The Hills are Alive With the Sounds of Salzburg!
June 9th, 2002
‘Allo to ehv-wee-one from lovelee Pare-ee, Fwahnz!
Heidi’s monastic brewery in Salzburg, Austria was better than we could possibly have imagined. Walking into the grand old stone-floored building we were greeted by a beautiful sight: a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with ceramic beer steins. Visitors select a vessel of joy for themselves (liter or half-liter sizes) and proceed to rinse it in a graceful, multi-spigoted marble fountain built there for that purpose. Your ticket is purchased from a solemn older woman barely squeezed behind her cash register before you proceed – stein, ticket and self – toward a surly-looking older gentleman who stands, arms crossed over his enormous belly in apparent imitation of the gigantic oak barrel beside him, to receive the fabled beverage. Your stein is unceremoniously grabbed, the giant oak keg is tapped and tilted to fill your mug, and then it is flung back at you, sliding across a stainless steel grating into your welcoming grasp.
To the beer hall! We sat quietly chatting, drinking this glorious, unpasturized beer while making forays out to a bank of restaurants where giant pretzels, roast pork, veggies, sausage, sandwiches…just about anything you can imagine, was available for purchase. Then about a hundred loud, singing, boisterous young men swinging their steins in great jolly celebration joined us in the hall…Austria’s boot camps had just let out and everyone there was serenaded by these delirious, drunken soldiers who banged their mugs against the wooden tables to keep time while the occasional brave (read: “extremely drunk”) soldier leapt on top of one of the tables, thrust his beer before him like a conductors wand, and led half the hall in some rousing drinking song.
Needless to say, we were well-prepared for when the big Eurorail destination wheel spun around and settled on…
Munich: beer halls as far as the eye can see. Ah yes, Munich is a place where, when you say, “One beer, please” (“Ein bier, bitte”), the server brings you a LITER of the house brew in a giant glass mug. Sweeeet. In the company of a couple of guys from Tennessee we met at our youth hostel, we explored Munich’s beer halls over the next couple of days – whole roasted trout, giant pretzels, sausages galore, a huge plaza sheltered under a complete ceiling of 100-year-old walnut trees, German men in Lederhosen, oom-pah-pah German music, a Mariachi band (yes, a Mariachi band) and the oldest beer house around: the HofBrau (many thanks to Hannah and Rich for suggesting we visit!).
But Munich wasn’t all beer and pretzels, oh no, we had the luck to be there during the Corpus Christi celebration – that morning we were greeted by the echoing, ephemeral sound of hundreds of voices singing Baroque hymns. The local convent, monastery and various parishes paraded through the streets of Munich, their soaring voices filling the narrow streets and spilling out over the rooftops. When they arrived at the center of town, the bells of every church began to chime, sharp, resonant, clear and full, filling the city with a sonic glory we can’t imagine happening many other places. It was simply breathtaking. The rest of the day hosted a huge folk festival with visiting musicians and dancers from all over Europe.
Of course, while we were in the neighborhood we had to stop by Schloss Neuschwanstein, Mad king Ludwig’s fairy-tale castle dedicated to the works of Wagner. Americans may know it better as the castle that Walt Disney designed Sleeping Beauty’s castle after. While quite a clichï¿½ tourist destination, it’s still a spectacular, dream-like structure set in an unbelievable landscape. You tend to forget the crowds around you on the hiking trail as you stare up at this incredible fortress, perched in a region that Kim commented, “reminds me so much of Yosemite!”
We also had the opportunity to visit a little German town called Bamberg, one of the few towns that survived WWII without damage. Our good friend Chris was stationed out here until recently, and recommended we stop by. Like Cesky Krumlov in Czech, Bamberg is a UNESCO-protected town (that means the town gets an awful lot of money not to change a thing), and rightly so. It’s a quaint village with medieval squares, churches, a monastery and the infamous “smoked beer” that resulted from a local brewery catching on fire hundreds of years ago and the subsequent sale of the kegs they were able to rescue from the fire which tasted, not surprisingly, a bit smoky.
From Munich, we headed south to Lucerne, Switzerland. We happened to arrive during the Swiss-German Bacci-ball tournament. That Sunday was glorious, in the bright sunshine we wandered the lakeshore in the shadow of the snow-capped alps watching the tournament, eating crepes and sausages, dodging little Swiss children and enjoying the sporting of small boats and windsurfers out on the water. What a beautiful, sunny day. We made the mistake of laying out our swimwear for the following day which was, of course, DUMPING rain. Nevertheless, we left the safe and warm confines of our prison-turned-youth-hostel (yeah, we know, weird.) and explored the medieval ramparts of the city’s old fortifications. Soaked to the bone but very glad for synthetic clothing, we dried ourselves over dinner and caught a night train up to Holland. By the way, unlike anywhere else in Europe, it is apparently NOT okay to play one’s guitar in an empty Swiss rail station while waiting for one’s train…those crazy Swiss. It must be the cheese.
After a couple of days of Amsterdam’s lovely canal-laced streets, ubiquitous bicyclists and cannibis-wafting coffeeshops we caught another night train to Paris where our good friend/translator Nancy met us to spend the weekend frolicking in the French streets, waving our baguettes wildly and causing all sorts of mayhem.
Truth be known, the first sight we saw in Paris was a world cup game. The WHOLE truth be known, we haven’t missed a single U.S.A. or Irish match. We don’t know if those of you back home have been following the cup, but for the first time ever America has a decent team, so keep your fingers crossed. And, if you REALLY want to have a good time, get yourself a green t-shirt and get thee to an Irish pub anywhere in the world when their team is playing – ’nuff said.
Last night we sat in a park at sunset drinking cheap French wine, enjoying a picnic of garlic-stuffed roasted pork, cucumber salad, brie and fresh bread when we realized that we are, indeed, the luckiest people in the world. God has blessed us so much with fantastic family, friends and a great big, beautiful world to explore together…we just couldn’t be more in love or more grateful for everything and everyone in our lives.