Published: July 11th 2012July 3rd 2012
View upriver from the hostel
On Tuesday afternoon, I climb into the backseat of a new station wagon for the two hour trip north to Salzburg, well known for being the setting for the entire Sound of Music movie. So well known, in fact, that Sound of Music tours are advertised just about everywhere you look and the hostel plays it every night at 8pm. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The road trip is uneventful. I spend the entirety with the iPod in listening to Slash’s new album and Slightly Stoopid while admiring the mountainous scenery and contemplating the trilogy I plan to write in the future. The idea came in a dream the night before and it’s going to be great. Andrew and his wife agree, and she’s an English teacher. No, I won’t tell you about it.
I exit the car in front of Strawberry Youth Hostel around 6 pm and check in. The front desk girl is cute. Really cute. And it’s her first day. Ha. She gets me checked in, gives me a map with directions to the various city/tourist centers and holds on to my passport until I come back with cash to pay for my stay (since
they don’t take cards). I nip upstairs, room 121, and drop my stuff. Tiny room, 4 beds. But big windows, a nice bathroom, and very clean. Passes muster. Oh, and it’s empty. Score. I head back downstairs and out into the city.
Strawberry Youth Hostel is located right on the central river in Salzburg. Very nice. I head down the river, taking pictures of the vistas. There’s a castle, actually, it’s more of a fortress, on the hill above, and various bridges, churches and pretty architecture. I veer off the river a couple blocks to hit the main tourist district full of cobble streets, shops, restaurants, bars, you get the idea. I pull out the necessary funds and head back toward the river, continuing on to try and find the university where the conference I’m supposed to attend is being held.
I don’t find it. Andrew and Jessie are arriving a little after 8 pm and we’re going to get dinner. So I turn around to have enough time to return. I walk into the hostel and sit down in the lobby to wait. Shortly after, Andrew and Jessie arrive and proceed to check in. We’ll meet back
downstairs in 15 minutes. I head to the desk to grab my key, but the girl waves me upstairs with a big smile saying she just checked three Spanish girls into my room. Could be worse I guess.
A quick knock and entrance. A round of introductions and quick interviews. The three of them are on a ten day Eurotrip after completing their first year at University. They’ve been friends since early childhood. They’re from Barcelona. And they’re hot. Do they want to join us for dinner and a walk through the city? Yes, they do.
I head back downstairs with posse in tow to meet Andrew and his wife Jessie. The girl at the front desk laughs out loud as we come down the stairs together. I stop to ask her where we should grab dinner. Without hesitation she points us to a brewery a couple blocks away. Sounds good to me. Outside, another round of introductions. Andew, Jessie, meet Anna, Alba and Claudia from Barcelona. All right, that’s out of the way. We’re off.
I’ve got a map in my pocket and knowledge of our destination, and with posse expanded, I head off. Andrew spends
some time getting to know the Spaniards. After a minute, Jessie joins me on point to share some interesting observations. She’s a hip chick, we get along well. The walk turns into a veritable revolving door as group members seem to take turns shifting rank positions. We arrive at the brewery and head inside and….down. Hmm.
It turns out this place is less a brewery and more of a market, for lack of a better word. I haven’t run across anything like it in the U.S. I guess you could call it a Beer Garden, underground. At the bottom of the stairs, you turn a corner and are faced with a long alley, lined on one side with various food vendors and the other with doors into a massive hall filled with benches and tables. We wander up and down deciding what to eat. Andrew and Jess split a roast chicken with potato wedges. And while an entire chicken sounds delicious, it’s a bit spendy. The Spaniards opt for what amounts to hot dogs. A pair of long wurstels stuffed into a bun with sauces. I’ll go that route. They’ve already ordered, so I ask for one as well.
Behind me at the table, I see Anna performing surgery on her hot dog(s) with a napkin. A helpless giggle rebuts my inquisitive look.
