Beautiful Boulder

For about a month now, I’ve been living in Boulder, Colorado. My summer internship means I get to spend June- August basking in the sunny, not too hot weather and the beautiful mountains.

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The Flatirons, Boulder’s pride and joy.

Settling into Boulder, I’ve been struck by how beautiful it really is here. Not an experienced hiker myself, I have gone on a few “nature walks” in my neighborhood and in the mountains. I’m obsessed with the beautiful flowers that grow wild here, in the mountains and planted in front yards.

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I even checked a book out from the library to help me identify flowers.

While the wildness here is stunning, I also found a great art museum. The Leaning Tree Museum of Western Art is a few miles from downtown Boulder, and I took a picnic one Saturday to explore. Outside the museum there is a statue garden full of life size, bronze icons of the West. There were bears and buffalo, mountain lions, and statues of the Native Americans who lived in Colorado.

 

Beyond the sculpture garden there was a two-story art museum full of western art. The paintings depicted virtually every aspect of live in the Western plains. The collection was excellent, and many of the pieces were magnificent. I really enjoyed seeing such a specialized type of art, and such excellent examples of it.

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So far, I’ve gotten a taste of what Boulder has to offer, but there is still more to explore. Historic downtown Pearl Street is home to tons of cute shops and great restaurants and bars that I am slowly working my way through. And there are sure to be hidden gems everywhere. Hopefully I will have another update from beautiful Boulder soon!

How to Not Stress About Air Travel

Almost universally, everyone agrees that the worst part of traveling is the traveling. Being in a new place is great, but getting there can often be a pain. And if you don’t travel regularly, it can be stressful, especially if you have to fly.

Years of in-flight experience have turned me into something of a road warrior. With holiday travel season approaching, I thought I would share my tips for a stress-free journey.

Stress Free Air Travel

There are three main components to any good airport experience: packing the right bags, getting to the airport, and navigating security. Once you can master those steps, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Packing the Right Bag

You should have 2-3 pieces of luggage: a carry-on, a personal item, and maybe a checked bag. Whether or not you check a bag depends of the kind of trip your taking. But keep in mind that it will usually cost extra. If you do decide to check, pack your liquids and gels in a plastic bag in that checked bag.

The most important bag for your trip is the carry on. It’s where you will put your clothes, shoes, etc. that you need. Instead of winging it, use a packing list to figure out what you need, and what you don’t. Find more packing tips here. As you are gathering items from your list, put them near your bag. Don’t start actually packing until you have everything together. That way you can pack everything for optimized use of space and make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.

There are a few key things that you will need to pack with security in mind. Once you hit the airport security tables, you are going to have about 2 minutes to unload all required objects into bins and go through the scanner. This means don’t pack your laptop at the bottom of your bag. You will be tempted to, but resist. Instead, pack your laptop, tablet, and e-reader near the top or in an easy to reach place in your briefcase/backpack. Not all airports make you take out e-readers and tablet computers (think iPads), but some do.

You also have to figure out where to put your liquids and gels bag. Every passenger is allowed a one-quart bag with liquids and gels inside. Each bottle can be up to 3.4 oz. or 100 ml. More details can be found here, but suffice it say that you will need travel sizes. I usually keep my bag in my backpack or the front pocket of my carry-on. Then, once I’m through security, I can move everything around to a better location. For example, my hand sanitizer and chap stick go straight back into the front pocket of my backpack or purse so I can use them on the plane. The baggie is just a temporary measure in the airport. Just make sure you know where you want to keep yours.

Getting to the Airport

All of this packing happens the night before your flight. But when the actual day arrives, getting your physical self to the airport can be one of the most stressful parts of flying. For domestic flights, you will want to arrive no less than an hour and a half before your scheduled departure time. And for international flights that goes up to at least two hours. Personally, I would suggest two hours for any flight unless you are leaving before seven am.

