Monday, March 21, 2016

Oberndorf: Salzburg’s off the beaten track

We’ve been to Salzburg once many years ago when we were still toddler-level travelers. We arrived on Christmas evening and when we ambled into Old Town early the next morning, everything was closed. We pranced around Altstadt’s empty street, peering into gorgeously decorated shop windows. We visited Mozart’s birthplace at no. 9 Getreidegasse and of course, bought lots of Mozart’s chocolates when the shops opened. Those were our hazy memories of Salzburg. For our recent Balkans travel, we had to fly off from Zurich, so we took the opportunity to revisit Salzburg by staying in a couchsurf home. We were unable to find any host in Salzburg itself and thus, we ended up in Oberndorf bei Salzburg which was really a godsend blessing. We would never ever have discovered this obscure town if not for our generous hosts who decided to accept our couchsurf request.

Oberndorf bei Salzburg is 17km from Salzburg city and is famous worldwide as the birthplace of the carol ‘Silent Night’. The carol was first performed at the former St. Nikola parish church by schoolmaster Franz Xaver Gruber and young priest Joseph Mohr on Christmas Eve 1818. Each Christmas Eve, a memorial service in honor of the creators of the ‘Silent Night’ carol would be held in front of the chapel. People from around the world attend the ceremony and sing "Silent Night" in many languages at the conclusion of the ceremony. Going by our hosts’ sheepish confession, this is the only attraction in town and thus, the town only sees busloads of visitors on Christmas Eve. Kudos to our hosts, Oliver and Barbara, for doing their bit to host visitors. If not, this town would really be off the radar for most travellers. Come with us, as we show you what Oberndorf has to offer.
Oberndorf can be reached from Salzburg by S-Bahn rapid transit railway

Long flight of stairs that leads to the bridge which connects to Laufen, Germany just across the river. Like Singapore and Johor Bahru, Malaysia but this is so much shorter in distance.
Pedestrian traffic only. There is another bridge for vehicle.
Salzach River is tranquil and beautiful now. Don’t be fooled though. The high river bank bears testament to dangerous floods that threatens the town every year. Our host’s parents abandoned their house by this river and moved elsewhere after the last flood.
Demarcation of Austrian and German border on the bridge.
We arrived in Laufen, looking back at Oberndorf!
Colourful cheerful buildings in Laufen but this area seemed to be on decline. Lots of empty shop lots. However, Oberndorf's residents come over to German side often to do their shopping as things are cheaper.
Bridge for vehicle. The original link between the 2 countries with immigration checkpoint.Checkpoint now converted to ice-cream parlour
Bridge with the demarcation of the border. Our hosts were sharing with us about the Syrian refugees situation in Austria. If only the refugees knew about this border, they could easily cross over with no hassle. When the exodus first started, border guards were sent here to prevent unauthorized entry. When no refugees appeared, it's now free for all. C'mon! How could the refugees know about this small town's connection to Germany?
 Back in Oberndorf and walking along the river. Look at this scenic path! Autumn is beautiful!
Leopold Kohr grew up in this small town. He was an economist, jurist and political scientist but was best known for his small is beautiful movement.
Turning to the right, away from the river, we walked down a short flight of stairs. Where’s the chapel?

This is the one! Looks like a pavilion from far.
The original church was damaged by flood, and thus demolished and replaced with this chapel. Our hosts already warned us in advance not to expect much. We were still taken aback by this miniscule chapel that is visited by thousands yearly on Christmas Eve. Who gets to sit inside?
 Schoolmaster Franz Xaver Gruber and priest Joseph Mohr being remembered on 2 walls 
Oberndorf is really a gem for off the beaten track travelers. We appreciate our hosts who showered us with their warm Austrian hospitality. Without them, we would have missed this gem.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Jajce: You won’t believe this is in Bosnia

We didn’t. We could not connect this beautiful place to siege-scarred Sarajevo we just left. We took a 4-hour coach ride from Sarajevo and meander round mountains with turquoise colour river running endlessly beside us. The leaves on the trees were turning fiery red and it made our ride all the more appreciative. We enjoyed the journey more than the town itself which is small and with limited attractions. The truth is we did not even visit the main attractions (fortress, catacomb, museum). We were recommended by the tourist office to get the pass for all the attractions. We debated for a while and decided not to as we were not impressed with the attractions. On hindsight, we should have just gone for it since we travelled halfway round the globe already. Don’t know what we were thinking. Since we planned this as a 2.5 hour stopover en-route to Zagreb, we did not have much time to spare. We dropped our luggage at the bus terminal and did a cursory tour which did not do Jajce justice.
Jajce waterfall is near the main bus station, so it’s literally the first thing you’ll see once you start your town exploration. As we crossed the bridge, we took time to admire the river and greenery below us.

Part of the fortress wall
Look at the battlement details. We could imagine people up there shooting arrows to defend their town.
Residential houses that are built into the defensive wall
One last lingering look before we left

Don't make the same mistakes as us. Take time to visit the main attractions. It's a small town and half a day is more than sufficient. It's a quiet place and compared to Mostar and Sarajevo, it's not glamorous enough for tourists. We discovered this town by accident as it was not on our original itinerary. We were moving on to Croatia but decided to google and check if there is anything more to offer other than the 2 cities we've been. We were glad we took the detour. We loved the atmosphere and could have easily stayed the night to relax. On top of that, the journey here was beautiful. There is also a not-to-be-missed attraction nearby - medieval water mills on River Pliva which is about 5 km from Jajce. It's totally worth a visit based on the photographs we've seen and we are so sorry to have missed that!