Culture and Languages · Film and Television · History · Travel

Music, Mozart and Mountains: Three days in Salzburg 

It was not from the station, but rather from the train window, that I first got my first glimpse of Salzburg. And my first impression, right from that very first glimpse, was that Salzburg is beautiful. We travelled between vast, lush hills, dotted with picturesque, pastel chalets, and admired the tall mountains, as they stood proud, overlooking the grassy foreground. The closer we got to the station, the better the view from the window got. Once out of the train, and out of the station, the view only continued to impress, as we passed through the beautiful scenery on the way to our hotel, whilst the mountains remained visable on the horizon from every angle.

Once we had checked into our hotel, we got a taxi into the town centre, as our hotel was a little too far to walk in the intense heat. The town itself was as pretty as the natural landscape: narrow, cobbled streets presented beautiful churches and buildings at each end. We stopped for lunch at a fish restaurant / café, before continuing to walk around the city. We walked up to the Salzburg Museum, but unfortunately it was set to close in half an hour, so instead we reverted to the philistine within us all and sat in a café outside of the museum and had an ice cream (or three in my dad’s case). I had a watermelon lactose free ice cream, which I was delighted to find, but found too sweet to finish.

Once we had sampled pretty much every ice cream flavour available between the five of us, we continued with our walk through the pretty little city. Although we did not stop anywhere in particular, we did observe many attractions from the outside, including the Cathedral and Mozart’s family home. While exploring the city, we were particularly surprised to witness so many people wearing traditional Austrian clothing. After dinner, which we had at an Italian restaurant, we took a walk further out of the bustling inner city. We walked down by the River Salzach, which is the main river that runs through Salzburg, and discovered a pretty little bridge covered in padlocks. From the bridge we obtained a beautiful view over the beautiful city. The natural landscape was breathtaking, not least due to the ever prevalent mountains visable on the skyline.

***

Day Two in Salzburg saw us leaving the hotel at about 11 am and taking a taxi to Mirabell Platz. That is, of course, after we enjoyed the hotel’s ‘vegetarian breakfast’ offering: six pieces of cheese on a plate. We walked around the streets for a while, before having lunch (a salad for me – what else?) at a nice little restaurant on the corner. Unlike the previous days spent in Austria, Saturday was certainly not a hot day – the air was cold and the rain was seemingly endless – and thus we were relieved to be inside. After lunch, however, came the main event of the day and absolute highlight of my holiday life: at around quarter to 2, we got on the coach to begin the The Sound of Music tour.

The first stop on the tour was Leopoldskron Palace, which is the gardens that the Von Trapp gardens were filmed at, including the water with the famous lake scene. Interestingly, the garden and exterior shots of the Von Trapp mansion are filmed at a different location to the house itself. Thus, to film the outdoor scenes, each scene was filmed twice, at the two respective locations, so that frames with the garden background and frames with the house as the background could be intertwined. The gardens and lake were absolutely stunning and the mountains were in their most visable glory yet. What’s more, water was so clear that in all photos the house reflected perfectly, so that when you turned your camera upside it looked the same.

After we finished taking photos at Leopoldskron Palace, we boarded the bus again to travel to our next destination: Hellbrunn Palace. On the bus The Sound of Music singalong was in full swing – at least it was for my sister, the two girls behind us and me, who were unfortunately the only people singing! When we arrived at Hellbrunn Palace, where the familiar yellow Von Trapp mansion stood, it was raining rather heavily, but this did not stop us from posing for many a photo in front of the gazebo where the Liesal and Rolf scene was shot. We could not enter the gazebo because there was a wedding taking place, which we stopped to watch… a great added attraction!

Back on the bus, we travelled passed Nonnberg abbey, which is the abbey that the nuns lived at and that Maria was at, both in the film and in real life. We sang along to many more songs during this leg of the journey and admired the beautiful Salzburg Lake District through the window. At one point, we got out of the bus to take some photos of a little settlement on the side of the mountain. These breathtaking views are some of the views that are included in the introduction to The Sound of Music, when the camera pans over scenes of the hills. I can certainly confirm that they are just as amazing in real life.