So, now that you know when you want to be at the airport, you should determine how long it will take you to get there. Google Maps is a great tool for this. Look up the route ahead of time and there are options to send it to your phone (if you are on a computer) or to save it for later. At the very least, the airport you are headed to will be saved in your history for easy look up later. Preview the whole route to make sure the computer hasn’t decided to take you any weird ways. One time a friend and I got sent to cargo receiving and told to walk. That was no bueno.

Then, once you know about when to leave, set an alarm. That could be on your phone, or on an old fashioned alarm clock if you prefer. It is just easier to know that you don’t have to remember when to leave.

If you aren’t checking a bag, then you will also want to check in to your flight and get your boarding pass ahead of time as well. Save it on your phone or print it out up to 24 hours before take off. That will save you one line at the airport, so you can head straight for security upon arrival.

Navigating Security

This is it. The final hurtle to a successful trip. You’ve already got your bags ready to go, with everything you need easily accessible. But before you stride up confidently to the counter, there are a few do’s and don’ts of the security line.

  • Do bring a snack. Lots of people think food isn’t allowed, but solid food is just fine. Save yourself from overpriced airport food by throwing a PB&J or a granola bar into your bag.
  • Don’t forget to empty your water bottle. Planes are really dehydrating, so having plenty of water is a must. But only empty water bottles can go through security. Pack it empty, drink up, or if you forget, you can just dump the water in the bathroom sink at the airport.
  • Do wear shoes you can take off. If you are between the ages of 12 and 75, chances are you will be asked to remove your shoes. Your best bet is to wear slip ons of some kind. During the winter this can be tricky though, since you probably want your warm boots. If you have to wear lace up shoes of some kind, loosen the laces while you wait in line to make taking them off faster at the counter. Once you’re through the scanner, there will be a bench you can sit on to get your shoes laced back on nice and tight.
  • Don’t forget about watches, earrings, and other small jewelry. These are big culprits for scanner beeps. You probably wear them so much your forget that you have them on, so do a double check in line. Then place them all in your coat pocket (jackets have to go through the scanner anyway) or the front of your purse. That way they don’t accidentally get left behind in bins either.
  • Do empty your pockets. No matter how many times they announce this, someone always forgets. Best plan: don’t put anything into pants pockets until you are at the gate.

These simple tricks will get you in and out of the security line as fast as possible, but if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask the TSA staff. They are there to help.

 

Especially around the holidays, flying can be a stressful time. Hopefully this cleared up a few of the mysteries of air travel, and will help you have a great next trip.

A Whirlwind Tour of Kansai

I was only in Japan for three days. That gave me one day in Osaka and one in Kyoto to see castles and shrines, to cruise the city, and learn about the history. And, of course, to eat. The time flew by.

What struck me the most in Osaka and Kyoto was how beautiful everything was. The historic sites were absolutely breathtaking. And I have no words to describe the gardens. Just that it was clear why everyone wants a Japanese garden in their palace, city, or home.thumb_P1140895_1024 thumb_P1140898_1024

I was also stuck by the simplicity that these beautiful structures contained. How could they be ornate and simple, I do not know, but they were. Some of the beautiful places I visited were Osaka Castle, Nijō Castle, and the famous Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji. Each one was also rich in history. Before Tokyo became the capital of Japan, the shogun ruled as military officials throughout the country. These shogun were appointed by the emperor, who lived in Kyoto.  IMG_20150708_123245thumb_P1140885_1024thumb_thumb_P1140890_1024_1024thumb_P1140948_1024

Kyoto is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. There are many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples that are open to visitors. An unexpected favorite of mine was Ryoan-ji, famous for its rock garden. It was a last minute decision for me to even visit, but I am glad I did. The rock garden was indeed wonderful, and just the break I needed in my day. What amazed me was how reflective it made me feel, like I could really sit there and just think.IMG_20150709_151246

While Kyoto has the lion’s share of history, Osaka was full of interesting experiences among the busy streets and tall buildings. One great experience was the view of the city from the Sky Garden. A tall building with a viewing platform, the Sky Garden was pretty much designed for couples. I decided to go anyway. The view at night was spectacular. I got to see the entire city from above. Seeing the castle lit up among all the modern buildings was a special treat.thumb_P1140808_1024

The Sky Tower

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I got a bit of a taste for Japanese culture as well. For one, I stayed in a Japanese style hotel room. The bare room with mat floors and a roll out bed was quite the departure from what I was used to. However, I found that the simplicity was nice and the bed was comfortable. I also got a complementary robe and slippers to wear during my stay. That was awesome. It was so cool to see everyone walking to use the hall bathrooms all wearing the same robes. It felt like I was at wizard school or something.

