Monday, July 27, 2009

Lets start . . . and finish at the top!

There were a number of complaints about the school students last night and after the Reception Staff explain that the teacher had been told a number of times to quieten them by the night porter to no avail, I offer them some advice and even offer to take care of the problem if it arises again tonight! If I have to, I'll chase the bloody little blighters myself!

Now, Lets start at the very beginning - it's a very good place to start!
Yes you guessed it - I am on the Sound of Music tour today! AND I AM EXCITED. Michael has opted not to come on the tour and will go to the Festung Hohensalzburg instead.

I am up early (6 am) to get the tickets and get the last one in the book. It leaves here at 8:30 am with the accommodation pickup around to the tour departure point. There are a total of eight of us going from here and four others doing other tours. We are picked up in two small mini-buses and driven to the starting point at the Mirabell Gardens. They are wonderful baroque style gardens that featured a number of times in the movie including the dancing Do-Re-Mi scene. (Later, Gunther tells us that locally it is called Do a Deer, Bring me a Beer!) I nearly have a heart attack when I realize that the memory card for Michael's camera that I have today is back at the hostel and the in-camera memory is all of about 16 Mb. Never fear, Michael realised that I did not have it and catches the second mini-bus driver in time to get it to me before we set off. Whew. A day like today without a camera would be a tragedy (well for me, of course!)

And so we are off. Our guide Gunther is dressed in his part in his lederhosen, jacket and perky little hat! He is a right character and turns out to be one of the day's highlights. The coach is not quite full, but almost. Don't find any other Australians on it but there are five Auckland New Zealand girls who are having the holiday of their lives - a couple have been working in Europe and are about to return home. They are posing in front of the bus and are setting us up for a blast! Just the sort of company I need for today - and Meredith and Hels, THEY ARE SINGERS, just as I - so we plan to make sure our voices are collectively heard today! Left to right they are Becky, Sarah, Nicola, Kathy and Amelia.

So we are on the bus and headed for an intensive visit touring all the main sites that were used in the movie. This is as good a time as any to give you a bit of a history of the time line that surrounded the making of the movie that we all know. Based on a true story, Baron Von Trapp lost his first wife to scarlet fever but not until she had borne him seven children. The retired submarine captain (who in real life DID run his house on whistle calls) realised that he needed a nanny for his children and approached the Abbess at the Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg who sent one of the novices to help out. (And Nonnbery Abbey was where the real wedding between the Baron and Maria took place.) Enter stage right, young Maria Kutschera, a trained teacher and 25 years the Barons junior. We all know the story from here. Once they had fled Salzburg into Italy (not Switzerland) they went to America. After the Baron's death, Maria (who had 3 children of her own to the Baron) wrote ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers' which was made into two German films. The book was later adapted into a stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein and only after this was the movie made.

And then the tourist trade began for Salzburg - all the Americans wanted to see where the movie was filmed. And the tour company we are with today is the one whose bus Maria steps off in the movie! They have been operating these Sound of Music Tours every day since 1965! Our first stop was at Schloss Hellbrunn where today you can find the Gazebo where Leisl and Rolf sing 'I am 16 going on 17'. It had been moved here from the original setting at the Schloss Leopoldskron due to public interest in it. This Palace was the setting for all the internal shots during the movie and today is open to the public just once a year for 5 hours! And thousands and thousands of people queue.
And the Gazebo is kept locked now as there were too many accidents with people trying to emmulate the bench hopping act of the movie!

And so, to Schloss Leopoldskron and the lake where the children fell from the boat. At this point, my camera batteries are flat with the spares back in the bus - darn, but you can see pics of the palace on the link above. There were ducks and their ducklings swimming about on the lake today. And every time we get back in the bus, on goes the appropriate song and we sing to our heart's content! As we drive, we can see the alpine meadow in the low peaks where the opening scene with Maria singing 'The Sound of Music' was filmed. It has as a backdrop the Goldberg Mountains, some of the prettiest mountain scenery in Austria and Germany. (Sorry, the photo was taken with the lesser camera through the bus window).