Next, we travelled to a small village just outside of Salzburg, called Mondsee. We took a little (scarily small for what it was) train through the mountains, to reach the centre of the village. Directly in front of us stood the chapel that both the real Maria and film Maria got married at. In order to get out of the rain, we rushed to a little café called Braun Café, which the tour guide recommended as award winning for its Apple Strudel, which we had to try. Furthermore, this café was actually partially rented during the filming of The Sound of Music, as the children used it to change their clothes. Once we had finished in the café, we went into the chapel and got to walk down the isle, just as both Maria’s had done before us. After an hour, we boarded the bus once more and began our journey back to Mirabell Platz. Once we got back to Salzburg city centre, we ended at Mirabell Gardens, which is where many of the most iconic Salzburg scenes in the film were shot. This included the fountain that featured in the Doe a Deer dance, as well as the steps, the gates and many other famous features. After posing for multiple photos within the garden, we quickly departed in pursuit of dinner, but mainly because it was so cold!

***

With Sunday came our last day in Salzburg and in Austria. Once again, we took a taxi into town, however could not go into the Cathedral as intended, as Sunday mass was taking place. Instead, we visited the Salzburg Museum. We started with the Art Royal display, which contained a number of pieces that had been borrowed from the Louvre. These pieces were mainly sketches which, although I did not like all of them, were refreshing to see, as sketches don’t usually get a spotlight in galleries. Once we had looked at all the art that the Louvre had to offer, we continued up onto the upper floors, where we saw many pieces of art, as well as artefacts. Interestingly, the sight of the Salzburg Museum was the place that Jewish and Catholic books were burnt during the Nazi regime.

After we had finished exploring the museum, we had a quick lunch (more salad!) and then headed to a stage where the Salzburg Festival, which is currently taking place, was being streamed. We watched an opera that we ended up getting thoroughly stuck into, despite it being entirely in German. We’re pretty sure that we guessed what the plot is about, but in all honestly, we could’ve been completely wrong. From what we were able to gather, the opera was about a man who sells his soul to the devil. Then, his sister makes a false pact too, but as a way to try and get his soul back. She manages to take the key and unlock the room of souls, and the man and his soul, as well as many other people, are reunited. Then again, it could have been a completely different story; after all, the German family behind us was roaring with laughter, even though we had interpreted it as a really intense drama.

Finally, after buying a number of souvenirs, we headed to Mozart’s family home – the second Mozart museum of our trip. After all, it is only right to end our time in Salzburg with something Mozart related. We walked through the many rooms, before beginning our journey back to our hotel, through the beautiful little city that had been our home for the last three days.

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Arts · Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Vienna: Days 2 and 3

While the Schönbrunn Palace (which I visited and wrote about on Tuesday) was the Hapsburg’s summer residence, the Hofburg was the imperial winter residence. Situated in the centre of Vienna, and not too far from our hotel, it was here that we set off to on Wednesday morning. Our visit to the Hofburg comprised of three main attractions: the Silver Collection (Silberkammer), the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartments). 

We entered through a large arch, that led to a dome shaped room with an ornate ceiling. From here, we arrived at the Silver Collection, which was the first of the three places that we explored. The Silver Collection contained extensive cases packed with different silver and gold objects, as well as ceramics and items made out of glass. The objects were all domestic and largely consisted of cutlery, crockery and tablewear. This vast collection dates back to the 15th century; the title of Silver Chamberlain was first recorded at the court of Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. However, whilst the collection was an undoubtedly interesting insight into the court culture that the Hapsburg’s enjoyed, to me the Silver Collection was not the most enthralling bit of the museum – it began to seem a bit repetitive after the first seven or eight rooms and, to be honest, a lot of the crockery was not too dissimilar to that which my grandma has on display in her living room.

Following on from the Silver Collection was the Sisi Museum, which was very interesting, especially as Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) is not a figure that I had previously known anything about. Elisabeth, who was married to her cousin Franz Joseph, was the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary between 1854 and 1898, when she was assassinated in Geneva aged 60. Through exploring the rooms of the museum, and listening to the commentary on the audio guide, I learnt a lot about the longest serving empress of Austria, who was noted for being both deeply beautiful and deeply unhappy, and desperate to be out of the scrutinising constraint of the public eye. The display contained many person items of the Empress, including fans, parasols and a couple of dresses.

From the Sisi Museum we entered the Imperial Apartments. As the Hofburg was the home of the Hapsburg’s for over 600 years, the palace was made up of numerous apartments belonging to different people. The apartments that we were able to explore were those belonging to Elisabeth and Frank Joseph, who we had just learnt about in the previous museum. Most of the furniture and designs can be dated to the 19th century, although there were some older pieces. Similarly to the Schönbrunn, there were many beautiful chandeliers in these rooms, as well as seemingly hundreds of decadent mirrors, which provided innumerable photo opportunities! After we had finished navigating through the many different rooms, we headed to the restaurant for lunch, before admiring the gardens.

