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UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Salzburg

Spittal an der Drau, Salzburg, Salzburg Airport and London Stansted Airport

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Saturday (yesterday)

I got up at about the same time as I have been all week, around 6:15, so I could have a leisurely breakfast (and make up a couple of soft cheese rolls to save for elevenses later) before walking to the station for my train at 7:40. I realised once it was too late to go back that I'd left an unopened bottle of Coke Zero and a carton of chocolate milk in my fridge at the hostel... typical!

The 2-hour journey to Salzburg was very smooth, with stunning views of snowy hills and mountains - some high enough to have bare, jagged peaks, whilst others had evergreen forest.


On arrival at Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (main train station) I walked to Meininger Hotel & Hostel. It took longer than it should have done because a blister on a toe on each foot was developing. I got there in the end though and although check-in wasn't until 3, they let me put stuff in the luggage room and sit down for half an hour to rest my feet and charge my phone. Then I was off on another walk, this time into the historic centre - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason!

My first stop was the Steingasse, a winding, picturesque, pedestrianised, historic and cobbled street which led to what I think is an old city gate, and beyond. Pigeons clearly roosted along the street, both real ones and a couple of pairs of metal life-sized ones which I spotted on external windowsills.


Then I crossed the river, walked through an archway and found myself opposite Mozart's birthplace! I said hello but didn't go in, because I was on a mission - first of all to get some lunch, a massive chewy pretzel bread with melted cheese on top, bought from a stall in the market which was taking place next to a church, and then to find - the Christmas Museum! I passed several impressive buildings on my way there.


The Christmas Museum contains a collection of 19th and early 20th century Christmas objects from Austria and Germany, especially Bavaria and the Tyrol. It wasn't massively extensive, and didn't go into Christmas folklore and customs as much as I had hoped, but it was still very interesting all the same. In addition to various displays, there were some information boards about such topics as Advent, Christmas markets, decorations (including the Christmas tree), gift-givers and gift-giving - apparently present-giving in Austria and Germany used to be done on 6th December but then moved to Christmas Eve - and New Year's Eve.


My favourite artefacts included the many models/puppets of St Nicholas and his scary sidekick the Krampus/Knecht Ruprecht, the latter portrayed as devils...


...other figures, for example a Father Christmas-related figure called the Christmas Man (Weinachtsmann), a personification of Winter...


...paintings and models/ tableaux of Christmas markets...


...some interesting metal chocolate moulds and intricately carved wooden Christmas biscuit and tree decoration moulds...


...their collection of Advent calendars and children's letters to Baby Jesus...


...colourfully painted wooden nutcrackers...


...and recreations of decorated Christmas trees of the time using original decorations. One of these trees was set within a recreation of a 'Christmas Room' of the early 20th century.


A couple of other individual items I liked included some artists' postcards from the first quarter of the 20th century (including a particularly fine one of St Nicholas the Giftbringer from 1910), an oil painting of a toy St Nicholas and Krampus and shoes stuffed with nuts and Christmas biscuits, and some ceramic 'lucky pigs' produced to put on display on New Year's Eve as a lucky charm.


In the shop they had some metal tealight candle holders which when lit, move some beautiful but delicate golden snowflakes around in a circle above it. They had other types too but I couldn't resist one of the originals!

Salzburg Cathedral was directly in front of me as I stepped outside, but as I already had other destinations in mind and relatively limited time to see them in, I settled for a walk around the outside only, after a closer look at a statue of Mozart round the corner.


My next destination was a church of a different kind; Erzabtei St Peter, an ancient abbey church and monastery containing within its grounds a magnificently decorated church, some tiny chapels, a cemetery full of filigree wrought-iron crosses, and some intriguing catacombs hewn out of the cliff face of the Festungsberg outcrop (a major landmark of Salzburg), which forms one of the cemetery boundaries.

Erzabtei St Peter was founded by a Frankish missionary in around 700, but not much Romanesque architecture remains in the church; a vaulted portal, for example, and some remains of wall paintings which looked very old, though I forget how old exactly. The rest of the church is Renaissance and Rococo in style, with Rococo stucco, several striking oil paintings along the walls and on the altar, and an ornate clock above the organ on a balcony high above the main entrance. I enjoyed wandering around, taking everything in.


Before I left I stepped into the 'Kerzenkapelle', or Candles Chapel, where I lit a candle for Dad and inspected some well-preserved carved Early Modern memorial floor slabs.


On leaving the church I stopped briefly at the tiny St Mary's Chapel (externally connected to the church) and admired its exceptionally ornate golden altar, which lay behind a grille.


Then I wandered round the cemetery for a bit. It was a sight to behold, with some more 'typical' stone crosses and memorials but also a great many striking iron crosses, which looked like miniature works of art.


