Euroadventure 2014: The Hills are Alive

If you know me, you know I love The Sound of Music. As a child, I would watch it on repeat (along with Dirty Dancing and West Side Story). So you probably know what’s coming. Even if you don’t know me and you just read the title of this post (or my Liebster Award post), you can likely guess what’s coming. Before I make you wade through all the details, I will tell you that yes, we DID go on a Sound of Music tour. (!!!)

It was day #2 in Austria, and we were in Vienna. While planning the trip, neither of us were jumping up and down with excitement about Vienna’s sights, and we usually like to take time on our trips to get out of the “city,” wherever that might be. Unfortunately by the time we realized this, we could not cancel our hotel in Vienna, so we decided to use it as “storage” for one night and head west. We packed an overnight bag, rented a car and headed for the hills. Literally.

Making our way westward, we passed small towns and large abbeys. Soon the mountains were in sight and we eventually made it to Salzburg. I was a wreck the entire morning. It wasn’t until we checked into our hotel that I finally calmed down a bit. You see, we had a 2 p.m. tour and I was worried we wouldn’t make it.

After checking in we hurried over to the meeting point for the tour and luckily, since we had not eaten lunch, found a “hot dog” cart. Now these are not like New York dogs, which are great in their own way. No, these are delicious, curry-spiced little wursts wrapped in something like a flatbread. We shared a brew to wash them down and went on our way to the bus. It was honestly one of my favorite meals!

Feeling much more relaxed, I started to get excited for the tour. Other participants were dressed in costume, singing songs or talking about their favorite scenes. We loaded the bus and went on our merry way! The first stop was the pond where the kids come in on the row boats and end up falling in (apparently they had to film that scene a couple of times and the water was freezing). The pond is at the front of a home that was actually used as the back terrace. (Ironically the back of another house was used as the front of the von Trapp house in the movie.) The gazebo, which was built for the film, was originally on this property but some crazies kept disturbing its residents with loud singing (hmmm …), so it was moved and now sits on the grounds of the Schloss Hellbrunn palace. This gazebo was used mostly for scenes filmed outside of it, while another in Hollywood was used for the inside filming, like 16 going on 17.

We were experiencing a bit of a torrential downpour, so we ended up driving past some of the sights, including the abbey where Maria was studying to be a nun. Even though we had already been in a car most of the day, I was happy to continue riding along after all the walking we were doing in days prior. We drove through the breathtaking lake district, which is where the opening scene was filmed. They used a helicopter to get aerial shots, and Julie Andrews kept falling down because of the propeller’s winds! Along the drive the entire bus (except Dave and maybe one or two others) sang along to the soundtrack. Yes, there was champagne.

Our last major stop was in a town called Mondsee. The church there was used for the wedding scene as the interior of the abbey due to the small size of the abbey’s actual interior. We had a little time to shop and picked up a few souvenirs as well as pastries!

The tour concluded at the very beginning, in front of the very structured, lush Mirabell Gardens. This was also a popular filming location for the movie, particularly for the scenes of Do-Re-Mi around the fountain, on the stairs and through the trellis.


Dave was so patient and accommodating throughout the tour, I thought he earned a visit to nearby monastery turned brewery, Augustiner. Obviously he didn’t need to twist my arm; I was happy to oblige. Inside the beer hall it smelled a little sour, but the tree-filled outside seating area was a perfect place to sit and enjoy a couple steins. The process to acquire beer is an interesting almost self-serve system. Thanks to Rick Steves we knew what to do! (Grab a mug from the shelf, rinse it out at the watering station, hand to the “bartender” who pulls a draft and gives you a receipt, then take the receipt to the cashier and pay.) We sat and enjoyed the atmosphere while both recapping the trip to that point and thinking about our next stops.

