8 hours in Salzburg: Free things to do in winter
I’m broke, it’s cold, and I’m in Salzburg with a few of my friends. My lack of enthusiasm is appalling.
We made it to ZOB, the bus station of Munich, bleary-eyed and tired. It’s a good thing we got here 15 minutes earlier because the bus driver needed to check our passports. Once we boarded, I fell asleep, waking just in time to see the landscape morph into a gigantic, white blanket. The eerie silhouettes of trees are beautiful against the snow. It was magical! (See snow, checked from the bucket list!)
Mozart Platz and Dom zu Salzburg (Salzburg Cathedral)
Our first stop is Mozart Platz, where Mozart stood eternally to judge all mortals on their musical abilities, or lack thereof. It was a must-do, but not particularly stimulating. Mozart Platz is also the city centre, that’s why we’re not complaining even though it took us about half an hour to walk there. Dom zu Salzburg is just a short distance away. The domes of Dom zu Salzburg is one of the most iconic views of Salzburg– they’re practically in every single photograph of Salzburg. It’s also super warm inside, which is amazing because we were freezing in the open air. The best part is, it’s free!
A guard sat by the door to check if we have caps, hats and shorts on, in respect for the cathedral. I wowed at the baroque-styled murals based on Jesus’ life and intricate carvings that covered the delicate white walls and arches. As I walked with 90% of my attention on the ceiling, we saw a table full of candles by the side. Addy flounced to the table to light a candle at the price of a small donation to the church. With 2018 approaching and 2017 being so shit, I know everyone’s hoping for a better year.
Once we got bored of the religious fanfare, we found stairs that led to the basement of the church. A vertical banner told us about the historical significance of the basement. We wandered into an exhibition room on the left. I was surprised by some ominous shadows of some stick figures in pretty kooky poses. We can’t stop laughing at them because this is art? I mean, maybe I lack culture, but they looked like they’ve been arranged by a kid. We left after a while since we are definitely not sophisticated enough to understand this without a description.
Going back to the entryway, we chose to turn right and walked into what looks like a prayer room with plaques and benches. It’s still being used as there’s a sign that warns visitors against disrupting prayers. Haunted by the thought of corpses behind the plaques, I left, with my friends laughing at my cowardice behind me.
We went to Sternbräu to get some food. Sternbräu is the Christmas market (or Christkindlemarkt in German) outside Dom zu Salzburg. According to the Salzburg tourism website, it opens until early January. It’s quite unique because most Christmas markets close after Christmas. Sternbräu just rebrands itself into a winter market.
We started off with a baked potato with onions and sauces, called Ofenkartoffel. It’s so freaking good. We even ate the skin of the potato, for fuck’s sake! That’s how good it is. To wash it down, we got Eierlikörpunsch and Glühwein. Eierlikörpunsch translates to ‘egg liquor punch’. Glühwein is mulled wine that warms up both your body and heart. It awakened my cousin’s alcoholic tendencies. I didn’t like it that much though. I prefer Eierlikörpunsch’s sweet aftertaste to Glühwein’s winey one. Most of the food in the Christmas market starts from as low as €3. It’s not pricey, but it hurts so bad coming from Malaysia where the currency’s five times weaker than Euros. Our little indulgement costs less than €10 for all four of us.
St. Petersburg’s cemetery
On the way to Festung Hohensalzburg, or Hohensalzburg Fortress, we stumbled upon St. Petersburg’s cemetery. I was drawn to the rows of snow-covered crosses immediately. I wanted to get a few pictures in; it was too beautiful to not want to capture it. As I held my camera up, conscience tugged at my heart. It’s quite a sensitive thing for Malaysians to take photographs of the dwellings of the dead. It’s rude, to take photographs of graves. I put away my camera; the departed deserves respect.
People were shuffling around us; visitors like us, visitors of graves. A man met our curious gaze in front of his wife’s grave with a wistful smile, as if to say he forgives our intrusion. A woman on a bike rode past us, with flowers in her basket. We walked past graves of children and babies, mothers and fathers. We strolled past the graves, disturbing the still and tranquil air that had been there when we entered.
Piqued by interest, we read the names of the crypts surrounding the cemetery. It seems like they belonged to the affluent families of Salzburg. The crypts seemed to be neglected– dust on surfaces and dirt on its’ floor. It’s such a stark contrast with elaborate, Christmas-decorated graves outside the gates. It’s depressing to think about this, but I think nobody comes to look after the crypts anymore. Their descendants have probably moved abroad.
We hiked instead of using the cable car. I used the word hike, but it’s more a 30-minute walk. I walked in silence, delighting in the sound my shoes made when I step on snow. Inspired by a nearby snowball fight, I rolled up some snow in my hands and threw it at Addy. Addy dodged and threw one of her own. Then Chris and Carol joined in. It’s war. Delirious with laughter, we threw snowballs till our gloves became wet. Some hit my shoulders, some hit Chris’ stomach. Catching our breaths, we raced up the hill while dodging and throwing snowballs at one another. I’ve never felt more like a kid, even though it’s not in my childhood to play with snow.
We stopped when we see people taking loads of pictures at a halfway viewpoint up the hill. I stood there with my arms outstretched, basking in the glory of wintertime Salzburg. It’s not a bird’s eye view, but I love how close everything seemed from here, how within reach everything is. The green domes of the Salzburg cathedral stood out among the mass of white. Tourists stood on the balcony to get hipster travel photos. “Natural selection.”, my cousin muttered with disapproval under his breath. I laughed; I think I’ve found my favourite spot in Salzburg.
Not long after, we got to Festung Hohensalzburg. We didn’t want to pay €15 to enter the fortress, so we chose not to enter. It doesn’t look particularly interesting from the outside as well. At least, that’s what we told ourselves. So we went back to my favourite spot and had our packed lunch there.
Since a lot of the filming locations of ‘The Sound of Music’ is outside Salzburg, we decided to only visit Nonnberg Priory and Mirabell Palace. We set out to Nonnberg Priory armed with a map taken from the tourist centre in Mozart Platz.
Caught in the moment, I hummed ‘The Hills Are Alive’ while walking up the stairs of Kaigasse. It was a charming flight of stairs tucked between two buildings. We soon realise that Nonnberg Priory is next to Festung Hohensalzburg. We could have come straight here if we’d known!
Nonnberg Priory is where Maria was learning to become a nun, both in reality and in the movie. My heart swelled as I saw the familiar gates that stopped the children from seeing Maria. I wanted to take a peek inside but it was locked. I didn’t know what to do, so I gave up and sat on a bench outside the convent. We didn’t know it then, but we could ask for the key from the nuns. We sat on the ledge and took some pictures with the snowy mountain as the background. It was quiet, and no one was there but us.
Free disappointment of the day: Mirabell Garden
We strolled around Salzburger Altstadt (Salzburg old town) before heading to Mirabell Palace and garden. “Whaaaaaa, is that it??” was literally my first reaction to seeing the Mirabell Palace. To call it underwhelming is the understatement of the year. I was expecting it to be way bigger than it looked. When we went, it was barren and white. It’s the way winter is; we could hardly blame the garden. Addy said it should be gorgeous in spring or summer, but I’m unconvinced. Disappointed, we left.
30 minutes later, we made it to the Flixbus bus stop. It’s definitely way more fun than I expected! I’ve seen snow, I’ve eaten delicious food, I’ve walked around the town of my one of my top five musicals. There’s not much left to ask for. The real Salzburg is about 90% similar to the movie, without the horse carts and costume. It’s reassuring how little it has changed– humans aren’t that destructive after all.
To strip it all off into a list:
Free things we did in Salzburg
- Mozart Platz
- Dom zu Salzburg
- St. Petersburg Cemetery
- Festung Hohensalzburg
- Nonnberg Priory
- Mirabell Palace and garden
Total spoils: €10 for food
Might be useful to know!
- Salzburg card is your best friend if you’re staying in Salzburg for a while. It covers the entrance fees of museums and attractions as well as the public transportation in The City of Mozart. It starts from €25 for a 24-hour card and half price for children aged 6-15. You can check the prices here.
- Salzburg.info is Salzburg’s official tourist information website. It has information on tourist attractions and cultural events in Salzburg. Don’t do what I did and only check it out after my visit. Plan your trip with it. It’s like the holy bible of Salzburg.
- Christmas market/ winter markets only pop up in December, so don’t wait for them even if winter’s here.