The Tone in Dresden, Part I

The traffic had pretty much ground to a halt and through our lightly frosted car windows, the view of the empty and snow dusted wheat fields was flat and unremarkable. We had been driving now for several hours and the traffic jam, still several kilometers out side of our destination, was a bit disheartening. The cause of for my chagrin wasn’t based in the company I had in the car. Far from it. It was rooted more to the realization that I was having a blast and that these days spent in adventure after adventure were finite. Eventually, I’d have to go home. I was in Germany with my friend, Mountain Man, his friend and co-worker Carla and we were heading to her hometown, Dresden.

We were heading there very, very slowly.

I love visiting Germany, and doing so with Mountain Man and his preposterously perfect German makes it that much better. His own reason for being here started several years previous when he was signing up for classes at university. Apparently, he had struck up a conversation with (was hitting on) a cute girl as the two of them waited in line to register for classes. When she got her chance to pick her classes, she turned out to be a German Major. Not wanting to miss his chance, Mountain Man decided on the spot that English could take a poetic leap and changed his classes to match hers. That’s his style. Oddly enough, it seems to work for him, too. This man fears nothing and is aggravatingly good at surviving his spur of the moment, whacked-out decisions. Fast forward some years and now you have Mountain Man living and teaching in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship and inviting his friends to drop by for a visit. The girl who stated him on this road is long gone, but that hardly matters now. What it meant is that I had a friend in Deutschland!

The trip to Dresden was not one that I had expected to make but this opportunity was far too amazing to miss. Carla was a teacher at the school where Mountain Man was placed. The Wall had only been down for a few years and there was still a lot of DDR infrastructure that needed to be set light to. Trabants, the East German version of what a car would look like if it were built by a toy company, were still fairly plentiful, as were a lot of the old institutional buildings, like schools. Not this one though! This school was brand-new and everyone in the village, especially the kids, was very proud of it.

Mountain Man had been placed there to help expand the English program. Carla had been teaching Art as well as English and Russian for years at the old DDR school. With the move to the brand new building and with out much cause for students to take Russian anymore, she was working hard at polishing her English. Specifically, she wanted to learn American English. Much of what was being taught at the time was British English, but that is not what the former East Germans wanted to learn. They wanted to sound like they were from Hollywood. Mountain Man, being from New Hampshire, did his best as a stand in.

When I arrived, as a newly minted art teacher in my own right, I was informed by my friend that he had secured permission for me to teach at his school as well. I’d be in the upper level, conversational language classes teaching the students and faculty alike to say things like, “trunk” rather than “boot” and, “flashlight” rather than “torch”. It sounded like fun! That night, Mountain Man made me some dinner with his patented, “Salty As All Get Out, Baking Soda Flavored Biscuits” and I tried my best to gather my jet lagged brain for the next day.

The next day I was introduced to the director and some of the other teachers and given a cup of coffee that could have fueled a small city for a day. Hardly anyone spoke English and I spoke hardly any German at this point. A project I have been working hard on ever since. Once the handshakes were done and we found our way to the classroom, I was quickly greeted by about twenty-five intensely interested teenagers. It felt a bit like being an exhibit in a zoo.

As you can imagine, not speaking the language of the land and supposedly being there to teach, can make a guy a bit… freaked out. I put on my best, “I’m a teacher” look and let Mountain Man explain to the students that what they had right there in the class room was a bone fide, clueless American and to go to it. The questions began…

“Where are you from?”
“What do you do for work?”
“Are you married?”
“Do you like American TV?”

These were the softball questions and simple to work with. After a few minutes, they started to dry up and they needed to actually come up with some more difficult and hopefully embarrassing questions. They did not disappoint. The first question that made me pause and feel like an idiot was, “What German bands do you like?” Teenagers often define themselves by what groups they are into and they were all obviously interested in what I had to say.

“German groups? Ahhh… Hmmm.” I swear, all I could think of was Falco of, “Rock me, Amadeus” fame or Daft Punk. The problem being that, A: Falco was Austrian and, B: I didn’t like Daft Punk. The only other name that came to mind was Marlene Dietrich, and I don’t think that would have made my position any better. I punted and talked instead about how German music doesn’t get over to the States much and how I’d love to hear what they like. Phew. Break down averted.

