Stepping off the plane into Salzburg’s surprisingly intimate airport, I was struck by the encircling mountains, some of them rising steeply right there, immediately in front of me. They reminded me of the mountains in my birthplace, Salt Lake City, where, seen at least from that city’s East Bench, alpine peaks rise with similar abruptness and distinctness.
If the mountains ringing Salzburg reminded me of Salt Lake City, the city centre couldn’t be more different. My husband’s immediate boss, visiting Salzburg from global headquarters in the U.S., was taking us to dinner in the Altstadt. On the bus from our hotel, we eavesdropped unintentionally on three American women, each about 20 years old. Obviously in Salzburg for a study abroad programme, they talked loudly about their class schedules and living arrangements until the most vocal got off the bus just before we crossed the river. At the Karolinenbrucke, as the bus turned right, away, we thought, from the Altstadt, Himself and I panicked, just a little, wondering where we were going. However, we were simply entering an area of one-way streets, with north- and south-bound traffic running on opposite sides of the river. After two more stops the bus set us down near our meeting spot, and we re-crossed the river.
Now, for the first time, I could see unobstructed the Festung, rising above the Altstadt even more abruptly than the Alps rise over the city. Illuminated, its white stone walls shone against the black sky. The bulbous blue-green domes of the Dom and what seemed like a half a dozen other churches bristled beneath it, also shining in the darkness. The river gleamed with light on one side of us, the steeples and domes clustered on the other, and dominating the whole was the white fortress hanging in blackness, blackness softened by a scatter of stars and sliver of moon
It was good to meet The Captain again after nearly three years. He and Himself had worked together at another U.S.-based tech firm, and they had built trust and mutual respect over their nine-year-long working relationship. By recruiting my husband for this new position, he had launched our Austrian adventure. Besides which, I like the man. Talking all the time of old times and news of his family, he led us through the narrow passageways of Salzburg’s medieval core. Even now, several days later, there’s an unreal quality to the adventure. It’s strange to think of myself not as a tourist visiting an historic city but as a new resident discovering the place that will, I hope, become home. Then, that first night here, the experience was dream like.
We walked through winding lanes, nearly empty on a Sunday night, that every so often opened out into a wider platz dominated by sculptures under pyramids of glass. Above us, church towers topped with ornate domes clustered forest like. Nearer to earth, glittering shop windows cast diffused light through dim streets. In the windows, light glinted from thousands of brilliantly coloured surfaces: jewellry, porcelain, antique silver, stylish clothes and eyeglasses, dirndls and alpine jackets, leather goods and shoes. Others were completely filled with bright Easter eggs painted all the colours of a vivid summer garden. And everywhere windows shone silver and gold with the foil-covered marzipan-filled chocolate balls, the confectionary specialty of the city, Mozartkugeln. Over it all, high overhead but very very near, the white stone fortress floated, stark and bright against the black sky.
We ate that night in a restaurant supposed to have been in operation for over 1200 years, since 803. Inside, dark wooden panels covered walls and the low ceiling, while fresh tulips filled vases. We sat and talked long. At last we emerged into the night, entering the series of large platz widening out from the sheer cliff wall on which the schloss sits. The lights cast shadows on bare rock, making it hard to see whether the buildings are carved from it or sit flush against it or whether there’s more space than is apparent between the wall and the buildings huddled in its shadow. Light and shadow, buildings with their sharply rising steeples lit brightly from below, empty platz and darkened statues, merged and separated. All seemed surreal; only the floating white fortress rose clear and sharp and solid in the night.