Salzburg and Mondsee

Wednesday 28th June 2006 Nussdorf am Attersee, Austria
After a really comfortable night we woke feeling so much better. However, the sun was up before us and seemed none the worse for the storms of last night. It was already too hot to eat breakfast outside. So we were ready to leave Vienna by 8.30am. We have spent most of the day driving, except for a stop for lunch and another to snooze off the effects of lunch for a few minutes under a shady village tree. At least when Modestine is moving there is some slight breeze blowing in at the windows.

We are heading towards Salzburg but as usual get side-tracked along the way. Our friends in Cornwall – the same ones as sent us on a travel of discovery on their behalf down in the Dordogne last March - have also asked us to seek out several places very dear to them around Mondsee. So we intended finding a campsite there this evening ready to explore the town in the morning. However, we were both weary from the heat and another thunderstorm started as we passed through the lakeside village of Nussdorf so we have decided to spend the night here. The campsite includes access to the lakeside swimming pool but we were told it had been closed early today because of the weather! A few drops of rain and everything stops! Jill was very happy to swim in the rain. What difference does it make? So once again it is hot and sticky with a pool nearby but we cannot use it before 9.30 tomorrow morning. By that time we will probably be long gone.

However, it is a very nice, clean, friendly site and we are sharing our plot with a couple of ducks who seem to have settled here with us for the night. Nearby is the beautiful clear lake and surrounding us are the bare foothills of the Austrian mountains.

We avoid motorways when we drive. It takes a lot longer but we see the real countryside and often meet interesting people along the way. At lunchtime Ian suggested stopping at a little village on the banks of the Danube that looked, from his map, as if it would be very pleasant. When we arrived a high embankment completely hid the river from view and there was a large cement works nearby not marked on the map! We found a café on the main street and were offered the only choice on the lunch menu. We waited for what we fondly believed was a farmer's omelette complete with potatoes and bacon accompanied by salad. When it eventually arrived however it turned out to be a huge, thick pancake cooked with raisins which was then cut into small pieces, covered in icing sugar and served with a thick plum compote. Apparently this is a common Viennese speciality known as Kaiserschmarren. It is so substantial people eat it as a main meal! It was quite the last thing either of us wanted as a light lunchtime meal on a hot day but we made an attempt and ate most of it. It was actually excellent but not what we had expected. We'd been told it would be a sort of chopped up omelette with salad.

We eventually reached Lake Attersee around 6pm as the rain began. We relaxed with a glass of wine in Modestine, enjoying the smell of the wet earth and the view across the water. Later it cleared up and we explored the village which was visited frequently by Gustave Klimt around 1910 as several of his paintings testify.

Villages along the east shore of the Attersee

Thursday 29th June 2006 Nussdorf am Attersee, Austria
During the night our travel companion, the Rain, came back in real earnest. He's been searching Europe for the past three weeks seeking us out. We understand he even went back to England looking for us where he was so angry not to find us waiting for him in Exeter that he ravaged our garden and completely destroyed the hedge beside our fishpond! Several times he has nearly found us but then gone off in the wrong direction again. Last night however he brought along a battalion from the Sheet Lightening Brigade who illuminated the entire countryside for at least an hour as Rain searched frantically to find us, crying out with great howling roars as he crashed and stumbled around the lake and the surrounding mountains. His relief on finding us again mixed with his fury at us going off without him so he thumped and screamed, pouring floods of angry tears over Modestine and the neighbouring campers, many in tiny tents. It is the worst storm for sheet lightening we have ever known with the flickers so continuous it was actually possible to read!

Eventually, having taught us never to leave him again, the Rain settled down to sob gently for the rest of the night. He is still a bit shaky and trembling this morning but with luck he will soon fall asleep while we journey on. We did miss him over recent days and despite his behaviour we are very happy to have him back as a travel companion rather than the hot sunshine and humid atmosphere.

The storm managed to knock out the electricity circuit for accessing the state of the art toilet facilities. This morning there was a growing gathering of increasingly desperate campers, all wearing their electronic wrist bands to flash at the keypad, but the automatic door remained tight shut! Technology is fine until it breaks down!

Thursday 29th June 2006 continued, Salzburg, Austria
This morning Jill got her swim after all and had the pool almost completely to herself. It was a delight to swim with a stunning view across the turquoise lake to the mountains on the far side. Feeling better tempered with the cooler weather and a bit of exercise we left the site and made our way along the peaceful road beside the lake stopping several times to wonder at the scenery.

