Part 4: Romance in Salzburg?

Salzburg: the final part of my 2014 Eurotrip! If you’ve been following the rest of my journey you’ll know that I visited BudapestBratislava and Vienna but more importantly you’ll know why. If not you can read that here: Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg – why?

Salzburg was the foundation of this trip and ultimately it was an opportunity for romance. Could Salzburg possibly be the start of my “happy ever after” fairytale?
Well, I had it pointed out to me by Carlie over at Listfiveblog that I’d already offered a spoiler to this story. The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that I spoke of subsequent long-distance relationships which was a good indication as to how things panned out for me and Nicole.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that this might be a sad end to the journey but it isn’t. I think it’s easy to be bitter when things don’t quite go to plan but that’s not really my style. I could be resentful of my time in Salzburg but in fact my feelings are quite the opposite, it remains a special place for me and somewhere I left with a lot of fond memories.

So on to the story! Firstly I had to navigate myself from Vienna to Salzburg, I was pretty excited about the train journey because Austria is famed for its scenery and I hadn’t really seen much thus far. Bratislava and Vienna are Europe’s two closest capital cities so when traveling from Slovakia to Austria you don’t really see much of the country.
I bought my train ticket on the day so I was pleasantly surprised to find that traveling right across the country (175ish miles / 280ish kilometres) only cost me 25 euros and that included free Wi-Fi. Are you taking note England?

Seriously! For comparison it’d be like paying a one way fare from Peterborough to Newcastle for £20 on the day you travel:
“Sorry sir, we missed off a zero. That’ll actually be £200 for you to travel today”
“Wait, how much!? Do I at least get free Wi-Fi?”
“No but you can purchase that on board!”
“Alright, I’ll do that when I find my seat”
“Very optimistic sir, you’ll probably be standing for the next 3 hours. Have a nice trip!”

At least they’re on time, right? Spacious, no? A cynic might suggest I’m not too fond of the rail system in the UK. Austria’s however was wonderful. My only criticism is that the free Wi-Fi should be criminal in a country so pretty, I did check up on the football scores before we departed but once we left Vienna I spent my journey with my face glued to the window. The view seemed to improve the closer we got to Salzburg and eventually I was arriving in to Salzburg’s main station. I stepped outside, looked left and BAM!

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Just outside the train station. My first sight of Salzburg!

Mountains! I often call London my favourite city in the world but where are the mountains at? I was stood just outside of the train station, in a city and I had mountains in my face. Perhaps the novelty wears off when you live so close to them but I was in awe – Salzburg had already won me over and I hadn’t been in the city for more than 60 seconds.

As keen as I was to get exploring I had to wait for my company for the weekend to arrive. I didn’t want to stray too far from the station so I grabbed some lunch and a beer at a restaurant across the street, it helped with some of the nerves.

People find first dates nerve-wrecking because you want to make a good first impression and this was in essence a 48 hour first date. We arrived Friday afternoon and Nicole would be heading back to Germany on Sunday, I was flying home Monday morning so had an extra night in Salzburg.

I think the waiting made me more nervous, however once Nicole arrived the nerves had pretty much gone and I was ready to enjoy the weekend together. One of the perks, other than the company itself, to having Nicole with me was she could obviously speak the language! It was something I’d struggled with every time I’d been in a German speaking part of the world.

Nicole made sure we found the right bus to our hotel and then I followed our directions which said something ridiculous like “get off at the stop after the Chinese restaurant” – bizarre directions but ultimately ones that helped us find the hotel pretty easily.

We were keen not to waste any time exploring, we dropped off our things and went to have a little wander for my first real view of the city (Nicole had been before but was excited to come back after so long).

I was left mesmerised by Salzburg’s beauty – my first glimpse of the mountains had blown me away earlier but as you get in to the heart of the city it only gets prettier!
I’d anticipated Salzburg’s beauty in the photos I’d seen beforehand but seeing it in person was something else – it’s one of the most stunning cities I’ve been to. We explored the Mirabell gardens, famously used in the classic “The Sound of Music” and soon our attention turned to getting some dinner.

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We were in the mood for something a little more local so we found a restaurant with a traditional Austrian menu. The only problem was there were no free tables inside the restaurant. Before you enter the restaurant there was this darkly lit room with a large round-ish table, I’d call it a lobby but it felt more like a dark hallway as a go-between from outside the restaurant to inside the restaurant.
We were asked if we wanted to sit there and decided that we would do.

