Tag Archives: Austria

Things with Strings

When Ingrid and I hopped of the Hop On Hop Off bus back in Salzburg, we had a few hours to kill before our marionette performance.  We stumbled upon a very good Indian restaurant.  I ordered my go-to favorite that I boringly get every time I go to an Indian restaurant, palak paneer.  But you know what?  I really like palak paneer, and I don’t go to Indian restaurants that often, so sue me.

We walked around the big garden called the Mirabell.  A statue depicting the rape of Persephone attracted my eye because I had seen another one like it in Rome last fall.  Then I did a 180 degree turn and it appeared that all the statues depicted a rape scene.  It wasn’t my imagination: “In the heart of the garden, you will see a large fountain, with four statue groups around it: rape of Helena, Aeneas and Anchises, and finally Hercules and Antaeus. These statues were made by Ottavio Mosto in 1690.”  That was pretty unclear, but the point is, someone thought it was a great idea to design a garden full of statues about rape.  Yuck.

On a lighter note, there were also statues of my favorite animal:

Then we were off to the marionette theatre, where we spent some time in the lobby looking at the exhibits and reading the history of the place.  My favorite past performance was hands down The Little Prince.  I don’t know what the one with the geese was, and there were many more involving princes and princesses, fairies and witches, and animals both real and imaginary.

When our concierge booked the tickets for us, she said they were great seats.  We were in the second section in back, which made me question her judgement.  How would we be able to follow what was going on?  The marionettes were only about three feet tall.

As soon as the curtain rose and the show began, we realized it was ideal to be a little further back.  The marionettes’ mouths don’t actually move, so being just far enough back to not be distracted by that helps to suspend reality.

It was a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, and I have to say it was magical.  The sets, the costumes, the music—it was all spectacular.  Subtitles were projected on the walls on either side in German, English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.  But you could have enjoyed it just as much without them, since the plot was a typical opera involving unrequited love, a quest, and comical misunderstandings.  All operas either end with everyone dying or everyone living happily ever after, and thankfully this was the latter.

As we walked back to the hotel, we spied this on the wall of another hotel:

Rooms, camera?  No thanks, I like my hotel rooms without cameras.

We came across a building we could see from our hotel room window and which I had wondered about.

“What is it?” I asked Ingrid.  “At first I had thought it was an Indian waffle house.”

“Waffen means force, like luftwaffen” Ingrid replied.  Luftwaffen, the World War II German airforce.  “But I don’t know what Sodia means.”

“Ah, the third name, to the right in red, is a store with a location near my house,” I observed.  “I don’t know how to pronounce it, and they wanted $250 for a pair of hiking pants so I’ll never step foot in one again so it doesn’t matter.”

“Let’s go find out what it is,” Ingrid said in a hushed voice.

We rounded the corner of the building and realized it was a gun store.

“Do you want to go inside?” Ingrid asked.


In real time, I am running off to meet my friend Heidi at Wimbledon.  I was going to work all day so I said no at first, then thought, “What am I thinking!?  When will I ever get a chance to go to Wimbledon again?”

I can always work tomorrow.


Ingrid and I were in the quiet resort town of Fuschlsee in the Austrian Alps.  “Quiet” is an understatement; it was completely dead.  We kept walking along the lakefront, hoping to find one place open where we could get a cappuccino.  We found one resort that was open but wasn’t serving anything.  They graciously let us use the bathroom, and gave us directions to another resort that they thought would be open.

We walked through the resort to get to where they had pointed us.  It was sprawling, with multiple restaurants and bars, a spa, gardens, and a game room for kids.  It reminded me of one of my travel dreams.  One of my favorite writers is Somerset Maugham, and he used to spend weeks at a time in resorts like this in the Swiss Alps.  He would sleep late, eat a big breakfast, take a long walk, read the paper, write for a few hours, take a nap, then proceed to happy hour, dinner with fellow sojourners, maybe a spin at the casino or a show, then early to bed—all done among beautiful lakes and mountains.

We walked up the foot of the mountain to the other resort and it was shut tight, so we gave up and walked back to the bus stop.  This taught me an important lesson: When a Hop On Hop Off ticket seller tells you to only hop off at certain stops, it’s for your own good.

