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The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Bier

If you’re an avid reader of Table Hopping, by now you’ve come to realize that I love to travel just as much as I love beer, and with every city, I visit, I enjoy seeking out local brews and breweries. For me, food and drink are as much a part of the experience of learning and becoming immersed in the local culture as is visiting a museum or any number of touristy attractions that may also be on my itinerary. This month’s article, if you couldn’t tell by the kitschy title, is about my excursion to Austria.

I traveled to Austria in September 2018. I had decided to only complete a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, for two reasons – One: It was an ideal country to visit that was only a short train ride from Munich, Germany, where I was located for a few days, and Two: It is the location of where my favorite movie, The Sound of Music, was filmed!

I embarked on my journey early one September morning and set off by high-speed train through the countryside of Germany, which was only a short one and a half hour trip. This allowed me plenty of time to settle in, enjoy a cup of coffee and a simple breakfast, setting myself up for a full day of not one, but two, tours in the city of Salzburg – one on foot and one by bus. When I got into the city and off my train, the immediate area itself seemed rather modern – not at all like the rolling landscapes and Baroque architecture that I had viewed in the film. However, thanks to the power of WiFi and Google, I was able to pinpoint that there are in fact two parts to Salzburg – the New City and the Old City – and all I had to do was keep walking. (which, is pretty much what you do in Europe, so invest in a comfortable pair of sneakers!)

Eventually, I came first to the Mirabell Gardens, large and expansive, I recognized these grounds immediately as the very same area that Maria and the Von Trapp children danced through while singing “Do Re Mi” at the top of their lungs. It is no wonder that these gardens were utilized in the movie, as they are enchanting in their own right! Full of bright flowers landscaped into intricate designs, with mythical stone statues of unicorns, Pegasus, and dwarves scattered throughout, while water fountains of every size and shape give the garden movement and depth. In the background, the Old City and the Hohensalzburg Fortress look down upon the garden giving the entire landscape a supremely picturesque quality. It was a lovely place to photograph and to leisurely stroll.

When I finally got within view of the Old City, it was interesting enough separated by a river – the Salzach River, to be exact – which translates to “salt” and aptly named as the river was mainly used to ship salt, bolstering the local economy up until the 19th century, when rail service was established. There are a few pedestrian bridges along the banks of the river in order to cross between the Old and New.

Over in the Old City of Salzburg, the streets are narrow in many areas with very tall, very old buildings housing apartments on the second floors and above, with many storefronts and restaurants occupying the first floors. Most of the buildings all boasted the year in which they were built as well – the oldest that I could find being 1294. My guided walking tour of the Old City meandered through the streets and hidden alleyways with our guide pointing out various curiosities and attractions throughout. We visited Mozart’s birthplace, the Festspielhaus – which is the open-air festival house – carved quite literally out of stone on the side of the hill – where the Von Trapp family sang on stage in the Sound of Music (and it’s still in use today!), the Salzburg Cathedral, St. Peter’s Monastery, the Collegiate Church – which has some of the most exquisite Baroque architecture and design in all of Europe, several enormous fountains of which many can be seen in the film, and so much more!

It should also be pointed out that intermittently scattered throughout the cobblestones on the streets, you will see small gold placards with inscriptions. These are not meant to be bypassed but instead, viewed and read as they relate to the Anschluss, Nazi occupation of Austria, and where Jewish people were snatched from these very locations. Each gold placard has a name inscribed into it, their date of birth, date of capture/deportation by the Nazis, and their date of death along with what concentration camp they perished in. It’s a very sobering reminder of the devastation that occurred not so long ago in this beautiful city.

D

uring the afternoon hours, I embarked upon my second tour, this time the very specific Sound of Music Tour with Panorama Tours. The bus was emblazoned with painted scenes and photographs from the movie and how very lively the crowd was! Everyone who goes on this tour is by and large a big fan of the movie. Our guide was interactive and yes, we even had a sing-along on the bus during our excursion! I met another woman about my age who was traveling on her own, just as I was, who was from Australia and we became fast friends. The bus trip gave us the opportunity to see scenes from the movie just outside the city limits – From the Von Trapp family home (2 residences actually!), to the lake where the children and Maria tip their canoe, to the gazebo from “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” to the Abbey where Maria was a postulate, and then we traveled through the foothills of the Alps to the town of Mondsee where we visited the church – The Mondsee Abbey – where Maria was married in the film. The tour was absolutely phenomenal and well worth the money – and not just because we visited all of the movie sites, but also because I was able to experience and see the pure and vast beauty of the Austrian countryside – It was indescribably breathtaking. (And we even stopped for a bite of apple strudel at the end!)

During my day trip, I did find out that there were a few breweries in Salzburg, including the Augustiner Brewery in Salzburg Mülln which was founded by Augustinian monks in 1621. Unfortunately, based on the timing of my tours and the train trip back to Munich, I was unable to sneak in a trip to the brewery, but that gives me all the more reason to return! I did, however, get to imbibe on two Austrian beers during my day trip.

The first was during the bus tour – oh yes, we were given complimentary drinks on said excursion! Having never tried an Austrian beer, I was excited to get my paws on a Stiegl-Goldbräu (Stiegl Gold), brewed right in Salzburg. A Helles Lager, the beer has a characteristic golden hue and is pleasingly light, crisp, and earthy with a gentle hopped bitterness, rendering this a very refreshing brew with an ABV of 4.9% – pairing perfectly with an afternoon of adventuring and unabashedly terrible singing.

The second beer I sampled was with my Australian friend after our tour at Sternbräu in the Old City. This restaurant is a traditional beer inn and although renovated and tastefully modern now, it actually originated in 1542. Sternbräu also brews its own beer. I ordered a Sternbier, ABV 5%, which is their Kellerbier – or a type of German lager – which is created at cool temperatures. This malty, yet clean and crisp brew with a mild bitterness was a lovely beer to wind down with after a long day and before the train ride back home to Munich.

I have searched high and low for Austrian beer in the Syracuse market but have not been able to locate any – Stiegl is available in the US but the closest I could find is still 190 miles away in Port Chester, NY. Despite my failed attempts, I did come across the Vienna Lager (5.2% ABV) by Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company out of Lexington, VA, and this was the closest I could reasonably say shares in the many similar characteristics of both of the Austrian beers I sampled. This amber-colored, malty beer has the same mild bitterness as the aforementioned brews while also offering a slight bit of lemon to the finish, thereby keeping this brew quite dry, crisp, and clean. I was able to find this at Wegmans in Dewitt.

My plan is to still keep searching for Austrian beers and in the meantime, should travel ever be allowed again, Austria is still at the top of my list of countries to visit. (and I hope yours as well!) A day trip was not nearly enough time to adequately immerse myself into the city and her population. As well, given the tease of the countryside during the Sound of Music bus tour, I have plans to explore outside the city walls, visiting the smaller towns, admiring the Alps, and branching further into the country, making it to Vienna, Austria in addition. The World is so big and so vast and if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to relish in the things we CAN do, when we are ABLE to actually do them – if we wait, we may never get the chance. Life is short and we don’t know what the future holds… So, travel, drink a new brew, meet some new people, and explore to your hearts content. Prost! Cheers!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!