Salzburg…. a changing of the guards! Salzburg marked the place where Joel was due to take off for London overnight for a job interview (which he was successful at obtaining against all odds – go Joel!). It was also the marked meeting point of my mum joining us on our onward travels. So it was for me, both sad and happy…and I was left to my own devices for two days to explore this Austrian city in full!
Blessed as we were with the weather during our Austrian National Park adventures, I was not so lucky in Salzburg! I soon discovered that my canvas shoes were a sponge, and my accommodation wanted to charge me to borrow a falling apart umbrella! Despite this, I took on the challenge of solo-explorer with gusto! It was certainly a different experience travelling by myself as I had two full days to do as I pleased.
So after dropping Joel off at the airport in Salzburg, I had to find our accommodation ‘solo’. I think my hands were shaking at the wheel as I drove the highway and navigated the exit by myself. When I arrived I said an audible “thank God!” and checked in, wondering how to travel alone. When I accepted Joel was actually gone I hired a bike and berated the receptionist for information (who didn’t seem to know much about her city at all!). Inspired by Maria & the Von Trap family singers, I thought I would follow in their footsteps!I discovered Mirabell Gardens, where they filmed “Do Rae Mi” in the Sound of Music and several other recognisable sights. I enjoyed walking around the city centre and succumbed to the solo tourist activity of a self guided audio tour. In saying that, I did learn an awful lot about the city this way, and was somewhat of an expert by the time Joel & Mum were scheduled to join me due to having stored as much of this information in my brain as I could squeeze in! I saw where Mozart was born, strolled the Getreidegasse (the main street with so many cute little signposted shops), and listened into many people’s conversations. My favourite part of my solo adventures was discovering cute St Peter’s cemetery. If I was to be buried anywhere, I’m telling you, I would want to be buried here! It was so picturesque it hurt my eyes! I also had fun imagining my Dad and his family spending a snowy Christmas one year in Salzburg singing carols down the lamplit streets. Mostly I was imagining Joel returning and mum arriving!
Eventually it was time to pick Joel up again from the airport and it was great to hear that his interview went well. We killed a few hours until Mum was due to arrive on the train at midnight. After searching for her in vain I heard Mum call my name out and we looked like a couple of idiots running across the square at top speed, embracing each other like it had been years! It was great to hear about mums’ travels and we talked a dime a dozen until we were all exhausted and retired for bed.
The morning was filled with my recollections and personalised tour of Salzburg and then we jumped in the car and drove an hour to Germany, to the cute town of Berchtesgaden which is mainly famous for being the population at the base of the infamous Obersalzburg mountain which played a cruicial part in WWII. We took a tour from a fabulous American guide who had lived and studied in this area for 25 years and she was a minefield of information. It was an expensive tour but I am ever grateful that Joel and I let mum convince us to go because it is certainly not something I will soon forget. We walked through the bunker system that Hitler ordered built inside the mountain and it was fascinating to see the ingenuity of the Germans in their planning and intent. I for one, could not believe how advanced their engineering was, because in the day these underground networks were as comfortable as a house (minus the windows), with heating, insulation, ventilation, escape routes, internal elevators etc etc. It was mind blowing. As was the finale of the tour – the Eagle’s Nest. This was a gift (tea room) built for Hitler with sweeping views over the mountain ranges and the history behind it was deeply interesting. Having this kind of insight and knowledge about what was happening with the Nazi Party is something I really value, because WWII is such a major part of European history. You can’t go anywhere in Europe without something having been involved in the war. Joel and I have realised we really need to get up to speed that’s for sure!
We spent a lovely afternoon at Schönau am Königsee in Germany, walking around the lake. Austria and Germany are both stunningly beautiful in their landscapes and you could honestly be content just meandering and staring all day long! Whilst we are on the subject of WWII I have to mention our visit to the concentration camp Mathausen in Austria. Having had a string of days reaching into the 30’s, for some odd reason, on this day the wind picked up and the temperature dropped to 12 degrees! We were all absolutely freezing as we wandered through the concentration camp listening to the audio tour. To say I found it sobering was an understatement. I was absolutely appalled and abhorred. I have always wanted to visit a concentration camp ever since I was young and studied it at school. I knew what to expect, but I didn’t realise how sick it would make me feel. I think it was the stories and the blistering cold that eventually got to me and after about 1.5 hours I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I couldn’t really take any more in. It is incomprehensible to me how humans can be so inhumane. However, it was an experience I am glad to have had.
On that downcast note we said our silent thank you’s for living and learning, and headed across to the boarder to The Czech Republic – Cesky Krumlov, where Mum will pick up the story in our next blog….