Salzburg and my Sound of Music bus tour
Following a recent visit to the London Palladium to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production of the Sound of Music I was reminded of a Sound of Music bus tour I made a few years ago with my daughter while we were staying near Salzburg.
The hills were indeed alive with the sound of music when our Original Sound of Music Tour bus passed through the Salzkammergut - a beautiful area of mountains and lakes just beyond the gates of the city of Salzburg in Austria. For over four hours we re-lived the story of the von Trapp family on which the film the Sound of Music was based as we sang along with the original sound track and visited some of the locations and landmarks made famous by the film.
The English-speaking tour guide made a brief apology to any passengers who didn’t speak English as the trip was conducted entirely in English. But it didn’t really matter because the bus was mainly full of Americans with just two British (me and my daughter), two Canadians and an English-speaking Dutch father and son. During the ride we were treated to a special performance of My Favourite Things by the Dutch 12-year old in both Dutch and English. He was due to take part in a stage version of the Sound of Music when he returned to the Netherlands and so he was a particularly enthusiastic fan. Although we were all invited to entertain our fellow passengers with our own personal rendering of a song from the film nobody else felt they could match the high standard which had now been set. And this was despite reassurances from our tour guide that we would never have to face anybody on the bus again!
To ensure that we were all genuine fans the tour guide asked us to name the mountain where Maria is seen in the opening shots. There was a free drink in it for the first person to get it right. My daughter who was 14 years old at the time and already a life-long unashamed fan of the film won the prize for naming the Untersberg. The Untersberg is just one of the mountains which provide a spectacular backdrop to the beautiful baroque city of Salzburg.
Even if you were not a fan of the Sound of Music (and it really is more of a girly thing - I am guessing that the few men on the bus had been subjected to some degree of persuasion) it is still a very enjoyable tour. You get to see and learn a bit about the history of many of the historical and architectural landmarks of the city and the bus tour takes you through the beautiful lake and mountain scenery where the opening shots were filmed.
But the tour wasn’t just about sitting back and enjoying the views. Despite the unusually high temperature, we were in and out of the bus throughout the tour to get even closer to some of the famous film locations such as Schloß Leopoldskron, the back of which was used in the film as the von Trapp family home. Because it is a private residence, Schloß Leopoldskron can only be viewed from across the lake where we see the children fall out of their boat into the water. It was also home to the glass pavilion used in the film but because the current owners got so fed up with tourists trying to get in, the pavilion was moved to the grounds of Schloß Hellbrunn. There is now a notice outside the front gate of Schloß Leopoldskron warning all tourists (but especially Sound of Music tourists) to keep out! Schloß Leopoldskron was once owned by Max Reinhardt, co-founder of the Salzburg Summer Festival, on whom we were told the character of Uncle Max was based.
20th Century Fox started filming the interior scenes on location in Schloß Leopoldskron but were asked to leave because the film lighting was considered too much of a fire risk. The ballroom based on the Venetian room in Schloß Leopoldskron and the entire interior of the von Trapp home therefore had to be reconstructed back in the 20th Century Fox film studios in LA.
We also visited the beautiful baroque church at Mondsee where Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Baron von Trapp were married and we danced around the glass pavilion now reconstructed in the gardens of Schloß Hellbrunn. Hellbrunn was built for Archbishop Markus Sittikus in the early 17th century and inside it is decorated with wonderful frescoes. However, it is probably better known for the water that squirts out from hidden sources on unsuspecting visitors as they walk around the grounds. Apparently this was designed not just for the amusement of the Archbishop but also to help him get rid of unwelcome guests.
The Austrians were not impressed by the film when it was first released in 1965 because two successful German films based more accurately on the real life story of the von Trapp family had already been made in the late 1950s. And, when 20th Century Fox made the film, they only released it in English. A German language version was not available until much later. However, despite the lack of local support for the film, the Sound of Music Tour has been operating every day, twice a day since 1965 and is still as popular as ever (particularly with the Americans). Most of the cast including Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews have done the tour. Even the real Maria von Trapp who died in 1987 said, “it is something nobody should miss – I never do!”