The next question was one that really caught me off guard. “Are their any Indians left in America?” The idea of the native tribes of my homeland being wiped out entirely was a thought that, though dreamed about and drooled over by some of my ancestors, had never occurred to me. “Yes! There are quite a lot of Indians still living in America.” Then the follow up: “Have you ever seen one?”

I was still a bit off balance from the previous question, so had I been more cool headed, I might have relished the theater of the moment a bit. As it was, I simply blurted out, “You’re looking at one right now.” That stopped them cold! The room was full of parted lips and eyeballs, all pointed at me. I had to clarify things quickly. There was more to it than that.

“Well, I’m not just Indian. I’m also English, French, Irish, Scottish, and Sicilian as well as two different Indian tribes.” The eyeballs got bigger and the quiet of the room was practically tactile. In the back of a row of seats, a lone hand went up followed by a single voice. “My mother is Danish.”

Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment of “Clueless Man Goes on Holiday!”

Advertisements

Valhalla in Salzburg, part III

Now, as I have stated before, I was, repeat WAS a picky eater and though I had a very long “I no eat” list, I was also raised to be polite. I would never have turned away an offer so generously given. Especially since I had already started ingesting it. Besides, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to kill me. After all, the plumber was still alive. I was also, at this point, ¾ in the bag. Something that happens quite infrequently and it no doubt helped with my “Eh. What the hell” attitude.

I took another bite from the pile on my napkin.

*Chew, chew, chew.*

Mountain Man, knowing the normal depth of my pickiness, looked at me quizzically.
“What does it taste like?” he filially added. I pondered this between bites and finally replied, “It’s kind of like… well… It tastes like… boiled, shaved cow’s cheek I guess. Want some?”

With out a moment to consider, he reached over and took a few slices off the stack. I have no doubt in my mind that my friend would eat a live trout if presented to him. The guy is like a garbage disposal. For him, this was nothing. Someone had even killed it first and cut into bite sized pieces.

When my napkin was empty and we could see the bottom of our steins, we decided that rather than going up for a fourth pint, it might be a good idea to get some fresh air. Sloppy “Danke Schone”s were given to our plumber and we staggered off on our merry way. First to the facilities and then out to hopefully walk some of this off.

“Beer as sustenance” had some flaws. The first is the rapid deterioration of the fine motor skills. The second is that once you have made your first stop at the loo, you seem to have to go again and again every few minutes. Aren’t kidneys and livers amazing things? All I can recall for certain about the bathroom was just how amazingly full of white tile it was.

Another problem with “beer as food” is that it shuts down the majority of your higher brain functions and instead gives control over to what apparently is a five year old who lives in your head; lying dormant until the opportunity arises. Both Mountain Man and I were wowed by what was, in all honesty, 4×4 plain white tile. Then we were wowed by a stone wall, then were were wowed by streetlights. What was in that beer?

As we wobbled out in to the night, one of us had a brilliant idea. We should call home to the States! We found a phone boot standing out by its self in the center of a little garden. I was first into the booth and managed to get my pre-paid phone card into the slot.

I don’t recall the actual phone conversation I had with my folks back in New Hampshire. It was probably along the lines of “DIS ISH GREAT! WERE HASHING SCHO MUCH FON!” Though the dialogue of the call is forgotten to time, I have been assured by my parents that I seemed to be having a good time, and that the beer breath was palpable through the telephone connection. Though they didn’t approve of drinking to excess, they have both told me that they were cracking up for a good half hour after that call home.

Mountain Man was next and I remember him taking a nonchalant pose in the booth and talking. And talking. AND TALKING. Good Lord! I started to wonder if we had phoned the UN with some new ideas about a solution the Arab-Israeli problem or something. Then, the Hefeweizen started to call again…

I looked around for some place to deal with the issue but there was nothing. The only thing big enough near to hide behind was the phone booth. Even the shrubs in the garden were about knee high.

