Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Serendipity in Salzburg

I read once an article about how we create our own luck. As far as I can remember, the idea was that those who we consider “lucky” are in fact not endowed with a magical serendipity (propensity to accidently fall into lucky situations) but rather exude positivity, flexibility and a general interest in trying something new.
            Before I headed across the pond to Austria, I felt too stressed to maintain the demeanor of a “lucky” person, so I didn’t, and I wasn’t lucky…or I didn’t have serendipity. Nothing particularly lucky ever seemed to happen to me. But I was able to recharge during winter break, allowing me to arrive in Salzburg with the qualities—a positive attitude, willingness to change my plans, and desire to meet new people--of a serendipitous person.
            And guess what? I have totally found serendipity in Salzburg!
            Let me elaborate. It began when I was sitting in a nice Italian restaurant with a friend at the end of the first week of my stay in Salzburg. We were chatting, enjoying our delicious four-cheese pizza, when the couple sitting two tables over approached us. “Where are you two from?” the man, whose American accent was by now apparent, asked us. We chatted for a minute about our hometowns and why we were here. And then, before departing, he said they had paid for our meal, and he handed us each a Salzburg Card, which gives you free and discounted entry to attractions around the city.
            Bam. Serendipitous moment. Accidental, out of the blue, very awesome.
            Some time later, I was sitting in a café with the same friend. Again, we were chatting, enjoying our coffees and complementary Mozartkugeln, when an Austrian couple took a seat at the table beside us. We struck up a conversation about Mozartkugeln factories and, this really meant a lot of me because I love Mozartballs, the couple gave us their Mozartkugeln.
            Yet again, a serendipitous moment.
            After arriving at four in the morning from a bumpy night train ride from Venice, I attended Salzburg’s Butcher’s Leap celebration in which nineteen young men, apprentices of butchers, jumped into a giant bucket of water to wash away the mistakes they’d made as apprentices and usher in their new lives as butchers. I exchanged smiles and glances with a friendly Austrian women. We soon were chatting (in German!) about the celebrations. I had just been thinking earlier how I needed to meet more Austrians and improve my German, so talking to this woman, Christine, was really wonderful. When the celebrations had ended, she told me that her and her husband’s tradition was to eat a sausage that was being sold at a nearby vendor. But, she said “Mein Mann ist krank” and asked me if she could buy me a sausage instead. I choose the white sausage, which, because of the casing you have to peel off, is an experience in itself. After eating our sausages, Christine and I departed. I felt pretty awesome because I’d practiced my German, watched a fascinating Salzburg tradition, and gotten a free sausage!
            Serendipity strikes again.

            And finally (at least for now), after I’d visited St. Peter’s catacombs and an authentic Austrian restaurant (where I was served cheese sausage wrapped in bacon on a bed of fries), a friend and I wandered into a ceramic store/studio of a cloister. The shop was jam-packed with ceramic odds and ends (most interesting were the ceramic snakes curling around candles). We were about to leave when the shop owner stopped us and handed us each a little ceramic angel. We were both surprised and honored.
            And there we go, serendipity.
            The serendipity I’ve found in Salzburg, I believe, is proof that the article I read was right- we do make our own luck, simply by being positive and open-minded.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Viareggio Carnival and Parade

Endangered Animal Float
After a day in Venice for Carnival, you would think I would be ready to relax and enjoy a day without the massive crowds. Instead, I visited the Tuscan coastal town of Viareggio for their famous carnival parade. The event included seeing more people than I could fathom in one place, throwing confetti on unsuspecting "bambini", being nearly run over by giant floats, and eating typical carnival sweets.

Alien Float
The floats are made from paper mache and can take up to a year to construct. They are created by professional artists in a designated area of the city, called the Carnival Citadel, and stored in huge garages until the event in March. The floats usually depict relevant current issues, such as politics (Obama and Berlusconi made appearances this year), the environment, and culture.

Indian Karmasutra float. 

The large, first class floats can be more than 20 meters high. The second class floats are smaller, but no less amazing. The third class floats are actually large costumes worn by a single person, such as my favorite, the Burlesque-oni costumer above.

An impressive single person float!

Abra-Obama and his flea circus of politicians

The parade was not like anything I experienced in the states. The people flood the streets and mingle with the bands and smaller floats. When the large floats, which take up the whole street, pass by, we are all pushed to the side and smashed against each other. The floats have moving and twisting elements that are either mechanically or manually controlled. I am pretty sure I almost got hit by a swinging cavewomen from the endangered animal float.
One of my favorite floats. The goddess appears when the flower opens. Below her is contaminated water and dying vegetation.
Amnesty International
The most amazing float in the parade, Rexpublica, depicts Berlusconi as a T-rex skeleton. His face cracks open to reveal a human skull. Around him are burning newspapers (a reference to his control of the Italian media). The float was accompanied by chanting dancers dressed in white. Absolutely chilling.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mozart and the Sachertorte