The evening took us along the river, past Mozart’s residence and to Steingasse, a narrow, cobbled alley-like road with various interesting stops. First we noted #9, the birthplace of the man who wrote Silent Night. Next we made note of the wall just before the street narrows – it is gouged out in one spot where an American GI tried to drive a tank through. Steves says it was likely that he was trying to get to the brothel at #24! Even though our goal was to reach the Stein Terrasse for a drink and city vista, we were drawn in by a tiny Italian restaurant. Built into the side of a cave, Koechelverzeichnis, could seat about 20 people and the drink and food menus are written daily on chalkboards.  If I were to be a restaurant, this would be it. We drank wine, snacked and continued to explore, stopping at one other place on Steingasse to have a glass. After a couple failed attempts to order food (admittedly we had waited a little long to dine), we ended up at the restaurant next to our hotel for dinner and more drinks … when eventually we felt compelled to say goodnight!

Euroadventure 2014: Treasure Hunt in Vienna

After three nonstop days in Prague , including a ghost tour, beer festival and torture chamber (I’m realizing Prague in a nutshell sounds a little extreme), it was time for us to make our way to Vienna. I’ve dreamed of going to Austria since I was a child, even before I fell in love with France. The Sound of Music was on repeat, along with Dirty Dancing and West Side Story. What can I say? I have a penchant for song and dance!

Our hotel arranged for a cab to take us to the train station. It looked quite different in the daylight! On the platform I overheard two girls talking about Chilifest and felt fairly confident that they must be Aggies. I know other places have chilifests, but nothing compares to THE Chilifest held just outside College Station in Snook, TX each spring. Just as I saw their Aggie rings, everyone ran to catch the train so I didn’t get to say “Howdy!” but I was still happy to come across fellow Ags halfway across the world!

We were on a morning train that arrived in Vienna around lunchtime. Lucky again, we were able to check in to the Hotel de France early and drop our bags in the room before heading back out to explore. De France has beautiful chandeliers and dark wooded hallways thoughout, giving it a very grand feel. The rooms were a bit dated, but we had a very friendly welcome message on the TV screen!

Our hotel was right along the Ringstrasse, which is the loop around the inner city, making it a very convenient location. We found a restaurant known more for ambiance than food. Nestled back in a narrow alleyway, Brezl Gwölb had picnic tables and friendly waitstaff. Our waitress was a translator for the Army and may even end up in DC next year! I selected spinach fritters with a blue cheese sauce and Dave opted for pork, sauerkraut and more dumplings. From there we made a plan based on our priority sites and their hours of operation.

The first stop was the Imperial Treasury, which housed an endless display of valuable artifacts from over a thousand years, including those of the Habsburgs. The 21 rooms contained jewels, crowns, religious relics and even items claimed to be from the time of Christ, including John the Baptist’s tooth! From the Treasury, we walked through the palace garden Burggarten, famous for its statue of Mozart.

Even though we had been on the train all morning, our feet were tired and we thought that Rick Steves’ Ringstrasse tram tour would be a good way to rest while orienting ourselves with the city. It starts at the Opera House and then works counter clockwise around the city center. Our tickets allowed us to hop on and off within a certain period of time, so we stopped to stroll through Stadtpark, the “City Park” full of musicians, couples, families and windy paths, before hopping back on. The second time we stopped because we had to switch trams, and I took the opportunity to taste the world famous gelato from Eissalon am Schwedenplatz.

We finished the tour and then walked toward St. Stephen’s Cathedral. After spending a decent amount of time walking the perimeter and following along with Rick, we went inside – just in time for my camera battery to die! I got one photo, but it didn’t turn out too well. We walked throughout the city center looking in shop windows and stopping to watch the street artists. One in particular was quite impressive – she had a full piano in the middle of a square!

Finished with sightseeing for the day, we hunted for a place to have dinner and came across a tapas restaurant in another alley. It wasn’t the best Spanish food I’ve had, but it was a change from dumplings, and for that I was thankful. Back at the hotel we had a nightcap and called it a day!