And the Winner of Sound of Music Live Is…

Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg
Jasper180969 via Flickr

Last night’s live production of The Sound of Music on NBC got more flak than Maria did for being an unsolvable problem nun. The acting was bad, the costumes St. Pauli-esque and the mountains… gasp! They were fake!

But there was one winner in last night’s performance: the city of Salzburg, Austria. Home of the Von Trapps, setting of the original movie and now site of thousands of Edelweiss-blasting tour buses and gazebo-worshipping 16-going-on-17-year-olds, Salzburg enjoyed a flurry of love last night.Some viewers reminisced about past visits to the Austrian city (and the nearby lake district):

Many were eager to show off their inner Maria:

For some, it inspired new interest in traveling to Austria:

Others piped in from Salzburg, where the Sound of Music is apparently still a hot jam after almost 50 years:

There was also the inevitable “there’s more to do in Salzburg than the Sound of Music”:

And finally, more Sound of Music Live bashing — this time in defense of the real place:

So while Carrie Underwood and Vampire Bill may not be winning Emmys, it was a good night for the beautiful city of Salzburg. Which by the way does have more to offer than the Sound of Music, including a wonderful Christmas Market, which is open right now.

Read Lou Reed’s European Travel Diary

LouReed.com

Rock icon Lou Reed died yesterday. The former frontman for the Velvet Underground was 71. He’d undergone a liver transplant earlier this year.

Upon news of Reed’s death, The New Yorker unlocked access to “Diary by Lou Reed: The Aches and Pains of Touring,” which it published in 1996.

In the piece, Reed chronicles 10 days on the road, talking about stints in Lintz, Antibes and Prague, and lost luggage, lengthy layovers and exploding shampoo bottles. The similarities between Reed’s travels though and your last European visit ends there: Reed was hanging out with David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Vaclav Havel.

The Passing Of Music Legend Lou Reed

Vienna, Paris And Now Greece: Why Travelers Will Relate To ‘Before Midnight’

before midnight premier julie delpy and ethan hawkeIf you’ve ever approached a good-looking stranger on a train, or kicked yourself for not doing so, you probably love Richard Linklater’s trilogy of films – “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” – about a pair of travelers who met on a train bound for Vienna in 1995, rekindled their romance in Paris in 2004, and then re-emerge as lovers on holiday in Greece in 2013. I saw “Before Midnight” on Friday, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two films, I still believe that anyone who is passionate about travel has to see these films.

In the first film, Jesse, a jilted young American backpacker played by Ethan Hawke, convinces Celine, a Frenchwoman who is on her way back to Paris, played by Julie Delpy, to get off the train with him in Vienna. The pair fall in love while walking the streets of Vienna, but rather than exchange contact information when they part, they resolve to meet again in six months. (We learn in the next film that that meeting never happened.)

According to Slate, and a host of other publications, Linklater’s inspiration for “Before Sunrise” came from a stay-up-all-night evening he spent with a young woman he met in Philaelphia, who later died in a motorcycle accident after they lost touch. I saw “Before Sunrise” on the day it came out in 1995 and was deeply affected by the film.

I was 22, a couple years younger than Jesse and Celine, and had just graduated from college. I had no car at the time, and to save on bus fare, I took an hour-long walk from my decrepit $275 per month studio on Walnut Street to the cinema, down on Philadelphia’s waterfront. Jobless and with no plan for what to do with my life, I resolved on the long walk home to scrape together enough money to travel by train across Europe, where I imagined there were plenty of Celines waiting to meet me. It took me two years, but I did just that in 1997.

On that trip, I met a girl from Finland on a train bound for Prague, and we shared a few memorable days together before it was time for me to return to another dingy apartment – this one a $550-a-month, cockroach infested studio in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Unlike Jesse and Celine, I never saw the lass from Finland again, though I did get an amusing, somewhat incoherent letter from her a year later, clearly written in a state of inebriation.

Just weeks after returning from that trip, I decided to move to Chicago, where I met my future wife on my very first day in town. Leaving New York turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Our relationship has been a lot smoother than Jesse and Celine’s, but we still loved “Before Sunset” when we saw it in 2004. Jesse was stuck in an unhappy marriage and was trying to decide if he should stay with Celine in Paris; I was a diplomat who was depressed about the prospect of spending the next two years in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing “Before Midnight” for at least a year. It feels a little like catching up with old friends you haven’t seen in nine years each time these films come out, and I was particularly excited by the fact that this film was shot in Greece, a country that I love. Linklater’s trilogy is about the big decisions we face in life and how we make them. Jesse always seem to face these crossroads while on trips – first in Vienna, then in Paris and most recently in Greece, where he tries to convince Celine to move to Chicago to be closer to his son.

The fact that the couple faces these major life decisions while on the road rings very true for me. When you’re far from home and removed from your daily routine, you can’t help but examine your life and ponder the big picture questions.

“Before Midnight” has received rave reviews but I wasn’t in love with this film. It had its moments and if you’ve seen the first two, you will want to see it, but I found listening to Celine’s litany of complaints, which are littered throughout the film, exhausting and stressful.

Despite that, I still enjoyed having the opportunity to think back to where I was in 1995 and 2004, and how I’ve changed since I saw the two previous films. Hawke and Delpy are still attractive but seeing how they’ve aged on the big screen is also a reminder of how quickly time flies by. To me, the last 18 years since I saw the first film have gone by in a blur, and the notion that the next 18 will go by just as fast is a little scary, but it’s also a great reminder that life is short, so you’ve got to seize the day.

