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A Waltz through Salzburg


Salzburg is the most enchanting town I have ever visited. Its streets are long and narrow, and its pedestrian walkways are lined with shops resembling a confusing warren of tunnels. A massive fort tops a hill high above the town, and cathedrals are everywhere. Salzburg, or literally "Salt Mountain," became rich off its salty resources. Now it is a tourist haven where pretzels and ice cream are sold at every corner and classical musicians line the streets. Even the pretzels themselves are amazing. Some weigh in at over a kilogram while others are smothered in chocolate or resemble knotted apfelstrudel. Clouds of bees and wasps are attracted to the sweet pretzels.

 

A pretzel vender at the Salzberg market. Copyright: Tyson Brooks.To make the most of Salzburg, I bought the Salzburg Card, a tourist ticket that gives unlimited access to all the city's museums and attractions. In 24 hours I saw 14 of the best museums, the most memorable of which was SchloB Hellbrun. The Archbishop of Salzburg built this castle, and the trick fountains behind it reflect his sense of humor. The first stop on a guided tour of the fountains revealed a stone table with a built-in wine cooler fed by an underground spring. As the archbishop's guests became drunk, his servants would turn a valve releasing a slow trickle of water from the middle of their seats. To make matters worse, additional water jets would squirt from all directions. The archbishop's seat was the only that one remained dry. Etiquette dictated that one could not rise from the table until the archbishop stood up, so his guests suffered for his amusement. The garden paths and rooms decorated with seashells also sported hidden water jets. Needless to say, by the end of the tour our group was soaked. Highlights of the rest of the tour included mechanical water-powered figurines, a crown that rose into the air on a water jet and the unusual sound of hydraulic bird chirps in an eerie cave.

The inner courtyard of ScloB Hellbrun. Copyright: Tyson Brooks.A trip to Salzburg is incomplete without a visit to the Salzburgwerks, the salt mines, just outside town. The tour begins with the dawning of overalls for warmth and protection during an underground train ride deep into a mountain. You sit on this miniature train as you would a motorbike, clutching the sides of the person ahead of you. The train ride ends so deep inside the mountain that you end up crossing the border into Germany. Our tour group had to navigate a few authentic wooden miners' slides to get still deeper underground. The second of the slides was long enough to justify warnings of potential warm bottoms from the friction. After various videos, displays and many long passageways, the tour continued on a barge across an underground lake. An escalator ride back to the train wrapped things up. It is discouraging to realize that the pressures of the earth shrink these incredible passages at a rate of two centimeters a year. Salzberg street musicians. Copyright: Tyson Brooks.My final day in Salzburg was spent at the largest ice caves in the world. I joined a tour for this adventure, as it was too far to pedal my bike for a day trip. These caves have long lines of tourists eager to explore the three kilometers of walkways. Only 40 kilometers of this cave have been explored; the rest is still undiscovered. The tour starts with every second guest receiving a little gas lantern with a candle-size flame. Once the wooden door to the cave was opened, a freezing gust of wind blowing at about 60 kilometers an hour put all the candles out. The strength of the freezing wind depends on the difference between the air temperature of the cave and the outside air. (We were experiencing a heat wave outside.)

The cave temperature hovered at a little above freezing, making for a chilly tour. The lamps were re-lit and we started on our way, following the wooden walkways that are freshly hewn into the ice each year. As a special treat, the guide occasionally lit magnesium strips to highlight some of the incredible formations.

The stifling heat outside had subsided by the time we emerged from the caves. Monsoon-style rain soon followed and the driver (a young Austrian fellow) and I agreed to race each other down the steep, switch-backed walkway back to the van. We ran hard and fast, careful not to overshoot the corners while jumping small streams that had appeared and had already badly eroded the gravel path. Our original purpose was to hasten the descent to arrive partially dry, but all hope of dryness was given up in the first few minutes. Conditions in the Alps are unpredictable. Thankfully, the next day I cycled away from the Alps towards Passau, Germany.

When You Go:

For more information on cycling Europe, I recommend Europe by Bike: Eighteen Tours Geared for Discovery, by Karen and Terry Whitehill. Mountaineers Books, 1993.
www.mountaineersbooks.org

For more information on Austria and Salzburg, check out the following:

Salzburg Tourism: www.salzburginfo.at/desk/frame_home_e.htm
Austria Tourism: www.anto.com
Schonnbrun Castle: www.schoenbrunn.at

Salzberg street musicians. Copyright: Tyson Brooks.My final day in Salzburg was spent at the largest ice caves in the world. I joined a tour for this adventure, as it was too far to pedal my bike for a day trip. These caves have long lines of tourists eager to explore the three kilometers of walkways. Only 40 kilometers of this cave have been explored; the rest is still undiscovered. The tour starts with every second guest receiving a little gas lantern with a candle-size flame. Once the wooden door to the cave was opened, a freezing gust of wind blowing at about 60 kilometers an hour put all the candles out. The strength of the freezing wind depends on the difference between the air temperature of the cave and the outside air. (We were experiencing a heat wave outside.)

The cave temperature hovered at a little above freezing, making for a chilly tour. The lamps were re-lit and we started on our way, following the wooden walkways that are freshly hewn into the ice each year. As a special treat, the guide occasionally lit magnesium strips to highlight some of the incredible formations.

The stifling heat outside had subsided by the time we emerged from the caves. Monsoon-style rain soon followed and the driver (a young Austrian fellow) and I agreed to race each other down the steep, switch-backed walkway back to the van. We ran hard and fast, careful not to overshoot the corners while jumping small streams that had appeared and had already badly eroded the gravel path. Our original purpose was to hasten the descent to arrive partially dry, but all hope of dryness was given up in the first few minutes. Conditions in the Alps are unpredictable. Thankfully, the next day I cycled away from the Alps towards Passau, Germany.

When You Go:

For more information on cycling Europe, I recommend Europe by Bike: Eighteen Tours Geared for Discovery, by Karen and Terry Whitehill. Mountaineers Books, 1993.
www.mountaineersbooks.org

For more information on Austria and Salzburg, check out the following:

Salzburg Tourism: www.salzburginfo.at/desk/frame_home_e.htm
Austria Tourism: www.anto.com
Schonnbrun Castle: www.schoenbrunn.at