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MAIDENHEAD VISIT TO SALZBURG 
24th - 28th April 2014

Although the aim of our group is to promote European friendship, I was totally unprepared for the warmth of the welcome we all received in Salzburg. My own hostess could not have been more attentive or more charming. Tired from the journey, I found myself taken home and nurtured. We got to know each other, speaking a mixture of imperfect English and rusty German, wandering along the bank of the Salzach with a view of the old city on the opposite bank. The Festung (fortress) crowns the mountain above this small Baroque city crowded with churches, whose bells so often fill the air. Mountains surround it. It is fairy tale.

We had an impressive programme over the next four days. On Thursday evening, a reception at the Liedertafel where we met many members of the Salzburg group, some in dirndles, everyone wreathed in smiles, ended our first day in town.

On Friday, our first visit was to the Stattler Panorama in the Salzburg Museum. Finished in 1829, extensively restored in 2005, and measuring roughly 5 by 25 metres, this is one of the few well-preserved panorama paintings of the 19C. It is Salzburg and its surroundings as if seen from the top of the Fortress. The Baroque city, the river, the surrounding countryside lies below you. Each building, each tree, the people on the roads, the animals in the fields, are clearly delineated and three-dimensional. You see the old city as it was then and indeed as it still is today. You also see how rural the country side was at that time. The accuracy is astounding.

The old city is charming. We heard the Carillon, saw St Peter's Monastery, the oldest in Austria with its graves covered with pansies, and the Getriedegasse with its wrought iron guild signs; there are references to Mozart everywhere, even though his relationship with Salzburg had been more than strained. Then the squares and the Archbishop's Residenz, the most prestigious building in Salzburg, linked to the Cathedral by an arcade...

Across the river is the Schloss Mirabell, built by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau for his beloved Salome Alt (she who bore him 15 children). The gardens are vibrant with formal planting, statues and fountains. Received in the Marmorsaal, an overwhelming setting of gilt, mirrors and marble, we learned that many of the ladies of Salzburg had been married there, a popular choice. Upstairs in the Pegasus room our team of three ladies gave our presentation on the National Trust which was very well received. Our President's  address in German, a language she does not speak, was particularly welcomed.

Our Saturday visit was to the Open Air Museum, a fascinating collection of about 100, mostly wooden farm buildings, spanning 6 centuries and furnished accordingly, re-erected on a rural site. We rode up to the restaurant on the narrow gauge railway, stuffed ourselves with meat, dumplings and cabbage salad and then our guide walked us round some of the most interesting of these.

Here saw the brewery, each room with its function. In the school house we were squeezed into desks like naughty children, giggling but a little aghast at the punishment of kneeling on a sharp block of wood and the cane omnipresent. We peered at the Gothic script on the blackboard which even the Austrian ladies found difficult to read. There was the blacksmith's store with every piece of iron work imaginable. There were two horse drawn hearses in a barn which Dracula might have driven, the coffins rocking behind him under their black canopies.

The farm house with its cradle and 'cupboard' bed with carved slats to keep a toddler safe, had at one time housed up to 30 people, only the most important having their own room, the rest sleeping on pallets on the floor. The details were the most beguiling: the tiny windows before glass was current, with spikes at the bottom to stop even the smallest child getting in to steal; the 'hen flap' so that hens could be cooped in the house at night safe from predators; the cow shed with its thick walls and its barrel vaulted ceiling made from hand made bricks; cottage gardens with herbs and flowers and simple crops; fences made from whatever came to hand.

Today it is the rural idyll but without the hard work, the lack of sanitation, the water to be pumped, the washing by hand, the cooking over a smoking fire, the flies and other insects, not to mention the smell... Life in the countryside may look charming but as we learnt it has never been easy!

After lunch on Sunday we were taken to the Schloss Leopoldskron. Lit up by night, its classic 18C white facade shines across the lake, the Festung hovering above it. Built in 1736 by Prince Archbishop Leopold Firmian as his family residence, it was bought by Max Reinhart in 1918, who made it his life's work to lovingly renovate it and make it the birthplace of the Salzburg Festival. He added some very personal touches, the 'Brothel Madonna' who graces the entry hall, his library with its secret door and beautiful curved wood shelves, the Chinese room and the Venetian room. Marble of course everywhere as this is mined in the mountains near the city, and glorious rococo plasterwork on the ceilings. Its later call to fame was its use as the setting for 'The Sound of Music ' in 1964. We had our Maria moment on the steps leading down to the lake.

Each evening we had a wonderfully social time with our hostesses and others from the group. We ate and drank, laughed, exchanged views and discovered similar interests. One night some of us sat in a garden admiring the wisteria, drinking champagne with gold flecks, then eating chanterelles picked by our hostess and apricot dumplings made by her husband. It is hard to be more spoiled than that!

Our farewell dinner was at the Sclosswirt Zu Anif in the countryside. Again our President  rose to the occasion with a speech in German and was rewarded by a birthday cake spouting a firework. We took photos and regretted the visit was at an end.

Apart from visiting one of the most beautiful Baroque cities, what I feel was especially important for me to learn on this trip was how great the power of friendship can be. The Salzburg group were charming and friendly and when we left we left friends behind. I don't think that until you have gone away on one of these trips you can fully appreciate just how important they are in cementing friendship with our European counterparts and also for cementing friendships within the group in Maidenhead. I would urge other new members to embrace the experience.

Rosalind Milne, April 2014

 


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