Salt-Town

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
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Trip End Aug 26, 2010


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Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Monday, August 23, 2010

Salzburg basically means Salt Town in German. It was the seat of a powerful (or at least rich) set of prince-bishops during the Middle Ages. It only joined the Austria in the 1800's, so it didn't fit with my "unintended trip theme" of medieval lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but neither did Switzerland, and it was just a stop on the way back to the airport, so that's okay.

For the first time on my trip, I bought a discount card for the city. The Salzburg card gave me free entrance to most of the sights I wanted to see. Many of the other sights on my list were free admission without the card. It also included free rides on city buses and to a few outlying tourist locations. My hotel was a couple of kilometers from the old town. It was walkable, but at this point in my trip, my I wanted to save my legs for actual sightseeing. I bought the 48-hour card, because that's how long I was planning on being in Salzburg, also it seemed like a good deal. The 24-hour card didn't. It wasn't much cheaper than the 48-hour version, and I would be hard-pressed personally to see enough in that short a time to get my money's worth.

My first stop was a stroll through Mirabell Gardens. You see, other than a World Heritage listed old-town, Salzburg's two main claims to fame were being the home of Mozart and the area where the Austrian parts of the "Sound of Music" were filmed. Maria and the children ran through Mirabell Gardens as they sang "Do-Re-Mi". There were several "Sound of Music" tours available. The most widely advertised was only available in English. Austrians, it turned out, were pretty much unaware of the "Sound of Music". My Austrian friend said he'd never heard of it until talking with an American. Philistines... (I did encounter a large group of elderly Japanese women who knew of it, though.)

Reading reviews on the internet, the tours sounded pretty hit-or-miss, based on the tour guide you ended-up with and your personal enthusiasm for bus tours. I decided I'd do my own Sound of Music tour using a list of locations I found on the internet. The guides on the bus tour apparently lead sing-alongs (unless you got a bad guide, then they just played a recording), so I made sure at each location I visited to sing the appropriate songs--in my head.

So back to medieval Salzburg. The prince-bishops had several impressive palaces built in the town. The most noticeable was the Hohensalzburg Castle on a hill pressed-up against the town, and that was my first destination. Originally, it was a true castle, but it went through a renovation and expansion to Baroque palace at some point. It seemed like every castle I went to on this trip had one of two fates at the end of the Middle Ages: maintain relevance but loose the original forms to a Baroque-makeover, fade to irrelevance and catch fire at some point, probably igniting abandoned gun-powder stores and exploding. I'd like to see a castle that kept it's original form. I'm sure they're out there. I'll have to do some research. To the library! (Okay, maybe later...)

Anyway, Hohensalzburg had a "guided" audio tour. They gave out automated guides, but would only allow people into the castle buildings in groups of 40, and only accompanied by a human "guide", who was more like a prison warden. Really, all of the staff in the castle tour section seemed like they'd much rather be home with their PlayStation than communicating with tourists. The tour was also pretty poor. You only saw a few rooms, and there wasn't much information on the tour you couldn't have gotten out of skimming a Salzburg Wikipedia page. You did get to go up to the top of a tower for a panorama view, but the views from the other parts of the castle were so good, there wasn't much of a need for that. I will give the castle points for having a separate kids-audio tour. I also did manage to learn one thing. In Austria at least, only prisons at court seats could torture, so the castle at Salzburg never actually tortured anyone, even though they had a room called "the Torture Tower". It was just a regular prison. The tour was included, so I only wasted time, not money.

The museum part of the castle was a much better way to see the inside of the buildings, as it was also inside of the castle, and you didn't have to wait in line. Also, the most elaborately decorated rooms were in the museum section. The exhibits themselves were a little eclectic. There was a room with a few castle models and a couple of diagrams of medieval machinery, a handful of the palace rooms as they were in the time of the bishops, a small room with more torture and criminal punishment items, a small medieval kitchen, a small collection of arms, and so on.

The biggest single exhibit was a WWI exhibit, mainly on the Tirol front with a little about Isonzo (which if you've had the stamina to follow my entire trip, you'll remember from my visit to Kobarid two months ago). Interestingly, the Isonzo exhibit was only in German. There was a lot of info, and it would have been hard to squeeze English or Italian onto the displays so maybe that was it. I read a random selection of displays in each of the rooms, and from what I could understand, I think English-speaking visitors would have liked the info as well. (Italians too, since they were mainly on the other side of the lines.)

After taking the funicular (included in the Salzburg Card) back down to near town-level, I took a quick stroll around the hill to the Nonnberg Abbey. The second stop on my do-it-yourself Sound of Music Tour. In the story, Maria was a novice at the abbey. The real-life Maria was not actually a member of that abbey, although she did teach school there and was somewhere in the admission process when she left. In fact, Nonnberg wasn't currently even an abbey, but merely a convent. No definite word about the reduced status, but it was possibly because the convent lacked the minimum number of members required for an abbey (a requirement long-time readers may remember from my Pannonhalma entry). The church wasn't open, and there were no tours of the other buildings.

By this time, it was early afternoon, and I had tickets to see a marionette opera at 2pm. You may remember I first heard of such things back at Eszterhazy Palace (wow, this entry is turning into a trip down memory lane...), but they had an ETA of 10 years until the next show. In Vienna, Schönbrunn palace also had a marionette theater and theirs was operating, but it didn't fit my schedule. When I saw that Salzburg had one, I knew it was my chance. I chose a 1-hour afternoon show advertised as perfect for children. I thought it would also be perfect for an adult who liked the idea of puppets performing opera in theory, but wasn't ready to commit a larger chunk of their last two touring days in Europe to testing that theory.

After eating a giant pretzel for lunch (not recommended if you somehow pulled a jaw muscle two days before), I went to the theater. The show was entitled "An Hour with Mozart". It was a short selection of scenes from three of Mozart's operas: "The Abduction from the Seraglio", "Don Giovanni", and "The Magic Flute". The theater also had a Sound of Music show that day with marionettes using marionettes, I assume for the Goatherd song, but that show was almost two hours long, and I wanted to do something Mozart-themed.

One hour was about right for me, after my big-pretzel. Parts of the show were excellent, and parts just looked like dolls flopping around, but the former exceeded the latter. I'm guessing the "stars" were saving themselves for the real show, as the skill of the puppeteer had a dramatic impact on the over-all effect. For example, the Osmin in "The Abduction from the Seraglio" was excellent. The marionette was able to "grab" things in a completely realistic manner. On the other hand, Don Giovanni couldn't get his sword into his hand for the big sword fight with Il Commendatore, so it just kind of floated around in front of him, tip down.

There was some (intentional) humor in the show. The opera segments were glued together by an emperor puppet, who sat up in a "Imperial Box" next to the stage and kept demanding the director show an opera every time the conductor tried to play one of Mozart's symphonies. "You can hear that on cell-phones", he said. The dialog of the show was in German (two operas were in German, the other in Italian, which Mozart preferred writing), but translations were projected onto the theater walls telling you what was happening. They weren't subtitles, but more like the  cards placed between scenes in a silent movie ("Osmin awakes to discover the intruders"). The captions were in German, English, French and Italian, apart from one, and only one, slide where Japanese appeared too. Technical issues, I guess.

Having had my fill of Mozart, marionettes, and pretzels (who thought it was possible?), I went over to the Salzburg Cathedral. Before going inside, I went underneath. (Free with the Salzburg card. I saved 0.60 euros.) A section of the foundations had been excavated down to the floor of an early Roman church at the same location. Similar to the Cella Septichora early Christian tombs at Pécs, walkways ran through most of the area. (What's with all the flashbacks in this entry? I guess I'm just getting reflective as my trip comes to a close...) While the Pécs tombs had painted walls, the primary remains from the Salzburg church were a small set of floor mosaics. They weren't the most complete or largest mosaics I'd seen on this trip (try coastal Croatia), but they were neat to see in Austria.

Returning to ground level, I went into the building itself. After the relatively bland interiors of Vienna, I was not expecting what I saw. The walls and ceiling were mostly white, but they were covered with elaborate sculptures, both of angels or other faces and floral designs. It was the first Art Nouveau interior I'd seen in a church, and it was quite refreshing to see something new at this late point in my trip.

After wandering the church with my eyes fixed on the ceilings for a while, I headed back underground. This time into the church crypt. The crypt had undoubtedly been given a makeover in the last hundred years or so. The walls were whitewashed and the whole place was rather cheery, for a basement. I did see a ghost, though. Actually, it was part of an art installation in one room that had a projector causing a demonic looking figure to fly across the walls. The installation also included a recording of some low mumbling in German. Not very scary, but cool.

The clock was now creeping up on 5pm, the time most museums in Salzburg closed, but I wasn't ready to quit for the day. I looked through the list of things covered by my Salzburg card for something open late and found two Mozart landmarks with extended hours. I wasn't big on just seeing places were famous people lived, but they were open and free for me. The closest was Mozart's birthplace, so I went there first.

The birthplace museum was filled with tidbits. Tidbits about his parents and sister, his wife and children, his operas, medicine of the 1700's (most medicines of the time had laxatives in them), his travels (I complain about changing money, he had to take a small scale with him to weigh the amount of gold in the various currencies he encountered), the early years of Salzburg tourism, middle-class life in Mozart's time, and so on. The tidbits never really added up to a whole for me, but it was free with the Salzburg card and open.

With a little more Mozart knowledge than I had at the start of the day, I headed over to Mozart's house. He apparently only lived at the birthplace for seven years before his parents decided they needed more room. They had acquired a little extra money from Mozart and his sister, who was also apparently quite the prodigy, touring Europe to perform. The second museum painted a much more coherent picture than the first. It also included an audio guide, which had ample snippets of Mozart's works playing as you moved around the exhibits.

I believe the house museum also painted a more complete picture of the family, although maybe that wasn't a fair assessment as I had already learned quite a bit at that point from the birthplace museum. For example, at the house museum, I got the impression Mozart's father may have blamed Mozart somewhat for his mother's death. Both museums noted that she died while touring with Mozart in Paris, but the house museum included the details of why they were in Paris. Mozart refused to stay in Salzburg composing for the prince-bishop and attempted a tour to make money. It sounded like the tour was actually loosing large amounts of money, and his father, who had accompanied Mozart on all of the previous tours rather than his mother, had accepted the prince-bishop's demand he remain in town and was having his earnings drained by the tour.

One feature of the house museum I really liked was a cluster of computer terminals set-up with an interactive program examining one of Mozart's fantasies. You could view an electronic copy of his original, hand-written composition and hear the corresponding music playing. It also had an extensive analysis of his style of notation. I remembered just enough from high school band to follow what it was talking about and found it fascinating. I suspect a composer or professional musician would get a big kick out of it.

What I mostly took away from the presentation was we don't actually know 100% what Mozart wrote because of problems interpreting his musical short-hand and even possible typos. Additionally, in order to understand his composition (and presumably that of any historical composer), you had to be familiar with conventions of notation at the time of Mozart. If someone was to interpret his work using only a modern perspective, you would misinterpret his intention, as apparently some modern publishers have. One example was in modern notation, accidentals always end at bars, while in Mozart's day, they could carry across bars when the following note was the same note. To my untrained ear, in many cases the discrepancies sounded pretty minor (ugh no pun), though.

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