Jamie – 26 October 2011
I like The Sound of Music in a once-a-year kind of way. Interestingly the Austrian’s themselves are almost unaware of this well known musical, despite it being a major tourist draw card to their country. In fact, it was having its first ever theatrical showing in Austria while we were there – amazing given that the film was released in 1965. There are several theories for this ignorance: The original film was in English rather than German. Also, the Austrians probably did not appreciate the reminder of the role their country played in WW2 (a strong theme in the film). However, apparently enough time has passed for the theatrical version to be a success as it is booked out for the next three months. It also probably helps that it is being presented in German.
Anyway, the good news for me was that Salzburg had a lot to offer beyond TSOM.
Top of the list was probably the salt mine tour – there are a few mines near Salzburg but we went to the one in Berchtesgaden. It had everything a child could want in a tour. You got dressed up in jump suits. It was underground and sometimes very dark. The descent involved a very cool 1.4km ride-on train through a very narrow tunnel followed by a couple of 40 metre wooden slides that were very fast (facilitated by the jumpsuits). There was an underground “mirror lake” that you crossed by boat while a laser show played out on the cave roof just above your head. You dipped your finger in and then tasted the very salty lake water. You leant that if you consumed just 150 grams of salt (or more) in a day you would die. Who knew how close to death I was with some of those fish and chips I used to have! In fact you learnt everything there is to know about salt and in particular the process of harvesting the “below ground” variety. The tour lasted an hour and a half, and our children declared it better than Disneyland. A very satisfying declaration for a parent to hear!
Our second favourite event was a ride up the Jenner-Bahn (a spectacular 3.3km gondola ride up to the top of Mt Jenner). The views were marvelous as we were carried above the snow line. The children had been pleading to visit somewhere with snow, and the excitement as we stepped out at 1800 metres above sea level was impossible to contain. We were almost alone at the top and celebrated with a major snowball fight. Bec and Sari also built a very cute snowman before we retired into the summit restaurant with its million dollar view for a hot chocolate and apple-strudel feast. The boys and I then decided to test our new hiking boats with a 2.5 hour walk from the middle-station at 1200 metres to the bottom of the mountain. It was a really lovely walk through pine forests and across alpine streams. Being the end of autumn many of the trees below the snow line were throwing their red and yellow leaves to the wind.
Bec and I took it in turn to visit Mozart’s childhood home in the old-town which we both really enjoyed. I also enjoyed the Mozart Kugeln that most shops seemed to sell. These are chocolate balls filled with marzipan. I think they are yum. Bec thinks they are yuck. Marzipan polarizes most people.
As so often happens we discovered our favourite eat-out venue on our last night and wished we had found it on our first. Austria’s largest Beer Hall (the Augustinee Braustubl) is contained within a monastery in the Salzburg old-town. There are actually four halls (two for non-smokers) and you simply choose your clay stein from the “stein shelf”, wash it in the stream-water fed fountain a few steps away, and take it to the barman who will fill it for a few euro. It seems that there was only one type of beer on offer – from a magnificent wooden barrel – and it was delicious! Extremely drinkable. Even Bec (who is not a beer drinker, or drinker full stop for that matter) agreed that her sip was “very nice”. Also inside the monastery is a food hall selling the most mouth-watering assortment of traditional Austrian delicacies – roasted and BBQ’d meats, along with salads, breads, etc. What we liked was that the halls seemed to be filled with locals not tourists (as evidenced by the lederhosen and felt hats), and that there were as many grandparent types as there were younger drinkers. Everyone was laughing, no one was (obviously) drunk – and the joyous atmosphere rubbed off on the entire family as we gnawed away on our pork ribs and Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock).
The other highlight was a visit to Hanger 7 which is a monument to all things associated with the Red Bull group. As the name suggests, Hanger 7 is based at Salzburg Airport and contains an amazing collection of aircraft, helicopters, racing cars and artwork. I’ve always associated Red Bull with the energy drink – and that is certainly its core brand – but this is really the story of Dietrich Mateschitz, the Austrian billionaire who founded the company, and his passion for aviation, architecture and the arts. Hanger 7 itself is a unique building – an enormous glass and aluminium structure housing the entire collection along with three first class restaurants and cafes. It is free to view the collection and they present you with a boarding pass as you enter which the children loved.
We visited the Salzburg Zoo which was a little disappointing (for someone who has been to the Sydney Zoo). That said, the children really enjoyed an area where you could feed the sheep and goats by hand. One exhibit that I particularly enjoyed was the rat and mouse display. It was a mock kitchen where the “absent owners” had rather foolishly left food on the table and the cupboards open. Well needless to say there were about 300 mice and rats in that room having a party to end all parties and you could literally walk amongst it all (behind the safety of a glass wall). It all felt disturbingly like it could have been your own house and the true enjoyment of the exhibit lay in watching the reaction of people as they entered the room and took the sight in. More than a few people immediately turned around and motored out of there. I find it funny that people will press their noses against the glass of a snake enclosure but run a mile from a mouse enclosure.