We Fell in Love with Salzburg, Austria

When I wrote my post about how we chose our summer vacation this year, Salzburg wasn’t on our radar. Our original plan involved squeezing in a trip to Berlin but we eventually decided that we’d rather spend our time in Bavaria this time around. To be honest, I can’t quite remember how we decided on Salzburg, Austria but I’m so incredibly happy we did!

Salzburg is amazing. It’s the fourth-largest city in Austria and known for it’s Baroque architecture, being the birthplace of Mozart, home of the Salzburg Festival, and the setting for The Sound of Music. We stayed in a family suite at Das Grune zur Post, which was a quick bus ride into Old Town (a bus stop is literally outside the hotel). Our room was spacious, clean, and comfortable. Our time in Salzburg coincided with a record-breaking heat wave so while our room had no air-conditioning, the hotel had set up couple of free-standing fans that helped. And how can you not appreciate the …interesting…artwork above the bed?

Public transportation system in Salzburg consists of a network of buses that are clean, reliable, and extremely easy to navigate. We purchased a family pass each day we were in town and had no trouble hopping on and off to get to wherever we wanted to go.

So what did we do in Salzburg?

We walked. And we walked. And we walked. Salzburg’s Old Town (Altstadt) has stunning mountain views, gorgeous baroque architecture, narrow alleys, and winding roads lined with green moss. And it even has a castle!

Known for having one of the most-preserved city centers in the Bavarian region, Salzburg’s Old Town has cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the Middle Ages that emerged from World War II relatively unscathed – at least compared to other towns of the era. The town’s bridges and the dome of the cathedral were destroyed by Allied bombing but a majority of the baroque architecture remained intact.

The Salzburg Cathedral (still contains the baptismal font in which Mozart was baptized!) dates back to the 700s, eventually being rebuilt in the 17th century, which is as we see it today.

The kids absolutely loved the “Gurken” art installation in Furtwänglerpark by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm. We’ve had a handful of people criticize our decision to travel to Europe two summers in a row with our kids (“Why don’t wait until they’re older?”) – wondering if our itineraries are ‘too boring’ or ‘too adult’ for our elementary-aged children. Perhaps we’re lucky but both our kids enjoy exploring cities, hiking, and learning about history (Stonehenge being the exception – ha!). Our goal as parents is to have them leave the nest with a sense of adventure and an appreciation for the stories of our past and present. Fingers-crossed that we can make it three summers in a row.

Seriously – how can you not love Salzburg?

Residenzplatz is the square in the heart of Old Town Salzburg. Surrounded by the archiepiscopal residences, Residenzplatz is bordered by the New Residence, the Cathedral, the Old Residence and lots of townhomes. In the center of the square is Residenzbrunnen, a 17th century fountain that is considered the largest Baroque fountain in Central Europe. You’ve probably seen it before – Julie Andrews splashes the fountain while singing ‘I Have Confidence’ in The Sound of Music.

Speaking of The Sound of Music, easily one of the highlights of our almost two-week trip was our Fraulein Maria Bicycle Tour throughout Old Town and the countryside. The tour had us biking to famous sights of the film and locations relevant to the real Maria and Captain von Trapp, who were from Salzburg, Austria.

All of the external scenes for the movie were filmed in Salzburg and the surrounding region, and interior scenes were filmed at the 20th Century Fox studios in California.

If you find yourselves in Salzburg with time to only do one thing, I recommend The Sound of Music bike tour. It was schmalzy, incredibly fun, and absolutely beautiful.

Our time in Salzburg also included a visit to Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Refurbished in the 19th century, it has been a tourist attraction ever since – complete with a funicular railway up to the top. Visitors can either walk up to the castle or take the funicular railway for a small fee. The kids enjoyed seeing the exhibits scattered throughout the castle and the views are incredible!

Our time in Salzburg happened to be the week before the start of the famed Salzburg Festival so we were able to witness bustle in preparation. While we did a lot of things in Salzburg, we were not able to visit a salt mine – we ran out of time! Salzburg literally means Salt Fortress – there are artistic references to salt scattered throughout the city and almost everyone we met recommended at salt mine tour. Next time, for sure. Because we will the magnificently beautiful Salzburg again.

