To return to a beloved city can be disappointing. Prague’s crowds have grown so large that even pickpockets have trouble making a clean break. Melbourne feels like it’s trying to become a second Sydney, instead of that grittier grid dotted with delicious eats. And Salzburg, the city that my wife and I had romanticized after our visit seven years earlier, seems to have promoted Mozart to such an extent that the whole place feels as charmless as Graceland.
The first time we had visited, Marissa and I biked along the river Salzach, an activity I typically despise because of car traffic. But Salzburg’s river paths are designed so that a cyclist never has to cross paths with an automobile. Afterward, we drank beers in the Augustiner beer gardens, and then strolled the city aimlessly, perfectly, stumbling upon gorgeous gardens, listening to some of the world’s best musicians giving free concerts in the street, and enjoying the fact that we were missing nothing, even as we skipped nearly everything. (In fact, the only awful experience in this city back in 2010 was Marissa’s insistence on taking the Sound of Music Tour. The hills were alive with my rancor. She claims that she loved it.)
Of course there are too many variables to fully understand why traveling Salzburg was less enjoyable this time around. Perhaps I was missing my companion. Possibly it was because of the rain that kept me from the beer gardens. (I did have a beer and pork knuckle inside Augustiner’s beer hall though; so perhaps it was tied to the indigestion that I suffered from eating that salty and fatty comestible–a lump of meat that looks like a termite’s hive–on my own.) Likely it was because I was visiting at the start of a festival, and the town was loaded with visitors. Maybe this and maybe that. But I think the real reason that I enjoyed traveling Salzburg less was because of the Salzburg Card.
When you possess a city card, you suddenly feel forced to visit all of the attractions; the ones that bustle with the chaos of tourism. There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. I often am. But the madness that the card delivered me to would destroy the quiet image of a place that I had once been nostalgic for. The card brought me to places I would never have gone. The card made me feel like a boor for not wanting to see where Mozart’s mommy washed his heinie and powdered his wig. The card was my master. The card was my critic. The card forced me into uncomfortable situations.
Worst–somewhere between stepping in dog shit and going on the Sound of Music tour–was how the card made me take the river boat tour. The journey down my beloved Salzach sounded pleasant, refreshing even. But the boat was a hotbox. It journeyed slower than the walkers on the river trail, and it reminded me that I wasn’t cycling in the one city that I actually enjoyed cycling. And the audio tour offered facts about the surroundings that were either so stupid or culturally insensitive that if the heat didn’t make me want to puke, the information did.
And in the hotel on the left, celebrities like Mel Gibson have stayed. Really Salzburg boat tours, you went with Mel Gibson in a country still with an anti-Semitic image problem? And in the clock tower on the right, a man would shout down to remind people to be careful with fire. Okay. Fair enough. But did anything else historically important happen in that tower that might be worth sharing? Or maybe you could have better researched the city to add other, more pertinent facts into the silence that preceded and followed the story about the tower shouter. Did you know that if the river floods it could shut down our river cruises? Hooray, one positive effect of climate change.
To make things more unbearable, a video played without sound and the actors, all dressed like Mozarts, frolicked in gardens and threw rocks in the river. For the boat’s grand finale, which the captain introduced with brilliant monotone, we rotated in circles, nauseatingly, while some bad musician sang, “Amadeus. Amadeus. Amadeus.” The people on the riverbank shook their heads.
One of the three Americans sitting next to me, without irony, said, “That was awesome.” His friends confirmed. I guess some people should purchase the Salzburg Card, but I, for my big capper, aimed to throw mine into the the river.
Then I realized that it was my bus pass to the airport the next morning. So I just shoved it in my pocket and got off the boat.