We had a choice this morning between visiting "Salt World" — a salt mine tourist attraction located a few miles from Salzburg — or "Beer World" — a tourist attraction on our bus line here, where the ads promise free samples. What did we choose? Well... OUR choice didn't matter. The kids demanded Salt World (thanks, in part, to the recommendation and photos we got from the O'Connells — Thanks, Karen). I suppose, living in Belgium, the O'Connells felt no need to go to an Austrian attraction calling itself Beer World.
But I digress. Actually half the challenge was in getting to Salt World. Susan may have claimed yesterday that the Salzburg bus system is user-friendly and easy to navigate. Perhaps she was over-optimistic. Our first challenge was to get from our pension-hotel to the Hauptbanhof (main train station) in Salzburg. We were told to change buses at Mirabellplaz. This proved to be easier said than done, since it turns out that, though all of the main bus lines go through this one general area, there are actually about ten different stops within about a two block radius. It was also raining at the time (and all the signs, such as they were, were in German). So it took us a bit of doing to figure out which bus to get on and how to get to the Hbf. But we got there, bought the all-in-one Salz erlebnis ticket recommended by our friend, Rick Steeves, and got on the train that was supposed to meet up with a helpful bus in Hallein (a suburb of Salzburg, next to the actual village where the mine is located). Well, we expected to find a clearly marked shuttle bus. Instead, we discovered we were supposed to take one of the regular regional busses. But we had no idea which one. Eventually, I asked someone in the train station ticket office in my terrible German and was told which bus — and it emerged that we had to wait thirty five minutes for it to go in the direction we needed. I asked the bus driver to point out which stop we should get out at (Susan kindly omitted from yesterday's blog entry that I made the family get out of the bus two stops too early on our way to Hellbrunn, so we had to walk about an extra kilometer to arrive there — all because I misunderstood what the electronic information sign was saying). The bus driver pointed out the stop, as did some helpful locals, who told us, in English, that we should get off the bus there.
(As an aside, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. We were on a tram in Prague, heading — or so we thought — to the monastery above Prague Castle. Actually that is where that tram line was supposed to go. But there had been some announcement, in Czech of course, explaining that this tram was being diverted. So when we got to the last stop before the diversion, one person asked me, in English, whether I really wanted to say on the tram. I said I did, so he said nothing further, but another passenger, with better English and a good sense of what we were trying to do, asked me where I was headed. To the monastery, one stop further along, I answered. He said, this tram's been diverted; it's about to turn. You should get off. By this time, the doors were closing, so our Good Samaritan shouted to the driver (in Czech, of course) and we all got off. And, in fact, the tram then turned and went off in a direction that would have taken us far from our intended destination.)
During the wait, I was sent off to mail some cards from the post office, where my German almost sufficed for the transaction but not quite. I got lost on the question: do you want to sent that regular or priority mail? A helpful bystander translated after I said, "Bitte? Ich verstehe nur ein bisschen." Then the helpful woman (about my age) explained (again in German) to the clerk that she should really work on her English, as a need for it comes up every day! I wanted to say something about how I should be working on my German, but my language skills failed me, so I just thanked them both for their help and made a speedy exit.
At length, we arrived:
Once there, we found ourselves among the few people traveling alone. Most of our tour consisted of a single large bus-tour group from some more or less German speaking place. Possibly the Netherlands or some part of Germany. There was, however, one couple of German-speakers who were very kind to us and patiently put up with all the damage I inflicted on their language. I was actually quite touched by their efforts to help me work on my language skills. Usually, once people figure out that their English is better than my German, they start speaking in English, with no more ado and that's that. At any rate, they took this picture of us:
We also have a picture the Saltworld people took of us, but we have no ready way to get that on line.
The tour was great fun, and probably way too dangerous to be legal in America. First we all squeezed on to a little train to head, horizontally, deep under the mountain. Then we walked further in and watched a series of videos featuring a grasping Prince-Archbishop (Marcus Sitticus) and his comically clumsy servant describing the works of the mine as they were in the early seventeenth century. And we learned that the wealth of this whole area was founded upon the salt trade. Here's a photo of John with an eighteenth century relief of a good (or at least less bad) Archbishop:
Susan found the whole thing terrifying (she hates even the thought of being underground), but she was a trooper. The best part, for me and for John, were the big "miners' slides." Back in the old days, the miners would work their way deep into the mine by sliding down long wooden chutes. The tourist versions were shorter and less steep than the real things, but they were still great fun. The resort operators take pictures of tourists on the way down, but I was making a totally ridiculous face, so we didn't buy that picture, and I couldn't get a decent shot with the camera. Instead, I have a shot here of Susan and John in the "heart of the mountain" — a touristy set up of reddish salt blocks, with lights inside them. (Actually, the mines go eight levels deeper and several hundred meters lower than the "heart").
If you would like to get a better sense of what a salt mine slide looks like, you might google "salt mine slide."
After Salt World, we hiked up to the village of Bad Dürrnberg, which is where the mine is actually located. As you can see, Margaret really enjoyed the climb:
From the church (built by Archbishop Sitticus, the villain of the tour narrative) we took some photos of the valley below:
Then, Back in Salzburg, we headed to the Mozart "Wohnhaus" — where the family lived during Wolfgang's teens and later, and where some of his great, early works were composed. Rick Steeves likes this place better than the "birth house," which we haven't yet seen, but this was one of the lamest museums we've ever been in.
Fortunately the café next door was very good (albeit a bit expensive). We refreshed ourselves with Sacher torte and hot chocolate and cafe mélanges (as they call cappucinos in Austria).
We tried to go to the Mozart waxworks museum (which we can get into on our "Salzburg Card" all in one pass) but it was closed. By the time we discovered this, the Geburtshaus also had closed. So we wandered around Salzburg for awhile, until our steps took us to the Augustinian church, just in time for Vespers. In honor of Bach Fest 2008, all the music was composed by JS Bach, and it was beautifully performed by organ and choir.
At least we've mastered the 21 Bus, which takes us back to the lovely Bloberger Hof, where we had dinner in, did yet another load of laundry in the sink, and put the kids to bed.