Swimming pool and the Attersee, Nussdorf

The Attersee

Cloud over the Attersee

Soon we had left the Attersee and shortly found ourselves beside the equally lovely Mondsee. We stopped at the little lakeside town of the same name and have spent most of the day there. This is a typically Austrian holiday town of huge, steep roofed houses with wooden balconies brightly hung with petunias and geraniums. There are dozens of guest houses, hotels and restaurants offering rooms with wonderful views over the clear green lake where sailing boats bob at anchor. Beside the water are pleasant grassy areas, flowers and seats for visitors' relaxation.

The Mondsee

Mountains across the Mondsee

Typical houses with wooden balconies, Mondsee

Pretty villa, Mondsee

Boats at anchor on the Mondsee

Almost immediately on the main street we found what we were seeking, the hotel where our Cornish friends Pam and John stayed so frequently when they were younger and able to travel. It still looks very much as it did in the old postcard they had given us.

Main street, Mondsee

Leitner Bräu Hotel, Mondsee

We bought some salad rolls which we ate near the church before visiting it. This is not just your ordinary stunningly ornate baroque church to be found in every pretty Austrian village. This one has almost certainly been seen by everyone reading this blog. It is the one used for the film "The Sound of Music". (Okay, don't bother to email us if you've not seen the film!) Today it was being visited by a steady trail of Japanese tourists armed with cameras ...

Church of St. Michael, Mondsee

Church of St. Michael, Mondsee

Later in the afternoon we crossed to the terrace of the Leitner Bräu where we sat looking at the church as we drank coffee. Our thoughts were with our friends who would have done exactly this so many times themselves in the past. As requested we asked at the hotel reception desk for news of the owner's daughter, remembered as a delightful child by our friends but would now be a young woman. Unfortunately she was not around this afternoon so we could only leave a message of goodwill for her from Pam and John. It added a definite purpose and interest to our day and hopefully has given some reflected pleasure to Pam and John. Thank you both for yet another opportunity to visit somewhere we almost certainly would not have discovered otherwise.

Hotel lobby, Mondsee Specially for you Pam and John.

By the time we had done some essential shopping for wine and for Modestine's fridge it had started to rain and the afternoon had worn quite away. We decided to continue to Salzburg anyway but ended up going round in circles once we got here trying to find the campsite. How do people pulling huge caravans manage? We had to turn round several times and were reduced to asking directions from old ladies pruning their roses who spoke with such a strong accent we nodded sagely and immediately got lost again! We are rarely completely daunted however and eventually arrived here in the pouring rain. There is a cycle route into the centre of the city and Hinge and Bracket are really looking forward to an outing tomorrow. Unfortunately for them the Rain wants to come too, being determined not to lose us again. It will be impossible to please them all.

Friday 30th June 2006, Salzburg, Austria
We slipped off quietly with our bikes this morning while the Rain was still sleeping off the effects of the night before. Our route started off as a really beautiful ride along a level wooded path that opened out into steep grassy meadows sprinkled with flowers that swept down to the steep-roofed wooden chalets in the valley below. You can imagine it all - Sound of Music with a bit of yodelling. However, our joy at finding ourselves cycling through such lovely countryside was diminished when we crossed a road and realised Salzburg was now considerably further away than when we started! We'd been happily following the cycle track in the wrong direction! Ian gets really worried about this kind of thing so we spent ages while he worked out how it must have occurred and realised the lady at the campsite didn't know how to read the map correctly and had told him we were on a differently located site. All Ian's map reading had therefore been wrong! It didn't really matter as we would have missed the scenery if we'd gone straight to Salzburg.

So we had the pleasure of seeing the route in the opposite direction as we cycled back and then continuing the seven kilometre ride beside the very full, fast flowing river into town. On the way the Rain woke up and rushed down to join us. We hid under a railway bridge until he gave up and returned to bed where he stayed for most of the day, just tottering out half-heartedly from time to time to see if we were back yet.

Salzbach in flood after the rains, Salzburg

First view of Salzburg

We spent a very pleasant morning exploring the pedestrianised streets of Salzburg, packed with large groups of Japanese and American tourists. (Here we actually saw a Japanese man approach a lady with blond twins and ask if he could have his photo taken holding the handle of the pushchair!)

The town is a shrine to Mozart with museums, theatres and concerts dedicated to him. Our first encounter with this was outside Mozart's birth house where crowds gathered to gaze in awe up at the second floor windows where his parents rented rooms and Mozart and his siblings were brought into the world. Only Mozart and his sister survived and his father Leopold seemed to have made his income trundling them around Europe as child prodigies to give performances at various royal courts.

Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg

Later in the afternoon we visited the interior of the house and came away with a mixed sensation of frustration and anger – frustration because so much could and should have been done to retain the house as the informative and cultural museum it claims to be and angry that the Mozart Foundation, an organisation with significantly more money than sense, has paid for a "make-over" by the American designer Robert Wilson. This has turned the entire apartment from an informative museum into an "installation" interpreting Mozart for visitors rather than permitting them their own interpretation. Photos were apparently not allowed but as we had paid good money to go in and it had not been made clear that you were expected to leave your brain outside before entering we felt quite justified in taking a few shots (which should be covered by the "criticism and review" clause of copyright legislation) to show you all just how weird it was and to warn you not to waste time there if you are in Salzburg this year. The best installation we found there was the toilet.

"A Mozart figure whose face is both young and old at the same time. Virtually ageless, like Mozart's music. Birth and Death, cradle and deathbed form a unit. Blue neon frost bathes the room in a supernatural light; it is aimed at sending the visitors from their everyday life to a new sphere", Mozart House, Salzburg

Birth room, Mozart House, Salzburg "A flock of blue geese flying in the direction of a lucid window in the distance [and the air conditioner!] Here Mozart's genius was born and carried into the world. The birds signify the dawning of a new era and Mozart's music that lends wings to everyone listening to it."

Part of the "Fun area" of the installation Mechanical figures depict Mozart's sister sitting at the piano with a dog – which barks annoyingly and incessantly, Mozart House, Salzburg

Salzburg upside down "This room reflects major streaks of Mozart's personality; his urge to turn everything upside down…and see things differently", Some very interesting prints of Salzburg are hung upside down without any captions and the original moulded ceiling has had a relief model of Salzburg plastered onto it. Mozart House, Salzburg

However, the Mozart Foundation has purchased the entire house and downstairs there are some exhibits that put Mozart, his family and the society of the time into context. There is little to inform and nothing a thin booklet could not have explained in far more detail. As the small rooms were packed with guided groups it was also very difficult to see anything and the music being played was drowned out by the voices of the Japanese guides.

This was unfortunately not the only place where installations of modern art have adversely affected the historic landscape of the town. Innovative ideas and thinking can be excellent but in the right place. Ruining a city that is in itself a work of art seems to be part of the impact that modern artists are trying to make. We actually saw a protest poster someone had put up complaining about ruining Salzburg and the risk of driving visitors away. (Or perhaps this too was a modern art installation we failed to recognise as such.)

Installation art in honour of Mozart, Salzburg

Throughout the town there are countless shops selling Mozartkugeln, each claiming to be the original, the biggest, the smallest or the most gemütlich Kugeln shop in Salzburg. Realising we had never actually tasted one of these high class kitsch sweeties we bought a tiny packet and headed for the most typically Austrian coffee shop we could find, Tomaselli, established 1705, deciding we would enjoy the "Salzburg experience". Here, in a cosy corner we sat on settees and deep, uncomfortably upholstered chairs at dark wood round tables and were served strong coffees by a smart waiter while a Fräulein in a Dirndl and décolleté wandered between the tables with a huge tray of sugared strudel and Austrian cream cakes heavy with fruit and chocolate, trying to tempt the smart ladies and short-trousered gentlemen to stop her and buy one.

Window display of Mozartkugeln (or as Ian puts it, a display of the musical dog's bollocks!) Salzburg

Ditto, from inside, Salzburg

Austrian coffee shops have racks of newspapers, each on a wooden stick. We helped ourselves to the only English language one, USA Today, and honed up on what is happening in America. (Hey, Karen and Doug, we gather house owners in Montana are due for a 400$ refund on their tax bills. Congratulations!) Who says travel doesn't broaden the mind? While we read the news, we sipped our expensive coffee (3.20 euros for a tiny cup) and, every time the waiter and the Fräulein turned their backs long enough, gorged on Mozartkugeln. They are a very delicious if expensive combination. Strange to think that when Mozart took coffee there he wouldn't have been able to enjoy Mozartkugeln with it!

Taking coffee in the Tomaselli café, Salzburg

Next we explored the street market in the Universitätsplatz, with racks of enormous pretzels in every possible combination from the traditional to ones containing mixed vegetables, onion, cheese, apple, cherry or just coated in sugar. We shared a vegetable one later for lunch and it was as delicious as it sounds. Also in the market were souvenirs – wooden toys, embroidered cloths and assorted perfumes. There were stalls selling flowers, dried herbs, lavender and various country breads, meats and sausages.

