The time I fell in love with Salzburg (just not at first sight)

When I first arrived into Salzburg’s main train station, my heart dropped a little. Just days before, I had expected the station in Vienna to be met with winding cobblestone alleyways, elaborate building facades and the sweet sound of buskers playing their cellos. Here, I was greeted with the sight of a rundown factory, some kebab shops and the sound of endless traffic.

I mean, I wasn’t expecting to step off the train and see the Von Trapp family galloping along the streets and singing Do-Re-Mi (although such a sight have brought me much elation), but I was hoping for somewhat more of a romantic introduction to the city.

I checked in to a drab motel along the riverbank and walked through the dusty suburbs to find a grocery store. It had been a long, exhausting day, and once I returned to the motel I almost resorted to sitting in bed to eat my bland dinner of crackers and supermarket salad. When I opened the horrendous turquoise curtains of my motel room to allow some light in, I caught a distant sight of glistening reflections in the river. As I looked more closely I could make out the reflection of a magnificent old town backed by glorious mountains. My heart literally skipped a beat. This is the Salzburg I had come for!

I saw that the sun was rapidly falling below the horizon so I shoveled down the rest of my salad, slung my camera over my shoulder and headed out the door at a very brisk pace. I followed a path along the river bank, bumping into unsuspecting locals in a flurry to find a lookout over the city before the sun made its final descent.

I made it into the town and realized now that Salzburg was even more charming than I had hoped for. I passed pastel coloured buildings, narrow alleyways and ivy-covered walls. I sifted my way through a little shopping street towards a non-descript road with a sharp upwards incline. I had spotted a big, tree-covered hill from a mile away and I knew I had to find a way to climb to the top to watch the sun set.

I started the hike up and quickly ran out of breath, but didn’t stop until I had made it to a breathtaking vista. The sky was turning a rich shade of pink and the mountains were silhouetted behind the rooftops of the city. I sat for some time, my legs dangling ominously over a ledge, staring out over Salzburg.

After some time, I decided to keep walking and see if I could find any equally spectacular lookouts. As I twisted around a bend, my heart skipped two beats this time around. I had easily found the best view over Salzburg. On the riverbed was a row of identical buildings, each a new hue of pastel. One by one, lights flickered on, their warm, glistening reflections filling the river below. Behind these buildings were a series of magnificent domes and spires, towering above the rooftops and dominating the cityscape.

Then, the creme de la creme- behind the old town was the backdrop of majestic castle, perched on top of a giant mountaintop. The best part of it all was the fact I had this view all to myself. Not a tourist in sight. It was at this moment that I fell head-over-heels in love with Salzburg.

Of course, the love affair didn’t stop there.

The next morning, I woke up early and was taken on a private guided tour of the city by a Salzburg local. Our first stop was the Mirabelle Gardens, made famous by the Do-Re-Mi scene of the Sound of Music. I happily skipped through the rose-filled gardens,  pretending I was a member of the Von Trapp family (and not one of hundreds of tourists littering the place with selfie sticks and bad poses).

Next, we weaved through the streets of the old town, past the birthplace of Mozart, and to the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever laid eyes on. Each carefully carved gravestone was covered in bright flowers, ivy and moss, and it was a beautiful parallel to see so much life in a place that celebrated the dead. I found out from my guide that there is a massive waiting listing to be buried there and that each body can only stay for forty years and the must move to another site. I’d still take the fourth years to be buried in such a magnificent place!

After seeing a few more interesting sites, such as the first baroque-style cathedral outside of Italy and a shop devoted to Christmas all year-round (filled with some of the most exquisite hand-painted decorations I’ve laid eyes on), we headed to the main town square.

I certainly picked my timing right for my visit to Salzburg- my stay coincided with a delightful event called St Rupert’s Fair. This merry event lasts a week and is an annual tradition in Salzburg celebrating the city’s patron saint. During this time, the streets are lined with market stalls selling traditional Austrian treats, fairground rides, and lively beer halls serving up the finest local brew.

The air was filled with the smell of schnitzel and sausages, the sound of traditional music and joyous shrieks of children on rides. The daytime celebrations were just a warm up for what was to come in the evening, so I opted to come back later in the day when the festivities were in full-swing.

Given that Salzburg lies in the unique geographical position of being completely surrounded by mountains, I decided to devote the next part of the day to exploring the natural side of the city. I made my way to the top of Mount Mönchsberg, where the Museum of Modern Art lies, and meandered my way through enchanting forests and greenery over to the castle.

Half way through the leisurely stroll, I spotted a little wooden hut with a few picnic benches outside of it in the middle of the forest. In the corner of my eye, I spotted an elderly Austrian lady sipping on a glass of wine. If you can’t beat the locals, why not join them? I  went and ordered a generous glass of white and sat for the next hour, immersed in the beauty of my surrondings and the dreamy taste of locally produced wine. It was rather magical.

I continued to walk in a happy daze to the castle and then descended down the mountain. Now, things were really get lively in the town. Every person was dressed in Lederhosen and Dirndl and I quickly felt out of place, wishing I had purchased some traditional dress so I could at least pretend to blend in. We sat down at the main beer hall, eating cheese-covered pretzels and drinking beer, watching whip-cracking and a band playing traditional Austrian songs to which everyone sang along. The highlight, however, was spotting a mother and her five daughters all in matching pink dirndls! Maybe families like the Von Trapp’s do exist after all…

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but feeling privileged to be able to experience such an authentic taste of Salzburg through this festival. It was such a rare and precious insight into the local culture, something that one could never attain through buying a ticket for a tour bus or spending the day in a museum.

As I walked back that night, soaking up the crisp air and beauty of the glistening river, I spotted a group of young people drinking beer and playing the ukulele. When I walked by them they called out to me in Deutsche, to which I smiled and shrugged our shoulders. As I continued on my  way, they called out again. “You sing?” Ten minutes later and I had somehow been coerced into rapping Australian hip hop over the strums of the ukulele.

The next day, as I trudged from my drab motel, back through the run-down suburbs to the Salzburg train station, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Sometimes it’s better to fall in love with a place slowly. It makes you appreciate it even more.

PS. To see more from my time in Salzburg (aka shots of me pretending I’m in the Sound of Music),  check out my latest youtube video!

PPS. A big thanks to Visit Salzburg for hosting me during my stay in this pretty city!

For more Austria travel, read these next:

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HEY THERE, I'M NICOLA!

I am on a mission to discover the BEST destinations & dishes from around the world. Whether it’s hopping on a plane or into the kitchen, come join the adventure!

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