You know that place you have always dreamt of? Perfect weather, tall mountains for hiking, clean rivers for bathing, no cars, culture and tranquility everywhere, and a picture perfect castle high above. It’d be amazing if such a place actually existed, would it not? Well, come close. Closer I mean. I don’t want anyone else to know, lest a zombie infestation invade the town. Are you ready? There is such a place…and it is called Salzburg.
How special is Salzburg? Really, really special – like The Sound of Music special. Did you know that Salzburg is the area where the movie was recorded? Did you know Salzburg is the town were Mozart was born? These people, residents of Salzburg I mean, must be the luckiest bastards on the planet. I imagine a child being born in this town and upon exiting the womb turning to his/her mother and whispering: mom, why am I already in Heaven?
Salzburg is a town like no other I’ve ever witnessed. There is almost no traffic in the Old Town, with people choosing to bike instead, an activity that enhances their quality of life and purifies the air in one fell swoop. Children and the elderly drive to and fro in their leg powered contraptions, as if they knew nothing about cars. Trees and centenary buildings line the streets, perfectly manicured and free of litter and the graffiti that is so common in Europe. People sit in the parks and read, drink coffee and speak to one another. It is magical, unbelievable almost to one so used to the disconnect and chasm that exists between people in modern cities and to the jarring and depressing nature of what Bob Marley called the Concrete Jungle.
Our adventures in Salzburg began with Beate, a lively young student full of energy and zest that hosted us for a handful of days. She greeted us with a broad smile and quickly provided us with all the information necessary to find our way; she even explained to us, and we found this absolutely amazing, that the yellowish-reddish dust we saw outside was Sahara sand, brought about by the shifting wind. How amazing! Sahara sand in Austria! She was jovial and a perfect introduction to the Austrian people: highly welcoming to tourists and seemingly carefree. How could they not? How can one do anything other than smile when surrounded by so much beauty? Want proof that residents of Salzburg are stress free? When we visited the local church and entered the tiny graveyard we saw an average age of death of around 92…and you thought 78 was pretty good. Ha!
Every day in Salzburg was full of adventure, a whirlwind sequence that left us exhausted for weeks. In no specific order we rented bikes and drove for miles, hiked a gorgeous area that divides Austria and Germany called Untersberg, went to a Biergarten (literally translates to beer garden) where Mylene proceeded to get drunk, entered Mozart’s birthplace and saw a strand of his hair and first violin, frolicked by the river, heard a chorus practicing an operatic aria, walked for miles and miles admiring the scenery, ate some delicious fare at a restaurant called Kastner’s Schenke and bought liquor at an ancient shop called Sporer. Oh boy, if there is only one thing you eat or drink in Austria then make it Sporer, that thing is Ambrosia like. Divine. Perfect. Not as sublime as the town itself, but pretty darn close.
Saying goodbye to Salzburg was hard. We have not felt that feeling of longing, or saudade as the Portuguese would say, in many places, but this one was one of them. As if to personify our mood the sky rumbled on our last afternoon and the clouds wept, saddened, perhaps, by our impending departure. To this day, when I close my eyes and sit in vacant or in pensive mood, I still vividly recall the rainy mist made tremulous by the setting sun and that magnificent castle in the sky, the one we will never forget and our hearts will always return to.