Earlier this year, I wrote a post called “The Hills Are Alive in 2015“. The Sound of Music was one of only 2 reasons for my visit to Salzburg, and there was no better year for me to do it in than in 2015, since it was the movie’s 50th anniversary.
Let me make one thing clear before I continue: Julie Andrews is my absolute hero. I have her up on a pedestal, and believe that she is undercover royalty. I will never tire of watching her or hearing her sing, let alone speak. She is the ultimate lady to whom I have the utmost respect and adoration for. In today’s world, the only person who could measure up to her is Emma Watson. To be able to visit Salzburg and live the magic of The Sound of Music was an absolute dream come true.
Now that that is clear, here are the list of options that I considered when planning my time in Salzburg:
- Visiting all the locations on my own, since they were free
- Doing a bus tour (since there’s so many out there)
- Attending a Sound of Music dinner concert
From the above options, I favoured the last one the most. The problem with doing that though is that although I’d hear the music, I’d still have to go to all the locations. Knowing the pace at which I travel, I would risk not seeing all the locations had I chosen to visit them on my own. And I’d still have to take a bus out of town to go to the hill where the picnic scene was shot.
Since I had already booked a bike tour to see Neuschwanstein Castle, I realised that that was probably the way to go, since I never get to ride a bike back home in SA. Because I wanted everything to be as Sound of Music as possible, I booked with Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours.
The meeting point was the front entrance of Mirabellplatz, a place I had become all too familiar with. I had met the tour guides the previous day while wandering around, so took the opportunity to confirm the time and location of the tour. Even though the tour was scheduled to start at 9:30, the guides advised me to be there at least 15 to 20 minutes early so that we could get comfortable with the bikes and receive a safety lesson.
We had a little room to get a feel for the bikes, before the group was divided into two. 15 of us were to go with Francesca, and the other 15 with the guy whose name I didn’t catch. We rode around the corner to a quiet park next to Mirabell Palace, where Fräulein Francesca introduced herself and got everyone else to also introduce themselves and state their connection to The Sound of Music. Like most Austrians, Francesca grew up not knowing about The Sound of Music, and learned about it from tourists. So it was ironic that she was now giving tours on it.
The other people on the tour were of various ages. Holly Christina, the girl from New Zealand, was the youngest. There was at least one couple in their mid 50s, and a woman who I’m sure was over 60. Holly bought a little guitar especially for the tour, and she named it Gretel, after the youngest Von Trapp child. I was the only South African on the tour; most of the others were from the US, and if I remember correctly, Holly was the only one from as far east as New Zealand. It was delightful seeing such diversity in age – it’s amazing how the movie has touched the lives of such a wide range of people.
Before we even got to the park, I wondered why the girls were told to take the white bikes, and the guys to take any bike that wasn’t white. Once we got to the park, Francesca told us to look on the side of our bikes since each of us would have a unique one. It turned out that every bike had a character’s name on it – I was Liesl.
There were also picture cards attached to the back of the basket, so that we could see which scene was shot in each place that we rode to.
When we left the park, we kept off the street as much as possible so as to avoid possible collisions with pedestrians, something I didn’t mind at all. We began the ride by going over one of the bridges and stopping about half way so that Francesca could give us a nice introduction to the kind of route we’d be taking.
Once we crossed the road and had a look at the unusual Mozart statue (he was butt naked and posed awkwardly), Francesca also explained the reason for the buildings being built right up against the cliff – it was actually where the river used to be. Looking around me, it was already clear that I had chosen the best tour to see the Sound of Music sights, because the paths we took were so narrow, there’s no way I could have seen what I did had I been on a bus or gone on my own.
After seeing Mozart, we made our way through to the old town market in order to see the Salzburg Cathedral. The market was very busy so we had to wind our way through people. We stopped for about 30 minutes to get a bite to eat and visit the St Peter’s cemetery – the inspiration behind the scene where the Von Trapp family was hiding from the Nazis.
