Like Being in A Fairytale

Austrian Countryside

I cannot decide whether the landscape of Austria looks familiar or like a fairytale. A bit of both, perhaps. At times I am reminded of New England and Pennsylvania Dutch country, and at others I’m thinking it’s MOTHERFUCKING AUSTRIA.

No, it is the hills that are distinctly foreign and fairytale-ish, alternately covered in patches of forest and rolling green. The hills of Vermont and Pennsylvania are similar, but seem more like an artist painting a picture from memory rather than life.

Ticket to Salzburg

I seem to run short of sleep here. Last night I was awakened by a group of loud Austrians shouting and playing folk music, but I must keep my eyes open on this train from Vienna to Salzburg, to take take in the sights of the countryside while I can, for when I make the return trip it will be dark. (Also, should I fall asleep and miss my stop, I will end up in Munich.) But I am so desperate for a nap; this Viennese coffee–while delicious–is doing nothing to keep me awake.


I am in Salzburg now. If the Austrian countryside is a fairytale, then Salzburg is Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland. Surely this city can’t be real. It can’t. It’s a strange combination of medieval and baroque, clashing in ways that seems like it arrived straight from the mind of a theme park designer. I will wander Altstadt–Old Town–after I’ve had a bit of lunch.

This mélange in Salzburg may be the best thing I have ever drunk.

The River Salzach
The river Salzach.

I have come to terms with my gaucheness and have even ventured to use my tentative German. People seem to be inclined to be kind to me, but perhaps that is because I am travelling alone. Travelling alone affords its considerable pleasures, not the least of which is the pass I am given for being an obnoxious American tourist. Being a writer with a notebook also seems to help; they seem to recognise that I am here not to check something off my bucket list, but to absorb, observe, and record. I could come back here, I think. Come back to Austria and fall in love. Our first date has gone swimmingly.

I love this. If I could bottle up this feeling I would. Of being alone, of being in but not part of, of being foreign. I am the interloper here and I love it. This is not my city, this is not my language, these are not my people. I suppose this by definition makes me a tourist, but I am not here to sightsee, even though I am. When I first arrived here I was tempted to take The Sound of Music tour, to let all my gaucheness hang out for the world to see, but I couldn’t. Logistics aside (as the tour was four hours long), I couldn’t bring myself to let someone else tell me what to do. I am someone who travels without a guidebook, someone who wanders as whim takes her. My itinerary is defined by impulse, and aside from the pilgrimage I make to music, I will enjoy Salzburg in my own way.

Mozarts Geburtshaus
Mozart's birthplace.

“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”, or perhaps more accurately, everything is Mozart, Mozart, Mozart. He’s everywhere in Salzburg: in a statue in Mozartsplatz, in the place of his birth, in the Mozart Wohnhaus, in two different museums, in souvenirs, and in these strange confectionary desserts called Mozartkugeln, or Mozart’s Balls. They sell Mozart’s balls here, and they’re made of chocolate. I have all the humour of a 12-year-old boy (heh heh, balls, I think), but I think old Amadé–coarse, vulgar, low Wolferl–would appreciate the joke. I wander through 9 Geitredegasse like the dutiful fangirl I am, but I am less interested in seeing his birthplace than I am taking in the flavour of the city he couldn’t wait to get away from.

And I can see why. Unlike Vienna, Salzburg feels provincial, somehow small and stodgy. And religious. The sheer number of churches crammed into this tiny medieval town is astonishing. It’s as though Salzburg, hemmed in on all sides by mountains, felt the need to shout up to God in order to be noticed. It’s no wonder Mozart fled; his music was ever for the populace, and not for the glory of God. Unlike Handel, unlike Bach, his music was low, low-brow but brilliant. Just the way I like things.

Hohensalzburg, or Fortress Salzburg, perched high above Altstadt.

I wonder why I always feel the urge to climb up to the stop and get a proverbial “birds-eye view”. Perhaps it’s the bit of me that wants to feel like God, to look out over a city, over the people, and to judge. The higher, the better? I don’t know, but I’ve always loved looking down–on people, on things. I’ve always claimed to have a fear of heights, but maybe that’s not true. Maybe the reason heights scare me is because I have the ever-compulsive urge to jump. L’appel du vide, the French say, the call of the void. I always wonder. In New York, I work on the 18th floor of the Flatiron Building. Not a single day goes by when I look out the windows and wonder.

It’s the reason I love skydiving, I suppose. To make my urge manifest. To actually jump. It’s such an indulgent feeling, and addictive. I love to fall: what does this say about me?

Train Compartment
The trains have compartments.

In the end I am defeated by my own feet. After having traipsed about the fortress, the Geburtshaus, the Wohnhaus, and Geitredegasse, I am worn out and want to go home. Home. That’s a funny word when you’re travelling. Home is Vienna, where I’ve set up my base, but really home is New York City, where I live. Or perhaps home is California, the land of my birth, my childhood, my formative years. Whichever it is, I want to go home and rest.

The question of where I’m from is a funny thing to ponder when I’m abroad. When I first arrived in Salzburg and asked for a map, the lady very helpfully told me she had maps in languages other than English. Nein, nein, I said. Ich spreche Englisch. When people ask where I’m from, I usually respond “New York”. But is that really true? Can I say that? I’ve been living there for eight years now–but how long do I have to stay before I can consider myself “from” New York? Or will I forever be “from” southern California, be a Pasadena girl at heart?

A place I’m not from, of course, is Korea. It is only in Europe where I ever have to make that distinction. Well, I’ve never had to in London. But in Vienna, in Salzburg, I do. Certainly the sheer number of Korean tourists here is astounding; I hear Korean spoken more often than English. Here’s where I feel the disconnect–who knew Koreans were such avid travellers? Is that where I come by my need to see the world? Are Koreans infected with wanderlust? Is it genetic? Certainly my need to uproot myself every few years comes from Mum, who left the country she knew at 18 and settled elsewhere. I did the same. My father could care less. Dad is a California boy at heart, and would live and die there. Come home, he always tells me. And for him, home is Pasadena. Come home. Travel for him is less a need than an occasional treat. But for me and Mum, it’s an itch, an itch that needs to be scratched lest it becomes intolerable. Unbearable. And our need to travel alone is something we share, but perhaps that is genetic echo rather than cultural conditioning. I will never know for sure.

See more of my Salzburg photos here.

  1. Day 0.5: In An Aeroplane Over The Sea :: More arriving in London photos
  2. Day One: I Am Not Fortune’s Fool :: More first impression photos here
  3. Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing
  4. Day Two: Oxford, the Kingdom of Make-Believe :: More Oxford photos here
  5. Day Three: Verloren :: More first day Vienna photos here
  6. Day Four: City of Music, City of My Heart :: More second day Vienna photos here
2 Responses
  1. Hahaha, I hoped you laughed at my question of eating Mozart Balls, then. It is an extremely….awkward thing to love. I suppose I should just learn the German word for it, then, and avoid all the trouble. But that would be so much less fun!

  2. Wow, Salzburg is gorgeous.

    “I love this. If I could bottle up this feeling I would. Of being alone, of being in but not part of, of being foreign. I am the interloper here and I love it. This is not my city, this is not my language, these are not my people. I suppose this by definition makes me a tourist, but I am not here to sightsee, even though I am. ”

    Yes. That. In a nutshell. That’s what I love about travel.

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