January 4-5, 2016
Bla Bla Car
Our first experience using Bla Bla Car will certainly not be our last! It was such a great way to travel- similar to hitchhiking but with a monetary return for the driver. Bla Bla car, which is essentially carpooling for strangers headed to the same destination, is popular in Europe but not yet legal in the states.
We started our ‘Bla Bla car’ journey with Eliran, our driver, after being picked up at a shopping center near our hostel. We were surprised to see three kids in the back seat of the van. Eliran was returning with his family to their home outside of Salzburg after a holiday vacation in Venice. He was very friendly as were his wife and children. Their oldest daughter entertained us for a bit by inviting us to play whisper down the lane with her and her siblings. She spoke fluent English while her younger siblings were still learning. She was very mature and outspoken and spoke about her love for travel.
Eliran and his wife provided us with many recommendations about sites to see and ways to travel cheaply around Germany. They were well traveled, as were their children. Eliran is originally from Israel and after backpacking around the world, settled in Austria after meeting his wife there. They spoke about using couch surfing and hitchhiking with their children. Their view of travel and their lifestyle has definitely promoted their children to embrace the world. While some may think hitchhiking with their children is reckless, they have had very positive experiences doing so. They were a free spirited and non-traditional couple, yet they were loving parents to their children and offered Scott and I a different perspective about parenting.
The drive to Salzburg was absolutely beautiful. We wound our way through the Alps, and as we neared Austria the ground was covered in snow.
Arriving in Salzburg
After getting dropped off right outside the city, we took a short bus ride into Salzburg. The bus dropped us off a short distance from our hostel. We walked to our hostel, checked into our 6-bed dorm room, dropped off our bags and headed out to a beer hall.
Beer Hall: Augustiner Bräustübl zu Mülln
Though it was dark and cold, we enjoyed the walk to beer hall, taking in the charming views of the snow covered buildings and surrounding Alps. Austria is pretty much exactly as we both pictured it- a snow-covered wonderland, as adorable as those fairytale towns inside a snow globe.
We were amazed by the size of the beer hall when we arrived. Several huge rooms with wooden walls and vaulted ceilings housed dozens of communal tables. And outside we saw the large area for the outdoor beer garden. I can only imagine how crowded it must be during high season in the summer. It was surprising to see such a variety of people at the beer hall, in fact we saw several families with children. From what we have observed, there seems to be a different approach to parenting here, where children are exposed to more and not treated like babies and thus making children much more mature and confident.
We walked around the beer hall checking out the row of food vendors. They were selling food that we were very unfamiliar with- lots of different types of indiscernible meat and different types of sauerkraut. We wanted to try everything! We decided on ribs, some type of meat loaf that looked like it was made of hot dogs, sauerkraut and a soft pretzel. We each bought a beer which entailed paying for the size glass you wanted (liter or half liter) grabbing your beer stein off of the massive shelf of them, and then getting your stein filled with the house brew from a large wooden cask.
Schnapps House: Sporer Likör- & Punschmanufaktur
It was snowing when we headed out the following morning. We bundled up and walked across the river to the old part of town. Our hostel is in the new part of town, most of which was rebuilt after WWII. We passed by the Mirabel Palace and followed our view of the old Hohensalzburg fortress on top of the hill to lead us in the right direction.
We wandered down the street Getreidegasse, which runs parallel to the river. Though it is one of the oldest streets in the town, it is now very touristy and lined with trendy shops. The store signs still give a nod to their history and show pictures of the items sold in the stores, which was once used to aid the illiterate. Amongst the McDonalds and Starbucks we founded a hidden gem- a small, century old schnapps house. We went inside, to find that it was actually quite crowded. Several men were nestled up to the bar on our left and to our right were barrels of aged rum.
We were a bit overwhelmed by the variety of alcohol until an older gentleman starting talking to us. He informed us about the traditional drink of punsch- a shot of schnapps poured into a small glass of hot water. This sounded like a nice warm treat after walking in the cold. Another local man chimed in our conversation sharing with us that he was drinking the house bitter mix that he jokingly referred to as medicine. I ordered the Christmas punsch and Scott ordered the house bitter. My drink was delicious, with a little bit of a spicy holiday flavor, and Scott’s drink tasted a bit anise and pine. We later learned that Schnapps is made from distilled fruit, which explains why they are all fruit flavored!
We talked and joked around with the men as we finished our drinks. They laughed at the face I made after trying Scott’s drink, telling me that it’s not a drink for a lady. One of the men even bought us a bottle of beer from the Schnapps house as a souvenir. We’ve been struck by the kindness of the people we’ve encountered in Austria so far. And we have been amazed by their flawless grasp of the English language, which is very helpful for us, considering we have no understanding of the German language. It seems like all of their words are at least 14 letters long.
With our bellies warm from the alcohol we headed back out into the cold. We had been persuaded to try a local treat called Mozart Balls by the man who bought us the souvenir beer. He was very adamant that only one place offered authentic ones and the rest were all tourist traps. Mozart balls sounded like a real stretch to get business from marketing the Mozart name, but we found the authentic candy store and tried the Mozart Ball, nonetheless. It was a delicious chocolate truffle with nougat center that is in no way related to Mozart. But, can’t blame them for capitalizing on their famous history I suppose. Austria is the birthplace of Mozart.
As we walked around the town we passed through a small outdoor market with different stands selling fresh produce, pretzels, breads and sausages. We admired all of the curious treats at the bread stand- apple strudels, pretzels filled with all sorts of sweet and savory fillings, and breads loaded with nuts, seeds and dried fruits. We sampled some of the breads and bought one that tasted more like an oatmeal raisin cookie than bread. We have noticed that the breads here are very dense! We also bought a huge soft pretzel stuffed with chive and garlic cream cheese. Cream cheese and spreads for bread are huge here! In fact, in the grocery store we saw more variety of Philadelphia cream cheese than we have ever seen at home.
No Red Bull or Beer for Us
After strolling through much of the old city, we decided to venture a bit farther out of the city to see Red Bull’s Hangar 7 and Stiegl Brewery- two other suggestions from our friend at the schnapps house. We walked away from the city for about 40-minutes toward the airport to reach Hangar 7. From a distance we could see the modern glass encased structure built to showcase small airplanes and other promotional items that Red Bull has endorsed. We reached the building only to learn that it was closed for the evening…at 4:15pm. That didn’t stop us from marching up to the building and peering in the windows.
A bit disappointed that Hangar 7 was closed, we turned around and walked for 10 minutes toward the brewery. We could smell the malt in the air before we reached the brewery. When we reached the gate, the man sitting at the ticket booth waved us down and informed us that the brewery was closed. Why these places close so early in the evening, we have no idea! Bad luck for us. But, the temperature had risen through out the day and we enjoyed our walk in the crisp air, fruitless as it was.
Sound of Music
We walked back to our hostel stopping along the way for some take out Chinese food. We claimed a prime spot in the common room of the hostel to split our spicy soup and chicken and vegetables and watch The Sound of Music (played every evening at 8 by the hostel) It was interesting to watch the movie as an adult and understand the historical significance this time around. We also had fun pointing out the locations we recognized in the movie from our walk around town earlier that day. However after watching the movie we did some research the check the validity of the story- it’s only very loosely based on the family’s story.
The next morning we set out on a hike up the steep hill of Kapuzinerberg. We walked the snow covered trail to reach the top while stopping at several view points along the way. We could see the entire city and views of the fortress.
Sylvie gets herself a new scarf!