January 20th, 2011
Pride and Pestilence – Salzburg, Oh Salzburg
For most people Austria is the country of Mozart, Freud, and Vienna sausages. While those are certainly mainstays of this small central-European country, there is a whole lot more when you start digging into the historic and cultural surroundings. I know, becuase I spent MLK weekend traveling through the German state of Bavaria into the city of Salzburg.
This is not my first visit to the idyllic town on the Salzach River. I have been here three other times – the most recent being the summer of 2010. I’m familiar with the layout of the city and with the weather being in the mid-50s (very unusual) I decided to do most of my exploring via foot. The city has a bus system that is fairly cheap and runs from the airport to the German border to the far northeastern regions of the city. Their coverage makes METRO look miniscule even though Salzburg is only a city of 150,000.
Arriving by train from Munich is simple. Deutsche Bahn, the German state rail company, sells a group ticket called the “Länder” that allows passage through different German states for groups of up to 5 people for €29. The one for the state of Bavaria also allows travel to a few cities in Austria, including Salzburg. The train station in Salzburg is situated in the “new” city, which simply means it’s on the side of town that was heavily bombarded during WWII. Walk a few blocks and you’ll find yourself in the center of town.
There is an extreme sense of order walking the streets. Cross outside of a crosswalk in Houston and no one notices, do that in Salzburg and you’ll receive ugly stares. However, the order does have it’s advantages. All crosswalks not at lights are mandatory stops for drivers and if you don’t cross automatically at one, you’ll get a polite honk, reminding you it’s your turn. Beats the hell out of almost being run over by a METRO bus driver not paying attention.
You are what you eat and in the case of Salzburg that would make you delicious. Weiner Schnitzel is a dish known throughout the world, yet few people know it is the creation of the Austrians. Often consisting of veal, schnitzel is breaded and fried and served with a lemon wedge and potato salad. A variant of this specific to Salzburg is the “Salzburger Schnitzel”, stuffed with mushrooms, bacon, onions, and herbs. A bunch of the restaurants in the city serve it, and I highly recommend it.
Don’t feel like breaded veal? Then why not try some spätzle? You can’t go wrong with potato noodles baked with gruyere and lüneberg cheese. If you’re in the mood for something even heavier there is always the pork roast and semmelknödel, or bread dumpling. Think Thanksgiving stuffing rolled into a ball and roasted. These are mainstays of Austrian cuisine and though it sounds simple, every restaurant has their own take on all of these dishes, each one turning out something completely different than the one before it.
To wash it all down a visit to the Augustiner Bräustübl Tavern. Since 1621 this monestary turned brewery has cured the parched pallette of guests with only a couple of different brews. Walk down into inner sanctum of this place and you’re hit with the smells of the food stalls. Sausage, schweinbauche (pork belly), and sauerkraut permeate the air. Turn the corner and you start to hear the sound of old men singing a folk song and you just know they’re wearing lederhosen. Turn one last time and the motherload hits your eyes. A wall of steins is to your right. You grab one, take it to the rinsing station, wash it out and pay the cashier. Your reward? 1 liter of delicious lager. Price? €6.
In all of this, I should point out that Bavaria and parts of northern Austria are considered the Texas of Europe. Don’t be surprised to see owners walking around town with their bird dogs or men in hunting jackets. Even the dialects in these parts are similar to Texas. There’s a twang in some vowels and even the dropping of consonants. The similarities stretch to music too. The Bavarians love folk music and when you first hear it you immediately think of Townes Van Zandt. That is until the German lyrics kick in. And lastly, there is very much a sense of pride of being a Bavarian, there’s even a political party that wants to separate the state from Germany.
Salzburg is the town to visit when you need to slow down a bit in your European travels and take in a little bit of mountain air while still being in a city. There’s enough to do to fill 2-3 days, especially if you’re willing to go outside of the town a bit (sounds even more like Houston). I may have visited a few times, but I’ll be back, and no, that wasn’t with a Schwarzenegger accent.