no matter where you go, there you are

Sunday, October 31, 2010

quick review then a little do-re-mi

Before I begin talking about the rest of the fantabulous city that is Salzburg, I want to share my thoughts on the Panorama Tours "The Sound of Music" tour. While well organized, well run and informative, the tour wasn't as great as I was hoping. Part of the disappointment may have been due to the bad weather, but if I had gone in the summer where good weather is more common, I would have had to deal with more people.

Anyway, it wasn't that the tour was poorly done, but it just didn't feel like it was worth the ticket price, mainly for the fact that I didn't really learn anything new about the movie. I got a great deal of history of Salzburg, but all of the facts and information the guide discussed about the movie were well known to me as anecdotes from either the special features on the dvd, the documentary from the dvd, and the books about the movie. The guide told the stories well and effectively, and I liked hearing them again, but I was hoping to learn more about the making of the movie than what I already knew. For fans of the film, but not crazy ones like me, the tour was probably fantastic for the most part.

My other beef was that they really didn't take you many places, which I account for in whether the ticket value was worth it. After visiting the rest of the city, its easy to see why because most of the other filming locations are in the city and within walking distance of each other, so a giant bus wouldn't fit in well. Nevertheless, the tour website seemed to advertise getting to see more than what we did. The one perk of the tour was the chance to see all the locations outside the city center where filming took place. I wasn't going to be able to rent a car so that was the best part of the tour. However, when I get the chance to return (hopefully in spring or summertime) I would like to rent a car and travel to all the locations and sightsee on my own time. Though it will probably cost more in the end, I think I'd enjoy it more.

Now for a recount of me and Anne's personal Salzburg/Sound of Music tour...

I met up with Anne shortly after departing from the tour bus and we took the short walk to our hostel to check in, change and layer up for the evening. It had stopped snowing but the rain was on and off and it was quite cold. There was only another hour or two before it would get dark and things would begin to close up for the night so we had to get a move on. First we did the Mirabel Gardens at the Mirabel Palace. The Mirabel Palace is a government building now which you can visit but I heard wasn't very interesting inside.

The gardens, however, was where it was at; a large portion of the "Do-Re-Mi" sequence was shot in the Mirabel gardens including the famous steps sequence at the end of the number. Other places were the hedge they run/dance under, the pegasus fountain, a dwarf statue, the athletic statues and the infamous steps. We actually returned to the gardens again the next day cuz the weather was much nicer and I wanted more pics cuz I'm a dork. So these are the cumulative collection of those pics. I took multiple ones at each place, reinacting many of the dance moves and poses, but I won't torment you with those.
mirabel gardens with the Salzburg Fortress in the background
hedge, with no hedge...
pegasus fountain

view from the steps of the fountain
The hedge was just as it was in the movie, except there was a wall to the right of it that I don't remember being in the movie. And it was winter so there weren't really any plants growing on it, but I still imagine Julie Andrews doing her thing underneath. The Pegasus fountain seemed smaller than in the film but since they shot them skipping around as an aerial view, I'm guessing they used a wide angle lense to give it that effect. Whatever technique they did use, they used it a lot. The main square by the Domkirche, the cathedral for the wedding...all looked much larger on screen.

me, anne and pegasus
Another victim of winter was that a lot of the garden gates were closed and locked. Anne had been able to walk to and touch the dwarf from the song when she visited in September but now the gates were locked. The other gates that were locked were the ones on the steps so you couldn't go through them. I did a little hopping up and down, but was sad I was unable to do a complete reenactment.

the dwarf, in a locked part of the garden
athletic statues
gate was locked, couldn't reenact completely...
from the other side...

