Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ostern in Österreich

For the second year in a row, Nick and I have found ourselves in Austria for Easter. Last year, we explored Vienna (which I highly recommend) and this year we were able to find some last minute, super cheap train tickets to Salzburg. One of the best travel tips we can give to anyone living in Europe is to hit as many of the big tourist cities just as they start gearing up for the tourist season in April. Most of the sites are just opening up, the shop keepers and waiters aren't completely sick of people yet, and you don't have to fight the huge waves of tourists. Much more relaxing. Sure, the weather is a crapshoot, but as they say in Switzerland, there is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices.

Salzburg, named for the salt mines which surround the area and provided the much-needed food preservative to Europe during the Middle Ages, was one of the most religious and politically influential cities north of Rome. Its rulers were both princes of the Holy Roman Empire and arch bishops of the Catholic Church. Its most historically important leader, Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, turned the original city into the Baroque masterpiece it is today. Sadly, his leniency with the Protestants, many of who worked in the local salt mines, got him into quite a bit of trouble with the Church and landed him in the Hohensalzburg Fortress dungeon.

The Hohensalzburg Fortress is absolutely amazing. Pay for the funicular up to the top; it is 11 Euro, but includes the price of the entrance fee. Well worth saving your feet for the beating they will take on the cobblestones wandering through the town squares and the Mirabell Gardens.

Highlights and interesting tidbits we learned in Salzburg:

1. It is believed that Salzburg was once one of the cleanest cities in the Middle Ages. Due to the system of waterwheel-powered canals, the streets were regularly flushed of waste and it is believed that this is the reason Salzburg never suffered from a plague.

2. The St. Peter's cemetery is filled with grave gardens. Loved ones tend the separate gardens into beautiful little living bouquets. Not so grim afterall.

3. Austrians, in my opinion, do the coffee break better than anywhere else I have seen in Europe. Coffee comes out on a silver platter with a little glass of water, tiny matching pitchers of milk, and adorable little sweets. Drink coffee in Austria.

4. Concerts are everywhere and you should take the chance to see one when you go. The cathedral has amazing offerings of organ music, the Rezidenzplatz offers harpsichord concerts, and several of the restaurants offer Mozart dinners. We were lucky enough to catch a harpsichord concert. The musician was an amazing player, albeit a quirky doppelgänger for Buster from Arrested Development who grinned like a maniac during the jaunty accelerandos.

5. One stop that is a must in Getreidegasse is the Sporer Likor und Punschmanufaktur. They have been making their own schnapps and liquors for over 100 years. Good schnapps tastes like fruit or herbs, bad schnapps tastes like kerosene. This is the good stuff. You may also see Eierlikor all over the place in Austria. Although technically made from eggs and egg liquor sounds disgusting, it is really more like eggnog and delicious.

6. In the museum at the Hohenburg Fortress, they have an interesting selection of battle instruments. One of which is an early version of the modern clarinet which looks suspiciously like a recorder. Nothing like rousing troops into a blood lust with a squeaky round of "Hot Cross Buns".

7. Unless they are making a quick buck, Austrians don't really care about the Von Trapps. Also, the Von Trapp family didn't take a hike over the Alps to escape the Nazis, they took a train to Italy. Sorry fans, no one here sings Edelweiss, they're too busy loving on some Mozart. Speaking of...

8. Mozart got the hell out of town as soon as he was able. He was just too big of a hot shot to stick around in Salzburg. A falling-out between the Mozart family and the archbishop, culminating in the archbishop insulting Mozart by the refusal to allow him to play for the Emperor and Mozart being seated at the servants' table, drove Mozart out of Salzburg and toward Vienna. Still, you can see the place where it all began and hear some great music. Plus, get your hands a couple of red, marzipan candy Mozart balls. No one can resist genius balls.

Grüß Gott und Frohe Ostern aus Salzburg!