The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music – a few of my favourite things.

Salzburg was one of my favourite things on this adventure. Exploring the streets and landscape made me feel like I am sixteen, going on seventeen. Rising out into the scenery beyond the town made us want to climb every mountain, ford every stream… You may even find a lonely goatherd.  I have confidence that you will want to come and visit the beautiful Salzburg.  Ok, before I make you say so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night I will stop with the lyrics. I hope you sang along!

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We are big musical fans in our house, one of Miss 11 greatest loves is Sound of Music. No better place than to head on a Sound of Music tour. There are a number of companies offering it, but after some research we settled on Panorama tour. I’m glad we did, it was spectacular.

The Sound of Music Story 

First it’s a true story, like actually fully real and learning the extra bits made it even more wonderful. If you have been living under a rock, and don’t know the movie, it is based on the unusual and exciting story of Baron Georg von Trapp, an Austrian aristocrat who married his governess in 1927.  Maria the governess ( a former Nun), came to look after the 7 children following the death of their mother. Untold in the film, the von Trapps went on to have another 3 children, bringing the total to 10. A priest (not Uncle Max) gave the family music lessons, and they went on to win first place in a choir contest during the famous Salzburg Festival and subsequent contests became their financial rescue.

When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938 the family immigrated to the USA, unable to reconcile their principles with those of the Nazis. Rather than climb over the mountains to Switzerland they took a train to Italy, then travelled to France, England and then the USA. They went on to build a Salzburg- inspired chalet in Vermont USA in 1941 and have lived there ever since. They went on to continue to tour as singers.

The Tour

The tour lasts around 4 hours and covers many of the main sights from the film.  You are bused from location to location. During the travelling time, the guide will fill you in on all the fascinating history of the story, the time period and of course there is some opportunities to watch clips from the movie and sing along.  We visited:

Mirabell Gardens – Best known as the location where Do-Re-Mi’ is sung with Maria and the children. This is a luscious garden with statues and fountains throughout, it is a wonderful place to spend some time. You’ll remember the scene where Maria and the children are singing “Do-Rei-Mi” on the steps. You’ll also see the vine-covered tunnel and the fortress that appears in the scene in the background.

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The Gazebo – The place where Rolf and Liesl sung ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’, one of Miss 11’s favourite songs. No longer can you enter inside as the local mayor closed it following an 82 year old fan getting too excited and as she jumped off the benches. She went first head first through the glass. She recovered, but apparently when the Mayor considered the madness of Sound of Music fans he decided it was safer that they watched from the outside only!

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Frohnburg Palace – You drive past this palace which provided the facade, courtyard and garden gate of the von Trapp villa in the film.

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Palace of Leopoldskron – this lake was frozen when we were there, but it is the place where the kids and Maris fall from the boat into the lake. The outside of the palace was used as the back of the house. Incredible Austrian views from here! It would be beautiful in any season.

Nonnberg Abbey and the Fortress – This is where Maria was a nun in the movie, but it’s also where the real wedding in 1927 between Maria and the Baron was held.  The fortress  is the real backdrop of the abbey, not the rolling hills from the movie.

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St Gilden/Lake Wolfgang – This spectacular vista is seen in the opening credits of the film. It’s even more impressive in real life!

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Church of Mondsee – The location of the movie wedding of Maria and the Baron.  There was time to enjoy this picturesque little village, for a walk around their Christmas market and the important apple strudel (which was delicious).

The disappointing reality bit – shockingly the Sound of Music is not a well known movie in Austria, there is no hills alive with music ready to burst into song, nor eating Schnitzel with noddles! The tourism industry however of course are experts. Our tour guide told us he rarely has locals on the tour, just if they are bringing America, British or Chinese friends – all these countries love a bit of Sound of Music.

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It was a highlight to our European Christmas adventure, especially if you enjoy the Sound of Music movie. There are incredible views all around the Austrian countryside, and the guides were full of interesting factors. We would strongly recommend it!

Christmas Markets in Vienna

Europe’s Christmas Markets are a wonderful treat for all the senses – especially the taste ones! Miss 11 and I headed off in early December for an Austrian and German adventure to check out as many of the markets that we could manage. First stop was Vienna, the exquisite capital of Austria, home to Imperial history and Baroque architecture, with the musical accompaniment from Mozart and Strauss, and home to Sigmund Freud. Plenty to see and explore. It is importantly also home to over 20 Christmas Markets.

E34BF27D-2F24-48BA-8444-10EBC041DBE6Set in the spectacular backdrops of Vienna, they are an exquisite way to explore the city and feel truly festive. They are an age old tradition, with the forerunner to present day markets from the Middle Ages. The first record of Vienna’s December Market was in 1298, when citizens were grated permission to hold a Krippenmarkt (December Market) during Advent. Early markets started by only selling meat, but evolved to provide other everyday purchases, then eventually seasonal decorations, crafts and treats accompanied with entertainment such as singing and dancing.

