Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Our Christmas Vacation Part Four – Christmas Day and a Sleigh Ride

Merry Christmas!
Christmas morning – Santa found us in the hotel.  Just a small gift, one for each girl as somehow he knew they would need to carry any gifts back to England in their luggage on an airplane.  They were happy!

Eric snuck out that morning before the rest of us were up to capture some early morning pictures of Salzburg.  It had snowed overnight, so the same photos he had taken on previous days had a new, fresh look this morning.  The mountain we could see from our hotel room had a fresh blanket of snow on it as well.  

 Except for shops and grocery stores, everything else is open on Christmas day in Salzburg.  There were a couple of places we wanted to see in the city so after a delicious and filling Christmas morning breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to do some sight seeing.  Up until that day, we had enjoyed mostly sunny weather since arriving in Salzburg.  That was not to be on Christmas day.  It was cloudy, windy and cold.  The sprinkling of snow that had fallen overnight was mostly gone in the city, leaving behind a cold dampness that chilled us to the bone.  We trekked on anyway heading towards the other side of the river.   Besides our arrival at the train station, we had not spent any time on the other side of the river, but every time we ventured anywhere in the city, we could clearly see parts of a medieval wall running along the hill top.  After a chilly walk across the bridge, we searched around the city streets for a bit before finding a stairway heading in the right direction – up. 

We went up…

And up….

And up some more…

finally arriving at the wall.   

Salzburg has had periods of great wealth throughout its history and to protect it, this great wall was constructed.  Some sections of the wall date back to the late 1200s.  We scrambled along the path that followed the wall for only a little ways before it began to rain.   

As we hiked along the wall we passed a few of these little huts built into the wall which I'm guessing were for guards back in the day.  They were all fairly nondescript, except for this one.  It jumped out at us because oddly, it was decorated for Christmas.  Why?  We had no idea.  Later, when we were hiking back past it, there was a man standing in the doorway talking to another person sitting inside.  Now we understood - they lived there, in this tiny, little old hut that was obviously not meant for occupation, with no heat and certainly no bathroom.  Still, they had taken the time to hang garland and bulbs and make the place festive for Christmas. 

The rain did not help the already cold, damp day and we didn’t make it far along the wall before we decided to turn around and head towards the second destination of the day – the Hohensalzburg Fortress that sits high on a bluff above the Old City.  

The original Fortress was constructed back in 1077, and it was considerably enlarged in the early 1500s.  Besides providing fortification for the city of Salzburg, the Fortress has also served as a residence, military barracks and prison over the centuries.  It’s now open 365 days a year for touring which includes the State Rooms and Fortress Museum, a military museum, and a Marionette Museum, among other things.  Truth be told, I found the tour of the Fortress to be only so-so.  While the structure itself is amazing, huge and beautiful to walk around in and the Fortress definitely makes a statement sitting high above Salzburg, I wasn’t all that impressed with the museums inside.  The Marionette Museum was the highlight – very colorful and cute.  But it was small.  Only two little rooms.  I had been hoping for more.  The Fortress and military museums were also a bit disappointing.  Now this is clearly my personal opinion, but we’ve toured a couple of other castles and a military museum in Belgium that I found vastly more interesting than this one.  Sorry Salzburg Fortress, but that’s how I felt.  

Looking down into the Old City from the Fortress.  The building straight ahead with the green copper steeples is the great Salzburg Cathedral
The kids loved the Marionette Museum.
My favorite at the Marionette Museum - it's a replica of the trick fountains we had see the day before at Hellbrunn Palace.
A beautifully ornate door in the State Rooms within the Fortress.
Display in the Fortress Museum of an enactment of a defensive manoeuvre using only the armor and weapons.  It was kind of creepy as these guys looked like they were going to come alive and start attaching us.
Great view from the Fortress walls, despite the weather.
By late afternoon we headed back towards the hotel, passing Ellie and Leah's favorite bench once again (each time we walked through this little park, they ran along the top of this bench pretending they were dogs on an obstacle course in a dog show).  Tomorrow was going to be an early morning for us as we needed to catch a tour bus that would be bringing us high up into the Austrian Alps for what was the highlight of the trip for Ellie and Leah – a horse drawn sleigh ride.  We decided to stick close to the hotel for the evening so Christmas dinner was at the lovely Italian restaurant next door, but this time, we actually got dressed up and ate at the restaurant instead of bringing take out back to our room.  And, we split three pasta dishes instead of getting pizza again.  After watching Shrek in German, we all headed to bed early.

It snowed again overnight.  Everything was covered with a light dusting of snow as we left the hotel heading for the tour bus that would take us into the Alps.  We would drive for about an hour and a half deep into the beautiful snow covered mountains towards the little village of Ramsau.  The best way for me to share this glorious day with you is through pictures.  So here we go - a sleigh ride in the Austrian Alps.

Views from the bus as we drove towards the village of Ramsau:

We passed by this snow covered castle sitting high on a bluff in the Alps.
Leah enjoying the snowy scenery outside the bus window.
After a scary bus ride up a slippery, steep mountain road full of hairpin turns where we were advised not to look out the window if we had any issues with heights, we reached Ramsau where the horses, sleighs (complete with jingling bells), and drivers were waiting for us. Each sleigh held nine people, including the driver.  The four of us climbed into the middle row in one of the sleighs, Ellie and Leah wedged in between Eric and me.  None of us minded the snug fit because it was cold and the girls were like cozy little heaters beside us. The driver gave us a couple of thick wool blankets to cover our legs and we were off.  

Our sleigh!
Bundled up and ready to go.
The view in front of us.
The view behind us.
Passing through the snow covered forest.
This was the view for much of the ride.
We rode through the beautiful alpine scenery for about an hour, passing snow covered fields, farms, a beautiful forest and finally we pulled over for a break at a cozy little restaurant sitting by itself out in the middle of nowhere.   
Pulling up to our first stop to rest the horses and get some refreshments.
We gladly went inside for a warm cup of coffee and some Austrian treats - apple strudel and a couple of other Austrian cakes to share but I can’t recall their names.

After a short break, back to the sleigh to continue the ride.  

There was another family of four in the sleigh with us, a couple from California who were spending Christmas in Europe with their two high school age daughters.  The couple sat behind us.  Their daughters sat in front of us with the driver.  A little advice if you should ever find yourself on a horse drawn sleigh ride – you do not want the seat in the front by the driver.  The two poor California girls ended up being wind blocks for those of us sitting behind them.  Great for us, not so good for them.  And do you know what happens when a horse starts trotting in the snow?  Whoever is sitting directly behind them gets a face full of snow.  At one point during the trip, I heard their father sitting behind us say, “I bet they wish they had listened to us and packed warmer clothes now!” 

We passed a lot of people walking and cross country skiing on the well marked trails,

A walk with your dogs does not get much pretty than this.
and a few little bambinos riding in sleds wrapped up in wool blankets.   

At last we reached the little town of Ramsau again and the sleigh driver dropped us off.   
Two happy girls!  Later, Eric would comment that this was the only day during our vacation that we didn't hear a lick of whining.
We hadn't eaten since breakfast so with about an hour to kill before we needed to meet back on the bus for the ride back to Salzburg, we headed into a restaurant to try some traditional Austrian food.  Eric had beef goulash and the girls and I had schnitzel.  We couldn’t come all the way to Austria without trying some schnitzel.  The food was filling and delicious, and for dessert, the girls each got a beautiful dish of ice cream.  Ice cream on a sleigh ride?  Yes, that was included in their kid’s meal.  A scoop each of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.  Some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted!  I was not expecting that, but apparently these Austrians have a knack for making ice cream.

 The bus driver took us on a different route back to Salzburg, more beautiful than the one we had arrived on if that is possible.   We drove through a heavily snow covered alpine valley following a small river for quite a ways.  It was late in the afternoon and the branches of the evergreens in this valley were very thick with snow.  The sun was sinking which cast a bluish shadow over the landscape that I couldn’t peel my eyes from.  We tried to take some pictures, but with the tinted bus windows and the setting sun, none of them turned out very well.

By the time we arrived back in Salzburg, it was dark.  The bus dropped us off at the tour office and we were on our own again.  It was our last night in Salzburg.  We decided to walk back to our hotel instead of taking a taxi and enjoy one last stroll through this beautiful city, even though we weren’t sure which direction to go.  We needed to cross back over the river and when we finally found it, we were much further down the river than we had expected.  We didn't mind though.  It was a lovely night and sometimes the unexpected has a beautiful way of working out because as we crossed the river, we got a stunning view of the Old City and the Fortress off in the distance at night that we had not seen before.  If we had decided to take a taxi back to the hotel, we would have missed this.

The Old City and Fortress on our last night in Salzburg.
A beautiful little church across the river.
  We passed by the Makartsteg, one of the pedestrian bridges spanning the Salzach River.  It’s beautifully lit up with lights and covered in love locks – padlocks that sweethearts write their names on and lock to the bridge symbolizing their love.   

  We walked back through the Old City, down this street and that, ducking into courtyards here and there to enjoy the brilliant Christmas decorations one last time.

  And finally, it was time to head back to the hotel and pack.  We needed a good nights sleep as we had a long day of travel in front of us.  By tomorrow night, our Christmas vacation would be over and we would be back in England – or would we??? 

To be continued…


  1. I can see why you loved Austria. The sleigh ride looks so fun! I get to pick a city to do a travel brochure on for one of my classes - Salzburg it is! I was looking around a little and I saw all of the places you've talked about.

    1. Let me know if you want to use some pictures. I'm sure Eric wouldn't mind and we have lots.