Curses, Foiled Again, and Again...

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


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Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My original plan for today was to get up early and head over to Hellbrunn Palace to see the trick fountains, and then take a cable car up to the top of Untersberg. Unfortunately, sometime just before sunrise, it began to rain heavily, with an occasional flash of lightning. I didn't even know if they'd do the fountain tour in the rain, and the point of going to the top of Untersberg was to get a good view of the area, which was now obscured by thick clouds. I decided I'd start the day with more museums instead, but those didn't open until 9 or 10am, so I slept in until a normal time.

It was still raining, albeit lightly when I was ready to leave my hotel. I checked the weather on-line and there was a chance of rain and significant clouds predicted for the whole day. I had been hoping the weather would clear-up in the afternoon and I could go to the outdoor activities then, but it didn't look good. When I got over to the Old Town, the rain had stopped at least and an occasional blue patch of sky was visible amongst the gray. Given the bad weather forecast, I decided that was as good a time as any to visit the fountains, but I'd still skip the mountain-top.

The fountains were indeed running, and there were quite a few people in the tour. A guide gave the tour in German and English, doing German first then repeating in English. Hellbrunn Palace, was commissioned by the prince-bishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems as a location for parties and other festivities. He seems to have been somewhat of a prankster, if not a jerk, which I'm sure is a fine line. There were several instances where the water was used to drive mechanical or musical devices, but most of the fountains were intended to soak unsuspecting visitors.

In particular, the first set of fountains we saw may not have been appreciated by all of his guests. There was an outdoor table where food was served. In the middle of the table was a tub for holding ice or water that could have been used to keep wine cool, so that part was nice. The trick was a fountain built into the seat of each chair (except for the bishop's, of course). The fountains were triggered at the end of the meal and sprayed quite the gush of water up the guests' pantaloons.

Modern guests to the garden could also expect to get wet. The guide usually demonstrated the fountains by squirting unsuspecting visitors. It took some members of our group longer than others to figure out when she said "and there may be a surprise in store..." they should not stand in front of anything that looked interesting. Of course, since it had been raining earlier, we all had our rain gear and umbrellas on, so that may have taken some of the edge off of it. The little kids still did quite a bit of squealing and jumping, though, and because it was raining and a bit cool, instead of hot and sunny, there was slightly less enthusiasm for getting sprayed than there might have been in August. I managed to avoid any big soakings, but probably would have gotten quite a bit wetter if I hadn't been wearing my jacket.

I dried-off on my way back to the bus stop. In addition to the fountains, there was also the gazebo used in the Sound of Music (although only for exterior gazebo shots, the filming of the "16 Going on 17" musical number was actually done in a sound stage) and a few of the staterooms of the palace to see. I started to go to the staterooms, but there was a large group of middle school children in the lobby. They had run the museum out of German audio guides and seemed likely to acquire all of the English guides as well. I knew my next stop was going to be a visit to the staterooms of the prince-bishops' residence back in Salzburg, so I decided the Hellbrunn staterooms weren't worth braving the crowd.

Back in town, before the staterooms I wanted to check out something called the Catacombs near St. Peter's Monastery. The Salzburg brochure said they were originally built by early Christians. I expected something like a cross between the catacombs from St Stephen's in Vienna and the early-Christian burial site in Pécs. When I got there, I discovered they were nothing like either site.

Even the Catacombs-specific brochure (as opposed to the general Salzburg brochure) said the term "catacombs" was inaccurate. It was basically just two small rooms cut into the cliff above St Peter's Cemetery. There were altars in both rooms, one which may have actually been from early-Christian times, and the traces of a mural, but that was it. As much as I love things cut into cliffs, it was underwhelming. My favorite part was actually the common grave at the entrance to the "catacombs" with paintings of Death or skeletons in various scenes, but that was just a part of the regular cemetery, and not actually catacombs-related. At least the catacombs were free with the Salzburg Card.

With the "catacombs" complete, I was on to see some staterooms. Unfortunately, when I got to the Residence, I discovered the staterooms were closed until Saturday. I think for some sort of renovation, or update of the exhibits, but I didn't bother to ask as I sulked away to console myself with a giant chocolate covered pretzel. On the plus side, the sky had cleared and the sun had come out.

Needing something else to do, I flipped through the brochure that came with the Salzburg Card and found a tour of the Festival Hall was free and started in just over an hour, leaving plenty of time for me to sit on the stairs watching the now sunny plaza and eating my comfort pretzel. It turned out to be a pretty good place for people watching as some sort of matinee was starting the the Festival Hall and there were plenty of people in fancy dress coming and going.

