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Christmas in Salzburg

It's Christmas Eve, so I'm taking a break from sizzling Andalucia and moving north to Austria to bring you the wondrously wintry landscape of Salzburg, where we spent a long weekend this month. I can't imagine this chocolate box city at any other time of year - Salzburg feels like it was built to be covered in thick snow, for its inhabitants to wander its narrow cobbled streets while wrapped in multiple layers (seriously - we wore three jumpers each while we were there), warmed by cups of hot glühwein and Mozart playing in the background.

When in Salzburg in December you have to completely give in to the Christmas festivities, and if you're looking for the best Christmas market in town I must point you towards the Christkindlmarkt in Residenzplatz. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this sprawling Christmas market completely fills the squares around the old cathedral. Locals congregate here to iceskate and knock back a glühwein or two before dinner. We came here to stroll among the stalls, snacking on chips covered in an avalanche of mayo and "Fischbratwurst" while snowflakes fell gently overhead. At least they fell gently to begin with - before long we were being battered by heavy clumps of snow and had to take shelter under umbrellas. 

I was struck by how quiet the market was. This is a completely different breed of Christmas fair to Winter Wonderland at home in London, where the festive hits blare from giant speakers and most of the stalls sell plastic tat (sorry, but it's true!) Here there was little in the way of music other than that provided by singers and classical performers from the Mozarteum conservatoire on the steps of the cathedral, while any chatter from the revellers was muted by the snowfall. It was the perfect welcome to Salzburg and I felt completely at peace (likely helped along by the hot spiced wine).

The Christkindlmarkt is not just a place to pick up dinner; it's also great if you're on the hunt for presents and decorations. We browsed stalls selling sweet-smelling beeswax candles, church incense and all manner of cute tree ornaments, from fuzzy hedgehogs to wooden toy soldiers. Most fascinating of all were the shops selling minuscule pieces to furnish Nativity displays: plastic sheep and camels of various sizes, glowing lanterns, tiny terracotta pots and pails, stars trailing long tails and teeny washboards. These charming models reminded me of childhood visits to the dusty specialist toy shop in Hampstead where we would rummage for tiny sets of cutlery and rocking chairs to kit out our doll's house.

Another must-visit is Café Tomaselli (Alter Markt 9) off the Residenzplatz. It's alleged that Mozart used to hang out here to drink almond milk. On that note, it's the perfect place to refuel after a trip to the nearby Mozarts Geburtshaus (Getreidegasse 9) - the house where the great man was born, now a museum housing shedloads of Mozart paraphernalia with a particularly interesting section on the set designs of Mozart's operas through the ages. We slid into a booth in a room feeling as if we'd entered a time slip into the late 1700s, with a giant wooden crucified Christ in the corner looming over us as we sipped hot chocolates and made our selection from the groaning tray of cakes brought over by a benevolent elderly waitress. 

We opted for Mont Blanc cake - layers of fluffy sponge with chestnut cream and jam, topped with the familiar strands of chestnut paste which are a characteristic feature of the eponymous elegant French dessert. Staggeringly good, especially when accompanied by a large cup of chocolate and whipped cream! I'm a massive fan of the Kaffee und Kuchen lifestyle, as you may know if you've read my Hamburg posts. This cake felt particularly special, and apt since we were surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

There's another very sweet Christkindlmarkt near the Mirabell Gardens which is a little smaller (and therefore less busy). It sells most of the same things as the bigger Residenzplatz market. On Miho's recommendation we made a stop here on Saturday morning for Bauernkrapfen, a heavenly fried puffed dough pancake of sorts topped with apricot jam. My kind of breakfast.

The Mirabell Palace looks like it's fallen straight out of a Wes Anderson shot, specifically from The Grand Budapest Hotel - especially when covered in snow. You might recognise the grounds from The Sound of Music - and hordes of tourists gather round to photograph the fountain that Maria and her gaggle of youths danced around, or the steps that they jumped up in 'Do Re Mi'. 

We also came back to the Palace later that day to see a concert of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the sparkling, gilded Marble Hall - a brilliant performance slightly marred by the fact that many of the audience guests insisted on videoing the concert with their phones, taking flash photos and scrolling through their Twitter feeds while the performers were playing. Since when did this become a thing?

One of my favourite memories of the trip was climbing up to the Festung Hohensalzburg, a fortress perching on a hill above the city. This spot made for the best views of the city: Salzburg looked like a little gingerbread town dusted with icing sugar below, while the fortress itself was fascinating - with exhibits ranging from medieval weaponry to methods of torture as well as incredibly well preserved and restored state rooms. Plus we got to take the funicular down afterwards - so much fun!

On the Sunday morning of our long weekend we went for a pre-flight continental breakfast at Cafe Habakuk (Linzergasse 26) where Lukas went full Austro-German on the poached eggs and I had my last hot chocolate of the trip...or so I thought. Thanks to a heavy blanketing of snow in the UK, our flight home was cancelled. Luckily, we managed to book a flight for the next day, via our beloved Hamburg! But it wasn't all bad - we got an extra (extremely good) Apfelstrudel, beers and schnitzel  out of the deal. Plus walking around at night with snow falling quietly overhead felt illicit - we felt that we'd stolen one more night in this fairytale town. I can certainly think of worse places to be stranded.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a peaceful and happy new year! Thank you for reading my blog for yet another year. See you in 2018!

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