Wednesday, October 1, 2008
so much to say
So dreams come true in Vienna. I was privileged enough to go to a ball; a real genuine ball. It was one of the most amazing experiences along with just about everything else I’ve been doing lately. It was a charity ball for Alzheimer’s research. It was held at the Wein Konzerthaus which is as you guessed beautiful. The orchestra played beautiful waltzes and everyone danced! There was the cutest old couple dancing. They made me so happy. I hope one day to be just like them. She had her pearls on which I imagine he brought home one day as a surprise and she has cherished them ever since…he was still handsome in his tuxedo and they were both so content with just dancing slowly on the edge of the floor. It was one of the moments where cultures disappeared and humanity radiated in all its glory.
The ball included the main room with waltzes, a samba room, and a “disko room” (their disco was American oldies). We had so much fun getting dressed up and then dancing the night away. Austrians are party animals. The ball did not start until 9:00 and we left at 3:00 while there were still plenty of people twice our age dancing to “I Will Survive.” I got home at about 4:00 am because their public transportation stops running at midnight so we had to walk home. It was amazing. I now have a better understanding of Cinderella. No I did not find a handsome prince for all those who are dreaming up stories at this point…but it still was one of the most beautiful scenes to participate in.
Another dream day was one that started in a monastery in a town about an hour outside of Vienna called Melk. It still functions today and it is situated on the top of hill overlooking the Danube and beautiful Austrian countryside. They had a beautiful and spacious library and a cathedral. I love seeing all the cathedrals because the only ones I have seen are in books. Now I finally understand netted vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses and illusion painting…it makes much more sense when you can look at it. After the monastery we rented bikes and rode 20 miles to another town called Krems. We rode all through the countryside in and out of beautifully picturesque towns complete with cobblestone roads and old cottages. We stopped and played on some Roman ruins, ate some delicious food, and enjoyed the scenery. Everything here is a green that I have seldom if ever experienced in such abundance. I did not think life could get better. It was pure and unadulterated contentment. I was scared at first to think that I would have to ride 20 miles but it was fine. My legs were sore and as my father would say I had tb but it was so worth it. If ever given the chance you should snatch it up. I wish there were enough adjectives to describe it but I do not think there are.
My first Sunday was wonderful. We ended up getting lost on our way there but once we got there everyone was so warm and welcoming. This cute older woman was telling us about how excited she always got when she found out a BYU group was coming. She said she waits all year for it. She was so genuine in her love and admiration, it was so lovely. The Sunday school teacher apologized for not being allowed to teach in English. We all assured her that we needed to learn German! I understood very little if any of her lesson but I could pick out the numbers of chapters and verses if they were looking up a scripture. In Sacrament meeting the man conducting was American and he is just learning German so I understood him quite well as I am in the same position. The missionaries spoke and while I did not understand all I understood the gist because their accents are not thick. Austrians have THICK accents especially older Austrians. All in all it was a familiar place and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Wednesday we left for a 6 day tour of Austria. We started at a concentration camp called Mauthaus. It was incredibly overwhelming. I was so struck by the suffering of so many people and seeing where they suffered made it so real. They were real people with likes and dislikes, with amazing qualities, with flaws, with spirit, with spunk, with so many of the qualities we share as humans. I was struck by the awful tasks they were forced to perform, the horrendous acts committed for the sake of entertainment, the horrible living conditions, and what seemed to me as a momentary failure of humanity and all that is good. I wanted to weep for them all, for all their sufferings. No human being should have to suffer as they did. I thought of how our Heavenly Father must have wept while his children were so afflicted, how the Savior must have suffered for those children. I thought of the often recited story from “The Hiding Place” in which Corey T. Boom is faced with forgiving one of the guards who imprisoned her. The most beautiful part of going was the overwhelming peace and love I felt for human kind. I did not sense a hatred or resentment of those who implemented the acts but just a homage for those who had suffered. There was no finger pointing just sorrow and consolation for all. It was bittersweet.
After our somber morning we left for Halstatt, a beautiful city on a lake in the Alps. I have decided it is where I am going to have my vacation home. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The lake is vast and calm and the town is situated just so…it is perfect. We visited the salt mines there which are the oldest in the world. It was really fun. We had to put these lovely outfits on so our clothes didn’t get dirty. Once inside our tour included sliding down a shaft which was so fun, a historical moving (with amazing subtitles and cinematography), and what the guide said was a “laser show” (we were all super excited but it turned out to be another stunning example of cinematography complete with immobile stick figure/caveman people). I was impressed. Oh I almost forgot, while I did not meet prince charming at the ball I had several to choose from in the mine. While they were robots I’m sure that they would make a fine companion and they were SO incredibly handsome, complete with glued on beard! It was love at first site. We also when on a boat ride around the lake, hiked up to a waterfall (in the ALPS!!!), and got some amazing hot chocolate. Oh and I purchased a lovely pair of knee high wool socks which will be relevant later in my story.
After Halstatt we drove to Salzburg. We got there later so it was not till the next morning that we did anything. We went on a walking tour with a crotchety old Austrian with his traditional garb and several teeth missing. He was very knowledgeable despite his lack of teeth. Their cathedral is called “The Dome” and it is exquisite. It has 3 full size separate organs in which Mozart played who knows how many masses. We also saw the store that created the first Mozart Ball. I guess I should explain the back story for Mozart Balls…they are a popular chocolate everywhere in Austria. They have a milk chocolate core wrapped in marzipan and then wrapped in a dark chocolate outer coating. I am not a huge fan of marzipan but these are quite delicious…anyways the first ones or at least the people who made them first started making them in Salzburg and we purchased some. I definitely like theirs better than the ones you buy from the grocery stores and such. We of course saw some of the “Sound of Music” sites which is quite amusing because while Americans find it fascinating Austrians know very little about it and they find it quite irritating.
After Salzburg we continued on to a tiny village in the Alps called Darfgestein. It is seated in the Alps and is gorgeous. We took a lift up a mountain and hiked about half way down. There was plenty of snow at the top and beautiful views. We stopped at an “Alm” (or farm) and had homemade cheese, bread, and warm drinks. The cheese was very potent and I think there were very few of us who really enjoyed it. We yodeled at the top and sang hymns and Disney songs on the way down. Then we all went back to our hotels. Unfortunately I was very much under the weather so it was nice to relax a little bit that afternoon. Sunday we went to mass at the local church and they were having a Thanksgiving festival/celebration/mass. It included everyone from the town wearing their traditional Leider Hosen and Durndels. So as people were walking into the church in their traditional garb I looked at several of the men and thought “gee those look a lot like the socks I just bought…” Then I realized they were! I totally bought Lieder Hosen socks without realizing it! They were a good investment though…they kept me warm and dry and they look awesome! They had a parade and apparently females are very sparse. We were winked at a lot and we even got a “hey beautiful.” Monday we went on a hike to another Alm where we ate breakfast. We were told the hike would be an hour and a half and to come hungry because it was a buffet. They failed to mention the entire hike was uphill! I am not exaggerating. My poor sick lungs were not happy with me. My professor’s son (who is 6) let me have one of his walking sticks he had picked up along the way. He kept offering it to me and I would decline. Finally he insisted and he is just so cute so I took it and it made the hike much easier. The food at the Alm was delicious. I had about 4 cups of hot chocolate and this amazing bread and some delicious eggs. They were so nice. That was our last day in Darfgestein. We took a train back to Vienna and it was so weird to think that I was coming “home” to Vienna. We got in about 10:30ish and then had classes on Tuesday. Next Tuesday we are leaving for Italy!