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.

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Fleeing the Madness

Well, this is the Thursday before it all begins. The hoards are at the gate and will be parking on the azaleas by this time tomorrow. Good thing I don’t have any azaleas! Stupid hoards!

Memorial day weekend is upon us and what that means on the coast of Maine is that all the summer folk will be here to open the shutters of their vacation homes, sweep out a winter’s worth of dust and spend the evenings shivering on their porches, pretending that the warm weather is here. It’s not, but hey… “A” for effort!

We live in a fairly picturesque little place. We’re near a good sized city but still have the rural feel of old time, small neighborhoods. The road in front of my house is dirt, but in twenty minutes, and with out a car, you are in the middle of a kitsch filled shopping Mecca. Where else are you going to be able to buy your lobster hat? “No where”, if you’re fortunate.

This time of the year is always a bitter sweet affair for us. On the one hand, seeing the closed houses open up again and the lawns fill with badminton nets and squealing kids is pretty great. The entire place comes alive and is used to its fullest. On the other hand, this is our home. We live here not only in the fun, warm, green season, but through the dark, snowy, freezing winter as well. We get used to having the run of the place. Short cuts made running through empty yards is lost once the families return from their southern habitations. We know the place better then them! It’s ours! Or… not.

The harsh reality is that the summer folks probably know my area better than I do. They come for the summer and spend their days climbing over every last rock, searching every bit of beach and relaxing on various porches enjoying the long summer nights. We work. Though I’m here all the time, I rarely get to take in the pleasures of my surroundings. That’s not a complaint! It’s just life. When I have a good weekend, I work on my house. When we have vacation time, we go away… Like this weekend, for instance.

By this time on Saturday, the little market where we buy our necessities will be awash in lost looking visitors “from away” trying to find the gin and shampoo. If you can hear over the shouts of “Honey? Did you find the toilet paper? What? They only have THAT kind?!”, you might be able to catch the sound of an audible eye roll from those of us who call this place home.

But hey, let’s not get to high and might here. It’s a beautiful place, where we live. It would be stingy to try and keep it all to our selves and to be honest, it’s kind of fun to watch so much life get injected into our otherwise sleepy little corner of the coast. I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t like the money they bring, either. SO, I’ll keep a smile on, help folks with directions and explain many, many, MANY times how to get around here. Well… I figure I can hold the smile until at least until the end of August. Then all bets are off.

But… in the mean time, I’m locking the door, stuffing the family into the Subaru wagon and we are skipping out on the start of the madness that will descend. Hopefully we’ll be long gone before the masses show up and start double-parking their gigantor-mobiles on the main drag and and complaining about the smell of the seaweed rotting on the beaches (“Ew! Don’t they clean that up?”). We’ll go and visit my folks in New Hampshire and let Short Stack go run around in the same yard that I pounded down, all those years ago. I think it will be a fun time.

I sure hope the store there carries the type of toilet paper I like. I hate that other stuff.

“Honey? did you pack the rum? WHAT?! Well I hope they have it here.”

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