Crossing the bridge of locks, the Ramblers followed their guide into the Alstadt, crowded with both locals and tourists. Inside are an array of historic buildings; the magnificent baroque Cathedral, Dom, the Abbey of St. Peter and of course, Mozart’s birthplace. The old town is also home to a marvelous selection of shops selling both international and local brands, just about anything you might want.
There are also restaurants and coffee shops and you will even find a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. By law, each shop along the Getreidgasse has to have a signboard, even McDonald’s, although there are many alleyways that are sign-less.
On the Getreidgasse, the main shopping street, at #9, is the Mozart Birthplace museum It is painted a bright yellow ocher, called Schoenbrunn yellow by the Austrians because it was a color favored by the Hapsburg’s. (You can buy it in their paint stores.)
The narrow pedestrian only street was crowded this Friday with folks doing some Christmas shopping the second week-end in Advent. Our guide herded us fairly briskly past these attractions; luckily, there would be time to shop later.
On the way to the Cathedral, we noticed a stand offering horse and carriage rides. The carriages are called fiaker. You can take a carriage ride that might cost from 40 to 80 Euros. Just too chilly, and our time was limited so we easily decided against a fiaker ride.
Our final destination was the magnificent baroque Salzburg Cathedral or Salzburger Dom
Its patron saints are St. Rupert and Saint Vergilius. This was a surprise to me because when our youngest grandson, little Virgil was christened, the priest told us that he had had a hard time finding a saint with that name, but finally located one. I managed to find St. Vergilius by accident on a river cruise!
The cathedral is truly beautiful with many interesting side altars, a frescoed ceiling, and a wonderful creche under construction.
Since I was little, I have always enjoyed the nativity scenes that are assembled in Catholic Churches before Christmas. In Catholic Austria, they are set up during Advent, and more figures are added as Christmas draws near. Unfortunately t was really difficult to photograph the one in the cathedral because it was protected by an extensive Plexiglas shield,
The cathedral kneelers, like all the others I saw in the old churches in Hungary, Austria and Germany are made of sturdy, rough boards, and you really know you are kneeling on them. No easy on the knees, padded surfaces like we have at home. On the way out, we were asked for a small donation to help with the upkeep of the cathedral. The young woman who accepted my coins sat in a small, unheated enclosure by the door, and she looked very chilly. When I remarked on this, she smiled and said, “Oh no, I have volunteered for this job.” I hope she was rewarded with hot chocolate or Gluhwein when her shift was over.
The Alstadt Christmas Market was held on the plaza directly in front of the Dom. Our guide pointed it out and hustled off;, he really was a disappointment. We wouldn’t stay at the market either, as we wanted to see more of Salzburg.
Since we now had several hours to spend on our own, the Ramblers had to make some choices. We decided not to take the funicular up to the spectacular Hohensalzburg Castle, because it looked to be both chilly and time consuming.
This meant that we wouldn’t be able to seek out Nonnburg, the Benedictine Nunnery that played an important role in the ubiquitous Sound of Music.
Although Maria was never a novice there, she did spend some time at Nonnberg, the oldest European nunnery in continuous operation. first established in the 8th century. It too was on top of the hill, with an excellent view of the mountains. Instead we headed towards St. Peter’s Abbey which was much closer and left us time for lunch and some sight-seeing on the way back to our bus stop.
A block away from the Cathedral, the crowds thinned out. Soon we found ourselves in the Abbey grounds where we were almost alone.
We enjoyed the peace of the cemetery and the old Abbey church which had been established about the same time as Nonnburg. Our goal was to eat at St. Peter’s Stiftskeller which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Europe in continuous operation (for 1200 years according to their brochure). Of course there is no way to dispute this claim and they may be right, because the monks who lived at the Abbey began serving meals in the 8th century.
