Thursday, May 22, 2008

The long-awaited review of Salzburg

For over a month now I have been intending to write about my mom's visit and especially our time in Salzburg, but I have been plagued by overwhelming stress and laziness, and so have not taken the time until now to do so.

As my time here in Europe is winding to a close, I decided that it was mandatory for me to experience a sleeper train. So at the end of April I took a Friday night train to Salzburg, slept in a chair that reclined more than the normal seat, but nowhere close to a horizontal position, arrived having lost my copy of The Mystery of Edwin Drood on the first and groggiest of my train changes, and met up with Drew and Lisa for breakfast. When I was last in Salzburg it was winter with a nice layer of cold on the ground and air which hurried you to your next destination in the hope of warming up again. Coffee was mandatory. This visit, in the early part of spring, was equally, but of course differently, stunning. From the minute you step out of the train station, the city is dominated by the fortress Hohensalzburg on top of a hill in the center of the city and green. Of the five days that I was there, four were warm and sunny to the point that I managed to get a sunburn and could constantly smell the sun on my skin.
I have utterly fallen in love Austria, and especially Salzburg. It is hard to resist the beauty and history that is Salzburg, but I think the thing that draws me so much to the place is the fact that it is a haven to me here in Europe. It has been a good year, but a very difficult one, and it has proven rather challenging to get breaks from my work here as an au pair. The fact that I live with the family I work for, in the very next room, has made it very hard for me to ever feel that I can completely relax and be on my own. I have not found here in Oldenburg someone with whom I can converse on the same level that I have been spoiled enough to hope for while living in Eugene, and there is not really anyone around who completely understands my perspective, not only as an America, but also as a Christian, and a not very conventional one at that. So when I get the opportunity to visit friends from Eugene, who live on this continent, I settle quite quickly into a feeling of deep comfort. It is not merely the fact that Drew and Lisa are from Eugene which makes them so dear to me, but I remember when I am around them what a rare thing it is to find people who are kind and thoughtful. Not thoughtful in the sense of kind because I'm not trying to be that redundant, but thoughtful in the sense of being people who actively think about things without even noticing it. That and Lisa's an incredible hostess and lots of fun to be around. And they have the most incredible marble-shower-with-three-different-sources-of-water-the-size-of-a-closet that I have ever seen.

Mom arrived on Sunday. I made the horrible mistake of being late to the train to pick her up which meant that I didn't know what platform she had arrived on (because the board had already moved on to the next batch of arrivals) and so I ran from one to the next searching for my mother while Drew waited patiently in his illegal parking spot until I found her surprisingly unfrazzled and brought her to the car. Poor thing though, it was her first trip to Europe, she was without my father (who has not only a former realtor's instinct for how to get where he wants to go in any town, which I think I might have inherited from him, but also that male courage which does not deign to find directions necessary) and although she had been guided through the basics of the European rail system by our friend Gabi, she was still on shaky ground with no one to meet her as she got off the train, no phone from which to call, or even a sure telephone number and only that vocabulary which is helpful in describing the color of cars in the native tongue. Her first look when I called her name was naturally one of relief, "Good. I learned to just stay put and when it gets dark get big, and someone will eventually find you, I'm not entirely sure that the method will work in a train station, but I had several hours before dark to figure that out." The next two days with Mom were a blast. By that time I knew my way around Salzburg well enough to bring her around to some of the highlights (most of which are sighted if you pay the 15 euros to take the Sound of Music Tour), and we spent our days wandering the town and country, talking and sipping coffee to forestall any caffeine withdrawal symptoms I might experience.

On Wednesday early in the afternoon, mom and I boarded an IC and later an ICE (those are the really nice trains where there are people in uniform who come by to sell you an overpriced cup of soaked coffee grounds), and headed back up to Oldenburg when she spent the next couple of days seeing my situation, my town and my life here, then I put her on a train back to Giessen with a tearful goodbye, and have spent the last month and a half trying to suppress my antsyness to see my friends and family again.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

First things later.

Truly, this blog should be an update of my adventures in Salzburg, and an account of my mother's visit, including pictures and clever descriptions of my surroundings and the astonishingly wonderful weather, but it will not be. Today was Carolin's Geburtstag. She has finally entered her fifth year. I use the word finally not because I have watched her since childhood awaiting this day, but rather because the number of crossed-off days on the countdown calendar that I made for her nearly three weeks ago directly corresponds to the excitement that she has built up culminating in a day of romping about, eating treats, and the general frufurie which accompanies the birthday of a child. Six were invited (if you discount Anja, the former au pair, Felix, myself, and Holger and Sabine), but Lena is ill today; so we will give her the bag of party favors at Kindergarten when she is feeling better. The games included TP the parents (i.e. use most of the klo papier in the house to make them into mummies), bobbing for apples (Josie bobbed for a bananna because she's allergic to apples), search for your hand-picked prize in the garden while the kids shout warm oder kalt, and generally play in the sand, sun and grass. Although by the end of the day everyone agreed that it had been filled rather to the point of stuffing with activity, it was quite a glorious day. I had forgotten what it is like to be five and having a birthday; those days when to run in circles is seen as a prudent use of energy and a galaxy of fun!