It was quite romantic actually, particularly for our first meal together. We were sat at a table all to ourselves away from the rest of the dining guests and with a few candles to set the mood. It was nice to have that little bit of privacy and then our first dinner-party guests arrived!

The restaurant was still packed inside the main restaurant so as more hungry people showed up we were asked if we’d mind having them join us. Our first guests were an old German* couple on holiday (*potentially Austrian, I can’t remember) who sat beside us. They came across as really friendly and it gave Nicole someone else to talk to.

Next up were a party of Brits who took up the other end of the table – there was around 8-10 seats cramped in together. The Brits had the same language barrier that I did but it created a really nice atmosphere and everyone was in good spirits, probably helped by the fact all 3 parties were in Salzburg visiting and in holiday mode.
It ended up probably being a better night than had we found a table for two within the main part of the restaurant.

We didn’t do much with the rest of our night, we chilled out back at the hotel and watched some tv and then a movie dubbed in German which I was trying to keep track of what was going on but failing miserably at. A successful start to our time in the city and one I was keen to see more of the next day.

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Salzburg looking impressive with the fortress in the background!

Saturday’s first stop was going to be the Festung Hohensalzburg – the fortress/castle sat up on the hill overlooking the city. We made our walk from the hotel and Nicole had soon stopped us, excusing herself to approach some stranger in the street.
Coincidentally a friend (Flo) from Innsbruck just so happened to be in Salzburg with his parents and Nicole had spotted him and they were soon exchanging pleasantries. I was briefly introduced and we suggested meeting up later on for some drinks.

After we said our goodbyes Nicole dropped a bombshell on me and mentioned that Flo was “the Arsenal fan that I’d told you about”. An Arsenal fan!? My heart sank, Flo had seemed so nice until that revelation – cancel the drinks!

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Jokes aside I was looking forward to meeting up later but until then me and Nicole had some exploring to do! Salzburg is a really walkable city and a nice place to have a bit of a wander. We passed the stunning cathedral and a few busy squares and streets with a selection of shops, cafes and restaurants. We took the funicular ride up to the fortress and the views of the city and the mountains from up there are breathtaking no matter which direction you choose to look in.

The fortress was cool to have a look around and then we grabbed some lunch at one of the restaurants up there which has to be one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever eaten at. Great company, great food and great views – it was a perfect moment and I could have stayed sat there for much longer than we were.

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We made our way back in to the city, explored a little but mostly just strolled along the river and people-watched. It was a nice afternoon with our final stop being the St Sebastienkirche (church) and St Sebastien Friedhof (cemetery) on the way back to our hotel. The cemetery is home of the Mozart family, Salzburg’s other “claim to fame” is its ties to Mozart. You’ll see Mozart souvenirs sold everywhere throughout the city, most of it is the usual tacky stuff you see sold to tourists but you should make an exception and try the Mozartkugeln – it’s delicious!

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The church and cemetery were nice to look around, particularly as they’re free to do so and neither were busy when we visited. From there we made our way back to the hotel to relax and freshen up a bit before meeting Flo later on.

Flo fortunately had a good idea of where to go in the evening and soon took us to this bar – the doors seemingly locked but Flo took us next door and through a little hidden side door. I thought it was bizarre but Flo assured us it wasn’t all that unusual. So if you’re ever encountering something that appears closed in Austria, try next door?

Anyway we found ourselves in this cosy little bar, well hidden away from the tourists which meant it was mostly a young crowd full of students and young professionals. Much like our restaurant experience, it seems Austria is more focused on community rather than practicality.
The seating was rather limited so we were sat next to a few Austrians on our left meaning any time someone wanted to go up to the bar you’d have to move and let each other pass you. It made for a really sociable and friendly atmosphere though.

Myself, Nicole and Flo shared a few beers and good conversation over the course of the night. Despite Flo’s obvious oversight we clicked pretty quickly, the start of a little bromance, as we bonded over football and a love of beer in particular. The night also offered Nicole and the opportunity Flo to catch up and share stories which provided plenty of amusement. Both were interchanging effortlessly between English and German whilst reminding me that their “English isn’t very good” which seems to be a common trait of our European friends.