From here we head into the mountains through Lake Fuschl and St Gilgen, situated on the beautiful Lake Wolfgang, where Mozart's mother was born. Gunther has a special surprise for us - the opportunity to go on a summer tobbogan ride! Most of the group do go, but a couple of the others and I sit it out - god knows whatwould happen if I were to come off. Looked a lot of fun though! You are hauled backwards up the slope attached to a pulley and then at the top you change track and come down a winding slope.

Back on the bus, we continue around to our final destination - the lakeside town of Mondsee. The former Abbey Church of Saint Michael in Mondsee was the film setting for the Baron and Maria's wedding. It is stunningly beautiful. Quite light inside but all the altars are in black marble with gilded wreathing wrapping them and golden robed figures. The setting is reminiscent of many of the lovely green mountain lakes we have seen in Switzerland. Gunther explains that it is dissolved limestone in the water (the mountains are primarily limestone and sandstone here) that gives the water this colour. And so, still singing we set a track for our return to Salzburg.

Now, you realise that I could go on and on and on about this, but there are more stories to be told about today, so now I will hand you over to Michael and he can tell you about where he went this morning. And then we can share with you where we both ended UP this afternoon!

"If you want peace, then arm yourself for war" - Emperor Heinrich IV
While Maria was enjoying a morning of 'The Sound Of Music' tour, I ventured to explore Austria's most visited fortress: Hohensalzburg Castle. I have found it very difficult to view European castles with the same enthusiasm compared with those we have seen throughout the UK; particularly castle ruins. However, where Hohensalzburg Castle is concerned, this edifice would be the exception.

Now, there are two means of entering the fortress - the furnicular or the stairs. Signs advise the stairs will take approximately 20-30 minutes; the furnicular had taken one minute to reach the summit! It's quite a ride I can assure you.... I opted for the latter, as I only had four hours before I would need to rendezvous with Maria at 13:30. The morning was cloudless and the warmth in the air certainly heralded a hot day; and with glorious weather like today is a prediction for.... crowds. So, I completed some laundry and armed myself with camera, hat, sunscreen and made my way towards the old city.

I thoroughly enjoy walking through the narrow streets of old cities and Salzburg is no exception.
Small cafes and shops have opened for business, which are being vigorously patronised by locals and tourists alike. I eventually arrive at the town square, Kapitel Platz, which I cross and walk up the steep incline of Fetsungsgasse where entry to the funicular is situated. Festungsgasse is a narrow cobblestone street packed with humanity who are of similar ilk - gaining entry into Hohensalzburg Castle!

Parting with €10.50, I joined the waiting throng to ride the funicular which will carry a miximum of 48 passengers. Yes, 48 passengers exactly, for above the turnstiled entry is an electronic counter displaying the number of bodies passing through the turnstiles. When the magic number 48 is displayed, a red light flashes whereby the turnstiles freeze. Well, it certainly stops those passengers who are over eager in forcing their way through

Reaching the castle I seek out the Tourist shop and purchase a guide for the complex. It's then when I open the booklet and survey the map, the full expanse of the castle is made apparent. Where to start? Fortunately the guide has set out a suggested route which I had found most helpful. The first impression I got was the panoramic view over the city of Salzburg and the unique and defensive position of the complex.

Construction of the fortress commenced in 1077 by the Archbishop of Salzburg, Gebhard von Helfenstein
, who had sided with Pope Gregory VII, and feared reprisals from Emperor Heinrich IV. Now, Henry had a falling out with the Pope over investiture rights, and to prevent a threat of excommunication he undertook a penitential pilgrimage to Canossa, Italy. So, Gebhard built a modest tower surrounded by a wooden wall which was more of a sanctuary than a fortress. However, over the following 600 years the modest tower had developed and expanded into the "Citadel of the Salzburg Archbishopric" which survives today.

