Salzburg – “The hills are alive…”
(For more pictures from Salzburg, scroll through the slide show at the bottom of this post)
It’s official. I love being up high. You get the best pictures, and it’s the best place to make the rest of the world fall away. So when I got to Salzburg, an old Austrian city at the base of the alps, I headed for the hills.
Most people know Salzburg as Mozart’s birthplace, and as the backdrop for The Sound of Music, but the city’s history is actually based in salt mining. Salzburg translates to “salt castle.” Salt was shipped down the Salzach River on barges as early as the eighth century.
I confess I didn’t pay as much attention to the city’s history as I normally do. I did tour the iconic Hohensalzburg Fortress with an audio guide, but I was too pre-occupied with the view to take in anything else. Not only could you see the city and the river stretched across the rolling green hills of Austria’s country-side, but from the back of the fortress you could see the snow-capped alps. It was morning, and the tip of one mountain was still hidden behind a fluffy white cloud. That was all it took for me to want to run singing across the mountainside channeling Fraulein Maria.
So after forcing myself down the hill to visit Mozart’s birthplace and Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s famous shopping lane, I hiked back up just to gaze longingly at the alps. There are walking paths all over Salzburg. I hiked to a lookout area, sat on a bench and soaked in the scene.
What really got to me was the air. It was the most fresh, crisp fall air I have ever inhaled. I felt like an oxygen pump had been attached to my lungs. I just wanted to stay up there forever and breathe.
The art of the self-guided tour
The hostel I stayed at played The Sound of Music every night at 7PM. I may have watched it two nights in a row. And I was all set to board the tacky Sound of Music bus for the guided tour, until I read the brochure and realized I had already visited half the sites while walking around the city. For 40 euros, I figured I might as well visit something I hadn’t seen.
The problem is I’m a horrible decision maker. Should I visit the famous salt mines, the picturesque lake district, or Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest? I wanted to see everything, but the combination tours were 75 euros. Way out of my price range.
So I started researching, and through the holy grail that is Trip Advisor, I learned I could use public transit to get to the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden. From there, I could visit the salt mines and catch a bus to the Eagle’s Nest for half the price of a guided tour. Backpacking win.
So that’s what I did. The salt mine was so-so. I was accidentally given a German audio guide and spent the first half of the tour completely clueless until they were able to switch it. But the Eagle’s Nest is a must-see because of the view. Hitler’s old headquarters (now a restaurant) is 1,834 metres above sea level. The bus ride up is a nail-biting, “oh-my-goodness-the-bus-is-about-to-roll-off-the-side-of-this-mountain-and-we’re-all-going-to-die” kind of ride. But it’s worth the panic attack once you’re at the top. There’s something about being up that high. It’s impossible to worry or stress about anything. It’s just you, the snow-capped mountain and the view.
Normally I try to include a range of photos in my blog posts, including pictures of buildings, city landmarks, food, etc. But in Salzburg that didn’t happen because all I did was climb mountains. So I apologize in advance for the landscape spam.
THE HILLS: The city is great, but the real appeal of Salzburg lies in its stunning views. Pick a walking path and start climbing!
THE EAGLE’S NEST: No need for a guided tour, you can get there using public transit. But read about the history before you go, Hitler’s headquarters is now a restaurant catering to tourists, not a museum.
***Indicates landmark from The Sound of Music
NEXT STOP: Munich, Germany