Monday, September 10, 2012

Seedy Salzburg

How can I put this politically…When you travel a lot, you have places that you fall in love with. Places that before you leave, you’re already planning your next trip back. Scotland was like this for us, as was South Africa and the Lake District. And then you have places that fall short of your expectations and you leave feeling disappointed. Ireland (other than Dublin) falls into this category, as does Salzburg.
My first impression of Salzburg was one of disappointment. When we arrived, there was a distinct fog obscuring the mountain views. We could see a faint outline of the Alps in the distance, but nothing like the majestic images I had conjured in my head.
When we left the airport, we gave our hotel address to the cab driver. Since Jonathan was in Salzburg for a work conference, his company was footing the bill for us to stay at the same hotel where the meetings were being held, whose website claimed it was right across the street from the ”city center”. The scenery in route to our temporary digs was not too impressive. Just as I was thinking, “Man, Salzburg sure does have some seedy areas”, our cab stopped and welcomed us to our hotel.
The “city center” turned out to be the name of a second rate mall, and our hotel was actually located 2 miles north and across the river from Historic Old Town Salzburg.  I could kiss those cute summer shoes I packed goodbye, because nothing but my neon blue tennis shoes were going to handle the 4 mile round trip trek to and from the action. Not to mention the 3 additional miles or so we walked once we got to the city center.
While some of the walk into town was a pleasant view of the riverside city looming ahead, the majority of it looked like this:  

Our hotel location was very disappointing simply because my favorite thing about European cities is how walkable they are. But when you have to walk to a walkable city, it gets a bit tiring overall. By the end of the second day, I had no skin left on the back of my heels. Seriously. At one point, Jonathan had to stop and buy me bandaids so that I could walk to the taxi stand. Yes, at that point we decided that the 10 Euro taxi ride into Old Town was worth the skin on my feet. The hotel was free for the first few nights, so I was able to look past the less than desirable location (one brochure actually called our neighborhood  ‘dodgy’).

We decided to shake it off and focus instead on what we expected to be great food and great Austrian beer. We headed out to dinner, yet were sorely disappointed with the tourist trap restaurants on every corner, not to mention some of the worst service we’ve ever encountered. One waiter actually rolled his eyes at me when I asked for the check. Seriously.
Why yes, that is a hot dog cut into the shape of an Octopus. An Austrian specialty.
By the end of the first day, we had enough of authentic Austrian food and spent the next 4 days hunting down Italian, American (Seriously, we ate at McDonald’s twice…it was that bad), and Indian food.
Plus, each ‘beer garden” only offered one brand of beer and they all closed at 8 pm. I thought it was really telling when the tour guide on my ‘Sound of Music Tour’ joked about pulling a prank on one of the city’s statues at ’11 pm when everybody was asleep.’ Jonathan and I have quite a reputation for having an early bedtime, but the 8 PM bar closings were a bit extreme.  
And then there is the bathroom situation in Salzburg. You cannot use a restroom for under 50 cents. Yes, they charge you for the public restrooms. And don’t think that by buying a small fry at McDonald’s you’ll be able to use the restroom for free. Nope, that’ll cost you 50 cents as well. And don’t think that just because you bought a train ticket that you can use the train station bathroom for free. Nope, that’ll cost you 50 cents as well. And don’t think that just because you sat down for coffee and ice cream at a café that you can use their bathroom. That’ll be 50 cents.
For a woman with the smallest bladder known to man, I spent quite a fortune on public restrooms this past week, until I finally went on strike and just dehydrated myself. Which is easy to do when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and you’re walking 6+ miles a day.

And did I mention that it’s rude to ask for tap water at a restaurant? Yep, it’s way more polite to pay 3.50 for a small bottle of water, and then another 50 cents to use the restroom afterwards. Not cool, Salzburg. Not cool.

I feel like I’m giving Salzburg a bad rap. It really is a lovely city, worth a day or two of your time as a side trip from Vienna or Munich. Five days is a bit excessive. I loathe being negative, but at the end of the day, Jon and I can’t possibly love every place we visit. Salzburg just happened to fall onto the short list of places we have no desire to return to.

But there were things we did enjoy. Pleasant strolls through shaded cobblestone streets. Fantastic ice cream. Beautiful architecture. Vending machines selling Gummy Bears. Clear blue skies and enough Vitamin D to give us both farmers tans. Stay tuned throughout the week, and I’ll share these positive momentos with you. Like I said with highs and lows, I like to start with the lows, to get them out of the way. Over the next few days I’ll make the argument for visiting Salzburg. Because it is something to see. Just go easy on the liquids.  



  1. Well, at least the graffiti was nice.

  2. Oh Bummer! I'm sorry to hear the experience was underwhelming, although I'm not too surprised. We only spent two nights there and I felt like that was plenty. This same thing happened to us when we visited Munich...5 days...2mile walk away from everything, and I felt exactly the same. You're not negative, it's just being honest! Glad you're home safe.