The sunlight creates an orange glow against my closed eyelids, the trees racing by adding random streaks of dark gray; I feel lazy and happy as the train glides along. It’s 750 kilometers from Vienna to the western province of Vorarlberg, and there aren’t many things more relaxing than a long train ride on a sunny day. But, really, one mustn’t doze the trip away — lest one miss the sight of a covered bridge, innumerable church spires, men pruning an orchard, snowy mountains, the occasional hill-top fortress, or roadside humor like the company acronym VÖL (my Tennessee readers will get that one). Easter holidays have arrived, and there’s the prospect of 5 days with a friend in small-town Austria.
Last week I spent a few days with my friend Inge in her hometown of Wolfurt in Vorarlberg, Austria. In the summer of 2011, she taught me a bit of introductory German, and we’ve kept up via email and phone since then. It was great to get to see a glimpse of another part of Austria.
I arrived on Friday — a lovely afternoon, warm and sunny. As it turned out, the only warm and sunny day of the whole trip. Late afternoon, we traipsed out to the edge of the woods nearby to collect Bärlauch, a broad-leafed relative of chives and popular for its decidedly garlic flavor. (Beware — its growing season overlaps with a poisonous lookalike!) It might sound funny, but it was a highlight of the trip — I think I’ll remember for a long time the mixture of collecting our evening repast and talking about our views of the nature of God.
Saturday we wanted to hike, but the weather was iffy and many of the higher trails still snowy or muddy. We ended up with hazy views of the Bodensee (Lake of Constance, shared by Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) and enjoyed a leisurely walk. So much for a spring hike, but the snowy landscape was pretty, too. I liked how the trees made pockets in the snow — as though the spring sap was warming the trunks and melting the snow.
Down from our hike, we took in a bit more of Bregenz, the capital of Vorarlberg. The skyline of old buildings and the old city gate contrasted with the hip Thai restaurant we enjoyed for dinner.
Sunday we drove to nearby Rankweil. New City Wien has a sister church there, and Inge was willing to visit together. The accompaniment to the congregational singing was two accordions! I was glad that the pastor preached in High German and not in the hard-to-understand Vorarlberg dialect. After church we were invited for lunch with the pastor’s family; I think we both felt quite at home and enjoyed getting acquainted. On the way home, we stopped to wander around the tiny basilica that stands above the town. The first building there was begun in 700.
Monday dawned dreary, but fortunately we had indoor plans for the afternoon — a Schwimbad/Gesundheitsbad in Germany. Besides a good slide and lots of lazing around, it was fun to soak in the outdoor pool — snow flakes settling on our heads, while billows of steam rolled off the water’s warm surface. When we left, there was a thin blanket of snow outside, which kept falling over night and much of Tuesday, slowly piling up to about 4 inches.
Tuesday Inge had to work in the morning. I joined her mom for a bus/foot tour of several churches in Feldkirch (another nearby town). She certainly knew just where to go, and I appreciated her enthusiasm as a tour guide. The wood-shingled old houses were also cool.
One restaurant, simple called the Rotes Haus (Red House), dates back to 1639.
Tuesday evening we appropriately rounded out the visit by making Spätzle, a Vorarlberg specialty — a homemade pasta layered with distinctively strong cheeses.
Wednesday morning I headed east again, back to wintry Vienna and preparations for Easter celebrations this weekend. That will be the next blog post!