The popular opinion on Salzburg is that it can be done in a day. I didn’t want to believe this, but it’s true. While beautiful and historic, it is not large. Should you want to spend more time in this quaint little place, I might suggest looking outward to activities beyond the Old Town and into the countryside.
A popular tourist attraction are the salt mines. The tour information can be found here, but the basic gist of this excursion is to explore the mines that once brought Salzburg all its wealth. This “white gold” has had a very influential and significant effect on the economics of the city and is at the heart of all its social, political, and cultural history (more or less).
Another option is the ice caves. This was something I had not heard about until arriving at my hostel, but the people in my room who took this tour had nothing but good things to say. Had I been aware of it a little earlier, I definitely would’ve considered taking this tour. Unfortunately, in my two nights stay, I had only one full day (which was already spent) and only had a half day left for any available activity. The tour of the ice caves left VERY early and would get me back to my hostel with barely enough time to catch my train. It was doable, but was it worth it? Having no idea what I could be missing out on, I asked the hostel what would be the best option for me.
The poor soul that had to deal with me and my abundance of inquires was quite helpful in my quest for entertainment. She said that between the salt mines and the ice caves, the ice caves were the better option because you can see salt mines all over the world (which is true, look at Utah!). But, the ice caves also weren’t all that unique. So she suggested a third option: The Sound of Music Tour.
For €35 (student price), a flamboyantly decorated tour bus takes you through the town and shows you various filming locations to give you a better understanding of the time period and the family from which the movie is based. It also takes you to the lake and mountain districts outside of Salzburg so you can see the iconic hills and valleys that Julie Andrews so jubilantly skipped through at the beginning of the movie (or so I thought).
According to my informant, this was the most authentic thing to do while in Salzburg not only because the movie was filmed there, but also because you would cover the most ground and get a better understanding of what ALL of Salzburg is really like. And it was the cheapest option, so I was sold!
I have mentioned that my hostel showed this musical every night, but unfortunately I had missed it the first night due to late arrival and I missed it the second night because I was too busy eating (not upset about that at all). So, I went on this tour a little unprepared. Though I have seen this award-winning musical before in my lifetime, it’s probably been about 10 years so it wasn’t the freshest in my mind. Essentially I remembered, but not necessarily to the specific detail that this tour seemed to go into. That said, it wasn’t just for die-hards (obviously, since I’m not one). Whether you have seen the movie or not, there is something for everyone on the tour. For me, the best part was going outside of the city center and exploring new territory that I had originally not planned on seeing.
Not knowing quite what to expect, I boarded the bus; hoping and praying that my fellow tourmates weren’t the crazy kind of fans, hell bent on reciting the entire soundtrack and making me question this last minute itinerary addition. Thankfully they weren’t.
The first stop was the “house of the Von Trapps”. Though I recognized the facade of the back of the house, the front didn’t match up to what I had remembered from the film. Well, this is because (as Christine, the guide, explained) the movie combined two filming locations into one house! The back of the house that we were currently viewing is called Leopoldskron. Once, a palace (giving it the proper name of Schloss Leopoldskron), it is still visited daily by us poor paupers due to its cinematic significance.
As we drove to the next location, we passed by the house that was used as the front of the family home. I didn’t take a picture however because it was on the wrong side of the bus and I’m not going to be one of those people, leaning over others just to get a bad picture of a blurry house complete with the reflection of the people sitting in the seats. No thanks. However, I did look it up for your viewing pleasure. The name of this lovely home is Schloss Frohnburg.
As we passed by Von Trapp house number two, Christine also told us that the real Von Trapp home wasn’t used for filming because it was considered to be “too small” even though these days it’s a bed and breakfast. Not grand enough for the story, which by the way isn’t exactly as the film shows it to be but more on that later.
The bus stopped and we were at the infamous gazebo. While this was the original gazebo used in the film, it was not the only version nor was it in its original place. In the film, the gazebo appears to be in the backyard of the family home. But, because the Leopolskron is now a private hotel, it cannot be housed there. Now, it lives in another “skron” further down the way. Schloss Hellbrunn is famous amongst Salzburgians and tourists alike not just for the gazebo but also for it’s trick fountains. Unfortunately though our time was limited. And, while it is lovely, (once again) it is not the only scene for “16 going on 17”. Because of all the jumping and dancing that Rolf and Leisl do around the inside of the structure, it had to be a bit wider to accommodate all this prancing. But I took this picture anyway, because it’s not everyday you get to be “16 going on 17”.
From there we took off for the singing hills and deeply forested mountains of the Lake District. The lake we were stopped at was not as large a focus in the movie as it was for the tour, but it was featured in the opening scenes, as Hollywood painted a gorgeous picture of Salzburg for its viewers. It was a brief stop, but a beautiful lake!
Unfortunately, the luscious rolling hills that Maria so tenderly sang of were not included in this tour. Their location is much farther away than the studio would like us to believe. But, in exchange for not seeing the hills, Christine did share with us some very interesting tidbits about the filming process, the actual Von Trapp family, and some behind the scenes gossip.
In truth, the Von Trapp family was musical. The Captain was a real navy captain. Maria was trying to join the convent. And there was a baroness trying to weasel her way into the rich girl life. What is not true however is the family “escape” from Austria. In the movie, it is of course very dramatic. The family creates a musical distraction then flees to the mountains with all of their instruments. In actuality, the Von Trapps left Salzburg of their own accord. The Nazis approached the captain in hopes he would join the fight, but he refused. Then they left and eventually settled in Vermont where one son still lives today.
All the while I had believed that they had a treacherous hike through the alps in their hope to escape, when really it was quite simple. Though Christine told us that for Christopher Plumer, the filming of that escape was indeed quite treacherous, for other reasons.
While his co-star Julie Andrews loved children, Mr. Plummer is not as amorous. Apparently while filming the escape scene, he held a strong resistance. His exact words being “I’m not carrying that bloody fat little kid up that mountain”. Of course, we all know how that battle ended…
After the lake, we journeyed on to the small town of Mondsee. This small little tourist stop is home to the church where the captain and Maria got married. Here was were we spent the most time, walking around the town, eating apple strudel, exploring the church, and trying not to get stung to death by wasps!
I wasn’t surprised to be the youngest person on the tour (aside from families with small children they dragged along for their own indulgence). Therefore, my company during the free time were travelers quite different from myself but nonetheless very sweet and generous. We had been sharing a row on the bus and had exchanged a few niceties while riding along, but it wasn’t until I saw them at one of the street cafes that I really began to talk to them.
Their names were Ed and BJ and they were from Washington D.C. Entering the retirement phase of their life, they had already experienced much more opportunity for travel than I, so we got to talking about our experiences and favored destinations over a nice coffee and a strudel. Very friendly people, it was easy to chat with them despite the age difference. They were beyond impressed that I took this journey alone and couldn’t help but express this opinion. A lot. In fact, they were so snowed that they offered to buy my strudel (since I’m on a budget ya know). I tried to protest but they wouldn’t accept my euros so I took it as a show of respect and boarded the bus feeling independent and proud of all that I had accomplished and all that was yet to come.
The final stop was Mirabelle Gardens where we finished the tour and all went our separate ways. As the ever popular “So long, farewell” song played throughout the bus, I thanked Ed and BJ once again for their kindness and went back to the hostel to collect my things and head to Vienna. It was time and money well spent. And with all my new knowledge of movie facts, I can’t wait to watch The Sound of Music and put my learnings to good use!