Saturday, December 6, 2008

The End of One Story

As is evident from the date, a good deal of time has passed, and we've been back in Bluffton since July 4, when we drove south from Detroit in my sister Kate's car with fireworks going off all around us on the plains of northwest Ohio. It was great in many ways to get back, see our many friends and family members, find our house and vehicles waiting for us, and return to jobs that we both enjoy, at least most days.

On the other hand, neither of us will ever forget our time in Salzburg, and we'd go back again tomorrow if we had the chance. We left behind many new friends, and connections to that part of the world that we'll cherish forever.

I will very likely not be adding more to this blog, but I expect to come back to it every now and then, for nostalgia's sake, and I hope that once in a while someone else will do so too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Corrections, Apologies, Observations, Etc.

1. Even those of us with advanced degrees should let our spouses read our blog entries before posting them irrevocably on the web.
2. Sorry for all the typos in the last post. What can I say? I was tired. But how lame is that?
3. As for the layout of photos and text, which is confusing, all I can say is that neither the "compose" window nor the "preview" window in this program looks quite like the actual blog window. In the "preview" window the text and photos did at least mainly line up. I think free programs like this one ought to be perfect, don't you?
4. Grumble, grumble.
5. The largest correction, which eventually I hope became clear to anyone who read this, is that we went with Bill and Sharon to Vienna and then on to BUDAPEST, not Salzburg.

With all that out of the way, another brief travel report: yesterday we took the bus back to St. Gilgen, took the cable car to the top of the Zwölferhorn mountain, had a fine lunch up there, then took a quick look at Fueschlsee (another lake close by) on the way back. It was a hot day, and the buses were packed with people coming out to the beach and going back. The bus going out also had major problems with the air conditioning; we were pretty much parboiled by the time we got to St. Gilgen.

But the views from the mountain were wonderful. On the left you can see the restaurant where we ate under one of the red umbrellas, the end of Wolfgangsee and the village of St. Gilgen, and part of Mondsee in the background. And here's Marlyce with the other end of Wolfgangsee behind her.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Visitors, Travels, and Time Passing

It's been exactly a month since my last entry, and I've fallen so far behind that I don't know how to catch up. Since then, we've gone to Munich and the Neuschwanstein castle with Joel and Jenny, and then sent them off on their way home. We had about ten days on our own, then our friends Sharon and Bill Schermbrucker arrived from Vancouver for two weeks (Sharon is Marlyce's childhood friend and singing partner). We had a lot of fun with them, including a four-day trip to Vienna and Budapest and several smaller outings in the area and around Salzburg. Yesterday they left as well, and today Marlyce and I made what seemed like an epic journey on our bikes to the Freilicht (Open Air) Museum near Salzburg, a fine collwection of historic buildings from all over this part of Austria. e'll be heading back to Bluffton in less than two weeks. I am expecting about 145 finals for my North American Civ. class (though I just have to grade one essay question for each one), 18 20-page papers for my seminar class, and 5 10-pagers for my other class.

There. Caught up, right? Well, OK, I'll put some photos in, and add some comments and stories.

Here's Marlyce with Joel and Jenny at a street cafe in Munich that seems to have been there forever. We got a great deal on the train trip there--29 euros/day for all for of us--but that was complicated by a large number of German soccer fans who got on with large quantities of beer which they set to work consuming at once, though it was still morning. They were more loud than anything, but it did make it hard to doze on the train.

We spent a good part of the day in the Deutsches Museum, which was sort of like the Museum of Science of Industry crossed with the Smithsonian, German style--airplanes, bridges, science, all sorts of stuff. In the evening we walked around in the famous, huge English Gardens, where a select band of hearty folk actually surf on a curious ripple in a fast-moving stream. But for another photo, here are Joel and Jenny, inspired by the statue behind them.

