Salzburg and Austria

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After a typical Austrian breakfast of various homemade jams, breads, cold cuts, cheese, hard boiled eggs and coffee…we were off for our day in Salzburg.  Rain was in the forecast for afternoon, so we headed to the Old Town to walk the Rick Steves walking tour under a warm sun.

In Salzburg we saw Mozart’s statue and birthplace, an amazing old cemetery that the cemetery scene in Sound of Music was based on and where Mozart’s sister and Haydn’s brother are buried, some wonderful plazas and fountains, and the outside of the cathedral. It was Sunday morning mass so we did not go in and disturb the worshippers. We ate huge chocolate and sugar pretzels in the morning and some amazing non-American hotdogs in the afternoon. Both times listening to street musicians in the plaza.

Midday we went to the Salzburg fortress, riding the short funicular up the cliff side. It is a real preserved medieval fortress.  I wasn’t overly impressed with it, but the kids liked it.  We headed down the cliff side switchbacks (we somehow missed the funicular to ride down and I wasn’t walking back UP to catch it).

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In the afternoon we drove a short way to the Hallein Salt Mines.  We had to don white pants and shirts over our clothes to protect from the salt.  Then we piled onto the “train” which was just a long bench on rails.  No railing, handles…nothing.  Everyone saddled the bench, held onto the person in front, and we barreled into the mines with perhaps one foot of space to the sides and above our heads.  If you stood up or stuck your arm out while we were going…well then you lost a body part.  Quite entertaining.  It was pretty cold down there.  The best part was twice we had to take a wooden slide down to the next part.  You straddle two slick wooden rails, extend your legs out, lean back and shoot 50 or 100 meters down.  You increase in speed, can’t see the end, and can’t do anything about it.  Very fun.  At one point in the mine we all boarded a boat and made our across an underground salt lake.  Once again with the ceiling of the mine just a foot above us.  Stand up…natural selection. The tour was a fun break from cathedrals and castles.

Salzburg is a cute town with lovely narrow alleys lined with shops and wonderful plazas and churches.  It is extremely touristy, but still quite lovely.  Where we were staying in the outskirts the streets were full of locals and guesthouses.  Our innkeeper Frau Steiner was just so sweet and accommodating.

The next morning we packed up and headed out across the Alps. It was cold and rainy as we packed the car, and it rained the whole day. We drove across green countryside dotted with iconic whitewashed Austria houses with wooden shutters and flower boxes outside the windows. And not just a few. Every town we drove along the curvy roads displayed houses brightly painted, rolling meadow and forest.  But all incredibly lush and quaint.  The Alps loomed large all around us, and sometimes we drove switchbacks up and over. There were lots of tunnels. The temperature ranged from 8-11 degrees Celsius. That’s pretty much in the 40s Fahrenheit…and it was cold. We were all wearing shorts and thin jackets. I did not pack enough warm clothing for any of us. It was a far cry from the 91 degrees of Vienna just a few days before.

We stopped in Jenbach at Schloss Tratzburg.  It is a medieval castle from the 1500’s still intact with original furniture etc. The kids and I loved it. Nathan loved the medieval weapons and armor room. I loved the wood paneling and carvings, the original 16th century furniture, the secret doors and original wall coverings.

Finally we arrived to our next guesthouse Gutshof zum Schluxen in Pinswang, Austria outside of Reutte just south of the German border. Very, very nice. Michael and I went down to the restaurant to get internet service and shared a table with a man also using his computer. His family was from North Carolina and was doing a similar trek across Europe (using Rick Steves as well). They were heading to Salzburg next and would be in Rothenburg the same time as us.  We talked with him for a long time, exchanging stories of our misadventures in Europe thus far.

The next day we crossed into Germany to see Mad Ludwigs’ castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. I had reservations about seeing them because they are such tourist traps and suffer from large crowds. However, we thought they were both excellent. To get a jump on the Munich tour buses and crowds we grabbed an early (and excellent) breakfast at our guesthouse and got to the castle area around 9:00. It was about 40 degrees and raining steadily…but that may have kept some people away.  At 9:00 we walked right up and bought tickets. We got a tour at the 1st castle at 9:50 and the 2nd one at 11:55.  A Rick Steves tip had put us in the closest parking lot, so in between we sat in our car for a bit to warm up and have a snack. By the time we were done, the town was mobbed with crowds and tour buses as I had read. Mid-afternoon we stopped at a restaurant for a very late lunch, and rested in our room. The kids enjoyed visiting with some cows in the field behind us.

We left Austria the next day. What a lovely country. The people are very friendly and helpful, they love food and beer and being with family and friends. The countryside is spectacular. We ate a lot…I never thought we would eat out so much. But when we are out and about and burning a ton of calories, we just seemed to always be hungry. Luckily, the food is excellent! And onward to Germany…

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