If "Do-Re-Mi," Edelweiss," and "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" are a few of your favorite things, then Salzburg is your kind of town. The hills are still alive with the Sound of Music--35 years after one of the most popular Hollywood movies was partially filmed here.
Actually, the movie wasn't popular everywhere, certainly not in Salzburg. The tale goes that no self-respecting Austrian has seen, or if seen, liked the Sound of Music. The great majority of people you will see on the Sound of Music tour are American tourists.
And if you were in Salzburg on June 29th, 2000, you would have seen me riding around Salzburg and surrounding areas on a tour bus. Yeah, I know. Very uncharacteristic of the way I travel. In fact, if my memory serves me well, this was the only bus tour I have ever taken in Europe. Ironically, the Sound of Music isn't even one of my favorite movies. At the time of the tour I had only seen it once, incompletely, and I had very little recollection of the story, except for the music itself.
It's the story, not the music, that bothers Austrians. Hollywood's version is much different from the real story of the Von Trapp family. Perhaps it's not surprising that the final scenes in the movie show the Von Trapp family walking (fleeing) to Switzerland, which border was, and still is, over 100 miles away from Salzburg.
Is the Sound of Music tour worth taking? If you are a fan, definitely. If not, then maybe. I kind of enjoyed it, though it wasn't anything special or exciting. If you are on a tight budget, it's something you can skip and not feel guilty about it. What I enjoyed the most was seeing Austrian countryside, the lakes, and stopping to taste a genuine Austrian apple strudel.
Let's backpedal a little...
I arrived in Salzburg on the morning train from Munich on June 28, 2000. It's only a 1.5 hours ride. The passport control was nowhere to be found and I didn't even notice where I crossed the German-Austrian border. Stepping out of the train I had noticed dozens of full-size flags of foreign countries hanging from the roof of the train station, expressing Salzburg's non-stop festive atmosphere before I even entered the city.
I stayed at the YoHo hostel ($10 a night) sharing a 6-person room with a group of American backpackers (mostly from Chicago), whom I had met on the train, and one Australian. YoHo is a very social hostel. It has a bar and a common room with a TV (The Sound of Music is shown daily at 1:30pm.). The showers (70 cents) and lack of lockers in rooms and door locks are the low points. But the food is a definite highlight! I ate all my dinners at the hostel. Delicious Austrian dishes, such as Wiener Schnitzel with potatoes, + all you can eat salad bar--all for about $6 made me stay in Salzburg one night more than I had planned.
While walking around Salzburg, I stumbled upon a group of 4 young Russian street musicians. They looked familiar. Then I realized that I had seen the same group last year in Vienna. They were as phenomenal as I remembered them from the year before, when my friends and I stood for 1/2 hour listening to their music.
And then there is Mozart. The music genius was born in Salzburg, and it's easy to see that the city is very proud of its most famous son.
The Fortress itself is one of the major highlights in Salzburg. More than 900-years-old, it is the largest fully preserved fortress in Central Europe--definitely worth a tour. Just make sure you have enough strength to get there. It is a steep 15-minute hike up the hill. I remember thinking, "This is no joke in winter time." The reward for the hike is a fantastic panorama of the city with many exciting photo opportunities.
Not having enough time and desire to visit both Mozart's birthplace and Mozart's residence, I decided to trust my Lonely Planet guidebook and chose the latter. The self-guided tour and the house exhibits weren't particularly exciting. Unless you are a Mozart buff, it's actually quite boring. On the other hand, you don't have to be Sound of Music fan to enjoy the beautiful Mirabell Gardens, featured in the movie ("Do-Re-Mi"), and also on many Salzburg post-cards.
If you have a spare day in Salzburg, and especially if you are a history buff, I recommend a day trip to Berchtesgaden--1 hour away by train, just across the border in Bavarian Alps. This trip deserves a separate review, and I will write one someday, but in a few words, this was Hitler's Southern Headquarters. He and many other Nazi leaders, including Bormann and Goering, had their houses in the area. The mountain where these houses were built is like a Swiss cheese--with miles of underground tunnels, built as an air and raid shelter and eventual escape route. And then there is Eagle's Nest-a 50th birthday present to Hitler from the Nazi party. This former diplomatic teahouse is now simply a restaurant. Located on top of the cliff, over 6000 feet above the sea level, it is the area's biggest attraction. On a clear day, you can see Salzburg from there.