Some stood by the sides of another small chapel, the Late Gothic St Margaret's Chapel, which I also had a quick look round. It had some interestingly carved external wall slabs, as well as some ones in the floor once you stepped inside. It was relatively bare inside, though it had a beautiful carved wooden altarpiece, plus some stained glass windows.


This is a very historic cemetery and several famous local characters are buried here, including the composer Johann Michael Haydn and Mozart's sister and fellow musician Maria Anna (Nannerl). The graves of these two lie by the entrance to the stairs up to the catacombs which I mentioned before. A 2 euro entry fee later and I was climbing up. The catacombs were relatively small and bare, with two undecorated chapels carved out of the rock, but they were very interesting all the same. I got a powerful sense of history, unsurprisingly really because the chapels date back to the 12th century and even they were not the first to be there; there have been catacombs here since the early Christian period of Late Antiquity. There was a viewing point at one stage too, with a lovely view.


It was getting on to four o'clock by now, and although my feet were extremely painful I was really keen to have a look round Festung Hohensalzburg (a 900-year-old clifftop fortress; an icon of Salzburg), or at least to have a wander round the grounds, even if there probably wouldn't be time to go into the museums.. It was a wonderfully clear, sunny day, so I knew there'd be some stunning views over the city and the mountains beyond. To help my feet, and save time, I took the funicular up - it was only round the corner from Erzabtei St Peter.

As I had predicted, although I didn't make it inside any of the museums, I still had a really lovely wander round the grounds in the late-afternoon sunshine, taking in the gobsmacking views, impressive buildings, and interesting details such as a colourful sundial painted onto a wall of St George's Church. I was really glad I'd come. Unfortunately my phone battery was almost dead so I couldn't take as many pictures as I'd have liked, but I still managed a few.


After getting off the funicular at the bottom of the hill, I noticed a narrow, very swift-running stream running underneath it. This turned out to be the Almkanal, and the funicular building lies directly over the mouth of it. There was a small exhibition about it. For seven centuries the Almkanal was the most important source of energy and water supply for the city; apparently, in the 19th century there were over 120 watermills along it. It connects the Alm River to the River Salzach (the main river running through Salzburg) and within Salzburg it mainly runs underground. It has remained a source of energy, as apparently it powers several small power stations, and has been routed underneath Salzburg's Great Festival Hall in order to act as part of its air conditioning system! It powered the funicular from the latter's opening in 1892 until it was converted into electric in 1959.

Nowadays you can find 10 species of fish in the Almkanal, including several types of trout as well as an invasive species of crayfish from America. Apparently, in the nearby River Salzach it was once possible to see the largest freshwater fish in Europe - the beluga, a type of sturgeon which can grow up to 5 metres long - as they migrated from the Black Sea up the Danube. The biggest specimens were apparently a major attraction, much admired by the people of the city! Sadly, nowadays there are too many obstacles in the Danube for this migration to happen, so they are no longer seen as far as the Salzach.

Although it was only between 5 and 5.30pm, my feet were so painful by now that I decided to make my way slowly to a particular place I had in mind for dinner, and have dinner there a little early, with the idea then to stop at a supermarket on the way back to the hostel for a snack to have if I felt hungry again later on. The restaurant at Hotel Elefant was open for business - the main dishes were all a bit too pricey for me, but I had some absolutely delicious Tyrolean shrimp soup, which came with a tasty cheese straw-type thing. To follow that I had a lovely Salzburger Nockerl - a great big puff of meringue, baked with a brown crust on the outside and soft meringue inside, and all lying on a bed of raspberry sauce which I could tell had been made of real raspberries.


After a half-an-hour totter back out of the historic centre, I arrived at the supermarket opposite my hostel only a few minutes after it had closed... A bit annoying, as I hadn't expected it to close so early on a Saturday, but oh well - I already had a drink with me, at least, and then I realised I still had a bit of chocolate left from my journey in the morning, so I had something for later if I needed it.

I spent the following couple of hours emailing home and then checking into my flight and sorting out my passenger locator form for the next morning, before getting an early night.


I had a fairly early start to get to the airport a couple of hours before my flight at 10:40; too early to do anything else before setting off. I took a bus from near the hostel to the main station this time, so I wouldn't have to do lots of walking again with my painful feet. However, there didn't seem to be any way of paying - no ticket machines at the bus stop or on board, and I could see that you didn't get tickets from the driver. In the end I felt so on edge in case ticket inspectors came round, I got off the bus early and walked the rest of the way (just a couple of blocks, luckily). Once at the station, there were machines where I could get a ticket for the bus to the airport (phew).

Once at the airport there were no hold-ups going through security and baggage checks and the flight went smoothly to London Stansted.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:05 Archived in Austria Tagged bridges churches trains salzburg airport cemetery austria museum christmas traditions explorations fortifications unesco_world_heritage_site cave_system austrian_cuisine spittal_an_der_drau

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