Day 14: January 7th, Venice to Salzburg
Another long drive day means another early start. I think I’m the only one not bothered by this. Today on the bus, most people are wearing their new Topdeck hoodies, and others are lamenting over their clothes being ruined by the laundry service. But I have other things on my mind. The next destination holds very special meaning to me.
January 7 is a very important day. It marks eight years since my beloved Grandma, Judy, left this world following a long battle with polio and Multiple Sclerosis. I was seventeen at the time. The last thing she and I did together was watch The Sound of Music. She’d been given a portable DVD player and my Mum had bought the special edition DVD of the movie. She’d seen it a million times, as had I, but her face lit up throughout the running time. With just her and me sitting beside her bed, where she spent the final six months of her life, we watched it together. She held my hand the whole time and told me how much she loved me. It’s a precious memory, because two weeks later she was gone. So much time has passed, but I miss her terribly every single day.
It seems the universe has lined this moment up for me, being in Salzburg where The Sound of Music was filmed on this anniversary. The only thing I intend to do in the city is the tour. And I will do so.
As the coach makes the journey to Salzburg, Morgan attempts to put the film on but the DVD won’t work because it was bought in Australia and the coding or something is different. She resigns herself to the soundtrack and not everyone is happy about this.
Italy may have been quite mild in terms of the weather, but as we cross the border into Austria, the snow becomes deep and heavy. The alps loom high into the sky and it’s clear we’re entering another world.
The hostel is a really nice one, though some people think the rooms are too small (for the record, I don’t). Every night The Sound of Music is played and a number of people plan to watch it. First, we set out into the chilly evening for the walking tour. We see Mozart’s birthplace, and several filming locations from The Sound of Music. Most of us head to Burgermeister for dinner, and a bunch of us get tickets for the tour the next day.
Cameras don’t lie. Salzburg is spectacular.
Day 15: January 8th, Salzburg
My day begins early. I don’t want to waste a moment of my time in the beautiful city. Those of us going on the Sound of Music tour get picked up outside the hostel. It’s a balmy 1 degree Celsius. I’m very grateful for my thermals and fleece lined boots.
Once on the tour bus, the guide wastes no time launching into the history of the beloved film and why people in Salzburg have, for the most part, never seen or heard of it (it’s a long story. Google it). My seatmate introduces herself as Rachel, and her accent immediately identifies her as America, and she’s with her boyfriend Tyler, who’s studying in Europe. They are, quite honestly, two of the coolest people I have ever met.
First stop is Leopoldskron Palace, the exterior of the Von Trapp house. The lake is frozen over, but one light tap from my boot is enough to shatter the delicate crystal. I sure wouldn’t want to fall in like they did in the film.
We drive past Nonnberg Abbey, which was used as the convent exterior. Hellbrun Castle contains one of the three pavilions famously used in Sixteen Going on Seventeen, and was also used as the entrance to the Von Trapp home. The guide points out the path where Julie Andrews sang I Have Confidence and asks if anyone wants to skip down said path singing the song. I don’t need to be asked twice. Tyler very kindly takes what becomes my favourite photo from the entire trip.
On the way to Wedding Church Mondsee via St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang, the soundtrack is played and a singalong is actively encouraged. My time to shine. I even get the bus microphone for a spell. In between the Wi-Fi dropping in and out, I manage to send a quick video back home.
Church Mondsee is a shock, since it’s much smaller than the movie would have you believe thanks to a wide-angle lens. I light a candle inside for Grandma.
We have a bit of free time so we go into a few stores. I get a fridge magnet and a bar of Eidelweiss soap, since there’s no way I can bring the flower scenes through Australian customs.
The tour ends with the stunning Mirabelle Gardens, where the famous Do-Re-Mi sequence was shot. Afterwards, Rachel and Tyler are heading to the salt mines, and we make plans to have dinner later that night at Burgermeister.
I find a place called Shakespeare Cafe for lunch. I’m not used to being asked “smoking or non-smoking?” at a restaurant, but the open doors mean that the cigarette smoke leaks in regardless, so my choice hardly matters. I have finally seen how serious my weight loss has become, and I am determined to do something about it. When my lunch arrives, I firmly tell myself that I will not leave until I’ve eaten the lot. And I manage to do it.
After doing my laundry in the hostel, I head to Burgermeister to meet Rachel and Tyler. We have a delightful evening explaining our respective countries’ slang, and laughing about a certain President.
I’m definitely visiting them when I return to the USA in 2019.
Day 16: January 9th, Vienna
Another drive day, to Vienna. This is a city I’ve read about for years.
Our first stop is at the Schonbrunn Palace. We wander around the immaculate gardens. There’s nothing like this back home.
It’s sad that we only get one night in Vienna, because it’s gorgeous. The city is too big for a walking tour, but we get driven around the streets. Past the arts university that rejected Hitler 3 times, the Prater, Hofburg Palace, Belvedere, Vienna State Opera…
I don’t go out in the afternoon because I have a bunch of self-test tapes to try and film in the darkened hostel room. But as night falls, I’m in for a real treat. We’ve been booked into seeing the Salonorchester Alt Wien–the Orchestra of Old Vienna. First, we have dinner at a beautiful restaurant and then we walk to the concert hall, Kursalon.
It’s a highlight of the trip for me. The orchestra plays Strauss and Mozart without a conductor, and there are opera singers and stunning ballet duos. Not only is the performance world-class, but the hall and even the chairs are gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like it. Sorry Sydney Opera House.
The night reminds me, again, why I chose the arts. And I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Austria. This country is everything beautiful in the world, and for the first time in three months, I’m feeling genuinely happy.
This is the country that gave me any hope that life was going to be ok again.