“Yo. Want to give us a lift?” Sam directed her question at a black car that drove past us, the driver barely glancing at two very red-faced girls sweating through their dresses, sitting/leaning against uneven rocks, and balancing slices of warm cheese and meats and grapes on our laps.
“This cheese is probably still good, right?” I asked, holding a slice and sniffing it as it drooped sadly over my fingers. We had only just bought it that morning, but it had been a victim of the staunch heat for probably an hour and a half by then. I ate two and a half slices.
I suggested Hohenwerfen Castle as a half day trip for us to embark on.
It had popped up in numerous searches I’d done for day trips outside of Salzburg, Austria, and stands among mountains that reach higher peaks the further out of the city you get. They also had a falconry exhibit, which wasn’t what really stirred my blood, but would be awesome to see. We thought we’d picnic on the grounds, enjoy the sights, and be intimidated by those creatures.
To get there, we took a 45-minute train to Werfen, and, as the castle website says, “A shady footpath takes you from the station directly to the adventure castle, which takes around half an hour.” We swiftly passed through spacious villages, through wilderness and mountains. There was no air conditioning on the train, so we kept our window open and relished in the harsh and howling wind pushed through.
A small sign outside of the Werfen train stop denoted Hohenwerfen Castle’s entrance location, and pointed to our right. We crossed the river slicing the town, and as we began walking my mountain-loving blood couldn’t contain itself, at points me exclaiming about the sheer glory we were in.
Maybe because it was hot, or because we weren’t actually sure we were going the right way–the fortress was perched precariously above us, and we headed for it, but the closer we got, the farther away it appeared–but the shady footpath felt a lot longer than that. So we found ourselves gasping (not really, but the drama of the word adds some oomph) for a breeze and some shade, one of which we sort of found.
There was a clearing that hugged rocky skyscrapers ahead, and, now dragging our feet underneath us, agreed to stop to rejuvenate with lunch. A number of cars zoomed by, and each time we desperately, jokingly, begged whoever would listen to take us, anywhere by then. Just out of the blazing sun. Two very pale, very sunburn and freckle-prone women shouldn’t be left exposed like that.
Our lunch was warm, though very tasty, and I popped grapes into my mouth like I were serving a Roman emperor. It gave us the burst we thought we needed to finish what little we probably had left.
But it wasn’t even the end of the walk. It was the end of Part 1. Part 2 was a more shaded uphill climb. Part 3 was along the highway.
Our other option was a scenic wooded hike. “Are you down?” I asked Sam. My legs burned just at the thought.
A breakdown-lane footpath. That’s where we found ourselves, naked to the eye of the sun, working our calves as we walked up, up, up, our torsos reaching ahead of our lower bodies and demanding our feet keep up.
It was a slight bout of misery. The area was the saving grace, making us push ahead. For a bit, I was a few feet ahead of Sam, and we were yelling complaints back and forth to one another. We passed a sign that listed Salzburg and the kilometers between us and the city, and Sam declared, “At this rate, we can walk all the way back!” Given that we had to take this route back to the train, we basically had.
I don’t remember at which point we came upon the parking site, just that when we had I was simultaneously thinking that I would probably have a crooked back from carrying a tote bag with cameras, my journal, and other various necessities, on top of back problems I already had. Then we cheered and tried to forget that we had to do this again.
A two minute cable car lift carried us up to the fortress, and we just made the next guided tour. It was done with an audio guide, leading us through the small but secure castle. This felt less regal than the Hohensalzburg Fortress, but not less important. It is a region of villages and countryside, the castle built in a market town, a slower-paced alternative that I can get behind. Austria and Germany are very similar, and though, as I’ve said, I don’t have much experience in Germany, this felt like a very Austrian place. Like a quick drive to ski down those mountains or eat some hearty schnitzel.
I also love being in Austria because I don’t know much about it besides where I’ve been.
As an avid history lover, there’s a fair amount of knowledge I could spout about at least five other European nations, not to mention some Asian countries and the whole of America. But I’ve never taken classes that delve into the history of Austria. Once a stronghold in a European empire, and with impressive fortresses like this, how could it not have things to share about itself?
Hohenwerfen castle’s history spans a century, fashioned as a jail for Protestants and peasant rioters and as the home of Archduke Johann. The jail was surrounded by plaster walls that were four meters thick, and with a nine meter long drop down to a dark cell, where most prisoners either went blind or mad. A pitch here, where hot liquid would be dropped from, gave rise to the German phrase “to have a pitch,” or to have bad luck, for the unfortunate souls caught in the fire.
The falcons were caged outside, in an enclosed outdoor section of the fortress, and I paused to admire their huge presence and even larger wingspan. Hohenwerfen eventually became a hunting base and an army training camp, fitting for a place that didn’t concern itself with formalities. Maybe being so encumbered with this terrain was altogether humbling and eye-opening enough that people reflected on things differently.
We were brought up to the bell tower to tear up at 360 degree views of the river and houses below, the mountains from every direction that traveled on seemingly forever. It truly looked like a painting; and it was so windy in there I felt like I was at an all-immersive museum, looking at a work of art as the effects of what it felt like for the artist to actually paint it swirled around me.
I remember thinking that this had been worth the climb.
And on the way down, each stuffed with a slice of Sachertorte cake, I almost forgot how the sun had earlier been a menace.
Would you visit Werfen?