Under the Heavenly Domed Ceilings- Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is a city full to bursting with charm, history, impressively well preserved Baroque architecture and a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s plenty of ways to view and tour the city- from a Mozart inspired adventure to a more architecture oriented exploration, I’d be hard pressed to say there isn’t something for everyone.

For me and Julia though, we were just happy to explore wherever the streets took us that Saturday we were there and they just so happened to wind us through countless churches and cathedrals (I say countless because we really did pass through a bunch and I didn’t take photographs at each so i’m honestly still not sure which all we saw…I want to say we saw and/or passed by at least 5 though). If you’ve ever looked at a city view photograph of Salzburg you should be able to immediately pick out the many cathedral domes and church towers- especially if its a view of the Altstadt ( the Old City on the left bank of the river)- so its definetly, as the city guide website puts it, a City of Churches. 

After coming back down from our walk up to Hohensalzburg Castle we immediately veered of from the path we had taken before through a iron gate into what turned out to be The Petersfriedhof (St. Peter’s cemetery). Fans of The Sound of Music movie might know this as the cemetery where the von Trapp family found a secure hiding place before ultimately escaping to Switzerland- which, if your keen on it, I saw plenty of tour buses for Sound of The Music inspired tours in the area as well. This is also where we visited the Catacombs, but that along with the cemetery will be it’s own separate post. Stiftskirche Sankt Peter (St Peter’s Abbey) was where we went into after coming back down from the catacombs, and it was an unexpected rococo splendor.

With a history spanning back to 696 when it was founded by Saint Rupert, the abby is full of history and definetly worth at least a cursory visit. The romanesque abby church that is open to all visitors was erected around 1130- though it wasn’t dedicated to Saint Peter until 1147- and the interior that makes it such a beautiful place of worship was refurbished in the Rococo style between 1760 and 1782.

After leaving and walking for probably less than 15 minutes, we came across the Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)- this would be the one with the slender steeple that’s almost instantly recognizable on the city skyline. This church is one of the oldest churches in Salzburg and it’s gothic style makes it a genuinely fascinating church to visit, from outside to the interior (though apparently I didn’t take any photos of the interior….or if I did my phone and/or camera ate them…?)

Finally the last church we came across and couldn’t help but visit was the gorgeous Baroque style Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church). This ended up being my favorite of all the churches we visited that day, at least in Salzburg. From the moment you walk in, it’s an otherworldly experience. As soon as you shut the heavy doors behind you, the bustling of the busy square outside shuts off like water from a tap being turned off, and a calm hushed silence completely inundates you. The tall domed ceilings allow light spill into and over the beautifully renovated walls, and while there are plenty of statues, frescos and touches of rococo splendor to be found, its an overall restrained beauty you’ll find here. It’s hard to stand inside and not feel utterly small but, somehow, the expansive halls never once lose their intimacy.

I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I was raised in a fairly spiritual household and the iconography of Christianity was always in my life in one way or another. Rebellious and eager to strike out on my own, I went through a short lived but rather hardcore atheist period that really just drew a kind of “uh, ok then” reaction from my family and eventually petered out into a general agnostic view of things. Now, older and with a deep seated love for learning about history (especially with regards to the Byzantine empire), I find myself much more comfortable exploring these areas of western religion – whether it’s at a museum or in a centuries old cathedral – than I ever did before, mostly as a oddly knowledgeable and respectful outsider but every so often, if the mood is right, as a hands clasped reluctant believer.

Whichever one you find yourself as when visiting Salzburg though, I highly recommend taking a quiet walk through at least one of the churches here- not only for the architectural beauty on display but also as an integral step into understanding the city’s long and fascinating history.

~ m

Final post on Salzburg coming up next, after which will be a post about the Parish Church of St. Sebastian (also known sometimes as the Ramsau church) and then diving into some fairytale castles built by Ludwig II that Julia and I visited. 

An Introduction to German Culture Via Austria- Salzburg, Austria

Technically this post is about the day trip I took to Salzburg from Munich with my friend Julia. But I can’t really start this post before first explaining how I ended up in Germany in the first place, and who Julia is. Julia is a friend I met about a year or so ago through the same website I met Rob (guy I met up with in Edinburgh) and Dennis (guy I met up with in Amsterdam) though she has the distinction of being the only person I know who also has bunny rabbits as pets and that cemented the bond of friendship between us.  

