so we found a pavement café with tables in the sun in a square with a statue of Mozart and we had bread and soup and apple strudel and a first glass of Austrian beer and when that was gone we walked a little more.

Just around the corner was a travel agency selling Sound of Music tours and I thought that this might appeal to the girls. The film is one of the most successful ever and is based on the story of the Von Trapp family. The Captain was a very successful Austrian naval captain during the First World War but found himself promptly unemployed after 1918. Now this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who examines a map of post Great War Europe because Austria was stripped of its extensive empire and reduced to a land locked central European state with no access to the sea and presumably therefore without a requirement for naval commanders, however successful they might have been.

The Captain had to find an alternative career and discovering that his children possessed a talent for music exploited this to create the Von Trapp singers. When one of the children fell ill with scarlet fever he employed the novice nun Maria to care for her and the rest is history. I like the film but it takes a few historical liberties; for example the family actually didn’t hike from Salzburg to Switzerland to escape the Nazi’s but in reality simply took the train to Italy and then to Switzerland, now that must have been a whole lot easier and besides, if they had climbed all of the mountains between Salzburg and Switzerland they would have had to go through Nazi Germany and would have been extremely lucky to arrive, not to say completely knackered by the time they got there! The film is shown every night at eight o’clock on Austrian TV and the British Government has a copy ready to broadcast in the event of a really bad national emergency.

By now there was a fantastic blue sky streaked with white clouds and the views across the river Salzach towards the fortress were magnificent. We walked along the river and then down the main shopping street before buying tickets for a lift to the top of the cliffs up to the museum, which, on account of this being Monday, was closed. It seems we always visit museums on Monday! At the top of the gorge there were spectacular views over the city and a wonderful woodland walk. The trees were adorned with golden leaves and there was a thick carpet of those that had fallen already and there was a pungent smell of decaying foliage that was definitively autumnal. The woodland walk took us along the ridge of the gorge through piles of leaves and fallen conkers and then diverted into the hillside along some lonely tracks. The path meandered towards the fortress and soon we were walking again under the shadows of the fortress battlements.

After the early start and a long day we were a bit tired now so after a stop at the café where we had had lunch earlier we walked slowly back to the hotel. Before resting however I carried on to the railway station to get some timetables for our planned excursions and called in at a Spar supermarket for some wine before returning and joining the others in taking a little refreshing nap.

The hotel was in the New Town and that evening we didn’t plan to walk too far so we wandered down Linzer Gasse and choose an Austrian gastro pub called the Alter Fuchs for our evening meal. Kim and I had been there before but we had learnt nothing from our negative recommendation experiences in Galicia and we didn’t hesitate to go inside and take the others with us. Fortunately on this occasion the place didn’t let us down and we had five plates of substantial food, lots of beer and wine and a thoroughly enjoyable evening. There was an interesting waiter who was German but had spent some time living in Yorkshire and who was keen, perhaps a little too keen, to impress us with a repertoire of colloquial expressions that he had picked up along the way.

It wasn’t late when we returned to the hotel and Micky, Sue and Christine were tired and went to bed but we stayed up in the lounge and had another drink because we were expecting two others to join us who had flown in on the afternoon flight and it seemed only polite to wait up and meet them. This was Mike and Margaret, some old friends of Kim’s who were joining us to celebrate Margaret’s fiftieth birthday and they arrived soon after and Mike explained in great detail how the trolley bus that we had got off too early stopped right outside the hotel and based on my performance today I thought that I might put someone else in charge of transport arrangements tomorrow.

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