By John Blanchette
Salzburg, Austria, is a small city of only 155,000, but its voice has echoed around the world for centuries with "the sound of music." Classical music and opera take center stage with concerts 365 days a year, culminating in the annual Salzburg Festival.
This is home to Mozart, and he is celebrated — some would say to excess — with performances and home and museum tours. His portrait graces every imaginable collectable item, with some stores even selling chocolates wrapped in his image. Besides the multiple arenas for classical music, there is also an appreciation of jazz at a variety of venues throughout the city. This is also home to the Christmas carol "Silent Night" and, of course, Julie Andrews' favorite family, the von Trapps. If you want to follow in the film's footsteps, you can take the "Sound of Music" tour.
Years ago my sister studied piano and voice in Salzburg and always raved about its architectural grace, the physical beauty of surrounding hillsides and mountains, and the city's devotion to the arts. Now it was my turn to take part.
The city may ring out with music, but it actually got its name from the mineral salts mined in the surrounding hills. It is bisected by the Salzach River, which drains the surrounding mountains and was a torrent the week I was in town.
I was staying on the Right Bank in the historic Bristol Hotel, where a number of major conductors from Ricardo Muti to Herbert Van Karajan and Leonard Bernstein resided when performing in the city and others like Emperor Franz Josef, Sigmund Freud, Stevie Wonder and Goldie Hawn have used as home base while visiting.
There is no need for wake-up calls in Salzburg. At 7 a.m. a chorus of church bells break into melodic pealing. My room was right across the street from Holy Trinity, whose bells were particularly bright and cheerful. I made the hotel's complimentary breakfast every morning.
The city is small and navigable by foot, but it is also wise to get a Salzburg Card ($30 for three days), which gets you into a number of museums and historic buildings, including the Salzburg Fortress and the Modern Art Museum, which loom over the city, face each other and have unusual entrances. The pass can be used on all the city buses, especially the 23 in case you want to take the long ride out to the von Trapp residence or are in need of a quick trip home from bar- and cafe-hopping in the evening.
There are lots of walking streets that ban automobiles. I strolled through the old town lanes above Holy Trinity Church and dined at Zum Fidelen Affen (which means "the jovial monkey") on Priesterhausgasse, a traditional ale house serving local dishes such as schnitzel, sausages, roast potatoes, a delicious beef-broth soup with dumpling, and, of course, apple strudel for dessert. The house beer is the local Trumer Pils, hoppy and refreshing.
My favorite local beer, however, was Stiegl. It could also have been Christopher Columbus' favorite since the brewery was founded in 1492. I decided "Take the tour and discover a new world of taste" should be their motto.
The more interesting part of the city is the Left Bank. This is where Mozart was born and lived his early life in a six-story yellow house. Here you will find the museums, concert houses, food markets (where I indulged at the pretzel booth), and best restaurants and cafes, including my favorite, Schatz, inside a historic building on Getreidegasse. It serves the best pastry in town. Try K&K on Waagplatz for lunch. They offer a perfectly prepared duck in plum sauce in the upstairs dining area.
Then take the elevator that rises straight up inside a rocky cliff and leads to the Modern Art Museum perched on the top of a steep incline for the best view of the city and the cable car to the city's highest location, the Salzburg Fortress.
I attended the very popular Mozart dinner concert at Stiftskeller St. Peter, where a fun evening of live Mozart opera performed by very talented singers and musicians was accompanied by a mediocre repast. The room was packed with 125 diners who thoroughly enjoyed the performance on a Tuesday evening.
The city's best-known billionaire, Dietrich Mateschitz, founder of Red Bull, has a restaurant and museum, Hangar 7, at the airport. It is here where he exhibits some of his art collection and toys, including Formula One racing cars and company jets and planes that include a DC-6. The impressive space was designed by Austrian architect Volkmar Burgstaller.
The Michelin-starred restaurant Ikarus inside Hangar 7 served the most inventive and delicious meal of my stay. Every month a different esteemed chef holds sway over the kitchen. When I dined Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, Spain, matched wine with 14 small dishes, from appetizers to desserts. These featured foie gras, pigeon, lobster, steak and homemade chocolates, much of the meal incorporating molecular gastronomy. I declined to order a Red Bull and had coffee with my dessert.
WHEN YOU GO
I flew Airberlin from Los Angeles to Dusseldorf and then on to Salzburg. If you can, fly into Berlin and on to Salzburg to avoid the six-hour layover in Dusseldorf. Airberlin offers the most reasonable rates to central Europe, the seats are comfortable and the food and drink excellent. Other gateways in the United States include Chicago, New York and Miami: www.airberlin.com.
For tours, concert and historic building information, housing options, restaurant and cafe information, shopping tips, event listings, guidebooks, brochures and maps, contact Salzburg Tourism, www.salzburg.info, and the Austrian Tourist Office, www.austria.info or 212-944-6880
Hotel Bristol: www.bristol-salzburg.at
Zum Fidelen Affen: www.fideleraffe.at
Stiegl Brewery: www.stiegl.at
Stiftskeller St. Peter: www.stpeter-stiftskeller.at
John Blanchette is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.