Regular readers of the RT’s ramblings will immediately recognize that this post does not carry the RT’s typical headline of “Rumination”. Instead, the following is a free Austria-Bavaria (AusBav) travel guide, based on his recent trip with his daughters to Salzburg, Austria and the surrounding area.
All in all, it was a delightful trip. We saw some fabulous scenery and some wonderful historical settings. Yet there were a few oddities and idiosyncrasies worth sharing for those readers who may travel there in the future.
Your Tour Guide
Now, there are a few things you should know about the RT and the trip that inspired this guide. These may help you put things in perspective.
- The RT freely admits to being an Amerikan Schweine, or more accurately a Texikan Schweine. That’s somewhat like the English Pig-Dogs of the Holy Grail.
- We arrived in Salzburg during the height of the semi-annual (bi-annual, quadrennial, centennial?) Asphalt, Dump Truck and Jackhammer Festival. It seems that every bit of underground infrastructure in the Old City was under repair while we were there. No need to go looking for archeological digs on this trip. Nein! Simply look over the edge of the boardwalks spanning the various chasms and everything from ancient Roman ruins, through the periods of Huns, the Mongols, the Archbishops, Napoleon and the Austria-Hungarian Empire was exposed for all to see.
- It had never been as hot in Salzburg as it was when the RT was there. Not even when the earth was first formed was it that hot in Salzburg. They even brought in some extra humidity to celebrate the occasion. Add a complete lack of green space in the old city and a million tourists, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a delightfully sweaty experience.
With that behind us, we now move to the meat of the travel guide, organized by topic (though in no particular order).
It is a LOOONG way to Salzburg from the RT’s normal environs. It’s even longer when the family seated in row behind you on the airplane has four young kids and decides not to police their activities (e.g. yelling, kicking the seat in front of them, wandering in the aisles, etc.) during the 8.5 hour flight.
Let’s start with the language. They speak German in AusBav (except for the Russians that seem to be everywhere), which is a lot like English, except that they have a different word for nearly everything. Plus, they throw in a lot of “oobs”, “ichs” and “achs” just to make every sentence longer.
The RT’s son says that people speaking German sound like “angry people with colds”.
Get ready for this: you’ll have to pay to use the toilet in AusBav (if you can find one). You’d think that good, old Socialist nations like these would understand the common good that free toilets subsidized by the government would foster. But, alas, they have turned their collective backs on Socialism in this particular facet of their culture and have chosen to capitalize on one of life’s most basic needs. So hang onto every 50 Euro cent coin that you run across while traveling and keep them in your special “potty money” place.
One good thing about paying to use the toilet in AusBav: they are generally clean. Most have attendants present to clean up after messy folks. Some stalls even have sanitizer for you to put on the toilet seat before you place your posterior upon it. Very much unlike the bathroom in the lovely c-store at Exit 64 off I-40 at Lamar. Whether or not you’ve stopped there, you’ve stopped there.
And here’s a way to turn the pay-to-potty idea into gold. When you first have kids, start putting 0.50€ (that’s $0.56USD to the RT) in a porcelain, toilet-shaped piggy bank each time you have to heed nature’s call. That way, by the time your kids are old enough for college, you’ll have plenty of money to send them.
OK, if there was ever anything that contributed to the common good of society, it’s water. You’d think that even Socialists would understand the basic need for H20. Yet there are no public water fountains in AusBav – at least none that I found. You can BUY water, but you can’t HAVE water. Even in a restaurant, they will sell you water in a bottle, but they don’t want you to have tap water, though their tap water is delightful.
And when you buy water, be sure to specify “still” water, otherwise they may bring you something that tastes like it came out of the Sprite fountain at Taco Bueno after the syrup ran out.
Oh, and they have a strong aversion to ice. It may be the cold winters, but something makes them want to drink lukewarm beverages whenever possible.
They use something called “Euros” in AusBav, which is a lot like Monopoly money. The bills are brightly-colored with big numbers on them, the better to determine the rate at which they are fluttering out of your wallet. They are readily available at no charge by inserting your bankcard into any ATM you encounter. Go ahead, get more! Just think of how many bottles of water you can buy and/or how many times you can use the toilet!
I did notice one strange thing, however. While I was having fun spending Euros in AusBav, someone was withdrawing US dollars from my bank account back home. There’s a correlation, but we all know that correlation does not imply causation. I’ll have to check into that when I get back to the land of WalMart, Sonic and Taco Bueno.
Euros come in bills of €5, €10, €20, €50 and €100. They may be bigger ones, but the RT stopped there. Unlike the US, no shop balked when presented with a €100 note. Smaller denominations come in coins of €0.01, €0.02, €0.05, €0.10, €0.20 (not €0.25) and €0.50. Remember that the latter are “potty money” and should be set aside in a special place.
Let’s start with a few basics:
- The roads are three feet wide – or maybe it’s one meter (that’s like a yard where they forgot to trim the yardstick down to its final size). OK, I didn’t actually measure them, but that’s what they look like. And the buses, tractors and giant dump trucks take their 20 feet right out of the middle.
- It should go without saying after reading #1, but DON’T RENT A CAR. I don’t care how crazy you are, you are not crazy enough to drive in AusBav. Maybe a NYC cabbie could survive for a few hours, but you’ll be a greasy spot in about six minutes.
- They have public transportation (“autobus“) that will shuttle you almost everywhere you need to go. I say “almost” because if the bus doesn’t go there, you don’t need or want to go there. Just plan for a lot of waiting along the way. Look for a sign with a green “H” on it. That stands for “stop” in German, except that they don’t realize that “stop” starts with an “S”. They call it a “halte” – the word they use instead of “stop”.
- Watch out for bicycles – they WILL run over you.
Bathing appears to be optional in AusBav – at least from the olfactory ambience one encounters in public places. Socialism must take so much in taxes that people can’t afford the basic necessities of life, such as soap and deodorant. The RT is considering setting up a charitable foundation to provide both for the good people over there. It’s the least I can do. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to accept donations. Checks can be made out to “The Rambling Texan’s Retirement Fund”. I’ll make sure that it gets to the right place.
You’ll want to pack some clothes for your trip, of course. Feel free to pack anything, as long as it advertises your favorite American sports team, clothing brand or entertainment figure. That will help support the image of the Amerikan Schweine abroad, but it will also help you fit into the local culture, because most people in AusBav are wearing clothing emblazoned with the same American sports teams, clothing brands and entertainment figures. Except that they all seem to be speaking Russian.
You’ll also see a bunch of men wearing interesting shorts made out of leather, along with knee socks. Those are lederhosen. Do not laugh at these people. They are native AusBavs – either that, or they are Russians in the tour guide business.
Everything is big in AusBav (except the tiny glasses of water they give you when you order a tiny little cup of coffee). There are BIG mountains everywhere and they all have strange names: Üntersberg, Monschberg, Kapuzinerberg, Kehlstein, Lederhosen and Schadenfreude (OK, those last two aren’t names of mountains, though they are real German words).
You’ll want to find a mountain somewhere, preferably one with a big meadow nearby. Then you can swirl around, singing the theme song from The Sound Of Music with all of the geriatric tourists.
I don’t have any idea what this means, it was just the name of my favorite bus stop … I mean “halte”. Had I stayed long enough, I’m certain to have learned the Russian equivalent.
I recommend that you eat food of some sort while you are in AusBav. You’ll find many places where you can do so. I do hope you like pork because at the end of the day, it’s all pork. Whether it’s “speck”, “schinken”, “schweinekotelett”, “Wiener schnitzel” or ”bratwurst” … it’s all pork … I mean “schweinefleisch” (literally “swine flesh”). Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?
I personally recommend that you take your schweinefleisch in the form of sausage. There are too many in AusBav to name them here, but I personally preferred the Bosna, a spicy sausage with some curry spice on it. We found them in a street market in Universitätsplatz. Don’t try to say “Universitätsplatz” while eating your Bosna; you might choke.
There was even a McDonald’s on the Old City of Salzburg. With porcelain cups. And a pastry case. In other words, nothing like an American McDonald’s. Except for the free wifi.
They do like ice cream (“eis”) in AusBav and much of it is very good. We found it an excellent way to get rid of all of the Euro coinage that accumulated in our pockets each day.
They drink a lot of coffee in AusBav, but they drink it in very small cups. So in reality, they may not drink any more coffee than the RT does. They have all of the snooty varieties, like you can get at Starbucks, only it’s much better. If you know the Italian (another language like English, but with yet another set of different words) names for those snooty varieties of Java, you should be OK, since the Germans and Italians were on the same side in the last World War.
But watch out when trying to obtain good, old ‘Merican coffee. There are several ways to order it, all of which will cause your waiter to look disparagingly at you before spitting on the ground at your feet. These are:
- “Café Americano”, which means “bring me an espresso, but put some extra water in it so I can stand to drink it.”
- “Kaffe”, which means “use your espresso machine to try and make something close to coffee like Americans drink.” Similar to Café Americano.
- “FilterKaffe”, which means: “make my coffee the way that unwashed Gentiles make it.”
This reaches beyond AusBav culture and into mainstream German culture, but it was on TV.
You’ll want to look on Wikipedia for information on Burnd das Brot (“Burnd Bread”). He’s a very interesting German television character, originally developed for children’s TV. He’s a depressed, fatalistic, snarky piece of burned toast. Quite interesting.
The RT will be looking for the complete video series on DVD, with subtitles. I wouldn’t want it dubbed. It would lose much of its German-language charm.
If you want to avail yourself of all of the shopping opportunities, you’ll of course need Euros. As mentioned above, these are readily available by sticking your bankcard in a little machine. Having Euros will allow you to toss them around in every high-end shop in the Old City and buy things you don’t need that will cost you even more money to get home, because your luggage will be overweight.
However, you might not realize that you’ll need a shopping bag. You see, unless you shop at expensive clothing shops, you don’t get a bag to put your purchases in.
This is especially true at the grocery store where you’ll buy your schweinefleisch. The cashier will scan all of your items, then bark some numeric German gibberish at you, after which they will expect you to hand over the Euros. Then all of your items are left lying at the end of the conveyer belt, where you will be expected to retrieve them by yourself. This is where the necessity of a bag becomes apparent.
Other than going back through the line to BUY a natural, biodegradable bag with the store chain’s logo on it, you will be forced to instantly come up with a plan to get your groceries off the belt before the next patron’s groceries co-mingle with yours.
The RT determined that several large chocolate bars will fit in each sock, a package of salami will fit under a ball cap and a loaf of bread can be buttoned inside one’s shirt. OK, not really. There was nothing nearly that organized. We stuffed all of our items tightly in an already-full backpack and hit the road.
So, here’s how the RT recommends addressing the shopping bag issue: Just stuff a dozen or so WalMart sacks in your luggage just for this purpose. That way everyone will know that you are Amerikan Schweine.
Now you may have heard that waiters in AusBav can be rude. The RT read that in a travel book and found it to be a bit overstated. Not a single waiter spat on me during the entire trip. Several did look down their noses noticeably each time I had the audacity to order kaffee at a street-side café. And more than one stared menacingly at me while waiting for me to order one of the unintelligible items from the menu.
“Menacingly?” you may ask. Well, when a 60-year-old man in lederhosen, knee socks and clodhoppers is standing over you while you try to decipher the menu and decide which variety of schweinefleisch you want at this particular meal, it can seem menacing.
Meeting People on the Street
Living under Socialism must really take the wind out of one’s sails, because the folks the RT met on the street didn’t smile much. Not even a big “Howdy!” or “Hey, Y’all!” evoked a smile. They didn’t make eye contact and they certainly don’t mind bumping into you – especially the ones speaking Russian.
They will push in front of you in line, so the RT recommends acting like you are from New York. Shout “How about those Yankees?” as you stomp on their foot and shove them out of the way. Or shout angry-sounding gibberish and pretend you are Russian.