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Things We Learned: Traveling to Germany and Austria With Kids

We’re back from our amazing 11-day trip to Bavaria and settling back into our summer routine. While on the early-morning train to the Munich Airport, our little guy exclaimed, “I don’t want to go home, I wish we lived here.” And Clay and I shared a look and responded in unison, “Me too.” Baby girl was too preoccupied with complaining about a stomach-ache (foreshadowing the events on our 9-hour flight back to the States) to contribute anything to the conversation beyond, “I liked the pretzels and riding bikes.

city view of Old Salzburg

I’ll talk to a wall about my desire to live overseas and while Clay is totally onboard with the idea, the Army keeps giving him his best career-advancing assignments stateside. Waiting until after he retires to live overseas is a realistic goal but we’d prefer to live the expat life sooner rather than later. But such is life in the military, I suppose. And as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards so delicately wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.” So until it’s our turn, it will be my lot in life to roll my eyes extra hard whenever I hear/read about someone complaining about receiving an overseas assignment. And keep to keep traveling internationally for as long as our wallets and schedules can afford.

Neuschwanstein castle from Queen Mary's bridge

I plan to recap our trip by breaking it down into posts about our time in Munich, Salzburg, and Garmisch Partenkirchen but I wanted to address a few things before diving into itineraries, recommendations, and highlights – a lessons-learned of sorts.

Flexibility is crucial. When we go on our big trips (big meaning anything over 5 days and 1000+ miles away from home), we choose to operate with a rough itinerary rather than meticulously planned out days. Of course we book anything that requires advanced notice but we try our hardest to take each day as it comes. There is little we like more than wandering foreign streets not knowing what is around the corner and gathering recommendations from locals. In fact, some of our most treasured vacation memories have been moments that we weren’t even planning on experiencing.

little girl in Munich street

When your child breaks a bottle of wine in a train station grocery store, fess up and accept responsibility. Prior to boarding our train back into Germany from Salzburg, we popped into the super nice grocery store in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (the station) for some snacks because our train ride to Garmisch Partenkirchen would be 3+ hours. Violet accidentally kicked a bottle of wine from the bottom shelf and it shattered all over the floor. My instinct was to get the hell out of dodge but because my husband is a better human than I am, he flagged down an employee and offered to pay for the (extremely cheap) bottle of wine. The employee rolled his eyes and mumbled something about Americans under his breath but when he alerted his supervisor, we were told not to worry about it and thanked for bringing it to their attention.

The Bayern-Ticket is the way to go when traveling between/throughout Germany and Austria. We did not research enough and grossly overpaid for our train tickets from Munich to Salzburg. When on the train, we met an extremely nice family from Chicago on vacation with two children similar ages to ours. She is a German teacher and her and her husband met in Vienna when studying abroad so they were very well-versed in travel between Germany and Austria. They explained the Bayern-Ticket to us and because of them, we saved significantly more money on our train ticket from Salzburg to Garmisch Partenkirchen. When we inevitably go back, we will be sure to take advantage of the Bayern-Ticket.

father son in Munich

Google Maps isn’t always right. Traveling internationally in the 21st century is a million times easier that it used to be due to smartphones. Having a personal handheld computer that can translate phrases, book last-minute tickets, give us access to restaurant reviews, and tell us where to go is nothing short of amazing. But yes, even Google Maps can be wrong. We ran into a few situations when what Google Maps was telling us contradicted the directions from local sources – we always yielded to local and successfully made it to our destination.

Don’t assume your debit card will work in rural ATMs. Cash is still king in Germany and Austria. We used our American Express whenever we could (points, points, points!) but we made our fair share of ATM withdrawals during our trip, especially in the rural areas. We learned the hard way not to assume that our debit card will work in an ATM. When we arrived in the outskirts of Salzburg, we were famished and in desperate need of cash. We struggled to find an ATM and ended up digging through our pockets and backpacks for enough Euros to purchase lunch. Thankfully we emerged victorious (5 euro coins FTW!) and after eating delicious pizza (yes – Austria has fantastic Italian food), we eventually found an ATM in Old Town Salzburg that worked with our card.

