There is something in the view that changes the minute you cross from Czech Republic into Austria. Salzburg, and its surrounding areas, are magnificent. It was the first time that we enjoyed the driving somewhere because it really wasn’t about the destination – the road itself is just so beautiful, the view is so breathtaking that we didn’t care. Well, that might not have been true when we took a wrong turn and the Waze insisted we could drive through a no-cars area and a no-way-in-hell-is-my-car-fitting-here area, and I had to get out of the car and guide Hidai through the longest reverse-drive in the narrowest road known to man and we almost got a ticket for it, but other than that it really was like being inside a postcard.
The kids took the move back into the DACH area rather lightly and were just happy they can understand the language again. For me it was a bit more difficult. We crossed from Czech to Austria on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon I had lost my voice, my internet and my peace of mind. Mostly I think what gave us all the warm fuzzy feeling was the guy who stole our reserved seats on the train and welcomed us with the all too familiar passive-aggressive attitude we have come to know and love so much in our time in Germany (the un-nice German people we met and dealt with don’t like it when you speak English and / or raise your voice. It is considered very aggressive and barbaric, unlike, say, stealing someone’s seat and refusing to move, which is considered quite acceptable – after all when you don’t pay for a reserved seat you save 2 Euros). Yes, there is something in the view.
Because we are now living on the edge and are trying new things, mostly ones we said we will never ever in a million years be caught dead doing, we decided that Salzburg is the best place to try sleeping in a hostel. Sure, I know hostels are a perfectly respectable and acceptable place to stay at, but since I couldn’t shake the it’s-a-dirty-drug-and-alcohol-infused-dump stereotype out of my mind, and since roughing-it, tolerating young people, and doing the dishes on my holiday were never in the game-plan for me, hostels were always out of the question. In fact they were right down there next to “sleeping under the stars”, you know, the things you say out loud when you want to make everyone laugh. But when we started planning this trip I read every travel blog I could find and they all talked about sleeping in hostels as this amazing way to save loads of money so I decided to try it out as well, after all – what’s the worse that could happen? But apparently it’s either a case of me not being able to find those places where everything is dirt-cheap and you get things for free and you get bumped to a better room or it’s that when you pay for 4 people hostels are not the cheapest option, especially if the words “mixed dormitory” or “shared bathroom” are not part of your vocabulary. But at the end the deciding factor was that it had parking, which given the fact that we rented a car we considered as a must, and is not so easy to come by when you are on a strict budget.
The only thing was, I really wasn’t aware that it was actually a hostel when I booked it, so when the taxi dropped us there it was kind of a shock to see the very big sign saying “hostel” or the very young people who looked at us very funny, after all we are people who have already passed what is considered the point when life ends, also known as age 35, according to most of them (honestly, I am not making this up, they actually have these very profound conversations about the meaning of life in the lobby), and are walking around freely with two aliens also known as kids, and enough bags to dress a small village in Africa where they had all been right up to the moment where they found themselves smack in the middle of Salzburg with a bag the size of Yon’s backpack, a disheveled look and lots of deep profound insights about how the world works, which they are more than willing to share with every female-solo-traveller they see. Yes, I spent a lot of time in the lobby eavesdropping, but it was mostly because a) they had a washer-dryer and for 5 euros you got detergent, clean clothes and free entertainment and b) they had a wii and foosball table so I unleashed the aliens and had a couple hours of peace and quiet for myself, in which I could eavesdrop while pretending to work, and secretly curse the slow and unreliable internet.
We did go out of the hostel and made our way into Salzburg itself, true, it was mostly to buy the honey latte at Starbucks (how is it I never thought about putting honey in my coffee???), but much to the kids delight we also enjoyed both the Salz and the Burg parts of the city. I have to say though it is pretty like a postcard (actually I wanted to say it was like one of those painting on a chocolate box, but I thought I’d try some non-chocolate related imageries), I found it hard to be in Salzburg, it was too small and villagey, and too religious and combative for me. What can I say, even if it is the birthplace of Mozart and as such has Mozartkugeln (which is my absolute favourite chocolate) in every corner, I prefer my cities big and full of grandeur, with lots of noise and palaces, not full of nature and castles. But on the other hand, what do I know, after all I walk around with aliens.
All the details if you’re heading to Salzburg –
We travelled by train from České Budějovice (in the south of Czech Republic) to Salzburg. It was a 3 and a half hour trip with one change in Linz, which had to be done in 4 minutes and ended up with us meeting the guy who stole our seats. It was the only train ticket we booked that actually had to be mailed to our home in Berlin and couldn’t be downloaded, and was the first time we didn’t have reserved seating, because on the train from České Budějovice to Linz you can’t reserve seats. It was a bit of a nerve wrecking experience, as was trying to find the right platform, but we survived to tell the tale. Other than that, trains in Austria are great and really comfy so Hidai enjoyed adding to his Public Transport Photo Collection.
