Salzburg: The City We Would Have Never Seen

There are wonderful travel days filled with long walks, hot coffee, and epic photo ops—the kind that reaffirm your expensive plane ticket. Then there are those rocky travel days filled with—well, even longer walks, cold coffee, and the haunting underbelly of urban life.  Every day you might not know what is in store but in the end it’s all about your attitude, right? I am of the mind that with positivity your day has a much higher chance of being magical. This is even more true when you are traveling—the stakes are higher, the lows so much lower (did you see Taken? Yikes!) and the bare essentials suddenly feel like gifts from God. Our trip from Vienna to Milan took all of this into account, from the caffeinated beverages to the questionable gas station sandwiches, and it looked like it would be quite the bummer.

The Plan

Our strategy for the trip was primarily economic—we were to take a cheap ride-share from Vienna to Salzburg, which lined up with another ride-share from Salzburg to Milan. I would inevitably sleep the entire way, leaving my equally exhausted partner to struggle with the pleasantries of German speakers at 7:00 in the morning (sorry!).

We then would have a long layover in Salzburg, Austria—by long I mean 20 hours—so we booked a couchsurfing spot for the night. The problem was that we were set to arrive in Salzburg by 9:30 am but our host could not receive us—and our VERY heavy luggage—until 9:00 pm. Whomp Whomp. Thus we gave up all hope of actually seeing any of Salzburg and resigned ourselves to looking up coffee shops with WiFi that we could bum around in all day. Us Americans would call this day a “dud”. Instead I am delighted to say our day in Salzburg became, with a bit of openness and flexibility, magical.

Our Magical Adventure

It was a cold and dreary morning in Vienna. We traveled in an old Volvo and with the heater on I was asleep in six minutes. Our driver, a somewhat frazzled and endearing German girl, and a stranger I will call the Australian (for obvious reasons) were in the front. I awoke to my partner engrossed in a conversation with the Australian. It turned out that he was couchsurfing in Salzburg for a night, was weary from endless days of travel, needed wifi, and knew no German. Life just throws things at you sometimes.

When our driver hastily dropped us off at an awkward bus stop (she wasn’t sure which direction the center of town was) the Californians and the Australian proceeded to join forces. With no German capabilities between us we made our way onto the wrong bus, then the right bus, then found ourselves in the center of town with too much luggage and no real plan.

The Australian offered to ask his host if we could leave our stuff at his place all day so we could all explore together. We decided to take a chance and haul our things to his apartment near-ish to the center of the town. His host opened the door in surprise to not one but three couchsurfers and graciously welcomed us in. After hearing our story, and happy to know we didn’t need a placed to sleep, he agreed to let us leave our things so we could see his city.

As a student of communications and tourism he explained how we could get around the city and told us to start with the castle on the hill.  After our twenty minute conversation we left the apartment and I had a fleeting feeling, bred into me by my southern California upbringing, of panic. Was I crazy to leave my stuff at a strangers house?! But it all disappeared when I thought about my experiences and all the amazing people I have met through couchsurfing.

So, with the necessary three C’s—Camelback, Cliff Bar, and Camera—we couldn’t help but get excited for what the day might bring. We were given the chance to see Salzburg and had already made two friends, all by 10:00 am!

We had a quick photo op with a beautiful scene of bright red roses, fountains, and a mountain with a castle in the distance. At this moment (“Cheese!”) the excitement of tackling a new city, one none of us expected to discover, gave us weary travelers momentum.

We grabbed a map from the information kiosk and walked over the bridge, the castle getting larger as we made our way through the tiny streets. We could see epic stone walls lining the valley and beautiful domed buildings in the distance. Salzburg, it turns out, is stunning. We walked through the quaint downtown filled with pricey shops, Mozart’s house with a bell you can ring from the street, and even a McDonald’s with a fancy and slightly misleading street sign.

While walking up the steep mountain of stone and fall foliage—talking of music we love, travel tips, and how much we miss burritos—we reached Hohensalzburg Castle. We crossed over the moat and through the stark white walls of the abbey. We took our time getting from room to room, exploring the museum at our own pace and enjoying the unexpectedness of the day. There is nothing like exploring a castle you know absolutely nothing about, especially one you never thought you’d ever go to.

After learning about the almost millennium of history at the castle we found a new path down and landed in a cemetery filled with graves and a crypt built into the mountainside. Beautiful. We moved on to more food, becoming aware that cheap cuisine was not the specialty of Salzburg, and had a funny encounter with an angry Austrian woman at the grocery store. The day was winding down and it was time to collect our bags.

It was time to part with our traveler-in-crime and we hugged like we had been friends for years. Epic photos, funny adventures, and lifelong memories sum up our day Salzburg—made so much greater by such a strong personal connection. Our journey by bus was easy enough and we were met soon after by our host who: invited us into his home, offered us a beer, pulled out our super retro zebra-print bed and gave us towels for a hot shower. We told him how exhausted we were and he left us to get to bed early; in the morning we left a note of our thanks as goodbye. To say it was the perfect arrangement is an understatement—zebra bed!! Sometimes all a traveler needs is privacy and a hot shower.

The memories from our day make me smile and make me feel renewed in my choice to be traveling. Who you meet, how you treat people, and the amazing opportunities that are out there is the hop in my step after a “dud” of a day or a bout of frenzy onset by lack of food. The more I discover and see the more I hope to bring this kind of magic into my “real” world and perpetuate the amazing feeling of openness. As for Salzburg, I hope to meet you again under perhaps more organized circumstances.

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