After leaving Amsterdam at the literal crack of dawn and dealing with a truely craptastic journey that included having to buy a whole new train ticket because the one I had wasn’t pulling up for some reason (though I did get refunded for this later thankfully) and wondering why I had thought trying to visit so many countries in one go was a good idea, I finally made it to Munich HBF where Julia was waiting for me. By the time we made it to her car we were talking like we’d been friends for ages and the journey from Munich to Geretsried (where she lives ) was filled with breathless laughter and her trying to explain why someone on the train had said “shoes” to me- they actually said “tschuss” which means bye.

She took me on some picturesque country backroads and by the time we made it to her apartment I was feeling 100% better about my decision to leave Amsterdam for Germany. We settled in for the evening and then ran back out to pick up some groceries and drinks for the next days adventure, which we had decided would be a day trip to Salzburg. 

 Why Salzburg? Because I bought a guide book for the Bavaria region of Germany and there was a whole section as to why Salzburg makes a great day trip. It does indeed make a great day trip- which is probably why we got stuck in traffic almost as soon as we got on the road. The fact that it was a stunningly beautiful Saturday also had something you to do with it I think. The drive took twice as long as it should have but it was enjoyable as Julia taught me some more about the German way of life (like why so many trucks were out on the highway that day, why the exit for Innsbruck was so popular, etc). Eventually we made it to Salzburg and found parking just a short distance from Mirabell Palace and after grabbing a quick lunch across the street at a places called “Pommes Boutique”, we started our tour of the city there. 


The crowds were definetly out in full force here so we didn’t stay long, eventually moving on from the lovely gardens surrounding the palace to head deeper into the city and cross the river to the other side where my guide book assured me there were a hundred and one things to see. 

(That’s Julia in middle picture btw- can I just say how awesome it was traveling and exploring with someone who also loves photography? There’s such joy and freedom in being able to stop to get a good shot and not feeling like you’re annoying your fellow traveler because they’ve also stopped to snap a pic too.) 


Taking a bit of a circuitous walk we made it across the  river, our goal to head to Getreidegasse, a busy shopping street in the historic Altstadt section of the Old City ( as it’s called, I’m not calling it old just to start a fight with anyone).  Even as we crossed the bridge to the other side, I knew I was going to have to come back again because you could just feel and see so much ahead and behind and all around you, every direction holding something interesting. 

 We wandered a bit aimlessly for a while, just enjoying the weather and city- it’s genuinly one of the most beautiful and explorer friendly places I’ve ever visited, so many side streets and inviting storefronts, you feel you could wander happily all day. We stopped in at a Christmas decoration store because Julia was like “oh my, we have to go in there.” And she was right, I have never in my life seen more Christmas ornaments in one place, all delicate, handmade and selling like hot cakes even out of season. 

After that spellbinding (seriously it was magical) interlude we stopped in at some  gift shops so I could pick up some souvenirs for friends and if you didn’t know it before let me tell you now- Salzburg is the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As such you’ll easily be able to find his face on any kind of souvenir you wish:  beer steins, postcards, chocolates. It’s pretty sweet (pun totally intended).

Finished up with the requisite souvenir shopping, we made our way vaguely up.

 Hohensalzburg Castle is in view from near almost any point in the city and while we decided not to spring for the entrance tickets, we still climbed up a mini mountain of stairs to enjoy the magnificent views of the city. As we caught our breath from the climb and enjoyed the views, the bells of the cathedral below us started to toll and if the journey up hadn’t been worth it before, that moment more than made up for it. 

~ m

Intimate with Van Gogh and Market Flowers- Amsterdam

An early start to a jam packed day : a morning visit to the Van Gogh museum, meeting up with Elsa (the girl I had met during the historical walking tour of the day before) right after to explore the Albert Cuyp Market and then heading back to the hotel to freshen up before heading back out to meet with my friend Dennis for the first time. And somewhere in there or after, finding time to pack up to head to Germany the next day.

First stop though, the Van Gogh Museum, happily only about a 10 minute walk from my hotel which was helpful as it was yet another slightly rainy morning. Putting in my headphones and listening to some U2 while I walked through the quiet streets was it’s own adventure though, and once I made it to the museum I couldn’t quite mind the drizzle. You might notice theres only one photo of the museum in this post and thats because photography is only permitted at certain designated areas- the Entrance Hall and by what are called ‘selfie walls’ (which I don’t think I even saw….or maybe they were the areas that were surrounded by people and so I skipped them). I did see some people sneaking photos of the artwork when the attendants weren’t looking – btw, this museum has the most attendants i’ve ever seen anywhere- but i’m happy to follow the rules in these cases and respected the policy.

