God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Salzburg Wasn't White

Casey (and, I admit, Ken and I) wanted a white Christmas in Europe. So--several months ago we made arrangements to spend the days between Christmas and New Year's in Salzburg where we were certain streets would be lined with white stuff, the hills would be alive with the sound of sleigh bells and Casey could throw snowballs and make his snowman. We bought snow tires-expensive, used beaucoup Starwood points to stay at the Hotel Goldener Hirsch, packed our long johns, heavy jackets and boots and gleefully set off on our adventure.

Somewhere after Trento and upon entering the stunningly awesome Dolomites, the scenery metamorphosis into Alpine Austria and Germany--long before crossing borders. Stone farm houses make way for wooden balconies and still colorful flower boxes. Churches have strange looking steeples and baroque pinks, greens and whites decorate buildings. "Cute" and "charming" become descriptors. The legacy of centuries of border changes, wars, treaties and intrigue jumps out of textbooks and becomes visually real and understandable. Signs are now in two languages; Italian seems to be the second language--or maybe third behind tourist oriented English. As Sara told us, people "there" think of themselves as Germans first and Italians second. Name tags begin to be Birgit and Erik rather than Daniele and Simone.

The Dolomites are simply and massively breathtaking. Peak after peak of solid stone shooting high into the air--some snow covered but, this year, many bare. This absence of snow started our first worries about what we would find at our destination--but, being optimists at heart, we held to the belief that Austria would have snow and once we crossed the border, our dream would be fulfilled. In the meantime, we felt privileged to be dwarfed by the scenery that surrounded us on all sides--reminding us of the imagination and gifts of The Creator.

The drive between our home and Salzburg takes about 8 hours and so we decided to spend the night in Bolzano--a lovely little town that is very picturesque and fun to stroll around in--definitely Austrian in architecture, foods, clothes and just general atmosphere. We kept reminding ourselves that we were really still in Italia.

One of the reason's we chose Bolzano is that it is the home of the 5,300 year old
"Ice Man, Otzi". In 1991 two hikers found an amazingly preserved frozen body in the Alps around Bolzano. Today Otzi is viewed through a small window into a room that sustains the temperature and humidity of where he lay undisturbed for 5000 years. In the adjoining room there is a full-size mannequin, clothed as he was on his fatal last day The original clothes, hunting implements and other items Otzi had with him as he set off on the day's hunt are in display cases around the room. It is truly an eerie feeling to see this remnant from days of so long ago. I think Ken and I were more fascinated than Casey who doesn't quite grasp the enormity of the find.

Crossing the Brenner Pass our hopes lifted as there was snow--not a lot but enough to turn things white. As we started down the mountain, though, green grass and clear skies made it seem as if winter has been bypassed and spring had come. We knew then that snow tires could have stayed with the gommista--at least for this trip.

Fortunately, Salzburg is a delightful destination even without snow--but it has changed since we were there in 1985. The rather quiet, quaint, little alleys and shops have become a shopper's mecca. As more and more people become aware of the pleasures of travel, it is difficult to find places that truly retain what they were and remain uniquely different.

Thank goodness there are nooks and crannies within Salzburg and storefronts and passageways that provide the sense of yesteryear and some of the old, old establishments do still exist. Chess continues to be played on the big chessboard in Residence Platz. And, along with MacDonalds, it is still possible to enjoy pastry and coffee at
Café Tomaselli, which has been serving since 1760--Mozart, himself, sipped here. Of course, Mozart was everywhere and anywhere in Salzburg--one wonders what would have become of this little Alpine town if there had been no Mozart.

With all this said--the truth is that we had a wonderful time. There was a skating rink in Mozartplatz which, of course, drew Casey. He had not skated before but was fearless in going out by himself. At first he was doing wonderful imitations of a windmill with arms flailing and legs doing things I didn't know could be done without falling but eventually he got the knack and sailed along--well, sort of. As kids do, he made friends with other children--English and Italian speaking--and so had a great amount of fun. It is really gratifying to hear him become quite bilingual in such a short time. By the time of his second session, he was gliding and doing circles--not ready for the Olympics yet but.............

We enjoyed several museums, particularly the special Mozart exhibit which had been created to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth. It was an interactive presentation with several unique presentations. It was such that even children could enjoy the experience and learn some things about the composer. Casey enjoyed it--but, ice skating was much better.

We took the cable car up the Untersberg on a startling clear day making the view of the surounding peaks spectacular. Casey was able to pitch some snowballs at us and slide on his belly down slight inclines which sort of made up for no snow below.

Stopping at Brenner Pass on the way home was even better for him
as he ran between trees pelting us with "surprise" balls of snow. But he was never able to build the snowman that he had his heart set on doing.

On the advice of a friend, we make a day trip to St. Gilgen which is a quaint little village on the shores of Wolfgansee. Now it is really a town for tourists and vacationers but Ken and I remember it 20 years ago when it was much smaller and there was just one little dock for the boats that plied the spectral lake. It was fun, though, and we took a horse drawn cart ride through the village with bells jingling and hoofs clapping as we trotted along. After a nice lunch on the waterfront we headed back to Salzburg.

New Year's Eve was a somewhat raucous affair as noise makers, firecrackers sounding like canons and fireworks seemed to face no restrictions. There were food booths set up in Residenz Platz and entertainment of various forms spread out through the town. After dinner we walked around for a while but Casey didn't like the noise and so we just went back to our room and waited until midnight and then all said good night. Amazingly, all noise ceased once the magic hour hit.

All in all, we had a good time, ate well, enjoyed the atmosphere of Salzburg and did some fun things together. As Casey says, we're a happy little family.

New Year's Eve Street Entertainment

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