“I don’t like mustard,” she says. That sucks. This thing is swimming in mustard. Napkins are everywhere, sufficiently saucy, the hot dog lying open on its wrapper covered in ketchup and mustard, looking like some kind of victim. I laugh, instruct her to go inform the guy making mine to hold the mustard and pick hers up. No, it’s not a problem. Grateful look. Food in hand, we walk around the corner to find the beer. Shelves full of clay mugs line one wall. A fountain for rinsing them out positioned before the cashier. We all grab a mug, buy a beer, and hand our mugs to the brewmaster in back to have them filled from a barrel. Ok, pretty cool. Vittles in one hand, mug in the other I proceed into one of the drinking halls to sit down with the crew. Surprisingly mediocre. I mean, the food is good enough I suppose, but the beer is still sub par. It’s like Austrians have this aversion to brewing good beer. They all seem content
to swill this yellow, see-through crap. And they don’t have a coastline so I know they aren’t descended from sailors. It’s a mystery.
After food and beer, I head back for more food and beer, but everything’s closed. We failed to notice the beer hall slowly emptying. Oh well. We rise back into the street and then descend the hill into the downtown area for drinks. The air is cool with impending rain. The lightest of mists is descending. In the main entry square, we pause for a moment to decide where to go. Then, suddenly and without warning, the skies open up and the light misting morphs into a torrential downpour. Fack. Fortunately, the bar we’re standing next to has a large outdoor seating area covered with umbrellas. Except the umbrellas are inverted and serve as giant rain catchers, funneling the water down the central support underground. It’s rather ingenious. We huddle in their shelter. After ten minutes, her tears expended, the sky surmounted her sorrow and we were free to continue our evening….
Across the street to a bar built under the side of mountain. A dim, smoky interior with low ceilings of natural stone and
rock music adding to the din of conversations. A list of cocktails is written on a chalkboard hung on a wall above the bar. Most of them I’m familiar with. Except for the Monkey Fucker. Haven’t heard of that one. I order it. And I have no idea what went into it, but it was pretty tasty. I buy a round of drinks for everyone and get myself a tall, dark wheat beer and a B52. Finally, a decent beer. It’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. We acquire a corner table further under the mountain to imbibe. After a couple rounds, we decide to make an exit. Two doors down, is a kebap window, and the Spaniards sneak off to buy me a doner as thanks for the round of drinks. Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m always hungry.
The night is young and we’re far from sober, so we head off across the river to another main part of town in search of further activities. Just about everything is closed. Damnit. But you know, from across the river can be seen the remains of an fortified wall ascending around the center mountain.
There has to be a way up and something cool at the top, right? Let’s find out. I stride off with confidence in the probable direction of the entrance and the posse falls in. Just as the group is about to lose faith, I veer to the right down a small side street exhibiting a steep slope at the back. Jackpot. Don’t mess with me and my sense of direction, I’m a geographer (ha!). We start climbing.
As we approach the summit, I see a set of stairs ascending into an inky blackness. I pause for the group to catch up. Andrew pulls up beside me. We share a glance, nod, and head straight for it. Behind us, the girls watch as we’re swallowed by the darkness, disappearing from view. Nervous voices drift up to us from below. But the stairs only lead to a small grotto containing a large crucifix and other religious icons. We call them up. Cell phones light up as the four follow us up. The nervous voices haven’t abated, but are eventually replaced by relieved giggles. Andrew and I continue around behind the grotto and exit onto the plateau occupied by, you guessed it,
a church. There’s a great vista of the city from the promontory. We break for photos.
And then I keep climbing. This excursion isn’t over yet. The path follows the church walls and curves behind. At the end of the church’s walls lies a gate, yawning wide into yet another dark portal, impenetrable to the eyes. I wish they wouldn’t hang bright lights at the entrances of all these gates and such. It’s fantastic for dramatic effect when you disappear inside ahead of the group, but I really do like to know where I’m going.
After a small amount of coaxing, everyone follows. It’s the entrance of a park covering the uppermost reaches of the mountain, hill, knoll, whatever. It’s a couple hundred feet up. There is a fork with two paths diverging in, what I assume will be, a large circular path around the perimeter. One path heads along a wall separating the old church gardens, orchards, fields, etc. The other disappears into a weald of dark trees. However, between the fork is a low walled, grassy enclosure, centered on a monument of some kind. I investigate. Turns out, it’s a monument to Mozart, the composer. Jessie
and I deliberate on whether it’s his final resting site. On the one hand, it is on church grounds overlooking the city, on the other, it doesn’t look very grave-y. More like a simple monument. But none of us can read German, so the mystery goes unsolved.
