I half-sprinted to the town bakery for early morning bread–it was Salzburg day! Salzburg is, of course, the town of Mozart, the Sound of Music and now, the Salzburg Summer Music Festival.
It is Austria’s fourth-largest city with a population of 150,000. We’d read about the huge Salzburg Summer Music Festival that takes place July and August. It started to keep the Vienna musicians in summer employment. We checked online for music festival information and thought we’d hit the Tourist Information (TI) in town to find out our chances for a musical event.
Our hoteliers had explained the vignette system for Austrian motorways. You stop in a petrol station and buy a vignette paper to put on your windshield as you drive the motorway. The cheapest vignette is about $11 for 10 days of coverage. If you are caught without one, the fine can be over $300. According to the hotelier couple, it is only five kilometers of motorway in Austria so better just to avoid the motorway and take the back highways. We would need to be careful to diligently avoid the motorways.
The forecast called for rain and the clouds agreed. We hoped the gloomy sky, rain, dark clouds on the horizon and wet roads would keep the crowds down in busy Salzburg for our 100 km drive.
The autobahn in Germany moved along for only a few minutes before the brake lights began. We came to a dead stop several times. I escaped the motorway and we wound through small towns on our way east toward Salzburg. I was sure it would be the way around all that traffic…
I know it will shock you, but I was not the only driver with that notion. All told, it took us nearly four hours to inch those 100 km. She didn’t say it, but I’m sure Lisa was impressed with my hours of small-town driving. We ended up with some small upset stomachs. Thank God for plastic bags. We did stop a bit to take breaks and enjoy a snack or two from our stash. We finally neared the city and couldn’t move. A sign declared the city center was closed. We already knew there were no cars allowed in the old city center so we had to stop at a roadside TI (tourist information) to ask about that one. It meant the city center parking lots were closed and drivers would park in the park & ride spots north and south of city. We headed for the airport park & ride. Figured out the ticket system and bus lines, and jumped on the #10 line— with a whole lot of other people. Each stop the driver made, you were just sure that no one else would be able to squeeze in. At several stops, waiting passengers just looked in, shook their heads and waited for the next one. One older lady boarded then nearly fell back against the doors as Lisa reached out and helped steady her. A whole lot of people would not be held back from this jewel of a city, no matter the weather.
We made it into the city center and headed for the Mozartplatz. This square holds the Mozart statue erected 50 years after Mozart’s death. This first civic celebration of his life cemented his emerging legacy and drew his two surviving sons as well.
We hiked up to the imposing Salzburg castle (Hohensalzburg Fortress) in the pouring rain.
This fortress was so formidable it was not attacked for over a thousand years and remains the largest medieval castle in Europe. Modern weapons eroded the significance of this older style of fortress and the French Army occupied the castle without a struggle during the Napoleonic era. The picture of the door handle shows the turnip as it was the royal family’s seal. We nearly had to drag the boys out of the armor and torture room displays.
Mozart’s birthplace (Geburtshaus) was next on our list for our remaining time. (we would simply have to see the nutty Sound of Music tour another time) The Mozart family lived in the third-floor apartment for 26 years and the building had already been there for over 200 years. The kitchen technology of the day included a drain in the window frame for waste water. We stood in the room where the great composer was born in 1756. The room includes his violin given to him at age 6. Wolfgang’s father, Leopold, was a composer, conductor, teacher and violinist in Salzburg. Seven children were born to Leopold and his wife but only two survived infancy. He molded the young Wolfgang and encouraged, some say prodded, his natural talent. Wolfie’s sister, Maria, also toured with Wolfgang and his father for several trips.
I snapped a picture of this portrait before noticing the “no photos” sign and the lady in the corner reminding all the would-be photographers! A moderately complex sheet of music contains Leopold’s note that his young son spent from 9 to 10:30 PM one evening learning and mastering the piece. Wolfgang’s many trips took him on the road performing for over one-third of his life. He finally fled Salzburg (and his father’s influence) for the larger Vienna after failing to be hired by any of the great courts of Europe.
As any good fan of the movie Amadeus can tell you, Mozart was a true prodigy and died young (age 35). Hard to imagine, but the policy of the time was to appease a potentially revolutionary public by limiting the privileges of the nobles. Coffins were reused and the number of candles at funerals was even limited. These facts led to the idea that Mozart was given a pauper’s burial.
We walked down the shopping street, the Getreidegasse. A street of commerce since the days of Rome, the Getreidegasse is well-known for its wrought iron shop signs. Even the McDonald’s golden arches have been classed up into iron. At the end of the Getreidegasse we found a tall, peaceful cathedral squeezed up against the cliff face. We went in and lit a candle. A dear friend had lit a candle for me when I was in the midst of stem cell transplant recovery and we wondered if it was the same church.
We grabbed a quick, simple seafood dinner in the bargain place by the river. Then walked across the bridge to get ready for the show.
In keeping with the classical music exposure that Austria prides itself on, we’d purchased tickets for a Mozart marionette theater. We popped into the Viennese-style coffee house Cafe Bazar for a pre-show coffee and hot cocoa. Then ambled along as the rain was dying down to the marionette version of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”.
There were no pictures allowed during the show but I managed a few of the theater. The theater boasts a proud history and many puppets displayed from past shows. During the first act, the girls were alternately trying to sit in my lap to see the performance. They were quietly discussing whose turn was next. An older lady three rows in front of us, snapped around, gave us a loud and pointed “Sh” and whipped her head back front again. The girls slumped into our laps. Quite upset, they whispered “We weren’t doing anything wrong.” Lisa and I consoled them and at intermission it provided perfect fodder on talking through how we are to treat others.
The puppets were surprisingly lifelike and brought life to Mozart’s opera. The show was nothing like the Sound of Music scene. Periodic synopses on the wall, in five languages, punctuated key events in the storyline. The marionetters (?) had the figures move past each other (pretty amazing for puppets) and the soundtrack sounded like it could have been singers off stage. The sets and lighting looked right in line with any opera. We hoped the kids were picking up some classical music appreciation in spite of–or even because of–the puppets!
Leaving the theater late, we rushed back to the park & ride and started the drive back to Oberaudorf. The rain persisted, we tried to follow our route back but one wrong turn and we ended up headed down the onramp for the Austria motorway—still without a vignette. I crouched down behind the wheel and tried to imagine how the Austrian police caught vignette violators on their highways. I stopped at the first petrol station I spotted where a clerk gruffly pointed out that Germany was 100 meters down the motorway. I felt silly buying one at that point so we got back on the motorway and sure enough, we had succesfully run the vignette gauntlet.
Salzburg—you hit us with punishing traffic and bad weather and we still loved you.