A quick aside here about my luck. I know my luck well enough to realize that the second I start to do something naughty, a policeman or nun or a Grandparent will come by and see me doing it. I don’t know if it’s karma or what, but that’s the way my luck runs and to say that it makes me a cautious person is an understatement at times. If this were not the case, I might have been “watering” the azaleas at this point, but I know my luck better than that.

As I started to get more and more urgent messages from my bladder, I watched Mountain Man for any sign of getting off the dang phone. None was forthcoming. After a few more minutes of waiting I finally pulled a wrapper out of my pocket, wrote a note on it and pressed it to the glass of the booth for him to read…

I don’t know who “some of us” were, but I can only assume I was referring to the royal “we”. Or possibly, a royal “Wee”.

After the badly needed “Pinkle Pauser”, my friend informed me of an English language movie house. near by. Without hesitation, we were off! By this point, memory starts to fail me. I can recall sitting in the almost empty theater and that the movie was “Wallace and Grommit in A Close Shave” which alone, is a great little movie and quite funny. After a trip to a beer hall and three liters, it’s difficult to stay in your seat because you’re laughing so hard. Again, it’s the five year old taking control.

I don’t remember anything after the movie. Not getting back to the hostel, not the kids staying there, not the stinky bunk room or even how I managed to get into an upper bunk that was mercifully vacant.

Epilogue.

The next morning was a little… tender. We both were moving slowly and painfully, though to our immense pleasure we found lots and lots of very hot, very black coffee in the cafeteria. The hostel was a pit to be sure, but Mountain Man did come through on one point about it. The breakfast was amazing. You ordered it by country preference.

English= toast, yoghurt, weetabix and baked tomato
German/Austrian= cold meat, bread, butter, fruit
Australian= kangaroo and muesli… or something
American=2 eggs, scrambled, toast, homefries, sausage and bottomless black coffee

It was like heaven. We ate slowly and drank enough coffee to power three city blocks. Most of the day was spent café surfing and admiring the passers by. It was a wonderful way to observe a beautiful place like Salzburg. We ate out at a restraint that night. The beer was great, if no tin smaller quantities and the food wasn’t boiled, though it might have come from a cow.

Our train left early the next morning and I slept quite deeply, my last night at Delta House, Salzburg. While Mountain Man had been getting breakfast that painful next morning, I had slipped out to the front desk… and reserved the private double on the top floor. The experience of bunkhouse had loosed me up a good bit, but I still had standards.

Valhalla in Salzburg, part II

These doors weren’t just big. They looked like they belonged on the front of a castle. A smaller entrance, apparently intended to be used when not mounted on a massive war horse, was set into one of the main doors. With out a pause, Mountain Man reached out and pushed it open. I was really feeling uncomfortable at this point.

“Where are we going?” I hissed. “Wait and see. It’s totally worth it.” was all I could get out of him. Beyond the door was a hall. Not a hall like you see in a normal building, but a hall that matched the doors that shut soundlessly behind us. Double barrel vaulted arches loomed overhead in the darkness and busts of old men set on pedestals gazed disapprovingly at us as we wandered down its length. It was like we had found a back door to a museum. I just knew we’d be arrested soon.

The hallway forked and Mountain Man unhesitatingly led me on. Then down a set of stairs and then… What’s that noise?

Somewhere down the hall, I could just make out what I thought might be a crowd of people. As we finished the flight of steps, we entered a large windowless room. At least I think it was windowless. I can’t say for sure because every inch of wall space was taken up with racks and racks of beer steins. There were two sizes, big and bigger. The center of the room was dominated by an impressive, circular stone fountain. Mountain Man quickly informed me that the smaller of the steins were for the ladies and selected one big enough to make a home out of after you finished your drink, handed it to me and then grabbed his own.

I followed him to the fountain where we gave them a quick rinse in the ice cold water and carried them to a bar that looked like it had been ripped directly out of Dungeons and Dragons. A big, bald man, complete with impressive mustache grabbed our steins and filled them from a hog’s head behind him.