I’ve heard some people describe this museum as small, and I guess compared to the Rijksmuseum it is, but considering its dedicated to just one artist, i’d say it does the job perfectly. It feels intimate to me, partly because when I visited early that morning the crowds hadn’t descended yet, and partly because of it’s size. Every section feels carefully crafted and above all else, respectful to the spirit of the man who’s work we’re all there to see and reading the placards, seeing his artwork with your own eyes, it’s so humbling. There’s a deep melancholy to everything of course, you can’t quite escape that, but it’s appropriate and real, and you leave the museum feeling, hopefully, like you’ve gained just that little bit more of a closer understanding to who Van Gogh was as an artists and as a person outside of his art.

According to the I Amsterdam website, the Albert Cuypmarkt is the largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands, and it’s located on the Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat, in the De Pijp area of the Oud-Zuid district of the city. It’s also only about a 15 minute walk from the Van Gogh museum which I appreciated as I headed straight from there to meet up with Elsa. I hadn’t planned on visiting, I actually hadn’t known about it until she mentioned it but having only visited the more touristy areas of Amsterdam, I was more than happy to go somewhere with a more local atmosphere.

I definetly recommend some good walking shoes, cash for the vendors, an empty stomach for all the tasty treats for sale and probably a tote bag or two for anything you end up being tempted to buy (and trust me, you will most definetly be tempted by at least one stall if not five). We wandered around the market for a good hour and a half, and I bought a fantastically yummy cappuccino, a couple of art prints for my friend Rachid (who I would be visiting later in Paris) a couple of magnets for friends and a tote bag to add to the collection I had started in Edinburgh. Elsa bought some fresh cheese for a friend she was heading off to see in Geneva and even now i’m sitting here wondering why the heck I didn’t buy myself some cheese as well. Oh well, another reason to head back, no?

After we finished up at the market, Elsa and I walked back towards the Van Gogh museum together, where we parted ways- she was headed to the airport to catch her flight to Geneva and I was headed back to the hotel to freshen up (and unload all the souvenirs I had bought) before heading out again. I’m not going to go into how I got lost heading back to the hotel despite having just walked from there that morning….but I will mention that eventually I realized I was going the wrong way well past the point you would think I’d have figured it out and had to call a cab to come get me…and the cabbie ended up being the same one from the day before who had dropped me off near the walking tour meet up point. Whats kinda shocking is he actually remembered me and after I had settled into the back seat said, “hey so how was the tour yesterday?” and I completely freaked out before I realized why he knew that. Lovely guy though, I definetly suggest using Amsterdam Taxi-Online if you’d like to support a local business but still have an uber-like convenience.

I met up with Dennis at Leidseplein Square at around 1:30, again just another 15 minute walk from where I was staying and honestly, I have to agree with everyone else who’s said this- Amsterdam is truly one of the most walkable cities. Not saying you can’t get lost or you won’t be run over by either a tram, bus, car or bike….but you’ll get further to your destination before you do at least. There were no real solid plans for this part of the day, though there had been a mention of a record store and possible a book store, an idea I was more than keen on. Side note- I met Dennis online about oh, 5 years ago back after I had first gotten interested in Amsterdam as a future travel destination, and as he was a city native it was the basis of our first few conversations but we kept communicating because he has really fantastic taste in music and we have similar taste in books and movies. Unlike my first meeting with Rob in Edinburgh though, this one was planned much more on the fly and involved a lot less hiking.

A wonderful guy with a ice-dry sense of humor and a high tolerance for my sometimes over-exuberant personality, we clicked about as soon as we met and hanging out with him that afternoon was the perfect way to end my trip to Amsterdam. We went to a music shop called Concerto, a really fantastically stocked and chill place where I had to hold myself back from buying a vinyl copy of U2’s The Joshua Tree and instead contented myself with buying a couple of CD’s… one of which was a Toto’s Greatest Hits- which yes, he did rather mercilessly make fun of me for but I still hold up as an awesome and sound purchase. Afterwards he took me to the American Book Center, a really lovely and well stocked bookshop where we browsed their graphic novel section and he most graciously allowed me to photograph him holding some I wanted to buy (but would be responsible and wait till I got back home to buy- adulting, I do it sometimes).

I eventually made my way back to the hotel, taking a very leisurely walk back through the streets and trying not to fall prey to the urge to cancel the rest of my travel plans and extend my stay but it was a near thing. Of course the next day proved that perhaps I should have listened to my instincts and stayed at least another day but, thats for another post.

