We almost didn’t go to Salzburg. The train ticket was booked, but the accommodation costs were proving prohibitive. An Airbnb in the city centre for 100$ a night? Good bye budget. Sharing a couch in a university dorm? We’re not really that cuddly. A commercialized charm-free hotel on the outskirts? Boring. So we settled for the worst possible combination of all three: A university dorm turned hostel in a far flung corner of the city with 5’10” twin beds, no soap in the bathrooms, and more negotiations required to get access to wifi than to get an EU visa.
Ok so it wasn’t the end of the world, but after our stellar stay in Prague we felt as if we had dragged ourselves into a mid-90s horror film. Did I mention that I am sure the place was haunted? The first night, there was absolutely no-one else staying on our entire floor. But that didn’t stop the banging of the bathroom doors from echoing into our room and rattling our travel resolve.
The most inconvenient reality of our new home was the complete lack of any self-catering options. Every one of the eight other places we have stayed at so far had, at very least, a hot plate and a mini fridge. In Salzburg, we would be entirely dependant on Yelp and our meagre. neighbourhood for every meal. Goodbye budget.
What we didn’t realize during our first night in “Schloss No Wifi” was that staying in the foothills of the Alps can’t possibly be a bad decision.
On our first full day in Salzburg we embarked on the first hike of our trip. At 4.5km it wasn’t exactly an Alpine ascent, but Jakob vetoed my plans to climb the nearest Toblerone peak. The hike began with a steep path up to a Capuchin monastery, marked out with fourteen chapels, each one dedicated to one of the stations of the cross. I loved the kinetic spirituality of it all. What better way to meditate on Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice than to hike 300 meters straight up?
The views from the top were spectacular:
We made our way down, stopped over at Mozart’s place for a cup of tea, and then began searching for a place to have dinner.
The art of budget travel involves buying most of your food from a grocery store and then finding permissible places to eat it. In the summer, this is as simple as finding a picnic spot. But in the winter, this is a strategic game of how-long-can-I-hold-this-sandwich-before-my-fingers-fall-off? Unless of course there is a Renaissance palace in sight, because where you find palaces you find orangeries. Where you find orangeries you may find a careless night manager who forgot to lock the place after its 4pm closing time. And where you find an unlocked tropical oasis in the middle of Austrian winter, you will find snoopy travellers munching on cheese and napping under the leaves of exotic houseplants.
A couple hours later those same lounging vagabonds were sitting upright in red upholstered chairs in a gold leafed room below a crystal chandelier listening to the moving strains of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik played by a string ensemble. I tucked my muddy hiking boots under my chair and tried to applaud at the right moments. The guest appearance of an oboist was the highlight of the concert.
“Ah that’s what it’s supposed to sound like.’ I whispered eagerly to Jakob (if you have the privilege of not knowing, I should mention that I played oboe in high school).
He gave a slight nod, barely opening his eyes, so as not to disrupt his experience of the music.
I stayed as quite as I could for the rest of the night, recalling one of the primary rules for a happy marriage to a Kort: Don’t talk during good music.
When we finally made our way back to our corner of Salzburg, “Schloss Small Bed” didn’t seem so bad after all.
“Having no wifi access is kind of nice right?”
“Ya it’s sort of refreshing. Like we are getting a more authentic experience.”
“Like we can be more fully present.”
“So should we hit up McDonald’s tomorrow to check Facebook?”
Now I feel obliged to dedicate this post, which was written with frost-bite free fingers, to Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, who built Schloss Mirabell and its lovely Orangerie more than four hundred years ago for his mistress and 15 children who he wasn’t supposed to have. Thank-you Wolf.