‘EPL,’ our Balinese waiter whispered to us with a wink. He nodded in the direction of a woman in her mid 30s sitting at a table by herself with a cocktail reading a book. Our waiter was referring to Eat, Pray, Love, the mega-best-selling book and subsequent film starring Julia Roberts. The book had already fuelled a boom in Eat, Pray, Love tourism in Ubud, Bali, but the film had sent it skyrocketing. There is even a big bunch of tour operators and travel companies that offer up ‘the EPL experience’, which has given rise to a new customer for Balinese tour operators: spiritual seekers. Or, just hoping to meet and fall in love with a handsome and charming foreigner.
Since the film came out not only are fan’s of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book looking for spiritual enlightenment, they are also looking for the villa that Julia Robert’s stayed in. And where she rode that bike. And the beach that Julia and Javier Bardem had that romantic tet-a-tet. And one ‘star’ from the book and film is making himself an absolute fortune from it all. Ketut Liyer is the elderly local balian (shaman) and ‘mystical, priestly figure’ that Elizabeth Gilbert learnt meditation from and became friends with. After the movie’s release, Time said, ‘His bamboo mat is an almost necessary stop on Bali’s increasingly popular spiritual tourist circuit.’ His bank account is certainly no longer empty. Ketut charges almost the average weekly wage in Bali, US$25, to read your palm. My American wife, who was in her early thirties and travelling solo when I met in her in Ubud (sound familiar?), also went to see Ketut on her first visit to Ubud.
Mind you, I can’t knock these movie scene tourists when I have visited places simply because of a film. I have to confess, and I’m putting my credibility on the line here, I’m a big Sound of Music fan. And no, I don’t watch Doris Day or gladiator movies. I love all the cheesy songs and Julie Andrews was oh-so cute. So, on my first trip around Europe as a backpacker I had to go to Salzburg and I had to go on the Sound of Music bus tour. The four-hour bus tour was with Panorama Tours, which incidentally started as Kleinbusse am Mirabellplatz and had provided six Volkswagen vans for Sound of Music director Bob Wise to transport his 250 stars and staff around for three months during the shooting of the film. The company then morphed into Panorama Tours, which runs two four-hour Sound of Music tours a day, every day, all year.
Before I’d even jumped on the tour I had spent a day visiting Mirabell Gardens (where most of the Do-Re-Mi song was filmed), St Peter’s Cemetary (where Rolf blew the whistle on the Von Trapps), Nonnberg convent (How do you solve a problem like Maria?) and even danced and sang my way – along with a bunch of other backpackers – across the Mozart footbridge over the Salzach river just like the Von Trapp kids (okay, we may have all been very drunk after visiting the Augustiner Braustubl).
On the tour the next day we went to Leopoldskron Palace (where the lake scenes were shot), the gazebo, which was used for ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ (it has since moved from Leopoldskron Palace because it attracted too many tourists for the business convention center housed there), the tree-lined avenue leading to the castle where the von Trapp children dangled from branches and to Mondsee in the Salzkammergut (lakes district) which was home to the village church where Maria’s marriage ceremony was filmed.
When I became a tour leader in Europe my walking tour of Salzburg was pretty much a Sound of Music Tour (with the odd word thrown in about their most famous resident, Mozart).
Okay, I may have been a little obsessed.
I was also obsessed with the movie Roman Holiday starring the delightful Audrey Hepburn. On one trip to Rome I even stayed in a dodgy hotel (which is now a very upmarket hotel called the Hotel Art) at Via Margutta 57 – three doors up from Via Margutta 51, which was where Joe Bradley’s (Gregory Peck) apartment was (he even mentions the address to a taxi driver in the film). I managed to sneak through the entrance and into the courtyard where you can still see the staircase that they argued on. I was very excited.
Mind you, I’m not the only obsessed movie location fan in my family. My brother (who had not even travelled outside of Australia before) went to New Zealand last year for the sole purpose of going to the Hobbit village and to track down scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies.
Have you visited any movie location sites?