With the sound of the church bells ringing throughout the square, I gaze up in rapt fascination at the fortress above me. I am only 18 years old and this is the first time I see a real medieval castle. We walk the steep path up to the gates, rather than taking the funicular. Inside the fortress itself, there isn’t much too see, but the sense of history hangs thickly in the air. I gaze down an old grate-covered well – did the inhabitants come here every morning to gather fresh water, perhaps relieved that it was inside the fortress walls in those troubled times? My claustrophobia kicks in as I carefully descend into the dungeon, where the darkness is so complete it almost takes on a personality of its own. As I wander through the cobbled streets, notches and arrow slits for windows remind me of how fortunate we are to be living in more civilised times. We head up to the walls and my heart leaps with delight at the panoramic view over the copper-domed city. My father points out the Von Trapp house in the distance, while my mother tries to capture every angle of the beautiful view on camera.
As I pose in front of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, I know this will be one of those unforgettable moments in time that I will remember for the rest of my life. A sacred cow moos softly in what I imagine to be perfect contentment, as the natives bring offerings and softly pray to it. My eyes wander to the elaborate rooftops of the Palace complex and linger on the gold-plated towers inlaid with precious stones. I find it strange that in a country with so much poverty, this abundance of publicly accessible wealth is honoured and not vandalised. The moment captured on camera, we kick off our shoes and enter the temple where we sit side by side with tourists from all around the globe, watching silently as the faithful bow before their glittering deity.
My breath steams in the air, but I hardly notice the cold. The cup of Gluhwein warms me up nicely. It’s a week before Christmas and the Marienplatz is one big marketplace where all sorts of seasonal trinkets can be bought. Fairy lights light up the plaza and traditional German music sets the atmosphere, the perpetual smile on my face mirrored by those of the people around me. Every stall is a temptation – shall I get the wood-carved fairy to go on top of my tree at home, or the red-cheeked puppet for a cousin, or perhaps a basket filled with lebkuchen to indulge on later? Too many wonders and not enough Euros! Regretfully, I leave the square behind and follow my companions to the Hofbräuhaus for an evening of oom-pah music, cheese-lathered schnitzels and a seemingly endless flow of beer.