Saturday, 1 September 2012

Enjoying the Sights and Sounds of Salzburg

It was a relatively short trip from Munich to Salzburg by train and within a couple of hours of leaving, Jules and I had slipped over the border into Austria and before not too long were walking around its beautiful cobblestone streets. It is quite a small city, surrounded by the sort of lush green hillsides that made it an ideal setting for the musical blockbuster, ‘The Sound of Music’. At this point I need to mention that ‘The Sound of Music’ was the very first movie I ever saw in a cinema and seeing those beautiful rolling green hills while living in tinder-dry Australia made quite an impact on a 10 year old kid all those years ago. So needless to say, I was already impressed with Austrian countryside even before we had arrived and with blue skies overhead, I wasn’t disappointed as it provided a wonderful backdrop to Salzburg.

Long before Julie Andrews was running around its hillsides, Salzburg was already a major tourist destination, attracting visitors from far and wide. Not just for the beauty of its old town, but in admiration of its most famous citizen … Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The great composer was born and lived here during his short, but eventful life and even today he still remains the town’s major tourist attraction. Both the house in which he was born and his residence are museums in which you can view the instruments he played, sheet music of his famous compositions, letters he wrote to his beloved wife and even locks of his hair. He was certainly the ‘rock star’ of his generation and like most superstars who die young, there remains an insatiable desire for the public to delve into every aspect of the life of this young prodigy. Mozart recordings continue to sell as well as ever and you can easily catch live performances of his concertos just about any night of the week. The commercialism of Mozart here is certainly something to behold, with what seems like every second restaurant, hotel and coffee shop laying claim to his name, not to mention the countless souvenirs. Here you can buy original Mozart chocolates, perfumes, jewelry and much more, not that I was aware that he had ever digressed into any of these enterprises during his lifetime.

While tourism remains the lifeblood of Salzburg, over the years it has been sensible enough to retain it’s essential character. The Baroque buildings have been strictly preserved (earning it recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site) with most subsequent construction remaining sympathetic with the traditional 17th century architecture. Even the style of street signage is strictly controlled, with businesses restricted to ornate traditional overhead signs that hang above each shop. So if you ever want to see the most elegant ‘McDonalds’ sign in the world, this is the place to view it.

Looming large over the old town is the picturesque Hohensalzburg Castle that dates back to 1077 and that sit high on a nearby ridge. Unlike the invaders from centuries ago, Jules and I were able to venture inside its fortified walls to find a little village preserved as if from a time long gone. From its highest point, the view was magnificent and we could look down upon the timeless streets of Salzburg as well as a majestic landscape that stretched endlessly into the distance. As one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, there was plenty to see as we wandered through the labyrinth of chambers before navigating the steep hike back down to the narrow streets below. That night we walked across the old bridge to have a look at the towns summer screening of popular opera performances (Mozart of course) that are held in the open air of the town square. With the sight of the castle on the hill under lights and the sound of the opera in the air, it all seemed quite surreal, but somehow right. Some places will never change and I guess Salzburg is one of them.

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