Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Roof of Austria

This morning it was still dark when I woke up. The lamp in the living room was on, though, and I could smell bacon frying. I padded out in my bunny slippers and nightgown, to find Hermann already dressed and packing a big rucksack on the table.

"What are we doing today?" I asked him.
"Today," he answered, lacing up a very serious pair of hiking boots, "we are climbing Schneeberg."
"What's a Shnayberg?"
"Well,", said Hermann, "it's the tallest mountain in this part of Austria, about 2,000 metres high. The peak has snow on it even in the summer, so its name, Schneeberg, means Snow Mountain. It's best to arrive at dawn, so this morning we're taking the car. Here, take this plate of bacon and onions. Have lots to eat now, because it's going to be another long day. A very Austrian kind of day, so you might want to wear your dirndl again".
I took my plate over to the computer, because the table was still covered with rucksack. I found this website with photos of the mountain, and it looked like a beautiful hike ... but an awfully long way down from the top.

It was still dark when we climbed into the car, but the sky grew lighter as we drove, and presently we could see Schneeberg, grey in the dawn light. "Wow!!" I gasped. "It looks so dark! Is it dangerous to climb?"

"Well, yes," said Hermann. "But not very dangerous - just a little dangerous." So up we went.

I was eager to reach the top, but there were so many other things to do along the way that it was hard to hurry. (I'd forgotten to change out of my bunny slippers, so it was really hard to hurry.) This tree just begged to be climbed, so up I went. Then we met a great patch of fall crocuses, and I lay down in them and admired their mauve cups against the sky. I even found a white crocus, which Hermann says are extremely rare. Very few people have seen an albino fall crocus. There were gentians, too, making a glorious splash of colour in the meadows.
I could have spent the entire day just exploring the wildflowers, but then, I wanted to climb Schneeberg too. I thought we could have lunch on the top, under the big cross. It was a shock when Hermann explained that it would take another four hours to reach the top ... and then of course, we'd have to come all the way back down again!

I really didn't think I was tough enough to climb all day like that. I asked Hermann if we could climb something smaller, so at least we could get a better view of Schneeberg. He said that of course we could. I was expecting more meadows and flowers, but instead we went up this cliff! It went on forever, and my legs started to ache, but eventually we found ourselves at the top of Öhler Peak. I looked around for a cross, like the one on Schneeberg, but there wasn't anything except the view. But what a view! I wanted to lie on my tummy on the edge of the cliff and drink it all in, but it was so windy up here that Hermann was afraid that a gust might blow me right off.
We had a drink from our water bottles and a couple of handfuls of granola while we admired the valleys and woods below. My heel had a blister from all that climbing, but Hermann had plenty of band-aids in his first-aid kit and had me fixed up again in no time. Now we were ready to continue hiking.
After an hour, and a blister on my other heel, we arrived at Schober Peak. This one had a proper cross, and now I felt like a real mountain climber. And you know what? I'm the very first Canadian to climb this peak! An official gave me a special stamp in my passport to mark the occasion - I can't wait to show you all when I come home.
Schober is 1,213 metres above sea level. I tried to convert it into feet, because my granny says her brain goes funny when she has to think in metric. I got really stuck doing it, so I asked Hermann to help. He took a tape measure from his rucksack, measured the length of one of his feet, and said that it would be about 4,719 feet and 8 inches. That didn't seem fair to me, since his feet are so much bigger than mine. So Hermann measured one of my feet instead, and did some more mental math. This was better - now I can say that Schober is 26,086 feet.

A bit reluctantly, we turned our backs on the cross and took a different path down Schober. We had a spectacular view of Schneeberg in the distance.

"How high is Schneeberg in feet?" I asked.
"It's 8,078 Hermann feet and 44,645 Sally feet."
"That's colossal! And how high would Mount Everest be, Hermann? I've decided to be a mountaineer when I grow up, and I'm going to climb every mountain I can find!"
"Well, wait a sec ..... That'd be a good 190,000 of Sally's feet, I suppose."
"That's .... gigantic! Wow!"
Going downhill makes my muscles much more tired than going uphill. Besides, bunny slippers are no substitute for hiking boots, and my toes started to burn and pinch. After a while, they hurt so much that Hermann carried me in his rucksack the rest of the way to the car.
Climbing mountains is awesome! As I did up my seatbelt, I told Hermann that this was the bestest mountain climbing I'd ever done. He reminded me that it was the first mountain climbing I'd ever done, but that doesn't matter - this is still the bestest!
After supper and hot baths, we turned on the television and saw horses doing a sort of ballet. Hermann explained that this is the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, and that these horses are the famous Lipizzaners. I would have liked to see them perform at the Imperial Place, but tomorrow I'm off to Italy to visit Laura. I'm going to miss Hermann (and I can't believe that I was so shy with him the first day) - but I bet he'll be glad not to have to share the TV remote anymore!
Thank you for everything, Hermann! You're the very bestest!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An October day in Vienna

