The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Tourists

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I am emphatic about making the distinction between “tourists” and “travelers” and that Francesca and I are the latter, eschewing the large hotels and tours in favor of apartments and soaking up the local culture.  So what was the first thing we did when we arrived in Salzburg, Austria?  We promptly booked two of the most touristy items on the menu; the Mozart Dinner Concert Experience and the Sound of Music Tour!  And you know what?  I don’t care who knows it.

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The Mozart Dinner Concert allowed us to kill two birds with one stone – have a delicious dinner in an elegant setting AND enjoy a concert of classical and opera music in Mozart’s birth city.  And the Sound of Music Tour is, according to Rick Steves’ Travel Guides, a great way to efficiently see the sights of Salzburg as well as the beautiful countryside.

But I would have wanted to do the Sound of Music Tour anyway because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like the sound of music?!  Actually, I’ll tell you who doesn’t like the Sound of Music – the Austrians, and the denizens of Salzburg most especially.   According to Samantha, our Sound of Music (the cool kids just call it SOM) tour guide, a Brit who, by the way, bears more than a passing resemblance to Julie Andrews (Julie Andrews now, not when she filmed the movie), the Austrians never quite came to terms with their role in WWII (which included helping the Nazis or at least looking the other way) and so they didn’t take too kindly to such implications in the 1965 Hollywood film.

Therefore it never became the classic, adored film in Salzburg, where the real life Von Trapp family lived, as it did in the rest of the world.  Today tourists come from all over to see the place where SOM was filmed (actually, just the exterior shots were filmed in Austria.  The rest was shot on 20th Century Fox’s Hollywood studio lot) while most Austrians have never even seen the film.

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Samantha works for “Bob’s Tours” which is one of many SOM tour groups, but perhaps the 2nd most popular behind the massive Panorama Tours with large tour buses that stop at local shops more than they do at SOM attractions.  Francesca and I decided that taking one of Bob’s small minivans around the city was less conspicuous and more efficient than riding a huge tour bus.  We were joined on our tour by John and Susan a couple from Canada.  Samantha, who initially came off like a strict schoolmarm (but later warmed up), was visibly disturbed by the fact that Francesca had never even seen the film and the rest of us who claimed to be fans did not appear to remember any of her obscure, yet precious, SOM references.

She would start each sentence with “Oooh, do you remember the scene where Captain Von Trapp does X,Y,Z” and we would just stare at her blankly.  After a few rounds of that we got smart and started answering with “Uh….yeah….oh yeah, of course we remember that scene!”  But then the actor in me would take over and I’d start going off script, embellishing with something like “Are you kidding, that’s one of my favorite scenes!” to which she would arch her eyebrow and purse her lips and say “You don’t remember the scene I am referring to do you?” and I would shake my head silently in shame and shrug sheepishly.

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While delivering a nonstop verbal download of fun facts from the movie Samantha took us past several sights that appear in the film including the Von Trapp home (above), the gazebo (below) where Liesl and Rolf cavorted and the church where The Captain and Maria got hitched (which is actually in the nearby town of St. Gilgen).

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Along the way we got to see some of the beautiful Austrian countryside and lakes region.

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Also along the tour route, but having nothing to do with SOM, was the Red Bull headquarters, which unbeknownst to us (did you know?) was founded by an Austrian man in his fifties who used to be a toothbrush salesman, but stumbled upon the Red Bull drink formula in Thailand and brought it to Europe, marketed the heck out of it and made so much money that he now sponsors all kinds of local Salzburg and Austrian sports teams and sporting and events.  Definitely a beacon of hope for all of us late bloomers!

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Back to SOM for a moment, those of you who are fans of the film may be saddened to know that the real Maria (who had written a book about her incredible life – upon which the Hollywood film was based) ended up getting only about $9,000 for the rights.  They were actually purchased by a German/Austrian studio who made two films based on her book prior to Hollywood’s effort and essentially swindled her out of a fair share of the profits from those films and, of course, the Hollywood film that followed.

Apparently 20th Century Fox (or more likely Rogers & Hammerstein) took pity on Maria and gave her another $3,000 or so even though they were not obligated to do so.  Until the day she died (in 1987 in Stowe, VT) she claimed she was not bitter about the money.  Her descendants still live in Vermont today and perform as the Trapp Family Singers (they had to drop the “Von” after they became US citizens as it was a title only for Austrians).

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That evening for Francesca’s birthday we treated ourselves to the touristy, but very lovely, Mozart Dinner Concert at the restaurant Stiftskeller St. Peter.  It was a delightful two hours of good food, good music and good conversation – we were seated next to an Australian couple in their fifties who were on a five week trip around Europe for their anniversary leaving their two young kids behind with friends and relatives.  Less shocking than parents wanting to leave their kids for that long was the fact that they could leave their jobs for 5 weeks at one go!  He works as an accountant for a hospital and said that he gets four weeks of vacation per year and an extra four and a half weeks thrown in for each five years of service after the first ten years.  Since he’d been at the company for twenty five years he had racked up a lot of vacation days and there was no rule or negative stigma on redeeming it in bulk.  We would have felt jealous if we weren’t on a four month journey ourselves.  Of course he was getting paid by his company to travel which, needless to say, we weren’t.

Here is a brief, but unedited, sample of the music we enjoyed.

Here are some photos taken from on top of the Festung Hohensalzburg Fortress just as the skies cleared and the setting sun broke through the clouds.  It was so beautiful and made for a magnificent, long walk around the perimeter of the hill with spectacular views of the town of Salzburg on one side and the country landscape and mountains on the other side.

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Fun Fact: Salzburg means “Salt Town” in German.  The city was named thusly due to its history as a major stop on the salt trade route.  The main river through the city is called the “Salt River” as the trade boats carrying the salt traveled down that water way.

Despite some inclement weather we both really enjoyed Salzburg and would definitely return for a longer visit.  As it was our time in Salzburg was up and we took an evening train to Fussen, Germany to see another, even more famous castle.

Some images of the gorgeous Austrian/German countryside on the train to Fussen.

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Country Stats:

Official Name: Republic of Austria

Native Language: German

Country Name in Native Language: Osterreich

Population: 8,356,707

Capital City: Vienna

Government: Federal Parliamentary Republic

Current Leader: President Heinz Fischer, Chancellor Werner Faymann

For more information on Austria click here.

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