Mike Norton

The Month I Lived Out of a Backpack, Part 2: Salzburg

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Month I Lived Out of a Backpack

“Oh, look!” I shout from the train compartment. “An IKEA!”


The journey from Füssen to Salzburg has been pleasant. Rolling fields and wildflowers, peach iced tea and Schneebälle purchased from a bakery on Hutergasse. My sister Mollie made friends with a Syrian family who offered to teach her German. Their eldest son was heading to Munich for an English test, and the family became excited when they found out we were Welsh.

“Gareth Bale! Gareth Bale!” The youngest repeated in accented English. They asked for Mollie’s mobile number before we changed trains. We left them waving at a bench, well wishes and safe travels pushing us towards platform eight.

Salzburg 1

If you’ve never enjoyed the feeling of excitement and anticipation at pulling into a place by train, try it — it’s one of the most satisfying aspects of seeing the world. (Photographer: Chelsea Davies)

“Meatballs for tea?” is Mollie’s reply when she spots where my hand is pointing, at the familiar blue and yellow building through the window. I nod exuberantly in agreement. Five days on the road and I’m craving a hot meal that costs less than €15.

I’ll be honest, my first impressions of the Austrian city of Salzburg are… well, not what I was expecting from the setting of The Sound of Music. Our hostel was located in the Neustadt, or New City, just a ten-minute walk from the train station. After striding past swarms of shirtless men, skinny dogs, and two or three branches of McDonald’s, I’m beginning to wonder just where the striking medieval architecture I was promised is. Right now, the oldest thing I can see is a moulding Burger King wrapper slowly crisping in the heat.

“We can visit Hohensalzburg, and Hellbrunn, oh! A Sound of Music bus tour! That sounds fun, right? And after that, we can walk around the city and…” Mollie trails off when she catches the look I’m giving her.

“You sure we’re in the right city? Because I can’t see no hilltop fortresses or grand palaces here.”

Salzburg 2

Ever been disappointed when you first arrive somewhere you’ve always dreamed of seeing? Don’t worry, the area around the central station isn’t always the best bit, and there’s usually more to come. (Photographer: Chelsea Davies)

Mollie rolls her eyes. “We are in the New City, Chels. That means the new stuff is here.” She buries her nose back into the map she had swiped at the train station. “Look.” I move closer to see where her finger is resting on the crumpled paper. “The old stuff is on the other side of the river. The Salzach.”

It’s early afternoon by the time we get ourselves organised at the hostel. Our shadows are noticeably longer when Mollie and I finally find ourselves in the Altstadt, though. One moment I’m staring at office blocks and gritty side streets, the next I’m immersed in churches, courtyards and blooming beds of roses.

This is the Salzburg that I had imagined. Medieval, Baroque, stately. For hours, our footprints carve a trail across cobblestones, up the steep sides of the Mönchsberg. We wander past boutiques and galleries, the sun slowly sinking above us.

When Mollie and I reach Hohensalzburg — a hot and steep climb — the fortress is beginning to glow with the coming of evening. It’s that breed of quiet familiarity you experience when elevated above a city; the distant buzz of traffic, people, shouts and conversations muted by the distance between you and the street. Spires and turrets break through Salzburg’s skin like splinters. A summer breeze blows, bringing with it the smell of Palatschinken and my first Austrian sunset.

Salzburg 3

If you make it to Salzburg, make sure you climb to a suitable vantage point to make the most of the views of the city. (Photographer: Chelsea Davies)

We seemed to have embarked on an accidental castle tour since beginning this trip. Nymphenburg, Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, Linderhof and now Hellbrunn. Mollie and I decide to visit the Baroque palace on our last full day in Salzburg. A bus from the city delivers us to Hellbrunn’s sunny yellow walls, and a €5.50 fee grants us entry throughout the grounds and its infamous trick fountains.

It’s truly a wonderful and whimsical place. Arcs of water catch the afternoon light as they soak unsuspecting crowds beneath them. Water powers mechanical figurines that dance and sing along to Austrian folk tunes. I learn that a place where fountains of water are known for soaking its unaware visitors is not an ideal location for a camera.

We end our tour of Hellbrunn’s palace and trick fountains only slightly damp, laughing at the way we dodged spurts and streams of water as though they were acid. Mollie and I decide to linger here for a while, to take a pause and bask in this beautiful day.

I sit and watch the afternoon pass. Thick golden light coats my shoulders and I wonder what Vienna will bring.

Featured image © Mike Norton

Series Navigation<< Part 1: Füssen