The next day we took another train out into the country, then a couple of buses up into the mountains to see one of the grandest of King Ludwig's castles. He was a 19th century king of Bavaria who was more or less a figurehead, so he whiled away his time and money building castles until the rest of the government got tired of it and had him declared unfit. He died the very next day, in suspicious circumstances, but left behind these gaudy, extravagant buildings. I hear it's good to be king. We took the full tour (and of course took in the mountain scenery as well). King L. died before Neuschwanstein was finished, and within a few weeks the government was showing paying customers through it on tours, a practice that continues to this day. Maybe it's not as good to be king as it used to be. Anyway, it's better to build a grand useless building than to drop a lot of bombs on people, don't you think?

Marlyce and I made a day trip out to Mondsee the next weekend, partly to see the church there which was used for Julie Andrews' wedding in Sound of Music and partly to ride around on the lake in a cool little electric boat. The lake was fine, but a lot like Wolfgangsee (see below) so I'll just drop in a picture of the inside of the church. It's fancy.

Here are Bill and Sharon with us on their first day here, doing the obligatory Mirabell Garden visit. We had fun showing them the Salzburg landmarks and feeling like real veterans. We also took a half-day cruise on the Danube from Krems to Melk and back again, with lots of castles, grapevines, ruins, quaint villages, and so forth along the way.

Our biggest trip with them, and the last major jaunt we'll manage, was to Vienna and then on to Salzburg. The Fulbright folks staged a farewell gathering at a "Heurigen" on the outskirts of Vienna--there are a lot of them, places that make wine and serve food. It was too cold to eat outside, but they had a warm and cheerful room for us inside and we had a nice time. The smiling guy in the middle is Lonnie Johnson, the Fulbright director for Austria. We showed Bill and Sharon a bit of Vienna as well. (It was filled with soccer fans, and a huge section of the old city had been walled off into a "Fanzone" with great big tv screens and so forth.) We decided we could do without the soccer fans, though they were pretty quiet when we were there.

The next day we set off on the train for Budapest--just another three hours. The trip was fine, but we were a little disturbed when the guy who was supposed to meet us at the station to take us to the apartment Marlyce had reserved wasn't there. We called, and eventually somebody showed up, but of course we'd read too much about the frequency of ripoffs in Budapest beforehand and had to be convinced that he was on the level. Istvan turned out to be just fine, though, and if anybody wants to go to Budapest, let me know and I can set you up with a cheap and clean place to stay, right in the heart of the city!

It was late afternoon by the time we found the apartment (the street it was on wasn't exactly spotless, and neither were the several flights of steps to what we'd call the third floor) but it was roomy and clean and just around the corner from a main avenue. So we went out for dinner nearby (to a fine little place called the "Blue Rose" in English, also recommended by Istvan), and then stopped into another little place called the Spinoza Cafe where a guy was playing show tunes on the piano. By the time we left, we were all thinking that this might be fun after all.

Budapest is a big, modern, complicated city--parts brand new, parts run-down, sometimes right next to each other. It was easier to understand why afte we went through the Terror Museum the next day. It's housed in a building which first the Nazis and then the Soviets used to house their secret police. The exhibits have a lot to say about how people try to persevere in the face of large-scale murders and intimidation and all the rest; the Hungarians as a whole seem to be both relieved to be finally free of such things and proud of having come through such a terrible time.

We also wandered around the city. We stayed in Pest, on the west bank of the Danube. Buda is on the east bank of the Danube, along with the castle quarter and some great views. Here's the river with the famous "Chain Bridge" on the right and the Parliament building a little ways upstream to the left, with all the towers.

The esthetic highlight of the trip was definitely on Sunday evening, when we got tickets to see a ballet in the State Opera House, a wonderfully gaudy building that's almost as grand as Vienna's (and the tickets are a lot cheaper!). Ballet's a good choice when you're in a foreign country, becauuse there's no language barrier! We saw a production based on Taming of the Shrew, and it was a surprising amount of fun even for a farm boy like me.

That's not really the end of the story, but it's going to have to be all for tonight!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Krakow, Etc.*

*In German, "etc." is "usw." (Und so weiter . . .)#
#Our German really isn't getting all that much better. I learned about usw. years ago.

