When our friends, Syd and Debi, asked us to join them in Salzburg – where Debi and her choir were performing in the Salzburg Music Festival – we jumped on the offer. Salzburg is on my short list of places we must visit, and Pat is a fan of classical music. I quickly investigated and booked hotels and train connections, before folding up the trip and storing it in the back of my mind. It’s the kind of trip I don’t feel the need to plan. My ignorance of the role music plays in Salzburg and the position of the music festival in the classical music universe was my bliss.
The train from Vienna to Salzburg zipped through a changing panorama of Austrian scenery from patch-work farmers fields, thru church-steepled villages, and along rolling wooded hills. Salzburg is the gateway to the Austrian ski mountains, and this eastern part of the country builds to the mountainous crescendo. Arrival at the new train station and the 10 minute stroll into town validated my carefree lack of planning. The trip was shaping up to be a breeze. We stopped at an “off the beaten” path beer garden, Biergarten die Weisse, for a late lunch before checking into our hotel and catching a quick nap. This first night our music concert awaited. Syd casually mentioned it was to be a bit more serious – and formal – than he realized; woman in gowns, men in tuxedos, and champagne fluted intermission. Fortunately, I was not intimidated to be the worst dressed attendee at the event because unfortunately, I was.
In my mind’s eye, a choral performance takes place in a high school gym, boys and girls in white tops with black slacks, the music teacher playing the piano accompaniment as she paces the choir with the deliberate wag of her head. This was not that. The choir was the Collegiate Chorale of New York City – the first US-based choir to be invited to the festival in the past several years. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra provided the accompaniment. The renowned Zubin Mehta conducted the two groups thru a pair of pieces by Bruckner. We weren’t in Kansas. It was magical. A young man sat next to me in his dark suit and white shirt. A neuromuscular disease impaired his ability to walk. Using his wheelchair to access the venue, he slipped gingerly into his seat. On his lap perched the sheet music of each piece. He conducted along with the master. The audience appreciated the quality of the performance and reacted accordingly. What did I expect, it was Salzburg.
After the concert, Syd, Pat and I sat in a nearby beer garden (an emerging theme) under an illuminated castle nursing a beer and a light dinner. We wandered back thru the old city and over the bridge to our hotel in the pedestrianized zone. We had no plans for the remainder of the weekend. I like to stew in a city like Salzburg – a must see city with no single must see sight. We’d figure it all out in the morning.
In a city of hills, you can always escape the crowds by hiking up. The next morning we climbed thru the Kapuzinerberg Hills to the Franziskischlossl castle.
We left the teeming pack of tourists behind, the trail was virtually ours alone. We glimpsed a bird’s eye view of the old and new cities and the jagged peaks of the western mountaintops. The castle now serves as an outdoor restaurant but we didn’t dally. Later, after returning to the city, we visited the Mirabell Gardens before crossing the river. Over the next several hours we interspersed minutes of meandering with hours of drinking, eating, talking and laughing. It’s the perfect way to spend a day in Salzburg. Our first stop was a riverside coffee-house for an ice cafe, before wandering a bit further to the Augustiner Braustubl (beer garden) famously run by the Augustine monks. We returned to the core of old town and lazed away some time enjoying the evening performance shared on an outdoor screen. Families, grannies, ladies in traditional Austrian dress, and ladies with short skirts and too tight tops plopped down to appreciate the show. In this city of music, keeping the show to the exclusive privilege of those able to pay the hefty ticket prices would be unthinkable.
The remainder of our trip we followed the footfall echos of the great composers thru the narrow streets beneath wrought iron signs; peeked into shops and imagined which of the traditional Austrian dresses might suit us; popped into churches; scrambled thru the hilltop perched castle. My favorite musical snack was performed daily at 5:00 in St. Peter’s Church. The choir sang a 15 minute A cappella round robin guided by the frantic arm twirling of their director. The lovely church is adorned with plaster work – one of the most opulent churches this side of the Vatican. An appreciative audience lined the sides, sat on the floor, and overflowed the back. After the concert we entered the gate behind the church to a unique cemetery nestled against the stone mountain wall and leading to the old monastery bakery. The bread is made from flour created on site using the rotating stones powered by a waterwheel just outside the bakery door. We passed on the Mozart and Sound of Music tours on this trip. While it may see schmaltzy to some, the tours include the key sites in and out of the city. I have taken the Sound of Music tour in the past and enjoyed it.
All in all it was a perfect weekend in one of the great music cities in the world. I wondered what Salzburg would be without Mozart. Would there be a great city without the great genius? A Salzburg without Mozart is unimaginable – his image is everywhere. But the answer is irrelevant. A city named Salzburg was accessorized thru the medieval wealth generated by salt and conspired with a young musical prodigy to evolve into a musical powerhouse. For this weekend, the two were indistinguishable.
Make it happen:
Hotel Trumer Strube: Bergstrabe 6. This hotel – at 98 euro per night – was the cheapest option I could find in the Old Town. The location was perfect – out of the main flow but in the pedestrian town. The rooms and bath were European small and clean. Given it was warm, the bedding could have been lighter – the comforter was a winter weight. But for the price and location, we will certainly stay here again.
Augustiner Braustubl: Ausgustinergrasse, 4. When you enter, turn left at the last door. You can bring a picnic if you buy beer. Or you can choose from a selection of individual stands (most with some form of pork, potatoes, brats, traditional local food). Grab your food and pay at the individual stalls. It’s fun – and a mix of local and tourists. Pick the size mug you want before going down and outside to the garden, rinse it out, and take it down to pay first and get beer second. It’s not fine dining – but it is good fun.
Restaurant Triangle: Wiener Philharmonikerg. 7 (near the Festival performance halls). A wonderful indoor and outdoor restaurant which was always packed – perhaps due to its location at the feet of the performing halls. We had an “all holes barred, let’s celebrate selling our house” meal. The quality was excellent. The ingredients largely organic. The staff helpful. The prices – 65 Euro for 2 drinks, 2 meals (steak and fries), 1 soup (the red pepper – outstanding) and 2 desserts were reasonable (tho some drinks get a bit pricey).
Biergarten Die Weisse: Rupertgasse, 10. A relaxing place for a beer, some good traditional food, and to watch the local men play cards. A bit off the beaten path. Enjoy the outdoor garden if possible.
Categories: Western Europe