We waved goodbye to the Matterhorn, and boarded a train out of the Zermatt valley.
Switching trains twice along the way, we drank wine and read as the beautiful countryside of Switzerland whizzed by. I reflected on the grandeur of our hike and wished it was not yet over. If only our pocketbooks could have afforded a longer stay, I could remain hiking and tramping through the Swiss alps to the end of my days… I will be back! For now, it was on to Innsbruck, Austria.
The journey took around seven hours, but eventually we made it to our hostel and ate our first Schnitzel burger at a joint down the street. The next morning we headed to Altstadt or Old Town, the main historic square. We strolled along the Hofburg, an imperial palace from the days of the Hapsburg Empire. A wonderful pedestrian street that ran alongside it led to the Golden Roof, a famous structure that is in fact decorated with gilded copper tiles that only look “Golden”. A maze of cobblestone streets wound through rows of 18th century pastel colored buildings. In a narrow alleyway we entered a store selling the fruit flavored brandy and schnapps, the national drink of Austria. We bought a bottle of a delicious pear flavor as well as some apple cider.
A strong wind whipped through the city as we walked a path along the lovely Inn River. Still being in the Alps, massive mountains beckoned beyond the city limits. Any other time we would have heeded their call, but we needed a rest. We spread out on the grass of Waltherpark, reading our books and relaxing our sore muscles. For dinner, we were successful in searching out a Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, our luck ran out when we approached the only English theater in town and saw it was closed. It was back to the hostel for an early night in.
The next morning a train took us East to the musical town of Salzburg. At the train station, we were greeted by armed guards, Red Cross tents, and scores of shoddily clothed Arabs. Salzburg’s close proximity to the German border had made it a hot spot for Syrian refugees. It was an eye opener, being the first time we experienced the crisis firsthand. Outside the area of the train station, we saw little evidence of the refugees.
Salzburg is a scenic alpine town, complete with beautiful architecture and plenty of open plazas and squares. It has the amenities of a big city, yet retains a very quaint, small feel to it. On each side of the Salzach River we passed houses dedicated to Salzburg’s favorite son, Mozart. In a plaza also dedicated to Mozart, called Mozartplatz, we ate Wienerschnitzel sandwiches and brats from a food truck. To escape the rain, we dipped into a wine and spices shop and conversed with the friendly owner for quite some time. Afterwards, we partook in our hostel’s nightly showing of The Sound of Music. Filmed in Salzburg and the surrounding countryside, the movie put the city on the map. For us, it was a preview of the next day’s events.
The Sound of Music Tour
Yes… we went on the Sound of Music Tour. Yes… it was very corny. It was also hilarious, thanks to a couple of great guides, and very informative. For half a day a bus, painted with scenes from the movie, shuttled us around town and into a few nearby hamlets, showing us all the real life sights. En route, we sang along to the soundtrack and were bombarded with facts and hilarious side-notes regarding anything and everything Sound of Music. They even handed out cans of Almdudler, Austrian’s apple flavored national drink. It was a well put together tour and I would recommend even the most skeptical to give it a go. At the very least, you will get out plenty of laughs.
For a great resource on The Sound of Music sites in Salzburg, check out this website.
Here’s a video of my rendition of Do-Re-Me:
After the tour, we toured the Mirabell Gardens that can also be seen in the movie. They were manicured to perfection.
We got a kick out of the collection of weird troll statues that circled one plaza.
From the Gardens, we headed over to the massive Hohensalzburg Castle. Perched atop a scraggly hill with an eagle’s eye view of the city, the Salzburg Fortress is one of the largest in Europe.
We climbed the many steps, but you can also ride a cable car. It reminded me much of the Edinburgh Castle. On a short tour, we were able to ascend one of the towers and have some sweeping panoramas of the city. For dinner, we had some traditional Austrian fare at a restaurant in Old Town called Zirkelwirt. They served us some delicious pork entrees and even gave us “Student discounts” on our beer!
Our final day in Salzburg we spent biking some lovely forested paths along the river. We stopped at the famous Hellbrunn Palace, a former hunting lodge complete with a water garden where fountains spray water at unsuspecting tourists. We also took an obligatory picture at the Frohnburg Castle, one half of The Sound of Music House.
The back half, as seen with the lake view, is miles away at Schloss Leopoldskron. We briefly toured the Nonnberg Abbey before joining a fun little festival in Old Town. There was plenty of food, drinks, and music to be had! If you find yourself in Austria, currywurst is a must!
Sadly we had to leave the party a bit early and catch a train to Vienna. Through a light drizzle, we made our way to an English Theater and watched Everest, the thrilling rendition of the 1996 disaster. Sometimes it’s the little things!
We moved to a new hostel the next morning by the Naschmarkt. There we met up with my buddy Eric. He would be touring Europe for the next two weeks. The three of us spent some time at the Prater Amusement Park, though I must say I was a bit disappointed. It was no Six Flags, that’s for sure. Then we found a fun little outdoor festival in a park near the Museum Quarter. I got hooked on a drink called Sturm, an alcoholic version of carbonated grape juice. It is basically grapes that have barely started to ferment, or a young wine. It can’t be corked, due to possible explosions from rapid fermentation, and only comes between September and October. It was delicious, but dangerous.
After the festival we headed down to a sports bar to watch some football… and yes, it was American Football! The German dubbed commentary was hilarious. There was a male announcer with long, blonde hair who’s broken English was hysterical. “It ain’t over until Fat Lady Sings!” After dinner, we visited the hostel bar for a bit, drinking some more and playing a round of pool, darts, and a version of Hammerschlagen, a game involving flipping a hammer and hammering opponents nails into a stump. Eric and I stayed up until the 2:30AM kickoff and watched our Packers take on the Seahawks. They rewarded us with a win.
Our final day in Austria was spent relaxing, eating several rounds of currywurst, and visiting a brewery. At night, we bought tickets for a small-scale orchestra show in a fancy concert hall. The performance included renditions of Mozart & Beethoven’s classics, some opera, a bit of comedy, and even a short ballet performance. It was a unique all-in-one event and a great sendoff. The next day we were off to Germany.