[Reality Check]: I just looked online, turns out he’s buried somewhere in Vienna’s St. Marx cemetery, but the exact location is unknown. They do have a monument and “grave” at the site of anyone’s best guess though.
After some further exploring and antics, we begin the long descent. This time, we take a different route, full of stairs and narrow passageways between old buildings. This city feels so preserved, like the stones hold the stories of centuries in them and maybe, by resting your hands on them for a moment, you will get a brief glimpse of what they know, imparted in a series of vague, disconnected images. But maybe it’s just my imagination.
After the long excursion, everybody is fairly tuckered. At the main bridge, a consensus is reached to head back to the hostel. Fair enough. It’s a little after 2 am and Andrew and I have to
wake up early to find the conference, check in, and set up our poster presentations. But tomorrow is another day….
And it’s rather uneventful. Andrew and I managed to find the University. It was a long walk down the river and a couple blocks inland. We received all of our conference materials (bag, nametag, documents, literature etc.) and went upstairs only to find our posters had already been set up. Well, that’s a bit of a waste. We don’t have to be back until 6 pm. But at least we found the place. So we leave.
Back at the hostel, we collect the girls and head into the city to see the main sights. Several churches, open air market, castle. Actually, rephrase. It’s more of a fortress. We hiked up to check it out, paid the entry fee and spent the next couple hours exploring it. The place was freaking huge. The outer walls contained a small village replete with buildings of all kinds. Mostly living quarters, but also a blacksmith and others. Many of them have been converted into restaurants and tourist shops. But the inside of the castle is fairly well preserved. Armories, living quarters, palatial
rooms for the royalty, kitchen, chapel, you name it. The vistas of the city and country side from the outer walls and courtyards were fantastic. I could spend pages detailing it, but will abstain in an attempt to maintain brevity (relative to the last blog).
In the late afternoon, we separated from the Spaniards as Andrew and I had to head to the conference to stand idly by our posters. We agreed to meet back at the hostel for dinner a little after 8 pm. The Spaniards have decided they want to cook for us. Sweet. Although they are fresh out of their first year at college, so I’m keeping my expectations low.
The conference was extremely boring. The maximum time anyone spent looking at my poster was 11 seconds with an average of 8. No questions asked. Unless you count the two people on either side of me who feigned interest out of politeness. Ironically enough, they were both here from the University of Southern Australia in Adelaide. The guy talked my ear off for an hour about spatial demographics and managing projects in Australia for the University. Booooring. But he did give me a card and
say they’re always looking for good people. Huh. I could live in Australia. Not sure about the demography part though.
Finally, Andrew and I were clear to leave. We arrived back at the hostels amidst oooh’s and aaah’s from the ladies for being dressed up to present. I showered again. Walking around in long sleeve black collared shirts in humid heat isn’t exactly pleasant. We met them in the kitchen with bottles of wine to sit down for dinner. Which consisted of a kilo of pasta and tortillas, Catalonian style. Catalonian tortillas are really just a kind of omelet. A thick, fluffy omelet filled with potatoes and onions and sliced like a pizza. Pretty delicious. Apparently, Catalonians are also minimalists when it comes to sauces, they eat their foods relatively plain. So there was the smallest bowl of pasta sauce I’ve ever seen to garnish a kilo of pasta. You would serve it with a sugar spoon as opposed to a ladle. Interesting. But tasty. I still would have preferred drowning mine. Pasta isn’t very flavorful. We still finished it. And the wine.
After that, it was bedtime. The Spaniards were getting up early to catch a train to Wien and Andrew, Jessie and I were heading to the Ice Caves in Werfen. So we crashed. Before we hit the lights, the girls asked me to write an entry in their little notebook. So I filled up page two with random drivel and recollections from our pair of days together. They made me promise to come to Barcelona after they return from their Eurotrip. I think I can manage that.
In the morning, we said our goodbyes. And then I went back to bed for an hour. The Ice Caves were quickly approaching.
Word of the Blog: Senf
It means mustard.