Austria 2001


Wein
Sitting at the Arabia Cafe drinking tiny espressos with cream in a narrow street off Graben. The apartments here all stretch up four or five stories past shop level with wide windows. It seems like dream real estate. For me, it looks like Edinburgh, for Cory, Quebec City. Yesterday was a blur, a longish relaxed breakfast and then a tour of the city. By the end of the day, both Cory and I were lagging behind Don and Pat, casting longing looks at tantalizing alleys that stretched away from us. A bit disorienting to whiz around a foreign city, stopping for sushi lunches and American dinners, what juxtaposition of cultures are we emeshed in?

After dinner exhaustion set in, but knowing we had to stay awake to adjust from jetlag we pulled ourselves out of lethargy and took the U1 line to the Danube where we found tons of bars but all with sleezy feel. Walking on the Danube at night, how typically romantic, except we were in a place described by Cory as Coney lsland.

We reboarded the subway and travelled down to Stephensplatz which was far more alive and vigorous. Walking around Graben Street there were several outdoor cafes of the glass fence variety, chairs packed so tightly together. We walked on sidestreets, passing one bar called “American Bar” which was inviting by it’s entrance but too repelling by it’s name – American bars being best visited in America. Further down was Cafe Leopold, perfectly authentic to our eyes, where in a dark wood, golden wallpapered room our suited waiter brought us two beer from Graz, light and germanic, with small 200mL glasses. The place filled up quickly with other tourists and locals with no one rushing our conversations. I sat facing in, but Cory’s eyes roved constantly and in the (supposed) anonimity of english we discussed dinner and plans. To feel like we’d found a real coffee house… that fabled Wien insitution….

Back at Don and Pat’s, C fell asleep clutching a pillow, still dressed, on top of one of the beds. After reading guidebooks and tucking him in, I fell asleep too…

Sunday:
The next morning we ventured out at 11am and travelled to the Museum quarter only to exit into the middle of a marathon. The top runners were just passing by to large clapping crowds, each runner escorted by cyclists who passed them water. We walked, dodging bus tours to the Fine Art museum which we decided not to see although we did snap pictures of the grand statue of Maria Therese in the square. I’d wanted to see the old musical insturment collection at the Hofsburg, but the price had gone up and at 100Sch it just didn’t seem worthwhile. I also had my heart set on the Jewish museum so we went there but it was acutally a bit of a disappointment, the temporary exhibit was an entertainer we’d never heard of and there was a huge emphasis on the destruction of the synagogues in 1938. Important history – but what of the Jewish culture in Wein? Where could I learn about that?

On leaving the Jewish museum we looked across the street and found that we were at the American Bar from last night. Somehow the two parts of the city had collided and Wein seemed far smaller. Just next to the bar was a jewellery shop that had a display in the window “Original Schmuck 1900-1940”. Another mystery behind a common term explained. Further up the road again was the cafe Leopold, except in broad daylight it was the cafe Leopold Hawelka which was actually written up in the Lonely Planet guidebooks. Explains all the tourists anyways, but disappointing that our secret find wasn’t so special after all.

We have lunch, sandwiches, from a bakery kiosk and then hunt for coffee. Most places are restaurants including one called Esterhazy which is a town in Saskatchewan. It looks cool and we’re contemplating taking Don and Pat there for a thank you. I want coffee not beer though and we end up at the cafe Arabia for espresso. My nose was running badly from allergies so I tried to ask the waiter for a napkin using a German phrase book. It didn’t go too well, my first attempt to communicate a moderate failure, however I did get the serviette in the end. In the afternoon we toured the summer palace and encountered the first of a common frustration of the trip. We’re both far more interested in how common people lived rather than Emperors – where did the servants live at Schonnenbrun? That would be a far more relevant comparison to our lives today.

The next morning we set off to see Hungary for a week (see Hungary journal) to return exhausted from travelling. Don and Pat then took us to Bratislava for the day, another fascinating trip, with stops at the roadsides for strawberries. I revelled in the fruit after Hungary’s fried meals..

Back in Wein, we headed to the opera, Linda d’Chamonix by Donizetti, a silly story perhaps but since we couldn’t follow it anyways, a visual and acoustical feast. Plush red seats and curtains, private boxes, glittering people, exactly how one expects an opera to be except within this glittering spectacle were the blue jeans and running shoes of the standing room crowd. Its a sign of how much the Viennese value their opera that they have taken the effort to make it accessible for the public. Our standing room tickets were 50 Schillings and for that, if you arrive early enough, you can get a spot at the railing, dead center, just passed the floor seating area. After intermission, many people leave too, less claustrophobic for those who remain. What captivated me was not the actual singers, but the orchestra, some of the woodwind themes running behind the singing were fabulous.

Monthausen Concentration Camp

I can’t write about this in the way that I’ve written the rest of my journal; how can I write about something that I cannot really comprehend?

The hills around the camp are green and fertile and in such a setting, things look innocent, not eveil or foreboding. We stood in a barracks that housed 500 prisoners. It could have been a summer camp hall… and then I began to see the pictures on the wall – disbelief. A place so peaceful had once been the site of so much misery, disbelief. the photos of vistims, like walking skeletons, sunken in to reveal a bony pelvis without any signs of internal organs. Horror. Horror and disbelief, then nausea.

There were gas chambers and crematoriums in Monthausen. I stood in a room where thousands were gassed, another room where bodies were burned. Yet humans have killed humans before and will do so again. Incomprehensible though is humans watching other humans starve. Torture and neglect, how could anyone accept what they reduced other humans to as acceptable? There are 200 steps from a quarry to the bottom of a gradual hill that then leads up to the camp. On each stair, an exhausted, starved, human, would have taken one more step to the top. It was a system designed to kill, not to profit.

Cory and I spent the rest of the day in practical silence.

Salzburg

The birthplace of Mozart, home of the infamous Sound of Music. At less than 200,000 people, this seems to be the size of town that Cory and I travel best in. Unsure of where to stay, the tourist office gives us a list of B&Bs but said that they do not make bookings. Swamped with too much information, we decided to try the hostel at St. Sebastiens church which had double rooms.

Walking from a train station to the town centre always takes longer that when leaving. The hostel itself was full but sent us to a cheap pension, Junger Fuchs, across the street which I suspect was a blessing. We looked at two rooms and chose the larger of the two for 500 Sch as it was away from the street and promised to be quieter. The builiding must have been extremely old, all around it buildings had dates of 1330-1360 and I suspect ours was from the same era. We were on the fourth floor, out the back of the building, indeed, one had to step outside to reach our room. The patio reached right back to the cliff walls of the hill that rises up behind the street, the Cappuchin Monastery sits on the hill top, and from the stone work visible it all looked very old. Inside, our room had been recently renovated and was bright and cheery. The same could not be said of the stairwells in the building though, narrow and dark stone steps led up to each floor with extremely low ceilings and narrow spaces. Indeed the building did feel medieval, rounded arches in many places including the shower ceiling. We think it was the oldest place either of us have ever spent the night. Two pleasant nights…

Salzburg is an old town, the poverty in the 1800’s helped preserve many of it’s old buildings. The dominant force in the city is the fortress, perched high above the old town and a monstrous complex. Once again, the familiar refrain of “too many locked doors” applied. Somewhere someone should open up it’s castle depths and kitchens, sculleries and workshops. Most of our time in Salzburg was spent in browsing the stores; one filled with painted hollow eggs on strings designed as ornaments. Gorgeous colours and paintings, sparkles and raised figures. The store would belong perfectly in a small Ontario craft town such as St. Jacobs. Another discovery was the bakery on our street which served the most wonderful croissants in an arched room. These older buildings, they are wonderful! What is in the guts of them? Their fronts look so new with stucco, just windows and door frames giving them away. ..

Kitzbuhel

I was thinking how beautiful it was and so close to Northern Italy when my mind begain to wander though the cultural differences between Northern and Southern Italy. When my mind wanders, it dances, and I ended up at the realization that I am and will always be a cold weather person. The Greek Islands, the Carribbean. with their turquoise waters, look so inviting, enchanting. But with that comes the baking heat of the sun, narrow stone lanes whose walls radiate at you from all sides and bleach you too exhaustion from the inside while you brown at the surface. And C tries to tell me he’s turned me into a cold weather girl – we would never have worked this long if I wasn’t. We headed into the mountains with this in mind, only to find more heat than the rest of our trip.

So hot, we sweated our way to the tourist info in the center of town and made inquires about B&Bs for two nights. After false starts and endless waiting, a smidge of bickering, we found ourselves in a beautiful room at the house “Mulbergerhof”. Our room is actually a suite with a private bath and with that boosting our spirits we spent the first afternoon falling in love with Kitzbuhel. Walking around town, we ended up swimming at the Aquarena, a large two pool, indoor complex with a waterfall and waterslides. It was a perfect balm for our moods to play like children – and then we found a wonderful Tex Mex restaurant for dinner after wandering in a horrible bar called the Londoner…

Early in the morning we took the lift up the Hahnenkammbahn, the gondola spitting us out at 1750 m on the top of an extremely steep slope. Walking along the ridge tops, we spent four cheerful hours taking pictures and doing sound of music impressions in fields of yellow alpine flowers all the while burning ourselves to a deep crisp. That night, feeling sorry for ourselves, we lay in bed unsleeping…

The next morning the rain poured down relentless which made our plans to rent bikes and cycle less attractive. I was pleased as my skin’s state left me not in the mood for physical exertion. Down to breakfast; buns, jam, pate, cheese, sliced meats and fresh coffee. Lighter than an Irish fry up and still filling… we would do well to copy this example at home. As we ate the rain cleared up enough to venture up the mountain on the other side of the town, the Kitzbuhlerhorn gondola. Walking at the top I saw an inviting path leading off the main gravelled road. For once it was me pulling C somewhere, instead of him pulling me through back alleys and castle tunnels. We crossed a stile and found a beautiful trail wending around the mountain – singletrack on a steep slope. We walked around a couple corners to meet up with an Australian couple who had taken a gondola up from St. Johamm in Tirol. Tempted to go further, we could see the rain coming in heavy across the valley and after being sunburnt the day before, we were trying to make some intelligent choices.

Turning back we reached the road just as it began to rain and by the time we reached the cable car station at the top, the clouds had spilled up from the valley, enveloping everything in a dense white fog. The station itself was open to the air and the fog rolled in around anxious summer tourists, most dressed inappropriately for mountains. Watching the fog rush through the valley and up past us was truely spectacular, so dense and so hedged in my the topography. I could digress easily into a mathematical fluids ramble but C will edit these pages and and remove such nonesense (for work has no place on holiday…). Almost as quickly as the fog blew in, it sailed past us and while most tourists headed down, we ventured up top for a cold windy view of the area. A chilled difference to the day before.

The weather holds for the next day, rain again makes biking seem undesirable so we take the train to Innsbruck for the day. Upon arrival, Innsbruck is big and dirty, and the train station holds the worst public toilet I’ve ever encountered. After my bathroom initiation, the city failed to captivate. Kitzbuhel is how Whistler is supposed to look, quaint and welcoming. Innsbruck is busy and overblown, lots of expensive stores with no appeal. The highlight of the day was an Irish pub that served me a Black Bush (Irish Whiskey) and was so,so,so,so good. We talked to people there as well (which is rare for this trip) and met a man from Calgary here working on the airport. That’s been the biggest thing missing from this trip, human conversation apart from each other, and a powerful arguement for vacations in English (or maybe French) speaking countries.

To celebrate our last night alone on vacation we had a candlelit dinner at the top of the Hahnenkammbahn stopping off at two old churches on the way. The crypt was visible through one window and we marvelled at the most beautiful arched roof. The beauty and craftsmanship that went into a basement… The view from the restaurant was one of fresh snow sprinkled on the peaks we’d been so sunburnt at earlier. My last dinner alone with Cory for 13 days… as he travels through England while I go home. I had a sad moment in Innsbruck when C bought a guidebook to England and I realized that my trip really is winding down while a whole new phase of his is beginning.

Salzburg and Wein

After all the lazy sleepiness we’ve had so far, I’m amazed that we found it so easy to get up at 5:30 and catch the early train to Salzburg. Actually there were two early trains, we missed the first one (which was the fast train) and had to settle for the milk run which didn’t get us to Salzburg until 9:50. The main reason for our stopover was to see the catacombs; crypts and chapels carved out of the cliffs themselves. In the upper room is a plaque from 1500 describing the matyrdom of a saint in 477 claiming that he and other Christians had been thrown to their death from this cave. More modern studies have disputed this though and suggested that while this is a site of early Christian worship dating back to Roman settlements, it was not the site of that specific martyr’s death.

While a small exhibit, the caves do exude a certain peace and tranquility that I felt at the early chapel on Inishere (Ireland, 1998). Centuries of pure and simple faith before the church became a site of corruption and power – or am I oversimplifying? They do also tell of monks from St. Peters (monastery dating from 803) retreating to these caves as hermits. Indeed, twice in Salzburg, once on the path to the Cappuchin Monastery and once here at St. Peters we’ve passed the same monk. Old and stooped, he walks with a limp and a heavy pack. He is dressed in brown monastic robes that transcend time and his passing jolts me into the realization of how old the Catholic community is here.

Arriving back in Wein at early evening, we went out for dinner with Don and Pat to a crepiere in the inner circle which had the most lovely asparagus cream soup. The next morning, our last in the country, we went to a coffee shop in the city and soaked up it’s grandmotherish elegance. I could spend endless time writing in coffee shops, drinking strong, perfect coffee and lingering in an old ambience so different from home.