Mind you, during those 600 years the two Archbishops who were most instrumental in major building phases of the complex were: Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach (1495-1519) and Archbishop Paris Lodron (1619-1646). Both of these contributions established the Castle as a mighty unconquerable bastion and nucleus of power.

Even today the complex is as impossing now as it was during the turbulent history of the region. Its high defensive walls with towers topped by bastions for canon and the substantial interior walls have certified its longevity. Archeological digs have uncovered the existence of chapels which pre-date the existing structure. The complex system of water delivery and the construction of a water cistern and pumps attest to the siege mentality of those turbulent times.

Wandering through the citadels' streets, I just looked in awe at the architecture and realised this 'city' was built with purpose and not haphazardly. Above many doorways are medallions indicating the year construction was commenced on a particular section, which includes the name of the Archbishop involved. The regal rooms are garishly decorated, however, I could only marvel at the artistry effected by the original artisans. Museums within the Castle provide an in depth history ranging from its early days to Austria's involvement during World War 1.

I could continue to ramble on about the history of the Castle - but I won't. So, if you are interested I recommend you follow the link for further information.

I return to the Youth Hostel at 13:20, make myself comfortable at one of the outdoor tables and continue reading 'Sarum'. By 14:00 there is no sign of the returning tour buses conveying the 'The Sound of Music' retinue - no need for concern, as they obviously are having a good time. Still no sign of their return by 14:30... not a problem as 'Sarum' is entering its third Roman phase. Around 14:45 one of the Hostel staff disturbs my reverie and advises me Maria had phoned and asked me to rendezvous with her at the Untersbergbahn cable car at St Leonhard. Ok... I obtained directions which revealed my destination to be about 10kms outside of Salzburg.

I drive to St Leonhard and find Maria waiting at the cable car terminal - yes, and all smiles as the tour must have been worthwhile. We decide to take the ride up to summit of Untersberg Mountain. There are a number of passengers for the forward journey, and we all board for what would prove a most remarkable journey. Remarkable is the altitude the cable car condola is negotiating and the steepness of the ascent.
Some stats:
Peak = 1,766 m Cable car journey = 2,866 m
Av angle of journey = 52% Maximum angle of journey = 79%

The vista is just overwhelming and although there is a haze, the views towards the horizon is quite remarkable - and we're only half way! Upwards the cable car continues its climb and as the car almost reaches the summit we travel under a stantion and then there is a cry from some passengers as the car momentarily drops as though its just struck an air pocket? Here the car negotiates the steepest point of the ascent and the mountain face is just literally metres away! And then, as you cross the top, expecting to see the mountain continue to loom in your face, your cross a threshold to another sheer drop into a deep valley - WOW. One of the passengers was so alarmed by the experiencedthat she was going to walk back rather than face the 'drop' again!

We all survive the experience and our reward would have to be one of the best summit views we've yet encounted. I climb to the top of the crest with several other passengers, and receive a virtual 360 degree unrestricted panoramic view. However, we notice avid walkers striking forth on the various walking paths leading down towards what appears a lodge/restaurant and paths beyond. We also marvel at several of the walkers who arrive via the slopes. There was one fellow who appeared to be in his eighties but bearing a stride of person half his age! Should we all be so lucky?

Maria and I decide to have a late lunch (16:10), and as we are eating several other arrivals appear at the summit. Wait a munite, these blokes are carrying backpacks - bloody BIG backpacks. We wonder where in the hell are they going or more It's not until we've finished our lunch and make our way to catch the next car down that we see one these fellows unfolding a parachute! This bloke is on one of the lower slopes as he's busy preparing the chute when we realise that this lot are going 'paragliding'.... we both agree to stick to the cable car!

The return journey is just as impressive which included the 'drop', which produced the desired effect. As we've both had a busy day, we decide to return to the Hostel for some relaxation.

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