Friday, July 9, 2010

Europe 2010 - Munich to Salzburg - Day 2 of 12

Marienplatz Square in the morning was devoid of tourists, and once more we stared upward at some of Munich's amazing display of ornate gothic piles. Supposedly, Marienplatz is named after St. Mary in hopes that she'd protect the city from a cholera epidemic. I felt safe enough. Moreover I found myself thinking about these places as sites of education, where complex narratives of culture, history, and morality are written into the walls. Michael was also drawn to the astronomical clocks that seemed more like art pieces than mere time pieces.

Graves at Alter Münchner Südfriedhof
Leaving the old city, we began to take shameless cliché photos. I pictured two dachshunds on their own morning stroll, while Michael took a photo of a little girl eating a pretzel (after asking the mom's permission, of course). Days later we’d still laugh about my assurance that, “He’s really not creepy.” Stopping now and again to take pictures or explore interesting details, we waded through crowds of kids bouncing to school and smiled at bikers lining up at the crosswalk in orderly queues. At Michael's suggestion, we detoured through Alter Münchner Südfriedhof, a cemetery where many of the graves resemble miniature cathedrals. And when I saw the towering "Bavaria” statue at Ruhmeshalle I borrowed a phrase from 30 Rock, "I want to go to there."

"Bavaria" statue at Ruhmeshalle
After completing our hike to Theresienwiese it was time to wrap up this excursion and head for Salzburg. The heat of the day was rising as we lugged our bags to the München Hauptbahnhof. Not used to train stations, I gasped at the vastness of the place, with its vaulted roof and airy interior. If only, I thought, the U.S. had invested in a world-class mass transit system like many countries in Europe. As we rode out of town, it seemed that every house was filled with geranium filled flower-boxes. Our conversation was relaxed, and I felt lucky. Michael and I had known each other for years at SJSU, but, aside from some polite conviviality, we'd been essentially strangers to each other. I was glad that I'd ignored my normal reticence about traveling with folks I don't know well. We'd had a great start to our trip.

München Hauptbahnhof
That said, we both agreed that our first look at Salzburg was underwhelming. After so much planning and anticipation, we exited our train a couple hours after departing Munich and surveyed a dreary square of taxies and cafés. Where was all the charm we'd seen in the brochures? Where were the castles and statues? We grabbed a drink and summoned a taxi, each of us feeling tired and a bit dour. As we bumped along, the setting gradually changed and we began to recognize just how special this place actually is. Then we were deposited at our destination -- a palace, believe it or not -- called Schloss Leopoldskron.

Schloss Leopoldskron, viewed from across the lake
Let me tell you a little about how cool the Schloss is. The guy who commissioned it, Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian, loved his home so deeply that he had his heart buried in the palace chapel. Epic paintings fill the rooms, and statues are scattered across the grounds. A rococo masterpiece built in the early eighteenth century, the Schloss may very well have been a site where Mozart himself, a son of Salzburg, played one of his magisterial concoctions. And then there's my favorite part of the whole place: the Max Reinhardt Library. Why? Because it features a fake bookcase leading to a secret stairway to the mezzanine level. There's something undeniably awesome about climbing a secret staircase in a library, in a palace.

Max Reinhardt library viewed from mezzanine
Joining our other Salzburg Seminar colleagues for the first time, about 30 people from various states, we toured the palace and heard tales about some of its mysteries. Pointing to cracks that snake across a marble floor, we were told of a misbegotten plan to drain the nearby lake, a scheme that nearly sank the Schloss. And naturally we heard stories about the filming of The Sound of Music, which used exteriors of the palace (though the interiors were created on sound stages). It was all a little overwhelming. Then, once we checked into the nearby Meierhof building where our rooms were located, we proudly became temporary residents of the place, with keys to a kingdom of our own.

Resting place for the heart of Leopold Firmian
At dinner, the newest Salzburg Seminar cohort shared bottles of red and white wine in a great marble hall, dining on wiener schnitzel and other delectables. Afterward most folks gravitated to the bierstube, an honor system self-service bar in the basement. I begged off at first, exhausted from the past two days. But I was easily cajoled into spending a couple hours conversing with my new friends on a terrace overlooking the lake. At midnight I finally collapsed into my bed.

Day 1 | Day 3

No comments: