It’s July 4th. Flag garlands decorate the picnic table and make a loop around the trunk of the big tree offering shade to those sweltering in unaccustomed 95-degree heat. There are hot dogs and chocolate-chip cookies and pot-luck style salads. The strange thing is, although it has all the trappings of a 4th of July barbecue, the only thing in short supply is Americans! After all, I’m in Hamburg at a birthday party, conveniently Independence-Day themed!
While students and teachers back home are probably already bracing for the new school year, Austrians are still in full summer mode. I’ve been grateful for TIME for rest, small projects, some catching up. I’m house-sitting again this summer, keeping a good number of behind-the-scenes details going at church, and enjoying both welcoming guests and opportunity for travel….
A Full House
For most of May and June, Rachel and I had an “extra” roommate: Olga (my violinist friend from Belarus). Although having less personal space usually means more stress, it was quite the opposite; I felt a bit like being a kid again and sharing a room with my sister.
Since the end of the school term meant Olga would be leaving us to head back to Hamburg, we “had to” fit in some touristy things that she hadn’t managed earlier in the year. We were joined by Anne (bio-chemist working on her post-doc here in Vienna) for an evening at the opera (all of us rather non-plused by Wagner’s Das Rheingold, but fun to do together). A picnic with several friends in Schönbrunn was great fun — cool summer evening, certainly the tastiest picnic in sight, a mixture of English and German from our variety of nationalities.
The day Olga had a violin exam we celebrated by visiting the Haus des Meeres, Vienna’s aquarium. Being a landlocked country (though locals may be glad to tell you that 100 years ago, Austria was a vast empire [Austria/Österreich = Eastern Empire] with plenty of coastline), one cannot perhaps expect the most spectacular aquarium. But, it must be the only aquarium built inside an anti-aircraft tower left over from WWII.
The last evening before Olga flew back to Hamburg, we decided to borrow CityBikes (sturdy bikes that you can pick up at various locations around the city and use for free for the first hour) and go for an evening ride. The weather was perfect — first to meander through Prater park, over half of the Danube onto the island, along the water as the sun set. We ended up in for a longer ride than anticipated — since my “there’s got to be a bike-return station on the other side of the river” proved misguided. Oh, well — a bit longer ride and all the more reason for a batch of stove-top popcorn back home.
Over the Pentecost weekend, a good-sized group from church went to the southern province of Carinthia for a church retreat. Besides a lot of laughter, morning walks or jogging, great meals, and a spontaneous drive into Italy, it was for many of us a refreshing time to remember the essence of the gospel and to discuss how it is worked out in our daily lives.
Somehow in the midst of end-of-term business for me and wedding-prep craziness for her, a college friend and one of my former housemates in Knoxville squeezed in a few days in Vienna after a work trip to Italy. It was such fun — one of those visits where you realize how nice it is to have history with someone and more than enough to talk about and discuss in and around touring the city and keeping work afloat.
Probably the highlight was a day cycling along the Danube — remarkably cool temperatures for late June and an ever-unfolding panorama of colorful towns and rolling vineyards.
End of an Era
At the end of June, the semester was finally over. It was a strenuous year…! Ten years after finishing my undergrad music degree, I decided that although I can always work at being a better pianist, it is high time to lay aside official music studies.
June included a few performance opportunities — two chamber music concerts in a local church and one studio recital with fellow students at the music university. Thinking about the projects tackled and the pleasure of working with new chamber groupings, it certainly was a rewarding year. For now, though, I’m grateful for the break from the practice routine. Hopefully come fall, there will be ways to reconnect with fellow musicians for a couple of projects this coming school year. Time will tell!
With the semester over, it was time to enjoy some summer travel. I enjoyed a quick day trip to Graz to hear the bachelor’s cello recital of a friend I’ve played with in the past. It was a fun day — a wonderfully played program in a beautiful old hall and then a relaxed afternoon celebrating the successful completion of his studies.
Then, with Olga heading back to Hamburg after the year’s study-abroad in Vienna, I followed her for a week’s visit. (Warning: Don’t take a bus to Hamburg, unless you enjoy sleeplessness. Hint: Do go to Hamburg!)
We enjoyed exploring the harbor via ferry (fascinating variety of boats)…
…taking a day trip to the Baltic Sea for sand and sun and swimming (and jellyfish — thankfully avoiding any personal acquaintance).
…tasty meals (appropriately, including just about the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted!)
…visiting Olga’s church (neat to see similarities with New City Wien here — though on a considerably larger scale),
… and spending time with friends (who made me feel very at home). The last morning I ended up joining a friend of Olga’s for her 11th grade English lesson; it was fun to see a different school setting and be able to offer a ready-made lesson plan — I’m not sure how German teachers manage to maintain motivation through mid-July!)
Hopefully, it’s not the last time I’m in Hamburg!
Next time: Visitors form Barcelona and trips to Tyrol and Tennessee….