Saturday, July 4, 2015

Austria - In Which There is The Sound of Music, We Ride the Funicular to See the Alps, and Go for Baroque in Salzburg


After another great walk through the morning sunshine to the U-Bahn station, during which I spotted this little beauty, we made it to the main station way ahead of schedule to meet our tour group. This allowed us some time to browse in the ‘international’ magazine shop which actually contained no English at all as far as I could see, except for this postcard:


Uhh. What. Any German speakers out there please let me know if this is some kind of inside German joke. Otherwise, no, you don’t come to right at all.

The shop lady glared at me as I took this picture, so I took another one:


Must be another inside joke…

A few minutes later we met our tour guide, Iain, a likeable guy form Staffordshire in the UK. He soon had us all under way and on the train bound for Salzburg. Zoe and Terra were a little worse for wear after not having had quite enough sleep (or maybe too much de-alcoholized beer in Terra’s case – what a lush) so they opted to sleep during the history lecture, safe in the knowledge, I am sure, that I would be spouting it all back to them shortly anyway so why not sleep instead.

I enjoyed Iain’s sense of history, and his sense of humour also as he told us about the origins of the city of Salzburg as one of few sources of salt in Christendom. The Church seized the opportunity to control this valuable resource as early as the 800s and the town of Salzburg grew rapidly as the need for salt increased. Of course there was a lot more which I won’t bore you with, and several centuries passed until he got to the part I was really interested in, The Sound of Music. I was beyond excited to see some of the original sites from the movie and was thrilled to receive a city map with the main ones clearly marked on it. Of course, he had to discuss the real story of the Von Trapp Family versus the movie story and if you don’t want to  be disappointed, then skip this next part. In reality, Captain Von Trapp was under no obligation to serve the Third Reich as a ship’s captain, and, given the choice, he and Maria decided to leave Austria on their own accord and emigrated to the US, where they settled in Vermont and ran a guesthouse. But that doesn’t make for a very good plot conflict, so the story was adjusted to allow for the family’s dramatic escape. But the love story part of the movie is true – Maria was a novice (nun, that is, although I suspect she was a novice in other ways as well), and they did fall in love and marry.

Anyway, like I said, I was super nerdy-excited to see it all but first, we had to finish the two hour train ride, and get to Salzburg. The scenery out the train window was spectacular as we passed blue lakes shimmering in the sun, little villages with red roofs and church spires rising out of the valleys, and lots of chalets, complete with window boxes full of red geraniums.



Germans, and the French too, are big on solar and wind power: even the smallest villages have fields of solar panels, and most roof tops have at least three or four panels on them. Wind turbines are everywhere looking like gentle futuristic giants. It’s strikingly different from home, and it made me wonder why we don’t all make more use of these re-useable resources.

Time flew by and soon we were rolling into Salzburg. I have wanted to come here for so long it was great to check it off my bucket list


Salzburg train station is a busy place. Europe is on high alert these days and heavily armed police and soldiers can be seen patrolling stations and  public spaces all over the place so we were used to it by now but was still a bit disconcerting to see police cars screeching to a halt outside the station and police running inside, doing up their bullet poof vests as they ran in. Iain calmly lead us out the door to the bus stop and nothing more was said about it although several more police cars pulled up as we were leaving.

We wasted no time in getting to one of the first of the SOM sites, the Mirabel gardens, which features in the movie when Maria is leading the children through town singing “Doe, a Deer”. My two fashionistas can be seen in the forefront of this photo, although I was extremely disappointed that they wouldn’t run in and out of the flower beds like Liesl and Fritz.



These funny little stone statues feature in the movie as well when the children are running around them. Germans and Austrians are big on any kind of stone statue or gargoyle and many of them are more comical in nature than the more serious statues found in France or England. They are also big on bums:



Speaking of England, I was pleased to see June and Tony were also in Salzburg with us and had brought their friends Eileen and Ralph.

For such a small city, Salzburg really has more than its fair share of cultural references


During our day there, we could have watched film, theatre and marionette versions of The Sound of Music, gone to either a classical concert or children’s theatre version of Peter and the Wolf, and enjoyed any number of free or paid classical concerts featuring the music of Mozart and/or Haydn. I also saw notices for a music festival being held just out of town that looked like a good time, too. More time, I need more time…


Given the current refugee/migrant crisis in Europe, I found this sign interesting. I couldn’t read the German below but the message is clear. Trouble is, they would have to get here and it’s not the easiest place in world to find. Still.