“The secret,” Mountain Man whispered to me as our steins were being filled, “is to immediately stick your thumb as far down into the beer as possible when he hands it to you. Otherwise it’ll overflow. That’s how they spot the tourists.”

I did and instructed and killed most of the head before it could go on an independent expedition down the side of the vessel and across the bar. We paid and stepped through another arched doorway into… Valhalla?

“So this is where all the Norse Gods go to get away from it all”, was all I could think to say. The room before us was enormous, punctuated by huge columns that held up massive stone vaults barely visible above the smoke and darkness. Long communal tables were peopled by all sorts of Salzburgers. There were families, off duty workers, old folks, everyone except tourists. I quickly wondered how I could look as Austrian as possible.

Mountain Man has no problem blending in here. Though he and I grew up in the same town in New Hampshire, he is about as Germanic looking as you can get. Tall, fair skinned, blue eyes, blond hair and possessing the ability to not only speak German, but to speak it so well that German speakers don’t know it’s not his native tongue. They may not think he’s from their area, but he’s so good that they just assume he’s from Frankfurt or something. It doesn’t hurt that his real name is a common one in this part of Europe, either.

I am a different story. I don’t look particularly Germanic, at the time, I didn’t speak hardly any German at all, my name is not one found in this part of the world and to make it worse, pretty much my entire wardrobe came from L.L. Bean. I wasn’t sporting a fanny pack or twenty six pounds of camera equipment but essentially, I screamed “tourist”.

I summoned up my best “I belong here” look and followed my guide to an empty booth on the periphery of the throng and scooted in. Mountain Man smiled, clinked my stein and hoisted. I followed suit and was in heaven.

I love beer. Specifically, I love good beer. Precisely, I love good wheat beer, and this was the best I’d ever had in my young life.

Many years ago, My father did something truly dastardly. I don’t know if it was his plan from the start., but the effect was the same. At some point when I was in high school, my Dad made it known that I could have a beer out of the fridge if I wanted it. The rules were that I could only have one, that I couldn’t give any to friends and that it couldn’t leave the house. The goal was to demystify beer and hopefully keep me from doing some of the usual stupid kid things involving alcohol and parties and it worked for the most part. The evil part was revealed to me only once I went to college. It turned out that what my Father always bought was really good, imported beer. When you are raised on caviar-beer, so to speak, cheese whiz-beer holds little appeal. This was my curse. As a poor student, I saved up for my expensive imported beers, didn’t share with the guys drinking the PBR and tried very hard to make each bottle last as long as possible.

Here, in Salzburg, it was a different story. I was staring down what looked like a ceramic well of fantastic beer and there was plenty more where that came from. The first liter went down eeeeeasy. The second, just as smoothly. The third, I don’t remember so well.

At some point a older man in coveralls wandered over with a stein of his own and a plate piled high with thinly sliced meat. He asked something in German and Mountan Man replied favorably. “He wants to join us.” I was feeling mighty rosy by now and flashed him a big lopsided smile. He grinned and sat opposite us. Mountain Man and the the gentleman made introductions and I was informed that he was a plumber that he had just gotten off work. We shook hands, I did my best “pleased to meet you” pantomime and he nodded approvingly at our drinks.

After a few minutes of me staring hazily into the crowd while Mountain Man and the plumber chattered away, I was shaken from my thoughts by an offered plate. The plumber was smiling at me and making the international “do you want some” gesture with his open palm. The plate of meat looked… safe and the realization that I had roughly three leters of beer in me and nothing else, struck home. Brightening at the concept of something to soak up the Hefeweizen, I happily accepted. He loaded up a napkin and passed it to me.

The meat was… chewy. Not fatty, exactly, but tough. I had another piece. Chew, chew, chew. “What kind of meat is this?” A brief exchange was had between the two German speakers. “Boiled, shaved cow’s cheek”, Mountain Man gleefully replied.

Hmmm. I took another, very long pull from the stein.

Conclusion next.

Valhalla in Salzburg

“Where the heck are we going?”
“You’ll see! It’s going to be great!”
“You’re not going to kill me and stuff my body in a trash bin, are you?”
“I can’t promise that. It’ll depend on your behavior.”
“Great.”