We learned that Salzburg was ruled by Catholic Archbishops for many, many years. One of our tour guides (“Rheinhart”, I believe) commented that “the Archbishops weren’t very Catholic”. I guess that explains how they could justify putting all of the peasants to work in the mountains mining salt (“Salzburg” means “salt town”- we never did find “Pfefferburg”), while they collected all of the revenue from its sale to build HUGE castles, fortresses, gardens for themselves, their families, their mistresses and the like. And also to buy very nice torture equipment to extract confessions from non-conformists, since no one could be executed without a confession. Tortured, yes. Executed, no.
Oh, and those fortresses also served to protect the Archbishops from things like peasant revolts. Kinda helps explain why much of Europe has abandoned the Catholic church over the years.
Everything in AusBav is OLD. Even stuff that isn’t old is built to look old. Except for the newfangled glass and steel stuff that the modern artsy-fartsy folks insist on building when others aren’t looking.
And when the RT says “old”, he’s not talking USA-old (50-100 years), he’s talking AusBav-old (200-1600 years). They have everything from the Roman age (~400AD) through Mozart (~1800AD).
Once out of the Old City of Salzburg, you’ll find lovely alpine architecture. (You’re wondering where the joke is here. There is none. It really is lovely in the alpine countryside. The RT could live there … Except for the Socialism part.)
Though the majority of folks in AusBav seem to like their culture and are comfortable with it staying the same as it has been for hundreds of years (the average age of a pair of lederhosen), there appears to be a vocal minority that wants to modernize the culture.
As a result, there are “modern art” museums, where you can see lovely things made out of crushed and melted plastic. There is modern art in public places, such as a giant golden globe (not the television award kind) with a little man standing on it in one of the platz. It’s truly lovely … and tasteless. There was also a lovely display of pickle statues.
Should you want to tour portions of AusBav, there are numerous options available to see sights such as the Eagles Nest, Berchtesgaden, the salt mines, Kōenigsee, Üntersberg, etc.
- Do-it-yourself touring. You can take public transportation to most of the sights in and around Salzburg and Berchtesgaden. HOWEVER, you will be doing those tours with a million other people who had the same idea. You will get to wait in line with all of those folks, so be sure to make friends on the autobus.
- Tour buses. You will pay more Euros for these tours, but what the heck! The machine dispenses them freely, remember? You will also get special access to the sightseeing destinations, meaning that you won’t have to stand in line, or worry about changing buses. This is the route that the RT’s group chose. Plus, we got to meet some great tour guides like Reinhart and Walter (who spoke perfect German, as well as English with an Australian accent – go figure).
AusBav is a haven for smokers. They don’t only permit it, they seem to cultivate it. Ashtrays are on every table. Cigarette vending machines are on every corner. Cigarettes are sold at every store. Every pair of lederhosen comes with a year’s supply. OK, not really. It’s really only a six-month supply. I wonder if they teach the fundamentals of smoking in Kindergarten.
We had people blowing smoke at us in every café and restaurant we visited. Kinda reminded the RT of the good old days in the USA, when every restaurant had a cloud of stale cigarette smoke hanging inside, even after they separated into smoking and non-smoking sections. Especially fine scarfing establishments like the Waffle House.
There was an interesting dichotomy in all of it, however. For all of the smoking and availability to smoking products, half of the front of every pack of cigarettes was dedicated to subtle warnings such as “SMOKING KILLS” and “SMOKING HARMS YOU AND OTHERS AROUND YOU”. And the smoking rooms in the airports had statues of Joe the Camel at the door, with “SMOKING KILLS” painted all over him.
So, the active campaign says “DON’T SMOKE!”, but the widespread availability of cigarettes and places to smoke them seemed to say “HERE, WANT SOME MORE?”
Well, this concludes the RT’s Travel Guide to Austria-Bavaria – at least for now. I hope that it proves useful should you ever find a reason to travel to that part of the world. And it won’t hurt you if you do. The hills are, indeed, alive with The Sound Of Music. It’s the sound of all of the geriatric tour groups singing along with the soundtrack on their bus tours.