The big recent event for us has been our son Joel's arrival (with his girlfriend Jenny Sylak) for a visit. They got here in the morning of May 9. We didn't give them too much time to recover from jet lag--because of my schedule, the best time for us all to go off together was not long after they came. So we got on the train to Vienna on the 10th--here they are having lunch with us in a little restaurant there. We wandered around the city a little, sent Joel and Jenny on the tour of the Opera House that we'd done in February, then went out to Schoenbrunn Palace on the metro. (It was the summer palace of the Hapsburgs, though it's just a few miles from the winter palace in the middle of town. Insert snide remark about imperial dynasties here.) It's quite a grand place--the buildings are impressive enough, but the grounds are just massive, with rows of trees going on almost forever, various statues and fountains and little hills and viewing areas here and there, etc. The pictures don't really do it justice.

We went back into town, had dinner in a nice place with some guy playing hammered dulcimer, and wandered around a little more. Then we headed back to the Sud Bahnhof to catch the night train to Krakow. We'd agreed to go there with Joel and Jenny partly because Jenny's grandfather is Polish, and was born not far from there.

Marlyce had figured out that taking the night train would a) save us a night in a hotel b) give us time to see Vienna and more time in Krakow and c) be a restful sort of adventure. It was pretty cheap, too, since we got a special fare and a compartment with fold-down bunks, sheets, and pillows.

It turned out she was right about everything except the "restful" part. I think all of us slept some, and after a while, when the train was actually moving, the rocking was kind of restful. But there were a number of stops, including a long one at the Czech border while we waited for some other cars to be added and listened to very loud announcements in various languages about what was happening with other trains, the relatives of the conductors, etc. (I'm kidding about the last part, I think.)

Anyway, we arrived at Krakow at 6:30 a.m., ready for, well, something. We dropped our bags at the hotel, but they said the apartment wouldn't be ready till noon. So we walked around the square a little, but couldn't find any place open for breakfast. So we bought some soft, chewy pretzels at a street stand--they were delicious, actually--and sat at the feet of the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's most famous poet, waiting for things to open up. (You can see the chewing going on here.) Finally we got some eggs and coffee in us, and felt ready to wander some more.

Krakow is a beautiful, historic city--the cultural center of Poland, or so people say. And we had beautiful weather there, too, as you'll see in the pictures. There's a lot of Hapsburg influence there too, but the Poles are quite proud of their own Wawel Castle (which dates back several centuries) and their heritage. It's easy to see that things more or less stood still for a long stretch under the communists. Now there are lots of fine new buildings, and many older ones that have been wonderfully restored, but there are still lots that are in pretty bad shape--often right next to the new ones.

We walked around the castle and the church that's part of the complex for quite a while. (Joel figured out that the outside of the church with its twin chapels, one green and the other gold, is on the cover of the Rick Steves eastern Europe guidebook that we were carrying.) There seemed to be a lot of activity in the area, with various groups of performers like this young choir and TV people around, but we didn't know just what was going on. Someone told us later that the president of Poland had come by later in the afternoon.

Around 11:00 we decided it was time for a light lunch and a serious nap, so we got some thing to eat, did a little shopping, and then checked in. The apartment--up under the eaves of a building on the northwest corner of the Market Square--was definitely quaint. It was comfortable enough, but had some unique features, especially the large, red-painted beam that curved through the dining area (structurally important, we felt sure). Jenny whanged into it once or twice, but we enjoyed the place anyway. (Joel also found a great furry hat to help him through the next Waterloo winter, as you can see.)

After some rest we all felt ready to see some more of the city, so we walked around some more, and did more shopping as well. (Things were at least relatively cheap, or so it seemed.) Later in the afternoon we went down to the old Jewish quarter--Poland had more Jews than any European country before WW II--and went into a synagogue that's now a museum. We had dinner outside at a Jewish restaurant, where the food was very fine, and saw a monument nearby (a lot of empty chairs spaced out across an open plaza). The factory where Schindler employed a lot of Jews to keep them out of the camps was just a few blocks away, and we managed to find it too, though there's not a whole lot to see. (During this day we also twice ran into a nice young couple from Cambridge, England, once at the castle and again in the Jewish quarter, and then the next Sunday we met them again on Mozart Square in Salzburg, which was pretty cool.)

