After a fair amount of hiking and an extreme amount of elevation all day at Berchtesgaden, it was nice to cross back into Austria with some savory street chicken and a variation of the country’s famous vienna sausage, the utterly delicious spicy onion and curry Bosna and get a good rest.
The next morning we got a relatively early start in order to see as much of this gorgeous Alpine valley-set town as we could. First off, I have to admit that I’d never seen The Sound of Music before going, although after hearing or reading the name about 50 times in Salzburg, we certainly did after returning. So, we didn’t expressly search out that place where Maria did that thing, or where the children were all bratty, or where Christopher Plummer was all stern and stuff, but we did recognize plenty of those places when watching the film.
Whatever its other merits, The Sound of Music is a spectacular tourism video for Salzburg, and it’s a city that lives up to its reputation. This former large Roman provincial town (I didn’t realize they built at such a scale this far north) has seen an almost perpetual state of prosperity and building ever since, largely thanks to the rich salt mines nearby. The Salzach River bisects the town, and we started on the less built-up side, with the beautiful Mirabell Palace gardens, which do get a prominent scene in the film, and boast carefully manicured flowers and an incredible view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which is in the center of, and looms over, the Old Town.
Next we crossed the clear blue river, fed by fresh mountain sources, took a peek at Mozart’s birthplace, a nondescript yellow house on a typically narrow old European street, then headed into the ubiquitous series of stately plazas and ornately decorated churches that all of these old royal cities boast. Of particular interest was the Franziskaner Church, with its unique circular nave with what appears to be a straight-up two story house inside, the imposing and beautifully painted Salzburg Cathedral, and St. Peter’s with its baroque interior and surrounding cemetery and catacombs, which were carved from the nearby cliffside and reportedly date back to the first Christians to come to the area. Now they hold a few chapels and graves, most notably Haydn’s.
The rest of the day was devoted to the main attraction, Hohensalzburg. The fortress was actually built by bishops, not kings, their parish enriched by the salt mines and their power unchecked by local government. The function of protection and storage was much the same, though, and the entrance fee is one of the best deals we ran across- 12 euros for a funicular ride to skip the climb, entrance to the fortress and buildings inside, and an audioguide through one portion of it. It also provided free wifi with an interactive map for its landing page.
And a spectacular view.
In many ways, the architecture and interiors of much of the fortress haven’t changed significantly in the 500 years since its last major renovation. The stonework is eclectic and imposing, and the rooms and chambers in all their gilt, wood-panelled and painted glory, are like stepping into another century. The Golden Hall and Golden Chamber in particular are shining examples of medieval design.
The fortress also contains a somewhat hyperbolic torture chamber, the “Bull of Salzburg”, a famous organ Mozart himself composed pieces for, and even a somewhat head-scratching small museum to a World War I division… allied with the Germans. To wrap up the day we grabbed a table in the cobble-stoned courtyard and ordered a couple of pewter mugs full of cool Austrian beer- the popular but somewhat forgettable Stiegl and a much better dunkel. As always, the perfect way to wind down a busy day.