Original Travel Date: Approximately September 18th, 2013
Blog entry Started: November 5th, 2013
Entry Finished: February 23rd, 2015
FINALLY PUBLISHED THIS DAMN THING: June 15th, 2017 (Talk about a time-lapse, eh?)
Since I have been back in California, I have been a busy little bee, putting work into my new career, attending numerous weddings, catching up with family and friends, etc. While in Europe, I found myself immersed in this life-altering wonderland where time and space were meaningless and all that mattered was squeezing the juice of experience out of every destination, every train ride, every new developing friendship, and every fleeting feeling I had. I was mesmerized by everything around me, and now that it is over, I feel as though I just woke up from a coma filled of incredible reveries. It is because of this that I was unable to keep up with my initial plan of writing as I went along. Not being one to give up on something I started, I will continue to write, hoping to remember (as closely in detail as possible) the activities and moments that I had in the rest of the cities I visited during my European “Wanderland” adventure. So here is how I recall one of my favorite cities: Salzburg, Austria.
I was a bit sad leaving Munich, because I truly loved the people I met and what I saw of the rainy city. But, I was extremely excited to see Austria because my father told me that my grandmother’s side of the family were Austrian.
So, Joey and I hopped on a train with an Israeli fellow we met at Euro Youth Hostel in Munich. The night before we left our friend Nick called the hostel YOHO (sister hostel to Euro Youth) for us, to see if there were any beds available. Considering Oktoberfest started in Munich that weekend, Salzburg was booked with guests from all over the world who were traveling through Austria on their way to Germany for the festival. Not only that, but Salzburg was having their OWN traditional festival- the Rupertikirtag Festival. Although the internet does not want to give me any information on this traditional celebration (not in English at least) I won’t be providing much background on it other than it celebrates St. Rupert and showers locals and travelers alike with traditional, local food, local beer (erecting a marvelous beer tent, of course), carnival rides, a lot of men in lederhosen (YUMMY) and ladies in adorable dirndls. One thing I did learn about Rupertikirtag is that it is a historical celebration that started many years before Oktoberfest. So, from a lodging standpoint, Jo and I were pretty much screwed. Luckily, Nick pulled some strings and got us a private room for our first night (because that was ALL that was available.) We were on our own finding a place to sleep for the next 3 nights.
The YOHO hostel was actually pretty rad. We waited for about 25 minutes to check-in because it was understandably busy and unfortunately our Israeli friend had no luck getting a room, so he decided to move along to another city. Not quite sure where he ended up but hopefully he found his way to a safe place considering the fact we got into Salzburg in the darkness of the evening!
We threw our stuff down in the room and made our way to the bar for a beer and some bar bites. We got lucky and found a spot at a little high-top next to some rowdy Australians (is the adjective even necessary at this point?) There was a big Fûtbol game that night, but still the bartender was quick and got us a brew right away. We ordered a pizza to share, watched a bit of the game, and enjoyed the ridiculousness of what was going on next to us at the Australian table. By this point, the group of about 6 (because I have discovered that most young Aussies travel in packs) were yelling, cursing, singing, glass-breaking, and obnoxiously hammered. Entertaining? As long as I am not the one bar-tending… hell yeah.
At this point, Joey told me that he needed to cut his trip short and travel back to Berlin to take care of some health insurance issues. Since he just moved to Berlin a month prior, I totally understood where he was coming from; but I was honestly a bit bummed, especially because we still had at least 4 more cities planned! After we finished our dinner we went into the computer room to look up places for me to stay the next three nights after Joey left and to write a little bit in our blogs. At this point I booked hostels in pretty much every city for the rest of my trip to make sure I didn’t run into the same issue I had in Salzburg while traveling alone. However, we still hadn’t solved the pressing Salzburg lodging issue. A few hours went by and we decided it was beer-o’clock…again.
