After deciding to stay in Europe for New Year’s Eve, the next decision was where. Often we choose by simply looking at Google Maps, zooming out, and picking out a city—let’s go to Salzburg! We then research the best way to get there from Hannover, and 9 times out of 10 the answer is: take the train. Six hours on the train is now much more preferable to us than a shorter plane ride; no checking in, no security line, no baggage limits, no boarding process—just a stress free journey. About 2 hours into our journey, the landscape changed. The closer we got to Austria, the more snow that blanketed the landscape outside of our train window.
We arrived in early afternoon to not just a blanket of snow, but more snow continuing to fall—for us this was a huge positive, as it reminded us of home. We made our way to our rented apartment—some sort of combination between a hotel and an airbnb room. But considering how late, relatively, we planned this trip, it was a steal to find a place to stay with availability on NYE.
Towering over the city of Salzburg is the Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Castle). This castle sits atop Mönchsberg, and at the bottom of the hill lies the city, which straddles the Salzach river. On the other side of the river is a larger hill, Kapunizerberg. This was our first destination on NYE; a quick climb up the hill brought us to these views, and our top choice of where to return shortly before midnight.
At 4pm, from the hills surrounding the city, traditional city guards shoot off black powder guns to help ring in the new year. This gun salute was an exhilarating preview of what would come later. However, it is difficult to simultaneously plug your ears and take photos! Earplugs would be recommended.
The weather forecast for the 31st was variable up until the time we left, leaving us unsure as to whether we should count down to midnight in a fancy ballroom or out in the elements. Instead, we did a bit of both. We took a break from the elements by visiting a local performance of the Nutcracker before heading to the Domplatz (Cathedral Square), which hosted an open-air concert with food and drink stands lining the square to keep revelers well fed and lubricated to withstand the brisk temperature. The audience was a mix of Germans, Austrians, Italians, and Brits/American—they played some music for everyone, but it was still overwhelmingly American music.
At around 11pm, we began the journey across the bridge and up the hill to stake our place before midnight. It was a bit more crowded than earlier, but we secured a safe spot, and promptly stuck our bottle of sparkling wine in a snow bank to cool it quicker before midnight. The concept of fireworks celebrations is much different in continental Europe than what we are used to in the US. Rather than the “official” fireworks being the main attraction and smaller, “self made” celebrations being minor festivities, here it is quite the opposite. Beginning 1-2 hours before midnight, the night sky was constantly lit up with impressive fireworks being shot off in every direction in all sorts of shapes and forms. It is somewhere between impressive, overwhelming, and dangerous—it quickly becomes apparent that either not everyone knows what they are doing, have had a few too many drinks, or purchased their fireworks from some neighboring country that doesn’t have the highest production standards. It absolutely adds to the thrill and excitement of the moment, but you definitely need to watch out for your own safety.
Exactly at midnight, the official fireworks started—shot off from the hill near the castle, it paints a beautiful night sky with fireworks exploding over the castle—which has stood for nearly 1,000 years without ever being attacked. We popped the sparkling wine, and took in the moment—and that is how we celebrated our way into 2015.
As a side expedition on one day, we took a single-car gondola up a nearby mountain, Untersberg. After a daunting 10-minute journey with drop-offs never before seen on traditional ski gondolas, we arrived safely at the top to find blistering winds. We went on a short hike to the close by peak and took some photos, and decided we were up for a 500m trek up to the main peak. Rewarded with stunning views and another photo op, we trekked back down and had a lovely lunch at the cute little mountain lodge. All in all it was a great break from the city/culture experience and let us have some time to play in snow up on top of a mountain—something that definitely reminded us of Colorado.
The coming days were a mix of relaxation and sightseeing, with a bit of fun of playing in the snow. The city was still buzzing with the increased tourism from the holiday, but still subdued enough to enjoy a fine weekend. The crowds have gotten increasingly bad during the summer due to the two main draws to the city, outside of its beauty: it is the birthplace of Mozart, and the location for The Sound of Music.
The city itself is visually most interesting due to the castle up on the hill. As an easier path than hiking up there, there is a cable car that gets up to the top in about a minute. Up top offers beautiful views in all directions. The castle now holds a museum with topics spanning from the history of Salzburg, the reasons for building the castle, and some random topics, including the history of marionette theater. The castle also hosts dinners and concerts, but we chose to attend a concert elsewhere. Back down the hill we also stopped by the Panorama museum. Back in the 1800s a gigantic panorama painting was commissioned, and later restored into impeccable form today.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 as the seventh child in his family. Museums exist now at his birthplace and the residence where his family later lived. His brilliance as a young child is highlighted as you walked through the room where he composed his first songs and the instruments he played. We learned about his European travels, which his father saw as a means to both show off the skills of Mozart and his sister, and as a means of continuing education – an interesting concept when compared to long hours of schooling we go through. Also noted was that Mozart was quite short and while no photos of him exist, it is clearly noted, he was not the most attractive man. Can’t have everything!
To take in his music, we booked a dinner concert at St. Peter Stiftskeller. Part of a monastery, this restaurant has existed since 803 AD, making it the oldest restaurant in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. Now, on the 2nd floor, there is a nightly Mozart Dinner Concert. Half dinner, half concert, the attitude is more relaxed than a concert and is presented in a more intimate setting. They play the hits, including music from his famous Operas, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. It was at this time that we learned, or re-remembered, that Mozart composed Die Zauberflöte with German text. So, we sought out this Opera, and the only show available was the Marionette version of it! We decided to go for it—it proved to be a very entertaining show.
Salzburg is also famous in the English-speaking world for its role in The Sound of Music, both as the actual shooting backdrop in famous scenes and the storyline taking place in Salzburg and surrounding area. As the movie was never translated to German (a difficulty for Musicals), it never really caught on here. However, the town is full of tourists who want to see the famous scenes from the movies. There is a hop-on hop-off bus ride that only goes to Sound of Music locations! We did watch the movie in the run-up to our trip but we didn’t become big enough fans such that we needed to see all the sights. But we did see some of the famous sights including the gazebo featured in the “sixteen going on seventeen” dance.
Some last things to remember and reminisce: Enjoying a hearty meal at an authentic restaurant, only to learn that it is cash only, resulting in a quick (and wet!) ATM trip for Kevin… Visiting a modern art museum up on the hill, seeing some weird art (dressed mannequins, self-exposures), and finding out at the end that someone stole our umbrella… and best of all, a horse carriage ride through a romantic town.