We had a speaking exam on Thursday and a written test on Friday, and so German tests marked the end of week two in Salzburg. The exams meant the end of our intensive German class and the start of a fun-filled homework free weekend. Salzburg celebrated St. Rupert’s Day on the 23rd (I think?), and they filled a section of the Old City with a festival to mark the occasion. The fair, because it also serves as a sort of Salzburg Oktoberfest, ran for a few days after the official holiday. This gave us more than enough time, as in every night this weekend, to see everything there was to see: several carnival rides and games, lots of food stands selling everything from gingerbread to sausages, booths selling hand made crafts, toys, clothes (we all really want to buy lederhosen/dirndls now) and of course the huge beer tent. Even for someone who doesn’t like beer (I was just happy I finally found a place with sauerkraut), this tent still managed to serve as the ultimate in entertainment. A live band played traditional march music, drinking songs, and the occasional chorus of some random American pop song like “I Will Survive.” Several hundred people drinking beer out of mugs the size of my head accompanied them whenever the occasion arose. For some reason the urge to stand on benches and tables accompanied the need to belt out a tune, increasing the danger that this person may at any moment slosh beer onto anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting within a four foot radius. Somehow, I avoided just such a shower. I did not, however, and nor did just about anyone, avoid the amusing but creepy advances of the many drunken characters sure to make an appearance during any visit to the tent lasting more than 45 seconds. The first night they came in the form of older Austrian men intent on trying to speak English to us (I’m fairly sure they still think we’re all from California) and kissing us all on the cheeks as they left. Saturday night brought to our table a crowd of guys from Germany celebrating the impending wedding of one of their own. They were the loudest in the tent at times, but we learned some new songs while standing on benches and singing with them. When a few of them decided standing on the table was a good plan, I was relieved to discover it somehow held their weight. Around dinner time on Sunday night we joined some friends who had camped out in the tent all day. The combination of their lengthy stay and the amount of alcohol consumed meant some friends had been made, most notably a middle aged Russian/German man intent on creeping us all the heck out. This often involved one of those gummy hand things sometimes found in little kids’ quarter machines. He left after a little while though, only to be replaced by an Austrian teenager whose parents should obviously lower/eliminate his beer allowance. He’d gotten into just about everyones’ faces, male and female alike, and caused several stories of fake husbands/boyfriends to be concocted before we made a break for it and said good riddance to the beer tent. After our escape, some friends and I ran into an Australian couple who had been on the road around Europe for almost three months and had plenty of stories to tell, so we chatted with them for a bit before they informed us of the impending end-of-festival fireworks to be set off over the fortress. We stuck around to see them, and it was well worth it. Not even the momentary fear that some silly fireworks could end up burning down a 1000 year old structure could wreck the show.
But I didn’t spend the whole weekend squished on a wooden bench singing “Ein Prosit” every fifteen minutes. Saturday some friends and I decided to venture out into Austria’s lake district, which is in another Austrian state but only about an hour bus ride away. How this came to be the plan is a long and convoluted story beginning with a quest to get to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and ending with my holding an all-in-German conversation with an employee at the train station about the hows, whens, and how muchs involved in getting to the little town of Mondsee. As it turns out, its super easy. We got up early Saturday and caught an 11 Euro bus at 8:40 that took us through several smaller towns until we got to Mondsee, which translates literally to Moon Lake because of its large, crescent shaped lake of the same name. We didn’t have a whole lot by way of plans for seeing and doing in the town, so we wandered a lot and ate our way through many of tiny Mondsee’s eating establishments. Mondsee is home to a church they used in filming The Sound of Music, so we went in and around there and then explored the waterfront. Rachelle and I had brought swimsuits with the hope of possibly getting into the water, but, and much to the guys’ amusement, the weather and the lake temperature did not cooperate with such plans. We did have some gorgeous views of the mountains around the lake though. Not quite content with that, we climbed a steep hill to another church so as to see the lake from a higher altitude. By that point in the afternoon the fog had cleared, and the scenes were so pretty that the five of us were ready to pool the Euros in our wallets and buy a house on the hill overlooking the town. We ran out of places to wander shortly thereafter, and we caught a bus that had us back into Salzburg by dinner time.
Sunday, after I (oops) slept through the alarm meant to wake me up in time to get to church to watch Rachelle sing in the cathedral choir, some of us became tourists in our own town and climbed yet another impossibly steep hill up to Festung Hohensalzburg, the fortress that looks down over the entire city. The fortress is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, and at no point during its hundreds of years in use was it taken by force. We’re pretty sure this is because the need to climb an epic mountain before even getting to the walls of the fortress itself would have deterred any potential invaders. We took a short tour of the interior of the castle and shot some pictures of the whole of Salzburg from its tower. We also listened to the beer drinkers singing from the tent at the bottom of the hill. That’s how loud they were. The fortress has some museums and things as well, mostly of military history items, that we skimmed through, and before we knew it our afternoon, and most of our weekend had vanished. Lots of people have classes starting tomorrow, but I’m lucky enough to have one more day to sleep in and hang around because the class I’ll normally have Monday and Wednesday is not starting until Wednesday. On the list for this week: more grocery shopping, searching for cheap places to buy dirndls in Munich so we can get one while we’re there next weekend, and finalizing plans for the many other weekend trips we want to make this semester. And maybe some homework.