This reminded me very much of the mirror in Harry Potter.
A gloomy Sunday morning following a sunny and forty-degree Saturday at first did not seem promising.  By the time I reached the Residenzplatz, the snow was falling heavily and the air was cold. Tim and I were headed on our way to mass at Franziskanerkirche, a smaller church located across from the overpowering Dom cathedral.  We crossed under an ancient arch toward the church, bells began to ring, people bustled by and suddenly the snow wasn’t a nuisance anymore but an addition to the romantic setting. Franziskanerkirche is considerably smaller than the Dom, but it does not lack its fair share of elegance. Golden statues surround the alter under a curved stone ceiling. This smaller church filled up fast. Most people kept their coats and hats on during the service to battle the cold that was almost magnified in the church.
                The mass seemed typical until, from behind the congregation, an orchestra began to play Mozart. My untrained ear  could distinguish the sounds of violins, cello, and certainly flutes.  Male and female signers occasionally added their voices to the music. What is a better way to experience Mozart in the city of his birth? The music floated around the church and added a magical touch to the romantic feeling of the day. Clearly the “concert” was enjoyed by all, as the congregation applauded twice at the end of the service.  Once outside, Tim told me that the music played today was first performed by Mozart in that same church.
                After saying goodbye to Tim, I ducked into the Residenz building, palace of the archbishop of Salzburg. I carried my high from hearing Mozart in his own element as I ascended the wide sweeping steps towards the palace. For the student price of 4.5 Euro, I received an audio tour guide, similar to that of Westminster Abbey.  The Residenz is a gorgeous palace. Nearly every room is adorned with ceiling frescos and paintings, usually of Greek myths or Alexander the Great. An ornate period clock is a typical sight along with Venetian mirrors and chandeliers. Tapestries, full length mirrors, silk damask wallpaper. Outside the windows, you can see the busy cafes and horse carriages.
The famous Sachertorte.
                When I left the Residenz behind and stood waiting for my bus, the weather was as gloomy as ever, the romantic snow now turned to rain. Despite the weather, I still had Mozart playing in my head and the  gorgeous painting of Thetus’ wedding from the palace in my memory. And like almost every day here is Salzburg, I thought a perfect addition to the day would be a Melange and a pastry….which I did receive at Café Sacher that afternoon.
                The large café looks out over the Salzach river, is decorated with pictures of celebrities who’ve visited (on an unromantic note, including our late Vice President), and serves up the classic Sachertorte. Add a friendly, smartly dressed waiter, a creamy Melange, and a fun group of AIFS students, and it was a wonderful way to finish off my day’s adventures in Salzburg!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Le Belle Chiese di Italia, The Beautiful Churches of Italy

It's impossible to be in Italy and not visit the magnificent churches. I have been in more than I care to count! Some churches are incredibly ornate, such as Siena's large cathedral, and some are pleasantly simple, like a small white marble church I visited in Rome. Below are some of my most memorable images from churches. I took many more photos of course, but I believe this collection represents the beauty of each individual church. The churches are from: Arezzo, Pistoia, Florence, Rome, Siena, Assisi, and the Vatican City.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cheapest Resturant In Salzburg: Just Listen to the Street Music

So many cakes!
I had time to kill before class started . I had just left a tiny café where I sampled five different pastries in AIFS’s pastry seminar. Two types of Guglhupf (like pound cake), Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte (chocolate cake with fruit sauce hidden in the pores), a tall creamy Rigojanschi with layers of chocolate and, my favorite and the sweetest of the pastries, a Esterhazytorte, layers of cake and creamy frosting. And of course all accompanied by a handmade Mozartkugel.
            And believe it or not, I was still hungry, so I found a bench in the sun, pulled out my mozzarella and salami sandwich, and watched two Austrians play each other at giant chess. The giant chessboard is laid out in Salzburg’s Kapitelplatz, which also houses an abstract art piece (a golden sphere with a man standing atop), my favorite pretzelstand  (Where, every time, before I say anything but “hallo” the woman behind the counter asks me if I speak French or English or just starts with English without even asking. Do I really look that American…or French?) and the street performer with the guitar (I actually found a picture of him in my Salzburg guidebook. Apparently, he’s been around for a while). To the right rises the Dom cathedral where I’ve attended two lovely by freezing—marble really locks in the winter cold—Catholic masses. To the left towers the Festung Hohensalzburg, which defines Salzburg’s skyline.
Giant chess in Kapitelplatz.
            The two men playing chess looked intent on their game. Surrounding them, locals played smaller chess games and tourists snapped photos. My favorite moment was when an old man, sitting squarely in the middle of the bench opposite me, was bombarded by a troop of little boys, who didn’t hesitate to cuddle right up to him while they pointed and shouted exclamations at the giant chess pieces.
            And while all this was enfolding, the street performer was playing my favorite song—Pachelbel’s Kanon. The best lunches in Salzburg, it seems, cost almost nothing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wandering in Salzburg


