Christmas Markets - Final Edition

| Thursday, 27 Dec. 2012

These Salburg ponies wait for a fare

On day six we docked in Linz - actually the third largest city in Austria (although it was new to me). It was cold and little windier outside, but I planned to spend the next few hours on a coach ride to Salzburg, birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the location for the classic movie "Sound of Music."

Salzburg is cultural attraction for the entire world, with a Summer Arts Festival, part of the setting for Sound of Music, where tickets can be several hundred dollars. But to see Salzburg in winter with mostly local inhabitants in their own element creates an entirely different experience.

The Trip to Salzburg

This two-hour ride each way between Linz and Salzburg is just one of the many included tours on this Danube itinerary. Importantly, I was on the "Danube Waltz" itinerary as opposed to the "Romantic Danube" Itinerary. My itinerary covers less distance which I believe gives you more time in port, such as this entire day riding round-trip to Salzburg which the other Danube itinerary does not offer. I see this as a major difference between the two itineraries, since Salzburg is such an important site.

We started boarding our busses at 8:30. The ride took us past beautiful pastoral scenes with the Alps starting to appear as we approached Salzburg. The temperature was hovering just below 0-degrees Celsius, (32-degrees, the freezing point for Fahrenheit) and the effect was to crystallize the droplets of water that remained on the trees. The millions of trees, some evergreen and some deciduous, all glistened in reflective ice in the morning sunlight to cast a shimmering glow over the freshly laid snow in long uninterrupted farm fields. Small wooden barns and fences were all dusted in white, making the world look like a life-size crèche.

We were allowed one roadside rest stop along the way at a restaurant/gift shop that overlooks the Mondsee Lake, site of St Michael's Cathedral where the Von Trapp's were married in the Sound of Music. Unfortunately, the local guides on the bus and even in Salzburg are barely aware of the famous movie since the film was banned in Austria because of the Nazi scenes. You have to go to Salzburg independently you can find a true "Sound of Music" Tour - there is no real attempt to give you that experience on the river cruises.

Arrival at Salzburg

When our bus finally reached Salzburg we had to walk several blocks before we crossed the Makartsteg Bridge over the Salzach River to enter Old Town. Just before you cross you briefly walk through the Mirabell Palace Gardens where some of the most famous Sound of Music scenes were filmed, but our guide barely gave that fact a nod.

Once you cross the bridge into Old Town it is virtually impossible to get lost. Our guide took us along the main shopping street to eventually pass the birthplace of Mozart. Our guide on the boat incorrectly told us the Mozart Museum was but one floor and not on the tour because it is not worth the time. In fact, there are two Mozart homes in Salzburg, the most famous being this on (where he was born).

The entry fee to this Mozart museum is a steep twelve euro but the exhibition is well worth it; covering four floors and a dozen different rooms. There are original musical scores quilled by Mozart on display, books by his father on the construction of violins, several historic artifacts about Salzburg, the Hapsburgs and more. This is highly recommended by me, but you will have to go independently after the guide is done with her tour which lasts about 90 minutes.

The tour guide will show you the cathedral, the University, the graveyard and more. If the guide tells you the graveyard is the same one as in the Sound of Music (where they hide from the Nazis) this is not true, it is in Hollywood. Our guide told us the truth.

The Salzburg Christmas Market

After the tour we had over two free hours to wander throughout Old Town Salzburg. While that does not sound like a lot of time, since you have already had the tour it is actually plenty. Of course, our goal was to see the Christmas Market and Salzburg has a lovely one. It may not be the biggest but it is sprawling and has a large selection of goods from throughout Austria. There were the schneeballs of Vienna, the sausages of Germany, the ciders of Bavaria and many stalls devoted to unique homemade Christmas ornaments and nativity characters made locally.

There were locals dressed in their Bavarian finest and lots of school children walking in neat lines, waiting patiently for their lebkuchen, a soft and chewy German gingerbread and molasses cookie usually coated in dark chocolate. I had a glass of cherry cider with a hint of alcohol that warmed me from nose to toes. The bottom of the glass had cider-infused cherries that I savored one at a time.

When our time was up we regrouped at the Salzach bridge before another two hour ride home to Linz. Just before we reached the boat we stopped at the Linz Christmas Market, said to be one of the biggest in Austria. Its festive lights made it inviting, but this Phoenix boy was too cold and tired to resist his warm stateroom.

I had a quiet dinner in the forward (casual) section of the lounge where my favorite waiter brought me a complimentary Erdinger Weiss (wheat) beer and a baked potato. It was exactly what I needed to warm up again.

Ending the Voyage in Passau

For people who have already taken a Danube River cruise, Passau is known as the town with the Cathedral organ concert. The village of 50,000 strategically positioned at the confluence of three rivers, was once a very powerful city-state with a commanding fortress high atop a hill dividing the Danube and Ilz Rivers. The date 1499 is emblazoned upon its walls.

Passau had a sweet, provincial Christmas Market. Some of the stalls were actually designed like tiny stores where you could enter and shut out the cold, something we had not seen anywhere else. There did not seem to be much in the way of originality, however, or maybe I was just ready to go home.

I had a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call for my two hour coach ride to Munich. Some 20 hours later I was back in Phoenix.

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