Salzburg: Mozart vs. The Sound of Music

As we prepared to embark on our Uniworld tour of Salzburg, the Ramblers recalled our first visit there 17 years ago. We used one of my week-ends while teaching history to Georgia students in Metz, France and traveled there by train.  A married couple in my class had gone to Salzburg the preceding week, and highly recommended it so we decided to go as well. It was  a wonderful week-end. On their recommendation, we stayed at a marvelous Inn,  the Romantic Hotel Gmachl, up in the green hills surrounding Salzburg,  which has been in the same family for over 500 years. The Ramblers  hoped that the Uniworld tour would be just as much fun.This time we wouldn’t  have to spend the night trying to sleep in a first-class train compartment, but would ride in a brand-new Uniworld bus.

In 1998, Eurail sold a pass that covered almost all of Europe. It was good for a certain number of 24 hour days of travel so it had to be used judiciously, and often involved traveling at night. Both students and faculty  were issued rail passes which were used for field trips as well as independent travel   Lengthy field trips were reserved for Thursdays. After the educational part was over, everyone, students and faculty, split for  week-end trips of their own. Classes resumed on Mondays. These  passes are no longer available and using a rail pass requires even more planning today.

The Beatrice had docked in Linz, Austria around 3 am. However, we wouldn’t  see much of Austria’s third largest city and largest Danube port.  Our expedition to Salzburg was to last a full day. Linz did sound like a fascinating place with  a 13th century main square surrounded by restored Gothic houses.

By the time we got back to Linz we could only see their Christmas lights
By the time we got back to Linz we could only see their Christmas lights

Not only had Mozart composed a symphony there, but it was also a popular spot for many other musicians, especially  the composer Anton Bruckner. Bruckner served as the Linz’ cathedral organist for more than 10 years in the 19th century. To sweeten the pot, the city is also the home of the delicious Linzertorte which prominently features almonds and raspberry jam. Hope we get back there someday.

However, even the Ramblers haven’t mastered the art of being in two places at once. We had made our choice and were off to Salzburg at 8:45 am. Despite the cloudy skies and chilly weather yet again ( high 39′, low 36′) the Ramblers enjoyed the drive. We traveled through a varied landscape of farms, field, woods, a lake or two and an increasing number of foothills on the excellent Austrian roads. Half-way through the  3 hour drive, we stopped at a rest area  for several kinds of refreshment.

View from the rest area
View from the rest area

The rest area was crowded with tourists as three Viking busses had also pulled in, along with assorted cars and vans. There were long lines for both men and women’s toilets, but no one was left behind. This Rambler was much impressed with the quality of the rest area. We have stopped at hundreds in our travels over the US and Canada, and this was one of the nicest. Instead of the vending machines that are standard in the US, it included a shop that sold a variety of local products as well as drinks and tasty snacks. No wonder it was crowded!

Salzburg, the fourth largest city in Austria, and the capital of the Austrian federal state of Salzburg, has one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps.  It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998 Salzburg is also home to three universities. However, most tourists come here for two reasons. to visit the birthplace of Mozart and because parts of The Sound of Music, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015,  were filmed there.

Cold looking tourists walking in the Mirabell Gardens
Cold looking tourists walking in the Mirabell Gardens, no fountain frolicking today

Although I might sound like a Philistine, the Rambler believes that most American tourists visit Salzburg  because of The Sound of Music, and I expect, not a few  folks from other parts of the world do as well. This is not the place to discuss WHY this musical is so popular, but just to admit that it is. Actually it was a contributing factor to  our choice of Salzburg in 1998. We even took a Sound of Music tour, somewhat disappointing as we had a terrible guide and it was raining, yet we were eager to visiting this magical city again.

Our group was dropped off on the outskirts of the Aldstadt (old town) in a somewhat nondescript spot. I carefully noted the the street names on the map we were given, so we could find it later. It is no fun to be lost in an unfamiliar place. Our guide, unfortunately, was the worst( again, no luck in Salzburg with tour guides) we had on the whole cruise.

Cold looking statues bordering the Mirabel gardens.
Cold looking statues bordering the Mirabell gardens.

Fortunately  the tour itself was relatively short, then we could spend the rest of the day on our own. Of course, the first site our guide pointed out related to the Sound of Music. the Mirabell Gardens, still green in December.

We then crossed  the river on Salzburg’s lock bridge to the Aldstadt. The Ramblers later learned that the lock bridge was a modern phenomenon and lock bridges were now everywhere, but we dutifully checked out some of the locks. Actually the custom dates back over 100 years, but became somewhat of a fad in the 2000’s. Countless pairs of lovers have vowed their love by clipping a padlock on a bridge and throwing the key in the river. Don’t know what they do if they use a combination lock??? Some cities encourage this, others consider the locks a form of litter and remove them.

Zither player on bridge of locks
Zither player on bridge of locks

Crossing the bridge, we saw our first and only street musician, a zither player. He was bundled up against the chilly wind that blew down the Salzach river. Fortunately zithers are played sitting down which must have helped a little. I couldn’t tell if he was playing Mozart, as I had to hustle to keep with our group. He certainly wasn’t playing anything from Sound of Music!

On to the Alstadt!

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