My roll-out bed

Slippers and robe!

I also rode the subway. It was a very different experience from subway riding that I was used to. For one, it was more crowded during rush hour. I didn’t even know that many people could fit on the subway. Due in part to the packed trains at rush hour, many lines had cars that were women only. All of the ads inside were for really girly things. But the biggest difference I thought was how quiet the subway was. Even with tons of people, no one spoke. It made riding such a pleasant experience.

And, of course, I ate the food. Seafood is incredibly popular in Japan, so I tried fried octopus on my first day. It was good. It tasted like most other deep fried things, a little fishy, and was kind of chewy. I also had Okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake. There was shrimp in the actual batter, so the whole thing had a slightly fishy taste, but was really good. Both the octopus and the Okonomiyaki were covered in a brown sauce that packed a big punch of umami flavor. (That’s what makes meaty things taste good). It is apparently a hugely popular sauce in Japan, but I found it kind of overwhelming.thumb_P1140702_1024IMG_20150708_184817

For sweets the most popular flavor is matcha, or green tea. I tried a few things, but found that the ice cream was the best. Baked goods also came in a variety of flavors I had never heard of before, like red bean and purple sweet potato. Those were phenomenal, however, and I thoroughly recommend them. Many mornings back in the US, I wish I could pick up a red bean bun.thumb_P1140723_1024

My red bean bun

My red bean bun

Purple sweet potaoe

Purple sweet potato

My three days in Japan were an intense cultural and historical immersion. I am so grateful that I got to go. Lots of things were very different from what I was used to, but that is the fun part. And the beauty of Kansai will be on my mind for quite awhile.thumb_P1140697_1024

Hong Kong Highlights

When I went to visit the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, it would have been easy for me to become overwhelmed. Luckily, some family friends lived locally and offered to guide me around the city. They planned a very special itinerary for me so I could see what Hong Kong had to offer.

One of the most popular things to do is to visit the bay. I got two great views. One was walking along the Kowloon Boardwalk and the Avenue of Stars. We strolled along one evening to watch the sunset. Just after dark, about 8 pm, there was a beautiful light show. Many of the tall buildings lit up different colors with lasers and even projected image displays. The 20-30 min show was timed to music, and lots of fun to watch.P1140366 P1140349 P1140372

Avenue of Stars

Avenue of Stars

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

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But I also got to see the bay from above. After a trip up the Peak Tram I saw the spectacular views of all of Hong Kong, both main areas, the bay, and the surrounding islands. Framed by the lush greenery on Victoria Peak, it was a sight to see. We toured about half of the Circle Walk to take in the views. It was an easy trail, but the hot, humid weather tired us out quickly. But when we got too hot we could go into one of the hilltop shopping malls to cool down.P1140432

Mall on the hill

Mall on the hill

Hong Kong certainly has plenty of shopping. There are malls all over downtown to beckon shoppers in with all sorts of luxury brands. On the streets you can find markets selling just about every good imaginable. Clothes, souvenirs, and small electronics are abundant. But you usually have to haggle over the price. I used the rule a girl from my hostel told me: always start by halving the original offer. Then you have some room to work up.thumb_P1140477_1024
We went to the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market. They were both big and crowded with booths and shoppers. I got some great deals on things to bring home.IMG-20150706-WA0001

Another popular spot in Hong Kong is the beach. We took the bus around the windy roads to the Stanley Beach area. In addition to a crowded beach, there was also a boardwalk with beautiful water views and a small market. It was a nice area to get away for a bit from the hustle of the city.P1140448 P1140458

fishing boats!

fishing boats!

