We had something VERY exciting planned today ... so after getting up and dressed, fighting with the ridiculous toaster that Americans seem to have everywhere, we were on our way to the Trapp Family Lodge. What is this lodge you speak of we hear you all cry. Well, back when the Von Trapps (of the Sound of Music fame) left Austria, they travelled across America and decided Vermont reminded them of home so they decided to settle in the town of Stowe. Both being HUGE Sound of Music fans - we knew it was going to be good. We had arranged to go on a History Tour which started at 11, being very excited we got there at 9.30 - so had a wander around the grounds. The estate is a huge 2400 acres - of which we didn't get chance to see all of it, but got a feeling of what a lovely place it was and in such a stunning setting. Stowe is a huge destination for skiers - Trapp Lodge being no different - but as we were about 4 months early - we had to settle for seeing hikers and mountain bikers . On site there's a huge lodge for short breaks, holiday homes and privately owned homes, which later became apparent had been sold to re-fund the re-build of the lodge after it burnt down in the 80's. They also have a gym, spa, 3 pools and climbing wall, but even with all of these facilities it still seemed very homely and local - not commercialised at all. In addition to the athletic attractions - they make their own lager and maple syrup on-site. This is when we knew we were on to a winner.
The tour guide was really good - called Chris Poacher (call me Poachy) a bit mental but very knowledgeable. His aim was for us to know the true story about the Von Trapp family and their legacy... and point out the main differences between the movie and real life story.
We all know the movie story but in actual fact we have a few insider titbits;
Captain von Trapp was married to English woman who died leaving him with the 7 children;
Agathe aka Liesl, Rupert aka Friedrich, Maria aka Louisa, Meanwhile Maria was happily going on with her life, she was so overwhelmed with the natural beauty of the mountains one day she decided to dedicate her life to God - so off to the convent she went, where she caused mayhem and was a complete tomboy. When the Captain decided he needed a tutor for Agathe he asked Mother Superior, who quickly sent Maria. So that part was quite accurate in the film. So was the part about her making clothes from curtains and their singing. In reality they had been singing as a family for a long time prior to Maria's arrival, but she introduced new songs that they could sing together. The Captain and Maria got engaged when Maria was due to go back to the convent at the end of her first year, the children really wanted her to stay so told their father that she liked him and that he had to marry her to make her stay. After the conversation with the children he simply asked if they were engaged and that was that! One part of the movie that the family were not happy with was the portrayal of their father. Captain von Trapp was in actual fact a very kind and compassionate man. He did use a whistle and the children did know what the various military noises meant, but it was more a practical thing for when they would be out hiking and sailing as they were a very active family. Time came for them to leave Austria when the Captain refused for the family to sing at Hitler's birthday and also to fly the flag over his house. It was getting dangerous for them so he asked all the family if they wanted to leave - when all agreed they headed off, not walking over the hills as in the film but on the local train ending in Italy. There they contacted old concert promoters they had met in the past, when one of whom sent over tickets and arranged a tour, they knew they were going to be ok. They arrived in New York with $4 in their pockets ready to begin their new life . In the time of Maria and the Captain getting married and them living in America they had 3 more children; Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes - so they were up to an even 10 children.
As part of the tour we then visited the graves of the Captain and Maria and were allowed to take photos. This was then followed by a documentary film starring the real Maria who had travelled back to Austria when she was 80 and visited areas of her past. She also spoke candidly about her feelings about the film, the fact they made very little money from the movie or stage productions and her family unit as a whole. It was actually really lovely to see the real Maria, as by watching the film you feel like you know her - quite emotional really. After this Annabelle was hugely excited to meet one of the family members. Sam is the son of Johannes - the youngest of the 10 siblings. His Grandmother being Maria and Grandfather being Captain Von Trapp. He was such a nice, interesting man only about 35, but is learning the business to take over from his father. He told us his role was to bring in new ideas and to make the story more accessible to the next generation. At the end of the chat he offered to have pictures - so we both jumped in. Annabelle was a bit star struck so the only thing she could think of to say was, 'my niece is only 3 and she knows all of the songs in the movie.' What a goon!! ! He then signed the book we bought - and then it was on to stage 2 of our day.
As we mentioned earlier they make Maple Syrup onsite -so we set off to find Poachy and see if we could wangle a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the process. He told us to come back at 2pm - so what better way to pass time that to eat. Fantastic sauerkraut and Austrian meat sandwiches washed down with a lovely locally produced apple juice drink - yum!
We ended up taking the tour with just the two of us and learnt the following interesting facts:
The sugaring process there is done completely by hand across a 6 week period from March to April each year.
The trees photosynthesise during the summer (year prior to tapping) and store all the energy in the roots during the winter. When the temperature starts to warm up again the tree sucks back up the energy from the root and this is the best time to tap.
They tap by hand and leave a bucket under the taps, across the 6 weeks the thickness of the Syrup changes as the bacteria (linked in with the heat) changes - this accounts for the different grades of Maple Syrup . Poachy explained that maple syrup is like a wine - everyone has their favourite, the most refined being Fancy Maple Syrup.
The syrup goes down to the sugaring house in pipes underground.
They then boil it using wood in a purpose built tank where it is only filtered when it contains 67% sugar.
They then bottle on site and sell during the year.
It was a really interesting tour - and now we have a much better understanding of the process, we don't mind paying the huge price tag when shopping in Sainsbury's.
We then took a walk up to the Chapel that was built by Werner. It's said that that when he was a soldier in the war, he got in a sticky situation - so he bargained with God that if he were to survive he would build a chapel in his honour. So on his return he set about building a chapel in the woods - he dragged every stone up the hill (and boy was it a steep hill) finally finishing 7 years after he started.