We finally found the entrance to the Stiftskeller after wandering completely around the abbey building complex which was extensive. Fortunately it wasn’t crowded and we were seated in the lower level which once served as the cellar of the Abbey in medieval times. This was an extra treat for the historian Rambler. The food and service lived up to our expectations and we enjoyed our meal; the only one we didn’t eat on the Beatrice.
After a leisurely lunch, we headed back to the Getriedgasse, tracking backward towards the river and our meeting place. On the way we had more time to do some window shopping . Our guide had talked a lot about the Mozart candies or Mozart Kugel and I wanted to get some.
His key points were that you had to try them, and they could be found in two different colors wrappers, red and blue. Although the composition of the candy was the same, the blue ones were made by hand and commanded a much higher price while the more pedestrian red ones were machine made and much cheaper. When he said much more expensive, he wasn’t kidding. The aristocratic blue Mozart candies were over 1 Euro each (actually about $1.50 US), while I was later able to buy a bag of the red ones
for about 3 Euros (under $5.00). Well, I had to compare the two, so I went into the the exclusive blue shop and bought one, but only one. I found i really like Mozart Kugel; they have a nougat and marzipan interior with a chocolate coating. The senior Rambler only likes milk chocolate butter creams, so I didn’t have to buy any for him. That was a good thing, because to me, the expensive blue wrapped candy tasted pretty much like the red ones I bought later. We probably should have done a blind taste test when we got back to the Beatrice.! I later learned that the blue ones were the original, invented by a gentleman named Furst in the 19th century. Because of their popularity, they were soon copied by many other Austrian candy makers. These lowly candies have been the subject of many disputes because they became big business.
They are everywhere in Salzburg, but only the ones made by Furst are allowed to have blue wrappers. The Furst blue ones are only sold in three shops in the Alstadt, while the best place to buy the red ones is a supermarket.
Along with candy shops and designer clothing we did see a plebeian store in this high-rent district, that sold tourist souvenirs.
Another shop had a very weird display; the Ramblers had no idea what they sold and didn’t really want to go in to find out. We took time out to stop at the local Starbucks, one of the few places, as it turned out, where you could actually sit down . Always a plus was the Starbucks rest room, not to mention the availability of familiar coffee.
Fortunately we were able to find our pick up spot with no trouble. A few members of our group were already there. Right across the street, there was a supermarket, and I jumped at the chance to check it out. For some reason, I enjoy visiting grocery stores where ever we travel. To me, they have a lot to say about the local culture. It was a neat little place, with an excellent selection and good prices. Behold, they had bags of the red Mozart kugel on sale along with several other kinds of Christmas candies which I bought for our family at home.
Just a little bit about European currency. Both Austria and Germany use the Euro(they are part of the Eurozone), but the Hungarians still use their national currency, the forint. During our brief stop in Budapest, I exchanged some dollars for forints on the Beatrice and paid for my purchases in Hungarian cash. When we got to Vienna, I exchanged my leftover forints and some dollars for euros. Be warned that most European stores will not take dollars, as the euro is worth more. You can use a credit card, but be sure that it has a chip, which is used in Europe and that your credit card doesn’t add a fee to each purchase you make in Europe. The fee is usually about 3% and most but not all, cards charge one. You can also use a currency exchange although again you will pay a fee, and the rate of exchange may not be so good. ATM’s may be the most convenient way to get cash, but you must find one that has the same system, like Cirrus, for example, as your home bank. However, the ATM fees can be quite high, and you will be billed on both ends.
Uniworld provides a currency exchange for its passengers, for small amounts of cash. If you have never traveled in Europe,it is a good idea to learn about exchanging money and using credit cards before you leave. Also, be sure to let your bank know when and where you will be traveling or you may find that your credit card is frozen, not a good thing.
My final act in Salzburg was to buy some roasted chestnuts from a vendor near our bus stop, They were a welcome treat. Then we climbed on board for the long ride back to our ship.
That night we would have the gala Captain’s Farewell Dinner, and later the Beatrice would sail to our last stop, Passau, Bavaria.