Sound of Music cycling tour, Salzburg, Austria
Where to start? Well, let’s start at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start.
Sitting alone at an outside table in one the Salzburg’s largest beer gardens, a group of local drinkers come up and ask if they can join me. Of course. As we chat, I mention that I’m doing a Sound of Music tour the following morning. Oh, one of them says, rolling his eyes ever so slightly, “nobody in Austria has seen that movie. Well, maybe about half the people. But it’s not very popular here.”
He tells me a story – probably apocryphal – that during the Reagan Administration, the Austrian President was visiting the US and they played ‘Edelweiss’ for him, assuming it was an important national song. Of course, as we know, it was written purely for the musical and has no historical link to Austria.
For Salzburg, The Sound of Music has two strong links – even if many of the residents don’t know much about it. Firstly, it was here that Maria and the Von Trapps actually lived and went through many of the events told in the movie. And, secondly, much of the movie was filmed in and around the city.
I suppose a should add a third link between the movie and Salzburg. It’s what inspires hordes of tourists to visit the city every year. Sure, there is plenty here to entice and entertain without needing a movie to promote it. But let’s be realistic – it is a deciding factor for a lot of foreigners.
For this reason, there are plenty of offerings for tours in Salzburg based on The Sound of Music. The most common one is a bus tour, which drives around, spotting the sites out the window, and stopping at a couple for some fresh air. But children are meant to play, not march, right?
The bus tour does gets good reviews (and you can see more about it here) but that’s not really my style. So I decide to try a tour by bicycle.
We gather together in the morning. There are about 16, going on 17, of us. All, expect for me, are from the USA.
I’ve always found (on the rare occasions when I have put my mind to this question) that Australians and British have the same passion for The Sound of Music as Americans. Yet my friends from the US do see it slightly differently. It’s a little magical, a little exotic, a slice of the stereotypical European charm they imagine exists far away in space but not time. For the rest of us, it’s simply a bit of camp good fun.
But a bicycle tour through the sites of Salzburg gives all of us a chance to release some camp good fun. At the fountain in the square in front of the Salzburg Cathedral, people take turns splashing the water out, like Maria does as she proclaims that she has confidence. It’s so exciting to be out in the world, to be free.
At the Horse’s Bath, where Maria and the children sing some of ‘My Favourite Things’, some people do a little song and dance. Locals walking past seem amused – perhaps by the idea of schnitzel with noodles, which seems to only exist as a rhyme for crisp apple strudels, which is actually common here.
We go through various spot in the city used for the movie – doorways, arches, squares, a graveyard. I must admit, though, these are not necessarily my favourite things. I have seen them all already on a brief stroll through the historic part of Salzburg and there are crowds of tourists everywhere. Where this tour really helps us find our dream, is when we start to climb every mountain (actually, just one, thank goodness).
It’s up on this hill above the city that we reach Nonnberg Abbey. In its own right, it’s a beautiful abbey. Away from the traffic, it’s quiet and peaceful. I go inside and there’s a choir singing (but nothing from the movie, before you ask). Before I walk through the door, I whisper my favourite line under my breath, “What is it you can’t face, Maria?”
The line was probably done in a studio. But this abbey was used for the external scenes of Maria’s abbey. There are no rolling green hills anywhere nearby for Maria to be beckoned from – a bit of Hollywood magic, that is – but I can imagine her coming through these gates. The best thing is that not all of the Sound of Music bus tours come here because there’s no accessible road.
In fact, as we go downhill from the abbey, it’s all uphill for the tour. Because now we enter the countryside around Salzburg. The guide turns on the speakers and songs from the movie play around us as we cycle through fields with the wind in our hair. My heart wants to sing every song it hears and my heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees!
Speaking of lakes, that’s our next stop. We gaze over a lake to Leopold Palace, which reflects in the smooth water. This was used for the filming of the exterior of the Von Trapp house when the lake was in shot. The tour group sings a little bit more here, naturally. I, however, don’t. I can’t. I’ve got a sore finger.
And then there’s a lovely ride on a track, to the Frohnburg Palace, used for other exterior shots of the Von Trapp house. I look up at the trees as we cycle past – I’m sure I could imagine children playing in curtains in the branches.
At the end of the path we find the famous gazebo, also known as the Sound of Music Pavillion. These days it’s all locked up – no way to dance and sing inside, singing along to ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ as Rolf and Leisl did. In fact, that’s why it’s locked up because a few too many people had accidents while reenacting the scene. Sad. It looks like an empty stage waiting for fate to turn the light on.
Perhaps it’s a good symbol for the day. I have a lot of fun and the weather has been kind. It’s nice to see a bit of Salzburg and particularly pleasant to have a ride around away from the traffic. But nothing can quite capture the joy of The Sound of Music, even a tour like this. Each of these sites seem a little sad without the characters in them and the music filling the space around them. But, then again, that’s what our imagination is for.
And, with that, I hate to leave this pretty sight. I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly. So long, farewell.
For accommodation, I stayed at the friendly Wolf Hotel in the historic centre.