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.

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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!

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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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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! 🇫🇷