Salzburg Serenade: Following Mozart’s Trail

September 29, 2016. Austria? To be frank, it wasn’t even on my travel radar until this trip. If you asked me whether I wanted to go, I’d probably have said “Sure,” but it wasn’t exactly at the top of my list. My mind was all set on Germany.

But you know what’s hilarious? Austria managed to pleasantly surprise me, even though I never seriously considered it before. It’s like I’ve been missing out on this hidden gem all along! Now I’m thinking, “Why haven’t I explored this place sooner?”

So, here’s how it went down. One day, I stumbled upon the Regional day ticket for Bavaria, which surprisingly allowed us to hop over to Salzburg. It’s technically not Germany, but it’s just a stone’s throw away from Munich—less than 2 hours on a train, and boom, you’re in Austria! Sure, we probably missed out on a ton of stuff in Munich, but the wanderlust was too strong to resist. Nowadays, I’m more of a one-city-at-a-time kind of traveler, but looking back, I’m glad I got a taste of both Munich and Salzburg, even if it was a bit rushed.

We didn’t exactly rise with the sun because, let’s face it, mornings after a long day are tough. By 10 am, we were already chugging along on a train. German trains, by the way, are ridiculously comfy, and the view outside? Not just amazing, it’s straight out of a postcard! I can still picture those lush green fields whizzing by.

As we crossed over from Germany to Austria, I couldn’t even tell where one ended and the other began. No customs, no passport checks—thanks, Schengen zone! Although, I did face a bit of scrutiny at the Czech Republic border with Germany, but between Germany and Austria, it was smooth sailing.

The scenery with rolling hills and distant mountains was like something out of a fairy tale. I couldn’t wrap my head around how people lived there, but I bet they were living their best lives! Sometimes, the train would dip under hills, and we’d catch glimpses of charming German towns below. Couldn’t tell you their names, but they were absolutely adorable!

Arriving in Salzburg, the first thing we noticed was how much smaller the train station was compared to Munich. And trust me, Munich’s main station is massive—32 platforms and all. I remember feeling a tad stressed trying to navigate that labyrinth.

But both places had one thing in common: bikes. Bikes everywhere! Germany loves them, and it seems Austria does too, although we didn’t spot as many cyclists in Salzburg.

What we did see, though, were these touristy horse-drawn carts. They were everywhere, weaving through pedestrian zones and squeezing between cars. Poor horses must’ve been stressed out navigating those streets! Luckily, Salzburg is super pedestrian-friendly, so no need to rely on horse-drawn transportation.

Off to the city center we went, with a gazillion plans in our heads. But ultimately, we settled on one thing: visiting Hohensalzburg, the majestic fortress steeped in history. But first, breakfast. With time ticking away, we grabbed some Bavarian white sausages (Weißwurst) from street vendors. Can’t pinpoint the exact spot, but if you see ’em, grab ’em! And forget about cutlery—these bad boys are meant to be eaten with your hands! Little did I know, it would be the last meal for a while.

Everywhere we looked, there were those famous Mozart portrait sweets—marzipan. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kinda treat, and I fall into the “not my thing” camp. But if you’ve never tried it, you gotta taste a “Mozart kugel.” We bought two just to confirm that we still didn’t like it. So, pro tip: start with one before you go all in and buy a whole box. And get this, these sweets were invented here, in Austria.

Turns out, trying to cram Salzburg into one day was a rookie mistake. This city’s got history for days! People have been living here since the Stone Age, and it’s rubbed shoulders with so many big names: Christian Doppler, the man behind the Doppler effect; Stefan Zweig, author of one of my favorite books, “Letter from an Unknown Woman”; and of course, the man himself, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I gotta say, this picturesque city can easily spark some serious creativity.

With music filling the air from street performers, we made a beeline for Salzburg Cathedral, where Mozart was baptized the day after his birth in 1756. Inside, it was a feast for the eyes, with intricate details that could keep you mesmerized for hours. And after seeing gothic churches in Germany, Austrian architecture was a whole new ball game! You could feel the subtle differences between the two countries, but it was all part of the charm.

Next up, we hit the Franciscan Church, which has been standing tall since the eighth century! This place was something else—dark and gothic inside, with an altar that looked like it belonged on another planet. It creeped me out and fascinated me at the same time!

But, as always, we got sidetracked on our way to the fortress. We stumbled upon an abbey with a tiny cemetery—packed with tourists! Okay, they were alive, haha! We couldn’t resist and decided to check it out. The Petersfriedhof, or St. Peter’s Cemetery, is the oldest in Salzburg and a major tourist draw. You’ll find some big names buried here, like Maria Anna Mozart (Mozart’s sis), Ignatz Anton von Weiser (Mozart’s librettist), composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, and architect Santino Solari, who worked on Salzburg Cathedral! We spent some time there, marveling at the ancient tombstones and counting the ages of the deceased. And you know what? So many lived past 90! They didn’t have today’s fancy medicine, yet they thrived. Maybe it’s the peaceful mountains and blue skies that keep folks going?

In the next chapter, I’ll take you through our adventure at Salzburg’s crown jewel—the Hohensalzburg Fortress!