By daring to write this travel article, I understand I’m in serious peril of losing my so-called ‘man card’ with my co-workers.
You see, I’m a blue-collar worker in a somewhat rough industry as an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline. If my friends were to ever find out what I’m about to admit, I’m afraid I would never hear the end of it.
But after much trepidation and soul-searching contemplation, I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and write the story of how much I enjoyed Salzburg, Austria over Memorial Day weekend with my wife Kim and son Connor.
Let me begin my narrative with something that happened over 48 years ago. Perhaps this information might cut me some slack around the hangar at work … but not likely.
In 1965, I was not quite three years old when my parents took me to see "The Sound of Music" at a local theater. For years afterward, my mom was happy to relate to family and friends how totally enraptured I was with the movie. Even as young as I was, my eyes never left the screen.
Kim, Connor and I enjoyed everything we saw including a visit to the Hallein Salt Mine, Eagles Nest across the border in Germany and an entire exploration of the Medieval Salzburg.
The highlight of our trip in my opinion, however, was Fraulein Maria’s Sound of Music Bike Tour.
When I first suggested the bike tour to Kim after reading about it online, she was less than enthusiastic. We were renting a car so she wanted to know why we would want to peddle up and down hills to see "Sound of Music" sights when we could simply, and effortlessly, drive to them.
I was not to be disuaded and booked the tour anyway. I secretly hoped it wouldn’t be the disaster my wife expected.
The morning of the tour, our group convened just a few meters away from the entrance to Mirabell Palace. The spot was easy to find and very convenient. After being fitted for cruiser-style bicycles, we were split into several smaller groups, each with our own well-versed, experienced tour guide.
Our guide Mijou had us all introduce ourselves and tell the group why we were there. It was fun to find out that there were so many people in the world like me. One young filmmaker even told us that "The Sound of Music" was the very reason she chose her profession.
We peddled into Residence Square which is known as the center of the old town. Right in the middle is a marble fountain with four water-spouting horses cast in the year 1689. It was here that Maria splashed her hands while trying to convince herself she had confidence in her new assignment of taking care of the von Trapp children.
Even though it was early in the tour, I knew just by watching her splash water in the fountain that Kim was already hooked. And the best was still to come.
The only hill we needed to climb was short, but steep, and a few of the members of our group were forced to walk their bicycles. Much to the group’s delight, Mijou played "Climb Every Mountain" from a small iPod strapped to her bike and that was all the motivation I needed to reach the summit.
At the top was Nonnberg Abbey, a prominent venue in several scenes of the movie. Although we were not able to enter, we did get to take pictures through the gate where the von Trapp children begged the nuns to talk to Maria after she had run away.
The picturesque abbey, which overlooks Salzburg, has quite a history. It has been in continual use since the year 714 and is known as the oldest female convent north of the Alps.
Near the abbey is St. Peter’s Cemetery, which was not in the movie but did inspire the set for the film's cemetery where Captain von Trapp, Maria and the children hid from the Nazis after the music festival.
I’ve seen some pretty cool cemeteries in my travels. I’ve walked between the mammoth tombs of La Recoleta in Buenos Aires where Eva Peron is buried. I’ve literally been lost in Pere Lachaise in Paris while trying to find Jim Morrison and Chopin’s graves. I’ve even looked for ghosts on a walking night tour in Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh. But I can honestly say I’ve never found a cemetery more enchanting than St. Peter's in Salzburg.
The cemetery is set in a cozy nook against the hill under the abbey. Cobblestone walkways meander through long grass, and the graves are well cared for. Each plot is bordered by a small stone wall and within each wall there are colorful flowers, small statues and lit candles in decorative, wrought-iron lanterns. Ferns, pine trees and ivy adorn every corner and it’s really quite beautiful. The grave markers couldn’t be any more different from each other. Some are artistically crafted iron while others are marble or stone. A small mausoleum is carved out of the rock at the base of the hill.
Kim loves cemeteries, and I knew this one would make the bike tour a success for sure.
We stopped across the lake from Leopoldskron Palace, which during the filming was used as the rear of the van Trapp home. It was in that lake that the children and Maria fell out of the boat right before meeting the baroness. Built during the eighteenth century, the building now has seminar rooms used for American studies.
We were able to stand outside the gates of Frohnburg Palace that was used as the front of the home and is where Maria is seen kicking up her heels while skipping down the lane with her guitar, still trying to gain some confidence before she arrived at her new post. It is now owned by the Mozarteum University of Salzburg, and it was lovely to hear music drifting out to us on a light breeze.
The tour took us to more than twenty "Sound of Music" sights, each bringing to mind the classic movie while creating new memories for us as tourists. We even saw the famous gazebo where Liesl and Rolfe sang and danced during a thunderstorm. I have to admit I wanted to leap from bench to bench and sing “I am 51 going on 52 …”
The tour ended back at Mirabell Palace and the beautiful gardens that are shown extensively during the scene where Maria teaches the children how to sing.
We made a point of patting the head of the bespectacled dwarf statue the von Trapp children patted and we circled the Pegasus Fountain. We even ran through the arbor just for fun.
I think what really made Fraulein Maria’s bike tour so much fun was the participation from the tourists. After visiting the abbey, Mijou continued to play the soundtrack through the remainder of the eight or so miles and most of the cyclists sang along. Sometimes people along the route even joined in as we rode by.
Salzburg is a wonderful city and I am happy to say that my wife Kim will tell you that the best way to enjoy it fully is to see it by bicycle.
I couldn’t agree more.
Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline and has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time, he writes novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books and other articles at chrisahale.com.