Christmas markets received a significant boost in the 16th-century, when the teachings of the German protestant reformer Martin Luther suggested that the birth of Christ was a more appropriate gift-giving day than other saints’ days. This was the beginning of the practice of Christmas gift- buying and festive markets have been popular across Europe and beyond ever since.

 

Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz

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One of the biggest and most well known Christmas Markets in Vienna, you cannot avoid being in a Christmas mood after this. Here you will find dozens of booths filled with contemporary and traditional Christmas decorations and gifts. Full of live music, it is also full of traditional and classic Viennese cuisine with incredible aromas abounding. There is plenty to do for children, including some amusements and the big wheel. A big hit for Miss 11 was getting to ice skate. The ice rink is fun, with some gradients that allow you to gain some speed which was great fun! It is situated right in front of the City Hall and with a picture perfect backdrop it is a wonderful sight! You can go inside the City Hall where children can make Christmas cookies or candles. As Vienna’s most popular Christmas markets it is also the most crowded, so prepare for that.

Christmas Market, Schloss Schönbrunn

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For an elegant Christmas market Schloss Schönbrunn is a perfect setting with the Schönbrunn Palace as it’s background, it presents the most beautiful and magical scenery. There is a spectacular  towering Christmas tree that will completely mesmerise you. The market offers the perfect Christmas touch, with handmade Christmas decorations, and gifts that are made using natural materials.  Of course, there is a complete food and drinks range including warm Christmas cookies, snacks, and mulled wine. Combined with  visit to the Palace and the nearby Children’s Museum there is plenty of things to do in the area. We also met St Nicholas here.

Weihnachtsmarkt Am Hof

Situated a few streets away from the main tourist zones of Graben and Kaertner Stree. This is a smaller but quality artisan gift market, with ceramics, jewellery, glassware, leather items and hats. The Christmas decorations were splendid. It is also well known for its variety of sausages and ham, along with hot baked potatoes, waffles, and gingerbread.

 

Weihnachtsmarkt Karlsplatz

8EB8B894-D6F1-4F01-89AD-7A5AE3F8D9C7Another large scale market with more than 70 booths from local craftspeople and artisans. Situated  in front of the baroque Church of Saint Charles Borromeo. It is also a popular area for many live concerts on regular basis.  In addition, the Christmas market features many live concerts on a regular basis. It is the place to go for hand made items.

 

Christmas Market on Stephansplatz

Next to the iconic St. Stephen’s cathedral there is a small Christmas market. It is quite small and overcrowded, but worth a walk around if you are in the area.

 

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One of our highlights was the mugs that they used, you could buy your own mug for around €4, and then when you are finished with your drink, you could keep the mug as a souvenir or return it and get your money back. This meant that there is not wasteful disposable couples. Each market has their own design, and I imagine could turn into fun collectibles for the different markets you visit.

 

Did you know? Snow globes were invented accidentally in Vienna . Mr Perzy, a surgical instruments mechanic created one in 1900 as the result of an experiment to try and improve the brightness of the newly vented and not very bright electric light bulb. Inspired by the shoemakers of the time, who utilised a glass globe filled with water in front of a flame to get more light from a candle, Perzy tried to re-create this in front of a light bulb. It didn’t work that well. One day he used a white powder, semolina, used for baby food and poured it into the glass globe. It got soaked up by the water and floated very slowly to the base of the globe- the effect reminded him of snowfall. The beginning of snow globe invention. For the first 40 years of production, a church was always added. Following the Second World War, his son added different designs, such as Christmas trees, Father Christmas and snowmen figurines.  The company continues, and exports the snow globes around the world. You can visit the Snow globe museum there too, and buy many in the Christmas markets.

Top tips for visiting a Vienna Christmas Market 

Pick your favourite market – there are so many to see, so do your research about the ones you want to see. All have stalls with food, Glühwein and cooked chestnuts, but each one has their own distinct style. For kids the to ones are Karlsplatz or Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz. For excellent photos, Schloss Schönbrunn is superb.
Visit at the right time – they get very busy in the evening, so choose a little before then and be ready to leave when it becomes dark if you struggle with the crowds. It worked for us not to be visiting on a weekend as it was much quieter.

Bring cash – especially small notes. Some stands will accept credit cards but many were cash only, or there were difficulties getting the card reader to connect. Easier and quicker to have cash.

