Is Salzburg worth it?
Salzburg in northwestern Austria is usually first or second on the itineraries of visitors to Austria – taking its place somewhere alongside Vienna which I visited earlier this week.
But what does one actually come to Salzburg for? A dose of culture apparently, although each tourist receives it in different forms. For some, it’s the excitement of being in the town (and, in fact, the house) where Wolfgang Armadeus Mozart was born. For others, it’s walking through a historic old city, listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. For more still, it’s a shot of iconic Austrian culture – beer halls and würst in the hills. And for some, it will be forever the place where The Sound of Music was set.
For me, however, it was rather disappointing. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by traveling to so many amazing places around the world, perhaps I wasn’t in the mood. Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I didn’t make enough of an effort to enjoy it, or perhaps I just wasn’t interested. I’ll happily own any of these accusations after I say that I just didn’t enjoy my time in Salzburg.
Salzburg’s old city is pleasant – no doubt. Some may even say that it’s gorgeous, although I’d say it resembles more of a quaintly-preserved factory outlet mall from the 1700s. Although it’s not the same thing, I much much preferred the streets of the old city of Siena in Italy, which much less resembled an outdoor shopping mall – so one can see why I was somewhat disappointed.
As for the history – maybe a devoted fan of Mozart, Austrian or Bavarian culture would be better placed to appreciate the finer points of the castles, houses and galleries open for viewing. I don’t have a whole lot of Mozart on my iPod, so while I could appreciate the significance of it all – I simply didn’t find it particularly beautiful or spellbinding. Tourists beware; this is not a run-of-the-mill tourist attraction – much of it requires some special interest to hold one’s attention.
The scenery, apart from the main vista of the city across the river, reminded me of Albury in New South Wales, Australia. Small, forested hills near the city centre, lots of sparse grass out of the centre. The road to Hallstatt (which I will write about in a forthcoming piece) was pretty – but hardly spectacular.
And as for the culture – if you like rude , unhelpful customer service and stodgy, flavourless food, then I found it in abundance. As for as food is concerned, someone who doesn’t eat pork or drink beer already has limited options in this part of the world, but the cake and coffeehouses were the only redeeming features I came across. I did wonder whether routinely getting ignored in restaurants would allow me to walk out without paying the bill, but apparently it doesn’t work that way – the waitstaff do want you to pay, they just want you to verbally tackle them in order to get their attention.
That’s if you can even get in – most of the restaurants, supermarkets, shops and even pharmacies we came across were closed for “a lunch break”, “the afternoon”, “a holiday”, “the weekend”, “Sunday” or “the evening”. Too bad if you need to eat, drink or medicate yourself at a time which doesn’t suit an uncooperative shopkeeper. If Austria’s economy is going into recession as has been reported, it’s no wonder – apparently, most shops don’t want your business.
So was Salzburg worth it? For me, only to decide for myself. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover – so yeah, go there and judge from the inside.
I’m glad if Salzburg’s hills are alive with the sound of music, because I found the rest of the place boring and unfriendly.