Salzburg translates quite literally to Salt Mountain. Why is this beautiful alpine city where The Sound of Music takes place called salt mountain, you ask? Well, throughout history, the Salzburg area has been sustained through salt mining and trading. In 1517, exactly 500 years ago, some lucky miners found a salt deposit inside a mountain. Salt, a traditionally valuable and difficult substance to obtain, put the region on the map.
We started our trip to Salzburg with a traditional meal of wienerschnitzel and gulasch. Then it was early to bed to wake up for our bus to the Berchtesgaden salt mines. After missing our bus, one could say I was a bit…hem…salty…but we made it in time for our tour. The mine, 500 years old this year and still active today is located in a beautifully snowy area of the Austrian-German alps. At the beginning of the tour, we were all provided with some coveralls and an English audio guide for the area.
We began by boarding a small train, where you straddled a bench and hold onto the person in front of you. We zoomed through about a mile of narrow tunnels so small that if you leaned even 6 inches to the side you would hit your head on the tunnel wall. Once in the main area of the mine, you slide down a 6 story wooden slide to reach the bottom area.
Over the course of the tour, we learned that salt is produced by drilling large cavities in the tunnel floors and filling them with water to leach the salt out of the surrounding rock. Then the sludgy brine is pumped to a facility about 100 km away to be super-heated and treated to produce to the pure, white table salt that we eat today. We have used this technique of drilling and flooding since the mine’s foundation in 1517 (although we have become considerably more efficient and high-tech since then).
The town of Salzburg itself is perched between soaring mountains. The old city feels like it is one giant building full of a spaghetti-like mess of tunnels, alleys, and tiny-hole-in-the-wall bakeries and breweries. It seems to be purposely designed to confuse and hopelessly befuddle tourists. One of my favorite things to do in the city was travel up to the city fortress. In addition to amazing views of the city, the fortress contains a museum that details the entire military history of Austria, starting in Roman times, going all the way through World War II.
As a huge musical theater nerd and Julie Andrews fangirl, seeing the city’s Sound of Music images was awesome! The fountain, the Dom Cathedral, and the Abby made me sing “The Hills are Alive” at the top of my lungs pretty much constantly, much to the chagrin of my traveling companions.
Even though it was freezing cold, the trip to Salzburg felt really culturally immersive. I would highly recommend it if you have been traveling to a lot of big cities and want to have a more colloquial experience. That’s all for this post. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen and goodbye!