The Sound of Music: Salzburg, Austria

“The hills are alive with the sound of music…with songs they have sung for a thousand years…”

Okay. I am going to try not to quote the entire movie. But I am totally writing about Salzburg while listening to the Sound of Music soundtrack. Salzburg, Austria, was the second leg in my post-study abroad trip with Alayna and without question one of my favorite cities of the semester. Mountains, Mozart, music…what more could I possibly want in a European town?

I couldn’t even leave the airport before snapping a photo of the hills and mountains in the distance. It was cloudy and rainy when we arrived, which made Salzburg all the more picturesque. After stopping at our hostel, we found a cute restaurant called Zirkelwirt and enjoyed some delicious spatzle, which is sort of like baked mac ‘n’ cheese. Wandering the streets, we came across the Mozart Bridge, where part of the “Do Re Mi” scene is set in The Sounds of Music, as well as the horse fountain at Residenplatz where Julie Andrews sang “I Have Confidence.” I may or may not have spent countless moments on this trip squealing, “Julie Andrews was right here!” She is definitely one of my heroes.


To fill the rest of our rainy first afternoon, Alayna and I explored the Salzburg Museum, which houses exhibits from early Salzburg history to the world wars to present. Did you know that Mozart is technically not Austrian, because when he was born, Salzburg was an autonomous state? And because Salzburg is a global music capital, the basement of this museum exhibited the most incredible old pianos and pre-cursors to pianos, plus old instruments I’d never heard of with samples of their music. My musician heart was SO. HAPPY. Home at the hostel for the evening, we watched The Sound of Music (our hostel played it every night, because why not?) to prepare for our Sound of Music tour the next day!


Our Sound of Music tour guide was an adorable old man named Peter, and he strongly encouraged singing on the bus to the lake district, including his own version of “Do Re Mi”: “Ti, no thanks, I’ll have a beer.” The mansion by the lake (where Maria and the kids fall out of the boat) is not the house in the movie (the yellow one below); the scenes were shot with double frames. We also saw the gazebo that inspired the “16 Going on 17” and “Something Good” scenes. Sadly, I could not go inside, because apparently a few years ago an old woman with a young heart tried to dance on the benches and injured herself. This is basically how I picture myself in old age.


Next, we stopped at a small town in the lake district with the church where the von Trapp wedding took place. If you venture to this town, you must stop at Edelweiss and Braun’s Café for the absolute best apple strudel and homemade ice cream you will ever taste in your life. I did learn one sad fact on this tour: “Edelweiss” is not actually Austria’s national song, nor does everyone know the song. However, I still love it and will happily sing it with a bit of very distant Austrian national pride (my great-grandfather immigrated to the US from Austria).


Following the Sound of Music tour, Alayna and I met up with another TCU student who was studying abroad in London, Holly, at a very modern Heart of Joy Café for tea. We walked the town with Holly and her family, and Holly’s dad pointed out that if you walk down the center of the road towards the university church, it looks like angels on the church are crowning a statue of Mary. Pretty neat! Unfortunately I didn’t capture a good photo of it, but this is the cathedral.


After parting ways with Holly, Alayna and I headed for the Mirabell Gardens, a flowering paradise with a large fountain used in the “Do Re Mi” scene.  We met an adorable old couple who has traveled around the US and was happy to hear how much we were enjoying Austria. Near the gardens, we channeled our inner political science nerds outside the Salzburg congressional building before grabbing a quick bratwurst at an outdoor market. We needed some energy to hike up some old city wall stairs and through the woods to a modern art museum. We didn’t actually go inside the art museum, but from atop the hill, we had the most perfect, quietly peaceful view of the entire city, and we ended the night with a delicious Austrian rosé (they do have more than beer in the German-speaking countries of Europe! Haha).


On day three, we spent much of the morning at the Hohensalzburg Fortress, a huge medieval castle atop a hill outside the city. Inside, we saw a regiments museum with armor, medals, and photos up until WWI; royal charmers; and, once again, incredible city views. We ate lunch at the fortress so that we could stare out at the Alps a bit longer, and I reluctantly tried Alayna’s Radler (beer mixed with lemonade). Now that I’m learning to like beer, I totally have to return to Austria, right?


As we hiked down from the fortress, we stopped at the Benedictine Convent Nonnberg, a small, red-roofed abbey where the real Maria von Trapp was a nun-in-training. It’s still in operation today, and inside you can view very old Romanesque art. It was amazing how silent the abbey was, very solemn and peaceful.


Not yet tired of our nature fix, we followed our phone maps (without directions, but location services can search the approximate map where you are without data) to the nearest lake we saw and ended up near the lake district we had visited the day before. Our somewhat aimless wandering towards water took us through the countryside, some beautiful residential areas, and Hans Donneberg Park with its small salt streams. I highly recommend purposefully getting lost at least once when you travel–you might stumble upon a treasure you didn’t know the city had! To watch the sunset, we went to the other side of the city to the Kapuziner Monastery. As we were reflecting on our semester at sunset, I said something that stuck with me and wrote it in my travel journal:


“I feel like the point of study abroad is to draw out the extreme of every emotion you’ve ever experienced.” {Salzburg, Austria, 2015}

And it was so true. Studying abroad makes you appreciate life at home differently, and it simultaneously makes you question why your home culture lives in the ways it does. It forces you to realize who is truly in your life from back home, which friendships can last without the surface day-to-day interactions. It highlights unresolved conflict, and it makes you think about how far you’re willing to go to make things work with important people who are far away (I did a lot of reflecting on love while I was abroad). Perhaps most importantly, studying abroad demands you to show every ounce of strength and ingenuity and drive that you never realized you had, and that is an emotional process that is well worth exploring. I am really glad that Alayna and I didn’t return to the US immediately after our semester in Sevilla ended; this Germany and Austria trip allowed us to have important moments of reflection like this Salzburg sunset.


Back to one final day of adventures in Salzburg. The pianist in me was overjoyed to visit the Mozart Residence, where I got to see his own piano! Sadly, photographs were not allowed (I did get a postcard photo), but it looked like a small, brown version of a baby grand with the black and white keys reversed. Switching gears entirely, we next went to an expressionism exhibit at a gallery in the city run by the modern art museum. Expressionism followed the impressionism movement, but with a greater emphasis on emotion that began in Germany. Modern art is sort of hit or miss for me, but it was interesting to see nonetheless. After more apple strudel (though nothing beats the one in the lake district), we toured the Grosses Festspielhaus, a huge concert hall used in the Salzburg Music Festival in July and August and also the hall where the von Trapp family (in real life and the movie) sang before escaping Austria during WWII. We got to go backstage AND onstage! Even though the house lights were on, I got that old rush of being onstage from my dance days. Between this, singing Sound of Music songs, and all the Mozart history, Salzburg really made me miss all my performing arts.


I love all the cities that I visit. But the music, nature, and beauty of Salzburg touched me more deeply than other places. It is a city after my own heart, and a quote I wrote down from the Salzburg Museum summarizes my thoughts well: (excuse my potentially flawed German spelling)

“Die Gegenden von Salzburg, Neapel und Constantinopal zähle ich zu den schösten der Ende.” -Alexander von Humbolt

“I consider the regions of Salzburg, Naples and Constantinople to be among the most beautiful on Earth.”

As they sing in The Sound of Music, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu,” Salzburg.


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