After Mirabel, we wandered along the river to the Mozart footbridge, the Mozarteg, where the children and Maria skip across on their day out in the city on their way to the mountains for a picnic. The chain Marta swings under is now gone, but otherwise, the bridge is still fully intact and very popular. It's not built for cars so pedestrians use it quite a bit.

river; used in skipping to picnic too

We then walked to the Residenzplatz and the Domkirche. Both plazas were used for when Maria travels from Nonberg Abbey to the VonTrapp villa and both were homes to large Christmas Markets. Another reason to come back to Salzburg in the summer; so I can see the plazas in all their natural glory. The fountains that are pivotal in the appearance of the film were completely covered up and surrounded by sales huts and people. The plazas therefore looked tiny. But as I said above, I think it was also a filmmaking technique that made them appear much larger in the film. We wandered around, I went inside the Domkirche. Nothing too spectacular about the church except it was really dark inside since they didn't turn on any lights, but the ceiling of the dome was wonderful. (More pics in the next post since we returned the next day when there was more sunlight)

Lastly, before dinner, we went to the Mozart Gerburtshaus, the home where Mozart was born and his family lived for 30 years while not on tour. It had a great collection of sheet music, family information, Mozart's first violin and viola, and his first compositions written when he was only a boy. The house still had the inner architeture of a very old house and I really loved the interior. The English information provided was well put together and very informative. I enjoyed that house quite a bit. 
Mozart in Mozartplatz

Friday, October 29, 2010

...with the sound of music

Now that I've gotten backstory out of the is a multi-post recount of my visit to Salzburg. I planned 2 days of Salzburg sightseeing into my itinerary. I bought a ticket for The Sound of Music tour offered by Panorama Tours for the first morning and planned to meet Anne midday, after it was completed. We'd then sightsee the following day and a half. Anne already visited the city early in her semester, so she would be able to tell me what was worth seeing.
Anne made the card for me.
My train pulls into the Salzburg station and its snowing. Honest to god, snowing. Of course, the one day of my 3 week trip I'm looking forward to the most, the one day it snows. In a situation like this, you just have to laugh and pray that maybe it will get better. No use getting angry, though shedding the disappointment takes a little more effort. The hostel is nearby the pickup point for the tour so I stop in, drop my bag, and head back out. I'm early and there isn't a place to sit and wait for the tour bus to arrive, however the gentlemen in the ticket booth are really nice. Funny enough, there's a computer guests can use for internet so having to wait doesn't suck too much. It's cold, but hey, free internet.
Church on the square at tour pick-up opposite Mirabell Palace
The bus pulls up and we're ushered on. It's a normal, large tour bus, but it seemed extra comfy. There was a second door in the middle too. It slowly fills to about half full by the time we depart. Our tour guide introduces himself, but I can't remember his name. He's lived in Austria for a number of years, and if I recall correctly, he was American...or at least English was his first language. He's pretty entertaining, making good jokes and smoothly transitions from one thing to another.

We drive around the city and our first stop is Schloss Leopoldskron, a mansion on a lake whose backyard was used for the VonTrapp villa. It is a private home still so we aren't allowed on their grounds, but there is a public path along the water so we walk around to view the house from the far side of the lake. While strolling, our guide points out mistletoe growing, and I learn that it's actually a parasite for trees. Interesting fact. The mansion is large and very pretty from the outside, and if I look hard enough I can see the back patio area next to the water. But the clouds, snow, rain, and fog make it more difficult. Nevertheless, I can see the VonTrapp backyard emerge. Because none of the house was used in the shots, I see they were working in a very small area.
I put the umbrella down so it wouldn't be in the picture...
Back on the bus we continue our drive down a long road where, to the left, we can see the exterior of the VonTrapp villa. Frohnburg Palace, which today houses students of the Mozarteum Music Academy, is the large yellow mansion whose driveway, front and backside were used for the VonTrapp villa in the movie. The Hellbrunn Alley in front is where Maria sings I Have Confidence. There is no public road to it, so you must go on foot if you want to see it up close. Wishing that were possible in the next day, I do my best to soak it all in on the short drive by. It's enough for the time being.