The Heart of Joy Cafe
Wandering through the streets of Salzburg’s Neu Stadt on a Saturday morning yields interesting results. Shopkeepers are just opening their doors as tourists begin clogging the streets with their umbrellas (and the occasional “Do Re Me” and Sound of Music chatter). I was surprised to catch snippets of so many American conversations as I walked, but at the time I hadn’t realized that’d I wandered towards Mirabel Gardens where a famous scene from Sound of Music was shot. A stretch of road perpendicular to Salzburg Congress was lined with enticing cafés. I was a snapping a photograph of a colorful café called The Heart of Joy Café when a server opened the door and welcomed me in. “You don’t have to look from outside, come in,” he said. When he asked me if I wanted an English or German menu, I told him I had to practice my German, so he gave me both.
Mirabel Gardens
Compared to other cafes in Salzburg, The Heart of Joy Café is large and airy. Painted in bold blue and orange and lined with books about meditation and healthy living, it’s a fun café to accidently wander into. Yogo-esk music was playing in the background as I enjoyed my “continental breakfast” of a role, gouda cheese, and an Americano (all at a reasonable price below five Euro). A little card on my table read, “There is only one duty and that duty is to live happily,” and I was very content to be in Salzburg at that moment.
The view from my bus stop.
The clientele in The Heart and Joy Café was a smorgasbord of backpackers with dreads, young women with their children, and an American couple, who were taking photos of their breakfast, clearly as delighted as I had first been when my coffee was brought to me on a tray.  After chatting with the couple about the Salzburg Card, a discount card that I was familiar with only because a different American couple I met in an Italian restaurant had given me theirs, I left to continue wandering. I passed Salzburg Congress and realized that the park I was walking through winded its way toward Mirabel Gardens. I snapped a great photograph of a group of men wearing traditional green wool coats and hats with a single feather poking up from the side. I caught a whisper of classical music as I passed by the practice rooms in Universität Mozarteum. Although it was raining, just above freezing, and grey, I’ve never enjoyed listening to Mozart so much!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Salzburg Cafes

Coffe from the Mozart Cafe.

Traditional Apfelstrudel
Ein Kaffee mit Milch in Manner Cafe

My first cafe experience- a torte in Cafe Fuerst.
“Gruss Gott!” When I walked into the pastel pink café—one wall lined with chocolates and candies wrapped in pink boxes and cellophane—I heard these words. Literally, “Gruss Gott” is an imperative, commanding you to “greet god!” but the Austrian’s don’t use the greeting with any religious connotations. The server at Manner Café in Salzburg’s Alt Stadt was as cheery as the café’s décor and seemed happy to practice her English while serving me (When I ordered “ein Kaffee” she knew immediately I was American. In Austria, “ein Kaffee” is an umbrella term covering all the varieties of coffee from “kleiner Mocha” to “Cappuccino”). I nearly forgot that in Austria, you do not hesitate to be seated in a café.  Unlike American’s fast-food style cafés like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, Austrian cafés are like coffee restaurants. You order at your seat, and to encourage you to sip on your “heisse Schokolade” for hours, servers will not approach you with the check until you call them over.
Heisse Schokolade
 A steaming coffee served with a small glass of water and a Mozart candy, all displayed on a silver platter. For under three Euros, you can feel like royalty at a café here. The door opens, a rush of chill air, and an exchange of “Gruss Gott” and “Guten Tag.” At a nearby table, an old man reads a newspaper and waits to be served. A group of Austrians chat loudly in German near the door. Although the view from the window is obstructed by a massive vase filled with Mozartkugln—Salzburg’s special chocolate and marzipan candies created in honor of their most famous resident---you can see a horse carriage jingle by and a group of tourists snapping photographs in front of the fountain in the square.
                What makes Salzburg particularly magical are the numerous “Platz” (squares) and consequent “gassen” (alleys). Most Platz house a statue or fountain and are lined with cafes and souvenir shops. Wander from a Platz into an narrow street and you won’t know where to look first. Above you, intricate metal signs older than the United States advertise each tiny shop. Bumpy cobblestone forms a road. Cardboard cut outs of Mozart seem to pop out at you every which way, and your eyes linger on a shoe display here, a posh clothing store there, and, of course, the sweet wares of cafes.
Some cafe's also serve juice
                Each café in Salzburg in unique. Manner Café is informal and bright. Café Fürst is cramped unless you can manage to find a seat outside in the square. Mozart Café is über-classy (and just as expensive). To reach the café you ascend a long, bright stairway with the sound of Mozart softly playing in the background. The café itself is dimly lit but romantically so like a fancy Italian restaurant. The crescent booths are upholstered with maroon fabric. Servers dressed like hotel doormen server coffees, alcohol and pastries. I was not so impressed with the complimentary square of chocolate I received (Manner’s Mozartkugeln is more my style), but I can only judge when I’ve come back for something more elaborate than a simple coffee, the cheapest item on the menu.