Make sure you try these foods – Maroni (Cooked chestnuts), Kaisekrainer (Sausage with cheese in the middle), the famous Bratwurst (hot dogs), Soup in a Bread Bowl, Pretzels, Waffeln (Waffles), Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Heisse Bauernkrapfen (doughnuts), Glühwein (mulled wine) and Punsch (Alcoholic Punch, if you don’t want to go with the alcoholic version choose Kinder Punsch).

Go to as many as you can –  I’ve only been able to cover a few in this blog, but there are many around the city. Check them out as you sightsee and explore, and of course enjoy! Have a Glühwein for me!

Dress warmly – the Markets are mainly outside, and it can be cold, especially with the wind chill from the River so wrap up. Layers, gloves, and hats are important! The hut punsh and Glühwein help too!

Giant balls of steel, and a European Odyssey – review of the Atomium and Mini Europe in Brussels

 

As we prepared for our Brussels visit I kept coming across images of this massive strange looking giant atom structure. At 102m tall, this atom is magnified to 165 billion times the size of an iron crystal. Constructed out of 24,000 tonnes of steel, the nine spheres house a range of different functions. The Atomium is an imposing and intriguing structure on the outskirts of Brussels. 

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Atomium in Brussels

Not quite as high as our summer visit to the Burj Khalifa,  but with specular views nonetheless across the city of Brussels and wider Belgian countryside. We took the lift (once the fastest lift in Europe) straight to the top to see the 360 degree view. Hard to believe that this time last year Miss 11 was pretty terrified of heights. The ‘exposure therapy’ at the top of the Empire State Building last Halloween has worked its magic, as without a blink she looked out at the beautiful views across the area. It felt surreal to gaze below at these balls of steel with the sun reflecting off them. 

A number of the spheres house an interactive museum on the history of the creation. Initially built for the 1958 World Expo, the first one after the World War,  but so loved by the Belgian people that it has become a permanent feature in the Brussels landscape the Atomium feels a bit like a national treasure.

Connecting each sphere is a total of twenty tubes, some with light filled elevators that make you feel you are blasting off to the moon on a futuristic space trip.

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Other spheres host temporary art galleries and we were invited to the opening weekend of the Bruegel- a poetic experience. This immersive and interactive exhibition celebrates the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel, the famous Renaissance painter.  We enjoyed exploring his paintings feeling like we were part of the oversized images. The temporary exhibition is open until September 2020, check it out if you are in the area. 

 

Miss 11’s favourite ball was the mini spheres within a sphere that allow school groups to come and stay for a night in the little sleeping pods.  She loved that idea, and thought it a good one for a school trip.

 

An unusual afternoon, but one that is worth a visit if you are visiting Brussels, it is incredible to see the scale and size of the Atomium. 

 

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Next door, is Mini Europe, an opportunity to travel around all of Europe in a few hours.  What more could a wanderlust like me and Miss 11 want? Spending our time reflecting on the adventures we have taken, and where next to explore in Europe. 

Mini Europe is a miniature homage to the 27 countries that make up the European Union at a scale of 1/25 the size of buildings. We loved it, if you like the miniland in Legoland this will be a perfect location.  It is educational as well as entertaining, and the adults seemed to be enjoying it as much as the children, sometimes more so with the miniature trains, planes, and automobiles. A family attraction in many ways. 

It opened in 1989, and has been added to over the years as the EU has expanded, now with 350 models. There is something to represent every country, no matter how small. We travelled through Belgium, explored the Brussels we had seen in our walking tour the day previous in miniature form, visited Denmark, Sweden, and checked out where we had recently been in Amsterdam.

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Crossing over water, we arrived at the United Kingdom, visiting the Houses of Parliament complete with placard waving Brexiters, both for and against!

A brief visit to Ireland, and we continued on through France, Spain and Portugal. As we wandered through Italy, Miss 11 began to plan future holidays, before experiencing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on a vibrating platform. We made our way to Eastern Europe, and I remembered that Athens is high on my bucket list! 

 

At the end of the visit, the indoor ‘Spirit of Europe’ exhibition provides interactive quizzes where you can test your European knowledge (vastly growing in this trip with our visit to the EU headquarters),  learn more about the history of the European Union and take part in the big screen movement game. It is an educational and fun visit for all the family.

Both locations are situated right beside each other at the Bruparck area of Brussels,  just beside line 6 on the metro at Heysel/ Heizel, our Brussels card (kindly gifted) took us right there. We were invited by Atomium, but paid for tickets with Mini Europe ourselves. There are options to buy a combined ticket for both locations and save yourself a few Euro. There’s a nice park right beside, a waterpark, and cinemas – a perfect location to spend a day. 

 

We were kindly hosted by the Atomium to visit, and were gifted a Brussels Card for museum and transport access during our weekend trip.