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Russell at Salzburg's Mozartplatz
On March 16th, we set out in our car for the first time in a week (Gail, who was driving, said that it felt like forever since she'd been behind the wheel) and set out for Österreich (literally "Eastern Kingdom," known to us Americans as Austria). We took the autostrada and autobahn route all the way, first in a northeasterly curve from Venezia around the Adriatic coastline, then cutting inland northward at Portogruaro. Our last view of Italy was the spectacular Dolomite Mountains, part of the Italian Alps (we didn't pass through as many tunnels as we did when we entered Italy, but they were certainly longer -- a couple of them were more than 6 km). At mid-afternoon, we crossed over into Österreich outside of Tarvisio.
We had read in our tour book that Österreich requires a road toll in the form of a windshield sticker upon entry, but we had no idea where to get one. There was no one at the border to stop us or check us, so we drove merrily onwards. At about 4:00 PM, we were suddenly motioned onto a traffic island by a police officer who was stationed there. He asked to see Gail's driver's licenses (both International and California) as well as our passports. He then told us that we did not have the required sticker. Gail, the international diplomat, explained that we knew that, but we didn't know where to get one. The officer replied that they are available at any gas station. In an act of kindness, he gave us two options: either proceed onward and let him fine us 130€, or turn around and go back to the nearest gas station, where we could buy a vignette for 10€. We chose to turn around.
We were afraid it would be about 50 km to the next gas station, but it turned out to be only 5 km. As we walked out of the station store with our newly-purchased vignette, who should we run into but the same police officer, who had come here on his coffee break! He helped us apply our vignette, gave us his business card, and even let us take his picture (his partner prodded him to do it upon hearing that we have a Website).
Gail and her new friend: "Grüss Gott," Herr Ebner!
We finally reached our destination of Salzburg at around 5:00 PM -- our dreaded eight-hour drive actually took only five hours on the speedy autobahns. We had reservations at a small zimmer (the Austrian version of a bed and breakfast), but we had quite a challenge in finding it (Rick Steves provides directions for pedestrians only). We kept stopping people on the side of the road and pointing at the street name in our tour book. After several wrong turns and contradictory suggestions, we finally arrived.
Frau Brigitte Lenglachner's zimmer was our first choice from reading two guidebooks, and Russell had booked the accommodations by phone from Venezia several days ago. He instantly fell in love with Brigitte's telephone voice: perfect English with a wonderfully lilting Austrian accent. When he said he wanted accommodations for two days for a family of four, she confessed that she was full, then stopped and said, "I must make it possible." She proceeded to move other parties around, then gushed that she had something "perfect" for us and that it would be the best and cheapest that we could find anywhere. We were so worried about losing this reservation that we telephoned her again this morning when we left Venezia two hours late. Brigitte said that she had our beds made up for us, and wished us a pleasant drive.
It was just as wonderful to meet Brigitte in person. She showed us to two charming rooms next to each other in the basement of her huge home: one with a double bed (for the adults) and one with two bunk beds (for the children). Each room had a sink and small table; a toilet and shower were down the hall. Right off the bat, Brigitte exclaimed that Gail was not like "other American women" -- she was helping Russell with the luggage. Brigitte also said that they have missed hearing American voices, ever since 9/11. (She was visibly moved when we said we were from California. She has a daughter who went there as an au pair -- for an Asian husband, Caucasian wife, and two sons -- and ended up moving there.)
We also followed Brigitte's suggestion for dinner that evening. We took a 20-minute walk along the Salzach River at night, then went to the Bio Wirtshaus Hirschenwirt, an Austrian-cuisine restaurant in which everything is organically grown and produced (apparently, about 40% of all Austrian restaurants are now organic). The food was fantastic: Gail had a pork-garlic-asparagus-noodles special, Russell had a sampling of different dumplings, and the boys each had apple dumplings in fruit sauce (which Joss didn't eat -- he preferred mom's food).
On March 17th (Happy St. Patrick's Day!), Brigitte brought breakfast to our room at our requested time of 8:30 AM; it consisted of orange juice, bread, butter, and jam. She continued to compliment our family effusively; she said that we were so quiet -- especially Cameron and Joss -- that she thought we were still asleep (we are starting to wonder what kind of American visitors she usually receives). Our plan today was to go visit the Salt Mines, but we read that they are closed on Sundays. We made arrangements with Brigitte to stay a third night, then set out to explore Salzburg's Old Town on foot.
Joss and Cameron on the footpath towards Old Town along the Salzach River
Salzburg is famous among Americans for two main reasons: it is the hometown of the Von Trapp Family Singers (as recounted in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "The Sound of Music"), and it is the hometown of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the greatest composers of the Classical Age. We embarked on Rick Steves' self-guided walking tour, which began in Salzburg's Mozartplatz and ended an hour later at Mozart's Geburthaus (birthplace). Along the way, we saw the Salzburg Cathedral (whose dome was destroyed by a bomb in WWII) and St. Peter's Cemetery (in Austria, gravesites are rented, not owned -- if your descendents don't pay your bill once a decade, they take you out and put somebody else in). We had hot dogs and bratwürst for lunch, and the boys watched a giant chess game while eating ice cream.
Watching a gigantic chess game under the shadow of the Festung Hohensalzburg (Höhensalzburg Fortress)
We had never been to Salzburg -- Gail had never been to Austria -- and we had no idea what to expect. Gail especially was stunned and moved by the beauty of everything we saw, from the walking paths alongside the river... to the wonderful food... to the historic sites... to the sheer beauty of the mountains and nature. Salzburg is described as a place where you don't go to visit historical sites, but merely to walk around. We can attest to that firsthand. After the adrenaline rushes and crowds of Venezia's walks, we found Salzburg to be calm, quiet, and enormously relaxing.
In the afternoon, Cameron and Joss played at the local park playground; Gail and Russell cleaned out the back of our car and repacked our bags (again). We have found it necessary to reconfigure our things so that we only need to bring in overnight bags (Brigitte's rooms are down one flight of stairs; our next accommodations in Wien will be up three flights of stairs).
For dinner on our second night, we didn't have very good luck. First we tried an Italian restaurant, but the smoke was so heavy that no one could breathe. We tried returning to the Austrian restaurant, but discovered that it is closed on Sundays. We went further down the street to a pizzeria, but there was only one man working there; after watching him make kebab sandwiches for 15 minutes without starting on our pizza order, we gave up and left. We finally ended up at another take-out place, where we all ordered kebab sandwiches (think of a gyros). Fortunately, the food was excellent.
Despite this mishap, we are very much enjoying it here in Salzburg. We almost looked for an excuse to stay for a third night, as this enables us to take our time even more, relax, and enjoy the music that seems to float on the air.
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