We depart the bus again at Hellbrunn Palace, a popular tourist destination and one I wish I could have explored more. The movie wasn't filmed here at all, but is now home to the famous gazebo. Here's where confusion sets in, but I decide not to question aloud. The gazebo seen in the movie in the exterior shots is only in the background while Georg and Elsa are strolling along the lake. They shot all interiors of the gazebo in a studio on the Fox lot in LA. The sign at the gazebo says it was presented as a gift to the city at the end of shooting and then restored to Hellbrunn in 1991. Did they use it for exteriors, then ship it back to LA, use it for shooting and ship it back to Austria as a gift? Or did they give the one used in the background in Salzburg to the city and build a duplicate in LA that could be taken apart in pieces to fit cameras a lights etc like any studio set? If that's the case, then this gazebo in Salzburg isn't really that cool and is kind of a tourist trap/trick. However, I could be wrong. Either way, the story about why no one is allowed inside anymore, because a 70 yr old lady tried to reenact the bench leaping from Sixteen Going on Seventeen and broke her hip, is pretty humorous no matter what.

After everyone on the tour has gotten their picture with the gazebo, we head back to the bus and settle in for the 30 min ride to Mondsee, the small town east of Salzburg where the wedding scene was filmed. It's a very nice, scenic ride and we get a great narration of the famous landmarks, mansions and lakes we pass even though some are hard to see because the clouds/fog are so thick due to the snow. When we get there, our guide takes us to the church, then gives us a half hour or so to roam the church and surrounding village. He points out some gift shops and small places to eat. The cathedral is very yellow and immediately I know they didn't use the exterior.

And when I enter, I come close to cursing because I think they got it wrong, or we've been tricked into believing this is the church. It's soooo tiny. And pink... But I guess that's the magic of movie making.

I walk up and down the church once, and still don't believe we got the right church. There's no dark stone, no lobby for the nuns, no huge altar. Nothing feels right. The amount of people as extras in the film could never have fit in this church. (For those from Cohasset, it was about half the size of St. Anthony's) I'm in disbelief, until I stand at the side and look at the aisle. There are small altar areas with portraits lining the main aisle, and there it clicks. I finally feel familiar, like I've been here before.
the pieces slowly add up

Just to be sure, I take out my iPod and play the video clip I put on it to compare. It matches. Slowly, but surely, it all comes together. The altar, the skeletons, the paintings, the stone columns. It's definitely the place even if the movie used lenses and people and lighting to completely alter the image. No wonder it seemed like it took Julie Andrews forever to walk the aisle. It was really short, yet made to look forever long.
view from the altar

I explore a couple of the stores and get a pastry at one of the bakeries before heading. On the ride back to Salzburg we watch a clip from the DVD special features that I'd seen numerous times before, but even so it was still fun to watch again. Arriving back at Mirabell Palace and the dropoff point, our guide thanks us, we thank him and as we depart he gives us guides to the rest of the filming locations around the city. The guide, it turns out, along with Anne's knowledge from her previous visit, will become a useful tool in helping me discover the world of The Sound of Music.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the hills are alive...

Before I begin this multi-post discussion of my time in Salzburg, I have to lay down a little bit of backstory. Ever since I can remember, I have been in LOVE with The Sound of Music. The 1965 box office smash starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was and still is, excuse the language, my shit. We had, and still have for that matter, the double VHS copy that came as part of a Rodgers and Hammerstein collection and which my sister and I watched on a regular basis. It didn't matter that it was 3 hours long, I loved every minute of it. As I got older, towards the end of middle school and beginning of high school, I don't remember watching as often, but the passion was still there, a bed of coals waiting to be re-ignited.

On a 2002 family trip to The Netherlands, it was. Our friends we were staying with had 2 books of great intrigue to me: Letters to Leisl by Charmian Carr (the actress who played Leisl in the movie) and an in-depth behind the scenes book about the making of the movie. When I saw those, nothing else mattered except me reading them. I devoured every page, every morsel. Part of that may have been due to my compulsive interest to read about behind the scenes/on-set/production stories of movies and television, but nonetheless, I was obsessed with those books. When we got home, I purchased the behind the scenes one and reread the library copy of Letters to Leisl.