Given how intimate the seating situation was it didn’t take long for the party to our left to notice there was a foreigner among the ranks (me!). I quickly became the target of some light-hearted teasing – mostly silly idioms such as “Ich glaube ich spinne” or “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” but it kept them amused. Although one guy seemed to obsess over repeating “awesome.. totally awesome dude” and failing to understand it wasn’t really an English thing.
It was a fun night though and nice to get chatting to a few locals. We chatted away over a few beers and then eventually came time for the three of us to call it a night and we bid farewell to Flo, hoping our paths would cross again someday.

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On Sunday morning me and Nicole went and explored one of the less exhausting trails in Salzburg which offered some cool views looking over the city. We then grabbed some tea at a cafe in one of the squares and I suppose started winding down until Nicole’s trip home to Germany. We said our goodbyes at the train station which left me with one final night in Europe on my own. In all honesty I was feeling pretty deflated. Nicole leaving obviously played a part but it also signaled the beginning of the end. I knew my 10 day trip was almost at its conclusion and I’d be flying home the next morning.

I wanted to enjoy my last evening but it didn’t really materialise. I had a little wander before grabbing some dinner and a couple of drinks but I think the trip finally caught up with me and I was kind of relieved to just have a night doing absolutely nothing. I’d been to 3 countries, 4 cities and had various pieces of company along the way and I think Sunday night was the moment that I started accepting it was time to go home. I’d had a wonderful time and was taking some wonderful memories back to England with me but it was exhausting too.

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Salzburg was simply stunning!

As for Salzburg – it was genuinely a city worthy of romance, it’s such a picturesque city and we had a few romantic moments in our time but long-term it just wasn’t to be.

Fear not though! Whilst we left the romance behind in Salzburg that isn’t the last you’ll hear of Nicole! We’ve remained good friends, I started learning German soon after Salzburg which has made such a difference when traveling and I’ve even visited my favourite German a couple of times since in her hometown so stay tuned for future posts about the delights of Bayern (Bavaria)!
What about the bromance I hear you ask? That stayed intact too and Flo even made a brief visit to Peterborough a couple of years ago! Now I just need to make the return visit to Innsbruck!

Hopefully you enjoyed my mini Eurotrip series. If you missed parts 1-3 you’ll find them on the blog but my highlight was definitely the time spent with my favourite German and my favourite Austrian! The perfect way to end my four part trip!

Vielen Dank und bis bald!

Jason

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Part 3: Vienna

Two cities down, two to go! For those of you that haven’t already been following my 2014 Eurotrip let me catch you up! I was traveling to Salzburg (Austria) for romance, spending a weekend away in a stunning city with my favourite German.
However I had a bit of annual leave to use at work and figured I’d make the most of being in Europe, so extended my trip by a week to give me a chance to explore a little further.

I began my trip in Budapest, traveled onwards to Bratislava and here we are at part three of four. To get from Budapest to Salzburg I knew I’d have to travel through most of Austria so a stop in Vienna seemed rather inevitable.

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Bratislava to Vienna!

I didn’t have high hopes for Vienna, that’s nothing against Vienna but it was more of a time issue. I had 24 hours in Vienna and I just didn’t feel like it was going to be long enough to enjoy it fully. I was right, I barely scratched the surface in Vienna. To emphasise my point, if I’d wanted to, I could have traveled from Bratislava to Vienna by boat rather than train. The river Danube flows through both cities (and Budapest) and yet I didn’t even see a river in Vienna – numerous puddles but no river.

So if you’re looking here for numerous tips and recommendations on Vienna you’re wasting your time. Nevertheless I wanted to make the most of the 24 hours I had in the city. If I could go home with some memories and a taste of life in Vienna I’d consider it a success.

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I’d wanted to maximise my time in Vienna so it was rather unfortunate that I hit my first stumbling block pretty quickly. The first task of the day was to find my hostel for the night and that was easier said than done, my directions had only led me so far, I knew I was close but the hostel was nowhere in sight!
I was walking around back and forth in the rain and it must have been pretty noticeable that I was lost, an old woman approached me and asked if I needed any help.

