Home of Heidi
Trip Start Aug 24, 2008
116Trip End Aug 01, 2009
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The Difficulties of Europe May 1 - 9th, 2009
I am finding Europe difficult to write about. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to see, do and experience. Once can throw oneself into a myriad of historical encounters especially where architecture is concerned. Europe is old, Canada is not. The most impressive old buildings that I have seen in Canada are the parliament buildings in Ottawa (I have never been east of Montreal Island). Europe does not have any easy-to-write-about cow shit on the street, mangled legged dogs, mangled bodied beggars on scooters, and it does not have much of a mind numbing cacophony of horns, traffic or people. There are people in Europe, for sure. They tend to be fairly quiet and let us travellers go about our business without interruption. Only when we look completely confused will someone come to our rescue and point us in the right direction. They don't want to sell us stuff, or take us to their uncles carpet emporium or silk shop. They don't insist on a donation to help the poor people cremate their loved ones. They don't claim racism when we don't stop to talk to them.
Europe must be described in terms of 'Baroque' or 'Gothic'. There are periods of time like the Austro-Prussian War, the Roman era, the Dark Ages, Ottoman Rule, Medieval Times, the Thirty Years War, the Renaissance, the Bronze Age, the War of Independence, the Viking Age and the Christian Reconquista. There was the Battle of Hastings, the Velvet Revolution, the French Revolution, the Peloponnesian War, Battle of Largs and Waterloo which spawned the Acts of Unions, European Free Trade Association and many more. People like Tito, Schindler, Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic, Hans Christian Anderson, Napoleon, Romulus, Theo van Gogh, Prince Vlad, and Constantine.
So you see, there is a lot to write about, but it is the understanding of all of these and a thousand more terms, and times, and travesties that takes thought, and patience. I have heard of, even studied a lot of the events and people of European History, but without an interest in these topics, the information simply gets filed away in the dark recesses of my brain. You see to write about Europe is to risk over using adjectives. "Old" can only be used so many times, the same with gorgeous, ancient, majestic and incredible. These words accurately describe what we have seen in so many of the places we have been to.
OK, I will try...
Vienna has one of the most beautiful churches. St. Stephens is gothic in style and we were lucky enough to attend a mass there one evening. We had wanted to hear the pipe organ, a goal that we have set for as many places as possible as the pipe organ is such an amazing instrument. There happened to be a concert on the day we were walking around Vienna and we made sure we got back in time to attend. Everyone took a candle which came with a protective cup and we watched as a Bishop walked into the church with the procession. The mass was not a normal one, lasting two and a half hours. The pipe organ was used throughout and after about 45 minutes an orchestra filed quietly in. The choir sang in beautiful harmony and it made me appreciate the surroundings even though I was clinging onto my candle, holding it just under my chin to let the heat rise up over my face to warm at least a small part of me! All of these old churches are freezing, and I often feel as though I am walking into a grocery store dairy cooler.
We saw the Lipizzaner Stallions going through a training session. Unlike 18 years ago we had to pay admission to see the training. We sat for two hours watching some great dressage in a palace meant for horses with the biggest chandelier I have ever seen! It was freezing cold in there and I only felt colder when we went outside again into the wind. It was an awful day, temperature wise, and we were dressed lightly for some unknown reason. I guess we hoped that the day would warm up, which it did finally at about 4pm. We found a park that was decorated with the busts of famous people, mostly composers, and we ate lunch on a bench in the sun which peeked out of the clouds only periodically.
In Admont Austria, a small town of 3000 people, our friend Hans lives with his wife Barbara, and their two children Martina and Katrin. This is a small town that we could definitely take up residence in. It is surrounded by beautiful tall mountains, and wonderful green pastures in the valley below.
Next we went to Krakow, arriving late in the evening and getting up early the next morning to catch a bus to the town of Oswiecim which is close to Auschwitz. The tour of Auschwitz and Burkinow took a good portion of the day with some free time in between because we missed our bus to Burkinow! It worked out well though because our second guide was a native English speaker who understood the subtleties of our questions. With Berlin our next destination, we stirred up a whirlwind as we looked around the ever changing city. It was more ramshackle than I thought it would be. It has not yet recovered and has a lot of abandoned buildings, and a lot of construction. The history is in your face as we walked around buildings full of bullet holes and statues with pieces missing. We had two full days in Berlin and felt as though we had an appreciation for the history during a 4.5 hour walking tour.
From Berlin we rode a train for a night and part of the day to get to friend Heidi and Norm's Norwegian hang out. They and their two kids Maria and Mattias are in Norway for the year, on sabbatical from the UofS in Saskatoon, and are our neighbours back in Saskatoon. It is great to see familiar faces!!! We have celebrated Norway's National Day with the rest of the people of Fredrikstad on May 17th. There were parades everywhere and lots of food and parties all day long. The other big news for Norway is that Alexander Rybak (from Norway) won the Euro-vision talent contest last night, and everyone is so excited about that!