Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Weekly Interlude 8: Adventures Alone and Adapting

Salzburg Festival
In the romanticized version of my life, I live extravagantly in Europe, jetting about from place to place, eating schnitzel and chocolate and drinking wine. I speak German with the natives; I effortlessly navigate public transportation. I sing all morning and watch Lillian in the afternoons and evenings, and I travel to the countryside on weekends. (It certainly sounds better than applying to 700 jobs and getting rejected from the one interview I scored.)

But let's get one thing out in the open, the key element that puts a different twist on my European Extravaganzas: I do not cope well with change.

Old Town Salzburg
And, of course, the universe is intent on forcing me to accept change and to go with the flow: my friend couldn't travel with me to Salzburg, so I went alone; after a day in Salzburg, I went back to the hostel only to find my bedding/sheets completely gone; the shower head in the apartment broke while I was away this weekend. Nothing is straightforward, nothing is simple. Nothing is ever quite how I plan it. And while some people might say that the unexpected is what makes life an adventure, I am still working on taking this view.

This leads me to my second point: I am, fundamentally, a stressed-out person. I used to think it was mostly school that gave me anxiety, but after a weekend by myself in Salzburg, I'm forced to confess that, no, it's just me. Who else would feel stressed out on a vacation by themselves? Luckily, though, I recognize this about myself and was able to take measures this weekend to reduce my stress levels. After all, who wants stiff shoulders and an achey back in the land of Mozart and the von Trapps?

Which brings me to Salzburg: a charming, historical city along the Salzach River, nestled at the foot of the mountains and overlooked by a medieval fortress. It was known and named for salt, due to the salt mines located 9 miles outside the city. (Salz means "salt" auf  Deutsch, and the Salzach River carried salt cargo to the Danube/Black Sea/Mediterreanean.) With a little help from Rick Steves, I visited nearly every major tourist attraction in my three days there and even spontaneously decided to hike a mountain! Salzburg is small and perfect (and, in the summer, thanks to the music festival, very international); I only wish I could have shared my adventures there with someone. So prepare yourself now to make a virtual visit!!
Residenzplatz, Old Town

I spent Friday in Old Town, which looks much the same as it did in Mozart's day. Using Rick Steves's suggested walking tour, I began in Mozartplatz and headed over to the Salzburg Cathedral, where Mozart played the organ for two years. The baptismal font where he was baptized is still there; it was very cool and very surreal to literally stand in the midst of history. I have now seen things that Mozart himself saw...

Sound of Music exhibit at Panorama
I swung into the Salzburg Panorama 1829, a museum that had a special exhibition on the real von Trapp family from The Sound of Music. I learned that Maria wasn't actually a novice at the Nonnberg Convent, as depicted in the movie, but rather a teacher. I also didn't know that the Julie Andrews/Christopher Plummer movie wasn't the first version; there was a German film made earlier.

St. Peter's Cemetery
As I roamed my way through cobblestoned streets and squares to St. Peter's Basilica and Cemetery, I passed outdoor tourist stalls selling everything from magnets to wooden puppets. Eventually, I made it to St. Peter's Cemetery, which is hands down the most beautiful, least ominous cemetery I have ever seen. It looks more like a stone and flower garden than anything and abuts a cliffside. Crane your head back, and you'll see the fortress looming... The cemetery at the end of The Sound of Music, where the family hides from the Nazis, was based off this one.

Skipping ahead, I found myself on Getreidegasse, a narrow street with wrought-iron signs -- the main drag in Salzburg and major shopping street. Mozart's birth house is on this street as well, so I popped into the now-museum. It was very small but filled with insight into the daily life of the Mozarts. At this point, my sandal-clad feet were aching so much from trekking for hours over cobblestones that I wasn't able to fully appreciate what must have been a fascinating exhibit. All I could think about was sitting down -- which I did after scoring some Mozartkugeln (aka Mozart balls, chocolate-coated, pistachio marzipan and nougat bonbons) from Café Fürst and a Käsekrainer (cheese-filled sausage) from a nearby sausage stand.

