Friday, September 19, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 7 - Austria

After getting whatever we wanted at Greg's apartment in Stuttgart, we arrived at the Alpenland Sporthotel, a 5-star resort in the Austrian countryside, courtesy of Steve's step dad. It was a super nice place and we were very grateful to stay there. However, we were in for a slightly rude awakening: whereas everything at Greg's place was free, almost everything at the resort cost money. Fortunately, the spa and ping pong table had no cost involved, which equaled us spending most of our time there when we were at the resort. We did get nailed with a $50 internet bill and a $40 laundry bill - for four loads. But this was more than offset by the first-rate views, the accommodating facilities, and some sweets sent by Tracy which disappeared after they were set in the middle of the room.

We spent a marathon day seeing everything in Salzberg, which turned out to have a lot more to offer than I expected. There were a couple castles, a couple rides up nearby mountains that offered killer scenery, a river tour, and a couple sites dedicated to Mozart, among other things. One of the castles - the Hellbrunn Palace - was built in the 1800's by a monarch who also apparently was an extravagant practical joker. He had a running water system installed throughout the castle grounds, and also constructed several various rooms with contraptions designed to interest any of the guests to his castle (these included fountains, a cave/room with a bird theme, and a small mechanical recreated version of Salzberg). The catch was that as guests were absorbed with site seeing, he would trigger jets of water set up throughout the castle grounds and would brutally spray them down. The tour was no different, as the guide mercilessly sprayed all the tourists along the way. This castle was also supposedly the location of the gazebo from The Sound of Music. Here we had perhaps our dumbest moment of the trip. We wandered around the grounds trying to find the gazebo, and came upon a circular slab of concrete with a couple stone benches on it. Not seeing anything else promising, we assumed that the gazebo had been destroyed and that the concrete floor and the benches were all that remained. We spent about 5 minutes there taking various pictures and videos before another couple came by and laughingly pointed us in the right direction.

At this time we were joined by Chris Riboli. The joke now became that poor Carly now had a dad and not one evil step-brother, but two. At this point I also was joined by a terrific case of swimmer's ear. It developed suddenly during the day, and by evening I could barely get to sleep. That night I was awakened every hour that night by Steve and Chris snoring and by what felt like a knife being stabbed into the side of my head. I may or may not have then woken up Carly with some choice words. In the morning I decided I had to get a prescription before my ear swelled shut, but it was the beginning of the weekend. I called back home and eventually got in touch with a family doctor who agreed to call it in. However, the drugstore closed before he called, and so they sent me to another drugstore, which I discovered closed at the same time as the other one. I was now ready to be screwed and not sleep for the next 48 hours and have my ear fall off. That was until an Austrian woman stuck her head out of a small window in a similar way to the crazy guy at the gate to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. After a struggle of communication I eventually got what I needed.

Random moment award goes to one evening when were eating in the small restaurant at the resort, only to be suddenly interrupted by someone singing opera loud enough that I thought my glass might shatter. Turns out a somewhat famous tenor from Spain was staying at the resort, and was so charmed by the waitress that he decided to sing her a piece of an opera. At full blast. I guess he enchanted the waitress too much, as she stood us all up later that evening after agreeing to take us out on the town in her car.

There is almost no end of scenic places to go in Austria. We visited a gorge with a built-in path inside it next to a river that led to a waterfall. Nearby was a field with some mountains in the background, so we thought we'd try to recreate the first scene from The Sound of Music. Carly wanted to just skip down the hill, which I thought was pointless since the goal was to recreate the scene, in which there was no skipping at all. I tried to do it with Steve, and told him to just walk normally down the hill, but for some reason he ended up running down the hill singing as I chased after him with the camera. But in the end I think we got some solid footage. We also visited the largest ice cave in world, which was a good ways up in the mountains. Chris decided to do it in a short sleeve shirt, which didn't really seem like a big deal until we were standing outside the cave watching people in full winter garb exit shivering and rubbing their hands together. I gave Chris my hoodie, thinking it might be fun to rough it, but the guide graciously gave me a jacket. We were first in line, and when the doors were opened to the cave, we were completely smashed by a 40 mph gust of below-freezing wind. I couldn't breathe for 10 seconds, and most of my aspiration to rough it fled away pretty quickly. We hiked up several thousand steps and did end up seeing some pretty eye-opening ice formations.

