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.

Advertisements

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…

%d bloggers like this: