Valhalla in Salzburg

“Where the heck are we going?”
“You’ll see! It’s going to be great!”
“You’re not going to kill me and stuff my body in a trash bin, are you?”
“I can’t promise that. It’ll depend on your behavior.”

The lower city of Salzburg twisted away from us as we climbed, as my good friend bounded ahead in a dubious looking direction, trying to remember his way in the dark of the sleeping architecture.

That spring, I was visiting a good friend of mine (I’ll call him Mountain Man) who was living Germany. He was there on a Fulbright Scholarship, teaching english at a gymnasium in what was until very recently, East Germany. The Wall had come down only a few years before he went over and it was a great time to be there. Every one felt positive, everything seemed to be getting better and most importantly of all, you could now travel all over what was once forbidden territory. We were having a blast.

This particular night though, we had traveled back to one of his old haunts. We spent a day traveling and another punch on our euro-rail passes and had arrived in Salzburg, Austria.

Mountain Man knew Salzburg. It was his old stomping grounds, having spent a year studying abroad in this charismatic city. I had only been there once before on one of my family’s epic en-mass vacations. Traveling with the family meant nice hotels, meals at meal times and package style tours with guides. Mountain Man most defiantly had other plans and to be fair, we were doing this on the cheap.

I will freely admit, that the traveling with my family (my WHOLE family, including parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents) had made me jaded. Growing up and traveling en masse, I never had to think about where we would stay, eat or go and look at the local pile of ancient rubble. It was all planned for me and though we didn’t travel opulently, we did travel comfortably.

This trip would be different. This was where I really learned how to travel.

We had arrived in Salzburg by train and immediately headed into the city to secure lodging. It was early evening and Mountain Man was afraid that the hostel that he had in mind would be near full capacity by now. He had gone on and on about how popular it was as were their breakfasts. Warning lights should have been going off in my head with the mention of the word “popular”, but foolishly, I had equated it with the notion of it being due to its fine rooms and beds. How wrong could I be? Ohhh. Very, very wrong.

I actually could hear it before we saw it. The music was thumping out into the darkening streets and the yellow light of the foyer poured out from the open doors almost as powerfully as the cigarette smoke. As we walked in, I was immediately taken by two things. First was that the place was packed by what looked like fourteen year olds, all holding ¾ empty beer steins and smoking what must have been four to five cigarettes a piece. The second was that Mountain Man was asking the clerk for a couple of beds for us.

“No! I don’t care if we have to sleep on benches in the park, but we aren’t staying here!”

Mountain Man looked at me thought the blue smoke and smiled sheepishly. “Well, that’s about our only other option. At this hour, we’re lucky that they have any room at all. By the time we get to the next hostel, the chance of finding space is just about nil.”

I looked around at the plastered and partying highschool age patrons and sighed. “Fine, but do they at least have a double room or something. Just so we don’t have to be in the bunk room?”

He winced again. “Nope. We’ll be in a room with 32 beds.”


After securing our packs, we fled the hostel looking for an activity that didn’t involve drunk teenagers and tobacco. Mountain Man, in an attempt to make up for my obvious disappointment in our lodging situation, promised an experience that would be second to none. He wouldn’t say what it was, but that it was just “going to be awesome.”

A bit suspiciously, I followed. What else could be done?

We climbed out of the lower city and up towards the less traveled areas. It was getting late now and the only light was from the street lamps. With hardly anyone else out walking and all the shops closed, it felt a lot like trespassing. The roads we took turned into wide alleys and the alleys into open stairs, punctuated by small parks and paths that appeared sporadically as we ascended. This was when I had posed my question to Mountain Man.

We had climbed for quite a while and I was sure we were lost. “This it it!” Mountain Man had stopped at a set of massive, studded, dark oak doors on an unmarked wall.

“Are you serious?”

He just smiled. I looked around to check for empty rubbish bins, just to be safe.

More later…

5 Responses

  1. I stayed at some oppressive place that locked you out after midnight. It had a good breakfast though.

    I await your next installment with trepidation.

    What will be behind the dark oak doors? Or will you go through the doors? Only time will tell.

    Some how, the last three sentences you wrote made me think of Zork.
    Move rug
    You see a trap door in the floor.
    Open Door
    Which door do you want to open?
    Open trap door
    The door is heavy and groans with disuse and rust.


  2. Backpacker hostels……. arrrrggggh!

    I’ve stopped staying in them because I’ve turned into a grumpy old man that doesn’t find drunken, clueless teenagers as fascinating as they do.

    It’s so nice to sleep in a hotel room where there aren’t people rustling through their packs in the middle of the night.

    Rustling, I can deal with. It’s the other bodily issues that I have problems with. i.e. barfing, snoring, farting, having sex… Ick. Call me a prude if you will, but I think of it more as having personal hygiene standards that are higher than is often found in places like this.

  3. What do you mean “More later”? What is this? Blog by installments? Opera blog? Then Griselda kissed Dr. Romero, and oops-we-have-run-out-of-time-come-back-tomorrow?
    I want a refund.

    Heh Heh…

    “How will the Lone Ranger rescue Tonto from those cattle rustlers? Tune in tomorrow, kids and fond out! Don’t forget to drink your Oveltine and today’s secret numbers are 12, 36, 4 and 11”

    The truth is that I do most of my writing while commuting to work via ferry boat. It’s not that long a ride so thus… Installments!

    That and I have the attention span of a… HEY! What’s THAT?!

    If I’m ever in Maine, I’d love to photograph Short-Stack and Lulu Belle. Must be beautiful in Autumn…

    Let me know! We’d love it! Autumn is something not to be missed in New England. The island turn into embers and the mountains are just spectacular.

  4. euww, backpack hostels! I’m old enough to want my own private hotel room, thank you!

    Salzburg is great though, I’ve never stayed there overnight. Looking forward to the next installment…

  5. Let me know! We’d love it! Autumn is something not to be missed in New England. The island turn into embers and the mountains are just spectacular.

    I can atest to that one. One of my fondest memories was flying into Manchester, NH for my first fall in New England. There are so many more maples than anywhere else and it looked like the hills were on fire.

    Cruising Route 1 in the fall is like driving through a Norman Rockwell painting. I could gush on for another few paragraphs. Everyone should experience NE in the fall at least once. I recommend the stuffed cod at the Jameson Tavern in Freeport, followed by some Ben and Jerry’s and a couple of hours at LL Bean. Lobster rolls on the way up to Acadia. A picnic lunch on the cliffs.

    Lord, somebody stop me! Where’s my plane ticket?!

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