As DVDs were just emerging at that time, I got the 2-Disc Collector's Edition which came with the most amazing documentary about the VonTrapp story and how it was developed into films and became a worldwide phenomenon. I don't know how many times I watched it, but I couldn't get enough. Between the book about the making of the movie and the DVD documentary I was in heaven. I soaked up every ounce of info about The Sound of Music. My craving for more came when the 40th Anniversary DVD was released and even though I owned the movie already, the special features on the new set were the bomb, and made the purchase well worth it. I learned even more amazing facts and had become a fountain of knowledge about the movie and story, yet I still craved more. I had to visit the city of Salzburg, Austria.

Although my itinerary had such popular tourist destinations like Paris, Rome and Venice on it, my #1 destination was Salzburg. A few months before I left, my mother and I were discussing if she, or I, or both of us would go to visit Anne and central Europe. Begging on my part did factor in a bit. This was the perfect opportunity to go to Salzburg and I wasn't going to let it slip from my reach. This was my moment, my chance to live out my childhood, to walk in the steps of Julie Andrews, to roam and experience the city where the hills were alive with the sound of music.

Friday, October 22, 2010

sunny day, sweepin' the clouds away...

Weather is a key factor when traveling and some days can really influence how you enjoy the day. Unless you're visiting something that is just so spectacular it doesn't matter what the weather is. I would say that 80-90% of the time I was in Europe, it was sunny and beautiful. If it didn't rain the worst it got was partly cloudy. Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy many, many outdoor activities and sights, the exteriors of most buildings being "not to miss" attractions. Traveling in late November-early December and having mostly good weather was wonderful for me and I considered myself very lucky. Since I'm not a fancy photographer, I needed the pretty weather to make things look extra pretty and the rich blue sky background was ever so helpful in me taking pretty pictures. When it was cloudy, the buildings just didn't look as good as they did in real life.

The other 10-20%of the time there was inclement weather. But for the most part, it didn't affect how I enjoyed the day, which I guess is a good thing. The first morning I arrived in Paris the rain was finishing up, but the clouds had lifted by mid-morning. My day in Tours, France included a bit of rain but nothing that dampered my experience. When it rained in Venice, I got to see how the city reacts like nothing happened and that fascinating experience was one of my favorites. Munich had a bit of rain but it was in the evening so it didn't damper the day too much. And when I finally made it to Vienna, the last leg of the journey, it rained every day. Ironically...yes, that is the best word to use here I think...out of the three weeks I was in Europe, the one day it snowed was the day I was looking forward to the most, the day of my Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, Austria. More on that in the next post.

There's not much else I can say about the weather. I got pretty lucky for the 3 weeks I traversed the continent and although I can normally stay pretty positive and optimistic when weather is bad, if I'd had worse rain days than I had, and a lot of them, my trip may not have been as exciting and fun. Besides rain or shine, it also wasn't too cold ever. Sure it was probably in the 30s towards the end, but that's December...and I had plenty of shirts and jackets to layer to stay warm. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

crystal clear

After the magnificence of the mountains, I knew nothing else that day could beat what I felt on top of the snow-covered peak, but the Innsbruck card covered bus travel and free admission to the Swarovksi Crystal Museum, and Anne mentioned to me it was a neat place, so I thought I would check it out. Swarovski is an extremely famous crystal manufacturer and they have stores all around the globe. The are quite pricey based on what I saw in the gift shop. The shuttle ride was about 20 minutes long and it took you right to the front door of the museum. The first thing you see upon approaching the entrance is the face water feature built into the grass. Creepy and interesting are both good words to describe it.  And as it happens, both those adjectives along with "acid trip" would be a good way to describe the museum.

The first room you enter into is pitch black except for the artistically designed crystal on the walls reflecting the little light there is. In the center on the floor is the world's largest crystal. It's pretty big, I'm not gonna lie.

From there on, I don't remember the order or the rooms/exhibits, but some specifics stand out. The giant dome with hundreds of sides was one of my favorite parts. Inside is all reflective surfaces and even though the music was a little weird, the changing colors of light altered my perception of everything and I spent a good deal of time with my head tilted back admiring it all.

