Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Salzburg - Day 3, Castles, Palaces & Birthdays

Today was Margaret’s fiftieth birthday so as the original five we arrived early in the breakfast room and put up banners and balloons in the way we do to draw attention to the misfortune of reaching birthday milestones. The hotel provided an above average breakfast and this morning, after the birthday girl joined us, we enjoyed the moment and didn’t rush to get away because today we planned a walking tour of the city.

Just like yesterday the day started with a lot of cloud but it was already clearing nicely as we walked down Linzer Gasse stopping only to visit a graveyard to see the tomb of Mozart’s wife, Constantia, and by the time we crossed the river and entered the old town the sun was shining and the temperature was rising nicely. We planned first to visit the Hohensalzburg fortress so we purchased our tickets for the ride to the top on the funicular railway and took the quick journey up to the castle courtyard.

From this elevated position there were some tremendous views from the battlements. To the south and west were lush green valleys and high mountains decorated with farmhouses and huts and to the north and east was the city spread out like a ribbon of pastel colours all along the river valley in both directions. Inside the fortress there was a room displaying marionettes, and another with a Lowry like display of an attacking army. There was a museum about the fortress that included a lot of military uniforms and a room with some unpleasant implements of medieval torture including some curious chastity belts whose design characteristics looked as though they would surely be effective in preventing sexual activity but had some inherent features that I suspect made maintaining personal hygiene a bit of a challenge!

There we learnt some interesting facts including the story about painting an ox during a siege in 1525 to fool the attackers into believing the castle was well supplied (when it wasn’t) and earning the citizens of Salzburg the nickname of ‘oxen washers’. Also that the wealth of the city was based on salt mining which gave the city its name and that the fortress was never taken by an attacking army until Napoleon marched in invited in 1801. Finally we enjoyed a guided tour around the battlements including a climb to the top of the castle where we took one last look around and admired the magnificent views before we left the fortress and retuned to the city on the funicular.

In the square at the bottom there was a small market and some men playing chess with metre high playing pieces that we stopped and watched for a while and then set off around the streets to explore the adjacent churches and courtyards and at lunchtime we returned to the pavement café that we had used the first day and had more soup and had a very pleasant and relaxing hour in the sunshine.

Returning to the streets there were lots of shops selling Mozart products and the great man stared out with a bemused stare into the streets from a thousand chocolate box lids. I would say that Mozart is much more in evidence than the Sound of Music in Salzburg and everywhere there is Mozart memorabilia in the same way that Stratford-upon-Avon exploits its Shakespeare connection. There was another familiar name as well because sadly everywhere it seems has to have a MacDonald’s, and Salzburg was no exception, but here even the purveyor of junk food looked a little classy and had joined in the fashion of having an elaborate sign hanging over the narrow street outside.

There was a street market in the university square that wasn’t extensive but had a good range of produce nevertheless. There were free samples and we tried a variety of cheeses and some especially good Hungarian sugar bread. We saw Mozart’s house but didn’t go inside and walked past the famous concert hall where the annual Salzburg music festival is held and then we were back at the river.

We left the old town and took a pleasant walk along the banks of the Salzach and walking in a northerly direction the river was overlooked on the western bank by the dominating museum of modern art which was a new concrete building that looked ugly and out of place and I wondered what the city planning department must have been thinking of when they allowed it. One thing we discovered was that you have to have your wits about you when taking this walk because the footpath merges without warning into the cycle way and if you are not paying attention then it is easy to get in the way of the people whizzing about on two wheels. All along the river were large nets on posts and while most of us wondered what they were Micky quickly identified that they were litter catchers for people on bikes who didn’t have time to stop and use a conventional bin.

We were walking towards the Mirabell Palace gardens where we found one of the Sound of Music film locations. This was the Palace gates and elaborate water fountain where Maria and the children danced, skipped and sang do-re-mi. The gardens were immaculate, the summer bedding had been recently removed and the edges of the lawns and the flowerbeds were clean and sharp and some of the winter flowering pansies had already been put in place. We had our picture taken by the gates in full Sound of Music pose but resisted the temptation to burst into song. Next to the formal Palace gardens was another, this time informal garden, with curious marble dwarf statues that we wandered around before leaving through the front gates into Markartplatz with another Mozart museum.

Salzburg is famous for its cafés and its cakes and a short distance from the Hotel Mozart was the Café Fingerlos, which came highly recommended in the guidebooks because of its innovation and its prices. It was late afternoon and the sun was extremely warm now and there was a bright blue sky so we sat at pavement tables on Franz-Josef Strasse and made our selections from an extensive menu and after some moments of indecision, which seemed to irritate the waitress, finally choose our cakes, sat back and waited for them to arrive. And we were not disappointed because they were delicious and this was a perfect way to end the walking tour of Salzburg.

In the early evening we met again at the hotel bar across the road from the Mozart and tonight I think they realised we wouldn’t be dining there so they left us alone to enjoy a couple of pre dinner drinks. Afterwards we walked into town through the shops back to the Goldone Este. I find that about eight o’clock in the evening is a great time for shopping as most are closed and the others are thinking about it. Here the shop windows were meticulous and the merchandise was sophisticated and chic. And it was expensive too! We especially liked the clothes shops and my favourites were the traditional Austrian outfitters whose entire stock seemed to be made up from leftovers from the Sound of Music film wardrobe.

At the restaurant there was champagne to accompany the meal to celebrate Margaret’s birthday and we sat chatting and drinking until late and probably kept the staff from closing and going home. I think we had too much wine because on the way back to the hotel we played chicken by running through pavement water fountains. They were the sort that varied the height of the flow and the object was to wait until the stream had slowed right down and run through it without getting wet before it picked up again. I know exactly what you are going to say – Tut-Tut, Brits behaving badly abroad!

After a final drink in the lounge and a game of gin rummy with Micky’s new pack of playing cards and then to bed. There was a clear sky and there were stars so I was optimistic that tomorrow the weather would be good again.

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