We went back to the bar, which was dead at this point. On our way in we passed by two police officers who were walking out. Our favorite bartender dude, along with two of his regulars, were there drinking, looking spent. Turns out, bartender man had to deal with quite a spectacle shortly after we left for the computer room. The antics of the unruly Australians continued when they went back up to their floor; allegedly, they decided to have a fire extinguisher fight. Seriously though, as in… spraying each other with the foam from the fire extinguishers. What. Idiots. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you… it sounds extremely fun; but how disrespectful can you be?!?! In the end, the cops were called and the Australians were slapped with a hefty fine which I’m sure they will either:
A. Never pay.
B. Have mum and dad back at home take care of it with the 1.00 – 0.69 exchange rate. (Please excuse my judgmental tone. I apparently have my cranky pants on today.)
Joey and I chilled in the bar after hours for a bit and even got a lesson from bartender dude about how the beer wenches at Oktoberfest carry as many liter beer glasses as they do. I gave it a shot, thinking I could probably handle it considering I was a server at one point and literally could not carry more than 3 glasses in one hand WITHOUT ANY BEER IN THEM! These women are beer-serving versions of the incredible hulk! Insanity.
The next morning Joey got up and asked the front desk if there were any last minute availabilities for one bed for me. Luckily, there was! So, I was taken care of for the night, and Joey got a rideshare back to Berlin. I spent the majority of the day doing laundry and calling other hostels looking for openings with no success. Finally, after hours of searching, I found one…. and would you like to guess what hostel was the ONLY hostel that had an open bed? Institut St. Sebastian- ran by none other than my best friend, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
**INSERT: Unamused/”Resting Bitch Face” hybrid expression here**
Let’s save the details of that cross-contaminated party later.
I was starving at this point, so I decided to venture around the neighborhood and get acclimated to traveling solo again. I walked about two miles in one direction, and ended up in a not-so-great area. Realizing I was not going to have any luck finding food in this industrial, sketchy part of town, I walked back towards the hostel and went the opposite way. I eventually found an adorable little marketplace with seafood restaurants on cobblestone streets and stumbled upon a classy, quaint, warm cafe/wine bar called Richie’s Zeit für Genuss.
As I had experienced too many times before on this trip, I walked in and everyone stopped mid-conversation to stare at me in bewilderment. It is almost out of a movie scene- you would think these stiffs had never seen a tattoo’d solo American traveler before! I asked the waiter/bartender if he spoke English, and he begrudgingly replied “yes, but only a little.” Well, this seemed to be going marvelously, wouldn’t ya say? But I wouldn’t cower and run out even though I wanted to, so I held my head up high and let the American-hating Austrian man show me to my table where I could drink my wine, enjoy a cigarette and dine. After we were away from the older crowd of people in the front room who were undoubtedly judging me by my American accent and excess of tattoos, the American-hating Austrian bartender was actually *gasp* quite pleasant. I ordered some sort of chicken dish (it will be no surprise on the day I, myself, will turn into a chicken) and quietly relaxed, engrossed in my book. This point I realized that although I was going to miss Joey, I was going to LOVE traveling solo again.
(Talk about a romantic date with yourself)
Upon returning to YOHO, I decided to purchase a ticket for the bus tour up to the famous Kehlsteinhaus – more widely known as Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest atop the Kehlstein mountains in Bavaria – for the following morning. I have been a WWII junky since I can remember, and one of the MUST SEE attractions for this Eurotrip was the Eagle’s Nest. I remember one year for Christmas the only thing I asked for was the box set of the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.” In the the last episode titled “Points,” the 101st Airborne Division invade Germany and enter Berchtesgarden (another name for it) toward the end of the war- stealing silverware, Hitler’s personal photo albums, wine, etc. I was absolutely fascinated with this mountaintop retreat and just HAD to see it for myself.
Since the bus for Kehlsteinhaus left super early the next morning, I kept my evening kind of mellow. I went to the bar and had a beer, ordered some food, and chatted with a few other solo travelers I met- two New Zealand fellows who were in Salzburg for the sole purpose of chasing an adrenaline high; an incredible, beautiful, Australian woman named Lisa and a few others. The kiwis were telling us about how they planned on bungee jumping the next day, and how their girlfriends back at home had a really hard time with their lifestyle. This seemed to put a huge strain on their relationships but they just simply could not get enough of traveling the world and finding new ways to push themselves to the limit. Lisa, the amazing Australian solo traveler and I, ended up becoming great friends for the rest of my time in Salzburg (we still chat from time to time through social media to this day!)
