Soaring castles and spirits in Salzburg

The massive fortress in Salzburg towers over the city, much like the nearby Alps that dominate the landscape outside the city.

David Peck

Austrians love high places, it seems.

We joined more of our European exchange families in Salzburg after spending Christmas in Berlin. Daughter Danielle, who is spending the school year studying in Berlin, joined us for two days in Austria before returning to Berlin for New Year’s Eve festivities.

Our wonderful hosts in Salzburg were exchange son Daniel and his parents Wolfgang and Herta. We were also joined by German daughter Larissa Demel and her parents Klaus and Aitxa of Karlsruhe, Germany, and for one day by Lukas Slameczka and his friend Birgit of Vienna. Lukas lived with Bob and Elsie Martens for a school year in Lovell.

Salzburg is a marvelous small city for walking and sightseeing, with new and delightful vistas around every corner and the mountaintop fortress ever lurking. Our hotel was a short tunnel walk through the Mönchsberg (Monk’s Mountain) to the Altstadt (Old Town), with its winding streets, old churches, historic buildings and colorful plazas.

Like other European cities and villages we visited, Salzburg was beautifully decorated for the holidays, and the decorations were tastefully done – not overdone ala Clark Griswold in “Christmas Vacation” – with oftentimes simple white lights adorning a Christmas tree, building or street.

Daniel, Wolfgang and Herta took us to many places and had our visit planned perfectly: the huge baroque Salzburg Cathedral, a rooftop terrace restaurant looking over the city and the river, the Red Bull soccer arena where Daniel works during the summer and Wolfgang covers the local team as a sportswriter and editor, the Museum of Modern Art, Mozart’s birth house, the aforementioned Hohensalzburg Fortress, a city fortress built in 1077 that was never defeated, and the Residenz – a sprawling medieval palace for the ruling bishops some 500 years ago with ornately decorated rooms.

One of our joys was getting to experience a variety of restaurants from the huge Augustiner Bräustübl beer hall to the upscale Carpe Diem. We found words familiar to Wyoming Cowboys fans adorning the wall at Zwettler’s pub and restaurant: (in German) “In Heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here.” We also spent time at Murphey’s Law, an Irish pub near our hotel that featured good beer, sports on TV and wonderful conversation. And speaking English was encouraged. The young lady who was our bartender was from Newcastle, England. I told her we have a Newcastle in Wyoming. She found the Denver Broncos game on TV for us.

The birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is a very musical city, from classical music to rock and roll, blues and jazz. On a Friday evening we enjoyed a “funk jazz” band at the Jazzit club, which interestingly used to be the Communist Party headquarters in Salzburg.

We also enjoyed a fascinating evening watching the press run at Wolfgang’s huge city newspaper – with its intricate insert machine bringing fliers and newspaper sections together with meters and meters of section-carrying moving chain, crisscrossing high above our heads in a building the size of a football field. Amazing.

It was also fun to visit Daniel’s hometown, Seekirchen, and see where he went to elementary school and secondary school.

One of our best days was New Year’s Eve Day, spent on one of the many local lakes – the Wolfgangsee – aboard a series of boats, really floating cafes, that took us from village to village: St. Gilgen, Strobl and St. Wolfgang. It was a fun, relaxing day with our German and Austrian family.

On New Year’s Eve we ate a leisurely dinner, then walked along the river as the city exploded with celebratory fireworks – literally. Hundreds and hundreds of people were firing off rockets and fountains, sometimes just a few feet in front of us from a fencepost or railing, and the streets and sidewalks were crowded with New Year’s revelers. It was an amazing sight to see. By the next morning the city was clean as a whistle, the city cleaning crew having swept the place spotless.

Even with everything we saw and experienced, the best moments during our five days in Salzburg were the many moments just enjoying each other’s company – laughing, joking, telling stories and talking about Wyoming and Austria and Germany and our families and lives. Traveling with European families we have come to love and admire is priceless, and the setting, though wonderful and, at times, awe-inspiring, was secondary to the friendship and companionship we experienced once again.

Like the Hohensalzburg Fortress, our spirits rose above everything else during our visit to Austria.

By David Peck