Looking back over 2019 so far, there’s plenty to fill a blog post. In this report, I’ll stick mostly to travel, since seven months of the year is far too long to do justice to more generally. Besides, the happenings between travels — juggling part-time jobs and university studies, the prospect of moving for the fourth time (depending how you count) in three years, deepening friendships and also adjusting to the hole left by close friends moving away, and all the other joys and humdrum and challenges of daily life — don’t always lend themselves to exciting blog posts.
Stateside for Christmas
It seems like a long time ago by now, but 2019 started out in Pennsylvania. Or, in a less self-referential universe, I suppose it started somewhere over the Pacific and raced around the world to those of us propping our eyelids open at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Spending the Christmas holidays with Hannah and Peter was filled with time to relax, reenact traditions, and interact with new and old friends. We spent a good bit of time with Peter’s side of the family, and they included me very warmly in the festivities. I got to be “Aunt Eva” to the their two nephews, which was quite a delight, and also felt like I got to know the whole family a bit better. It was also great to get to put names and faces together of friends Hannah had mentioned but whom I hadn’t met yet. Another highlight was visiting their church, Wheatland Presbyterian — well-thought-through liturgy, good singing, friendly people, etc.
There were lots of Christmas and New Year’s festivities to be enjoyed, including decorating the Christmas tree together and enjoying the array of requisite Tschetter-Holder Christmas baked goods and traditional Holder Christmas breakfast. Hannah also cooked some of the best (and hottest) Indian curry I’ve tasted, and Peter was easily persuaded to conjure up a massive New Year’s feast of pork and sauerkraut.
We also took some fun outings — a frigid walk over the Susquehanna River followed by nosing around antique shops, plus visits to a gigantic train museum and a surprisingly extensive small-town clock museum.
Although I didn’t make it down to Tennessee over the holidays, my friend Jessica flew up for a few days, leaving the toddler at home with her husband. We spent lots of time talking, visiting the fun Dogstar Books, and playing games. Plus ringing in the new year together with the Weston crew.
Besides visits and holiday festivities, there was also time to properly relax. One of my favorite parts of the trip was being more or less unplugged from computer and phone and work back in Vienna. I’m not sure how many hours I spent reading or napping on the Weston’s comfy couch, not to mention games and movies shared and walks or jogs through the scenic neighborhood.
Last October my roommate here in Vienna and I realized we both needed to move early in the new year. We managed to cross the one year mark in our “new” flat, but it still felt way too soon to schlep everything elsewhere. It was really, really sad to say goodbye to a great roommate of three-plus years as she headed to a new job in the U.S., but we made the most of the last weeks — innumerable cups of tea (and batches of stove-top popcorn and episodes of West Wing) and also some special outings.
In early February we joined another friend to drive to a large Austrian lake popular for ice skating. In fact, the Dutch have begun holding races on the Weißensee, because the ice conditions are more dependable that those back in the Netherlands. We weren’t exactly competitive ice-skating material, but we sure had a lot of fun on the 4 kilometer loop (about half of the lake). One of the best parts was observing the ice’s attraction for all ages and all forms of locomotion. Young moms with strollers, dogs out for a walk, a bicyclist, a gleeful unicyclist, of course the Dutch speed-skaters, and, on the neighboring snow-covered fields, horse-drawn carriage rides.
Over the Easter holidays I traveled to the western provinces of Tirol and Vorarlberg to visit friends who have moved away from Vienna. Although April was remarkably warm, with a tumult of spring flowers in bloom, the mountains were still under their thinning blanket of winter snows. Besides enjoying the advent of spring-in-earnest, there were long walks, welcome quiet, good talks, and Easter festivities.
At the end of the school year, I joined a group of students for a music trip to Hamburg. It was an adventure traveling with two other teachers and about 20 middle and high school students — night trains there and back again, and then a full schedule of musical events with a sister school there, plus sightseeing.
A most unexpected highlight was acquirement a last-minute ticket to the usually sold-out Elbphilharmonie. The concert hall is an acoustic wonder, and the building has become more or less the icon of the city, built to resemble the waves of the Elbe River, on which it’s built. The concert featured a Bruckner symphony and an especially wonderful Shostakovich cello concerto. While the concert was a trip highlight, the trip itself was a special way to say goodbye to a school setting where I’ve worked for four years. I’m transitioning now to a part-time job at the university for the coming semester.
The summer has also included three short hiking trips with three different friends — my old roommate, back for a business trip, then with Anne, a friend from church, who moved all the way to Australia, and finally with Stefanie, the Austrian friend I’ve done quite a bit of hiking with over the past several years. (You might recognize Anne and Stefanie from the Dolomites post two summers ago.)
Jessica and I spent two days hiking at Traunstein — but significantly more time recovering from sore muscles. The trail was not long, but wow, I’ve hardly ever climbed something so steep!
After a train ride, we arrived in Gmunden, took a ferry across the picturesque lake, and then headed up — it was a trail for hands as well as feet. At the peak we enjoyed watching a glider float past, about at eye level. We stayed overnight at a hut, which turned out to be a funny experience. Someone had planned her 30th birthday celebration at the same hut, so there was a festive atmosphere and a special array of Austrian-Iranian food (the cook was from Iran). We were impressed by the low-key nature of the party and headed to bed around 10 p.m. (the fairly universal hour at which hut courtesy and custom demands silence). Around 1:00 a.m. (?) the throbbing beat of a disco party starting up downstairs rudely disturbed my slumbers (though some people can apparently sleep through anything!) — maybe next time I will try to avoid mountain-top birthday parties.
We explored a bit around a lake the first evening, and then planned to get a good night’s rest before hiking. To our great consternation, around 3 a.m., a huge racket — dozens of fireworks? or gunshots? — broke out. It would have been remarkably loud anywhere, but given the otherwise absolute calm of the small village, it was all the more bizarre. Come morning, we asked one of the hotel staff what it was all about. She admitted she hadn’t heard anything (What?!) but that it was a tradition on church holidays (we were there on the Pentecost weekend) for the locals to shoot their guns in the middle of the night. Who knew?
The next day we were up and running after an ample Austrian-style breakfast. Part way up the mountain, we were delighted to find a little hut selling fresh milk. Of course, we had to stop and have a mug!
…The peak offered a 360 degree mountain vista — a corrective to my image of Germany being largely flat or just hilly! But then, Bavaria has a lot in common with Austria in various respects (not including, as far as I know, marking special days on the church calendar with an extended volley of gun shots).
The path immediately below the peak was covered by snow. It was steep enough to be great for sledding, even minus a sled! Apparently some other people had the same great idea — I came across someone’s car keys for their BMW on the way down.
Part way up we came across a large cave opening — talk about air conditioning — and then carried on up to the peak over a part of the trial known as the Rauer Kamm (rough comb). It really felt like that — with the trail leading directly over the rough rocks, leaving hikers to scramble up and over and ignore any slight twinges of Höhenangst. Despite the largely rocky and dry environment, there were some wonderful wildflowers along the way.
We spent the night part-way back down the mountain and were spared any unusual noisy disturbances either inside or outside the hut!