Hong Kong itself has a long and interesting history. I spent one afternoon exploring the history museum and another at the maritime museum. Both had very detailed displays with lots of interactive areas. The history museum in particular was entirely built around the theme of each room, with the different time periods housed in full sized replicas of boats, houses, streets, and jungles. It added flair to the museum. I enjoyed both museums a lot.

History Museum

History Museum

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At the Maritime Museum

At the Maritime Museum

But above all else, the most important thing to do in Hong Kong is to eat. Hong Kong is a foodie capital of the world, so to miss out on the deliciousness would be a shame. Just like everywhere else, the best meal is brunch. In Hong Kong that means dim sum. You get lots and lots of little dishes like dumplings and pork buns and even egg rolls. Everything we had was so tasty. Other meals followed a similar pattern of including many dishes to be shared by the table, and all of them tasting amazing. I didn’t eat a bad meal the entire time.thumb_P1140470_1024
One morning for breakfast we stopped by the Honolulu Coffee House for their breakfast specials. I got eggs, bread, and a bowl of instant noodles with bacon. My eyes are now open to all new, noodle-based breakfast options.P1140398IMG_20150704_091753

After eating, shopping, and sweatily sightseeing my way through the lush metropolis of Hong Kong, I came home with the worldly insight to put bacon in my ramen. Just kidding, I actually learned so much, and cannot wait until the day I get to go back. There are so any things left to see and do in Hong Kong, but I had a wonderful time just scratching the surface.P1140439

Scenes from Seoul

Arriving in Seoul was like flying into a movie version of my life. I had seen a wide variety of places and cultures in Europe, but I’d never been anywhere like Korea before. Just seeing the mountains and the tall high-rise buildings seemed exotic to me. But by the time I left, the beautiful city felt almost familiar.
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A lot of my comfort in the city was thanks to having an amazing host who showed me around. Our neighbors from Texas moved to Seoul a few years ago, and they were gracious enough to let me stay with them while I was there.

During my stay I wanted to use this opportunity to see and learn about Korea’s long history and unique culture. Naturally, I started at some of the city’s museums.

The biggest museum in town is the National Museum. It has over 40 rooms of artifacts from Korean history and walking the entire display area covers 4 km of ground. I honestly didn’t spend that long in the museum. There was too much to do! But I enjoyed the ancient history area, and got to see some amazing paintings and porcelain.

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Another great museum I visited was the National Folk Museum on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. Leading up to the museum was an excellent garden full of statues, recreated old homes, and even a little village that you could walk through. Inside was a fabulous exhibit of woodblock prints that were absolutely gorgeous. And there was a station where you could make your own too!

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The main area was devoted to the rituals of everyday life. I saw wedding costumes and learned about birthday traditions. A very cool learning experience. P1140204 P1140205

Also on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace was the Palace Museum. It held three floors of artifacts from Korea’s royal families and their various palaces around Seoul. There were lots of beautiful things to see from all of the buildings, and it was a nice overview of who had lived where.
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Speaking of the royal palaces, I had the chance to visit several while I was in Seoul. Each had different grounds and some unique architectural features, but the look of all of the palaces was very consistent. By that I mean they were consistently beautiful, colorful, and unlike anything I had ever seen. All of them had magnificently simple throne rooms, but each was built for a different ruler. One was even home to the queen. I think the pictures really describe them better.
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Other than palaces, I also saw some of the hanok houses built for members of the court. These houses still exist in their original style today, and you can see some walking through the hilly neighborhood of Bukchon.
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When I wasn’t in a museum or exploring a historic site, I was shopping. Seoul was full of great malls and markets with a place for just about everyone to shop their heart out. I was obsessed with the gorgeous Korean clothes, so I poked around trendy Myeong-dong. I also stopped at two of the 26 malls near Dongdaemun Market. But I could have shopped a lot more, had my suitcase not been so full.P1140327

My time in Korea was truly amazing. I learned so much about a new culture, and got my first taste of a totally unfamiliar place. Plus I just had lots of fun sightseeing, shopping, and eating. Thank you Seoul for a swell time!P1130882

A Little Time in London

It’s hard not to love London. There is something for just about everyone, from hipsters to history buffs. I stopped over in London for four days on my way to Asia. And those were some action-packed four days. From seeing London’s most famous sites, to visiting a few hidden gems, I was busy having a great time day and night.