Overlooking Mirabell Gardens
After dinner, I strolled over to the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, which you would probably recognize from The Sound of Music. (Think "Do-Re-Mi.") I sat down and listened to a small band play some marches. In light of the Salzburg Festival beginning that day, I wanted to hear as many concerts as possible. Since I don't have 200 euros to plunk down on a ticket, I scoured several pamphlets for free outdoor concerts instead.

Marionette Exhibit
Saturday was my fortress day. I took the funicular up 400 feet to the Hohensalzburg Fortress and visited the Marionette Exhibit, the Palace Museum, and the Castle Courtyard. Marionette (aka puppetry) is a local tradition, and there's actually a marionette theater that features productions of The Sound of Music and The Magic Flute, amongst others. The Museum focused mainly on castle life and military history. The Courtyard was the main square for castle residents, of which there were apparently about 1000.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace
After touring the fortress, I trekked down a ways to the red-domed Nonnberg Convent, where Maria von Trapp was a teacher. You'd never guess that the convent scenes in the movie were filmed on a Fox lot; I recognized this abbey because of the sheer accuracy of Ruby Levitt's set design. Then I hiked back up past the fortress and walked along some trails through the Mönchsberg woods, high above the city. Eventually, I came across the Museum of Modern Art, where I ate lunch with an amazing view and then visited the museum.

Festival Hall; von Trapps sang here!
That afternoon, I toured two of the three festival halls and went concert-hopping from platz to platz. (I saw a folk group, an a cappella boys' group from England, and an indie duo.) The festival halls are only used during the summer when the Salzburg Festival begins. One of them is the hall where the von Trapps sang before escaping! Although I wasn't allowed to take pictures directly at the stage (due to rules about photographing the Festival set), I think you'll still recognize the stone archways built into the side of the cliff...

Saturday evening found me in the Augustinerbräustübl, a 1000-person Biergarten filled with locals and tourists alike. It definitely would have been more fun to go there with friends, but the food wasn't bad, and the beer was even better! Next time I go to Salzburg, I'll know where to take people :) 

On Sunday, I hit up the Mozart Residence, the house on the other side of the Salzach where the composer moved when he was 17. This was a more extensive museum, complete with audioguide, focusing on letters, scores, and artwork from his lifetime. Though short, I think I preferred it to his Birth House. In the main hall, you could hear original instruments playing some of his music. In addition, his harpsichord (pre-piano instrument) was on display. It's much smaller than the pianos we see today, and the black and white keys were reversed!

Untersberg lodge
Climb to Hochsthron
My original plan on Sunday had been to take a 40-minute cruise along the Salzach, but at the last minute, I decided to visit Mt. Untersberg instead. To get to this mountain -- where the hills are alive with the sound of music -- you have to take a bus for 25 minutes out of town and then a 7-minute cable car ride to the top. What a great idea! I thought to myself. I'll stand at the window and take lots of pictures on the way up. Well, it was a good idea until we started moving (and swaying), and then all I could think about was how the cable could snap at any minute and I would plummet to my death. So cheerful, I know. But there was no snapping and no plummeting, and seven minutes later, I shakily arrived at the top of a mountain with the most breath-taking view. The air was cool and fresh, the paths filled with families and hikers alike. The fortress appeared miniscule beneath me in the distance. I stood at the beginning of the Alps, with ghost-mountains shrouded by clouds all around.
View from Untersberg

I ate lunch on Mt. Untersberg, then hiked up to Hochsthron, the summit. The climb didn't look difficult, but WOW it was. Very rocky, very steep. To make it all even better, I was shlepping all my bags around, since I'd checked out of the hostel. But despite my bags, my dress, and my flimsy H&M shoes, I made it to the summit, where I ate three Mozartkugeln and hummed "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music." A very fitting end to what turned out to be a wonderful weekend.

Mirabell Gardens
And now I know that even though I don't prefer to travel alone, I can do it and still have fun. Even though my travel plans didn't work out quite the way I wanted them to, I am proud of my adventures. If I had refused to adapt to any change in plans, I wouldn't have climbed Mt. Untersberg. Maybe I wouldn't have been to Salzburg at all! So I guess there is hope for me and my adapting skills.

Plus, now I just really want to watch The Sound of Music...!

View from Untersberg

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