Sensational Salzburg

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than three weeks since we returned home from our Epic European Christmas trip. It’s always a bit of a letdown to go from the excitement of Christmas to the dreary slog through January, but having a great Christmas trip to remember and a fun Spring Break trip to look forward to always helps. Today I’ve been looking through some of our pictures from our second stop in Europe this December, the beautiful city of Salzburg.

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Salzburg made a perfect quick stop on this trip because it is right on the German border, less than two hours by train from Munich where we began our trip. We took advantage of a tip we learned in a Rick Steves guidebook and purchased a one day Bavarian Railpass to which covers travel throughout Bavaria, right to Salzburg on the border. It was only 28 Euros for two adults and the kids were free, which was much less than renting a car for three extra days. The train was sleek and convenient, although we were glad we boarded and found seats early since it was quite crowded, probably due to the holiday season.

Our first stop in Salzburg was at our hotel, the Meininger Salzburg City, which I found online. It was a sort of budget hotel/hostel hybrid and was a great deal at about 65 Euro per night for a four bed room. The room wasn’t fancy but it had a double bed, a bunk bed, a tv and a tiny bathroom and everything seemed quite new and clean. It wasn’t right in the old town, but it was only about a 20 minute walk which wasn’t too bad for a two night stop.

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After we checked in and dropped off our bags, we headed straight for the historic centre of Salzburg. The city itself is surprisingly small considering it’s reputation and history with fewer than 200 000 residents. The old town is quite a small area, nestled under a cliff side fortress and hemmed in by the river. There is a major road running alongside the river but the majority of the old town is pedestrian only. This compact layout makes it easy to explore in a day or two, but it does make it feel quite crowded during the busier times. We were there on the last Sunday and Monday before Christmas and it was the one place that we felt was getting uncomfortably crowded in the afternoons and early evenings. But by doing our shopping in the morning and exploring further afield in the afternoons we were able to enjoy the city despite the crowds.

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On our first day we stopped for lunch at a lovely traditional restaurant, where a waiter in leiderhosen served us schnitzel and noodle soup and worked our way through the maze of pedestrian streets to the main market beside the cathedral. We spent some time looking through the market stalls and then exploring the cavernous baroque church before stopping to enjoy a choir that was singing on the church steps. One thing I noticed about Christmas in Europe was the lack of piped Christmas music. In North America we are so used to hearing Christmas music everywhere we go in November and December that you hardly notice it anymore. The Christmas Markets we went to had no recorded music, just the quiet hum of conversation and the occasional live band or choir. Even the shops and malls we visited had no background music. It was interesting to see the difference and we really enjoyed the live music when it was there.

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We stayed at the market until it was dark, then went up the funicular that runs to the fortress above town. The fortress houses a history museum that looked quite interesting, but our main objective was to enjoy the views over the town so we took advantage of the deal that lets you ride up in the evening once the museum closes for a fraction of the cost of the daytime trip. Once we arrived at the top we enjoyed hot drinks and snacks on a terrace overlooking the old town. It was very atmospheric with the sounds of the choir audible from the market below. We weren’t expecting to find much else at the top, but the courtyard of the fortress had it’s own small Christmas market with a dozen or so stalls. This one was much quieter than the bustling main market and it even came complete with a small brass ensemble playing classical music.

The next day we headed out to the old town in the morning and got a chance to explore the town centre a bit before the crowds began to grow. We found a lovely little coffee shop where we enjoyed hot chocolate and apple strudel (crisp apple strudel and schnitzel with noodles. See what I did there?) and the kids we checked out some of the market stalls that were tucked away in the side streets. We also crossed over the river and explored some of the less crowded parts of town, including a street of medieval buildings that pre-dated the more showy baroque architecture in the centre of town. When we returned to the old town we found a square that housed a small outdoor skating rink. The fees for skating and rentals were quite reasonable so we sent the kids out for a skate and enjoyed watching them on the ice with the church spires and mountains in the background.

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In the afternoon we headed out for a “Silent Night” tour with Bob’s Special Tours. It took us out to the village where the song was originally composed where we visited a museum dedicated to the composer and a chapel built on the site of the church where it was first sung. The tour was just okay, not great. It was nice to get out of the city and see the villages, but there really wasn’t much for the kids to see and our tour guide seemed lacking in energy; she would answer our questions, but she didn’t really offer much information or seem excited to show us the area. The one saving grace was that the afternoon we were on the tour was the only time on the whole trip when we had bad weather, with a couple hours of quite heavy rain. So I guess if we hadn’t been riding a van around the Austrian countryside we would have been huddled inside somewhere waiting for the skies to clear. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that our money could have been spent elsewhere.

For our second night in Salzburg I decided that the kids needed a quiet night in so we went back to the hotel, made a small meal in the common kitchen and spent the evening reading and watching tv. At least, that’s what the kids and I did. My husband was feeling a bit more energetic, but his adventures on that second night will have to be saved for another post. We loved Salzburg overall and felt like two nights and two days was just about the right amount of time for a Christmas visit. We may have to come back, though, and see all those beautiful mountains in the summer.

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