 The other portion of the museum I loved was the Crystal tree. Made completely out of crystal, the tree looked like an angelic pine covered in snow in the middle of a far off wood. It was something I wouldn't mind having in my house, but the presentation would be hard to replicate. What made it stand out so much was it being surrounded completely by black walls and a room with no light except for the few shining onto the tree itself. Utterly beautiful.

Now, even though there were some really interesting things, overall I felt like the museum was somewhat pretentious and a couple of the rooms really did feel like acid trips. Especially when they didn't even incorporate crystal that much. An example was a room that had pants and shirts flying around on a loop and they were also seen dancing to music. It was like a really bad Disney ride. Another room was similar but had about 6-7 small mechanical "exhibits" and some had no crystal involved in them so I didn't see their point. They were just weird and felt like a "look what we can do" kind of place.

At the end of all these strange rooms, almost all in the dark, was a giant crystal jellyfish and that was a good ending note cuz it was pretty cool. The gift shop which looked more like a department store floor had some really neat stuff but nothing I could afford from my wallet. There was a $27,000 crystal eagle which was gorgeous of course, but priceyyyy.

Reemerging from the underground, no light at all museum the sun had set and it was just as dark outside. Though it had only been an hour and a half or so, I was so physically and mentally exhausted and drained I wish my hotel wasn't a bus ride away.

I returned to the cutest hotel alive and checked into my private, single room which was perfect even though I would have to go down the hall to use the shower. But it didn't seem like many people were there as the hotel was so quiet. Although I'd been on my own for 2 weeks now, I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude and peacefulness Hotel Weisses Kreuz emitted. There were about 1000 things I loved about this place but I'll only mention a few here. First, the hotel wasn't set up like a fancy, new modern structure. The check-in desk is on the first floor up the stairs from the entrance and it looks a lot like you just stepped into someones home. The living room has a tv, toys and Tirolean furniture. Nothing looks out of place. There is a rustic dining room as well that probably fits about 50-60 people.

The other highlight which skyrocketed this place to the top of my list was the offer to serve my breakfast at 5am even though it normally doesn't begin until 7. I was shocked when the woman offered it to me and I was elated since I was sad I was going to miss the free breakfast. When I went down at 5am the next morning, it was all ready for me, the server said I could sit anywhere and then kept bringing me more and more food options. It was probably one of the most glorious parts of the entire trip. Just outstanding. The customer service at this hotel was spectacular. If you are ever in Innsbruck, I highly highly recommend choosing to stay here. It's downtown location is perfect and close to all the sights and the Weisses Kreuz is everything a traveler could want in a hotel.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

city cards and the best high you can have

To begin this post, I'm going to do my spiel about City Cards. Only 3 of the cities I visited offered the city cards, each with their own specifics. Munich's was only a discount card and based on how long I would be there and what I wanted to see, it was not worth it for me to purchase one. Unlike Innsbruck and Salzburg, whose cards include a number of activities around the cities that I wanted to see and the card allows for free admission. And some of the things to do cost almost as much as the card did. In Innsbruck, with just one round trip ride to the top of the mountains and back, I utilized the cost of the card almost completely. Add in all the other wonderful things I saw, and it was the best investment of my entire trip probably. Sure, if you get the card and don't choose to go to the mountains, you don't recoup the investment as quickly but it can still be done since paying individual admission to all the museums and sights can really add up. Such was the case in Salzburg. We bought the cards and ended up breaking even between the cost and individual admission prices. I'm prolly one of the few people who would even care to add it all up and see if it was worth it monetarily but you do get to skip lines as well so there is a time consideration to factor in as well. So my recommendation for City Cards is to get them, as long as the investment will be worth it, and with free admission that worth shows itself very quickly.

After spending plenty of time soaking up Tirolean culture in the Folk Museum, it was around mid-day and the gondola ride to the top of the mountains, and a small ski area, awaited. It started as something off my checklist of things to do, and since the cost was almost as much as the City Card, a worthy investment to check out. It quickly turned into one of my favorite locales/activities of the entire trip.