The lower city of Salzburg twisted away from us as we climbed, as my good friend bounded ahead in a dubious looking direction, trying to remember his way in the dark of the sleeping architecture.

That spring, I was visiting a good friend of mine (I’ll call him Mountain Man) who was living Germany. He was there on a Fulbright Scholarship, teaching english at a gymnasium in what was until very recently, East Germany. The Wall had come down only a few years before he went over and it was a great time to be there. Every one felt positive, everything seemed to be getting better and most importantly of all, you could now travel all over what was once forbidden territory. We were having a blast.

This particular night though, we had traveled back to one of his old haunts. We spent a day traveling and another punch on our euro-rail passes and had arrived in Salzburg, Austria.

Mountain Man knew Salzburg. It was his old stomping grounds, having spent a year studying abroad in this charismatic city. I had only been there once before on one of my family’s epic en-mass vacations. Traveling with the family meant nice hotels, meals at meal times and package style tours with guides. Mountain Man most defiantly had other plans and to be fair, we were doing this on the cheap.

I will freely admit, that the traveling with my family (my WHOLE family, including parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents) had made me jaded. Growing up and traveling en masse, I never had to think about where we would stay, eat or go and look at the local pile of ancient rubble. It was all planned for me and though we didn’t travel opulently, we did travel comfortably.

This trip would be different. This was where I really learned how to travel.

We had arrived in Salzburg by train and immediately headed into the city to secure lodging. It was early evening and Mountain Man was afraid that the hostel that he had in mind would be near full capacity by now. He had gone on and on about how popular it was as were their breakfasts. Warning lights should have been going off in my head with the mention of the word “popular”, but foolishly, I had equated it with the notion of it being due to its fine rooms and beds. How wrong could I be? Ohhh. Very, very wrong.

I actually could hear it before we saw it. The music was thumping out into the darkening streets and the yellow light of the foyer poured out from the open doors almost as powerfully as the cigarette smoke. As we walked in, I was immediately taken by two things. First was that the place was packed by what looked like fourteen year olds, all holding ¾ empty beer steins and smoking what must have been four to five cigarettes a piece. The second was that Mountain Man was asking the clerk for a couple of beds for us.

“No! I don’t care if we have to sleep on benches in the park, but we aren’t staying here!”

Mountain Man looked at me thought the blue smoke and smiled sheepishly. “Well, that’s about our only other option. At this hour, we’re lucky that they have any room at all. By the time we get to the next hostel, the chance of finding space is just about nil.”

I looked around at the plastered and partying highschool age patrons and sighed. “Fine, but do they at least have a double room or something. Just so we don’t have to be in the bunk room?”

He winced again. “Nope. We’ll be in a room with 32 beds.”

Great.

After securing our packs, we fled the hostel looking for an activity that didn’t involve drunk teenagers and tobacco. Mountain Man, in an attempt to make up for my obvious disappointment in our lodging situation, promised an experience that would be second to none. He wouldn’t say what it was, but that it was just “going to be awesome.”

A bit suspiciously, I followed. What else could be done?

We climbed out of the lower city and up towards the less traveled areas. It was getting late now and the only light was from the street lamps. With hardly anyone else out walking and all the shops closed, it felt a lot like trespassing. The roads we took turned into wide alleys and the alleys into open stairs, punctuated by small parks and paths that appeared sporadically as we ascended. This was when I had posed my question to Mountain Man.

We had climbed for quite a while and I was sure we were lost. “This it it!” Mountain Man had stopped at a set of massive, studded, dark oak doors on an unmarked wall.

“Are you serious?”

He just smiled. I looked around to check for empty rubbish bins, just to be safe.

