Belated Merry Christmas everyone! I hope that your Christmas was filled with cheer, good food and more importantly good times with family and friends.
2012 was a year of firsts for me. I usually spend my Christmas in Australia with my extended family. I missed them dearly in 2012 as I sadly could not make it back home. However, Rick and I made the most of our first white Christmas by going on a ski holiday with our friends in the beautiful resort town of Mayrhofen, Austria.
My first day of skiing
Another first for me was the fact that I learnt to ski for the first time. I’ll be honest. Skiing was never my first choice of holiday, but my motto is to try everything once and I am glad that I tried. I am now absolutely addicted to skiing and I plan to book another ski holiday as soon as possible!
My first day of skiing was awful! I couldn’t ski down the baby slopes without a crash landing or without almost knocking someone over. My friends tried to teach me a few things before class started but I was just not managing to stay up for longer than a minute. I was so upset that I almost (literally) threw down my helmet and quit on the spot. But, I am not a quitter, and let’s just say that after a few ski lessons, I graduated from the baby slopes and was gliding down the blue slopes as if it was second nature.
Our ski instructor was fantastic. He took us to blue run #2 which hugs the cliff side and has a width of about 4 metres. Imagine my surprise when he asked us to follow him down this narrow run. I am not a fan of heights and I was only getting the hang of the baby slopes. I almost turned around but I bravely followed the class. I sharply turned the corner, panicked at the sight of the cliff edge and jumping into the thick snow that covered the mountain. I was stuck there for a few minutes while Rick talked me down – he couldn’t reach me as I had managed to wedge myself into the mountain about 1 metre above his head.
Shortly after blue run #2, we tackled blue run #20 which is the much steeper version of #2. This was one of the most challenging runs and it wasn’t without drama. I fell down multiple times as I sharply turned the steep corners but felt confident after a few goes. I learnt to ignore the fact that we were very close to the cliff edge and started to get excited about the view of the mountains. We moved onto a few other slopes and also into the private ski slopes which were no longer marked. Here, the powdery snow was untouched because only a few people knew about it. It was as if I was skiing in the cloud while speckles of snow fell gently around me. I remember looking at the view of the mountains, the Christmas trees covered in snow and the clouds below us. It was a Christmas card moment that’s for sure.
A White Christmas
As I mentioned earlier, my Christmas was spent with friends this year. I am really blessed to be able to spend my first white Christmas with a fun bunch of people. We stayed in a Chalet in Mayerhofen so our breakfast and dinner was provided to us daily. On Christmas day, we drank wine and ate turkey with all the trimmings. We even had a visit from good old Santa Claus who came bearing chocolates (not coal). We have been good girls and boys in 2012! ;)
Finally, Christmas is never complete without checking the Christmas tree to see if the reindeer had eaten the carrots and Santa had sampled the cookies that you left outside on Christmas Eve. We spotted Santa’s foot steps on the stair well, which lead to the rooms of the families with children that were staying at the Chalet (greatly organised by the Chalet staff).
Christmas was fun this year. I missed my family but we made amazing memories in Mayrhofen. We celebrated Christmas 2012 with much cheer, laughter and good company.
How was your Christmas? I hope that it was filled with sugar and spice and everything nice!
Hallo! When in Vienna, what can be more magical than the Vienna Christmas Markets? Exploring the city of course! I was inspired by the architecture and the fact that the grass appeared as green as ever, even in the height of winter. When wandering down the street, I would always pause to watch the horses and carriages drive past; I am a hopeless romantic I guess!
I was first impressed by the beautiful St Stephen’s Cathedral and its multi colour tiled roof. The church stands in the centre of Vienna with such grandeur and you cannot help but admire it. The church is even more beautiful inside. When we walked into the church, light filtered through the stained glass windows giving a rainbow effect.
It looks painted on doesn’t it?