That’s when I hit stumbling block number two – the language! I did need help but I didn’t speak any German. “No German at all?” she said with a wry smile. It didn’t take a mind-reader to know what she was thinking. She was helpful though and she’d soon put me on the right track. Luckily my room was ready early so I could quickly check in, drop my things off and start exploring the city.

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Miserable weather in Vienna!

I’d sadly missed the walking tour so I set off on a day of self-exploration and hoped for the best. Vienna’s public transportation makes it really easy to get around but it probably helps in knowing where you’re going. I had no plans whatsoever and as I walked in to the nearest U-Bahn (underground) station I realised I had to work out where I wanted to go. I hadn’t really done any prior research so I didn’t know where anything was!

St Stephen’s Cathedral is perhaps one of Vienna’s best known landmarks so I took an educated guess to visit a station called “Stephansplatz” in the hope that I’d wind up somewhere central, a guess that paid off! It was a good place to start exploring and my early impressions of Vienna were good. The only downside was the miserable weather so I opted to go and grab lunch somewhere in the hope the rain might stop.

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I found a traditional Austrian restaurant, particularly keen to have my first proper Wiener Schnitzel – it’s a dish I’ve grown up eating at home but it felt a little more authentic eating it in Wien (Vienna) rather than anywhere else. I’m not sure why it isn’t more popular in the UK though, escalopes are pretty close I suppose but not quite as good!

Whilst I’d heard how expensive Austria is, what you don’t hear people say is that it’s balanced out a little with their portion sizes. It was delicious but I struggled finishing it, it did set me up nicely for a few hours of exploring at least.

Sadly there was no sign of the rain stopping but coming from England it wasn’t enough to deter me from exploring. I wandered the city by foot and I was left in awe of the city’s architecture, it is a stunning city. I couldn’t tell you what half of the buildings were but they were impressive nonetheless – every street you walk down has something to catch your eye.

One of the more interesting discoveries was what I can only assume were preparations for a film of some sort. There were tanks, army vehicles and helicopters just casually sat on a lawn in the heart of the city. It caught me by surprise a little and had me pondering what they might be filming.

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Bloody raindrops ruining all of my photos – haha!

My afternoon seemed to fly by as I wandered aimlessly for a few hours before eventually admitting defeat to the weather. I knew I’d have to return to Vienna one day, 24 hours was never going to be enough so why wander just for the sake of it? I grabbed some food and then ducked in to a bar in hope of catching the Spurs game back home.

No luck! For some reason they weren’t showing this particular game and I had to wait until the next morning to discover our fate – switching on the Wi-Fi to find a message from a friend along the lines of “Harry Kane in goal – LOL”. A disastrous message to wake up to without any context. Spurs had actually won comfortably courtesy of a Harry Kane hat-trick and the infamous Erik Lamela rabona goal – a real “I was there” moment (I wasn’t!).

Back to the bar.. I’m not a “pick up a girl at a bar” type of person but the upshot to not being able to watch Spurs was that I found myself stuck at the bar chatting to some local woman for the next hour. We talked about Vienna, travel, work and a number of other things. It was a nice way to end my evening and provided me with a memorable moment to take home with me.

We went our separate ways and I wound up going to bed via the hostel bar, I’d been given a free drink voucher when I checked in so it would have been rude not to. Perhaps surprisingly I did just have the one though as I was keen to head for Salzburg at a reasonable time the next day.

It would be easy to have considered Vienna a waste of time, I didn’t really see much and I can’t offer any genuine reasons for you to visit. I wish I’d had longer in Vienna and I wish the weather had been better too but let’s focus on the positives!

I knew beforehand my time was restricted so all I wanted from my day in Vienna was to leave with some good memories. I left having had a taste of the local cuisine, spent my evening with a local and got to see a small glimpse of what Vienna had to offer. Everything considered I’d call that a successful first visit, albeit a brief one.

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It was a little bittersweet to be leaving Vienna so soon but Salzburg beckoned. I left on the Friday morning excited (and nervous) for the final part of this story.
The goodbye was made easier in the knowledge that I’d return someday.

If you’re planning on going to Vienna, go for longer than a day! I still feel like I have unfinished business with Vienna so it’s somewhere I have to go back to, fortunately I’ll do so with much more knowledge of the German language. On that note there’s only one thing left to say..

Bis bald Wien!

Jason