View of the mountains from the streets below
To get to the top, there were three different transportation devices I had to ride. The first, from the streets of downtown Innsbruck to a small village neighborhood in the hills was completed on a small, train-like shaped car and the ride was fairly quick. From there, we walked 2 minutes to the gondola station that would take us to the restaurant and main section of the ski area. This trek also stopped at the Alpine Zoo, which Anne told me was neat but which I didn't have enough time to visit since I decided I wanted to see the Swarovski Crystal museum more. Don't know if I made the right choice, but more on that later. 

On the ride up, I thoroughly enjoyed my window position and being able to look down at all the lovely snow and see minuscule hikers with their dogs, going both up and down, and I think some may have been on skis. My giddyness started here, and the high I experienced for the next hour was thrilling. Departing from the gondola at the ski level, I had no idea there was another level I could go up, so I went outside and saw kids playing in the snow, couples sitting at the outdoor tables, chair lifts not active yet, and a breathtaking view of the city of Innsbruck and the 360 degree view of surrounding mountains. Oh, and a parachuter flying right over the city.

After spending quite a few minutes soaking up the overlook, I turned and saw the richest blue sky behind a gorgeous balance of rock and snow. 

Deciding I needed to explore, I started to follow the paths of others when I looked to my right and saw another gondola heading up the mountain further. Quickly backtracking, I hopped on the next one departing up. While waiting I saw the map they had for the area and displayed which areas of the mountain were open. There were actually quite a few areas to explore if you were a skier. 

On the ride up there was a gentleman sitting next to me with a backpack and a helmet so I figured he was just an intense hiker. Little did I know I would get a surprise from him when we got to the top. Immediately upon departure he walked determinately to an open spot with plenty of clearance and nothing blocking him from the edge of mountain. Within a matter of seconds it felt like, he pulled a parachute out from his pack, had it all strung up and ready to go, threw his helmet on and ran off the side of the mountain. Where he planned to land in the city, or towards the bottom of the mountain, I have no idea but it was quite a sight to see. And a very popular sport because as I was heading back to the gondola station, there was a whole group prepping to do their run, and at the bottom there were many gentleman with backpacks heading to the top.

After getting over the thrill of watching a man run off the mountain, I finally took the time to gaze in awe of where I was. The view of Innsbruck this time was even more amazing and expansive. I could see forever. 

Turning around was even more amazing. The Alps extended into oblivion and the snow, rock and sky contrast was so spectacular I don't know if I could find words for it. Wispy clouds moving in and out added to the magical effect the mountains were having on me. I was in absolute awe and couldn't get over how gorgeous everything all was and how great and lucky I felt being up on top of the Alps in the snow in the early days of December. Being from New England, snow isn't new to me, but for some reason it was magical that day and I felt like a kid waking up to find school canceled and all the snow in the world to play with.

Next to where I was admiring the view was another small peak that had an outbuilding on it and I could see people climbing up to the top. Wishing I was better prepared for hiking and exploring, I desperately wished I could go up there, but didn't think it would be possible. But as I started to hike a little ways up it to get a better view anyway, this lady was hiking down and she was dressed as un-hikerly as me. At this point the wind was blazing by and I stayed lower to the ground in order to not lose my traction and be blown down the mountain. However, as this wonderful lady passed me on her way down she told me it wasn't windy just a little ways up. Based on how much I was being blown over at that moment, I really wanted to say "are you shitting me?" but instead I came up with a very curious, "really?"  
Wind so strong the ice and snow was horizontal not vertical

She was absolutely right though. The magic of weather and wind and nature somehow made it so that the higher I climbed the less the wind had an effect. The hike up was therefore quite easy since I didn't have to worry about being thrown off the mountain by mother nature. And even though every step I took had me sinking at least a foot into the snow, it didn't matter whatsover. I was enjoying myself so thoroughly it would have taken an anvil to destroy my high. The top of this peak was wonderful, silent and serene. No people, no wind. Just me.