~m

 

Delftware, Ship Models and Romanticism- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

And now we get into the good stuff…

That was my thought as I left the Hall of Honor gallery and headed towards the rest of the galleries on the second floor. Not to say the paintings and areas I had been in before weren’t very literally breathtaking but, as i’ve mentioned before, my jam is more historical objects/documents than paintings, and boy was I in for an overflowing bounty of arrestingly interesting pieces and items of all kinds.

All kinds of beautiful artwork, craftsmanship and exquisite what have you was what I found wandering the halls of the more than 30 galleries devoted to the 17th century (1600–1700) . From the Navel Power gallery to the King Stadtholder III and Mary Stuart gallery and French Court art and Delftware, there’s honestly something for everyone- provided of course that you interested in these kinds of things in the first place. But what would you be doing here in the museum if you weren’t?

I ended my visit back on the first floor,The 18th century (1700–1800) , making sure to get a good look at the three Van Gogh paintings housed here because at the time I had decided I wouldn’t try and go to the separate Van Gogh museum on this visit. I sat for a good amount of time just there near the entrance/exit area just taking it all in, experiencing that godawful feeling of nostalgia for a moment you’re still living in and wondering if I would ever get the chance to come back to this amazing musuem. Eventually I kicked that weird mood though, and went to hit up the giftshop, because of course I did, it’s become literally impossible for me to go somewhere and not leave many (many) euros lighter.

I headed back to my hotel just a couple of blocks away and enjoyed the great weather on the walk back, a complete sunny departure from the foggy rain of that morning. Once back at the hotel, dinner on it’s way and my bed covered in museum brochures and more ticket stubs than I could count, I made plans for the next day which did actually end up including the Van Gogh museum because go figure.

~m

p.s here’s a floor-plan for the Rijksmuseum for anyone curious.

Medieval Treasures and Night Watch Crowds – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It would be hard- though not impossible- to be in  Amsterdam and not visit one of the many amazing museums located there. For me, the struggle was real when it came to deciding between museums like the Ann Frank House, The Van Gogh Museum, and even the rather esoteric Museum of Bags and Purses. Thankfully this heartbreaker of a decision is something tour guides are well aware of and during the morning walking tour I took the guide our group had helpfully suggested that if you were pressed for time and you really could only visit one museum, the best choice would be the Rijksmuseum.

Reasons why this would be your best bet? It’s the largest art museum in the country (and one of the most visited), has a total collection of 1 million objects that span the years 1200 to 2000 – 8000 of which are on display to the public- and it even has three paintings by Van Gogh so that you won’t completely miss out on the experience of seeing one of his paintings here even if you can’t make it to the Van Gogh museum. The museums collection is focused on arts, crafts and history- which made it all that more fantastic for me because while I like art museums, wandering hall after hall of paintings can lose it’s appeal for me after a while. That being said, plunk me down among armoire, cabinets, tapestries and other objects with historical context, add in piles of documents/bank notes and throw in some letters and you’ve got my attention for probably an eternity. That stuff is like cat nip to me and this museum not only had it in spades but its also one of the most beautiful buildings i’ve ever been in.

Almost inadvertently, I started out in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (1100-1600) section, on the ground floor 0 and spent a really peaceful hour slowly perusing the objects on display at my leisure. As you can probably tell from the photos, very few people lingered in this section- though to be fair,  few areas of the museum were really crowded, probably because it was around 1pm on a weekday when I visited. Not really having much of an idea of where I wanted to go next I decided to skip the first floor for the time being and head to the second floor, where the much lauded Night Watch is located.

I found the crowds here in the Gallery of Honor and more specifically in the Night Watch Gallery . I won’t say the Night Watch isn’t spectacular to behold in person, but it’s a bit like the Grand Canyon in the sense that no matter how magnificent it is in person, it’s been well and truly hyped up to an almost dizzying degree so that it can’t quite match up to what you have pictured in your head. The presentation though, thats unexpected and truly breathtaking.

An inside joke for friends- of course I love any depiction of Caesar getting stabbed as the final assignment in the worlds worst/best group project

I eventually finished up in this part of the museum, took a quick break on one of the many cushy benches scattered around and made my way to the 17th Century hall, passing through theThe Great Hall which I didn’t take any photos of, because honestly only video can really do justice to how amazing that hall is. Hopefully I can get around to putting together a video compilation of the trip that will include that clip but for now, just take my word on it, it’s unexpected and just that close to heavenly.

~m