More later…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria, III

After what I judged to be an adequate amount of swearing and cursing, I reluctantly left the small glass enclosure and stepped back out into the misty rain. An older gentleman was waking by at that moment and I stopped him and politely asked if he could help me with the persnickety ATM. “Do you have a Volksbank account?” he asked with an incredulous eye. I said that I didn’t and he brightened visibly with the aura of someone who knows the answer to someone else’s vexing question. “Oh! Well, it won’t work for you then. You need an account at the bank first.” Great. An ATM that only works for this particular bank’s customers. What else could go wrong? With strained patience I asked if he knew of any other ATM’s in the area. He thought of for a moment and then replied that he believed there was one in Landeck. “Yes, I’m familiar with that one. It’s out of order though.” He thought again. “In the next town back down the main road. Just go the other way from Landeck. It’s not far. There will be one there, I’m sure.”

Not seeing a lot of choice, I thanked him and then jogged off into the drizzle, took a right on to the main road and kept on running. It was about three miles to the next village and then about another mile or so into the village until I found the ATM. The building that it was attached to was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding. This did not inspire me much. I pulled out my card and walked up to it. The screen… was dark. No power was being fed to it at all. Doom, having obviously been following me for the last few miles, finally walked up and made it’s self known. What the hell now? As I looked around the town, I watched happy couples scooting along under umbrellas and disappearing into eateries and pubs. There I stood, soaked, bone weary, and in the wrong town even. My reserves were getting really low, as was my morale. I schlepped off back toward Landeck, this time loping more than trotting. I could feel the blisters forming in my soaked sneakers as my cheap cotton socks betrayed me.

The rain stated to let up as I approached the inn. I wasn’t sure what the next plan of attack was but I didn’t have any money so staying here was out of the question. “Back on the train.”, I supposed. I hoped that there _was_ a next train. It was getting late, after all. I opened the door and my sweaty, rain soaked skin went cold and I could feel the blood drain from my face. Sitting at a table were Action Girl and Irene, just finishing up a big dinner with beer and dessert. They were obviously expecting me to return with money for the bill, not to mention rooms for the night. Ooooooh, Crap! The two of them looked at me, smiling and a bit fuzzily through the consumed beer. The Hostess came over to me and stopped short. She was obviously caught off guard by my appearance. I had been gone a good long while now and I was thoroughly soaked and wiped out.

“What happened?”, She asked, “Did you find the ATM?” I said that i did, but it was broken so I had to try the Volksbank one. She interrupted and said that it wouldn’t work for my card. I told her that I found that out, so I ran to the next village. “Wait,” she added. “You ran?”.
“Yes”
“Don’t you have a car?”
“No”

Her eyes boggled as she began to figure out just how far I had run my little foreign butt around her home town… in the rain. “So… Did you find the ATM there in the next town?” I was obviously uncomfortable and I explained that it wasn’t functioning either. She chewed her lip for a second and then told me to wait here. This was not going to be pretty. I was sure of it. The ladies looked rather aghast as well and the meaning of my failed run and their now eaten meal sank in. A short moment later, the man who was obviously both the owner and the cook emerged form the kitchen, still wearing his apron. He didn’t speak english so the hostess explained to him what had transpired. As she was telling him the story, I could see that he looked rather upset, then as she continued, gesturing up and down the road in the directions I had run, his face became more resigned. I was soaked, bone weary, starved and more embarrassed than I had ever been before. I must have looked every inch of that list because he wiped his hands on his apron, walked behind the bar and took out the largest beer glass I have ever seen outside of a novelty shop. After filling it to the rim, he slid it across the dark stained bar right in front of me. I was somewhere between thanking him and refusing it, but he held both his hands out, palms toward me and made a pushing motion. I thanked him with my best “Danke” and took a long, LONG drink.

After disappearing into the kitchen for a few minutes, he reappeared with a gigantic plate of food and a replacement victory-cup sized glass of beer, placed it in front of me and again made the universal sign of “Yah, yah. It’s for you.” I thanked him again and again and dove into the best wiener schnitzel I’d ever had. Shortly after, he came over to our table and sat down. Pulling out a scrap of paper and a pen, he wrote down an address. He called over the Hostess and she relayed his instructions. “You stay here tonight and when you leave and get to an ATM that works, you mail him the money for your bill.” I couldn’t believe it. This was faith in action. He didn’t know us from Adam, we weren’t even his countrymen but he was willing to not merely trust us with paying for the meal but also two rooms.