Attempting key phrases in German is better than just speaking English. This is a no brainer – whenever you travel to country that speaks a different language, it is always best to try and not be an ‘ugly American’ by assuming everyone speaks English. We had our kids say at least please and thank you in German everywhere we went and it earned them quite a few cheek pinches from proprietors.

Eat vegetables whenever you can! When Clay and I traveled to Scotland a few years ago, we learned the hard way that fresh vegetables weren’t a given when dining out, especially at pubs. We found the same to be true in Germany and Austria – meat and carbs are king. Tasty but not the greatest for the digestive tract. I wasn’t always successful but I tried to order at least one green item each day. Pictured is the salad I ordered outside of Neuschwanstein Castle. It interestingly came with a baked potato, potato salad, kidney beans, and corn…the joys of ordering food when you don’t speak German! 🙂

And finally if you’re debating about whether to go or not – JUST GO! Travel somewhere new with your kids. It doesn’t have to be internationally or even across the country. But do not underestimate the power of traveling to a new place together as a family. Obviously don’t put yourself in debt to do so but investing in travel and adventure as a family is never a bad thing. You learn so much about each other. There will be times of frustration, there will be moments of pure wonder, there will be belly laughs, and there may even be a few tears. But most importantly, there will be memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life. And who doesn’t love a good “Hey – remember when we …….” family conversation around the dinner table?

family view from Hohensalzburg Fortress

Germany and Austria – Our {Rough} Itinerary

I can count on two hands the number of days left before we board our flight to Munich. To say that we’re excited is an understatement. Eeeeek. Earlier this year, I wrote about how we chose our big summer vacation. And last year, I really enjoyed writing about how we chose our adventure and our rough itinerary, and recapping our time in the Cotswolds, London, and Paris. So I figured I’d give a brief overview of what we plan to accomplish during our time in Germany and Austria and how we plan to incorporate lessons learned from our trip to Europe last summer.

Munich. We scored an amazing deal on roundtrip tickets to Munich so we’re bookending our trip in the capital city of Bavaria. We initially considered incorporating Berlin into this trip but ultimately chose to focus on southern Germany and Austria in order to really experience the scenery and culture. Yes – we will be sure to visit Hofbrauhaus, Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, and more but we’re just really looking forward to wandering around the city and seeing where each day takes us.

Salzburg. After our initial stay in Munich, we’re renting a car and driving to a villa on the outskirts of Salzburg. We will stay there for a few days and explore both the city and countryside. Yes, we will be doing a Sound of Music bike tour and will have no shame singing Do-Re-Mi in Mirabell Gardens. We hope to visit a lake or two, we’re looking forward to hiking Untersberg, and of course eating our way throughout the city!

Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. We had already pretty much mapped out our trip when we received news that Edelweiss Lodge & Resort changed the eligibility requirements back to those stationed outside of EUCOM. We were able to score a few nights at the resort so we will be heading back into Germany after our time in Salzburg. We plan to relax during this portion of our trip and leisurely explore the countryside and visit Neuschwanstein Castle and other famed Bavarian sites. And I am almost positive we will fall in love with Garmisch-Partenkirchen and will never want to leave. We will also be in town for Garmischer Fest so we will be able to experience a true German festival.

Munich. We are ending our trip back in Munich and will have a couple of days to explore more of the city before flying back home.

What We Are Doing Different This Year

More time. Due to Clay being an aide-de-camp at the time, he was only able to take a week of leave. We made the most of our 7 days in the United Kingdom and France but because of our tight schedule, our days were packed and we were exhausted by the end of the trip. This year, we will have more time and we will have more opportunities for rest and relaxation.

Less guilt. This ties into the previous point but we are not going to let ourselves feel guilty if we want to have a quieter day that doesn’t involve running from landmark to landmark in order to maximize our time. Clay and I have trouble relaxing but we are going to force ourselves to have a few hours of down time built into each day – even if it means eating a leisurely meal or sitting in a park and letting the kids play while we sip drinks.

Listen to Rick Steves. We love watching his show and reading his books so we have no reason not to follow his advice. His travel philosophy is simple and we will be sure to be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic during our trip.

Those of you who have been to Munich, Salzburg, and/or Garmisch-Partenkirchen, what do you recommend?