Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria

Riding the train from Salzburg to Innsbruck, a brief detour on my way back to Munich and then home, I am struck by how charming this place is. Back in the States, referring to something or someone as "charming" sometimes carries the slightest tinge of condescension. But that's not remotely the feeling here.

The green valleys of the countryside - dotted with pleasant homes, exalted with church spires, threaded by rivers and biking trails, and ringed by sunlit mountains - call forth such superlatives: charming, quaint, picturesque, joyful. On this, my second trip to the Salzburg Global Seminar (my first trip was exactly one year ago), I expected to be somewhat jaded by the sights. If anything, I am even more enchanted [OK, one exception: I could do without my fellow passenger slurring songs from The Sound of Music after one too many biers…]

I returned to Salzburg to collect footage and interviews to produce a video about the Seminar (I've embedded a "trailer" above this post), a series of meetings launched by three Harvard students who, with the help of Margaret Mead, hoped to strengthen cross-Atlantic ties through conversation that would motivate action on local and international levels. Since 1947, that vision grew to accommodate the need for Cold War adversaries to meet in a neutral location and expanded beyond its initial American Studies roots. Now the Salzburg Seminar invites students, educators, advocates, and policymakers from around the world to engage issues that include sustainability, human rights, and globalization. Participants almost invariably return to their homes with enthusiasm and a deep desire to make things happen. That's certainly how I feel.

Highlights of this trip begin with the pleasure of getting to know so many fascinating people, especially SJSU colleagues whom I had not previously met. Sitting on the terrace of Schloss Leopoldskron - yep, a Sound of Music landmark - sipping wine and chatting with new friends as the sun sets behind Mount Untersberg … it's hard to imagine a nicer way to spend an evening. And since I'd visited before, I played tour guide to a band of folks wanting to enjoy Salzburg's romantic town center.

We enjoyed our first walk so much that we gathered more pals for a trek to my favorite outdoor spot, Zum Eulenspiegel, followed by dinner at Stiftskeller St. Peter, an inn that's attracted the likes of Charlemagne and Christopher Columbus since it opened over 12 centuries ago. Afterward, as we hoofed our way around the curve of Festung hill, the evening's combination of fine dining and plenty of bier (and some schnapps, I should add) inspired us to form a traveling chorus, as we took turns belting out songs from our childhoods.

In between an exhausting schedule of meetings, interviews, and individual ambling to collect footage for the video project, I also ventured into the surrounding countryside on two bike tours led by Joan Reckmeyer, wheeling through sun-dappled circuits that tie nearby villages together, stopping to watch would-be Salzburger surfers practice on the rushing currents of a canal, and parking in Grödig for refreshing glasses of grapefruit Stiegl radler (a carbonated "biker's beer" made in town). I enjoyed the stuff so much that I hit up a nearby Billa market to grab a six-pack for pals back at the Schloss.

And, repeating a highlight from last year, I joined the latest Salzburg Seminar cohort for a concert of Mozart, Schumann, and Satie played by a superb pianist named Damir Sertic, followed by a candlelight banquet where we toasted the end of a thought-provoking week. The next morning, I returned my key to the castle and shared hugs with departing friends.

I had few plans for the next two days; I just thought it'd be nice to see more of Austria. During my previous stay, I wrapped up my visit by touring Vienna. This time I took the train southwest to Innsbruck. I knew nothing about the place, but I quickly came to love it. Innsbruck, famous as the site of two winter olympic games, offers another charming Old Town, complete with ornate cathedrals, al fresco restaurants, and medieval alleys packed with souvenir shops.

After dropping off my gear at Sailer Gasthof, a hotel located conveniently near the train station, I made my way to the riverside to gaze upon a smiling curve of narrow taffy-colored buildings hugging the opposite shore, their arched roofs mirroring the Alps that rise above. Afterward, I sauntered the arcades of the Altstadt and joined the crowds to photograph the Golden Roof built for Emperor Maximilian in 1500.

Then I took a bus to Wattens to visit the Swarovski Kristallwelten and check out the waterfall that tumbles out of a towering grassy head. Just read that sentence again; wouldn't you want to check it out too?

For a late afternoon meal I enjoyed a delightfully complex Hauspfandl at Weisses Rössl. Here's the menu description: "Tender slices of pork fillet, broiled, well spiced with garlic and caraway, quenched with brandy and served with green beans in smoked bacon and [Stove House] Swabian dumplings." Walking back to the hotel for a break before some night shooting, I spotted a double rainbow, rejoicing in the opportunity to share it with others who'd not looked up yet.

For my second day I checked out the panorama painting "Innsbruck Riesenrundgemälde" that depicts the third battle of Bergisel on a 1,000 square meter canvas that circles viewers with wrap-around depiction of local militiamen (and a few Austrian soldiers) braving the superior firepower of French and Bavarian troops. While the French-led forces ultimately quashed the rebellion, this painting helped varnish the Tyrolean Myth: an image of purity that combines the surrounding mountains, religious piety, and hardscrabble resistance against oppression [Click the painting to better see the fighting priest leading the charge].

The Riesenrundgemälde is one of around 24 panoramas created before World War II - another one is nearby in Salzburg - to survive as a tourist attraction, having been moved from its rotunda near Inn River to a newly built museum that rewards hikers willing to mount ponderous switchbacks with a gorgeous view of the valley.

Much of the later afternoon was spent walking some of the town's less touristy quarters in search for stencil art, little bits of rebellion and whimsy that always seem to catch my eye [I'll dedicate a special post to these images soon]. Stopping now and again to sample cold, clear Alps-water from a few of Innsbruck's many fountains, I savored the opportunity to learn more about a place that had once been only a random notion in my mind. That night I took the train to Munich for an overnight stop before heading home to California, looking back fondly on my brief Austrian sojourn.

(Video and Photographs by Andrew Wood - except for the bike line-up, which is by Diane Guerrazzi)

1 comment:

formatie nunti said...

I was there two years ago and i was impressed. Unfortunately i had no time to visit it very well because i was there for only two days, but i hope to visit it again very soon. I recommend this place, it is very nice.