We continued on our walking tour across the river Salza. All the foot bridges are covered in locks here, too. The river was flowing along at quite a clip but I didn’t see one boat on it the entire day.

A narrow passage way took us out of the busy streets and into the pedestrian enclave of the old town. While it did remind me a bit of Government street, I didn’t mind at all as it was so pretty. Sorry about the filter…not sure what I did there but it looks kinda cool.
Reading was a problem back in the medieval times and so in order to let their customers know what they were selling, shopkeepers had elaborate wooden signs carved depicting their wares. This was the only way to let people know what was inside the shop for most of the year as hardly any of them would have had windows due to the high price of glass.


Further down this street we came to the birthplace of Mozart.  Like as in Wolfgang Amadeus! To think of him roaming these streets and composing music from the young age of 5 or 2 or pre-birth or whatever it was, blew my mind a little.


Salzburg really is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited and we walked the streets in the heat of day (32degrees that day) awed by the lovely buildings and narrow cobbled streets.





Salzburg was, as you may or may not know depending on how many times you have watched The Sound of Music, occupied by the Germans during WW2. Many Jewish citizens were deported to concentration camps during this time and they are today, commemorated with gold cobbles located in front of the homes they were taken from.


It’s a miracle, actually, that more of the city wasn’t destroyed during the war.

Turn a corner in this town and you will bump up against another mind-blowing historical fact, like this building, which lays claim to being the oldest continual restaurant in Europe, starting in 803 AD. As if that weren’t enough, Iain really blew the top off the girls’ heads by telling us that Charlemagne himself was said to have eaten here.



Hearing about Charlemagne always reminds me of my Western Civilization 12 class in which our teacher, Mrs. Davies, once asked us who Charles the Great was also known as, and Verne Burden answered, in all seriousness, “Chuck”. We all laughed so hard at poor Verne but he was as good natured as always about it. To this day, I think of Charlemagne as Chuck the Great.


Further up the way was an old cemetery, still in use today, but known as being the inspiration for the cemetery in The Sound of Music that the family hides in before making their escape. The scene in the movie was recreated in Hollywood. There was big stone cistern here full of cold clear water used for filling up watering cans as all the graves are covered in flowers. We gratefully plunged in our arms as far as we could and left them there until they were almost numb with the cold. It felt wonderful.

Just around the next corner was another beautiful square beside the Cathedral. In the shade amongst the tall pillars, a classical quartet was playing Mozart (what else). The sound soared up and filled the space and it was a beautiful moment.


There are several large churches in this town but only one Cathedral ‘worth its salt’ as the saying goes here and it is this one, the first example of an Alpine Baroque Cathedral in Europe. I have not been inside a Baroque Cathedral before but I knew it would be stunning. The girls made a show once again of suggesting we had already seen enough Cathedrals, which I once again ignored, and in we went. Hard to do it justice with photos, but hopefully you can gain a sense of the ornate and opulent style, for which we can thank the Counter-Reformation movement.




It was nice and cool in there so we stayed and stared and laughed at the squeaking noise my shoes made on the old tile floor.

Just outside the Cathedral is another scene from SOM, the part where Maria is running around the City like a crazy woman singing “I Have Confidence”. At one point she runs and splashes her hand through the water of a large fountain. I was happy to see the fountain, and made a note of the fact that Horse Messes can also be found in Austria, but it was too hot to try and enact my original plan, which was to recreate the running and splashing scene. Also, Zoe and Terra would likely have refused to take my picture due to a high embarrassment factor. Seriously though, I can’t be the first one to do this…


By now Iain had left us to explore the town on our own. I really wanted to see the Abbey and we had been told that the best place to do so was to take the funicular up the hillside to the fortress. From there it is possible to see the Alps, and the Abbey. They only used the Abbey for exterior shots as the interior scenes were filmed elsewhere i.e. Hollywood but I didn’t mind.

This funicular seemed to have a much greater sense of purpose than the last funicular I encountered in Mexico:

Me: Hey Funicular, having a good day?

Funicular: Guten Tag. Plees I am alvays hazing ze goot day. I am ze Salzburg Funicular. Vot ozer type of day vere you sinking I vood have?

Me: Oh that’s great. I was just wondering. I met one of you in Mexico and he was a bit depressed.

Funicular: Ah yes, Carlos, Yes he is alvays complaining about zis and zat. I told heem, Carlos, you must learn to leeve to ze fullest. To always take it to ze top. He vasn’t leesening though, I don’t seenk. Now, are you getting in or vat? I don’t have all ze day.

Me:  You know Carlos the funicular? That’s so weird. Small world! He never told me his name. Wait, he has a name? Do you have a name, too?

