We're all guilty of having eyes bigger than our...calendars, when it comes to trip planning.
Packing as much into a single trip as humanly possible is a tempting yet risky maneuver. So many questions and fears fill one's mind:
- Will I ever make it back to this area again?
- Shoudn't I take advantage of everything while I'm here?
- I can't afford to miss out on this opportunity!
- I've always wanted to see this, and it might be my only chance!
A jam-packed schedule with no room for error is the ultimate gamble. I should know, as I've fallen prey to it a myriad of times, including last December on my way from Munich to Vienna. The allure of Salzburg was too hard to resist, and since I had never visited before, I decided that my husband Nick and I could stop in for a few pleasurable hours. Right. Relying on train schedules and disregarding the possibility of problems to squeeze in a precious few hours at a location that should take days and weeks to explore. Won't I ever learn?
While the city of Salzburg has a plethora of charms, one huge draw for Americans is the musical "The Sound of Music" (I confess that I feel especially tied to the story since as a child I played the role of 7-year-old Marta in the local high school's production. A Tony Award-worthy performance, I think.). So after a little research, I decided we could squeeze in a condensed sights-from-the-film tour. We just wanted to hit the main sites: The gazebo at Schloss Hellbrunn, just outside the city; a view of Nonnberg Abbey; a photo in front of the Rock Riding School Theater; and Mirabell fountain from the Do-Re-Mi scene. Easy, right? Wrong.
Salzburg is an incredibly popular Christmas destination with its countless Christmas markets and Mozart-themed concert performances (Mozart was born here, after all). And let's not forget the reverent Silent Night was penned here. Nick and I had our first taste of just how popular the city was when our regional train departing from Hoptbahnhof in Munich suddenly changed. It was not only departing from a different platform, but from a completely different station, Ostbahnhof. Cue the music from the scene in 'Home Alone' where the family is rushing to the airport ('Holiday Flight' by John Williams) and visualize Nick and I sprinting with our giant suitcases through the station, taking the U-line to Ostbahnhof and jumping onto a train with no available seats for the 2-hour ride to Salzburg. Utterly ridiculous, but not the most terrible thing in the world. Unfortunately, a situation can always get worse, and it did.
A mere hour from Munich, the train came to a stop, a German voice over the loudspeaker barked something unintelligible, and suddenly everyone started to depart the train and cross over railroad tracks. I was able to weasel a translation out of an obliging French woman, who said there was something wrong with the train and we would need to change trains. Splendid.
Again we were sprinting with our suitcases over railroad tracks, up and down staircases at a train station, and were corralled onto a train that was even more crowded than the first and continued to get more suffocating as each stop closer to Salzburg had more people boarding than disembarking. The train became so squished that when a man boarded with his bicycle, he unknowingly hooked the handlebars through someone else's backpack straps. So when the backpacker tried to disembark, both a massive tangle and hilarity ensued. Or rather, it would have been hilarious if I didn't have the ability to laugh robbed from me by having my face smashed on the back of the obliging man to my front.
We finally arrived at Salzburg to a station under such intricate construction that it was impossible to navigate in under 30 minutes and contained at least 10 up-and-down staircases to drag a suitcase over. Add to that, storing our luggage and our inability to understand the bus numbers, despite having studied them previously, and then having to return to the train station to buy the bus ticket when we realized they didn't sell them at the bus stop. Just perfect.
We eventually arrived in the outskirts of Salzburg at a little villa called Schloss Hellbrunn, which boasted a quaint Christmas market and most importantly, the gazebo from "Sixteen Going on Seventeen". I had dreams of bounding from bench to bench while my husband held my hand. As you can imagine, nothing went as planned, and we had one hour to explore, get photos and walk to the bus stop so we wouldn't miss the hourly bus back to town. Apparently no one in the villa has ever heard of the gazebo and could give us no direction. Thank goodness the scenery was gorgeous and the snow picturesque, or else fumbling through a maze of gardens and walls in search of a mythical place would have been frustrating. We eventually found it, and sure enough, the doors were locked for the winter. I couldn't believe it. Trying to stay positive and also not letting my husband see my disappointment, I at least turned my iPod on to play the song. And to please my mother, who loved the Sound of Music so much that she named my oldest sister Julie after Julie Andrews, I jumped around OUTSIDE the gazebo. That's dedication.
On an iPhone? View Jill's Salzburg video at: http://vimeo.com/29068314
We grabbed a pretzel filled with ham from one of the market stalls, and hurried to catch the bus back to town so we could explore some of the items on our list before boarding our train to Vienna. I rarely am lost, but I was doomed to wander that day, as we never found the theater (it was just on the other side of the building!). Never got to see the fountain either.
Thankfully we boarded our train early and safely arrived in Vienna, but I was kicking myself for putting that stress on our trip. But the funny thing is, that's what the funny thing is. Because it's later, after the misery has subsided, that all the details that went awry and all the situations that Murphy reeked havoc on with his law become the best stories from your trip. Mercifully, our bodies and minds cannot vividly retain the feeling of pain, so the details get blurred and we can laugh about our struggle.
I advise people not to pack in too much on a trip, and allow more than half a day to tour a city. But would I change what we did? No, not at all. It was enough to pique my interest in the little town in the Austrian Alps. And some day, I will return.
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