The next stop was a scenic overlook where we could all hop off, take a photo, then hop back on and be whisked away to the next stop.  When I used to live in Oxford, it was common for tour buses to do this in front of some of the most famous sites, and I sneered at the practice.  But hey, in this case there really was nothing to do except take a photo since it was basically a cliff.

Here I am, overlooking Lake St. Wolfgangsee.

Yes, there was a St. Wolfgang, and yes they named a lake and a town after him.  The bus took us into the town, where the first thing was saw was gondolas.

“Do you want to ride one to the top of the mountain?” Ingrid asked.  I really didn’t but if she wanted to, I would.

“Let’s see how much it costs, and what’s up there,” I suggested, stalling.

“Twenty-two euros—that seems like a lot,” Ingrid commented as we looked at the prices.  “But I’ll do it, if you really want to.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Oh, good!” she responded, sounding relieved.  “I’ve done it with Chris and the kids, but I never need to do it again.”

“Me too—I did it in the Canadian Rockies once and that was enough.

We walked down to the lake.  The town and the lake were very pretty despite the dreary weather.

We found a restaurant called Papagano, which is the name of a character in the Magic Flute, which we would see performed by marionettes that evening.  I had ratatouille, and it was the best meal I had in Europe.

On to the next stop—Mondsee, or Moon Lake. This town was not nearly as pretty as the first two, but the wedding scene from The Sound of Music had been filmed in the basilica there.

First, we stopped for “a little cake” and the long-anticipated cappuccino—to give us energy.

The basilica was beautiful; I could see why they used it for the film.

I dropped a coin in the slot and lighted a taper for a friend who had just had surgery.

I also loaded up on some free bottles of holy water; these would make great little gifts for Catholic friends and family. But wait!  What did that say on the side?  Jagermeister?

How did that happen?  There were hundreds of these little bottles.  Did Jagermeister donate empty bottles?   Or was itholy water” (wink wink)?  Maybe the church paid the local teenagers to drink all the Jagermeister, then fill the bottles with holy water?  If so, I wondered if the maker of Jagermeister knew that their brand name was being used for purposes not originally intended?

More Sisters, and Sissi

After coming across two references to Mozart marrying the younger sister twice in one day in unrelated sources, Ingrid and I talked about other eerie coincidences and whether they meant anything.  We didn’t think so, but it was hard to accept that they didn’t.

“So if it is some kind of ‘sign’,” I said, “Of what?  You don’t have a sister.  I have a younger sister—does it mean she’s meeting her future husband right now, and he’s someone I wouldn’t be interested in?”

“Yeah,” mused Ingrid.  “What would be the point of that?”

We talked about Hitler and his siblings some more after turning out the lights.

Ingrid’s voice came from the darkness, “Do you think Eva Braun was a younger sister?”

I groaned.  This could be a night of really weird dreams.

The night was uneventful, but when I woke up, got in the shower, and looked down, I gasped.  My left foot looked gangrenous. Or at least, what I imagined a gangrenous foot would look like from old accounts I’d read of civil war injuries.

The top of it was a dark, ominous green from toes to ankle.  Maybe I’d spilled something green on it?  Nope, it didn’t wash off, and it was very tender.

Then I remembered that four days earlier I had dropped my suitcase on it at the Copenhagen airport while desperately trying to get on a plane to Amsterdam.

That first night, when a green egg had emerged from my foot, my mind had galloped ahead to the dramatic hospitalization, circle of concerned doctors and surgeons (all extremely tall and handsome) surrounding my bed, amputation, learning to walk again in a Dutch rehab unit (preferably in the countryside, with a canal nearby with swans), and of course marrying my surgeon, who fell in love with me because of my bravery and perseverance.  I would not invite my sister to the wedding.

I was so distracted by being with Ingrid and sightseeing that I hadn’t given it a thought since it happened.

I showed my foot to Ingrid, who recoiled, then helped me think it through.

“Can you move everything?” she asked.  Yes.

“Do you have numbness or tingling?”  No.

“Can you feel any broken bones sticking out?”  No.