After a little bit of lovely bar chatter, I went back to my room and prepared myself for the next day. Since I had to check-out in the morning and switch hostels, I gathered all my belongings and made sure my clothes were ready for my morning tour. When staying in a room full of other people, it is considered good manners to have all your necessities easily accessible the night before so you aren’t the asshole Mayor of Zipperland at the crack of dawn- disturbing all the other sleepy hostel-dwellers in your room. While I packed (and re-packed, and re-packed again) I chatted with the two ladies from New Zealand in the bunk across from me who were just returning from town where they were shopping for dirndls for their Oktoberfest experience. As I mentioned before, most of the people staying in Salzburg that week were on their way up to Munich for the festival. These girls were in their early 20’s, extremely sweet, and absolutely drop dead gorgeous! I do not know what they are putting in the water over there on the other side of the world, but Australia and New Zealand breed ’em sexy, and they breed ’em gooooood. (I swear… I like dudes.)
I proceeded to read a little bit and fell fast asleep. The room was extremely quiet since all the bunks were filled with individuals waking up somewhat early the next day to check-out. Except, of course, MY elusive bunk mate. Let me start out by saying… as a child I remember fighting with my sister over who would get the top bunk when on vacation because that was the COOL place to sleep. However, as you get older, preferences change. While traveling, I found myself more keen on bottom bunks because it is easier not to disturb anyone if you, let’s say, wake up to pee 30 times a night or something AND there is usually an outlet next to your bed (Internal traveler’s dialogue: SCORE!) So, I considered myself “lucky” in Salzburg to have gotten the bottom bunk… however, I concluded the next morning that I was very, VERY wrong….
The gentleman who was sleeping above me did not return to the room until about 4 AM. Now, I am generally a somewhat heavy sleeper, but for one reason or another whenever I know I have somewhere to be in the morning I toss and turn; fearing that I may not hear my alarm, resulting in my missing the important event I have waiting for me on the other side of that 5 hour sleep. When “Sir-Upper-Bunk” got back (he was obviously intoxicated) he unintentionally woke me up while crashing around, brushing his teeth, paying Zippertown a visit (see what I did there?) and getting ready for bed. It was pitch black, and my eyesight was fuzzy since I had been dreaming, but my eyes soon adjusted to the darkness. At that very moment, “Sir-Upper-Bunk” stepped on my mattress- almost crushing my head even though there was a ladder right next to where he was hoisting himself up from and then stumbled backward, stepping back down onto the floor due to drunken loss of balance. I lift my head to make a polite grunt that relays “you’re in my space, dude, please don’t squash me” when I was suddenly caught off guard and ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED to discover that his rama-lama-DING DONG was flopping two inches from my face. It would seem that this Nightcrawler of a man decided he would fly his nude-sleeper flag high and proud- while staying in a hostel room of 6 other people- and then carelessly do gymnastics while advancing upward onto his bunk.
Speechless. I truly did not know what to do with myself. I shoved my face into my pillow, almost crying from my disgust, shock, and stifled laughter. I wish I had SOMEONE- ANYONE- to share the hilarity of this situation with while it was happening. I mean, this guy went pornographic on me with a classic dick slap to the forehead!!!! I never got to see “Sir-Upper-Bunk’s” face, but I sure did feel like I knew him intimately when I was packing up the next morning.
I got dressed, grabbed my best buddy (Mr. Backpack) and proceeded downstairs to grab a complimentary pastry and some coffee before meeting with the group going on the bus tour. I then checked-out, took Mr. Backpack to the storage room to retrieve later and sat in the lobby waiting to go to the Eagle’s Nest! This is where I met another absolutely rare and beautiful free spirit whom I will be friends with for life- Katherine. Katherine is a high-energy, friendly, inspiring Australian nurse who had been traveling for almost a year alone. Our personalities and enthusiasm for adventure made us immediate friends. We ended up sitting next to each other for the hour-or-so bus journey into Bavaria. The scenery was painfully beautiful, and although it was a tad bit gloomy, the trees were still a vivid green and the flowing rivers we passed on the highway were almost iridescent.