There is a history that surrounds Vienna that generates excitement and leaves you wanting more. In the 1800s, Vienna was ruled by an Austrian Royal Family, one that would change the course of history. Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as Sissi) was one of the most well-known historical figures as she was a revolutionary of her time. She had been a free-spirited Princess of Bavaria until she was betrothed to Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of 15. Elisabeth was admired for her beauty (and often obsessed over it), rebelled against the court by traveling often and frequently ignoring her wifely duties. She lived in the Schonbrunn Palace below…
The Schonbrunn Palace was indeed as glamorous as I expected of Austrian royalty. When we visited the state rooms, we were in awe of the beautiful furnishings and exquisite taste of the royal family. We walked into rooms that gave an oriental feel while others were comparable to rooms in Italian palaces. Overall, the rooms had traditional Austrian charm. The paintings told the story of the Austrian empire, with portraits of the royal family being the main focus. We even walked into the bedroom of Empress Elisabeth and were surprised to see a figure staring straight into the mirror. Her hair was like Elisabeth’s; curly and up to her ankles. It was a little creepy but gave you a glimpse of her character.
We spent 2 hours inside the Schonbrunn Palace and I was still keen to see more. If you look at the photos below, you can see that although it is winter, the palace remains beautiful and the gardens well-kept.
Last but not least, we ate some hearty Austrian food! We devoured braised pork with dumplings, roast pork and pasta, Viennese schnitzels and hearty noodle soups. If I lived in Vienna, I know that I would never tire of the food! May I also note that Rick finished his entire schnitzel but I only managed to eat half of mine. I should have skipped my entrée because the schnitzel was fantastic! Golden brown and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Thanks to Suzy for her blog post that lead us to the schnitzel!
Vienna is a beautiful city in Austria which is rich in history and was home to great classical composers such as Mozart and Strauss. Though these are great reasons to visit Vienna, the main purpose of our stay was to sample the delicious Austrian delicacies and mulled wines best found in many of Vienna’s Christmas Markets.
We visited four Christmas markets during our stay but my favourite has to be Rathausplatz. Rathausplats Christmas markets is set in one of Vienna’s prettiest parks and has some of Vienna’s most beautiful buildings that serve as its backdrop.
During the day, we’d sample traditional cakes such as the sachertorte, donuts stuffed with marmalade and sprinkled with icing sugar and the Transylvania cake! The sachertorte is a rich and moist chocolate cake, with a subtle layer of apricot marmalade. The richness of the chocolate is balanced perfectly with the tartness of the apricot. The Transylvania cake was a much lighter dessert as it’s more like a thin donut that has been wrapped around wooden dowels and grilled over hot coals until brown. When the cake is piping hot, it is then slid off the wooden dowel and coated with a topping of your choice – my favourite was cinnamon!
When our sweet tooth was satisfied, we scoured the markets for delicious bratwurst sausages in freshly made bread, garlic langos (flat deep-fried bread), roasted chestnuts, giant pretzels and goulash eaten straight out of a bowl made out of bread. I couldn’t get enough of the cheese bratwurst sausages that oozed cheese after every bite – eaten so quickly that I didn’t pause for a picture!
What made the Christmas markets special were the Christmas decorations, the music, pony rides and all round Christmas cheer that fills the markets with such joy. It could have been the apple cider or mulled wine that made everyone seem so happy, but I still think that Austrians know how to do Christmas Markets! The warm drinks are always served in Christmas mugs, which I think made the whole “drinking spicy, hot chocolate/mulled wine/apple cider in the middle of a Christmas market” experience seem that much more interesting! I kept mine as a souvenir to remember my time in Vienna.
Whenever I look at the Christmas mug, I remember the nice lady that we met at one of the Christmas markets. She was waiting for her friend while sipping on mulled wine to keep herself warm. She politely interrupted our conversation and asked us if we were British. I have only been living in London for 10 months so was greatly surprised by this. She then noted that my friends sounded Australian. This kicked off some further conversation and soon we were getting tips that only a local could provide. She gave us a list of local restaurants that served delicious snitzels and local wine. She gave us a list of the best Christmas markets and told us stories about the history of Vienna. I was quite interested to know that Mozart played in the halls of many of the Palaces and that his music had some comedic aspects. I was also intrigued by her thoughts about the local way of life: Viennese will not let the cold stop them from enjoying the outdoors, they just dress to be comfortable and brave the cold anyway! I guess this is why the Christmas markets were full with people, regardless of the 2 degree temperature! When it was time to move onto the next Christmas market, we said good-bye and she gave us a newspaper as a parting gift. She was the editor of The Vienna Review, a local newspaper. It was no wonder why she had so much knowledge of this great city!