Today Hermann took me around downtown Vienna, just as he promised. He gets up much later than I do, so I've started watching television very quietly until he wakes up. I don't understand most of it, of course, but it does help me learn German. I particularly like the commercial breaks. This one made me snort milk out my nose, this one made me want to dance around his living room, and this recruiting commercial made me want to learn how to do all those gymnastics!

I tried to do them in the living room, but I accidentally somersaulted onto the sofa and woke Hermann up. He said not to worry, that he'd been meaning to get up anyway, and could I please crawl under the sofa to see if I'd kicked his glasses underneath? Then he made breakfast: bread and butter with honey and cheese, along with some bacon and onions. He calls it his bachelor's special.

First we took the tram again, with its funny bell that sounds like an old alarm clock. Then Hermann said we were going to ride the U-Bahn (Underground) the rest of the way downtown. It's a train that can't make up its mind whether it wants to stay above ground or underground, so it does both. I wish it just stayed above ground. Underneath Vienna, the train gives a long, hideous scream as it accelerates into the tunnels. The first time I heard it, on our way downstairs to the train platform, I thought aliens were attacking Vienna.

It was such a relief to get away from the U-Bahn and walk. Some of the streets were blocked off for a music festival, and we stopped for a few minutes to listen to this duo playing accordion and trombone. I tried to get Hermann to dance, but he said that actually he isn't very keen on this sort of music. Besides, he wanted to show me St. Stephen's Cathedral, which he says every visitor should see.

I thought that this tall building behind the crane was the cathedral, but Hermann said it was just a skyscraper. We passed a building with a little dome on the top that I was sure was the cathedral, but no, that was the Urania theatre.

Before the cathedral came in sight, we found the Vienna River. It isn't a bit like the Danube with its marshes and wooded banks; this poor river is imprisoned on its way through the city. Otherwise it would cause too much flooding in the spring. If you want to get near to the river, you have to descend these rather slippery stone steps. I had a short swim at the bottom, but the water was so cold that didn't stay in for long. Anyway, it was more fun to check out the graffiti. I wonder why Humpty Dumpty is sitting in his underpants shooting out Euros? Hermann said that he didn't have a clue either.

We passed this church with the green dome on its tower as we walked through the Greek quarter. I thought that this must be St. Stephen's cathedral, but it's just a regular church.
Hermann stopped across from a tall brick building with a hexagonal tower on the top. I asked if this was St. Stephen's cathedral, but he said that it was a restaurant and we were having lunch here. I thought he meant the steakhouse, but he took me across the street and we had a traditional Viennese lunch, starting with frittatensuppe, then Wiener Schnitzel, and Mohr im Hemd for dessert. Hermann couldn't finish his dessert, so I helped him out. He said that he had no idea that a third grader could eat so much!

After lunch we met a pair of beautiful grey horses hitched to a carriage. Luckily, Hermann had warned me that we might meet horses, so I'd taken some carrots out of the crisper. I broke off pieces, so that the carrots wouldn't get stuck on the bits, and held them out on the flat of my palm. The horses took the carrots very gently, their whiskers tickly on my palm, and nuzzled my ears and pockets just case I had some more. Their noses were velvety-soft, and their breath sweet and carroty. I did NOT want to say goodbye to them, but part of being a good guest is not making a fuss. I scratched their necks one last time and hugged them goodbye, and then we set off again.
We found this huge black church that looks almost like a Lego structure, except that Lego uses colours. I asked Hermann if black was an evil colour, but he said no, and went gave me this long grown-up explanation about colour. Anyway, this church isn't St. Stephen's Cathedral either.

We found the United Nations headquarters, although I liked the playground better. Then, at last, just when I'd thought Hermann was playing a joke on me, we turned a corner and saw this extraordinary roof. Finally - St. Stephen's Cathedral! Just look at the roof - it must have taken forever to decorate it. It was hard to see, because it had scaffolding all around it. Hermann says that it's continually being repaired. I guess it's so old that it's like my granny, who's on her second artifical hip. St. Stephen is the patron saint of Vienna, so on St. Stephen's Day (December 26th, which we call Boxing Day in Mallorytown) there are all sorts of special events.