On my first evening I met up with a friend at Hyde Park. They are hosting a big summer festival, and on weekdays you can eat from food stands and watch free movies. We hung out there awhile before walking down to Trafalgar Square, past Buckingham Palace. It was my first little overview of London, and a particularly beautiful walk in the evening.P1130337 P1130348

Over the next few days I set out to see some of London’s biggest tourist attractions. There are a million ways to see London, but one of the best is to just walk around. I saw the west side on a walking tour that I highly recommend. To see the official City of London I set out on foot myself. Either way, walking let me go where I wanted in a very walkable city.

I had a great time on another Sandeman’s walking tour through the West End and Westminster. It was basically a London highlights reel. The tour started in Covent Garden and we walked all the way to the Houses of Parliament. Along the way I got to learn about the history of sites like Trafalgar Square, St. James’ Palace, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. I always enjoy hearing the stories and learning some interesting facts about a place.

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My tour guide was super funny

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P1130461Since the City of London is only one square mile, I made exploring it my next day. I started with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Nearby I found the lovely, not crowded, All Hallows by the Tower Church. The oldest church in the City of London, it is filed with maritime memorabilia, and completely charming.P1130527P1130524

Then I walked along past the beautiful covered building of Leadenhall Market to the Monument. Built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, you can now climb the freestanding monument for an excellent panorama view of the area. And at the bottom you are given a certificate!P1130545 P1130549 P1130556P1130565

The last big landmark I saw in the City of London was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a beautiful day outside, so everyone was sitting in the gardens enjoying lunch. From there I crossed the Thames on the Millennium Bridge. I visited the Tate Modern and walked along the artsy South Bank. Popular for tourists and locals, the South Bank offers fun art galleries, shops, and spectacular views of London across the river. Just taking a short stroll down was a total treat.P1130570 P1130577P1130609

That evening I got to enjoy another London treat. I managed to score tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Drury Theater in the West End. Since it was a weeknight, I simply showed up at the box office about 90 minutes before show time and asked if there were any tickets. Luck was on my side, and I even got them to give me a deal. The show, based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, was a delight. It stayed mostly true to the original story, with a few modern adaptations. What I loved was seeing how the factory was brought to life on stage. The design and mechanics were whimsical and brilliant. It was a great night out in an acclaimed theater district. P1130480

I also spent an evening at the British Museum, but I could have been there for at least an entire day. Their collections are well-known for covering many time periods and cultures. The museum was fascinating, even in my whirlwind tour. My favorite thing I did there was to take one of their 20 minute spotlight tours on the Enlightenment. The tour wasn’t too long, and it helped me to learn some more about the museum and a few key pieces. They offer lots of free tours throughout the day and on Friday evenings. I highly suggest you try one next time you find yourself at the British Museum.P1130714 P1130656

I took a little detour from downtown one afternoon to Greenwich Village to visit the Fan Museum. I read about it online and knew that I had to go check it out. The Fan Museum is in an old townhouse. There are two floors of decorative fans, including their history and a special rotating collection. While I was there they were displaying fans from Paris’ Belle Epoch. They were the most beautiful fans I had ever seen.P1130641P1130631 P1130630 P1130625

Other than gorgeous and interesting fans, the museum also had a tearoom in the Orangery in the back. The room itself had been painted by a theatrical painter, and was just lovey. It was also one of the best afternoon tea deals in London. For just seven pounds I was treated to a pot of tea and a whole tower of fresh baked scones and victoria sponge cake. If you, like me, can’t leave London without stopping for afternoon tea, this is definitely the place to go. The staff was super friendly as well.P1130621