“Can you walk on it?” Yes.

“Then let’s go.  We’ve got to catch the bus at nine.”  Then she added, “I’m sorry.  Do you want me to help you find a doctor?”

“No! It’s just bruised.  I don’t want to sit in the hotel.”  So off we went.

I have written about Hop On Hop Off buses before.  Sometimes they’re not worth it because in some cities, the streets in the most picturesque part of town are too narrow for them.  Or, like in Malta, they have no signage and you can’t find your way back to the bus stops.

But outside of Salzburg, the HOHO—for around $20—was a fantastic value.  We bought tickets for the Lakes and Mountains circuit and had a splendid day … hopping off and on.

“We recommend you get off at stops seven and nine,” said the ticket seller.

Did we take his advice?  Of course not.  We got off at the first scenic spot, a resort town called Fuschl am See, after Lake Fuschl (pronounced foozle).  It was beautiful, but utterly deserted.  We walked down the main drag and there were no cars, no people, and most distressingly, nowhere to get a cappuccino.

As we walked, Ingrid told me the story of Empress Elizabeth of Austria.  There was a movie made about her life called Sissi (her nickname), and Ingrid thought it might have been made in Fuschl.

Suddenly she stopped walking.  “She was the younger sister.  Franz Joseph was supposed to marry her older sister!  It was all arranged, then he met Sissi.”

“Oh my God!” I couldn’t help exclaiming.  “It has to mean something!”

We walked on and Ingrid told the whole story, which was pretty interesting and which I knew nothing about.  It highlighted for me how limited we are by language.  I can list many of the English kings and queens but my knowledge of European royalty is nil.

Younger Sisters and Female Umbels

Ingrid and I spent hours in the two Mozart houses in Salzburg. There was a sound track playing in the background and several of the numbers were straight off of my old meditation CD, minus the crickets.

Why did I quit meditating?  I credit it with helping me get through some really stressful situations.  Gradually, perhaps thanks to meditating, my constant companion of anxiety subsided.  I still feel anxious now and then but nothing like the stabbing, physically painful, constant anxiety I felt for years.  Thanks, meditation, you worked your way out of a job!

I know nothing about music so the personal titbits about Mozart were of most interest to me. “Did you know his wife was the younger sister of the woman he really wanted to marry, but she didn’t love him?” I asked Ingrid.  She nodded disinterestedly.

It was time to move on to an actual concert.  These take place all over Salzburg for tourists.  Ours took place in a thousand-year-old cellar-type place.  A young Russian woman played the harpsichord, which was a forerunner to the piano and has a bit of a canned sound to it.  The acoustics were great.  She played for 45 minutes, got up and bowed, and walked out. Doing it every day must get old.

That was fine; we were hungry.  As we started to walk back to our hotel, the skies opened up again and I was grateful I had carried an umbrella with me all day.  We sloshed along til we were within a block of our hotel and noticed a restaurant our concierge had recommended, the unappealingly named Fuxn.

Fuxn’s deal was genuine Austrian food.  As Ingrid described some of the dishes to me my face may have turned green. Pig knuckles were on the menu.  I had seen a Chinese tourist order pig knuckles in Berlin and they turned my stomach.  Was it the gelatinous goo they sat in? Was it that they were the size of a Volkswagen Beetle?  Was it that the Chinese tourist took one look at them and pushed them away?  All of the above.

I did appreciate the schmalzbrot.  Thanks to my 100-word Yiddish vocabulary, I guessed that it meant bread with chicken fat, and beyond that I didn’t want to know.

About 80% of the menu items involved pork, which made my job easy.  I ordered a salad and Ingrid ordered a dish her mother had made when she was a kid.  As is always the case, it wasn’t as good as her mother’s cooking.

I also ordered a Budweiser, which apparently contained—not just female umbels, but female umbels of the exquisite Saazer hops.

This was the original Bud, not the cheap tasteless beer by the same name that is a frat boy favorite in the US.

“I wonder if Hitler had siblings,” I asked Ingrid in the middle of our meal.  This was not as abrupt a question as it might seem.  We were in Austria, after all, his birthplace.