This will be my first Christmas away from family for the first time in my life so it has been important for me to continue the Christmas spirit here in the UK and Europe. Christmas is a special time for me and I am looking forward to spending my first white Christmas here. There will be no barbecues and beaches for us this year but I think Europe makes up for it with its winter wonderlands. Have a fantastic holiday everyone (whether you celebrate Christmas or not) and may you be blessed with amazing times with your family and friends this holiday!
Related articles: read some more blogs about the Vienna Christmas markets
In my previous post, I wrote about my experience in Salzburg on the Sound of Music movie tour. Salzburg was on my bucket list specifically for the Sound of Music tour, but what I also found was that the city of Salzburg is so much more. It was a winter wonderland! If you want to read about my experience on this tour, check out my previous post and continue reading this post to find out more about what Salzburg has to offer!
Salzburg’s Old Town is picture perfect
I’ve been to many cities in Europe and have seen many “Old Towns”, but to me, Salzburg’s Old Town is a cut above the rest. Salzburg’s Old Town has been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO and when you visit the site, it is obvious why. Old Town is located next to the Salzach River and features many uniquely designed buildings, cobblestone pathways and is almost completely a pedestrian zone.
One of my favourite places in Old Town is Residenz Palace and the square that surrounds it. When we first set eyes on the square, we felt like we had traveled back in time, to a time when horse-drawn carriages transported people around the city centre. These horse-drawn carriages can be hired for tours. but we decided to continue walking around Old Town while enjoying the Old world charm.
The Fortress in the sky
We could not keep our eyes off the Fortress Hohensalburg, which is located high above the mountains that overlook this beautiful city. The Fortress was a castle that once housed generations of Prince-Archbishops and it is one of the largest and well-preserved medieval castles in Europe. The easiest way to reach the fortress is by funicular, which takes you up the mountain within minutes. If you fancy a walk, you can also walk up the mountain for approximately 15 minutes.
We spared our tired feet and decided to take the funicular up to the fortress (11 Euros including entrance free). When we arrived at the top, we were greeted by 360 degree views of Salzburg ! The castle had a mystical feel as a slight fog had started to gather. We enjoyed the view and then ventured inside for our guided tour.
We had to wait for the previous tour to finish before we could begin ours. Only 40 people can enter the castle at any one time and are always accompanied by a tour guide. We wandered through the narrow corridors and into rooms that now contain artifacts from past eras, then through to the torture chambers which still had an eery feel. We were given insight into the building of the castle. The castle was originally used to keep enemies away and was modified slightly as each generation of Prince-Archbishops began their rule. Walls were built higher, a moat was created and additional towers were built to ensure the safety of all castle patrons.
Music is in the air
Salzburg is famous for being a musical city, and boasts its most famous resident, the classical composer and musician – Mozart! Mozart was born and raised in Salzburg. His homes, where many of his masterpieces were created, are now museums. There are two museums dedicated to Mozart; Mozart’s Birth Place (aka Mozarts Geburtshaus) and Mozart’s Residence (aka Tanzmeisterhaus). We didn’t go into these museums as we had spent quite a lot of time wandering Salzburg, but this is a must for music buffs!
We also visited the final resting place of Mozart’s family at St Sebastian church. The cemetery was quite pretty and was surrounded by flowers and fauna.
Another interesting place that we visited was the Sound of Music museum. Visitors are able to learn more about the making of the movie but also about the real Von Trapp family that the movie was based on.
Before visiting Salzburg, I had become fascinated with the Von Trapp family and wanted to know more about them. Firstly, because I had just found out that a real Von Trapp family existed and also because their story is one of courage, music and adventure. When we first stood outside of the museum, I was excited to see a bus bench; one very similar to the bus bench that Maria Von Trapp would have sat on as she waited for the bus that would take her to the Von Trapp mansion. I managed to take a few happy snaps on the bench, as I imagined how it would have felt like to be Maria! She must have been excited and nervous at the same time!
When we entered the museum, we were amazed to see old family photos of the Von Trapps and details about their family tree. They had been a wealthy family, but during the war, they lost a great deal of their fortune, and formed a singing group to make a living. Then, during the times of Hitler, Gorg Von Trapp refused to fly the Nazi flag on front of their house and also declined a request to sing at Hitler’s birthday party. He knew that their time in Salzburg was limited and organised for his family to escape the only way they knew how – singing on tour in Europe and in the USA. Read the real story about the Von Trapps here.
Maria wrote various memoirs about their lives and many of these are in the Sound of Music museum. I loved looking at newspaper articles and books that Maria had written, but also loved looking at parts of the movie that reflected the lives of the family. We laughed at snapshots of the movie, such as the puppet show that Maria and the children performed. We also enjoyed being able to look and touch the real puppets that were used for the movie. If you’re a lover of the Sound of Music, you’ll love this museum! I spent hours reading, looking and listening!
The gardens are luxurious
As a lover of castles, I had to visit the Mirabell Palace and it’s amazing garden. As I mentioned in my previous post, the palace gardens were also used on the set of the Sound of Music movie.
The palace can only be viewed by those who attend musical performances and since there were no concerts that day, we decided to enjoy the garden instead. The Palace’s beautifully maintained garden is decorated with fountains and sculptures. If you look carefully at the photos, you’ll see the beautiful Fortress set in the mountain side as if to guard the city.
A visit to Austria is not complete without trying a few snitzels. Now, snitzels are one of my favourite foods in the world. In fact, I enjoy eating snitzel at least once a week! I was not disappointed with the way that Austrians make their snitzel. The snitzels were golden brown, slightly crispy and absolutely heavenly to taste! This was the deal maker for me – this made me love Salzburg even more! I’ll be back one day for sure!
Have you visited Salzburg before? What is your favourite site?
Salzburg, Austria is a picturesque city best known for it history in music! Salzburg is where Mozart created many of his masterpieces and many of the sites also formed the backdrop to the movie “The Sound of Music“. The Sound of Music Tour was the highlight of Salzburg for me and for so many reasons. The Sound of Music was a movie that was released in 1965 but has managed to enchant many generations of children and adults around the world.
Being on the tour made me feel like I was part of the Von Trapp family’s world just for a day!
Singing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ in Mirabell Gardens
I grew up watching the Sound of Music with my siblings during school holidays. When we drove past the Mirabell Palace and it’s gardens, I was excited to be told that this was the backdrop for one of my favourite scenes; where Maria and the children dance around the statue of the winged horse, Pegasus. They were singing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and dancing about in true musical movie style. Our tour bus did not stop at the Mirabell Palace but we made a mental note to return and take in the beauty of the garden. I will write about our visit in a separate post but you can see from the picture, that since we had visited in winter, the fountain had turned to ice but was still a pretty sight to be seen.
The back of the Von Trapp family home - Leopoldskron Castle
In the Sound of Music movie, the Leopoldskron Castle was used as the setting for the back of the Von Trapp family home. The children were often seen playing in the beautiful garden. This was also the scene where Maria takes the children out for a boat ride and they all fall into the Leopoldskron lake.
When we arrived at this site, the lake had frozen over and stretched out for miles. I could imagine the surroundings turning green and boats sailing the lake in the summer. It’s definitely a beautiful place during both summer and winter. The Castle has been preserved and is now used as a conference centre but maintains its 18th century charm.
Nearby was also the path where Maria danced a sung her way to the Von Trapp mansion at the beginning of the movie (see 2:34 minutes of this video). Today, people use this as a running path, but I could just imagine Maria with her suitcases singing “Confidence in me” as she started her new journey with the Von Trapp family.
I am 16 going on 17, Hellbrunn Castle
The Hellbrunn Castle was built by Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus in the 17th century. In the movie, Liesel Von Trapp and Rolf (the mail boy) sing “I am 16 going on 17” around a glass pavilion. This glass pavilion used to be located in a private property but has since been moved to a public park near Hellbrunn Castle to allow tourists to visit anytime.
I was excited to see this glass pavilion because it was one of my favourite parts of the movie. I remember looking up to Liesel as a child and wishing that I could be 16 going on 17 too!
When we arrived at the glass pavilion, I wanted to jump up onto the benches just for a few seconds but before that thought became reality, my lovely tour guide mentioned that the pavilion was locked. Apparently, many before me had the same idea, and after reenacting the scene a few times, someone broke their leg. I will just have to settle with a picture where I pretend to dance into the pavilion.
This is also the scene where Captain Von Trapp and Maria share their first kiss and sing the romantic song “Something Good“. ‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good’… to be able to see this glass pavilion in real life.
The abbey where Maria was a novice, Nonnberg Abbey
We were able to see the Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was a novice. The abbey was used at the beginning of the movie to show the nuns going to mass as Maria runs inside the abbey after dancing about on the hills. The abbey itself is not open to the general public so we did not get to see the interior, but what I found fascinating is that the real Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married in this abbey.
Amazing Scenery from the movie
The movie captured the beautiful mountains and lakes of Salzburg, especially St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang. The scenery was breathtaking especially with the snow. When I looked out at the frozen lake, I could imagine people kayaking or swimming there, having family picnics and just enjoying the sun during the summer season. A mental note to self was made – return to Austria in summer!
Maria and Captain Von Trapp’s wedding at Mondsee Cathedral
Who doesn’t like a good wedding scene? The last part of our tour took us to Mondsee Cathedral so that we could visit the place where Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married. The Cathedral is exactly as I expected and just as grand as I remembered it in the movie. We spent about 15 minutes in the church and then spent the majority of the time eating delicious Austrian deserts in a nearby cafe.
Singing songs from the movie
These tours are meant to help you relive scenes in the movie as you listen to songs from The Sound of Music in between locations. However, our tour group was not a singing bunch, so we listened to songs from the movie and enjoyed the scenery. I had just as much fun on this tour either way – singing or no singing! However, if you would be disappointed with a lack of singing, these tours operate in groups of 10 so why not bring some friends along so that you can sing “Do-re-me” together!
Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream.
Have you been on this tour or suggest other tours that you think might be just as fun?
Look out for my next post about the other sites that I visited in Salzburg and don’t forget to comment and subscribe! Happy travels!
The ‘Real’ Von Trapp family
Before going on this tour, I found out some facts about the real Von Trapp family which were later mentioned by my tour guide.
Georg Von Trapp was actually born in Zadar which was part of the Austro-Hungary empire but is now part of Croatia
Georg Von Trapp and the children later moved to Salzburg after the death of his first wife
There was actually 10 Von Trapp children – 7 from the first marriage and 3 from Maria
When the family escaped the Nazis, they did not dance off to Switzerland. Instead they escaped by train to Italy to do a concert tour and later ended up the USA
Georg sadly died 4 years after they escaped Austria and Maria lived well into her 80s
The Von Trapp family music legacy lives on with the great grand children of Captain Von Trapp. Click here for a youtube video I found!
I also went to the ‘Sound of Music’ exibition where I learnt all about the family, and will talk about that in my next post. Until then, read about the real Von Trapp family here.
Who provides these tours?
We booked our tours through Viator because I was slightly more organised and wanted to book in advance. The local tour providers were Panorama Tours so if you arrive in Salzburg and did not book in advance, give them a call and see if they can fit you in. They operate the tours in a number of languages so let them know in advance about your language preferences. I’ve read about English-speaking tourists who have had to listen to audio guides during a tour as the only places available were in German. We were lucky to have an English-speaking guide.
We spent AUD$47 per person because the exchange rate was good but check on the site to see what the prices are in Euro as they have a number of packages.
When is the best time to do the tour?
We went in winter and it was beautiful, but I recommend doing the tour in spring or summer as the places will look more like the scenes in the movie.