Those Germans are a thoughtful lot. It’s as if their rail system was designed with people just like me in mind. That is, those somewhat challenged in the areas of map reading and general instruction-following. It was at Munich Hauptbahnhoff, the central train station, where I met my new best friend – the wagenreihungsplan.
Not only a fun word to try and pronounce, the wagenreihungsplan is a beautifully designed piece of information that tells you exactly where to stand on a train platform in relation to your seat number, so that when the train rolls into the station, you just hop right onto the carriage in front of you and your seat will be close by. It’s details like these I really appreciate, and I was especially excited when boarding my train to Salzburg that not only did I find my spot with ease, but that I had a whole compartment to myself! Woohoo! Such luxury.
I put my feet up, turned on my iPod and sat back to enjoy the scenery. Actually, I had such a great time on that train ride I didn’t want it to end. It was just as I had hoped Europe rail travel would be.
Not that I was disappointed to arrive two hours later in Salzburg, which has to be one of the loveliest cities around. Yes, Salzburg – you really are a pretty little jewel. I want to steal you and keep you forever!
I’d booked a hotel right in the centre of the old town, which is a maze of cobblestone lanes that were too small to feature on my printed map. Which meant, of course, I got a bit lost. But not seriously lost – just enough to realise early on that asking someone for directions was probably a wise idea. Having done just that I found my hotel and checked in. And what a seriously lovely place! My hotel in Munich was great, but it was more on the side of modern-chic/slightly budget. Hotel Elefant, on the other hand, oozed classic hotel and got extra points for upgrading me from my booked single bed to a luxurious double. Okay, so that just turned out to be two single beds pushed together, but I’m told that’s common for Europe and I still felt pretty flash!
Just as with Munich (and as will be for the rest of my journey, most likely) I hadn’t prepared any kind of itinerary for myself, nor did I even have a guide book to suggest ideas for me. Yeah, that part of planning kind of fell by the wayside as I rushed around getting everything else done before I left Toronto. But that’s fine with me – I’m not really a plan-every-minute type traveller anyway. I like to check out a few key attractions, but I enjoy just ambling down the streets and seeing the city that way. Salzburg is an ideal place to do just that. Every corner I turned were more beautiful buildings, quaint shops, statues, monuments, flowers, cobblestones, pretty, pretty, PRETTY OVERLOAD.
I made a point of checking out the Mirabell Gardens while the sun was out, and they didn’t disappoint in their prettiness, either. I even came across a group of student musicians playing Mozart under some trees while happy tourists watched on (confession – I don’t know that it was Mozart because I’m not so down with the classical stylez, but seeing as Salzburg was his birthplace and his face is on every piece of chocolate packaging and poster around, I think it’s a safe bet).
For lunch I grabbed a slice of pizza (is it wrong to eat pizza in Salzburg? Who cares, it was yummy) and hit the inner streets of the old town, walking around aimlessly and occasionally ducking down a hidden alleyway that would lead to yet more cobbled lanes and quaint shops. I don’t know if Salzburg is considered much of a shopping destination, but I saw plenty of people laden down with shopping bags, and – embarrassing confession – I myself couldn’t resist popping into my Toronto regular spots Zara, H&M and Mango. There’s just something funny about going into a shop you know but in a foreign city. Will the stock somehow be different and more exciting? Well, not really, I found, but that didn’t stop me buying a handbag. I had intended to buy something from a store that doesn’t exist back home, therefore making my purchase unique and special, but what can I say – I’m a slave to my favourite brands.
Having done a cheap lunch meant I could do a proper sit-down dinner (that’s generally my system – one meal on the go and the other at a table – and breakfast as part of the hotel package) so I chose my hotel’s restaurant and sat at an outside table people-watching the night away.
Well, to be more accurate, the early evening away. I was still adjusting to the time difference but that night managed to stay up till 9.30pm. Small steps! I also chatted with an Australian couple at the table next to me – the first of many encounters with Aussies … more on that interesting observation later. One good thing about going to sleep so early is that getting up early is never a problem –waking up at sunrise was good for both beating the other hotel guests to the buffet and making my morning trains. Next stop – Venice.