SALZBURG : CHRISTKINDLMARKT MAGIC!

This is a short non fiction piece I did on one of my favourite cities.

SALZBURG : CHRISTKINDLMARKT MAGIC!

THERE is nothing quite like the atmosphere of an Austrian Christmas market. It a fresh crisp, clear day and it’s time to get into that festive spirit – after all this is Salzburg and the Christmas market here has over 500 years of tradition to uphold!

A winter trip to Salzburg is a joy to behold at this time of year. For those planning a 2012 trip the main market opens in earnest on 22 November and extends right through to 26 December – plenty of time to fit that essential Christmas shopping trip in for those Austrian gifts and specialities that are just a little different from back home. The bonus is you get to soak up this great festive atmosphere as well.

Salzburg (Salt-Castle) is steeped in history and tradition and renowned for its baroque and gothic architecture. The old town centre has some delightful and pretty squares. Being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, you can hear snatches of his distinctive melodies as you explore the narrow streets of the city. There are reminders of this world renowned composer all around  you.  Mozart`s birthplace is a distinctive yellow building on the Getreidegasse which is the main shopping area.

The river Salzach, which runs through the city, has an icy green hue to it  which comes from the limestone deposits that the waters flow through as they descend from the glaciers. The Hotel Sacher stands in all its glory on the banks of the river and is worth a visit by chocolate lovers to sample and purchase its famous Sacher Torte – a speciality chocolate cake that was first made in 1832. I definitely must stop by there on the way back to the hotel!

My first stop after leaving the hotel is to one of the many little coffee shops for that essential Austrian speciality – coffee and cake. The Cafe Würfel Zucker (http://www.wuerfelzucker.at/) is the one that lures me in and is tucked away in the corner of  the Sternbräugasthof Courtyard off Getreidegasse. There is an assortment of cakes and tasty snacks to whet the appetite. The cafe is frequented by locals and the service is both personal and friendly – the owner even recognises me as one of his regular tourist visitors to his establishment. I enjoy my favourite Austrian dessert apfelstrudl washed down with one of the many fine coffees he has to offer.

Having been suitably refreshed, I am ready to make my way to the main Christmas market along the narrow streets. The market is situate on the Cathedral and Residence Squares.

There are approximately 100 wooden specially designed market stalls. Wares on display include a variety of festive crafts, confectionery, gingerbread items, jewellery, figurines for the nativity scene, toys, sheepskin items and clothing to name but a small selection. There is a general buzz about the place with plenty festive cheer all around as I weave my way past the shoppers.

It is mid morning and the atmosphere is just starting to build. Whilst the most common language you hear is German, there are the sounds of many other nationalities that resonate from all around you. A group of Japanese tourists pause for a photo call in front of me each with their shiny camera equipment in hand. They smile and are enthusiastic for the sights and sounds around them.

Next to the cathedral I can see a group of Peruvian pipe musicians piping out their soothing notes – a smiling audience is starting to gather around.

The smell of cinnamon and Christmas spices is in the air. A waft of sweet smelling  roasted almonds attracts my attention and I happily hand my euros over for this temptation. With warm bag in hand I take in the sights around me.

Towering majestically over the market is the distinctive Hohensalzburg Fortress. This medieval castle has taken shape over many years. You can best enjoy this sight by taking the funicular railway (Festungsbahn) up to the fortress – for those of a more energetic disposition there is a path that winds its way up the steep incline. But beware — only the brave attempt this!

Aside from exploring the history of the fortress, the views from the top are breathtaking as you have an excellent view of the city of Salzburg and the surrounding areas. The Salzach can clearly be seen snaking its way through the city. There is a cafe at the top where you can pause and reflect on the scene below you. For those with children there is a marionette museum to explore and learn a little about the history of puppetry in this region. There is also another small Christmas  market within the fortress walls. However this is only open on certain days over the Christmas period. So be sure to check out the opening times beforehand.

If you descend back down using the Festungsbahn, there is a large amber jewellery collection at the station exit to view and purchase from. From here you can head back down to the market.

Once back in the market you can snack at a wide range of food stalls to suit your palate and personal taste. These range from a wide variety of pretzels, sandwiches, German sausages, sweet treats and other gastronomic delights. I have to have my favourite when in Austria – a bosna, which is a bratwurst sausage in a bun with onions and a blend of ketchup, mustard and curry powder. This really is tasty! I wash this down with a mug of mulled wine (gluhwein) from one of the many stalls. Eating and drinking in the crisp, cold air with all the festive hustle and bustle is hard to beat!

For Sound of Music lovers there are a number of locations in close proximity to explore. These include St Peter`s Cemetery, the Residence Square and the fabulous Mirabell Palace and Gardens. It is interesting to note most locals will not have seen the movie. The movie does distort Austrian history and culture but is a major reference point to Austria for many visitors from all over the world. You could even join one of the many Sound of Music coach trips provided for the visitors.

It is also worth experiencing the horse-drawn carriage ride through the city centre which will help in getting your bearings. The carriage drivers will normally do their best to point out the main sights and attractions with some of the history behind these.

Tonight is really special night at the markets as the Krampus are in town! They are making their yearly appearances at the markets. These are mythical creatures and accompany Saint Nicholas in warning and punishing naughty children so the story goes. This doesn`t sound very Christmas-like but is great fun and generates plenty of excitement in the market. The beast-like creatures have Germanic folklore roots and are popular visitors to the market and the adjacent areas. The locals and tourists take great delight in seeing the bands of Krampus that walk the streets despite their horrific appearance. I snap a few photos which will be an interesting talking piece for when I get home.

The sound of a choir can be heard from the steps of the cathedral, a different one each evening. The sound is delightful and reinforces that yuletide feeling which pulsates in the market from the sights, sounds and smells which are all around. I can`t help feeling Christmas has finally arrived!

The evening is drawing to a close and locals have gathered at many of the markets’ watering holes with mugs of gluhwein in hand to warm their spirits. The banter is happy and high spirited in nature.

The ice rink near the market area is ablaze with lights. Skaters whizz around the circuit, some with expert confidence, others however with deliberate and robotic movements. It is time to make my way back to the hotel for the night.

Here’s to my next trip to this festive land!

Travel Tips

The official website for the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt gives a lot of detail about the markets and can be found at http://www.christkindlmarkt.co.at/index.html . Don`t worry if your German isn`t great, there is the option to translate to English on the website.

Apart from the main Christmas market in the old town, there are smaller markets in front of the Mirabell Castle, Hohensalzburg Fortress, St Peter`s Monastery, Sternbräu Courtyard and nearby Hellbrun Castle, just south of Salzburg.

There are regular flights to Salzburg offered by British Airways – prices and further flight details can be obtained from their website.

I stayed at a lovely hotel, the Wolf Dietrich, which is approximately 10 minutes walk from the main market located in the old town.

To sample some excellent Austrian cuisine why not try the Zum Eulenspiegel for its traditional dishes and authentic local atmosphere.

Details of both can be found at :

http://www.salzburg-hotel.at/en
http://www.zum-eulenspiegel.at/en

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Author: Paul

Retired and enjoying life.

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