Beach-hopping in Sri Lanka An idyllic, mystical pearl-drop island in the Indian Ocean with 1340 kilometres of coastline. Bait enough. Active adventurer, laid-back lazy or photo-enthusiast…whatever your travel style, beaches will inevitably creep into your Sri Lanka itinerary. Problem: Too many beaches, too little time. Multiply challenging choices by dubious dilemmas, divide by greed, and […]
Walking treasures of Salzburg, Austria…
The historic town of Salzburg, Austria, bore the brunt of a massive plague epidemic and two world wars. Nearly half of its magnificent buildings were destroyed, but miraculously, much of the famous Baroque architecture remained unscathed. The town of today, as we see it, is its second avatar….almost rebuilt from scratch. More picturesque areas in Salzburg you need to see include the Dom Quartier and the Hohensalzburg fortress. (Read the first part of this story here).
Walking treasures in Salzburg, Austria…
The 3-hour train ride from Vienna may prep you with enough eye-candy, but that first view of Salzburg, Austria’s fourth-largest city…still a killer. Beyond a meditative river straddled by several bridges, lies a charming old town filled with splendid Baroque spires and domes, under the shadow of one of Europe’s largest medieval fortresses looming large on a gentle hill. Centuries ago, when the Salzach river was an important salt transportation route, butchers and other food processors would unceremoniously dump wastes into it flowing waters. And look now…the entire city is precious UNESCO heritage. River shaming to Love Lock Bridge…that’s some serious headway! Navigating the compact 65-square kilometre town could take you a few hours to a few days, depending on how deep your heart wills you to dig. So, here’s my choice of the most picturesque areas you need to see in this delightful destination synonymous with that evergreen musical from the yesteryears, ‘Sound of Music’. (Read my post on the ‘Sound of Music’ tour experience).
Go gaga over guild signs at Getreidegasse
Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s most famous shopping lane evolved from a major Roman road, to a main road leading to Bavaria to a magnet for rich merchants, doctors, and craftsmen. And now? A prestigious address for jewellery stores, traditional costume shops, high street brands, antiques, leather goods, perfumes and delicatessen. Charming narrow, high houses adorned with pretty portals and decorative windows stand tightly nestled together on both sides. Countless romantic courtyards, covered galleries and vaulted passages link adjoining buildings. Stucco ornaments, medieval murals, pebbled street borders, hanging lamps, elegant columns, moulded cornices, marble balustrades and pretty pergolas make every inch a photographer’s delight.
Intricate ornate wrought guild signs from the 1400s, jut out from doorways of restaurants, shops and workshops. More than anything else, the street is a artistic, colourful medley of dainty patterns, flowers, curving tendrils, animals, stars, birds and much more. Even high-street fashion brands fall in line with carved, elaborate ironwork signs advertising their wares. Potter around the open stalls and booths under large umbrellas. Pick up a some local bric-a-brac, a cheerful-looking puppet or some dried flower ornaments to brighten your kitchen shelf. Lunch at atmospheric trattoria in a hidden courtyard…inevitable, utterly romantic and unforgettable.
Melt into musical memories at Mozart’s House
In the footsteps of millions of other die-hard classical music fans, visit the cramped Geburtshaus apartment, Mozart’s Birthplace in the Old Town, where he learned to play piano and violin and composed his first boy-genius works. House No. 9, now Mozart Museum is distinctive…a canary yellow facade and glass windows with broad white borders reflecting the clear blue sky. Exhibits include historic instruments like his childhood violin, clavichord and harpsichord, documents and letters from the family, memorabilia and many portraits. Contemplate the legend of the musical prodigy, an incredibly skilled pianist at age three, who was dragged across Europe by his father to perform for empresses and kings for 10 long years…(a third of his entire life, since he died at 35). How ironic that the musician who made hearts pound, turned cheeks pink, and inspired people to life large, himself had such a melancholic life!
Outside, in a corner of the sun-washed Mozartplatz, an elderly man works his hands melodiously on a much-loved old accordion. Posters announce church concerts at store windows. You can feel that classical music is everywhere…it flows like blood in the veins of this town, much like art on the streets of Florence. The first Salzburg Festival of 1920 that made the Salzburg a fashionable place continues to make waves worldwide. But it all started with the genius of artists like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His wigged face and red costume are stamped all over town…on ‘Mozartkugeln’ chocolates, ‘Mostly Mozart’ festival posters and hundreds of souvenirs including CDs, books, T-shirts, stationery, pads, posters, coins and postcards. Can you resist taking a playful memory back with you?
Allow yourself sinful temptations at AlterMarkt
AlterMarkt (old market) square appears cordoned off by the row of stately burgher houses in pink, peach, soft green and mocha cream. The central St. Florian fountain is enclosed behind a fence of decorative metalwork depicting horseback riders, animals, plants and coats of arms. The large marble basin around the fountain has a statue of patron saint St Florian atop a pillar. In older days, residents actually believed he would save them from fire! Fire to fountain…makes sense. The ancient dairy, herb and vegetables market is long gone, but up ahead, at the lovely open-air flower stalls, people still get attracted to other kinds of colours and fragrances instead.
