My first visit to Austria

Never one to turn down the opportunity to visit somewhere new, this weekend I made my first trip to Austria. We went for the same reason as our trip to Germany last year: to view an aeroplane for sale! This time we were joined by our friend Nigel, and we travelled first to a gliding club near Linz – which had views of the Alps in the distance – to look at the aircraft. I’m keeping the details to a minimum here as I have a lot to write about, but here’s a pic to share with you as Lee took off for a test flight.

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Here’s what the aircraft looks like on the ground. Very beautiful and sleek, as you can see! We spent quite a while there, looking through paperwork as well as the plane itself.

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We told the Austrians that we would go away and sleep on it before making a decision about whether or not to purchase it, and then they drove us to the station, where we caught a train to Salzburg. The journey took just over an hour, and it was absolutely spectacular, as you can see in the photos below.

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You can just about see in this photo the incredible rainbow effect on the clouds – the most extensive I’ve ever seen – but photos don’t do it justice.

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The train itself was fantastic too – double decker, bang on time, and with free WiFi thrown in. A one-way ticket cost just €12.50 and we arrived in Salzburg to find it extraordinarily warm and sunny. We didn’t need the thick winter coats we’d brought with us!

After checking in at our hotel and recovering from the journey, we ventured into the centre of Salzburg. Night had fallen and the old town proved immediately to be incredibly atmospheric. This is the Getreidegasse, the street on which Mozart’s birthplace is located. The photo really doesn’t do justice to how magical it was in real life.

Getreidegasse

It didn’t take us long to reach Mozart’s birthplace, at number 9. It’s hard to miss, as it’s painted a bright yellow and has a long Austrian flag hanging outside it! It was closed by the time we went past on the first evening, but it was first on the itinerary for the next day.

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We found a restaurant in which to have a steak dinner…

Dinner

Lee

…and then, suitably refuelled, took to the streets once again to explore more of Salzburg by night. This square was a happy discovery. A temporary ice rink had been put up in it and there were still Christmas decorations up. On the hill overlooking it, you can see the majestic Hohensalzburg Castle, which, thanks to its commanding position on a hill overlooking the city, unexpectedly comes into view on many a street corner in Salzburg. Again, the photos nowhere near do it justice.

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Next to the ice rink was the most delightful little outdoor bar, which had a few tall tables and a Christmas tree. It was so lovely to soak up the atmosphere whilst standing by an outdoor fire, drinking mulled wine, eating delicious Austrian doughnuts and talking about aeroplanes, art and all sorts of other things.

Outdoor

After that pit stop we continued our wanderings. We crossed through a square next to the cathedral and stopped to enjoy the wonderful sound of an assortment of church bells marking the hour. What with the bells and the sound of the horse and cart, it was a bit like going back in time. Click the play button below to enjoy the sounds of Salzburg.

We were walking gradually towards Hohensalzburg Castle. Not pictured in this photo is a giant chess board in the square for anybody to enjoy!

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This was the view as we began our ascent of the hill on which the castle is built. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves, and it was so magical.

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The higher we got, the better the views got. I know I keep saying it, but the photos just don’t do justice to it. The views were stunning and they just haven’t come out very well in the photos!

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It was a reasonably tough climb for those of us who don’t go to the gym as often as we should, with lots of steps and steep slopes…

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…but the views were totally worth it.

Salzburg at night

The streets were virtually deserted by the time we got back down into the town and made our way towards the bus stop.

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We awoke next morning to thick snow falling fast outside. It was very picturesque (I tried to get a photo, but falling snow never comes out on photos!), but it couldn’t have been more of a contrast with the warmth and sunshine of the previous day! The snow was of rather a wet nature, so we chose indoor activities to start the day with. Breakfast was first up, and rather than having the expensive yet poor-quality Ibis hotel breakfast, we went into the old town and found a little cafe on the Getreidegasse just down the road from Mozart’s birthplace. I had a lovely caffe latte and, on Grandad’s prior recommendation, a slice of ‘sacher torte’, a kind of chocolate cake.

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After a most enjoyable and leisurely breakfast, we made our way down to Mozart’s birthplace. The snow had stopped, but it was still quiet, with not many people about. As you can see, there’s a Spar shop on the ground floor, but this isn’t as anachronistic as one might think; there was a grocery shop there in Mozart’s day.

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The Mozart family lived on the third floor, and both this and the second floor are now a museum of Mozart’s life. The rooms are all empty except for museum exhibits, which included facsimiles of various letters and scores of his music (and that of his father, Leopold, and sister, Nannerl).

This was the room in which Mozart was born. As you can see, the way it’s done doesn’t really give you much of a sense of what it would have been like in Mozart’s time, which was a little disappointing. The weird pole things are displaying various personal effects of Mozart’s, such as a ring, locks of his fine brown hair and a wallet he is said to have carried everywhere with him til his death.

Mozart's birthplace

Mozart’s childhood violin was also on display in this room. One of Mozart’s piano concertos was playing on a loop in the background.

Mozart's childhood violin

There were numerous portraits of Mozart in each of the rooms. This one was definitely my favourite; it was drawn during his lifetime and it’s said to be the most like him, and I think it’s unique in its more realistic portrayal of Mozart’s character. He’s made to look quite pompous in many of the portraits, but this one gets across something of what he was really like. From what I’ve read, he was a lively and enthusiastic person, but also quite a guileless and modest soul, and this comes across in the expression on his face in this sweet little portrait.

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I consider myself to be reasonably knowledgeable about Mozart, but I learned quite a lot that I didn’t know. For example, I hadn’t known that Mozart’s two sons were also very musical, and that Mendelssohn, on meeting one of them – Franz Xaver – commented on how like descriptions of his father he seemed – guileless, modest, impossible to not to like him instantly on meeting him.

This was the piano on which Mozart composed many of his later works, including (I think) The Magic Flute and the Requiem. I was surprised that there wasn’t more about the Requiem and the interesting circumstances surrounding Mozart’s death; all I could find was a short paragraph denouncing the myth that Mozart was poisoned and the misconception that he had a pauper’s burial (apparently he was buried in accordance with local customs at the time). If I’d have done it, I’d have had a whole room about his death and would have the Requiem playing in it.

Mozart's piano

This was the only furnished room, which gives one a sense of what Mozart’s apartment would have been like. The furniture isn’t his, of course, but it’s of a similar period, and descriptions of Mozart’s house and belongings are in keeping with this.

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The shop at Mozart’s birthplace was most disappointing. I had been expecting a decent book section and was planning to stock up on scholarly volumes about Mozart and his life and music, which I was going to read on the plane; but instead there was a woefully small section of books, most aimed at a very basic level and in German. The rest of the shop was devoted to awful tat: rubber ducks dressed like Mozart, Mozart woolly hats, Mozart perfume, Mozart golf balls… etc etc. It was dreadful and an insult to his memory!

All in all I was a little disappointed with the birthplace, though I’m still glad to have been. I didn’t think it did a particularly good job of conveying Mozart’s extraordinary musical genius, though one did get a sense of his personality from the extracts of his letters dotted around the house (such as one to Constanze, in which he sends her “thousands and millions of kisses” and other such exuberant declarations of his affections – so sweet!). Next time we will go to the other Mozart residence in Salzburg, which is the other side of the river.

With Mozart’s piano concerto going through my head, we left the birthplace and started walking towards the hills overlooking Salzburg. On the way, we went inside the cathedral, which was very white and almost colder than the snowy outdoors.

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At the foot of the hill is this curious structure: it’s a horse bath, as the frescoes hint. It was built in the 1700s, and – I’ve only just learned – features in The Sound of Music. I’m going to have to watch that film again!

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The city looks different by day – not quite so magical as at night, but it’s still very charming.

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Our legs were still burning from the previous evening’s climb, but we made our way up the hill again to enjoy the views by day. The morning’s snowfall had left most of the surrounding mountains cloaked in white.

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We ascended the hill from a different point further round from the fortress this time. How impressive is that fortress dominating the skyline! This is roughly where parts of the ‘Do Re Mi’ scene in The Sound of Music were filmed.

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Carrying on the walk along the hilltop, we got to see the mountains on the other side of the hill from the old town. It was so windy up there, and it was an icy wind!

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Eventually the fortress came into view between the trees.

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We were sheltered from the wind in this spot, so Lee gave the gliding club a call to tell them the decision they’d made about the aeroplane: to buy it! No wonder Nigel looks nervous!

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Having made this momentous phone call we continued our walk up to the castle, the gents already starting to plan their flight back with the new plane (which will be in the spring, when the weather’s better). It doesn’t matter what angle you look at the castle from – it’s invariably breathtaking.

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The first thing we did upon paying to get in was head to the warm restaurant to get some lunch. The view from the little window we sat by was fantastic, and it had started to snow again.

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I enjoyed a lovely warming glass of mulled wine, which was just what I needed after that cold, windy walk.

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Lee and Nigel did the Austrian/German thing of drinking big tankards of beer.

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This was my lunch: a delicious cheese gnocci, which was wonderfully warming but very filling.

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Lee and Nigel went for more traditional Austrian fare in the form of these curiously presented sausages, which we agreed looked more like something out of Embarrassing Bodies than food!

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After a leisurely lunch we looked around the castle. It was built by the powerful Archbishops and work began in 1077. The view from every single window was incredible. In this photo you can see a snow cloud approaching, completely obscuring the surrounding mountains.

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Inside the castle, the wood-panelled staterooms, of which this is just one example, were unexpectedly cosy, despite being unfurnished.

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We also did a guided tour of some of the other rooms, which took us up to the highest tower out into the snow.

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That looks like mist, but it’s actually snow!

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Awww!

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As you’d expect, the view from the tower was splendid as the sun started to go down.

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It took us quite a while to find our way out of the fort, as it had closed by the time we finished the audio guided tour. It was almost dark by the time we got to the bottom.

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I spotted a lot of traditional clothes for sale in the shops in Salzburg, which made me realise that we have no real equivalent in England!

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This is the other ubiquitous product available in Salzburg: Mozart chocolates. Needless to say, I bought myself a tin! Mainly for the tin rather than the chocolates, as I love tins.

Mozart chocolate shop

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We crossed a footbridge to the other side of the river and enjoyed this lovely view back towards the fort.

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Weary from all the walking, we found another warm and cosy restaurant for dinner. The waitresses were wearing traditional Austrian clothes, and the bread on the table included a pretzel!

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More beers for the gents. I had some red wine to go with my beef goulash soup.

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Lee had more traditional Austrian/German food: sausages with sauerkraut and horseradish. I don’t think he was too impressed with the sauerkraut!

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This seems a good point to mention that, apart from the cake, I didn’t think much to Austrian food!

However, despite that, my first experience of Austria was overwhelmingly positive. It seems a very civilised place, and cleaner and much better organised than the UK (public transport runs on time, there’s free WiFi everywhere, and even the McDonald’s next to our hotel, where we had breakfast before leaving for the airport this morning, was more like a coffee shop!). I’m already looking forward to going back to Salzburg and taking my parents with us next time!

2 Comments on My first visit to Austria

  1. James
    January 12, 2015 at 10:41 pm (2 years ago)

    Oh God, Austrian food is the wurst! (Get it?!) – tough schnitzels, over salted everything, no colour, no veg. Ugh!

    • Rachel McCombie
      January 13, 2015 at 9:37 am (2 years ago)

      Haha, great pun and I totally agree!