Back in April 2020, Salzburg, Austria sat perched like the Hohensalzburg Fortress at the top of my post-lockdown Wanderlust List. It wasn’t until July earlier this year that I finally found myself looking across the Mirabell Palace Gardens towards that same fortress, one of its most iconic viewpoints. I had just arrived from Berchtesgaden, Germany a few minutes earlier and the knowledge that I had four days to soak in one of my favorite cities brought a surge of butterflies that only traveling can conjure. That moment was a turning point in this entire ordeal of the past 18 months. For the first time, I felt a bridging between the before and after. Something that made the pandemic not feel like an incohesive blemish on life, but something passed thru and linear. For this was not the first time I stood looking across those gardens at that fortress. I was having a reunion with memories of the past. I could turn to my left or right and see a hologram of myself five, seven, even eighteen years ago caught in the same awe-inspiring gaze at the majesty of Salzburg. Life and beauty and passion had survived.
For a city that I find as magical as Salzburg, there have been very few words devoted to it in the five years I have been writing this blog. When I sat down to start creating the opening sentence for a post on the brewtiful beer culture of Salzburg, I found myself lost in a jumble of beautiful memories. I have been to Salzburg many times, and to me it represents what I love about living in Europe on so many levels. Rather than looking back at my recent trip, my mind was trying to piece together memory fragments from all of my trips into a comprehensible timeline. I soon realized that I don’t have a proper internal autobiography of my connection with Salzburg. It is just a big giant mess of happy memories. So before I get to the beer post, I found myself wanting to untangle these threads into one single storyline of how Salzburg weaved its way into the core of my identity.
My very first trip to Europe was a mad collection of blur-inducing but jaw-dropping daytrips from Antwerp sprinkled around a business trip. Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges, Ghent. The only overnight was two nights in Munich where one of those days was spent daytripping to Salzburg. Every experience I have had in Europe since then was set in motion on that trip. I dutifully toted my Rick Steves Guidebook and hit all the highlights. Highlights I could only capture with a cheap disposable camera. I had no digital camera yet. Funny to think back to a time when you couldn’t instantly share pictures and locations. You really were off the grid enjoying the experience in your own little bubble.
My Rick Steves Guidebook didn’t have much time to gather dust as I returned the following Spring, this time finally splurging on my first digital camera a week before the trip. I stayed two nights in the Altstadt and had a chance to check off all of the usual tourist activities such as the Mozart dinner concert at the St. Peters Stiftskeller. This was more or less the last gasp of happiness in what would be a very difficult year in my life. Within a year, I would leave the northeast USA for the warmer, grittier climate of Houston, Texas. I would make it back to Europe in 2006 briefly and then move there in 2011, but I wouldn’t see Salzburg again for ten years.
I moved to Belgium in June 2011 and spent my free time traveling all over Europe. Salzburg didn’t feel like a priority with every corner of Europe at my fingertips, but over a long weekend in November 2014, I returned to Salzburg as a seasoned traveling veteran looking to recapture that awe that I experienced ten years ago.
This was one of the rare occasions where I booked an Airbnb which I would be sharing with other travelers. When I opened the door to the apartment, instead of being greeted with the silent sanctuary of a hotel room, I was immediately passing thru a wall of music. It was not a recording. There was one, maybe two instruments, no… more? Was one an oboe? There were soft parts and crescendos. The flurry of beautiful, luscious notes swept around the apartment like an orchestra. For a moment, I wondered what I was getting myself into, when all of a sudden the music stopped dead. The bedroom door opened and out came a young man with a huge black box hanging around his neck. I looked curiously behind him expecting others but finding none. If there ever was a moment in my life where I suddenly felt like a character in a Dickens or Zafon story, it was that moment. He smiled, introduced himself and politely asked if his playing would bother me. Augustinas Rakauskas from Lithuania. I had just met one of the top accordian players in the world.
Christmas Day 2016.
One of the cool things about Salzburg is that unlike Germany where the Christmas Market shutters close up on the 23rd, in Salzburg, they remain open until the 26th. My daughter and I were on a whirlwind Christmas Market trip going from Bamberg, Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, Nuremburg, Passau, Cesky Krumlov, and finally Salzburg.
We took the Sound of Music bus tour and later went up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. As impressive and timeless as the fortress is, it was the marionette museum that I found most entertaining on this trip. The laughs that I get from driving my daughter crazy with this next video are even more timeless. As of July 2021, this puppet is still there, and people are still opening the door.
Later in the evening, I saw an advertisement for the Spamalot musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I jumped on the opportunity to introduce my daughter to the Knights Who Say Ni. Conceptually it was a great idea for a daddy-daughter date night. There was, however, one catch…
It is with this pedigree of memories that I set out to continue my story of Salzburg in July 2021. With the emotional equivalent of cracking one’s knuckles I left the Mirabell Gardens behind and set out on the next chapter in the direction of the Augustiner Bräu brewery. It was time to give the itsabrewtifulworld treatment to one of my favorite cities. Eighteen years had passed since the first time I crossed the Salzach River into the Old City. I no longer bring my Rick Steves guidebook. I have my own niche now, my 4th Dimension of Travel. Seeing that fortress, looking the same as it did 18 years ago, it became unfathomable to consider all that has happened over the years since that day trip in 2003. The consequence was a flood of appreciation flowing thru the fibers of my existence faster than the Salzach River. It could have been like the crashing of fingers against accordian keys, something in the key of E-flat major, building up in tension, step-by-step, until hammering down on a final triumphant chord and sustaining the notes as I stood at the entrance to the brewery. It was time for a beer.