We obviously thanked him profusely and then staggered (some more shakily than others) up to our allotted apartments. All I can recall after getting to the room was having a quick shower and falling into a duvet that must have been two feet thick. To say I slept soundly is an epic understatement. I was the last one up in the morning and with head lightly pounding from the vat of beer the night before, I headed down stairs to thank our host again. Irene was there grinning happily. “Guess what?” she squeaked. “They accept Swiss Franks and I had enough left over from Zurich to pay the bill for us all!” After a brief inner battle, I decided to go with “Happily Relieved” rather than “AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

A few minutes later were were whistling along on the train on out way to Germany. I will never forget that very large act of kindness and I hope I can get back to the inn at Landeck some day. If I can, I’d like to thank him for his kindness one more time and enjoy his cooking guilt free. Next time though, I’ll bring some Euros with me. The ATM’s there are not to be trusted.

gasthauslandeck.jpg

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria, II

We walked in the front door and were immediately greeted by a smiling young woman standing behind the bar. The techno music playing quietly on the radio contrasted mightily with the dirndl she was wearing and the dark stained, chunky pine seats and tables. Action Girl and Irene wandered over to a table and I asked if she spoke English. I really didn’t know much German at this point in my life and the hostess spoke hesitant english. I asked if they took credit cards, and naturally, they didn’t.

(On a side note, this is something that I have found maddeningly common in both Germany and Austria. No one, short of big hotels and tourist trap restaurants, seems to be happy when you pull out the plastic. As soon as… THE SECOND!… you cross into France or Switzerland, everyone will take your Visa or MC card. Even the street vendors have these wonderful little contraptions that look like cell phones with a slot down the side to swipe a card. Why these aren’t commonplace in the Germanic countries, let alone the U.S., I have no idea.)

I wasn’t surprised in the least that my credit card wasn’t going to cut it so I asked about an ATM. Was there one near by? She told me that there was, just down the street in the village. I thanked her, dumped my pack and told the ladies that I’d be right back. I stepped out the door and started heading into the village. Walking was striking me as being painfully slow and since Action Girl and I had been running lately, I felt up to a short jog. I picked up the pace and trotted along the road. And trotted… And trotted. The village, it turned out, was a fair bit down the road. Now, I know that distances always feel longer when you don’t know the route, but this was really a bit of a haul. I finally reached the town center after what I would guess was about two to two and a half miles. The problem that next confronted me was that the bank was not obvious to the passer by. I looked for a few minutes and feeling that time was not on my side, switched my tactic to finding someone who could help me find the ATM.

Everything was closed. It was after five now and there was not an open shop or a pedestrian to be found. Then I saw it. Miraculously, the apothecary was still open! I stepped in and fulling expecting to have to resort to hand gestures and pantomiming to get the help I needed, asked the white clad pharmacist if he spoke English. He replied with a “Ja”, rather than a “Yes”, but I was hopeful. I slowed down my speech a bit and asked where the ATM was. The man immediately brightened and said “Oh, well den, whatcha wanna do is goo over to da square and maka left at da fountain. It’s in front of a blue buildin’. Ya can’t missit!” I stopped cold. That was not the accent that I was prepared for. The sensation was the auditory version of taking a drink of coffee when you expect it to be milk. “Umm. Where are you from originally?” I asked, interest peaked. “Oh, I’m from Grand Forks. Dat’s in North Dakota, ya know.”

I thanked him and headed out the door, brain reeling just a bit. After a minute or two I found the ATM. It was out of service. Naturally. I decided to pop back in to visit my friendly countryman at the apothecary and inquire about any other ATM’s. Yes, there was one just down the road. As it turned out, back toward the railway station. Did I know where that was? Actually, yes I did. “Well, it’s past the rail way station and den it’s just a little past it. Dare’s a road off to de right an dat’ll lead to a lil’ bunch of buildings and dare’s an ATM dare, I think.”

