ALLAN: One of the enduring puzzles surrounding the high point of our trip is, just who in their right mind (apart from us) would want to go on a Sound of Music coach tour? Our pre-trip imaginings have conjured images of a coach full of elderly matrons, handing around Werthers originals as they warble cheerfully through the soundtrack and swoon over the handsomeness of Christopher Plummer. Or would it be a dark bohemian outing of academics and YouTubers, come to peer at the spectacle through their ironic Louis Theroux glasses? Or, perhaps most likely of all, the bus might be completely empty except for me and Kate.
In the event it is none of these things, although the truth reveals some deep insights to the human psyche. For a start the operation is well-oiled, the organisation is slick and the bus is super modern and completely full. It is immediately clear that the Sound of Music tour is a thriving business. As for the ‘who would go on this’ question, the answer seems to be largely British, American and Australian married couples in their early fifties (although we do meet at least one other father/daughter outing).
Our tour guide is Mitch, whose heavy build and gravelly voice might have suited him for work as a night-club bouncer but who turns out to be surprisingly adept with a patter, crammed with interesting SoM related facts (did you know the real Captain von Trapp fired the first torpedo from a submarine?). He pitches his delivery perfectly and even raises a laugh with a few risky jokes at the expense of the Catholic Church and Nazis (don’t try this at home folks).
But it is when Mitch puts on the SoM soundtrack that this rolling social experiment begins to come to life. When we look around to find out who is singing and who is not it is immediately apparent that the usually outgoing and gregarious Americans have clammed up tight whilst it is the ‘reserved’ Brits are happily warbling about having confidence and fording streams etc. Or, more precisely, it is the wives who are singing while their husbands stare resolutely out of the window and dream of visiting the Red Bull museum.
So, there you have it, the enduring appeal of the SoM seems to lie mainly with middle-aged British (and Australian) women with one or two outliers like me and Kate. (We are enjoying ourselves immensely to the extent that we are drawing polite and possibly sympathetic smiles). This should probably come as no surprise but it is a loyal audience and goes a long way towards explaining the enduring appeal of The Sound of Music. Overall, the tour is a very well-choreographed piece of camp designed to cater perfectly to this very peculiar breed of insanity. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
KATE: The Sound of Music tour was really all we could have hoped for. I don’t think I’ve experienced pride quite like getting the answer right to “what was Maria singing on the way from the abbey to the Von Trapp villa?” (the answer being ‘ I Have Confidence’). It did feel like an almost spiritual existence seeing the house used to film. Fun fact: two houses were used, one for the front and the other for the back terrace and garden, and yes, we saw both. Perhaps best of all, we visited the church in Mondsee, a nearby town, where they filmed the wedding scene – like any self respecting theatre kid who grew up on Julie Andrews musicals, I felt it necessary to walk down the aisle. I have walked down the same aisle as the woman I worship. I felt another octave attach onto my vocal range. I am reborn.
The next day, we travelled up to the fortress that overlooks the city. It is beautiful and imposing; entirely vertical stone walls with tiny windows, fortified by the walls that surround the Old Town, with view of the river for some fifty miles. The interior is gothically decorated, with dark wooden floors, azurite and gold coated walls and ceilings, and hugely ornate, colourful ceramic stoves once used to heat these rooms. Dad and I concluded that we could rather happily set up camp in the wooden-beamed banquet hall – it would be a rather cosy, isolated home.
The preserved kitchen (complete with a state-of-the-art waste disposal system of ‘hole in the wall to chuck out your waste water and scraps’) featured an information panel which provided information on how to prepare your own Sauerkraut. It is as follows.
If you wish to prepare your own pickled cabbage, boil heads of white cabbage. Take two parts mustard and one part honey, mix this with wine, season it with enough caraway seed and aniseed, add the boiled cabbage and serve it cold.
On our walk down back to the town centre, we couldn’t resist stopping by Stift Nonnberg, (literally, Nun Mountain)the convent used in the filming of The Sound of Music. It is an an actual abbey and nunnery, in fact, and has been since Salzburg’s patron saint, St Rupert, founded it in 712AD. This makes it the oldest continually existing convent in the German speaking world. To my mortification, I basically had to hold back Dad from asking the nuns for Fraulein Maria. He had also pointed out a wind dial on the abbey roof which read “MARIA” – excitedly assuming it to be a nod to the musical which has dominated our trip, or even the real Maria Von Trapp. I felt the need to rain on his parade and point out that it is, in fact, a Catholic abbey, and thus references the Holy Mary. I think I caused some disappointment.
The abbey itself is beautiful, slightly further down the mountain from the fortress. Its iconic red domed roof with a golden clock built into it sits proudly atop the modestly beautiful Bavarian building, surrounded by winding cobbled streets. The walled gardens are home to a small cemetery and several colourful, well cared for flower beds. As someone who did not grow up Catholic, the splendour of all this Catholic churches and the sheer amount of beautiful golden artwork and imagery they have inside always astounds me. Of course, this abbey church is where the real Von Trapps married. The clock strikes twelve. The bells of the central town’s monastry rings out “Thine Be The Glory” over the city.
That evening, our lovely friend Alicia (who is currently living not too far outside of Salzburg) came to visit. One key difference between us and Alicia is that, while we have been fumbling through some phrases along the lines of “Das tut mir leid, sprechen Sie Englisch?” (“I’m sorry, do you speak english?”), Alicia is highly capable in German. As it happens, everyone was right when they told me that, having learnt the basics of the language from a Berliner, I would struggle go understand the Bavarian accent and dialect. It felt great to stand with Alicia as she ordered us “Punsch” (punch). We drank the sweet, warm, rum-y drink surrounded by jovial locals in the beautifully fairy-lit Christmas market. Life is good.