The Festival Hall tour started out strong. We got to see the Big Hall when stagehands were busy setting things up for a performance. Like the Vienna Opera House, the Festival Hall never did the same show two nights in a row, so everything had to be torn-down and set-up every day. It had a much shorter season than Vienna, though, with the venue mainly being used during the Salzburg Festival, which took place for a few months in the summer. During that period, they would go from around 100 employees to over 2000.

The rest of the tour was disappointing. Because there was a show in the Small Hall (aka the Summer Riding School from the time when it had animal shows), we couldn't see that one. There was a third hall, the Hall for Mozart, but we weren't shown that one either. Instead, we got to see a lobby, an intermission room, and many pictures of the parts of the Festival Hall we weren't shown for real. The Sound of Music did film in building, but in one of the two halls that were currently closed.

The tour also kind of dragged because it was another German+English tour. Saying things twice at Hellbrunn Palace gardens  wasn't a problem because the blurbs were quick: "On your right is the Orpheus Grotto, there may be a few surprises inside...". For the Festival Hall, though, the guide would talk for several minutes before switching languages, which would leave the half of the group that didn't understand to wander aimlessly, both physically and mentally.

Continuing on down the road, I made my next stop at the Toy Museum. It was much more like an actual museum than the one in Kecskemét, with pieces arranged for display and captions like: "Painted figures from 1832 with original packaging". The toy museum at Kecskemét had more of a playful, folk art feel, while the Salzburg museum felt cold and business-like. However, the Salzburg museum did have several stations setup for children to play various games, mainly dress-up, so a French-speaking family visiting the museum at the same time as me was easily keeping their little girls entertained.

Included in the same building, and I think same ticket, as the Toy Museum was an exhibit of musical instruments. For some reason, Austrian museums keep translating the adjective to describe their musical instrument displays into "ancient" when it should probably have been "historical". At any rate, I just skimmed this particular exhibit. It was of course not possible to give the museum a fair assessment when I had just seen the collection in Vienna. There was no audio guide, but it did have a box on the wall where you could select from a few languages to hear a description of some of the instruments as well as how they sounded.

With the weather still mostly clear, I decided to give Untersberg a try. The bus ride out to the mountain took longer than I expected, almost a full half-hour. By the time I got there, the clouds had begun to reform. On top of that, the cable car was at the very bottom of the mountain, so going up to the top would have taken a 45 minutes round trip (including about 15 minutes at the top). With the bad weather creeping in, little chance to beat it to the top and the possibility of missing the last bus back to town, I decided to skip the mountain and just return to Salzburg.

I made it back around 5:30pm, so most of the museums were closed, but my Salzburg Card did cover a visit to the Stiegl Brewery World. It included admission to a museum, a "hands-on" brewery tour, and something called an "adventure brewery". I wasn't a drinker, but I also didn't eat salami and I still went to the Szeged Salami and Paprika Museum, plus the brewery was free (with Salzburg Card) and open.

By the time I made it back to Salzburg, it was pouring rain. Walking to the stop for the brewery bus, I discovered my umbrella had numerous small holes in it. I hadn't noticed before, but this rain was heavy enough to drip through them. In addition to switching buses, the brewery museum was also a little outside of the old town and a few blocks from the city bus stop. There wasn't a map to it's location but I did have the address on my Salzburg Card brochure so I was able to find it. The rain had slackened some by the time I made it to the front door, although a bit of thunder had begun.

The brewery museum was fine as such things go, with a little about beer making, a little about beer history, a little about the company history, etc. It turned out "adventure brewery" just meant micro-brewery, so there was no adventure involved. I also never saw anything I would describe as a "hands-on tour", although I suppose there were parts of the brewing exhibit you could have touched if you wanted to.

The most creative part of the museum was a station where you could select from about 20 countries around the world and hear someone ordering beer in that language. The other exhibit I liked was a discussion of how beer quality declined during WWII. The high-quality Stiegl beer was made with 12degrees of wort. After 1939, the degree declined as the government limited the amount of grain available for brewing in order to save the rest for bread and livestock feed. At the low point, it was down to 2.7degrees. In the first year after the war, full 12degree beer could be made at the brewery again, but only for US troops, who had brought all of the ingredients over from the US. There was a picture of the brewery from that time that had a sign, in English, "No US soldiers allowed except on official business." I guess some of them must have tried to sneak an extra bottle or two.

So, it wasn't the finest day of my trip, but maybe that was for the best so I would be a little less bummed-out about things coming to an end. On the way to my hotel, the rain had stopped and I paused on one of the pedestrian bridges over the Salzach River to stop and look back at the old town. There was a musician playing nearby and it was a nice end to the day.

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