Just got back from a weekend in Innsbruck, Austria, where I visited two friends whom I met in 2002 on vacation at Lake Garda in northern Italy. Maike and I left Saturday morning to take a seven-hour train ride south…and ended up saving almost 200€ since her aunt had given us a multi-person ticket that was valid all throughout Germany. We only paid about 9€ from the Austrian border to Jenbach, where her friend Elias picked us up and drove us to Schwaz, his hometown about 20 minutes outside of Innsbruck. Funnily enough, we realized shortly after meeting each other that Elias and I share the same last name; we tried to figure out if we were actually related, but the closest we came was a potential connection through his dad’s uncle who lived in/(is from?) Munich, where much of my dad’s side of the family comes from.
The real “family” reunion came later that night, when we went with a bunch of Elias’ friends for dinner at a cool venue called Treibhaus. I had almost forgotten that Michaela was coming when I felt a tap on my shoulder…needless to say, a raging hug party ensued and bubbles of happiness explosions could be seen floating around the Treibhaus. We spent the rest of the night together, first at an Irish pub followed by a bit of dancing at Weekender (whose bouncer was coincidentally a guy from Baltimore who felt it was necessary to ask me what states were on either side of Wisconsin after I showed him my ID…wtf, mate?). The DJs weren’t particularly spectacular, but I was in excellent company and certainly not in any mood to complain!
Waking up the next morning at Michel’s place with a balcony view of the surrounding Alpine mountains was the nicest feeling…you’ll see what I mean when you check out my photos. We spent time catching up through almost eight years of life stuff over a breakfast of Müsli, nectarines, yogurt, and the strongest coffee I’ve ever tasted. Michel said I was the first person to ever want a second cup of it 🙂
(As a side note, the first time Michaela, Joe and I met, I knew about ten words of German. This time, we spoke German together the entire time. People ask me a lot why I chose to learn German, and I normally say something regarding familial ties, but it became extremely apparent to me how proud I felt being able to fully communicate with very close friends in their own language instead of mine. I’ve said this before in my previous blog, but I really feel terrible when I travel somewhere and don’t speak at least a little of the language. Although it’s a useful language, I don’t like imposing English on people, and that’s probably my main motivation for learning German, French, Italian (and now, slowly, Spanish). I’m sure many of you feel the same, but I strongly feel that making an honest attempt at learning a country’s language shows a high amount of respect for the people and their culture. In addition to being useful in everyday situations, it also is incredibly helpful in making meaningful connections with individuals you encounter…people are much more willing to help you if you show that you care about learning about them. Plus, it’s fun! I learned dialectal differences between Austrian and German slang (fesch is hübsch, zach is krass, etc). Moral of the story: if you have but an inkling of wanderlust in your soul, learn a second/third/fourth language!).
After breakfast we picked up Joe, Michel’s younger brother, and they gave me a lovely tour of downtown Innsbruck. There are a few points of tourist interest, including das goldene Dachl and das Helblinghaus, but after walking up the city tower we spent most of our time wandering around leisurely. Lunch consisted of typisches österreichisches Essen at a restaurant up in the mountains reached after fifteen minutes of narrow roads, steep harrowing turns, and distinctly Alpine-accustomed Austrian driving skillz courtesy of Joe, who insisted (quite rightly, as we later observed) that Germans are stereotypically bad drivers when in Innsbruck. Seriously though, the food…(happy sigh). I had Zigeunerschnitzel (“gypsy schnitzel”, spiced with paprika) with rice, Kartoffelsalat, and the most delicious cabbage salad I’ve ever tasted. Om nom nom. To drink we had Holundersaft, which is essentially a concentrated elderberry syrup with water. Basically the best drink on earth. Excellent with both still and mineral water, or for the more alcohol-inclined folk, with Prosecco. Michaela’s grandmother makes it by hand, and was kind enough to give me an entire bottle of the concentrated stuff to take home.
Lunch was followed by a quick stop at a lookout point up the mountain to get a nice view of Innsbruck from afar. Joe’s driving skillz then took us across town a bit to a castle where we walked around the castle’s park before driving back into town to meet Maike and Elias for coffee.
The weekend continued to revolve around food, as we headed back to Michel’s place (which is actually a multiple-story house/apartment owned by her mother and stepfather, where she lives in the top story) and after having grapes from Lake Garda, caviar, and smoked fish for appetizers, we dined on some sort of rosemary-lemon prepared fish (can’t seem to remember the German word for it). Dinner was followed by a few hours of conversation, along with an invitation to come back to visit anytime (including Christmas…skiing in the Alps…tempting). Good-byes were said, and Michel drove me back to Schwaz.
The rest of Sunday night and Monday morning was spent with Maike and Elias watching Shutter Island, being hipsters (do you love dinosaurs?), having tooth-brushing-dance parties, listening to indie Brit bands, and being generally silly. After another seven hours on the train, Maike and I were back in Bonn…and I was wanting to go back.
(Note: I’m in Holland! …the subject of the next post).