“I give you a bit more”, says our monosyllabic Goth waiter as he brings our second round of marillen liqueurs. It’s getting late and we’re hitting the apricot stuff hard. It helps us forget a staggeringly disappointing dinner in Mozart’s hometown.
Our packed morning in Innsbruck means we’re late on the road – again, it’s becoming a habit. A few days ago, we even had to forgo Vaduz altogether after exploring Feldkirch in greater detail than planned.
But we arrive in Salzburg in warm sunshine. It’s quite hot, in fact, and much more summery than the past few days. Our hotel is on the north side of town on the Linzer Gasse. I don’t know if it’s the hotelier’s Mediterranean accent, the cafe terraces lining the streets, or the general layout of the town, but it feels very southern. Nice.
Our late arrival means we just have time to take a walk around town before dinner and get into St Rupert cathedral shortly before it closes. That’s the only place we visit in Salzburg but it’s big and beautiful.
A stage being erected on the cathedral square means we can’t get a proper full view of the facade but even at the foot of the tall towers, you get a sense of how majestic it is. Dr K’s travel notes – yes, we have travel notes – describe St Rupert as being “on a vast scale”. It could even be “conceivably bigger” than St Paul’s, adds Dr K back in London four months later.
Whether this is the case or not, it feels unexpectedly special. The late-afternoon sun is throwing arrows of light through the upper windows right across the nave and onto the tall pale-grey walls. Godfather P lights a candle. The day is winding down.
Even in very early July, before the Mozart festival has started, Salzburg is teeming with visitors. A quick stroll around the centre, the pretty gardens of the schloss Mirabell, past countless mini-Mozarts selling organised tours, Mozart’s birthplace now a grocery shop that seems frequented mostly by tourists, more groups of American teenagers.
We resist half-price offers at Trachtenwelt for lederhosen and other traditional gear, and head back up the hill to our abode. We marvel at our walk-in showers with sand-coloured flagstones (we live humble lives) and sit for a moment on the grassy terraces climbing up the cliffside of the Kapuzinerberg at the back of the hotel.
It’s not a bad start to the evening. Having freshened up, we amble out into town again, looking forward to a nice dinner al fresco. Not so. The whole town is booked up, it seems, except for one table at an Italian restaurant a few doors up from the hotel.
The wine is good, the food looks great. The waiter speaks perfect English and is putting on an entertaining show. Too much of a show, in fact, bordering on cocky, and unable to conceal back-of-house ineptitude at following through on orders.
Dr K’s main dish arrives promptly, godfather P’s osso bucco ten minutes later, then a second osso bucco 15 minutes later. We complain, several times. My linguine vongole finally arrive half an hour after that. We leave, not without telling the suave waiter what we think. Offers of free grappa are made – insulting and too late.
We walk back down towards the centre, in search of pudding and of another eatery in the hope we can close off the evening on a better note. But by now, all the restaurants have stopped serving. We can’t even get a drink.
Feeling a bit down we start heading back up towards the hotel when the red letters of the Central, an unassuming bistro just off the main drag on the north side of the Salzach river, catch our eyes. It seems open and they have a menu outside. Drinks, mostly. Are they still serving? Yes. We must wash down the dreadful memory of that appalling dinner. A Goth waiter, brisk but not unfriendly, takes our order of a round of apricot liqueurs with apricot dumplings.
It’s an orange burst of Austrian summer. Ripe apricots, melting like the yoke of a soft-boiled egg, wrapped in a light dough and coated in crispy cinnamon-flavoured crumbs. Everything that has happened up until that point is forgotten. We’re so happy we order another round of liqueurs. “I give you a bit more,” the waiter says, pointing at the serving line in the glasses. We like him.
Reconciled with Salzburg we saunter back to the hotel in the cool evening air. On our way we come across shops that would be improbable in modern Britain – even in the current trend for skills revival – a belt maker and a traditional baker with flowers, suns and butterflies made of dough hanging in the window.
Earlier in the day we walked past a glove shop, in the centre of town; it looked old fashioned compared with trendy London boutiques, but it’s still going. The last glove shop I remember seeing in Britain was in Newark on Trent about ten years ago.
We’ll see more such traditional shops in the course of our Austrian travels, selling gloves, hats, knives, combs and all sorts of other paraphernaelia. They’re not necessarily cheap, but somehow they suggest that Austria has so far resisted the consumerist roller.
We crash into bed. Dr K falls asleep within seconds of turning off the lights. I sleep like an angel in a field of apricot trees. P’s bedroom gives onto the street and is opposite a church. He is kept awake most of the night, first by the bells and then by early morning delivery drivers. Maybe Salzburg wasn’t for us this time around. We need to move on. Today we have been promised a big, big baroque bonanza starting at Wilhering monastery and culminating with St Florian.