After a short break spent back in the hotel, we walked to the Mozart Museum, Mozart Haus. The museum was quite small, although it was spread over three stories, and was set in an apartment that Mozart had rented for a number of years. Mozart himself was actually from Salzburg, thus the main collection of his things is not situated in Vienna. However, despite the small size of the museum, it was still very interesting and an enjoyable experience, particularly as the audio guide had masses of information. We stayed in the Mozart Museum for just over an hour, before heading to a nearby restaurant for dinner, for which I had a delicious couscous.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel to get ready, before rushing out to a concert at a 19th century music hall called the Kursalon.  Here we listened to an orchestra play a number of pieces that were mainly composed by Mozart and Strauss. The performances included orchestral music, opera and even some dance. There were many famous pieces, for example from The Magic Flute and Einer Kleiner Nachtmusik. In addition, the venue itself was absolutely beautiful. The only negative – or rather hilarity – was that the woman sitting behind me decided that it was okay to sing along to the piano music! The concert finished at about half ten, at which point we returned to our hotel for the night.

***

On Thursday, we woke up relatively late in comparison to the early starts on the previous days. Once we were all ready, we set off to the main attraction of the day: Belvedere Palace. Whilst Belvedere compromises of several buildings, situated within the amazing gardens, it was the Upper Belvedere that we chose to explore. The building itself is a magnificent baroque palace, dating back to the early 1700s, and was the summer residence of Prince Eugine. We paused to admire the building’s exterior, as well as the garden – although we soon found out that the best view of the this came from the upstairs windows.

The inside of the Upper Belvedere consists of a fantastic art gallery, housing many famous works. This included the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s artwork, including the world famous ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. We saw these paintings, as well as many others, on the first floor of the gallery, which was the main collection of modern art. The first floor also consisted of a number of beautiful rooms that were decorated and designed in much the same style as the other two palaces that we had visited: high white walls and ceilings, adorned with sparkling gold embellishments and vast in every mirrors. After we had finished admiring the artwork and interior of the first floor, we went to the restaurant for lunch, where I had yet another salad due to an impressive inability to eat literally anything else.

After lunch, we headed back into the Upper Belvedere, this time to explore the second floor. Whilst the first floor was dedicated to modern art, this floor was packed with impressionism and realism. The art was not limited solely to Austria artists, as there was pieces by Money, Renoir and Van Gogh as well. My favourite piece was a beautiful garden scene by Monet, who is probably my favourite artist. Also visable from the second floor were the amazing panoramic views of the garden, seen through the vast windows that created the bright, airy light in the gallery. Some of the windows had large windowsills attached to them and would certainly have provided some enviable window seats back when the Belvedere was a palace!

After spending the majority of the day at the Belvedere, we took a taxi back to our hotel for a short rest and to get out of the intense heat. In the evening we headed out for our final dinner in Vienna, which we had in a restaurant a few streets away from Stephanplatz, which is the main square where we have been eating at most nights. For dinner I had plain spaghetti once again, whilst my sisters had pasta, my mum had gnocchi and my dad had a pizza. After dinner, we went to a different restaurant (this time in Stephanplatz) and my parents and sister had dessert.

After dinner and desert, at around 9pm, we headed back to the hotel, full of pasta, strudel and excitement for the day ahead.

To read about my arrival and first full day in Vienna click here

Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Ohhh Vienna: Arrival and Day One

Our immediate impression of Vienna was that it reminded us of Bahrain. Then again, that’s somehow our first impression of nearly every place my sisters’ and I visit, so that’s probably not much to go on! Despite being late evening, we were greeted by hot night air and, of course, large screens displaying photos of Schnitzel above the luggage conveyer belt. I’ve opted to gloss over the fact that people actually clapped when the plane landed because, to be honest, I’m still suspended in shock and disbelief 24 hours on.

We landed in Vienna International Airport, or Flughafen Wien-Schwechat in German, just as the sun was setting, which we watched from the aeroplane window as we descended. As our flight was delayed, and then our luggage was even more delayed, we arrived at our hotel well after dark – and well after dinner time! So, after depositing our bags, we set off to find some food. After walking for about five minutes we came across a busy and buzzing square, where we settled on an Italian restaurant. By the time that we finished eating it was coming up to midnight, and thus we went straight to bed. Sounds seamless doesn’t it? Unfortunately, about half an hour in, my bed literally collapsed! Lifting up the mattress, we found that about three quarters of the slats were missing and I had to relocate to a different bed. Thankfully, the second bed was 100% bed, as opposed to 25% bed, and so I finally was able to sleep.

