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The Birthplace of Mozart

[Salzburg, Austria]

Today’s adventure entailed another day trip – this time to Salzburg, Austria. The fourth-largest city in Austria, with a population of 150,000, is famous as the birthplace of Mozart, one of the largest music festivals in Europe and one of the continent’s largest intact medieval fortresses. Its city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I made the 2.5-hour trip by train. I’m still amazed and how convenient, fast, clean and hassle-free train travel is in Europe. I now realize what a nightmare LA is to tourists, especially to Europeans. The urban sprawl and the 14 lanes of the 405 jam-packed at rush hour must be an utter shock to them.

I started my exploration of Salzburg at the Mönschberg, a mountain in Salzburg. Mountain is a bit exagerrated… it’s more of a hill with a cliff face. At the top of it sits the Modern Art Museum and its cafe, and a paved, wooded walking path along the ridge connects it to the fortress – Hohensalzburg.

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I rode the elevator to the top and got my first dose of Salzburg from up high. It looked absolutely beautiful.

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I started on the paved path, but soon detoured to Stadtalm cafe, recommended in Rick Steves’ guidebook. It was set on the edge of the mountain so its outdoor terrace overlooked the city, and I got to see Hohensalzburg behind me. I had Schweinebraten – roast pork in a sauce with potatoes, a dumpling and coleslaw, and washed it all down with and beer. It was delicious, and the best al fresco setting to date.

I went back to the paved path and not 15 minutes later, I arrived at the fortress. Built on a rock above the Salzach river, the fortress was never really used – the point was to scare enemies away and it worked, because the city was never taken by force. Salzburg surrendered only once, voluntarily, when Napoléon came knocking. The fortress was eventually opened to the public as a tourist destination in the 1860s. There isn’t much inside the fortress; its best feature is the view of Salzburg from its terraces and from the top of one of the towers.

From there, a funicular runs down to the town, and that’s how I ended up back in the Old City center.

From there, I followed Rick Steves’ audioguide through the major sights of the old city. I started of at one of the bridges above the Salzach river. “Salz” means salt in German, and the river is named so for the salt that used to be transported on it from the salt mines of Hallein, just 9 miles upstream. From there, I passed Mozart’s statue and meandered through the many interconnected squares.

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Mozart’s statue

I got to marvel at the Salzburg cathedral and the fountain in front of it, both reminiscent of the Italian Baroque style. This was due to the archbishop Wolf Dietrich, who ruled this town from 1587 to 1612. He grew up in Rome and was a cousin of the Medicis, and he wanted to make Salzburg into the Rome of the North. Dietrich eventually got in trouble with the pope; good Austrian Catholics were supposed to hold the line against Protestants. However, the town’s most important businessmen and the nearby salt mines were Protestant, so Dietrich dealt with them in a tolerant way. Eventually, the pope got sick of that had Dietrich locked up at Hohensalzburg, where he stayed until his death.

After checking out all the squares, I went by the waterwheel – a part of a clever canal system that brings water from the Alps and is still in use today. Next door I found Salzburg’s oldest bakery, where I bought a fresh-baked roll for a Euro.

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The tour ended at Getreidgasse, old Salzburg’s colorful main street. At #9, the slew of tourists outside made it obvious I’d reached Mozart’s birthplace.

Just after that, at #3, I ducked into a passageway connecting Getreidgasse and the street that runs parallel to it to the South. In that passageway, I found Schatz Konditorei, where I stopped for a coffee and a Mozart ball (Mozartkugel). It’s a chocolate confection with a marzipan, hazelnut and pistachio-cream center. I’m a self proclaimed chocolate fiend and I love almost anything chocolate but frankly, I was unimpressed with the Mozart ball. The guy should stick to music, I think. 😉

And that concluded my day in Salzburg. It was worth a visit indeed, for it’s one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever visited.

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