Chasing the Sun in Salzburg
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
The weather can often be tricky in the mountains even during the summer. One moment the sun is shining like a glowing medallion in the sky, the other you are fleeing the rain shivering. When you make travel plans for weeks or months in advance you can only hope that the weather will be kind and the sun will wrap its arms around you. It might as well turn ugly and torrential rain might wash away all plans. Weeks before we reached Salzburg, we were regularly checking the weather forecast, and started to worry a bit when rain was forecast weeks in advance of our travel.
Don´t get me wrong, it´s not that I don´t love rain. You can spend a charming evening sitting in a rolling chair with a drink in your hand, watching the red flames of the fire in the fireplace and listening to the rain drops knocking on the window. Or you can take a break between writing two emails and just watch the city bustle under the wet curtains of the rain from the office window. A walk in the rain under an umbrella with the street lights showing the path and fresh air filling your lungs might offer some moments of requiescence. Problems only arise when you plan to spend the entire day outside, wandering the streets, the parks or the nature. After a while the wind finds its way deep to your bones, the water penetrates your clothes and if you are unlucky your photography gear faces a watery death. Therefore, we decided instead to look for sheltered places to spend the day in Salzburg.
Red Bull gives you wings
The rain drops where hitting the window with the power of a hundred woodpeckers when we left the hotel and headed towards the airport of Salzburg. The wind was sliding on the empty streets with no obstructions in its path. The mountains disappeared into the cloud cover creating the illusion of an endless wall of milk. The sound of water spraying off of tires reminded me of a Formula 1 race.
We were heading towards Red Bull Hangar-7 where among others Formula 1 racing cars are on display. The imposing glass wall construction owned by Dietrich Mateschitz is exhibiting historical airplanes, helicopters, cars and motorbikes in a modern stylish environment. Guards in black suit and white shirt at the entrance greeted us and in the bar situated on the left of the entrance elegant waiters were serving refreshments with an intimidating indifference. This reminded me of an exclusive place where only high society is allowed to enter, but as we moved forward, we found that the mood was more relaxed around the planes and cars.
The room was full of casually dressed visitors. Children were enjoying themselves, the smaller ones were crawling on all fours among the Flying Bulls' aircraft. We saw the STR5 of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, the Single Pilot IFR certified Eurocopter 2006, the AS 350 B3+ ˝Écureil˝ known for the Record for Highest Landing (summit of Mt. Everest), Tomas Schekter´s and Max Papis´ Indy Car, a Sauber Petronas C17 from 1998, a BO 105 - the first civilian helicopter certified for aerobatics.
The highlight of the exhibition was the airplane DC 6B, an American Airplane built in 1958 frequently used by head of states and acquired by Red Bull in 2000. Above the aircraft is the Threesixty Bar, open only in the evening. On the right side of Hangar-7 is Hangar-8, a maintenance facility for the Flying Bulls. As the rain was diminishing, technicians started to roll out the airplanes from Hangar-8. This process drew all the attention: people started to gather at the glass wall of Hangar-7 watching the spectacle, children were interrupted from their play by parents picking them up and bringing them close to the glass wall. We stayed there for minutes watching, waiting, chit-chatting and when no more planes were dragged out the crowd started to dissipate: some continued their exploration tour and others were heading for the exit. We decided to say goodbye to the Flying Bulls and grab some lunch.
The rain kept drizzling and there was no thinning in the clouds to give us any hope for sunshine. We decided to have lunch at the guest house “Zur Einkehr”. At the bar a group of cheerful men covered in cigar smoke were enjoying themselves with a glass of beer in hand. The area further back separated by a wall was quieter: a couple was enjoying tea in the corner and a family was gathering for Sunday lunch. The menu was a bit humdrum: potato as garnish with anything. The coffee was traditionally Austrian: over-roasted and bitter to make us move on.