***

The next morning we quickly got ready, then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace, which is situated just outside of Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace was a summer residence that belonged to successive Hapsburg monarchs. As it is slightly further away than most sights, we had to take a taxi, which, surprise surprise, only held four people. However, after we received our second taxi of the morning, we set straight off and ended up arriving at the palace half an hour earlier than our tickets were booked for. Because we could not go in yet – and because we had not eaten anything and were all hungry – we stopped at one of the palace cafés, where we had apple strudel, naturally. By the time we had finished it had approached eleven; it was time to enter the palace. As we walked up the main path towards the entrance we admired the beautiful exterior, stopping for several photo opportunities. Once we were in, however, it soon became apparent that the interior was the real beauty.

Upon entry we were faced with a grand staircase, enclosed by bright white walls that were dotted with portraits. The ceiling was the main sight though: a magnificent painting, comprising of many rich colours. From the stairs, we walked into the first of many rooms that we were able to explore. This room, as well as many of the others, was decorated with sparkling gold embellishments and each ceiling showcased a massive crystal chandelier. We explored many different types of room, including dressing rooms, dining rooms, the princesses’ day room and many, many sitting rooms, each decorated in different ways. Many walls held portraits of Maria Theresa and her children, whilst others displayed extravagant artworks. When we progressed through into the Grand Tour rooms, we also encountered rooms inspired by Chinese artwork and a room decorated entirely in black. To me, the most beautiful room was a large airy hallway, with multiple windows along both walls, glittering gold embellishments, lights and chandeliers and a massive painting on the ceiling. It was in this room that I was, unsurprisingly, told off for taking photos, after trying my luck too many times!

We had finished admiring the many rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace but our trip was not over: we still had the gardens to explore. First stop though: lunch. Honestly though, our holiday is not revolving around food, which I appreciate is how this is starting to read. Or maybe it is… which is equally okay with me. For lunch I had a goat’s cheese salad (far from ideal for the lactose intolerant, but hey, turns out it’s easier to digest then cow’s cheese – read an article about it here). After lunch, we began to walk through the extensive gardens. There were many trees and fields, as expected of any vast garden, but the main showcase was at the back of the palace. Here, we discovered beautiful landscape gardens, shaped into neat square shapes adorned with multicoloured flowers and fountains. We sat in these gardens for a while, before travelling back to the hotel for a short touchdown to get out of the thirty degree heat.

***

When it was cooler, at around 5pm, we wandered to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), which is a pretty, gothic cathedral that was built in the 12th century. We took some photos of its exterior, before heading inside to look around. The interior looked much like all cathedrals do, with some beautiful stained glass and lots of candles. However, as it is a working church, unfortunately most of the cathedral was cordoned off, and thus our visit was short and sweet. Once we left Stephansdom, we headed off in pursuit of some dinner. After walking for ages we finally settled on a restaurant, where I had a meal of salmon and potatoes (aka the only thing on the menu that I could eat). After dinner we returned to our hotel as the sun was starting to set over Vienna once more.

Culture and Languages · Film and Television · History

Learning French… And Learning History 

Being mixed race, and having spent the largest part of my childhood living abroad as an expatriate, I have always regarded it as a great shame that English is the only language that I can speak. Yes, I can largely understand my mum’s language when she speaks it with my grandma, but I cannot speak it confidently. So, this summer, one of my aims is to improve my language skills. Having a French GCSE, French seemed to be the most accessible language to start with this summer, although I would like to gradually expand my list of languages over the years.

There are many positive testimonies to using television programmes and films to learn new languages and this is the approach that I am taking. Following a quick Google search, I became aware of a programme called Extra – a sitcom that is designed to teach students either French, German, Spanish or English. However, after watching four episodes of Extra, I concluded that I was not getting much from this show, as the level of French was appropriate to complete beginners, which I am not. And thank goodness I’m not – that would be a bit embarrassing after eight years of French lessons at school!

Deciding to move on from Extra, I noticed a French television show called Un Village Français. The description sounded amazing: a programme set in a Nazi occupied village of Frace, that promised to appeal to those with an interest in History. The French was described as being of an “intermediate” level and so I decided to give it a go.