I took a 10 minute stroll around the cemetery and went into the little church inside it, as I wanted to miss nothing that Julie Andrew’s might have seen herself all those years ago.
I had not had breakfast that day, so since I had at least 20 minutes left, I went back to where we had parked our bikes and noticed a street vendor that was selling pretzels. There was one in particular that caught my eye, so I decided to get one as I needed sustenance for the next 2 hours of bike riding. When I asked him for it, he jumped with excitement and said that it was his favourite one. When I took a bite of it, I understood why: the pretzel was basically one big tube for fresh cream. It was not a filling (or healthy) meal, but it was just what I needed to keep my energy levels up until I could get something more substantial to eat. When he handed it to me, I realised how awesome it was to travel alone. As unhealthy as I knew that thing was, I didn’t have to feel bad about having it because I knew I’d probably never get to have it ever again. And besides, I’d be doing so much walking for the next 10 days that it didn’t really matter what I ate (or at least, that’s what I told myself).
After eating, Francesca mentally prepared us for the only steep hill on the tour. She explained how and when to lower the gear on our bikes so that we would be able to climb it, however none of us got the timing right, so with her encouragement, we all walked up the hill. Francesca stood to the side and waited for us to pass, and played Climb Every Mountain from her phone (?) that was connected to some hidden speakers on her bike. It really got the group going and also brought about smiles from onlookers as they obviously heard the music too. We did not try to hide how giddy we were, and some of us sang along and gave Francesca a high 5 as we passed her.
When we got to the top of the hill, Francesca let us stop for a few moments to catch our breaths as she explained how the same scene of the movie was shot in different locations, and that the view we could see was made to look as if it was what Maria saw as she stood at the entrance of The Abbey.
Holly and I decided that we would take each other’s photos along the tour, since we were both alone. That’s another thing I love about travelling alone – you get to make friends!
We had to ride only a few metres to The Abbey, where we could take in more views and walk around. We were allowed to go inside, so all of us did. The inside of the Abbey is very dark, so it was clear that they had to really adjust the lighting for the movie. Nevertheless, I was still thrilled to have been in the same room that Julie Andrews once stood. When we got back outside, the other tour group had caught up with us.
The best part about being at The Abbey was the fact that the entire tour group got together to sing Doe A Deer, with Holly providing the music with Gretel. There were some little kids in the other group who also sang along. It was the most magical part about the entire tour.
After the Abbey, we still had some other places to see like the famous “I am 16 going on 17” Gazebo, as well as the Leopold Palace and the Von Trapp family home. But before we could see any of that, we had to descend an insanely steep hill. So steep, that we had to use both front and rear breaks. It was a little scary at first, but we all managed.
Holly and I often got left behind by the group as we kept stopping to take photos and videos of each other and the surroundings. I cannot describe how stunning the scenery was, not to mention how peaceful the whole area was. In those 3.5 hours, I had not a care in the world.
There was an American guy who was also alone on the tour, and he kept a lookout for Holly and I so that we knew which direction the rest of the group was going in. It was very sweet of him. After we had left the Von Trapp family home and were done acting like the kids playing the trees, he started to sing Edelweiss as we rode off. Of course Holly and I joined in, because it was the only song that we hadn’t heard Francesca play from her bike.
The last stop of the tour was Mirabell Palace, where we had to wait for other tourists to move aside so we could get decent photos of ourselves on the staircase that Julie Andrews stood with the children at the end of Do Re Me.
As if it wasn’t evident enough from the pictures, I was absolutely elated by the end of the tour. It was everything I had imagined and my only regret was the attire I chose for the day since I was convinced that it was going to rain. Oh well, not that that made a difference in the amount of fun that I had.
If you’re a Sound of Music fan, I cannot emphasise enough just how brilliant this tour was. It is an absolute must, and I can tell you from experience that even the non-fanatical husbands who were dragged along ended up having the time of their life. I guarantee that you will feel enchanted by the end of the day, and it will become one of your favourite things.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? Do the Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour. You won’t regret it.
So long, farewell
Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight