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Posts Tagged ‘Austria’

Vienna memories

hofsburg-palace-vienna

Vienna was dark. And cold.

It couldn’t have been dark the whole time I was there, though I don’t remember ever seeing the sun. It was late October, when the light changes suddenly from golden to gray, and there is – also suddenly – much less of it. The only golden color came from the trees in the grounds of the Schonnbrun Palace, and from the lighted shop windows, flaring out like candles against the covering darkness.

schonbrunn-palace-park-trees

I was tired after a long solo trip from Oxford to Salzburg, where I met up with four American undergrads whom I knew only slightly. They were sweet, but their puppy-like enthusiasm soon wore on me, the quiet graduate student with a preference for low-key travel. We all shared a hostel room strewn with backpacks yawning open, clothes hanging loosely off bunk beds, late-night fits of giggles over inside jokes I didn’t quite get.

I wandered the Mirabellgarten with them, even posing for a group photo on the Do-Re-Mi steps, and I took them to the shop I knew that sold beautiful, hand-painted eggs made into Christmas ornaments. But I begged off the Sound of Music tour (I’d done it before, anyway) to sit in a cafe named after Mozart and scribble in my journal while I sipped hot chocolate. By the time we hopped a train to Vienna the next day, I was longing for some extended solitude.

We stuck together that first night and day, settling into our two-room flat, wandering around the Hofburg Palace and getting up early to tour the Schonnbrun. After lunch, we split up, agreeing to reconvene later. The others headed off – I knew not where – and I took several deep breaths, then headed off to enjoy my afternoon alone.

I wandered around the Butterfly House, then entered a spacious cafe lined with dark leather booths and filled with cigarette smoke. Patrons – mostly middle-aged men – lingered, reading folded newspapers at marble-topped tables while sipping small cups of strong coffee. I ordered a hot chocolate, stumbling over the unfamiliar German syllables, and sat there writing in my journal, sipping my drink, as long as I dared.

Later, after wandering through tangled streets, I slipped into a dark church, flickering with candlelight and echoing with the sounds of a Vespers service, just beginning. I slipped a euro coin into a collection box and lit a small tea light, breathing a prayer for my mother, who had had surgery that week, back in the States.

church candlelight vienna

When I left the church, the streets were already dark, shop windows throwing squares of light onto the pavement. Craving warmth, I ended up at another cafe, piling my shopping bags on the leather seat next to me, sipping tea and savoring both a chocolate-covered strawberry and my solitude.

Vienna is hazier than many of the cities I visited during that year in Oxford. The images are smudged around the edges, fogged by the rain that threatened and occasionally poured down from above. I don’t remember much, if any, of the history or the new German words I learned, and I don’t have clear images of entertaining incidents, or a mental map of the city in my head.

But I learned a thing or two from that grey, chilly weekend: namely, that solitude and peace can be found in the least likely places, but sometimes you have to pursue it, to ask for it. I remembered that I don’t always have to tag along with the crowd, that it’s perfectly all right to break away and do my own thing for a while, even if it means they’ll think I’m weird. (I was pretty sure this group of students already did.)

That weekend, I rediscovered the quiet joy of walking a city by myself, answerable to no one and nothing but the rhythm of my own feet pounding on unfamiliar sidewalks. And I learned one thing that did not surprise me at all: Austrian hot chocolate (Tasse Schokolade) is delicious.

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Off again

The ACU students are off to Italy, to Austria, to Turkey. My laundry is off the drying rack in Grace’s room. Jo is off to Cardiff to see her family for a few days. My classes are off until 6 November (I have to give a presentation on the night we reconvene, but we’re not thinking about that yet). And tomorrow noonish, I’m off to Austria.

I’ve been a bit freaked out about leaving as I have three major things due in the next two weeks, but if I can’t take a holiday during mid-term break, then when can I take one? And when Brittany, Kamerie, Ashlynn and Brent said they were going to Salzburg and Vienna, well, I couldn’t resist.

My reason for loving Salzburg is the same as many people’s – the beloved movie in which the hills are alive, which has been my favourite since I was nine years old. The girls watched it the other day to prep themselves for the trip, and I caught the last hour. It’s such a wonderful love story, family story, courage-and-hope story, and a God-story. And, of course, the music is fabulous.

I took a trip to Salzburg in April 2004; my roommate Joy and I just drank in the quiet mountain peace for four days, and (of course) I took the Sound of Music tour…saw the gazebo and the palaces and the church and the gardens. I probably won’t do that this time, but am planning to walk through the gardens again, and gaze at the Alps, and stroll the narrow strassen, and eat Apfelstrudel. I’ll do some reading work on the plane, then forget all about school for a few days.

And, as always when I travel, there’s the delicious anticipation of coming home. I love the feeling of stepping off the bus at Gloucester Green and breathing in the air of Oxford again. Home never feels more like home than when you’ve left it for a while. And then, of course, there will be hugs and stories at Canterbury Road. My basement boys have scattered to wild and various places this week – I can’t wait to hear their tales of adventure. And share a few of my own.

I hope, also, to have better luck uploading Austria pictures than I’ve had with Ireland pictures. So perhaps you shall see some photographic evidence of my trip soon. Until then, so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…

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