Thursday, January 19, 2012

Salzburg, Austria

View of Salzburg countryside from our hotel. Photo by author.
           Swedish, man of the world, college friend, and PhD of neuroscience. A man who will forever live in my mind as a slit-eyed giant with a near-empty space bag (removed from a box of Franzia) on his shoulder  came to Munich last week. He crashed through my front door yelling "Folklore!" (his inexplicable nickname for me. In fact, maybe that would be a better name for a blog...) And we set to work making up for lost time.
           He lives in London these days, so the trip was (relatively) short and he came with a thirst for travel. We pondered the situation over (liters of) beer in search of a destination. We had time to explore Munich, but we needed to get away - it had abused us. (Or rather, we had a distinct lack of self control at the idea of clawing our way through [several] beer lists.) Berlin was our first choice, but as we had both traveled over the summer and subsequently moved across the ocean, the situation called for frugality. Berlin, at about 350 miles from Munich was not a cheap destination, round trip tickets were pushing 200 EUR - each. This is twice what his plane tickets cost. 
Just a few hours to go at the Hofbrauhaus - 1L at a time.
Munich, Germany. Photo by innocent bystander.
           The answer? Austria - and at less than a quarter of the price. We decided to leave Friday morning at 9:30, which would leave us plenty of time to get ready.
           We woke soaked in our own indiscretion. With all certainty I can say that it is a terrible idea to enter Munich's Hofbrauhaus at noon on any day of the week, including Thursday, and it's a particularly bad idea when you travel with Mr. Space Bag and beer can only be ordered by the liter after 6:00 p.m. It's particularly bad when travel is on the agenda for the following day and you eat a pound of guacamole before bed, (roughly half pound of onions) Getting out of bed by 7:30 was not a problem. In case your chemistry is rusty - mixing a gallon of beer with a half pound of onions produces either toluene or Chanel No. 5. I can't tell them apart. I rolled out of bed in the 'predawn' hours of Friday morning (read: 7:24 and cloudy as hell) to find the Swede already awake and convinced that we should have eaten at least a second meal the day before.
Salzburg, Austria in the evening over the Salzach river. Photo
          Here's where trains really shine, all we had to do was show up and sit. I had arranged all the necessary papers before our HB adventure, so the process was simple. The only problem was that we looked extremely friendly (big spoon - little spoon) sitting next to each other when there were four seats to choose from. Neither of our stomachs could tolerate traveling at close to 100 MPH in reverse.
          Salzburg is a beautiful city, old and interesting like many cities in Europe. Complex and interesting enough to take a couple (or more) days of your time, but condensed enough to walk. Unfortunately, half way through our first day, my new shoes sent driving spikes of pain through the balls of my feet, as if a wood-splitting wedge had been sunk between my metatarsals and each step pushed it deeper. There was a lot of stopping by the end of the day.
Salzburg, Austria and the Salzach river. Photo by Author.
Author on one of themany rivers on the Salzach. Photo by
the Swede
          However, we did manage to see most of the city and it is fantastic. There is an expansive English Garden, an amazing climb on the Kaputznerberg (which, as follows in the vein of many hikes in the area, it has a restaurant at the top.) We also saw the Salzach river, which bisects the city. There are many bridges that cross between the two halves, the ends of which have vendors selling Gluhwein (hot, spiced, red wine) and toasted chestnuts for cheer. 
           There were also musicians, some better than others. It was in Salzburg that we found the worst performer of any street, anywhere. It was as if the scat man (you remember him, right?) was hit in the frontal lobe with a pickax, then given a detuned guitar. There were no discernible melodies or chords, just a random mix of ba, pa, da and la (though he was bouncingly emphatic.) He used this bouncing enthusiasm and pseudoguitarism to used to dupe any busy passers-by into thinking he was a bone fide musician, thus conning them out of a few coins before they could actually analyze the narrow breadth of his musical talent.