When it comes to picturesque areas in Salzburg, temptations are never far away. You’re drawn towards the beautiful Rococo façade of the ‘Fürsterzbischöfliche Apotheke’, the former court pharmacy, now the main outlet of chocolatier ‘Fürst’, the inventor of the famed Mozartkugel. Austria’s iconic chocolate treat is still hand-made, hand-wrapped and hand-sold at this store. 31 euro for 25 pieces is certainly not affordable, but which indulgence is? Browsing through the luscious assorted chocolates and truffle specialities will stoke your hunger and tingle your sweet tooth. An inspired stop at the legendary Cafe Tomaselli is predestined, (read another of my posts here), so save yourself the trouble of indecision. Just give in!
Sink into the past at Sigmund Haffner Gasse
Trace your steps along the enchanting Sigmund Haffner Gasse, one of Salzburg’s oldest streets dating back to 1140. Gaze at the black painted water pipes dropping vertically from all the way from the roofs of the six-storied apartment buildings lining both sides. Cleverly and unobtrusively, their thick bold lines demarcate the subtle colours of the buildings. Between the snazzy boutiques and elegant restaurants on their ground floors, spot the 700-year old Elefant Hotel. Its beautiful black-and-gold wrought floral design iron signboard with the elephant illustration makes an arresting statement. And when you turn back to survey the length of the street behind, the rococo facade of the Old Town Hall’s clock tower gleams in pristine-white with its yellow-orange dial and green topped bell tower, watching you silently, until you disappear from its gaze at the next corner. At Buchhandlung Hollrigl, the oldest bookshop in Austria dating back to 1492, bury yourself in the treasure trove of rare books, maps, music sheets, paper napkins, stationery. If nothing else, pick up some very interesting postcards.
When the day ends and you’re savouring a meal of delectable salmon trout at a cozy outdoor table of a small Salzburg tavern, digest this. You’re occupying two square feet of space in a city discovered by Romans way back in 15 BC! Salzburg’s modesty belies its stature as the oldest and most significant spiritual and cultural centre of Austria. Would you disagree?
(To be continued in Part 2 next week)
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Marseille on the Côte d’Azur…
Its colourful image owes credit to a fascinating population mix of Italians, Corsicans, Russians, North Africans, Armenians, Vietnamese, Algerians, Greek and Americans. And a sensational drugs-and-crime reputation isolates it from its polished, glamorous cousins. But don’t believe what they say…go sift fact from fiction. Say ‘Bonjour’ to France’s second biggest city, its largest commercial port and capital of the scenic Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. You will discover that Marseille is the most soulful note in the sweet symphony of the French Riviera. Only one prerequisite…you must listen with your heart.
12th-century Bologna was a high-rise metropolis…
It is recognized by many terms of endearment…‘La Rossa’ (The Red One) for its vibrant brick architecture, ‘La Dotta’, for its first University of the western world, ‘La Grassa’ for its traditional dishes like tortellini, mortadella, lasagne, tagliatelle with meat sauce and ‘La Turrita’, for its more than 180 towers from an illustrious medieval past. Many nicknames…much love. It’s been labelled with many official names too…4th-century name Felsina of its founding Etruscans to the Bononia of the Romans (meaning ‘fortified place’) to Bologna. Solid history, deep foundations. So quit thinking of reasons to skip the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, the authentic hotbed of Italian gastronomy. There just aren’t any!
This royal haven is Germany’s largest world heritage site
If you’re racking your brains for a day-trip idea from Berlin, look no further than Potsdam, an oasis of lakes, lush fields, thick forests and unique cultural landmarks along the Havel River. Boasting of the largest World Heritage Site in Germany, Sanssouci, as its centrepiece, Potsdam is to Germany what Versailles is to France and Windsor to England. And its just a 45-minute drive from the buzzing German capital. So, die-hard lovers of sumptuous palaces and extravagant gardens, zip away on that Autobahn now!
Retreat to Budva in Montenegro…
Your brain is still woozy from absorbing the red-gold autumn flamboyance of the Lovcen National Park and the raw wilderness of the rocky Dinara Alps, as you drive down towards Budva. Thank the rocky limestone mountain screen that paints Montenegro’s highway. Its a breather from the final spectacle that awaits. Ready or not, here it comes. Right after the final bend.
Witness pure Bohemian spirit at Cesky Krumlov…
No better place to kick start your Czech Republic trip than with the most delicious slice of the Bohemian region, Cesky Krumlov. And no better timing than autumn, when this fairyland is wrapped in cozy folds of russets, auburn, ambers and cornelians. But fall brings colours to more than just the foliage. You have barely taken the first few steps onto the cobbled roads, and you can sense the festivities in the air. St.Wenceslas Festival is painting the town red!