Saturday, August 06, 2005


Ten years ago today - Salzburg

Ten years ago today, I was in Salzburg, struggling with competing urges to carry on my trip, or to turn on my tail and run for home. I remember calling home, crying so hard I couldn't speak properly, and I think back to my poor mother, who initially forbade me from going on the trip. I'm surprised I didn't find her at my hotel room door the next day. Here's how it happened.

2:07 pm, 6 August 1995
Hellbrunn Palace, Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg - the worst of the trip so far, and the best.

Yesterday was awful. Awful. On the train from Munich to Salzburg, an odd man professing to be a reformed convict (!) kept trying to befriend me. Thankfully, his ticket was a handwritten note on a napkin, and he was escorted off the train at the first stop. (I was just trying to figure out in my head how to ask the conductor for assistance when he was escorted off. Among other things, he cast a long look at my legs and asked me if all Canadian women had such lovely legs.) Although I had a bit of a headache, I still enjoyed the Alpine scenery, with the beautiful flat plains covered with huge farms leading to the gorgeous purple mountains on the horizon.

I found the Pension Chiemsee without a problem, and then disaster struck - I realized I had lost / been robbed of my swiss army knife (a birthday present from my brother), which was on a keyring with my spare housekey and the key to the lock on my backpack. I called back to the Heidelberg pension, but she didn't have it.

I was devastated. I knew it was a small problem, hardly worth getting upset about, but I fell apart. I called Mom, unable to talk I was crying so hard. I knew it wasn't the loss of the knife and keys; it was the stress of the strange encounter on the train plus ten days' worth of exhaustion, frustration and culture shock. Mom tried to convince me to eliminate Italy from my trip and come home a week early. All night long I considered it. It was nothing and everything, and I wanted nothing more than to be home again. After speaking to Mom a second time (out of homesickness rather than panic this time) I had calmed down a bit - but not much!

The wonderful woman who owns the pension found a friend with a hack saw, rode her bicycle across town to get it for me, and used it to cut open my luggage. By this point it was 6 pm and I just wanted to curl up and cry. I forced myself to go out for a walk, knowing I would do nothing but cry if I stayed in the pension.

So, still weepy and vaguely pathetic, I went to wander half-heartedly around the Altstadt. I was scowling like a madwoman at the beautiful old buildings - the more lovely the sight, the more bitter I became. Finally, I stumbled across the Dom, the beautiful Renaissance cathedral that (Beloved) had told me about.

My day turned around.

It was perhaps 6:40 by this time, and the sign I couldn't quite translate said something about a concert at 7 pm. Since I had hoped to catch some of the Salzburg International Music Festival, it seemed like this was going to be as close as I would get. I wandered about the cathedral for a bit, in awe of the frescoes that covered the domes and the gorgeous arches. Sentimentally, and again on the verge of tears, I lit a candle for Grandma and Grandpa and Granny and Granda. Then, I settled into a pew to ogle the incredible art and await the concert. It was in this cathedral , I learned from the guidebook, that Mozart was baptised and later became concertmiester.

The orchestra and choir, from England, were very good, and occasionally augmented by some wonderful modern dance by a group of young ballerinas. The true magic, however, came during the last piece, when the entire orchestra and choir stood up, in mid-song while still playing, to move throughout the church. Dispersed throughout the huge cathedral, they finished their song. It is impossible to describe how magical it was, like being surrounded by and a part of the music, soaring with it and on it. My poor frazzled nerves were completely soothed.

Today, too, has been a good day. The first shop I passed (one of the rare few open on a Sunday) sold swiss army knives, and I immediately replaced my lost one. It was symbolic, to me, of recovery and continuance. Then, on the pension owner's advice, I went to see the water garden at Hellbrun Palace. Originally built as a summer retreat by Prince Arch Bishop Sitticus in 1613 - 1619 by the Italian Santino Solari (the same architech of the Dom) the palace's water garden proves that either Sitticus or Solari (or both) had a wonderful sense of humour.

There are statues of Greek mythology everywhere, and a wonderful series of water-driven marionettes and a water-driven organ. Guests are led through the park en masse, and hidden spigots and nasty tour guides ensure everyone gets a good soaking. The whole group, maybe 50 people, LOVED it! It was such a silly thing, adults yelping and jumping and laughing like children to avoid surprise streams. I absolutely adored it; it was the most fun I've had since I got here. So simple, and yet so much fun. The gardens and decorations were pretty on their own; I must have taken ten pictures here alone. On the same grounds was a little zoo with a friendly little bear cub... entertainment in the grandest Dani-style.

And so, Salzburg was the worst, and the best. Tomorrow, the real challenge begins - Venice!