The next morning we got up as bright and early as the young ones could manage (they were still fighting jet lag and the night train adventure, of course) and got a bus for Auschwitz (Oswiecim in Polish, give or take a few marks I can't add in this format), which is about fifty miles west of Krakow. We spent most of the day at the main camp in town (it was originally a Polish army barracks) and the second, bigger Auschwitz-Birkenau camp a couple of miles away, which is where the largest number of people (Jews, Poles, gypsies, and others) were actually killed.

It's hard to know where to start or end in describing something like this. Everybody knows the story, I suppose. There are the famous things to see: the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate (rebellious Polish workers welded the B on upside down), the rooms that are filled with women's hair cut off the dead, with shoes, with eyeglasses, with hairbrushes, the wall where they shot people, and of course the gas chambers and crematoria (mostly in ruins). One of the most striking things for me was the sheer size of the grounds at Birkenau, where most of the barracks have long been torn down and only the chimneys remain, stretching off into the distance. It was another beautiful spring day, and the grass was green and the lilacs were blooming. We were glad for the chance to take it all in, and glad, too, to know that we could get back on the bus and go away.

We caught a full-size bus back to Krakow, and sort of dozed through much of the trip. The oddest moment came when the lid on the roof vent (which had been open) suddenly broke off, banged very loudly on the roof once, then bounced away to land in the ditch somewhere. Several people told the driver what had happened, but after the slightest of acknowledgements he just kept going. Maybe this happens all the time.

Waiting for the bus, we met some people from Florida who told us about this medieval-themed restaurant where they had eaten the night before. It turned out to be just up the street from our hotel, so we went in to check it out. People were ordering "pork on the sword," which they brought out dramatically on skewers and flamed right there in the midst of things, which was pretty cool. There was also a very good three-piece band--violin, accordion, and some kind of recorder--playing along behind everything.

We took the day train back early the next morning, and had a pleasant, if slightly tedious, trip back. It was nice to see the countryside pass by--everything from yellow fields of rape seed to vineyards and fields of hops, and many small and larger towns as well.

I had to go back to work on Thursday and Friday, but Marlyce took Joel and Jenny around to some of the local attractions. Then on Saturday we took the train to Hallein and the bus up the mountain to see the salt mine. It was sort of touristy, but kind of fun. You ride a little train back into the mountain, after putting on these white coverall-type things to keep your clothes from getting too dirty. The mines were started a very long time ago by the Celts, then reopened in the Middle Ages, and they were the real source of the wealth of Salzburg for a long time. The local archbishops became rich and powerful on the income from salt, which was shipped down the Salzach (hence the name) and then all over Europe. The best part of the tour was sliding down these wooden chutes that the miners used to go down fast. Even better, though, was the sort of summer-bobsled run that Joel talked us into trying out. It meant walking close to a mile uphill all the way to a ski run. You go up to the top of the mountain in the chairlift, and then ride down in a little car with a control stick that you can brake with, if you get scared or are about to run into the person in front who has stopped to admire the scenery (this happened to me). You can see by the grins that we enjoyed this considerably.

Those who have read this far should know that after all this fun, I did work quite hard this week . . . the first exam in my big North American Civilization class was due, and of the 175 students registered, 140+ actually took the exam. I gave it online, so the computer did much of the grading, but I still had to look through every one, give points for near-misses on names and so forth, and read two essay questions for each exam. I finished about 4:00 today, to my considerable relief.

Joel and Jenny are now off in Prague--they left early yesterday and are coming back late tomorrow. They will have to do their own reporting on that trip!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Wolfgangsee and Maibaum (May Pole)

The weather on Saturday seemed promising, so we set off on our postponed trip to the lake district. We parked our bikes at Mirabellplatz, waited for the bus, and then had a sort of worried conversation with a lovely young woman who turned out to be Australian when the bus was a few minutes late. But it did show up, and we rolled off through the countryside east of Salzburg. Our plan was to get off in St. Gilgen, at the west end of the Wolfgangsee, and do some hiking from there. But due to some blunders by our navigator (me) we failed to get off at any of the St. Gilgen stops. So we stayed on to Strobl, the little town at the other end of the lake. Here I am, posing like I know what's going on.