Would this be the programme that propelled me straight to fluent French speaker standard? 

Possibly not. If there were no subtitles, I probably wouldn’t even be able to identify which words were the characters names.

However… I am not giving up on the belief that my French is improving, as I become increasingly exposed to the language and to the accent. Moreover, I have become almost immediately engrossed in the show itself. I have just finished Season One and cannot wait to begin Season Two. Each season, with the exception of the first two, follows one year of Nazi occupation, beginning with the Nazis’ arrival in the first episode. It addresses the impact of Nazi rule on civilian life in France and seeks to eradicate the common portrayal of “good” characters and “bad” characters, by blurring the lines between the two, as a result of the strain of the war.

By the end of the first episode of Un Village Français, I must admit that I found myself in tears. Whilst my mum has commented that this is more of a reflection on me than the show – and I’m not entirely disagreeing! – something must be said for a programme that has the capacity to create such emotional investment within just forty short minutes. So, whilst I can’t vouch for the show resulting in any improvement in my French, I can certainly say that I have found an incredibly captivating new show to binge watch. C’est fantastique! 🇫🇷

Culture and Languages · Experiences · Health and Food

Ramadan Reflections ☪

Provided that I have successfully figured out how to schedule blog posts and this publishes when I hope that it will, we will have just come to the end of the month of Ramadan. Unlike last year, when I was unfortunately unable to fast, this year I have been absolutely determined to do so. Thus, this Eid has approached with renewed importance, as it marks the end of the challenging, yet enormously rewarding, month.

So… my reflections as of Wednesday 21st June, aka the 26th fast, at 2:11 pm:

Hunger: The obvious starting point when it comes to everything to do with fasting. Well, I would love say that the hunger has decreased and that fasting has become second nature, but it wouldn’t be true. I have just calculated that there are seven hours (and eleven minutes) to go until iftar and, honestly, I’m instantly regretting have worked that out, because that is a LOT of time. Unlike in Bahrain, when fasts would finish at about 6pm, or in winter here, where I assume it is even earlier, during the long summer days sunset is not until well after 9pm. Hence, 16+ hour-long fasts and the fact that my stomach feels like it is going to implode!

Strength and perseverance: But, the amazing thing is that it won’t implode! Even on the longest day of the year (i.e. today… brilliant…) fasting is more than manageable. And, if it wasn’t, well then I would end my fast – just as I had to one day last week, due to a bad stomach ache.  Whilst it is important to push oneself, it is just as important to be sensible and know one’s own boundaries.  However, it is certainly nice to find out that your capacity is bigger than you think. As I was unable to fast last year, to say I was concerned about fasting this Ramadan would be an understatement. But here I am, almost at the end of the month, and I feel fine! Despite the undeniable hunger at the end of the day, half an hour into iftar this feeling is reduced to a distant memory. Thus, even when fasting has felt most difficult, being strong and persevering has never been in vain, and has only added to the sense of personal achievement.

Productivity and solitude: Admittedly, some days this month have been characterised by pure sluggishness, particularly in the hot weather. On the whole though, this month has been an opportunity to take time to do things that often get overlooked. For example, I have finished reading three books this month – The Bell Jar, Heart of Darkness and Sumitra’s Story – something that I have simply not been able to find the time to do during the busy academic year. However, almost on the opposite end of productivity and achieving things are those equally important moments of calm. Indeed, Ramadan has provided many such moments (particularly due to my whole family’s new tendency to nap of an afternoon). Without the constant buzz of the television or headphones in my ears, silence*, stillness and solitude has provided a welcome change from the chaos of day-to-day life. *Just a shame about next door’s building work really… win some lose some.

Challenge and achievement: Certainly, this has been a challenging month. More so than the absence of food, going hours without water during the hottest and longest days of the year has been particularly testing. However, for me personally, the biggest challenge that this month has brought is that of not knowing how to fill my time. Indeed, as well as not eating and drinking, I have also refrained from watching tv and listening to music during the daylight hours. As for socialising, even for things that I technically ‘could’ do, when you haven’t eaten for ten hours already, you don’t really want to do much more than lie on the sofa. But, this challenge has been important, as it has forced me to find other ways to fill my time; and it has also made me evaluate how much I tend to eat just for something to do, rather than out of actual hunger! Over all however, fasting this month – both of food and entertainment – has been a great personal achievement, and an undoubtedly rewarding experience.