We stayed at the Meininger, in a quadruple room, which had a double bed and a bunk bed and a very nice view of the mountains. We actually really enjoyed it (well except for the internet) and if you ever want to try a soft entry into the world of hosteling, this is the place.
We didn’t use any public transportation at all in Salzburg, we either walked or drove everywhere. We rented the smallest car we could find on the Europcar website (which meant that we had to go to the hotel first and drop off our luggage and only then pick the car up because there was no way we could fit all our things into a Volkswagen Polo. Or so we thought before we arrived in Italy) and since the cost of extra insurance was higher than the cost of the car (which ended up being 66 euros for 3 days, plus about 6 euros for gas) we risked it with basic insurance only. It might have been the wiser option economically but it did not help my ability to sleep at night. Regardless of my sleepless nights and senseless worrying, the car was great and so were the people at the Europcar. Parking in the city is hard to come by and is not very convenient when you want to walk around the altstadt, but since it was supposed to rain we thought we’d rather run to the car than to the bus, so we parked it as close as we could – a 15 minutes walk from the altstadt.
We used the Waze for navigation, it worked almost ok in Salzburg and went completely bonkers when we had to navigate smaller towns.
We bought all of our Mozartkugeln in the supermarket, where they were cheaper. Ok, we bought most of them there, we did buy one pack at the altstadt (the old city) because Yon asked ever so nicely and got a free I-love-Salzburg plastic bag (!) because the lady working there liked Hidai.
The main attraction we did was the salt-mines in Hallein (also known as – the salz part). It is the Salzwelten, not to be confused with Salzberghalle. I am just saying that because we (ok I) got them confused (who’d have thought there are two salz thingies in Hallein) which lead to the whole Waze-cursing incident which lead Yon to say that he will never get married because he doesn’t want to argue with his future wife like we do. Not our proudest moment. But anyway, the salt mines are up this beautiful mountain that crazy people are actually trying to climb with bicycles, and are worth the hassle, the money and the horrible clothes they make you wear. The only thing I found weird was that there was no smell of salt in the air, or the feel of it on the walls. Yon was really terrified of the ride inside the mine (which was really fun) and the idea of the slide inside it (you actually don’t have to slide, there are stairs leading down), but when he finished the first one he was ecstatic and didn’t care about anything but doing it again (he did, there are 2). I loved the boat ride in the middle of the mine, and the fact you cross the border under the earth. There is also a cafeteria, a shop and a small play area for the kids, and a village of Celtic people to visit outside the mine and included in the price.
We also walked around Hallein itself which might have gone better for us had we not taken every wrong turn and gotten into every no-driving street. It lead to two things by the time we found parking – all the shops, markets, ice-cream places were closed but we knew the place as well as the people living there, after all we drove through all those streets. In retrospect it would have been better to see the town first and then go up to the mine, or at least not trust the Waze and park a little faster.
We walked the Altstadt – the old city – on Sunday which is not the ideal day as most of it was closed, to the extent that not even all the tourist shops were open. Don’t worry, Starbucks was open and so was McDonald’s. It is an amazing part of Salzburg, with the quirky streets, beautiful squares, its amazing Dom, and the funny street-chess and market. It was, without a doubt, my favourite part of Salzburg.
The Burg part was the Hohensalzburg castle. It has a cable-car, magnificent view and more stairs than you can count. We bought the shorter visit option, which included two parts of the castle – the first part was an audio guide visit to the castle. We usually just skip the audio guide because some of us don’t have the patience to go through everything and some of us don’t like to be told where to go (ok both of these are me, but it sounds better the other way), but this one was really good (even if it takes you through the torture room, why do they always take you through the torture rooms in these castles?). The second part was a visit to the museums, which were nice enough but honestly had I known at the beginning just how many stairs I had to climb I would have just waited on the benches downstairs.
None of the places we visited had a disability price or any acknowledgment of the subject. What is more, they consider a family ticket to be 2 adults and one child, and you have to pay extra for every other child you have. It is the only place I know of where we are considered to have “lots of kids”.
For wifi I bought a SIM card from Vodafone that cost me 15 euros and had 10gb of data on it (and some credit for text and calls). It worked amazingly well. I don’t remember when I had such great internet connection on my phone. Free wifi is very common and works well if you want or need it.
Food is always an issue, one I guess which deserves a post of its own, so in Salzburg we tried to be very food conscious. It was made easy with having a kitchen with a proper fridge and a place to sit down and eat, which not all hotels have. We have now moved everyone completely to drinking water from our own bottles and eating healthier(ish) snacks which we all carry. I even managed to have Yon eat a few types of nuts, which is a huge improvement. Unfortunately lunches were still mostly McDonald’s, but we were so much better with the sweets so there is that.