          It was so bad I questioned the man's life; I waffled about his motives. Did he really have a full, frontal lobotomy?  Should I feel bad for this poor, pathetic soul, or, was the 'music' part of an act, a double-blind to look as pathetic as possible in the hopes of gleaning more donations? I don't know. I know that I laughed for a quarter mile in spite of the driving pain in every step. 
          Across the guitar man's bridge, over the river, the architecture is just beautiful, and like many other European cities it appears that old facades have been maintained and the whole city has a uniform look - like Paris. Some may complain about the lack of diversity in such a system, but it is (in my opinion) quite attractive as a whole. It's a wonderful place to walk and see.
English gardens and the castle in Salzburg Austria.
Photo by author.
          We noticed some things over the next couple of days. Culturally, Austria is different, vastly different, from the United States, and even quite separate from Germany. As we walked to our hotel for the first time, we passed a number of cigarette machines, where a packs of 'coffin nails' were a mere 3.50 EUR. This may seem on par with US prices, but in Germany cigarettes are close to 5 EUR (6.50-7.00 USD per pack,) and in London I'm told they're even more expensive. It appears Austria never got on board with the whole anti-smoking, anti-vice campaign. But more on that later.
          When we checked into our the hotel, we asked after a Thai restaurant that we passed on the way in. This produced a puzzled reply from the clerk, "Restaurant? No, I don't know of any Thai restaurant..." Of course, we had seen one, so we pressed him, and he responded, "Oh, yeah, that place. I wouldn't call it a restaurant... more of a shack." We asked if they served food, he said they did - and we couldn't see what else you could call a building that served food.
Salzach river in Salzburg, Austria. Photo by author.
         Shack is a generous term. It was like entering a coffin-sized greenhouse with a space heater blowing pure plasma into the 'room.' No, it was like climbing into the back of a crowded 1960 (in 1960) Lincoln Continental with the windows closed, the heat on high, and a tiny Thai woman with a pack of Marb Lights glued to her left hand, smoking like a thin-lipped chimney.  The driver takes your order for green curry the guy sitting bitch cooks the food, and the shotgun passenger washes the dishes. Good food, though.
         There was a lot of smoking, usually indoors. It was just a part of life. Also, every tenth shop sold lingerie. Not lingerie like you get at Target (stores inc.) The "fancy pants" stuff like you see on the cover of GQ. These things piqued my curiosity. I found myself exploring the Austrian acceptance of vice and its affect on their culture. Parents and children walked down the street hand in hand, passing lingerie shops with no ill effect. Their society certainly hasn't collapsed, in fact their unemployment rate sits close to 4% and they spend less than the US on health care per capita with a longer life expectancy. It gave me cause to think about the nature of freedom, education, and the ability of an informed populace to make good decisions for itself instead of trying to legislate through it. Do strange dangers lie beneath? Maybe, but it sure didn't look that way.
More of Salzburg from the Kaputznerberg. Photo by author.
          Our last day in Salzburg we got a big more information about these cultural differences. We walked from the hotel to the downtown area and passed two points of interest, a flamboyantly pink building, unabashedly advertising it as a men-only establishment, and also a row of fliers pinned under the wiper blades of parked cars. They were brightly colored, festooned in yellow and pink advertising the "Vesuv" - a nightclub. (A play on Vesuvius, I'm sure the erupting theme intentional.) 
          It was around this time that I remembered that Austria permits prostitution, which sparked another conversation. There were no girls on the street, however, it was legal. After this bombardment of interesting facts you may feel that the Swede and I are nothing more than a couple of commonplace perverts, and I suppose that's possible enough. But, whatever you've gleaned from as a reader I must say that we, by the standards of an Austrian city, looked like puritans. 
           I even felt a bit embarrassed when the Swede and I entered a cafe for a walking break (those painful shoes, remember.) It might just have been my imagination, but I think we looked (again) like big spoon and little spoon, and whether the waitress thought the same thing or not, she seated us at a table the size of 50-cent piece and lit a red candle. Tres romantique. Whatever she thought, though, she didn't bat an eye, and that's Austria.

