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February 2016

A Teen in Europe (Part 2): Cultural Exchange in Innsbruck

Day Two (continued): Innsbruck’s Altstadt

We left Salzburg early in the afternoon. That afternoon, my stomach started cramping. It wasn’t indigestion or bad food, it was intense hunger pangs. Salzburg required a fair amount of walking, but earlier in the morning we had a breakfast that became typical until our next to last day. The main part of the meal was a plain croissant. Added to this was a hard roll of some size, but it was hollow, so the size was deceptive. At least one or two mornings there weren’t enough croissants to go around and I ate as much of the hard roll as possible, which was essentially just the crust of a small bread bowl.

It just wasn’t enough to support our activities and my stomach told me about it. We didn’t have much of a chance to snack, but we did stop for gas between Salzburg and Innsbruck and here I received an introduction to the Milka brand of chocolate. Maybe it was the hunger, but it was the best chocolate I’d ever tasted. Milka wasn’t particularly fancy, it was a mass-produced brand, but when it appeared a couple of years later in a hometown pharmacy, it was just as good, smooth and buttery. Anyway, the chocolate temporarily solved the stomach problem.

Most of our Innsbruck tour was by bus. We really only visited two sites: the Hofkirche or Court Church and the Goldenes Dachl, the “Golden Roof.” Both of these sites were in Innsbruck’s Altstadt or “Old City.” The primary feature of the Hofkirche is the tomb of Emperor Maximilian. It’s set in the middle of a large chamber as you can see here. The statues arrayed around the tomb are of Maximilian’s relatives, ancestors, and heroes, including King Arthur of Britain. It’s a necessary stop if you visit Innsbruck.

A Teen Goes to Europe - Chris Oler Author
Inside the Hofkirche: Some of the statues surrounding the Tomb of Maximilian. My camera didn’t do too well in here.

The Golden Roof is also connected with Maximilian. It was created (finished in 1500) to celebrate Maximilian’s wedding. The emperor and his wife often used the balcony to observe different ceremonies and celebrations. There is a museum inside that features the life of the emperor, but I gathered something went wrong with our scheduling and we weren’t able or allowed to tour it. This seemed to touch off a chain of small mix ups and a couple of big ones, all of which contributed to the flustered state of our tour guide, Giovanna.

Our Guide

“In this place I may as well jot down a chapter concerning those necessary nuisances, European guides. Many a man has wished in his heart he could do without his guide, but, knowing he could not, has wished he could get some amusement out of him…”

-Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

The tour guide or chaperone who often leads teenagers ideally has one of two special gifts. The first is the patience brought by the serene security one can find by being circumspect, seeing the future of one’s charges, rather than noting their current behavior and rendering judgment. If he or she does not have this patience, then there should be a distance to the things that surround them, or simple unawareness. The sometime impulsiveness and insecurity of the teen years do not lend themselves to being a good traveler.

I’ve seen it from both sides, first as a student and years later as a teacher. When we were actually there, on this trip, I didn’t appreciate it as well as now. Heck, I didn’t appreciate it as well five years ago, though I’ve always been thankful. So, what could befall this guide who had the courage to travel with us?

A Teen in Europe - Origins of Molly and the Magic Suitcase
Goldenes Dachl or Golden Roof of Innsbruck. The roof tiles aren’t actually gold, but fire-gilded copper.

Giovanna had Coke bottle glasses and constantly wore a long raincoat. She was an interesting character. Her hair revealed a bit of her personality, as it curled and swirled on the edge of chaos. When we weren’t on the bus, she seemed to chain smoke. Maybe this was a clue as to how we harried her, but, looking back, we certainly didn’t follow Twain’s example. There was another element of her smoking that I cannot forget: the ash on her cigarette seemed to hang on for an impossible length of time. It was mesmerizing to watch. You kept waiting for it all to drop, but it just hung there.

Parents, I know how it looks, but this was 26 years ago. There was a smoking section on the plane during our overseas flight. A different time, even though it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Intentions go a long way and hers were golden. Giovanna was conscientious in her efforts to share history. This clashed directly with the only working strategy I found to combat my stomach problems: sleep. Call it conserving energy, I napped every chance between stops. But we frequently passed places of interest and Giovanna dutifully powered up the bus speaker system to tell us all about them. Because she placed enough value in these places to talk about them, I placed enough value in them to take photographs as we sped down the highway. The end result: no relief from the cramping and a bunch of photos I can’t identify.

A Cultural Exchange

Our tour of the museum now out, Giovanna was at a loss and clearly apologetic. We headed for the hotel where more problems manifested. There was no food service or they couldn’t accommodate a group of our size or something. Basically, we had to find something to eat. We piled back in the bus and headed to the only place we knew: the Altstadt. Thankfully, a couple of food trucks that were in the plaza during our visit to the Golden Roof were still there.

A Teen in Europe - Chris Oler Author
Venice, Piazza San Marco from the lagoon.

It was here I learned the power of speaking the local language. I would love to tell you it was a product of my actions, but it wasn’t. Nevertheless, I observed the changes in disposition of two older gentlemen sitting nearby when drinks were ordered in German. Eyebrows arched, shoulders relaxed, and the looks of wariness replaced with interest and, perhaps, welcome. This too is a bit of Austria carried in conscious memory all these years. Had I been the one to order the drinks, the reaction would have gone unnoticed. It was another moment worthy of gratitude.

The next morning we crossed through the Alps to Italy and headed for Venice.

Mind Blown: A Teen in Europe (A Partial Origin of Molly and the Magic Suitcase)

There are two stories important to how our book series Molly and the Magic Suitcase started. One took place in April 2012, our daughter Molly’s first trip anywhere. Michael was not yet born, but that day was coming too, less than two months later. The first relevant travel story is much older. It goes back to March 1990 and a spring break trip to Europe. This experience directly affected some of our first editorial choices.

The Teen in Europe: What Do You Expect?

Our itinerary was: Munich, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Venice, Siena, Rome (three days with a day trip to Pompeii and Sorrento), Florence, Monaco and Nice. Pretty ambitious for a ten-day trip.

A Teen Goes to Europe - Origins of Molly and the Magic Suitcase
The Nymphenburg Palace, completed in 1675. I wanted to get the whole thing, but the palace is pretty big.

So what thoughts did a near-seventeen year old have going into this adventure? There was a responsibility more than any expectation: this trip was on behalf of my family. That in mind, I asked to borrow the “nice” camera for the trip, but departed with my Canon Snappy AF (and eight rolls of film).

One significant thing was our family trips were always full of activity. In other words, I did not expect to be a passive observer.

Day One: Munich, West Germany

Yes, there was still an East Germany, though the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall happened in the months before. We flew PanAm from Indianapolis to New York, JFK. There, we connected and boarded a Boeing 767 for the flight to Munich.

Highlights of Munich included the Nymphenburg Palace. In fact, we spent a good amount of our first day there. The grounds were sprawling and the two things I recall (and shot photos of) were the frescoed ceilings and a bedroom adorned in green (also shown at the included link). The opulence left an impression, but so did the jetlag. The entire day was a bit of a blur.

A Teen Goes to Europe - Origins of Molly and the Magic Suitcase
Partial of a fresco inside the Nymphenburg Palace. I wanted to get the gilded (?) molding as well.

We pushed on to the city center, stopping briefly in the Marienplatz to learn about the Glockenspiel at the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus). The Gothic architecture (actually Gothic Revival) impressed and there was a sense this was closer to what I expected of Europe. It contrasted sharply with anything I’d seen in the United States. We also viewed and heard a bit about the Frauenkirche. We drove by many other sites including the Olympic Stadium. Our tour guide, Giovanna, used the bus speaker system frequently throughout our trip.

Our hotel had an indoor pool and we were anxious to use it. Its small size, however, surprised us. Other guests seemed to scurry away at the arrival of American teenagers. The hotel was fairly unremarkable and was across from a German army base. The base was the only nearby feature of any note. My first real overseas meal was in this hotel. It was food, not particularly good or bad.

Day Two: Salzburg…and I Fall in Love with Austria

We boarded the bus early the next morning and drove toward the border with Austria. This was the first of three border crossings and the one that took the longest. In the meantime, we were treated to the visual spectacle of the Alps. I left Germany with only 20 Pfennig and no Deutsch Marks asĀ  souvenirs. My disappointment was forgotten with our arrival in Salzburg. Salzburg is the most beautiful place I ever expect to go. The cool mountain air, the low-lying Alps nearby, the complete absence of any sort of trash on the streets, and the charm of the city all contributed to a few hours that left an indelible memory.

A Teen Goes to Europe - Origins of Molly and the Magic Suitcase
Salzburg is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There is an annual festival in his honor.

Most of us think of The Sound of Music when Salzburg is mentioned. I love watching the movie, particularly when Julie Andrews and the kids are in the carriage singing “Do Re Mi” because they ride through the main part of the city. Whenever I see this, the feel of the air and the atmosphere of the city return.

But I was a teenager. So, instead of schnitzel or finding something more local, our group headed for…Pizza Land. Fortunately, even with the many days spent in Italy, this was the only pizza I ate in Europe. It was also very good, and in a style which seemed common over there. It was heavier with sauce and light on cheese. Several years ago I gave up dairy and now order pizza with no cheese at all. My experience at Pizza Land was not much different. There were small globs of cheese and isolated toppings, nothing at all like the flavor extravaganza we take for granted. They had the fundamentals, though. The crust and sauce were excellent.

We visited the graveyard where the Von Trapps hid from the Nazis. It is quite different from the set they built for the movie. The nuns requested no photography and I complied, snapping only a photo of a World War I war memorial, somewhat offset from the rest of the cemetery. Not too long ago, I saw a photograph of the graveyard on Pinterest. It didn’t sit well, but I suppose the nuns may have relented.

A Teen Goes to Europe - Origins of Molly and the Magic Suitcase
The interior of the Salzburger Dom. It’s a bit blurry, probably due to a lower speed film.

Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom) was one of our principal stops. The choir loft above the entrance included a beautiful pipe organ. This was of particular interest to me because the church I grew up attending was known for its pipe organ. I couldn’t compare the two instruments and certainly wouldn’t compare the churches given that the Salzburger Dom was built about the same time of the founding of Plymouth here in the Americas.

The Hohensalzburg fortress was the highlight of our brief visit. The views of the city (see below) and the surrounding countryside were breathtaking. Salzburg was an experience I will never forget. On a side note, I still have plenty of Austrian Schillings (currency).

Travel Pries Us Open

It took less than two days for Europe to conjure awe, not only in my senses, but, perhaps, my soul. That’s probably a little dramatic. What I know is this: those first hours were important. I took full advantage of our time in Rome, perhaps only because Austria was such an eye-opening experience.

Travel changes a person. It pries open a mind, reveals new experiences, and makes you want more. The thing is, you have to be open to it. It’s hard to say why I was susceptible, but there are certainly no regrets.

It’s surprising how much I remember going through this day by day. We haven’t yet reached the end of the second day, which includes an overnight visit to Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck was also my first cultural exchange. You’d expect, after two-and-a-half years of studying German I would be anxious to use it, but I was pretty intimidated. Part Two is coming soon!

Below is a panorama stitch of two photos to give you an idea of how the city looks from the Hohensalzburg fortress. The church in the foreground is the Salzburger Dom.

A Teen Goes to Europe - Origins of Molly and the Magic Suitcase