Funicular: Of course, my name is Wolfgang. Vat else vood it be. Now, please get on, ve are leaving shortly.

Me: Thanks, Wolfgang.

Wofgang: My pleasure. If you see Carlos again, tell him from me, no more of thees ‘Manana’ atteetude. He must try harder!

Me: Ok but it’s a bit weird that you guys, like, know each other. I can’t get over that, actually.

Wolfgang. Going up!



The views from the fortress at the top were phenomenal – I was actually so thrilled to see the Alps which of course, just looked like other mountains, but who cares!


I tried to organize the girls to have their picture taken. It took forever to get their hair sorted out and to have them both standing there smiling:



This was the normal course of events in these situations….


And there, below the fortress, was my Abbey. If we had had more time, I would have dragged everyone there, and also to the original manor house where the filming of some of the exterior scenes by the lake took place, but it was some ways out of town and we had a flight to catch the next day. More time!

In the fortress there was a creepy marionette museum with all sorts of weird things like this display of marionette hands. We didn’t spend much time in there.


Wolfgang took us back down the hillside and we spent the remaining time wandering the market stalls and cute little shops. We even fit in time for ice-cream by the lake. Or rather, the girls did. Being on a no-dairy diet is tough in Europe but I have held up very well with only one tiny taste of the fondue cheese sauce back in Paris. I haven’t even wanted to ask for non-dairy options as I suspect they would look at me like I had twelve heads and then call the police. So that means I haven’t partaken of all the ice cream and treats that everyone else has, but that’s probably not such a bad thing.


It was time to head back across the river and meet up with the group again for our return journey. We went to our chosen meeting place, which just happened to be outside the birthplace and home of this dude:


As in, the Doppler Effect. It seemed like I was more interested in this than the girls,who looked less than thrilled as I started in on a lecture about the nature of sound waves, replete with ambulance siren sound effects.

Of more interest to them was the fact that you can just see my mum’s reflection in this picture, something that seemed to happen throughout the trip. She was a bit like Forrest Gump in that she managed to get herself into the pictures without even trying. On more than one occasion, Zoe and or Terra would be in fits of laughter looking at their phones at yet another photo with my mum inadvertently appearing in it, bless her. This is mostly due to the fact that she is off looking around actually experiencing where were are, rather than looking at it all through a camera lens so it can shared on social media at the next opportunity.


Our trusty leader, Iain.

I was sad to leave Salzburg and hope to return one day.

The trip home was lovely – winding our way through valleys and past rivers as the late afternoon sun turned everything golden. Back in Munich we walked back through the leafy streets to our hotel.


We had a mountain of packing ahead us and so it was a night in. We were all exhausted anyway and the girls had their requisite two hours of social media updating still to do for the day. I was happy to find a rooftop terrace at the hotel and I spent a bit of time up there as the sun went down over Munich. Back in the room I spent the rest of the evening sitting on the balcony listening to a women’s choir practicing Katey Perry songs (and sounding really fabulous) in the top floor of the building across from me, with a full moon overhead, feeling pretty lucky.


Thanks for coming along with us on this trip.



Friday, July 3, 2015

Munich – In Which There are Lederhosen, Munich is Lovely, and We All Drink Beer.

After the morning’s events, we all needed some time to recover, and what better place than a sidewalk cafe in the Marienplatz area of old town Munich, a super easy place to get to using public transportation. The system here is amazing, much as it is in other parts of Europe. It really makes our transportation woes even in a city the size of Vancouver seem a bit pathetic. Just build it already and watch what happens when people can move around with ease. We made full use of the Munich S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems as well as the buses and had very little trouble getting anywhere, from our hotel to Dachau and back downtown it was all a breeze, and a cheap breeze at that. One day tickets that we purchased in the morning for 8 euros were good until 6 pm the following day! There are also no complicated ticket checking systems – you buy your ticket, have it validated at an efficient date stamping machine, and you’re good to go.

Anyway – I digress. We got on the U-Bahn (underground) and popped up right in Marienplatz, to this view:


I am a huge fan of these large European squares; you may have heard me go off about them before. What a great idea to have a central focus for a town: a place were everyone can meet, sit at one of many outdoor cafes, shop, eat dinner, and people watch for hours. It was pretty much our plan to do exactly this, with a quick trip up the City Hall Bell tower to start.



Rival Bell towers.