Katherine and I sat across from a wonderful couple from South Carolina who were on their 30th anniversary trip. They told us about their children, asked us about our travels, our future plans, and were genuinely accepting, loving people with hearts as big as the South itself. Now that I reflect on that time, I wish I would have exchanged information with them because I would have loved to have visited them in the states.
The tour that left from YOHO also made two or three stops at hotels and hostels to pick up other tourists. This particular tour package came with the option to visit both Kehlsteinhaus as well as the Salt Mines that were nearby- but I chose to save money and just do the tour of Hitler’s retreat. I immediately regretted that decision when we stopped at the mines. The little village it resided in was absolutely adorable, and Katherine told me later that at the end of the salt mine tour you got to slide down a rock of natural salt! My inner 5 year old mentally kicked my 25 year old self in the teeth.
We dropped all the Salt Miners off and continued on our way. The trip up the mountain was anything but relaxing for me. At the base, we get off the bus and boarded little shuttles that drive 4 miles up this windy, narrow road through long, dark tunnels while occasionally getting so close to the edge that you feel as though a small gust of wind or the little bit of rain that hits your window will tip you over. I, of course, got stuck on the window side of my row. I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest and my stomach was going to follow-suit. It was beautiful, yes. And I managed to snap a few photos… but man… Hitler was right to never want to go up there!
With that said, here is a little background information on this landmark:
Kehlsteinhaus was a gift to Hitler for his 50th birthday. As I learned in Nuremberg, the SS was obsessed with owning and creating buildings that would intimidate and exude a sense of POWER. This beautiful retreat and diplomatic reception house overlooking the idyllic mountainside was the setting for many of Hitler’s ideas and decisions that led to the mass genocide and horrors of WWII. One fact I found extremely interesting was that Hitler was terrified of heights, and rarely spent time in the Eagle’s Nest. Instead, he built a residence which was called Berghof (before it was demolished completely in 1952) in the Obersalzberg area of the Bavarian alps further down the mountain.
When we reached the top everyone is herded into a dank, cold tunnel that leads to the Elevator waiting room. This exquisite lift was made of stunning marble and brass, with circular Venetian mirrors and takes you straight up to the inside of the building. For a brief moment, I was reminded of my childhood… waiting in the spooky, overcrowded elevator at the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Maybe that is what those darned Disney people got the idea from, eh?
(Obligatory fancy elevator selfies)
When we arrived at the lobby of the retreat, we were herded out of the elevator like cattle through the restaurant to a little room where our tour guide gave us a short spiel about the property. From there we were instructed to roam around and enjoy the view and be back at the shuttles in an hour. Now, not to sound ungrateful- but, I was expecting some spectacular tour. Something that was going to teach me more than what I already knew about the Eagle’s Nest. I wanted to see the cellar area, and all the different rooms. This tour, unfortunately, provided no such experience.
Katherine and I walked outside to bask in the breathtaking view. On our way up the stairs to a cross on the hill, we saw a guy from our tour sitting on the ledge of one of the cliffs- taking selfies. My stomach turned, and I swore I would NEVER get that close to the edge. That guy was seriously, mentally insane in my opinion. We got to the top and took about a gazillion photographs. It was FREEEEEEEEZING and drizzling… but I was on top of the world. Literally. Words and pictures will never do this place justice. It is truly magnificent.
Slowly making our way back toward the shelter of the main building, Katherine asks if I would take a picture of her on the cliff that the guy we saw earlier was standing on. I agreed, but stayed pretty far away in fear. After seeing how epic the picture turned out, I knew I had to do it. No one would believe how amazing this was unless they saw how small I was in comparison to this backdrop. So, I grew a pair and posed for my own spectacular photograph near the ledge of the cliff. Looking back, I think my fear of heights diminished a tiny bit that day. I was proud. I pushed myself to the limit (almost literally.) I refused, however, to sit on the ledge and dangle my feet over a cliff that drops some 6,000 feet or so like Miss Crazy Katherine did. NO WAY. But, standing somewhat close to it was still a terrifying accomplishment.
Pretty darn close to the edge, wouldn’t ya say?!
