Christmas pulled up with a screech of tires this week. Usually I’d cringe at beginning the festive season so early, but it feels sort of appropriate here. With the temperatures plummeting and a LOT of snow on the peaks surrounding Salzburg, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was living in a film, but no, this is my life.
After last weekend’s big trip to Ljubljana, I was naturally very reluctant to get up for my seminar on Monday morning (which is thematically wishy washy at best), but managed to haul myself up, and went to the gym afterwards to boot. Tuesday, again, was pretty standard; if it wasn’t for the scenery, I could be back in Exeter. I had my early morning lecture, legged it home for a nap, then had my terrifying seminar in the afternoon. That evening, I had basketball practice again, which only adds to the feeling of being back in Exe!
On Wednesday, I attempted to pick up my bike from the repair shop at the time they told me to come, but, annoyingly, the place turned out to be closed. I thought Austrians were meant to be reliable! Determined not to let it ruin my day, I headed off to the gym, then came back into town for my history lecture with Adele. That evening, the girls, Nora and I met up for dinner at a charming Italian restaurant in Elizabeth-Vorstadt (I had the best panna cotta EVER) before going to a free (free!!!!) screening of a 1970s Italian war film at the Shakespeare Cafe. The film wasn’t anything particularly special, to be honest, but I felt so cultural and sophisticated that it really didn’t matter. Sophisticated, that is, until I stood up part way through the film to go to the toilet, and fell head over heels up the stairs – not my finest moment it has to be said.
By Thursday, the relentlessness of my gym-going had begun to take it’s toll and my new quasi-vegetarian diet wasn’t helping with muscle recovering. Using this as an excuse, I took the day off from the gym and went to the opening of the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt with Toni instead. As the afternoon got darker, the lights of the market were completely magical, lighting up the Residenzplatz and Domplatz beautifully. We strolled around for a couple of hours, drinking Gluehwein and eating various sugary foods – it was magical. It’s amazing that I live so close to this and can visit it every day! With bands in traditional costume and stalls filled with Lebkuchenherzen and Brezeln, it was so stereotypical of Austria and far better than any facsimiles you come across in the UK. After a while though, it was time to snap back to reality because, at 7pm, I had the Zwischentest for my language course (it was at this point that I began to regret the Gluehwein slightly). This wasn’t too bad though, so I headed home satisfied.
Friday was a much quieter day, but ended up being pretty stressful. As it happens, trying to arrange accommodation in the UK whilst being abroad isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so I was glad to call it a day at 4pm and go to the gym. Larer, given that it was a Friday evening, Toni and I had attempted to organise a night out, but very few shared our enthusiasm, so, eventually, we ended up in a pretty cool rock bar with Leonie and her mute Austrian boyfriend. This wasn’t as awkward as it could very easily have been – thank goodness for table football! Predictably however, after a stroll across to O’Malley’s, the night was pretty much over.
On Saturday, the weather forecast was pretty terrible (it rains constantly here), but Toni and I decided, nonetheless, to try and visit Schloss Anif, a palace on the outskirts of the city that, from pictures, looks like something straight out of Disney. Upon arriving in Anif, however, we discovered that the Schloss is privately owned, so we couldn’t so much as get a clear look at it through a fence. Determined not to let to trip go to waste, we took the bus to the nearby Schloss Hellbrunn which we found out had opened its Christkindlmarkt that day. Now if I thought the Salzburg city market was beautiful, this was pure magic! Set in the grounds of a beautiful palace, the market consisted of small wooden stalls, lining the Schlossallee towards the Schlosspark, in the courtyard and even a special Kinderweihnachtswelt complete with livestock and a genuinely terrifying Krampus display. The food and wine here was much cheaper than in the city and, despite the weather and the cold, we spent a couple of hours wandering through the market, eating and drinking and constantly finding new sections, such as the fountains which were lit up and surrounded by Christmas trees, and a designated schnapps bar. To top off what had gone from a potential disaster of a day to a triumph, the mayor of Salzburg took to the stage to announce that there would be a firework display in the castle grounds. This took place across an ornamental lake and turned out to be set to music – it was truly beautiful. Cold and wet, but satisfied, we decided to head home, and even discovering that my newly repaired bike had a puncture didn’t dampen my spirits too much.
On to Saturday, and our big excursion of the week. Waking up at 7am, Toni, Bo and I drove the 90 minutes through Germany to Innsbruck! This was somewhere I’d always wanted to go and, as luck would have it, the weather forecast was perfect. We arrived in the city at 10am and parked in the Olympiapark (with a view of the famous ski jump) before getting the bus into the city centre. I thought Innsbruck would be similar to Salzburg and, in a few ways, it is, but in the main it is so different, but in a very good way! It was still relatively early, so we took the chance to walk to the most famous sites in this relatively small city – the Goldenes Dachl, Residenz, Maria Theresian Strasse. We even climbed the vertidginous steps to the top of the Stadtturm, which offered a beautiful view of the city, the mountains and the Inn river in the sunlight. Ready to spend some money, we found a nice coffee bar where we spent a few minutes before continuing our stroll around this lovely, albeit small, city, taking plenty of pictures as we went. After a while, the smell of a bakery caught our attention, so we brought ourselves mid morning pastries to eat in front of the city arch. Then, as luck would have it, Toni’s Italian friend living in Innsbruck messaged her to say that she had three tickets to the Nordkettenbahn cable car and funicular, which stop at various points on the Hafelekarspitze, one of the tallest mountains in the area. Normally these tickets cost almost 40 Euros each, so this was excellent news! We met Toni’s friend, Michela, at the funicular and took the journey first to the Hungerfordbahn, and then upwards via cable car to the snowy peak of Hafelekar. The view from the top was absolutely mesmirising. Offering a view of the entire Innsbruck valley and the snowy mountains surrounding it, it was magnificent and I sat down alone for a while to take it all in. After a while, I rejoined the group and we met up with some of Michela’s Erasmus friends, with whom we took yet another short cable car to the very summit of the mountain. From here, you could look back at the entire mountain range stretching as far as the eye could see – it made me so excited to ski! It was so windy here though, so we made a quick descent to regain feeling in our limbs!
After returning to the city centre, we said goodbye to Michela and her friends and walked along the iconic riverside for a while, before stopping to eat incredible burritos at a small restaurant in the university district. By this point, it was sunset and, completely by chance, we stumbled across an incredible view of the sunset over the mountains from one of the bridges crossing the river. Having had our fill of this magnificent site, we wandered along the river towards the Christkindlmarkt where we drank yet more Gluehwein! We then headed back towards the city centre, where there were yet more Christmas markets (including a lovely Maerchenmarkt – fairy-tale market!) where we bought various sugary goodies and drank yet more mulled wine. At 7pm, we stumbled across the huge Christmas tree in front of the Goldenes Dachl, beneath which a choir was singing a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. A perfect end to a perfect day.
By this point, we were slightly intoxicated and very tired, but left Innsbruck with very fond memories and vows to return. In the car on the way back, the three of us spoke about how lucky we were to have found each other (and the rest of our group) and to be living in such a magical place, with the opportunity to travel to so many more. After a day like that, I have never felt more grateful to be where I am.