Apparently, the view to the square below was pretty cool; I wouldn’t know as I had my face pressed to the cool stone walls. Fortunately Zoe took a picture for me:


This was followed by a quick trip to the Cathedral. I know very little about German Religion or architecture so everyone was spared a lecture. There was no sightseeing or photos allowed so we left to study a different type of religion: beer and cafes. In Germany, you can order a beer if you are 14 and with a legal guardian. I wasn’t sure how this would go over with Terra’s actual legal guardians so I ignored her pleas to allow her to order her own beer and instead, my mum let them pose for photos with hers, and even take a sip.


We sat in this cafe in the inner square of Marienplatz for an hour or so, enjoying chocolate cake and iced tea, and soaking up the atmosphere. And right on cue, as soon as we sat down, an accordion player started up, and it wasn’t even annoying.


As hard as I had tried to divert their attentions, the girls had spotted the shopping as we got off the U-Bahn and so we spent the next couple of hours browsing the shops (sorry about the platform boots, Chris and Cheryl), and looking for that most Bavarian of fashions, Lederhosen. Now, a word about Lederhosen: I had thought, mistakenly it turns out, that they were a bit of a joke. This is not the case. On numerous occasions we saw men walking around, talking on their mobiles, or hanging out with friends, and wearing lederhosen. Some were even wearing the little peaked caps that go along with them. Apparently, according to a Bavarian man I was talking to, a good pair can cost $2000! The more worn they are, the better,and the practice of passing down your lederhosen to your son is encouraged.


This group were all wearing Lederhosen, with one exception. I tried to be unobtrusive in my photo taking but clearly failed at that as the guy in the red shirt was on to me.

We eventually tracked down a Lederhosen store where I considered purchasing a pair for my friend, Pepi, but unfortunately they were prohibitively priced. Sorry, Buddy.


i briefly considered purchasing myself one of these little dirndl numbers but, well, you know…the colours were all wrong. We browsed around for a while longer checking out the sausage stands and cuckoo clocks (which I really wanted to buy) until we had worked up an appetite again.



Fortunately, the perfect restaurant presented itself to us, complete with jolly frauleins, sausages on the menu, and of course, beer. I finally relented and let the girls order a dealcoholized beer each, and even had one myself. There are usually two or three on the menu (dealcoholized beer, not girls), and they have them on tap as it is quite popular here to intersperse one’s beer drinking with the dealcoholized version in order to make the night last longer.


We can all see where this might go.


I’ll just say there were a lot of selfies taken that night. And as it turns out, Zoe didn’t really like hers so Terra had two (beer, not selfies – she had about a hundred of those). Sorry Chris and Cheryl but when in Rome…

We did also eat dinner. And dessert – those girls can sure put away the dessert. We rolled back to our hotel, The New Orly (certifiably boutique as confirmed by the glass vase of green apples on the reception desk), which is situated in a fabulous residential  neighbourhood of leafy streets and beautiful buildings that mainly escaped the bombing during WW2. It’s only two stops from the main station and four from the Marienplatz. We thoroughly enjoyed our walks there in the morning and evenings, although the separated bike lane system is similar to Amsterdam’s in that it shares the sidewalk. Here in Munich, if a pedestrian strays into the bike lane and causes an accident, the fault is automatically with the pedestrian. We had a couple of close calls but figured it out pretty quickly after that.


Our rooms are teeny tiny but have everything we need, and the bed are comfy, but the best thing about this hotel is the amazing breakfasts that are included. I know I have been going on about breakfast but they have been a highlight of this trip. The Germans really lay it on with everything from a fresh orange juice press and endless oranges, to champagne cooling in a bucket, to smoked salmon coleslaw, lox, all manner of cheese and cold cuts, pastries, eggs and bacon, hot and cold cereals, yogurt, any kind of coffee  and tea you could imagine, fresh fruit, and salad. We spent a fair amount of time loading up each morning.

Anyway, I digress again but this is all to say that we went to bed with a lot to think about, and looking forward once again to breakfast and our last full day in Europe, which was to be spent in Salzburg, Austria. I was especially looking forward to this as I had us going on an organized tour by train, which meant that finally, I would be able to follow someone else around and let them figure out which train and where is the bus stop and what time is it anyway. I had been promised that the tour guides for this company (Viator) were knowledgeable and funny, the tour used public transport not huge buses, and there were no headsets and earpieces, nor would the guide be carrying a flag for us to follow. There would be a history lecture on the train (YES!) and a walking tour of the city followed by free time. It sounded like the perfect end to our trip and I was so looking forward to it I had trouble getting to sleep. No one else did though and the girls were snoring in no time.

More tomorrow!

Danke for screeching,