The other redeeming quality of the new film, for me, is the cinematography. It’s a lush, almost sensual portrait of Greece at its very best – the crumbling ruins, the seaside tavernas and the heartbreaking vistas of the Aegean are all there. According to The Greek Star, the film was shot in the southwest Peloponnese, specifically at the Kalamta airport, and in the villages of Pylos, Koroni and Kardamili in the Messinia region. According to About.com, one of the scenes was shot in the former home of the legendary writer and traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor in Kardamili. The film is a great advertisement for Greek tourism, and since I’ve never been to this part of Greece, Jesse and Celine have once again given me another great reason to hit the road.

Touring The World War One Battlefield Of Isonzo

World War One, Isonzo
Sean McLachlan from public domain image. Original photographer unknown.

Like every other nation involved in World War I, Italy suffered terribly. It joined the war in 1915, throwing its lot in with the Allies against the Central Powers. Italy’s most immediate threat was its neighbor the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The border was mostly in the Alps and soldiers on both sides carved out ice caves from which to snipe at one another and used artillery to fire above each other’s positions in over to create avalanches. To this day, almost 100 years later, bodies of dead soldiers are being found frozen in the ice.

The most active part of the front was along the Isonzo river valley, the border between Italy and what is now Slovenia. For most of its length it cuts between steep mountains on either side.

I toured the Isonzo front with an organized bus tour from Gorizia. Without a car it’s the only way to quickly visit this long and rugged battlefield. Unfortunately, the pouring rain that had been plaguing northeast Italy and western Slovenia for the previous few days didn’t let up. In the higher latitudes it turned into a driving snow. This meant that except for a few glimpses of the terrain, the tour was pretty much a washout. At least we got an inkling of what it was like to have been stationed up here, and we did get to visit the excellent Kobarid Museum in Slovenia.

This is one of the best military history museums I’ve seen anywhere. While there are the usual flags and uniforms and weapons, the bulk of the exhibition is a vast collection of period photographs. These bring the visitor face to face with life on that terrible battlefield where half a million men lost their lives. Both armies are treated impartially and instead of glorification of the war there’s a frank, human look at the people involved.

%Slideshow-82%We get to see them at the front lines, perched high up on alpine peaks or hunkering down in trenches carved into snow and ice. A great amount of detail goes into how the vast armies were supplied, with displays on everything from cooking to handling horses. We also see the soldiers’ more relaxed moments, writing letters home or goofing around behind the lines.

There are some surprises too. One small display is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, who was a Red Cross ambulance driver at the front and who fell in love with a nurse there. He used these experiences to write “A Farewell to Arms.”

The battles were mostly bloody stalemates, with the Italians making their only significant gains in the sixth battle when they took Gorizia. That was all undone in the 12th battle, better known as the Battle of Caporetto, when the Austro-Hungarians and their German allies shattered the Italian army. “Caporetto” has entered the Italian lexicon as a word signifying any horrible defeat, from a politician losing a landslide election to a football team getting spanked by their rivals.

The museum doesn’t shrink from the true face of war. In one grim display, we see photos of the dead lying unburied on the battlefield, and the grim portraits of some of the mutilated survivors. Some of these images are included at the end of the slideshow here, preceded by a warning. They are not easy to look at but I included them because I think it’s important for civilians to see what war really looks like.

Anyone with an interest in military history will want to see this museum. While visiting the remaining trenches and bunkers along the Isonzo front gives a feel for the terrain, a visit to the Kobarid Museum is essential for putting it all together and understanding the terrible waste of World War I.

Adventures By Disney Announces New Options For Europe And Beyond

Adventures By Disney go to Central Europe in 2014
Adventures by Disney

Adventures by Disney has announced that it is expanding its catalog of travel itineraries for 2014 with new options to Europe and several tours specifically created for the teen traveler. These new additions to the line-up will expand on the company’s already diverse group of tours that are designed to provide adventure travel options for families while delivering a distinctly Disney experience.

New to the Adventures by Disney portfolio is a nine-day escape to Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic that includes visits to the vibrant and cosmopolitan cities of Salzburg, Prague and Vienna. While on the tour, travelers will experience ice caves in the Alps, visit wondrous castles, tour a marionette workshop and get a private after-hours tour of the famed Vienna Zoo – the oldest in Europe.

If Italy holds more appeal over Central Europe, then the new Enhanced Italy tour may be more to your liking. This classic family escape will take travelers to the streets of Rome, Tuscany, Venice and Florence, offering VIP treatment along the way. Highlights include an after-hours visit to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, a private pasta-making class and of course a special gondola ride through the canals of Venice.

Finally, ABD has announced three new adventures designed specifically with teenagers in mind. These options include escapes to Peru, Costa Rica and Arizona and Utah, and feature activities intended for teenagers at each of those destinations. In Peru, for instance, they can go stargazing around a campfire in the foothills of the Andes. In Costa Rica, they’ll take in the exotic and diverse wildlife of the rainforest and in Arizona and Utah, they’ll have the opportunity to go on a bike ride through Boynton Canyon in Sedona. Each of these itineraries was specifically crafted to engage teenagers and allow families with teens to travel together.

Since its inception eight years ago, Adventures by Disney has been providing high quality adventure travel opportunities for the entire family. These new offerings will only expand on the company’s award-winning service while offering more choices for customers. If you’re looking to introduce a little adventure into your next family escape, they can definitely help you accomplish that in a unique and well-crafted manner.