         As a culmination of this 'other side of Salzburg,' we stumbled on the 'main' sex shop on the way to the train station. It's literally just 100m - 150m walk. After our morning, we weren't feeling particularly bashful. After all, if you go to Amsterdam, it's worth at least seeing what all the fuss is about, isn't it? In Austria, you should see what the Austrians see (at least some of them.) Inside, the patrons and shopkeepers were also less than bashful. I won't break into specific detail, aside from (as near as I could tell) the store had just about anything you could dream up - but the more interestingly, the shop was in the middle of a neighborhood and the clientele were completely average folk. Sure, there was a guy in a leather, studded vest, but there was also a young couple and a 50-something woman with a short hair who had a tiny dog on a leash as she perused the store. On her way out she struck a conversation with the shopkeeper in such a benign tone that they might have been discussing the weather Olympic hopefuls, or the soccer team. Just a part of life. We decided to ask the shopkeeper about the culture of Salzburg. He laughed at the idea of a 'redlight district' in such a sleepy town, but then went on to tell us how the laufhaus works. You go inside, find the picture of a girl you like, push the button underneath, and she comes to meet you. He added that they have a lot of beautiful women, really a lot. Funny, as an American, to hear that a redlight district seems outlandish, but there was more than one laufhaus in town. I imagined one of these houses in the sleepy town where I grew up and my head almost exploded. 
           I regret that we didn't make it to the castle and missed a couple of the other attractions, but the sensation of a railroad spike dissecting my foot bones was too much. Fortunately it's only a few euro to go there, and I intend to go back with Kelsie. I can be pretty sure that she won't be interested in the more robust cultural differences, which is fine. You can visit the city and barely notice them. It's not like they attack you with temptation, the more extreme cultural differences sit quietly in the background waiting for you to find them (if you don't include indoor smoking, which plays second sin to none these days in the US) but there are a lot of other subtleties and beautiful things to see and interesting things to do in Austria - a place full of culture, openness and beauty. And, maybe next time, I'll get to that 50-cent piece of a table and share it a bit less awkwardly. 
          Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life has been sliding sideways into Life... leaving motorcycles behind. I've noticed it happening. I've lamented it, in fact, and just this morning I said (out loud, to nobody in particular) I miss my bikes. The problem is that we live in Germany. Now, I don't consider the country or the fact that we're in Germany (or the fact that we're living) problems, it's that there are no motorcycles here. On top of that, it's winter. Winter outside Munich is a bit like living in a cloud, and living in a cloud is not the charmed existence that Star Wars Episode V might have you believe - it's wet, cold, windy and gray. You can tell the sun is out, but you're never quite sure where it's at. Typically, being trapped indoors doesn't bother me, but two things are working against me - one has nothing to do with this blog - against all good reason I decided not to bring a guitar to Germany. The other involves motorcycles, which were too expensive to drag across the ocean. leaving no electrical gremlins to hunt, no blown tires replace or elusive carburetor clogs to (unclog) fix. It's just us, books, bad weather and evenings of internet television. So there you are, no play for Jack and all that. Sorry if this motorcycle blog spends the next 8 months focusing on travel and culture with less of a focus on the two wheeled slice of life. Believe me, I miss it.
          I can hear you out there internet, lamenting my pain, poor me. Right. Poor guy gets to live a year in Europe. Tough life. You know what? It's ok, be snarky, because you're right, but it does make writing a motorcycle stories damned difficult, however, as I try to base the events here on fact. 
            So, here's the thing. I might not write about motorcycles as frequently as usual in the next few months. This is a common occurrence in the blog-0-sphere, but I've tried to avoid it as much as possible. Alas, unless there is an overwhelming outcry to read fiction, this is the situation, so I'll quit complaining and get to the story telling. 