“I don’t know!” she said, sounding as if she thought she should.

“I bet he was an only child.  No one with siblings could do what he did.”  Apologies to my son, who is an only child, but I do think that being an only can be lonely.  I am biased, since I have three siblings, but how does one learn how to fight fair, share, or empathize without any siblings?

Back at the hotel, Ingrid Googled “Hitler, siblings.”  She had lucked out when she opted for the cot because it was closer to the door so she could just connect to the weak wifi signal.

“Hitler had six siblings!” she read. “Including several step siblings from his father’s first marriage.  He didn’t get along with his father ….”

“Well at least it’s not all the mother’s fault, for once,” I said, turning to my book.

I was reading Little Women and when I opened to where I had left off, it was about how Laurence, who wanted to marry Jo but couldn’t because she didn’t love him, looked up at a painting of Mozart and thought, “He married the younger sister.  I wonder if I could ….”

Thunder and Rain

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I am really good at getting lost.  I can study a map for half an hour, even write directions on the palm of my hand so I don’t have to take out the map in public, then I walk out the hotel door and will be deeply, hopelessly lost in five minutes.

Ingrid, thankfully, has a well-honed sense of direction.  We came out of the underground station in Salzburg—the worst for getting lost because you don’t know which direction is north, etc.—and she pointed, “Our hotel is that way.”

“Um…I think it’s the other way,” I suggested tentatively.  Why was I even bothering to trust my “sense of direction?”  Ingrid had us to the hotel in no time, with no detours.

As is unfailingly the case in Europe, the room was on the top floor and there was no elevator so I had to lift and drag my suitcase up six flights of stairs, one step at a time.  The hotel, Pension Elizabeth, was basic and functional.  When I booked it and requested a room with two beds I had received a message, “We will do our best to accommodate your request.”  And they had.  The room had a queen sized bed with a folding cot right next to it, which was quite comfortable, according to Ingrid—who made the sacrifice of sleeping on it.

It was early evening on a public holiday, so the city was quiet.  The holiday is called Whitsun, or Pentecost, which for most Europeans is now just a Day Off.  We ran across the street toward a neon sign that flashed Pizzeria.  The place was run by Bangladeshis, and the only other customers were half a dozen motorcyclists with Bison Thunder emblazoned on the backs of their black leather jackets; they were smoking cigarettes and drinking beers at an outside table.  I thought they might be a gang, although they appeared to have escaped from a geriatric home.  Turns out that Bison Thunder was an Austrian motorcycle made in the1920s, just like the geezers riding them.

Ingrid and I took a table inside and ordered.  I got a panini and she got schnitzel, which is a breaded meat dish.

“The sky is very dark,” announced the owner from the doorway.

Suddenly the heavens opened up and buckets of marble-sized hail thundered down.  The bison thunderers scurried inside as the cafe umbrellas pitched over.  Cars stopped in the middle of the street, then crawled onward slowly.  We all oohed and ahhed and ate and drank from inside the restaurant as we watched the show.  Then Ingrid and I and the bikers retired to Pension Elizabeth for the night.

Salzburg is the city of Mozart.

I never listened to classical music until about five years ago, when I became serious about meditating.  I had a score (ha, ha) of meditation CDs, and my favorite was called Zen Garden.  It was a collection of classical hits overlaid with chirping crickets and birds.  Sounds woo-woo, I know, but it helped me fall asleep many nights.  Eventually, I quit meditating, gave my old school CD player and CDs away, and had music only on my phone.  I did it because I thought everyone was doing it and it would simplify my life, but I regret it.  The quality of music on an iphone is just not good.  If and when I settle down anywhere again, I’m going to go all the way back to my first gen of music and buy a record player.

Anyway, meditation was my gateway to classical music, which I listen to instead of the news, especially since November 2016.

The next day, Ingrid and I walked into the city center and spent hours in the two Mozart museums—one a house where he lived with his family as a youth; the other where he lived as an adult with his wife and children.

Mozart was composing by the age of five and performing for royalty at 17.  There were numerous references to him being “childlike,” and “in his own world.”  Was Mozart special needs?  Was he an 18th Century rain man?