After Salzberg, we took a short trip to Vienna, which only increased my admiration for Austrian towns. There was a square downtown set up with all types of ethnic food available, a palace with incredible gardens, and sandy beach along part of the Danube. Outside St. Stephen's Cathedral there was a guy who looked like he was asleep while posing as a statue of a soldier. Carly timidly walked up to take a picture with him, but as soon as she got next to him he suddenly turned and shouted. She screamed and ran about 20 feet - it was one of the funniest things I've seen. The evening was great - the night was another matter, as Steve was snoring especially loud that night. I tried to sleep on my side with one hand propped to cover my ear - but to no avail. Eventually I nodded off, but awoke in the middle of the night to both Steve and Chris snoring in tandem so that there was hardly a moment of silence - when one was breathing out, the other would snore, and vice versa. Early in the morning I awoke again to Steve, and I had had enough. I kept getting out of bed and hitting him (not hard, okay..), and he would stop for a few seconds. Finally, there was a long enough pause and I got back to sleep. In the morning, Steve revealed to my incredulity that he had hardly slept at all because Chris and I were snoring, and that in order to get to sleep he was trying to make disc jockey-type rhythms in his head out of Chris' and my snores. And apparently he had finally gotten to sleep when I began hitting him. Chris slept the whole night without a problem, of course.

We decided to take a night train from Vienna to Venice. It started out on a shady note, as I was in the train bathroom trying to wash my hands, when someone busted in on me (apparently, the lock didn't work). I pushed back on the door and knocked them back out, but then they turned right around and tried to bust in again. Not believing it, and I again pushed back on the door and knocked them back out, this time keeping my foot in front of the door, while trying to reach the sink, which left me in a strange position. I came out half-expecting to fight someone, but there was no one to be found. Speaking of washing hands, I'm reminded of a previous train incident when a fly hit my face, and Carly insisted that I use a wipe on the area. She then proceeded to wash her own hands, the idea of a fly landing on me apparently being so gross that it became too real for herself. Later I used the bathroom later to change, which several girls in the aisle by the door seemed to find humorous. I guess transitioning from jeans to red Jordan shorts is pretty comedic stuff in Europe. It was also established around this point in time the Murphy's Law of riding on a train: as soon as you stand up, the train will swerve, and you will in all likelihood fly into other seats, looking stupid and uncoordinated. Things were going great until the train was inundated after midnight, and the two extra seats in our six-person room were taken. There was little ac, and so it soon felt like we were being taken away to a concentration camp. But we made it to Venice all in one piece and ready to take on Italy.


Steve (to a German-speaking person): Do you sprechen sie English?

Carly: I'm always afraid that when a train comes a pebble will shoot up and hit me in the face then I would die. It's my biggest fear.
Me: Then you'd be a minotaur. I mean cyclops.

Carly: That mountainside is beautiful. If I were a bird, I'd live there.
Steve: That's cool.
Me: If I were a person, I'd live there.

Carly (looking into the distance): I need a stethoscope so I can see that better.

Steve: If you removed "stuff," "crap," and "thing" from your vocabulary, you'd be a mute.
Me: I say all kinds of stuff.

Carly: Germs to me have ugly faces. They have mean expressions, and they're wrinkly, kind of like a raisin.

Carly (looking at her cards of the same suit): I have the runs.

Chris: The reason it sucks to be a girl is not pregnancy or a period, it's not having sword fights.
Carly: Okay, I've had all the testosterone I can take right now.

Steve: I have too many character flaws: I sweat and I snore.

Chris: It's 11:11, make a wish!
Chris: Was that kind of girly?
Silence from Steve and me.
Carly: No, that's cool!!

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