With summer in full swing, it’s time to review the past couple of months, which have been full of normal routine, the end of the school and university semester, visitors from afar, and travel enjoyed.
In May, dear friends from Knoxville arrived for several days, between celebrating a doctoral graduation in England and returning to their home in Lebanon. It was a huge gift to have them visit — with time to explore the city together, a certain requisite amount of Viennese coffee and cake, and especially good conversation. I was particularly grateful to have friends here who knew Dad and Mom, not to mention who are good listeners, ask good questions, and are both intensely serious and enjoy a hearty laugh. A single paragraph and a couple of pictures can only give a tiny glimpse of how much the time meant to me. Thank you, Mike and Stephanie!
End of Semester
The school year ended uneventfully, with the usual requests from students to be allowed to play in the garden rather than bother with lessons, and with a teachers’ outing to a lake. (I tried stand-up paddle-boarding for the first time, with particular determination not to fall in, as I’d forgotten a swimsuit.) …University finished off with one paper to write for a class on secularization theory (I wrote about Charles Taylor’s idea of a basic human longing for “fullness,” comparing and contrasting that with the Classical concept of “happiness” and the Christian idea of “joy,” as Lewis describes it), plus an exam for a class on the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (which meant twenty minutes talking with the professor, whom I have appreciated very much this term, and who sent me out with a copy of a book off her shelves, which was a pleasant surprise). …At the music uni, though I’m not studying there anymore, I enjoyed participating in a friend’s studio recital, playing a Martinů trio for flute, cello, and piano. …Choir wrapped up with a glimpse of our fall program and a relaxed dinner at a choir member’s place outside the city (exploring the extensive and rather wild yard/garden laid out on the steep hillside, enjoying everyone’s home-made dinner contributions, and watching one of the kids fall into and get fished out of the goldfish pond).
Perhaps in part as a result of various baking experiments in preparation for helping with Hannah’s wedding cake last summer, I’ve had rather a lot of fun with further baking projects. A morning strawberry picking necessarily inspired short cake:
Brunch inspired a cinnamon twist bread:
The first outdoor adventure of the summer was a hike and overnight on the Schneeberg, a mountain not far from Vienna, with roommate Jessica and friend Anne. In summer mode, I made sure to pack sunscreen and plenty of water. However, after a hot, sticky climb up the warm and humid Klamm (gorge), we were shocked to find that the mountain above was by no means basking in warm sunlight. Instead, we enjoyed (or endured) one of the windiest hikes we could have imagined, arriving hours later at our destination nearly teeth-chattering cold!
With the end of the school semester finally arriving a couple of weeks later, it seemed that summer must have truly arrived. My flatmates’ birthday on the 1st of July was a good occasion to inaugurate the summer by enjoying midnight ice cream Sundays on our roof terrace and sleeping under the stars. Despite the rather chilly night and cool wind, it was quite splendid.
The next day, Jessica’s parents arrived for about a month, combining days in Vienna and the surroundings, plus some travel further afield. They generously invited me to join in their Austrian adventures, which started with a day cycling along the Danube (or taking the boat, depending on preference), along with friend Anne. The day was grand, and started (and ended) with rather some unforeseen challenges of bike transport.
The next four days, the four of us headed to the region known as the Salzkammergut. Although the name refers to the the salt (“Salz”) deposits that were a valuable resource as far back as the 2nd millennium B.C., today the region is synonymous with a multitude of lakes, the Eastern reaches of the Alps, and the many quaint towns nestled in valleys and along lake shores.The first night we stayed at a lovely resort on the Grundlsee, a long, deep lake with splendidly clear water.
We pretty much dropped our bags and headed straight for a swim. Jessica and I managed to swim out to a buoy, which, we were surprised to find, seemed to be marking a source for drinking water. Then, we spent a while exploring the fauna on the undersides of lake rocks, with the help of Jessica’s biologist mom. I wasn’t particularly impressed by her identification of leeches, but was comforted by the fact that they apparently only enjoy fish as prey. (Now, some of you are going to think the lake wasn’t so idyllic as it actually was, so a few pictures to reassure you.)
After a fancy dinner, a thunderstorm giving way to a beautiful evening, and some rounds of cards, the trip was very much off to a good start.The next day we took a ferry across the lake (about 5.5 km), then walked to the next lake — again ideal for a swim. In the afternoon, we were off to our next destination — first a short drive to Tauplitz, then a chair lift up to the mountain plateau, then a walk to our Hütte (lodge) for the next two nights. Certainly more rustic surroundings, but perfect for a couple of days of typical Austrian mountain pleasure.
Tuesday we took a hike all together to two more lakes. I dubbed the first “the Caribbean,” as the colors of the shallow water surrounding two tiny islands lent a decidedly tropical aura. The water wasn’t the only colorful sight to see. We were apparently hiking in prime wildflower season. (Judy, thanks for all your photos, including lovely flower specimens and lake views!)On the way back, our party split — the parents headed back to the hut for a relaxed afternoon, and Jessica and I set out to see if the afternoon’s weather would allow us to get to a peak (and, preferably, back to shelter) before the predicted rain arrived. Neither of us was expecting the absolutely fascination landscape we encountered. Quite in contrast to the type of boulder fields one finds in the Rockies, our trail led along and up what seemed more like one gigantic, continues slab, but pockmarked with countless holes and crevices/crevasses…rough patches that looked like mountains on a raised relief map…organ pipes (Just guessing: if I were standing at the bottom of the photo, I might be about 1/8th inch tall)…odd, heart-shaped outlines, which might have been fossils…and signs of new life….
To our extreme delight, we even came across half a dozen or more ptarmigans, which seemed to be still in spring garb — white bellies to blend in with any lingering snow, but otherwise in the perfect camouflage for their rocky surroundings. (Can you find the birds in the picture below?) Well, we did make it to the peak, and back down to the hut — before the rains came. As Jessica said, the Austrian diet — heavy on pork, hearty dumplings, and other fat- and carb-rich delicacies — truly makes sense after a long hike in the mountains. The evening finished off with games and reading, as did the previous nights.
The next morning, there was time to work in a quick peak hike before breakfast. Our scrambling was put to shame by the appearance of a Gämse, or chamois, who was surprised by our early morning intrusion on his domain, but not at the least risk for being overtaken. Breakfasted and packed up, we stopped along the way to the chair lift down the mountain to peek into a beautiful chapel — with acoustics well-suited to a couple hymns — before we proceeded.On the way back home to Vienna, we made a stop at the Dachstein ice caves. Although I was picturing caves within the glacier, instead the tour showcased a cave that, unlike most caves that maintain a very moderate temperature, is influenced by frigid drafts, which cause water seeping through the limestone to create fantastical ice sculptures. Back in Vienna, I’ve enjoyed the past ten days with quiet tasks and good visits with friends, while Jessica and her parents continued their adventures with a trip to France. Now they’ve returned, and I head off this afternoon for a week in St. Petersburg and Moscow.