My train left Vienna at 23:50 on a Friday night, and I knew I’d arrive in Zurich at 11:20 the next morning, but that it only took 8 hours by train. Since I had to change trains in Salzburg, I assumed I’d have the 3 hour layover there. I didn’t realize that this stopover was from 3 – 6 am. I also didn’t know that Salzburg hauptbahnhof is under rennovation and has no real station to wait inside.
It was maybe 6 degrees, pitch black, and drizzling, but I figured I couldn’t waste the opportunity to see Salzburg – and anyhow, sitting and waiting alone outside on the platform seemed like a silly thing to do. I needed coins for the left baggage lockers and the only place open was a dingy, smoky sports casino that probably gets asked for change at 3 am every time the Vienna-Zurich train takes this scheduled route. I locked my bag in a locker as one other traveler pulled out his sleeping bag and cacooned himself inside. For a second I considered doing the same, but only out of laziness, and decided not to since it’d be weird if I just copied him and then we’d both be lying on the ground in awkward silence.
I walked from the train station towards the city center, which I had no clue where or how far it was, but there was only one road leading away, so I followed it. The streets were eerily deserted, so it was hard to tell which roads were main road. I passed an open Shell station, and went inside for a brief gust of warm air, and to reassure myself that other life was also stirring at this hour.
I made a turn there that I retraced back, since I noticed a hotel that seemed somewhat lit up. I went inside the Best Western and asked for a map, which the receptionist gave to me without any strange looks or questions. The map revealed I was nearly downtown, I only had to cross a bridge a few hundred metres away.
I strolled around the deserted city center, still brightly lit and all the store fronts still offering excellent window shopping. I winded through narrow streets and crooked alleyways, and encountered only one other woman walking. I could barely see it, but I noticed above the street lights that the city ends at a cliff, with a row of houses literally built into the mountain.
I stumbled into the nightlife corner around 4:30 am, and fifty drunken teenagers helped me feel less lonely but a lot more sober. I lined up with some of them them for late night pizza and coke, wonderfully amused by the people watching opportunity.
Then I was alone again, with a private Salzburg to myself, only accompanied by a cooing dove and the sound of church bells every 15 minutes. I turned into a church square at 5 am where a fruit market was just starting to be set up. 3 or 4 people slowly carried crates of ripe fruits from the truck to their stand, and didn’t even notice me watching, taking pictures.
By 6 am, morning birds started singing, even though it was still dark as night. I passed a few more post-party couples swaying on their way home. I saw a baker arrive at his shop to start preparing the days goods. I saw a police car and a tow truck carrying away a Casino company car that had crashed into the corner of the Crowne Plaza hotel. I saw the street cleaners finish their rounds as the first city buses started their routes. I passed a DHL delivery boy on a bike starting work. Lastly, I saw a woman just standing in the rain waiting, Im not sure for what, but just waiting, near no doors or bus stops.
I went back to the train station, got my bag, poked the sleeping bag cacoon awake, and got on my Zurich train. I fell asleep immediately and woke up in Switzerland, trying to remember if I had really been to Salzburg or if I had just dreamt it.