(This is my ‘it’s really windy and freezing and starting to rain and my eyes are watery and I look like I’m crying but its super green behind me and everyone needs to see it‘ face.)
After frolicking around Hitler’s little dream nest for a while we stood back in line to take the beautiful elevator down to the trams. It started to rain a bit and I began feeling uneasy about the drive back down the crazy road. There was a small Souvenir shop in the corner so I bought a few postcards to send to family and I bought myself a hot chocolate. The tram ride back down wasn’t as bad as I thought, and I had the opportunity to take some more beautiful photographs of the landscape.
On the way back to the hostel our tour bus stopped at a quaint little town off the road that had the most interesting and colorful cemetery. I know I’m more morbid than most, but I had a real fascination with the European cemeteries!
Katherine, myself and a whole gaggle of other tourists sat together in the cutest Austrian restaurant for lunch. I drank two smooth, dark biers and ate a delicious sausage with the greatest mustard EVER. The food is killer in Austria!
Katherine and I- Not the best quality photo I’ve ever taken, but hey… we were already one stein down! PROST!
I got back to YOHO with Katherine and it was time for me to check into my next hostel down the street. I grabbed Mr. Backpack and used the little map I picked up at the front desk. Luckily the receptionist guy at the front drew a line from YOHO to Institut St. Sebastian so I wouldn’t have any trouble. It was rainy and I, of course, did indeed get lost! Not because I couldn’t follow a few straight lines on a map but because it’s literally behind a huge medieval looking wooden gate that leads to a-you’ll never guess-a CEMETERY. GAAAAAAHHHH. I felt like I was being punished and I hadn’t even stepped inside the actual hostel yet. It kind of looked like the place monks and holy dudes would walk around all day discussing the mercy of the big guy himself. The building and the grounds were beautiful and very pleasing to any history dork like myself; however, one thing I did NOT enjoy was the fact that there was a large church bell in the hostel, and this god-damned-mother-fucking bell would ring every hour AND every half hour…. ALL GOD DAMNED DAY.
There’s the God-damned-mother-fucking bell
This is the crazy ass door I didn’t know was a door because when that right door is closed theres a bench and it just doesn’t make any sense.
Outside- very beautiful!
I couldn’t sleep. The Catholic guilt just washed over me. The woman at the front may as well have been a Nun herself, she looked at me as though I were a Pagan who landed on a strange planet of worship by accident and who may or may not start butchering everyone without a second’s notice.
It all ended up being okay – the hostel was clean enough, the location was central enough, and I had a roof over my head. That was alllll I needed.
To avoid feeling that creepy soul-crushing feeling I have when I’m surrounded by religious idols – I tried to stay out of the hostel as much as possible. I decided to take myself out for a little walk across the cobblestone bridge to old town and enjoy a stein at the festival. I found a spot on a bench outside the main tent at the end of a long table of drunkards in lederhosen and began looking through my camera at all the magnificent photos I had taken that day. I was fully immersed in the emerald green landscape of one shot when I was startled by a dark-haired Austrian man who began speaking to me in German from behind my right shoulder. I twirled around to find him and his friend (both sporting the traditional leather pants, mind you) with their steins in the air – “PROST, Fräulein!”
I raised my glass to cheers them back and introduced myself – making it very clear that I did not speak any language but English. Julien (dark hair) & Timo (blondie) were very friendly, very welcoming, spoke English… and were quite handsome. We chatted about my day at The Eagles Nest and my journey thus far. They invited me to join them later that night for a night on the town “Local Style!”
I went back to the Catholic hellhole and showered and changed for my night out with the lederhosen fellas. We met in front of an awesome sausage cart in the main square and the three of us went bar hopping. They taught me how to order a beer in German “ein Bier bitte!” and we danced at a silly black lit nightclub. Afterwards we just walked around the old town and chatted about America and how different it is than Europe.
Can you tell we had fun?
I went back to my hostel at dawn, got MAYYYYBE an hour of sleep, and got right up to meet my Australian friends from YOHO – Katherine & Lisa – for a morning stein before heading to the train station.
Next up – I was headed to Vienna, baby!