Saturday, May 23, 2009

Towards Montegro

Day one
Vacation. Well, you could say we're always on vacation since Paul retired, but taking the “French” definition of vacation to mean “going away”, then we are now on vacation. I had thought we'd take our time, not necessarily take the autoroute, and get to Strasbourg for the evening. Well, we started out early and skirted Strasbourg completely. Paul decided he'd like to see Horb again. That's where he did his military service. We stopped for a coffee break in Horb, took a little walk around the town center (Paul got some pictures) and decided this was not where we wanted to stop for the night, so we pushed ourselves to Tübingen, a very picturesque university town with a rather large pedestrian center. We got a room at the Am Schloss hotel, aptly named as it is at the entrance to the castle at the top of the hill. We had plenty of time to walk around the town a bit. We stopped for dinner at a sidewalk wienstube, which looked like a little neighborhood restaurant. Everyone else seemed to live in the building on the other side of the street. They all knew each other. I think it was, in fact, one of the finer restaurants of the town. Paul had wild boar and said it was the best thing he'd eaten in a restaurant in a long time. They had a special asparagus menu and I had that. Main dish – asparagus; dessert – asparagus and rhubarb and strawberry mousse. Delicious!
May 21
We woke up to a thunderstorm and left Tübingen in a downpour. The weather cleared up, though, as we headed south on the autobahn. The traffic was heavy and we didn't get to Salzburg until 2, but that gave us enough time to check in and walk about town. We even took the boat tour on the river. Salzburg is definitely not anything like Paris or London and I think we could have perhaps skipped the boat tour. There's not that much on the banks of the river. The town is named for the salt that was mined nearby and the river, which was used to transport the salt, is so named, too. It's a mountain river with a very strong current.
There was an antique automobile race in the town and we could catch glimpses of the cars from the boat and then, as we walked around town, almost every church square was taken up with the cars. We went into the Kollegienkirche and the Ersablei St. Peter (monastery church). Both were sufficiently Baroque to satisfy all our needs for the style, so we did not enter the Dom, the cathedral. One look inside allowed us to see as much as we wanted without taking a step further.
We admired the cars, watched some guys play a giant chess game, listened to a little Mozart played by a strange quartet – the only instrument I could name right off is the accordion. We had dinner not far from the hotel – a typically Austrian dinner. I had Weiner Schnitzel and Paul had boiled beef.
A whole day in Salzburg
We got up and it was raining. After breakfast, though, the rain stopped and we headed down Liner Gasse, the pedestrian street towards the old town, again. Before we got to the end of the street we took the turn to go up the Kapuzinerberg to get a view of the city from high up. It was indeed a beautiful view. The sun was shining on the Alps and the woods were dripping the last of the rain. It's a steep climb up and we came down via the stairs. Salzburg is a lot like Italian cities – churches on plazas that all connect. You just go from one platz to the next. We stopped at the Neue Residenz on the Domplatz. This was the Archbishop's residence. Very little of the original building remains. It was bombed in WWII, as was the cathedral and much of Salzburg. The town was rebuilt as it was, but has a very clean, Disney-like look to it. Anyway, the Neue Residenz is the city museum. They have lots and lots and lots of engravings and paintings of the city as seen from all the interesting angles. There's a bit of the city history, with portraits of all the prince-archbishops who ruled. Here's a little tidbit: Jews were not expelled from Salzburg because they were never allowed to live there, nor even to enter the town. Protestants, however, were expelled.
Apparently it rained while we were in the museum, but it was fine by the time we left. We took the cable car up to the fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg. There you have a great plunging view of the town (it's so small!) and all the churches. You can see the fortifications and the staterooms the prince-archbishops maintained. Just as we decided to go back down into the town for lunch, it started to rain again. We took shelter and waited for the next cable car and by the time we were down the hill, the weather was fine, again. Lucky us. We headed back towards the hotel, had lunch (very long) and it just started to rain again on our way from lunch to the hotel. The downpour of hail hit just as we got to our room, so we could watch from the window. In fact, we had a couple of hail storms, but managed to get out again and visit more of the north bank via Franz-Joseph Strasse. We had dinner near the hotel so we wouldn't have far to run in case we got caught in another storm. I took advantage of asparagus season again, with cream of asparagus soup. Paul had a lovely looking trout. It's early; we're back at the hotel; and ... it's raining!
According to CNN, we were in the heart of a violent storm front that spawned tornadoes further north in Germany and hailstorms all over Austria. More of the same is forecast for tomorrow, but it looked like Slovenia and Croatia were fairly clear. We'll see. This is nothing like the typhoon in Hong Kong last year! That was a day of solid rain with no letup. Here, it's sunny and warm during the breaks.
From Salzburg to Zagreb
It was a fine day, today. Off to an early start, and on to the autobahn to get out of the Salzburg area, we escaped to the side road for a while. The Austrian villages and towns are picture perfect – clichés, exactly. There are fortified castles on the hills overlooking the towns and then the towns build around the church. Clean, neat. There is still a bit of snow in the Alps; we even passed by some people skiing. After a while we got back on the autobahn and did not linger in Slovenia. We are now in Zagreb, where we walked around a bit, but did not feel like actually visiting in detail. Our hotel is not in the center. We took the tram into town but now that we are back at the hotel, I doubt we'll go back. The hotel is in a post-war neighborhood – communist era. The buildings are aging badly, but the cafés are busy and there's lots of activity, so you don't have the feeling of a forsaken neighborhood. The city center is still old, not restored. There are the government buildings – more Victorian-style palaces with baroque icing, like wedding cakes. The smaller side streets still have low buildings in all different colors.

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