The strangest of bedfellows; but that is the thing about travel…!!
I often wonder why people (including me) keep writing (and reading) travelogues; I am not the first person to visit a place and I won’t be the last; and most of the time, thanks to the tourist circuit, we end up seeing and saying the same things. But I knew there was something else; there was a reason why I love reading travelogues irrespective of whether I have been to a place or planning. I once again am not able to put the nagging feeling to words. And that’s when I read these words by an Indian IAS officer, author and traveller Partha Sarthi Sen Sharma “…. no place is an absolute reality, but only a series of reflected images in the minds of its residents, visitors, travellers and tourists.” And that is exactly the reason when I love travelogues; that’s why I read them – to see what to expect, what I have missed and to see if anyone else’s experiences match mine. And what we see and write about a place reveals a lot about who we are, our background, learning, culture, ethics and so much more.
And today’s guest post is about a place I hope to visit one day. It is a magical place in the heart of Europe – Austria – Salt & Music 🎵🎶. Enjoy !!
The English word salary was derived from Latin Salarium which means stipend or allowance; the latter is linked to sal or salt (Salz in German) which was popularly known as white-gold and served as a medium of trade in China, Mexico, and Europe in early days. The single most common food preservative, salt is also the most extensively used ingredient for seasoning. Salzburg (Austria) inherited the name historically from its salt(z) mines. The Adriatic Sea is a good source of salt due to high salinity and many coastal towns have salt ponds and open salt fields even today. Our Bavarian tour presented a fine opportunity to witness the historical and scientific story of salt, especially its formation and extraction phenomena. The Berchtesgaden Salt Mine in the Alps mountain valley near the Austrian-German border offers a graphic picture to the visitor.
As our bus climbed up to the old border-crossing on that Saturday afternoon, no border police were in sight, but only picturesque farms and villages along the countryside surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The Eagle’s Nest, a haven which the guide pointed out was a mountain residence (Nazi Third Reich-era) frequented by Hitler, perched on a summit.
Situated near the alpine valley town of Obersalzberg, the Berchtesgaden Salt Mine commenced operations in 1517 (more than 500 years ago). We began our adventure by donning the miner’s clothes, a long and thick high-necked, fluorescent-striped suit which was zipped up. We realized later that the dress not only shields the ‘miner’ (and visitor) from low temperatures (12 Celsius) prevailing below, but also saves the skin during a 30-meter slide to the depths of the mine.
The mine’s railway transports visitors 650 meters into the mountain and nearly 120 meters deep from the surface for which the travelers need to crouch with legs together (fetal-like) in tight narrow carriages to prevent smashing against the low, twisting network of caves. The journey ends in a huge cavern, known as the Salt Cathedral, where many years ago (around 1760) water used to fill in (seeping from the earth surface) up to the ceiling (volume of ~27000 m3) and would dissolve the salt rock to form brine which was extracted and turned into salt outside. Today, the salt crystal formations left behind on the rock walls form a perfect backdrop for a delightful laser sound-and-light show and highlight the history of salt in a hue of colours and musical soundscape.
After a sample exploration to estimate the purity of salt (sodium chloride is mixed with iodides, fluorides, and other salt compounds), a bore well is dug into the area and pure mountain water pumped in. This leaches the rock salt into brine which is pumped out using compressed air just as in the case of water-extracting bore wells. The brine is pumped using a bronze pump (to protect against salt corrosion as it is intensely salty), a historical invention of German engineering. This is a practice even today. The brine is pumped to Bad Reichenhall Salt Works 29 km away where it is processed (by evaporation and desiccating) as one of Germany’s best known and high-quality brands, the Bad Reichenhaller AlpenSalz. A Salt and Brand Museum within the cave yields more insights into the product history. To the less discerning, the tour turns out to be an adventure of learning and uniqueness. The very name and history of Salzburg was now more meaningful.
The Salzburg connection with music is epic. As the star and stage of the movie Sound of Music, it is an epitome of charm, romance, and nature’s showcase. Since the movie was taken in 1964, a large number of fans (about 3 million every year) arrive here to catch a glimpse of their favourite romantic sites, and to hear related tales and music with the lyrics ringing on their lips. The Sound of Music Tour is specially designed to visit each locale and relive the scenes and songs en route.
Despite the fact that several locations of the city feature in the movie as also breathtaking panoramic views of the lakes and mountains, many parts of the movie were framed within the confines of Hollywood Studios, contrary to popular knowledge.
The wedding scene of Maria (Julie Andrews) and Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) was filmed in the beautiful Mondsee Cathedral in the Lake District outside the city and the footbridge scene (across Salzach River) and the song-and-picnic sequence (Do-Re-Me) of Maria and the children (in the Mirabell Garden) are shot on location; whereas, the gazebo in which Liesl von Trapp (eldest daughter) performed the wonderful dance during the lovers rendezvous (Sixteen going on Seventeen…) was shifted from its original location in the Leopoldskron Palace Park in 1991 to the Hellbrunn Palace premises for publicity. So also, the final escape scene to the mountains is filmed in the German area rather than a route in the Swiss Alps.
The movie is inspired by the life of Maria in real life, wherein she grew up in challenging and lonely circumstances in a convent, her love for outdoors and children was exemplified when she worked as a tutor to one of the daughters of the retired captain Georg von Trapp. Later, she married him (as also portrayed in the movie), and the story is now immortalized. The von Trapp villa in Salzburg is now a bed-and-breakfast with all its 10 rooms named after the children in the movie, while the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont is a sprawling luxury mountain resort of 2500 acres. The fact that this is the third most watched movie in cine history after Gone with the Wind (1939) and Star Wars (1977) augurs well for the phenomenon of Salzburg and the legend of Sound of Music.
The tour of Salzburg was complete with a walking tour of the old town and along the Salzach River banks where the make-shift market shops solicit the visitors with exquisite and delightful wares.
River cruise is also a popular experience in the Amadeus, a highly maneuverable hydro-jet propulsion boat that gives 360°-river perspective of this beautiful city and the Hohensalzburg Fortress that towers over the old town.
We had fallen in love with Salzburg. It was a worthy experience filled with charm.
The author Saji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Till next post, take care !!