  1. It's the writing about life and living that makes your blog interesting. Good stuff,whether it's about motorcycles or just observations on living.

  2. I enjoy the stories and the travel. Having never been to Austria or Germany, the pictures and your commentary are more than interesting. I'm a bit envious of you getting to spend time there but at least you are willing to share your stories and pictures.

    I make the same excuse every winter since there is no motorcycle activity for about 6 months out of the year. I don't have to put up with living in a grey cloud ala Star Wars V, but it is still dark and pretty cold.

  3. Wait, you were in Salzburg and didn't do the tourist-trap "Sound of Music" bus tour?!

    Next time, do that and the tour of the Salt Mines....that one is actually kind of cool.

    The frau and I went there as part of honeymoon, lovely town.

    As to red light districts, try "the wall" in Frankfurt. You can window shop.

    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  4. I think we all enjoy reading your stories, whether they are about bikes, traveling, or what have you. It is the way you spin the words that keep us enthralled.

    Like big spoon, little spoon, I'm still laughing.

  5. First, if you can keep writing about "Life" as you do about "Motorcycles", that's fine with me.

    Second, no motorcycles? 8 months? Come on! Just wait until the first temps above freezing and you'll see the bikes coming out as the swallows return.

    What about a XJ600 for €850?

    Or a 1976 CB 400 for €1190?

    Yes, I can see the twinkle in you eye (evil laughter).

  6. Richard,

    Thanks for vote of confidence. I'll keep at it so long as people keep coming to read - I figured I should spill on what is going on in my life motorcycle wise since the blog is touted as a motorcycle (ist) blog. Though that's pretty loose these days.

    Thanks for reading! Your words of encouragement go a long way.


  7. Richard (M)

    I'm definitely glad you found it interesting, I definitely found it interesting to be there, the only other information I had about the place was from John Irving's book "The World According to Galt," and that is, well, a bit absurd. The ladies stay indoors these days and aren't found on the street, which is probably for the best.

    If you ever get a chance or are ever close, I would recommend the city. It was beautiful and not terribly expensive as a destination/place to stay, which is more than I can say about a lot of places I've wound up in the last couple of years.


  8. Hey Dom,

    Maybe we'll get to Frankfurt, but I think that we'll return to Salzburg, must have been a hell of a place to honeymoon, it's really a beautiful city, I hope you went there in the summer, though, the winter air was a little... bracing for my tastes. (Look at me, I used to be a hardened Minnesotan, now I'm just a sissy.) The train there was fantastic, too, for only 29EUR each way? How can you beat it?

    Also, one of the few movies my wife brings up is The Sound of Music, I think she'd like to go on that tour. I might just make it happen - if I do, I'll try to let you know.

    Behind Bars - The motorcycle blog that makes no promise of motorcycles.

  9. Trob,

    Thanks a bunch! I've got to say that the big spoon little spoon thing crossed my mind on more than one occasion. Thing is, I think Salzburg would be one of the last places on the globe to give half a turd about it. At least we didn't need to share a bed in the hotel.

    Behind Bars - The blog for motorcyclists who occasionally leave the saddle.

  10. Dear Pablo,

    How dare you! Too much temptation! Kidding, of course... You have got me lusting pretty hard after that Honda 400. I had almost decided to avoid buying a machine here, since I've already got three in the states - but seeing these for sale puts a serious bug in my bonnet. I'll be checking that site out now, pining, if nothing more.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for taking the time to write in.

    Behind Bars - Filling the winter months with stories to dull the pain of motorcycle withdrawal.

  11. That's some nice looking Wurstchen in the 2nd photo down.

    I don't know how you could be bereft of motorcycle action in Europe's No1 Motorcycle nation!?

    N lover of keftedes

  12. Hey Brady I'm sure the bikes will come out to play come summer.Is there anywhere you can hire a bike? That might get you through when your motorcycle lust kicks in.
    As others have mentioned, always a good read whether on motorcylces, life or both. Soon you'll be looking back wondering where the year went.
    Take it easy.

  13. Salzburg is just an hour north of one of the best motorcycling roads in Europe, the GrossGlockner. And I can provide you with the name and address of a very good bike rental company in Munich. You can make that happen come May if you want to!

  14. Dear Brady:

    The next time you order dinner in Saltzburg, ask for the "Norkle" for dessert. Then let me know what you think. Now let me assure you that the red light district in Amsterdam is where you go to meet the toughest, roughest looking women on the planet. (And they are sitting in rundown storefronts that wouls appeal only to most desperate of men. Go to Hamburg, and prepare to spend an evening in the Reeperbahn. The women are 10 times more beautiful. But don't get gulled in the storefronts. It's winter, and the snow-suit girls are working the streets. These are absolute stunners who work as legal clerks, bank tellers, and models during the day. I did all my Christmas shopping on the Reeperbahn one year.

    Fondest regards,
    Twisted Roads

  15. PS: You mean to tell me there are no bike shows, BMW dealers, Ducati dealers, or cool guys (with cool bikes) to talk to on the street?

    fondest regards,
    Twisted Roads

  16. Who says it all has to be about motorcycles? If motorcycles aren't art of your life right now, so be it. You have enough other observations to share. And given that many of us haven't experienced some of what you are doing right now? It is enjoying reading of your adventures.