Market by the Collegiate Church, Salzburg

Pretzels in the market, Salzburg

Ian anticipates lunch, Salzburg

Lured by the sound of music we crossed the square to discover a balalaika and accordion quartet playing Mozart's Turkish Rondo to a fast gathering crowd. They were an excellent cheap alternative to the expensive theatre seats for the daily concerts offered around the town. For a few voluntary euros people could hear a first rate performance that would surely have brought tears of pride and joy to the eyes of Mozart.

Free concert of the music of Mozart, Salzburg

Later we peeped into a building where a concert was to be given in the evening and were fortunate enough to hear part of a rehearsal. This being the 250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth, interest in his music is particularly prevalent. Nor does Salzburg forget its other money-making musical activity. Here there are daily performances of the songs from the Sound of Music and tours to the beautiful locations where it was filmed.

Rehearsing for the concert, Salzburg

Of course we had to visit the churches. We have seen so much baroque splendour recently that it is difficult to summon up new ways of sounding enthusiastic although each building is absolutely magnificent. However, they included the following and here are a few pictures to give an impression - Collegium (by the market), the Franciscan church, the Abbey Church of St Peter, and the early 17th century Cathedral. Each one visited seemed more stunning and ostentatious than the previous, with ornate mouldings, painted frescoes and vignettes, marble altars, dressed statues and extravagant shiny bling. (Sorry but this is a useful word.) Often this had been slapped on top of Gothic or Romanesque shells whose dignified columns sometimes dared to peep out round all this florid frivolity.

Gothic columns in the Franciscan Church, Salzburg

St. Peter's Abbey Church, Salzburg

St. Peter's Abbey Church, Salzburg

Barbie doll Madonna and Child, St. Peter's Abbey Church, Salzburg

Box in the gallery so the nobility do not mix with the hoi polloi, St. Peter's Abbey Church, Salzburg

Catacombs cut into the cliff face, Salzburg
In the Loire Valley people live in very similar buildings - here they are lived in by dead people!

On the Residenzplatz, beside the Cathedral, a large screen had been put up and at 5pm the square filled with people as everyone, many with German flags painted on their faces, turned up to support neighbouring Germany in the world cup match against Argentina.

Match of the day, Salzburg

Not crying for Argentina, Salzburg

There were so many buildings we could have visited but all cost money and after our bad experience at Mozart's birthplace we were not inclined to make the same mistake twice. In any case, there was just too much to see in the streets. We discovered an egg shop selling painted and decorated eggs on a grand scale. Each egg averaged 6 euros and on entering you were handed an egg tray, the same as in supermarkets, to fill with eggs of your own choice. Every possible design and occasion was catered for and the shop consisted of several rooms on two floors, packed full with thousands, probably millions, of hens' eggs. Not surprisingly there were even eggs with Mozart on!

As you see, we were not eggsaggerating! Salzburg

A musical egghead! Salzburg

Finally we crossed the river to the less touristy side of the city. Here a long street lined with bars and street artists attracted large crowds of mainly local residents. There was a busy, happy atmosphere with lots of children clutching balloons and candy floss. Outside the bars people were enjoying beers or glasses of wine and at 5.30 in the afternoon a significant amount of white sausages, bread rolls, mustard and sauerkraut was being consumed.

Across the river, Salzburg

Having been cycling and walking around all day we were exhausted and still had to ride back to the campsite. First though we had to visit the Schloss Mirabell with its beautiful formal gardens with deep red rose bushes, low box hedges and sweeping curves of flower beds filled with petunias, begonias, and geraniums. The castle itself is a stately, restrained baroque building started by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau for his mistress and their children before he was deposed in 1612.

Schloss Mirabell, Salzburg

Umphapa umphapa …Schloss Mirabell, Salzburg

Behind a thick beech hedge we discovered a small open air theatre with a stage-set formed by green hedges. There were shady seats for the audience and we sank gratefully into these for a rest. Musicians and dancers in Lederhosen and Dirndls started to arrive on the stage and very soon the seats filled up and we found ourselves in the middle of a free concert of Austrian folk songs, music and dancing. So while we recovered from our day we watched – and listened to - thigh-slapping, whooping Austrians in decorated leather shorts and hats with feathers as they whirled ladies in full skirts and long white embroidered bloomers around the stage to the sounds of a band that included both a trombone and a harp!

We slipped away before the end of the concert as we had to return to the town centre to collect Hinge and Bracket before cycling home.