We got some buns and cheese and such for lunch in Strobl, then strolled off along the north side of the lake (to the right in the photo above) for St. Wolfgang. It's a larger town that sits on the narrowest part of the lake--in the middle, sort of. It was a nice hour's walk along the lake, climbing just a little once where the mountain comes right down to the shore. Here's a view from partway along, looking back at Strobl.

In St. Wolfgang we found ourselves suddenly among lots of people and tourist shops. But there was also ice cream, so we had dessert first, at a bench downtown, looked into the church, then walked a little more and ate the rest of lunch in a park on the edge of town, with tulips and the lake and the mountains on the other side. You can take boats on the lake, but we decided to keep walking (for reasons not entirely clear to me).

It's about a 3-hour walk from St. Wolfgang to St. Gilgen. The first hour or so was smooth and easy--then the path started going up, and kept going up for a long while. We huffed and puffed on our way to some beautiful overlooks ("blicks," they're called in German), and then down the other side--which was quite steep on the way down as well. There's a pilgrim way with several little shrines and an old church built into the mountainside, but it was closed for some reason.

We sauntered on into St. Gilgen, which is small and scenic as well. We were tired but wanted to be sure not to miss the bus, so we found our way to the main bus station, and found out that the next one left in a few minutes--and the one after wasn't for two hours. So we jumped on and went back to Salzburg, where we found a nice little sidewalk cafe and had grilled turkey, potatoes, and vegetables--yes, vegetables! in Austria!--then biked back down the Salzach to home.

Sunday we made our way up to the Aigen church (just a few minutes by bike) for the Maypole celebration. It turned out to be quite a community gathering. We got there just in time to get good seats at a table in a shady spot near the brass band, which was very good, and seemed to remain together no matter how many steins of beer the serving girls delivered to them. There were hundreds of people there by the middle of the afternoon, sitting at the tables or on the grass or wandering around. They were selling all kinds of food and drink, including excellent desserts prepared by the local women.

A fair number of the men and even boys had on lederhosen and/or traditional jackets, and a good number of the women and girls wore dirndl dresses, though others were dressed in various "normal" attire (so we didn't feel too out of it). There were even young girls wandering around giggling and offering glasses of schnapps, though as far as we could tell they weren't drinking it themselves.

The central activity, though most people didn't seem to pay it a lot of attention, was the gradual raising of a very large Maypole (see photos). This involved a large number of men with smaller poles linked at the top by chains, which they used to inch up the big pole a little at a time. The process included a lot of shouting, rearranging of poles, and pausing to build the suspense, shoot off a cannon periodically, and (I think) drink beer as well. We were there for three hours or so, and the pole was almost vertical by the time we finally decided we'd had enough sun.

For those of you with Bluffton connections, I have to say that I think our May Day committee could learn a few things from the Austrian version of such festivities. I would recommend a research expedition be undertaken, and now that I have some experience, I would be glad to lead it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I see that I forgot to put the train station photo from the Fulbright seminar into the entry below. Here it is! Marlyce is at the right, obviously not paying any attention to the man with the camera.

I also discovered a typo, but since I don't know any way to change one of these entries once they've been published, so it will remain. I suppose I could challenge all of my many readers to see who can find it first . . .

May Day Report

The last few weeks have gone fast. We haven't made any big trips, but have done a fair amount of wandering in the area. And, lest you all think I'm not doing any work at all, I have been spending a lot of time planning lectures for my three classes, and several hours over the last few days writing the first exam for my North American Civ. class. It's a strange setup--usually 75 or 80 students come to the lectures, but there are 166 signed up for the course, many of whom apparently hope to pass it just by reading the text, or parts of the text, and the powerpoints and notes that I've been posting of my lectures. We'll see how many actually take the exam . . . but just in case, I've actually written a whole pile of multiple choice and short-answer questions that can be graded automatically on Blackboard!

Enough of that boring stuff. To back up a little, the weekend before last we got a nice Sunday after some rainy days, and thought we'd take the bus to the lake district. But when we got to the bus stop at Mirabellplatz, after taking in a Sunday morning concert in the Dom church, (see photo) we discovered that there's no 11:19 bus on Sunday, and we'd have to wait an hour for the next one. Since we had our bikes and were toward the north end of town anyway, we decided to ride to Oberndorf, a village about 20 kilometers downstream on the Salzach. There's a nice bike path all the way there, nice views of the mountains and such, and we had a fine ride. It's the village where "Silent Night" was first sung, at a Christmas mass, and there's a little chapel and a small museum there. The river makes a sharp curve there as well, and the small village on the other side of the river, Laufen, is in Germany. So we had wurst and potatoes for lunch at a little cafe on the riverside, looked around a little in both villages (there's a fascinating small church in Laufen with the passageway shown here), then pedaled our way back to Salzburg. Google maps assured us it was a 30-mile round trip, but it didn't feel like any more than . . . oh . . . 27 miles.

Last weekend we left town on the train on Thursday afternoon for a Fulbright seminar in Altenmarkt am Pongau, a sort of resort town about 80 minutes away. We met another couple on the train who were bound for the same event (we met them at the orientation back in February), and discovered after we got there that two other Fulbright faculty couples and several students from Salzburg were also on the train. The hostel where we stayed ferried us all there, though it took three trips--fortunately it's close to the train station. There were about a dozen Fulbright faculty and spouses there, the staff from the Austrian office, and about 75 students--Americans studying in Austria, Austrian students who are going to study/teach in the US, and others interested in the program. Most of the faculty gave some kind of presentation; I did a kind of reflection on living as a Mennonite child of the 60s in American and poetry reading on the last night, and (in all due humility) it was quite well received.

The weather was pretty gray for the first day, but we did manage to climb up the little mountain behind the hostel, and it cleared off some as we got to the top. There was time for lots of conversation during meals, and we got to talk with some really interesting students from all over the place, as well as with the faculty folks that we've started to get acquainted with. (Here are some of us waiting for the train back to Salzburg on Sunday morning.)

One of those families lived in Salzburg in the fall, and they told us that we really had to climb the Gaisberg (it's a Salzburg landmark on the northeast side of town, and is more or less in our back yard). (Here it is on the left, from partway up.) So after we got home on Sunday (about noon) and had a little rest, we packed our water bottles, summoned up our strength, and took off. It was quite a journey--a little over three hours to the t0p. The route was not entirely clear at some points, and we ended up struggling up one very steep slope between trees, but at the top we found a paved road that led us onward.

We picked up walking sticks along the way, which earned us some strange looks and rather scornful remarks from the locals, who use high-tech walking poles, sometimes even when they're just walking along the bike paths. But we trudged along, and finally made the top, and the views were quite wonderful. There were paragliders taking off from the top and soaring around, though we weren't quite tempted to try that ourselves.

We'd heard that we could take a bus down, and that seemed like an attractive option, so we went into one of the restaurants on the top (there's a restaurant on top of every mountain in Austria, or so it seems) to ask about it. The waitress seemed entirely baffled by the word "Bus," though, or maybe just unaware that one did come to the top . . . so we went to the other restaurant, had some bratwurst and sauerkraut to fortify ourselves for the trip back, and started down. From the trail we saw a bus go roaring up, and about ten minutes later we heard it roar back down the main road. When we got to the bus stop at Zistelalm, about half an hour's walk farther down, we found out that was the last bus for the day . . . but it wasn't so bad, really. Going down is always a lot easier than going up, and this time we just stayed on the road when we weren't sure of the way. By dusk we were home, putting our feet up and congratulating ourselves on our efforts.

Today is a holiday in Austria, and several people told us we should check out the Maypole dances and festivities at the local church. We walked up that way after lunch, but because of the weather they postponed things until Sunday. We're hoping to do some anthropological research comparing these rituals to those practiced in Bluffton, which many of you know about, but a report on that will have to wait until the next entry!