Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Salzberg - the City of Umbrellas and Melk the huge

The Jugengästehaus Youth Hostel in Salzburg has been renovated and this shows clearly that they are working hard to dispel any images of dark, seedy places, infested with bed bugs or worse. In fact, this one is one of the better ones we have seen – bright and hip, open 24 hours with a coffee shop and all mod-cons needed for today’s traveller. Once we had finished breakfast and packed the last of our things, and I had caught up with Hels, who is delighted at the apartment we have managed to snaffle in Paris, we head into Salzburg.

Trouble is, so has everyone else. Now, parking is a pain in the proverbial in most European inner city areas, but Salzburg takes the cake. The fortress castle sits high on a hill with the old city laid out in a ring around the base. The streets are narrow – designed many hundreds of years before for a population that walked and rode horses. Even the horses and carriages that at exorbitant prices are doing a roaring trade cannot pass side by side.

And the dilemma is that everything we want to see today is in that tight ring around the rock. So it is in to one of the four paid parking stations we go – well, we try to go! We end up having to wait for 40 minutes in a queue. The car parks are all full and will only issue a ticket and open the boom once someone else has driven out. So, with Frances unable to help, we have to wait it out! Once parked, there is still a bit of a walk to get in to the main plazas.

We walk in past the Opera performance stage – it looks so ordinary in the bright light of day! Once in the main plaza, the sights we want to see are all close. We opt to begin with the Cathedral. The first cathedral on this site was in 746 and later more than doubled in size in 1177, but was totally destroyed in a fire in1598. The current Cathedral dates from 1614. The US Air Force dropped a bomb on the church in 1944, destroying the dome and much of the interior was badly damaged. It was fully restored and re-opened in 1959. To look at it today, you are looking at that piece of art from the 17th Century. Today we are incredibly lucky. There is an Organ Concert about to begin in the Cathedral so we pay our few euros and join a couple of hundred other people to hear Master Organist Heribert Metzger perform pieces from Bach and Mozart. We cannot see the organist who sits behind a screen. But we feel his might! There is nothing like sitting in a grand cathedral with your eyes shut while the air around you reverberates with powerful music and the vibrations come up through the floor into your feet.

And while it thundered inside, so too did it outside! But by the time we were out, the rain had stopped and we were able to continue on our journey of discovery. Our next stop is at St Peters Abbey – the only Romanesque church in Salzburg. This church is smaller, yet just as ornate as the Cathedral. Its minor altars are set between the columns supporting the walls – quite unusual. You know, there is a sense of sameness to the churches we have seen recently. They are very ornate, generally in the baroque style and heavy with gilt and in Salzburg a focus on the four founding Fathers of the Church. And yet there is something unique about every one.
In the cathedral it was the four minor organs that frame the choir, and its sepia coloured frescoes.
In St Peters it is setting of the side altars, its very wide main aisle and detailed baroque scroll-work. Oh, and its ancient cemetery and catacombs that are set into the rock, way beneath the fortress. My brother Michael had told us about the cemetery, urging us to have a look – and we are not disappointed!

The next stop was at the Franciscan Church. It has a dark Romanesque nave built in the 12th Century, solemn and sombre, and a light filled gothic choir supported by five huge stone pillars. And although the high altar is ornate, the surrounding nine minor altars that are set in a semi circle behind it are quieter. The overall effect is a less gaudy church, much quieter and what you might expect from the Franciscan order!

Back out into the streets we go and inadvertently head through the Residenz Platz – home to the Residence Palaces of the Prince-Archbishops. And in the centre of this wide open space surrounded by elegant buildings stands the largest baroque fountain outside of Italy – the Residence Fountain. From here, we turn into the main shopping area of Getreidegasse – a narrow street even by those days standards, filled with the shingles of the myriad of traders. It passes by the Rathaus with its elegant clock tower.

Its now well and truly time for some lunch and a sit down for a while. Elbowing our way through the throngs, we find a little arcade that houses a small but very busy restaurant – Fabrizi Espresso, and find the last empty table. The menu looks inviting and we finally settle on a Greek Salad for Michael and Three Sausages with Kraut and Potatoes for me. They were fulsome and tasty and very very enjoyable. But what is that? The people at the table behind us have just finished a dessert and when we asked our waiter what it was he laconically replied ‘Salzburger Nockerl’ and advised that it takes 20 minutes to cook. So although we really didn’t need dessert, we order one. And true to his word, 20 minutes later the most exquisite soufflé is delivered with a flourish and served to us along with Himbeersauce (raspberry sauce – made with fresh raspberries). It melts on your tongue and yet holds its shape for a surprisingly long time. This is a Salzburg speciality and a real treat not to be missed! When I go to the toilet before we leave, I pass a kitchen smaller than ours at home with only the addition of a second stove, and while we were there they not only turned out a range of meals, but no less than 11 of those Nockerl!!

The last on our list of must sees today is the Collegiate Church. Turns out it is opposite the other end of this arcade! This is quite a different church – a brighter, lighter and less severe church. Presently undergoing major renovations of the high altar, we can only imagine how beautiful it is. The side altars stand out because most of the rest of the church is quite plain in whites and creams. Outside the Church, the Grünmarkt was in full swing with bakers, butchers, flower sellers, fishmongers and confectioners plying their wares to locals and tourists alike. Walking back to the car we find a small souvenir shop selling the cutest Austrian girl doll that yodels music! Had to have one for a special little girl!!!! AND she had a stuffed kangaroo sitting under the Alpine hats – so while all others say there are no kangaroos in Austria (and Michael has a photo of the tee shirt to prove it), she says yes, there is!

Its been a day of churches – and so well worth it. Now, these churches are literally within spitting distance of one another – were the predecessors here more pious? Or did they live their lives in such a way that they felt the need for more ‘saving’? Guess we will never know for sure! Michael must be well on the way to a conversion – LOL, but no, seriously, he is right when he says that you can tell so much of the history of a place by studying its churches. And they are so close to each other that it is impossible to take a photo from the ground where you can get the impressive domes and steeples of them all in the one photo – thankfully Michael got one yesterday from up at the fortress. Oh and we did get some as well from Untersburg – but there is no detail to those – they are so high up!

As we go back to the car to leave, I stop by a small market store and get some souvenirs – Mozart chocolates and apricot schnapps! We could easily have filled another week here, but must keep moving. Then we take our leave of Salzburg – or try to. Seems that just like this morning when everyone was trying to park at the same time, they are now all trying to leave the city together as well. It takes us forever to get out on to the motorway with Kate frustratingly giving us new arrival times every ten minutes, while also telling us “You are still on the fastest route.” OK, ok, I get it!

The route we are going is on a mtorway. I had looked at taking an alternate route, but it would have added 2 hours to the journey and as we have left more than an hour after we had planned to, we opt to just do the boring bit and go straight through on the motorway. While much of the journey is behind those big barriers they up to minimise noise, we get glimpses of scenery – the beautiful Lake Mondsee with the high mountains behind it, rolling pastures and healthy crops of corn and various smaller plots of cabbage, lettuce and other vegetables. We smell that acrid smell of cow poo fertiliser, just sprayed and still brown on the tips of feed grasses.

Austria is right in the heart of Europe and we pass under a number of directional signs that not only point the way to Austrian towns and cities, but also finger the way to the surrounding countries – Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary! Cool.

We would have been happy to just get to Wien (Vienna) but OH. MY. GOD. What is THAT? We see this amazing amazing sight to our left on a hill. And then we are crossing the River Melk. Damn, I had forgotten to leave time for us to go and have a look at the Abbey at Melk. Bugger getting to Wien in a hurry, we turn off the motorway - this we just HAVE to see. I was hoping (desperately) that we might have been able to get really close, but no, we get to the car park - all abandoned and closed up snug for the night - oh well, it is just before 6 pm! But there is still enough light to get some photos, so we drive in to town, trying for the best possible vantage point. The trouble is that it is just so big that again we have trouble getting it all in one photo.

It is so impressive that it literally takes your breath away. High above the town, the sheer size of the complex is stupendous. This is one of the grandest pieces of architecture we have seen yet! In his book 'The Name of the Rose', Umberto Eco named one of the monks, Adso of Melk, as a tribute to the amazing library here of medieval manuscripts. Today, the buildings house a school for 900 pupils. Gosh, we must try to get back here and have a look at the buildings and the museum they contain. Sigh, if only we had more time! We knew we were never going to see everything in just one year, but boy oh boy, how we wish!

So back out on to the motorway (heading in the wrong direction for a little while [she blushes], but, honest to God Kate got it wrong - directing us to another road - soon rectified by a determined me!) On to Wien in the now waning light.

We hit Wien right on dusk - not a good time to arrive when you are looking for street signs etc. And we are coming from the opposite direction to that we arrived in 2006. Through the seedy side of town - the red light district. An interesting trip for sure with all the 'show' buildings and massage parlours. To early for interesting street trade though! We find the Youth Hostel fairly easily which is great because it is now well and truly dark. And joy of joys - our room ony contains bunks! Still, they are quite comfortable.

Michael goes in search of something light for dinner and comes back, two hot dogs in hand. Ah, but don't despair for us - they are not those plastic things on a sweetened roll, these are hearty sausages on long crusty rolls with the yummiest mustard pickles. Quite delicious! And so at the end of a day where our brains are bursting with the images of so many beautiful places, we hit the sack.

PS Antony and Amanda have hit a Kangaroo on their journey home to Darwin. Don't worry - we are told that they are OK, even though the car is very definitely not OK. We will update you when we have more info.

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