It’s still raining in the morning. Breakfast at the Hotel Peter is excellent, and the service is even better. This is a family-owned hotel, but it’s one of the most professional operations I’ve ever seen. (Check out my review on TripAdvisor.) It overlooks the Wolfgangsee and our room has a great view of the Alps, even though they’re largely hidden by rain clouds. The room itself is spacious, and Nicolas even has his own, separate bedroom. There’s a big balcony with a table—but the rain, again, will keep us from enjoying it. Oh well. There’s no such thing as a vacation without rain, except in Greece.
We drive through the rain to Salzburg. The tops of the Alps hide behind clouds. If I had known when I planned this trip what I know now, I would have booked the Hotel Peter for two or three nights, and driven into Salzburg for the day. But we’ve confirmed our reservations already.
It takes less than an hour to get from the Wolfgangsee to Salzburg guided by “Sophie,” our car’s built-in GPS navigator. Once there, I adjust Sophie for directions to the main sight, the burg at the top of the mountain in the middle of the city. Sophie leads us to narrower and narrower streets before advising us to turn the wrong way on a one-way street. I guess GPS programmers aren’t perfect.
Frommer says “Driving a car in Salzburg is definitely not recommended.” He’s right. If you can avoid it, do not drive in Salzburg. Stay in a hotel outside the city and take transit in, if you can. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but hell to drive in. We abandon Sophie for the rest of the day, and hunt for a place close to the base of the funicular that takes people up to the ancient castle of the Princes-Archbishops who used to rule Salzburg. However, we run into the first traffic jam we have encountered in Austria. Eventually, we go right around the old city and arrive back at the rushing, muddy Salzach River. We finally park in an underground parking lot near one of the main squares, and go looking for some lunch. It’s taken us that long.
Frommer recommends Fasty’s. It’s a fast-food sandwich pasta place, but the ingredients are fresh and they bring your order to their table. Only two criticisms: the booths are wickedly uncomfortable, and the bathrooms are so tiny, they have to make little cuts into the doors with a jigsaw so they’ll close past some of the fixtures.
We’ve arrived in the midst of the Salzburg Music Festival, which accounts for some of the crowds, but not for the numbers of children. Roxanne thinks the miserable weather has brought into Salzburg families and whiny children who’d rather be in a lake. I’ve never seen so many strollers outside of Disney World. Even Mozart’s house is full of whiny toddlers.
The funicular ride to the castle is expensive. The castle is also overcrowded, and the line-up for the Prince’s Apartments discourages us from seeing that, but we’ve seen that kind of sumptuousness several times already on this trip. We look at the view and take the audio-guided tour of the armaments. This gives us a good sense of the history. The view from the top of the tower would have been spectacular, but the rain is heaviest when we get up there.
The rain lets up by the time we get back down the mountain. The old city is laid out as a series of squares, one leading into the next. There are at least four or five big churches or cathedrals almost abutting each other. In one square, chairs are set up in front of a stage and a big screen for an outdoor concert. There are also long pedestrian galleries that go through what I presume must have been the old city walls. The galleries are lined with restaurants, bars and stores.
When the rain lets up and some of the crowds thin out, walking around Salzburg is great. There’s a lot to see: square after square, narrow medieval and renaissance-era cobbled streets, shops selling local crafts and decorations, lots of good food. There are flowers everywhere, in boxes on balconies and under windows, and in pots on the sidewalks and steps. And of course, it’s extremely clean. None of us sees so much as a cigarette butt on the street. One of the most memorable sights is an Asian tourist who has gone all out and bought himself a traditional Austrian costume: lederhosen, embroidered shirt, wide-brimmed hat with a feather, buckled shoes. He is a walking incongruity.
Our hotel, the Trumer Stube, is across the river from the old town, but it’s in an old area itself. If you drive here, be careful: there are lots of one-way and pedestrian-only streets. If you miss your turn, you could be in for a long way around. The hotel is not nearly as nice as the Hotel Peter. It’s very small, and we have to put our luggage into the lift, then send it up and take the stairs to meet it.
The hostess, Marianne, is quite nice. She makes us restaurant reservations and gets us tickets to a chamber recital at the Mirabell Palace, which is only about two blocks away. It’s getting late, and we only have time for a quick meal. Marianne sends us to the “Monkey,” which serves traditional Austrian fare. The maitre-d’, upon hearing our need for speed, says “Oh, that Marianne.” But he seats us at a big table that is occupied by a family from Germany. The daughter is getting married the next day at the Mirabell. We share cheery conversation, then scramble out just in time for the concert featuring Salzburg’s own Luz Leskowitz on violin, Irina Smirnova on cello and Michell Ahn on piano.
The Mirabell is a wonderful place for a concert. Its pink marble, relief sculptures of the Prince-Archbishop Raitenau’s favourite mistress (who bore him many children) and cherubs everywhere (even sculpted into the banisters on the magnificent central staircase) transport us back to the 18th century.
After the concert, we wander back across the bridge, through one of the pedestrian galleries to the Residenzplatz—or is it the Domplatz? They all link together around the Dom and Residenz—to the washed-out concert. At the back of the square, a corporation has set up a tent with tables. We endure someone smoking a cigar to drink another glass of wine while watching the end of a filmed Magic Flute projected onto the immense screen.
Despite the rain and the stress of the traffic, the day has worked out very pleasantly. Tomorrow, a review of breakfast at the Trumer Stube, shopping in Salzburg and our journey through the world’s largest ice-cave.