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.