My husband and I just returned from a one-week trip to Austria. My husband works for an Austrian firm, he travels to the head office several times a year, and we have often spoke about me coming along for a visit, maybe to the wine country south of Graz, maybe to the Alps to ski…
Now, I’m not a downhill skier, and, in 1991, when deciding whether to have surgery to repair my blown-out left knee, whether or not I skied was a decision criterion (no downhill ski? maybe don’t need to cut into knee). The list of vacation destinations on my bulletin board is:
- Quebec City,
- Cape Breton,
- Trieste, Italy (largely because of Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere),
- return to Alaska,
- return to Hawaii, and
So, how come Austria jumped to the top of the list and we elected to go to the Alps to ski?
We travelled to the Tirol with another couple, Maria and Mohamed. The four of us have become friends since Mohamed moved his family to Michigan, to work with my husband at the US office of the Austrian firm.
They knew the area and they were enthusiastic about having us/showing us around. We speak no German, they speak German. It was wonderful to be able to relax in their company and yet, since they have now lived in the US for a few years, talk about the similarities and differences with people who could see both sides of it (as a visitor and as a native).
We stayed in an apartment in her aunt’s home. She knew the fun foods we had to try. She could explain why the bowls of water on the graves in the churchyard had an evergreen sprig in them. She knew why all the doorframes had chalk marks above them saying the same thing 20 * C * M * B * 07. I think they also enjoyed seeing the place through our eyes, in our questions, and sharing it with us.
When I was in college, I visited my sister who did a semester abroad in Paris. I did the Eurail thing and saw Milan, Venice, and Vienna. Yet, I felt I was just passing through, hanging out with other backpacking Americans and some Brits in what felt like “theme park Europe”, getting a view of the architecture and the museums, but a superficial one.
I feel like going with friends who speak the language and who are aware of the nuances of social interactions there helps get us somewhat under the veneer. And, engaging more directly with the people and the place makes the trip all the richer.
I can’t complain about the scenery, or the company, yet I think each elevated the other: the friends made the scenery come alive, the scenery drew us together in admiration and interaction. That’s the way to travel.