After strolling around St. Stephen's, Hermann took me to the Prater amusement park. For some reason, he doesn't like to ride on ferris wheels and roller coasters; he says it makes his tummies feel wobbly. I asked him how many tummies he had, because I could only see one. Hermann replied that roller coaster rides make his tummy multiply into several tummies, and that each one of them gets sick. Ewwww.
I went on the ferris wheel once, and then spent the rest of my euros on the Boomerang roller coaster. Wheeee! It was already after my bedtime when we boarded the U-Bahn again. I was so tired that I fell asleep on Hermann's lap before the train even pulled out of the station. It may have still been shrieking and screaming, but I never heard a thing. I was dreaming about riding the Boomerang.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yodelling with Hermann

As you can see on this map, Bucharest, Romania and Vienna, Austria, are quite close to each other. Two days after hugging Cris good-bye, I was shaking hands with Hermann in the post office. I was so happy that he met me, because most of the signs are in German, and I don't understand much yet. Hermann seems much more formal than anybody I've stayed with so far, and it scared me just a little bit. First he took me to a cafe for a glass of milk and a slice of apple strudel, and then we took the tram to his apartment here.

Hermann's apartment building is quite close to the Danube River. It's a famous river that flows through ten different countries, including Romania, and there are probably more songs and stories about it than about any other river.
There's a bicycle trail that runs along the river, and Hermann thought that we might go admire the sunset. The trouble is that I don't have a bicycle. Hermann laughed and said, "What is it with girls? They forget to pack the most important things, but never forget to pack as many clothes as they can carry!" I do have an awful lot of clothes, but then I'm visiting an awful lot of different places. Clothes are important.
Hermann turned his bedroom over to me, and made his bed on the couch. He says that it's quite comfortable, and that maybe he should start sleeping there all the time. After all, he says, it's much closer to the television and the refrigerator.

The next morning we passed a group of women wearing dirndls. As soon as I saw them, I asked Hermann for one. He said that he's a better photographer than a dressmaker, but I kept asking ... so he sat down and did his best. I still didn't think that it looked like a dirndl, so Hermann wrote "Austrian Dirndl" on it in red marker. (A dirndl is also a girl, so now I'm a dirndl in a dirndl.) It doesn't stay on very well, but if I wear it over my nightgown it works. Once I was dressed for visiting the countryside, we crossed the Danube and wandered through the Lobau national park.

This park has one of the last remaining European wetlands, and is an important place for birds to rest during their migration. Hermann comes here all the time to take photos of the plants and animals, which he publishes on his blog. He knows the Latin names for everything that lives and grows here, I think. He stopped every few feet to take pictures, while I climbed the trees or watched for otters and water shrews.

We crossed back over the Danube and saw the sunset over the river, just as Hermann promised. You can just see it here, behind a huge hydro-electric station that provides electricity to the city of Vienna. People here use the Danube in all sorts of ways: transport, industry, and recreation, to name just a few. Once upon a time there used to be fishermen along the river, but not many people want to eat the fish from the river nowadays.

The next morning we returned to the Lobau, but this time we explored the heaths. The lowlands are flooded every year, but usually this part isn't affected. As you can see, everything is much drier. I was a bit scared of meeting wild boars, so at first I rode in Hermann's rucksack. The piglets are cute, but the adults can be ferocious! Hermann was sorry that I was so frightened, so he taught me to yodel to scare them off. We yodelled together while we walked, and after that we didn't see any animals at all. I wonder where they all went?

There were even some October flowers in bloom. We carpets of the most beautiful mauve fall crocuses. At home they only bloom in the spring.
At the edge of a marsh, we even saw an egret. It floated over the reeds and then landed, just the way our blue herons do.
It was almost dark when we crossed back over the river, and took the tram back to Hermann's apartment. He made schnitzel for supper, with some vegetables to go with it, and we had a picnic outside his apartment. Dinner was a bit rushed, though, because he wanted to catch a soccer game between Celtic and Rapid. (To be honest, it was a bit boring after watching soccer in Argentina, but Hermann just couldn't find Boca Juniors.) He says that tomorrow we're going to explore downtown Vienna, and hints that horses might be involved. (I wonder whether the people who invented yodelling were trying to sound like horses. What do you think?)

Gutenacht (that means "Goodnight"),