Rolling in the deep
As we drove up the serpentine path leading to Hallein Salt Mine in Bad Dürnberg the rain stopped. The gray clouds were rolling towards the mountain peaks. The hillside covered with green trees was growing higher until the valley became a little spot in the distance. From the Hallein belvedere we could see the mounds colored in different shades of green extending to the horizon until the clouds engulfed them. The wind was jiggling unperturbed on the hills and hit us with such a power we almost fell from the terrace. We retreated into the lobby waiting our turn with 30 other people. Before entering the mine, we received miner clothing to keep our clothes clean.
Our spirits were lifted when we saw each other wearing the spotted over sized white clothes. We hopped cheerfully on the train taking us into the mine after the photographer of the center took pictures. The dark tunnel which got silent after the passing of the previous tourist group was filled again with laughter, glee and chit-chat. A humorous video projection presented the story of the mine and the city, how it became a source of survival and later enrichment focusing on the period when Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau was ruler in Salzburg.
The funniest part of the tour were the slides. They cannot be skipped, literally, as there are no stairs or path to walk on and it´s the only direction to continue the tour. The group enjoyed the slides, those who showed some reticence on the first slide were the ones who got more excited on the second one. The effervescent mood was cooled down when we crossed the lake inside the mine. As we stepped into the boat all lights went off. The boat started to slide motionless on the water and colored trails of light were popping out on the walls. The voice of the guide was fading in the darkness as he stood at the prow of the boat as if Caron himself was leading our souls over the river Styx. At the end of the tour a 2000 year-old mummy was watching us with grinning teeth ready to speak up: “Come my dears, come, keep me company. Long time passed since living souls in the deep abyss of the earth visited me! Come, come, hidden from the rain shall we stay for eternity!”
It was a relief to leave the Styx and the mummy under the ground and a pleasure to see the sky cleared up and the sun shining bright when we came up to the surface. A rainbow sealed the peace of the clouds and the sun, and with the energy of a newborn we drove down the serpentine of Bad Dürnberg.
Water makes fun
At the end of the day with the sun coming out we got after all to one of the destinations we had planned to visit in Salzburg months earlier: the Castle of Hellbrunn.
The sun beams penetrated the windows and the rooms were lit up with natural shimmering light. The 400 years old castle with no bed room was the playground of Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, Prince Archbishop of Salzburg in the 17th century. Markus Sittikus was an avid traveler and he liked to impress his guests with exotic things, plants and animals. On the first-floor foyer a carved lion with the statue of young Markus was welcoming the visitors.
In the Carabinieri room we took a seat on a turning armchair and contemplated the walls adorned with frescoes. The Four Seasons room had a statue of a strip of whirling musical notation with a violin resting at the bottom. The globe in the Makart room is believed to have belonged to Markus Sittikus himself. We took some time to play with it, twirling it in all directions imagining each time the globe stopped to make the spot our next destination. We could have spent hours there if the castle was not to close. But as we were already over-passing the opening hours, we had to hurry a little to watch the paintings of exotic animals and the stuffed unicorn.
After the castle visit, we had plenty of time until the water games tour started. We wandered in the geometrically perfectly shaped garden for some time and had a warm tea while waiting. As we gathered at the meeting point the sun was setting and the horizon turned into a pinkish-yellowish line.
The clouds were completely gone and what we foresaw as could become an epic sunset with exploding blood red clouds turned into a humbly calm sky. The blue hour started when the sound of the other visitors´ paces interrupted the silence. The tour guide arrived in the end and our attention was distracted from the chilly mountain evening and kept by the sculptures and fountains of the playful park.
Markus Sittikus was inspired by the water games in the Villa Aldobrandini and Villa Mondragone during his stay in Italy and ordered the Hellbrunn park to be modeled alike. The fountains are decorated with sculptures representing figures from the Greek mythology. The chairs at the dining table have built-in fountains which will wet the bottoms of guests. The grottoes have meticulously carved stone decorations and are all meant for entertainment.
In the end we managed to make the most of it, turning the rainy day into fun and gather great memories. We visited Red Bull Hangar-7 where we could see from close the special cars they use for Formula 1, the fancy helicopters and airplanes, we went deep down the earth to have fun on the mine slides and discover the history of the white gold hidden in the ground of Salzburg.