“Ok,” I thought, “I’m up to this. I can do that.” I started off back toward the rail station and the inn. As I was running back, it started to drizzle. Great. As the rain started collecting on my clothes, I wondered why the hostess didn’t tell me about the second ATM in the first place? After all, it sounded closer. As I jogged past the inn, I was tempted to pop in and explain where I was going and why but I decided not to waste the time it would take. I’m also the kind of person who, when he’s on a mission, doesn’t deviate until it’s done. So, past it, I ran and on down the road. I saw the turn, crossed the river and easily found the bank. It was big, yellow and had a big sign reading “Volksbank”. “People’s Bank”, I thought. “That sounds nice.” My card went into the slot, I punched in my pin and then… It spat it back out. We repeated this about eight times.

atm.png

“You can’t be serious”…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria.

So after twenty posts, I see what seems to get peoples attention the most is the Prague/Munich train of doom story. So, in the blatant self interest of driving eyeballs to my blog… I give unto you…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria.

This was a different trip than the one we did with The Doctor. This time it was a trip mainly to Austria and Germany (go figure) with Action Girl and her cousin Irene. This was a momentous trip for Irene. She had just entered college a little while ago and she had never done any traveling. What made this a really brave thing for her to do is that not only is Irene handicapped, but that she would be flying into Zurich all alone and spend one day there, solo. When I say that she’s handicapped, I don’t mean that she’s in a wheelchair. She can walk fine on her own, though with a bit of a stilted gait but baggage would be difficult. Her back has some problems and she’d need to pack light. Having said all of her limitations, youth, inexperience, and physical issues; I would also add that she is a singularly capable and fearless individual. Like I said, it was very brave of her to go, but it surprised no one who knew her.

So, we fly into Zurich the day after Irene does and met up with her. She already spied out a place for breakfast and enjoyed Zurich as much as you can when looking at it trough eight hours of jet lag. After an initial relaxation period of a few hours, we all hop on a train at the Hauptbahnhoff and are on our way. We leave Zurich behind and head to Austria. The place we are ultimately going is in Germany but this corner of Europe is crowded with country’s. Actually, it’s best to just refer to it by its geographical name, the Tyrol. Home of giant alpenhorns, edelweiss and men in leiderhosen shouting “Riiiiiicolaaaaa” at each other from high peaks.

Now, I have long ago stopped changing money or buying traveler’s checks when moving around in Europe. Money changing always seems to bite you in the shorts, although with the dollar in a death spiral, it’s probably a good idea to change all you can right now. As for traveler’s checks, forget them. No one wants to touch them and you spend you time getting frustrated trying to use them up. The way to go is the debit card. Or at least it was. Now, I believe banks are getting savvy about charging you extra (imagine!) for using your ATM card in a foreign ATM, but in the beginning, it wasn’t yet on the list of the 10,000 user fees that banks use to syphon your account dry. Action Girl and I were used to traveling this way and we explained this to Irene before she left for Switzerland.

We traveled through idillic looking countryside and watched rolling hills get steeper and craggier until they turned into towering Alps. It was spring time and the weather was warmish but no warm enough to melt the snow on the lower slopes of the mountains. We kicked around the idea of stopping since it was getting on toward the late afternoon. It was off season still and the weather was starting to deteriorate and with the thought that we might arrive at our destination in Germany too late to find a place to say, we considered taking it slow and spending a soon to be rainy night at some little town along the way and continue on to our Bavarian destination in the morning. The next station was the small Austrian village of Landeck.

landeck1.png

It was small, pretty, and best of all, we could see a guest house and restaurant just a short walk from the train platform. Taking the rumbling in all our stomachs into account, it seemed like a good idea. We left the train, and headed to the inn. Action Girl and I were back in our element; backpacking through Europe. Free wheeling it! No solid plans! We’d show Irene how it was done. Now all I needed to do was get my hands on some Euros, and I’d be all set to fill my jet lagged, empty belly with schnitzel and beer and then head off to our duvet clad bed. Ahhhh!

That’s all. Just some cash and everything would be all right. No problem.

Right?

Riiiiight…

More tomorrow.

%d bloggers like this: