It was a difficult decision not to go home for Christmas our first year in Europe. Although I’ve spent a couple of Christmas’s away from Texas at this point, we’ve always been with family either in Texas, or with Trev’s family in Connecticut. Timing and cost played against us, as it was incredibly expensive to fly to the US Christmas week, and with EMC’s year end being Dec. 31st, as a sales manager Trev couldn’t afford to be away long at this time. Therefore, we made the decision to stay.
We decided that rather than stay home and sulk in our lonely sorrows on Christmas day, we’d use this opportunity as a long weekend away, somewhere “Christmasy” in Europe! After several conversations with UK colleagues, the recommendations were clear – Germany or Austria – purely for the Christmas market experience. We hadn’t yet visited Austria, and Trev had recently watched a travel documentary on Salzburg that very much peaked his interest. Salzburg it was; and we’d fly out on Christmas Eve Day.
The 24th came quickly, and we found ourselves 2 of only 10 or so people in the entire EMC office that day. Suitcases in tow, we left the office just after lunch and set off for our Christmas adventure. We arrived to Salzburg in the early evening, and a short 15 minute ride later (in the most supped-up taxi we’ve seen to this day), we were standing at the doors of our bed and breakfast. Quite hungry, we quickly sorted ourselves in the room and headed out for dinner.
Our first feelings of being in Salzburg were those of gratitude; that even though we weren’t able to make it home for Christmas, we were thankful to be spending time together in this quaint and cozy village for the holidays. It was dark out, but there was just enough light to make out the beauty of the cathedral and surrounding buildings in the town square. The Christmas Market stalls had closed for the day, but the promise of the twinkling strings of lights made me even more excited to wake up on Christmas morning and discover what each was hiding.
Our Christmas Eve dinner at Zum Zirkelwirt was a warm and comforting experience. The lodge style setting and hearty portions of comfort food set the scene for a winter wonderland ambiance. My only regret was dolling up in my “sparkly little black Christmas dress” and tights, as it didn’t leave much room for over-indulgence (never mind that I was over-dressed by a mile, compared to the comfy sweaters and jeans others were wearing). I particularly enjoyed my dish of spinach dumplings, packed with more flavor and texture than I could have imagined. Each was literally the size of my fist, so needless to say Trev shared in the goodness.
After dinner, while walking back to the town square, we came upon a notably lengthy line forming outside of the cathedral doors. That’s when we realized… they’d be hosting Midnight Mass! I’d never been, as my family tradition was to attend mass early on Christmas Eve, but the prospect of trying this out for the first time in Europe was exciting! Too cold to wait in line, we grabbed a quick coffee and waited for the doors to open.
The church itself was absolutely magical; built in the 17th century Baroque style; the vast interior, rich with character, left me feeling emotional as we searched for a place to stand. The choir began singing A Capella hymns in German; echoing across the church in perfect harmony, leaving Trev and I with goose bumps all over . This moment was special. This was a moment I would remember, and for this alone I was thankful we’d made the decision to spend Christmas here, in Europe. Although the entirety of mass was spoken in German, we were moved by the spirit.
The next morning, despite our late night out, we woke early to a beautiful, sunny Christmas day. Eager to check out the Christmas Markets, we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed for the stalls. The Market experience is one of complete sensory overload, as every corner you turn is a new row of shiny, sparkly ornaments, sweet and spicy aromas and all kinds of winter goods to buy. We spent hours the first day, walking row-by-row, over-indulging in deliciously fried treats and discussing which family members would enjoy which stalls. I even participated in a little game and won a bag of fresh apples, which was apparently quite the prized treat!
Overall, we found two favorites that dominated all others at the Market: the Jacket Potato (…that’s the Brit coming out in me…baked potato for you Americans out there) stuffed with butter and a sour cream, garlicky sauce filling that I could drink by the liter, and the Gluehwein (hot, mulled wine) served in the signature Christmas market mug.
To burn off unnecessary calories that afternoon, we took a walk across the city and ascended the wall up to Hohensalzburg Castle. The view from the top of the wall lent itself to a beautiful panoramic of the entire city.
Original construction of the castle started in 1077 by an Archbishop, and over the years saw several expansions and inhabitants including the Holy Roman Empire, the French during the Napoleonic War, held Italian prisoners during WWI and inhabited by Nazi activists during the 1930’s. Given the vast amount of war history, I mustered all the patience within me to read timeline walls and nearly every display in every room with Trev, and still had to make a strong push to leave for dinner. If you’re interested in history at all, this is a must-do on your trip over.
Our second full day in Salzburg, Dec. 26th, started with a quiet, early morning run through the city – followed immediately with another glass of Gluehwein, and of course a second stuffed potato. We had originally planned to maintain a “low-key weekend” in the immediate downtown area – but who were we kidding? Between the two of us we have more ADHD than a stadium full of 5-year-olds on a sugar high. Trev quickly pulled up a search of Top Salzburg Tours on his phone, and within 5 minutes, I had rang and booked us on an afternoon trip out of the city, to the Bavarian mountains. We left right around lunchtime, and climbed aboard a shuttle bus headed for the romantic Lake District Salzkammergut. Our first stop on the tour was Lake Fuschl with castle Fuschl, now a five star hotel, on its shores. While in town, we purchased a couple of specialty varieties of cooking salt, & snacked on the most unbelievably delicious sausage from a street vendor, that I still dream about to this day (coming from a girl who doesn’t even care for it).
Our last stop was in the little town of St. Gilgen, where Mozart’s mother was born. Here, we enjoyed an evening stroll around the village, waiting for the sun to set over the water, behind the Mozart household.
In our final moments of the tour, our group headed into a local café to enjoy one of their specialty coffee and cakes, and then headed back to the bus for a cozy drive back to Salzburg. Our tour guide was excellent – we would recommend Panoramic Tours to anybody looking for a nice day escape in Austria.
My last Salzburg mention is one that we both must admit we met with a bit of confusion. Before and during our trip, we had heard ALL of the rage about stopping into the famous Sacher hotel, for a slice of the “most famous cake in all of Europe”. So on our last evening, we did just this, and went for a slice of cake with tea. Now, I could go on about the Strawberry Cream flavored tea I had for days. In fact, it may have been the best decaffeinated tea ever, but…. the cake?? The cake was…underwhelming at best. Dry, a bit flavorless…with an off-putting texture. We were unimpressed – but must have been missing something for this cake to receive the publicity that it does.
In summary, Christmas in Salzburg was incredibly charming and cozy. It was the perfect way to spend a holiday overseas, and has set the bar high for holiday trips to come. 🙂