I was staying near Camden, so decided to go to the busy and wonderful Camden Lock Market on Saturday as well. Just walking down Camden High Street there were stalls and shops before the market even began. Then you enter the labyrinth of the actual lock market. It’s named after the river locks and the bridge that it’s next to. Every kind of craft, book, vintage item, clothing, etc. was being sold there. As I walked around, I kept thinking that I had reached an end, but there was always more. The shopping was amazing, but the food was better.P1130738

P1130720 P1130722P1130772 P1130769P1130728Sprinkled throughout the huge market were food stalls. But in the center was a food court area. There you could push your way through the crowd and eat cuisine from around the world. If you happened to be there around 10:30, then you can also eat your way through the vendors’ samples as they prepare for the lunch rush. Everything was delicious. I had Spanish paella, but my options were endless. So if you don’t want to go up to Camden to shop, go there just to eat.P1130734 P1130770 P1130774

There is so much to do in London that I could have stayed for another four days easily. But all good things must come to an end. I had a great time sampling some of London’s famous neighborhoods and seeing the sites. I can see why it is practically impossible to grow tired of London. I hope I can go back some day.P1130649

The Sweet Sounds of Salzburg

There is a lot to see in Salzburg. It’s where Mozart was born. It was ruled independently for over 300 years. Salt made the region fabulously wealthy. There are spectacular views of nature. But mostly, the Sound of Music was filmed there.

I went to Salzburg for the weekend with my parents. Like typical Americans, we took the Sound of Music tour. But we did have some time to explore the rest of what Salzburg has to offer.

One of my favorite parts of historic downtown Salzburg was Getreidegasse. It is a narrow street full of shops. Each shop has a decorative iron sign. The street is crowded with them. It is so quaint.
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While we walked around, we found a music festival in front of the cathedral. We weren’t surprised, since Salzburg is one of the music capitals of the world.
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We also took an afternoon to explore the Hohensalzburg fortress. Situated high in a hill, you have to hike or take a funicular to the top. We rode. The view was very nice. Inside, you can see the rooms where the ruling prince bishops lived. The center building houses the richly decorated Golden Hall and Golden Room. All of the wood paneling was very Gothic. The fortress remains intact today, because it was never conquered by enemy troops. thumb_P1110949_1024 thumb_P1120171_1024thumb_P1120139_1024There are many homes for the prince bishops in Salzburg. Built in 1615 by prince bishop Markus Sittikus, Hellbrunn palace was a summer palace situated just outside of the city. It is also called the Lustschloss because of its special features: the trick fountains. All through the garden are fabulous fountains that move and squirt visitors with water. We took the guided tour through the garden on a rainy day, so we were always surprised. We were okay getting wet though, because we were already dressed for rain. The fountains were hilarious and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Maybe my parents and I can build a trick fountain for our yard. It was certainly fun at the prince bishop’s parties.
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So, Salzburg had lots of fun and charming things to offer that weren’t from the Sound of Music. But the Sound of Music tour was amazing. We chose to use Bob’s Tours because they limit each van to 8 people, instead of having a giant bus. We were very happy with our choice. Our guide, Christoph, who my mother insisted on calling Bob, told us about the real Von Trapp family, the filming of the movie, and some facts about the area. We got to visit lots of sites from the film as well. One of them was Monsee Cathedral, which was used for the interior shots of the wedding. It is out away from Salzburg, but we got to enjoy a very pleasant drive through the countryside to get out there. We drove through the beautiful Lake District. That was my father’s favorite part of the tour. And the whole time we listened to the soundtrack and sang along!

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I think even if we hadn’t been drawn in by Julie Andrews and Rogers and Hammerstein, Salzburg would have still been a must see destination in Austria. It was so quaint and the area was so beautiful. I’m glad I got to see Salzburg, and dragged my parents along with me.