Austria: From Countryside to City
Amoxicillin in hand, we set off on the train from Prague to Brno—basically the last city south of Prague before you hit the Austrian border.
Brno wasn’t necessarily a destination we had much interest in, but our Austrian friend, Alex, who we had met on the Camino de Santiago had agreed to pick us up there to kick off our time in Austria.
This was probably the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. When we had planned this trip to Europe, we wanted it to mostly be about visiting people, not necessarily places (except for Prague). Austrian Alex had come to Portland two years earlier for our wedding. He saw our life and met our family, and he was excited to show us his.
Austrian Alex lived in Vienna, but he was from a very small country town in the very northern part of Austria called Laa an der Thaya (often shortened to just “Laa”). He had tried to describe his home—a mixture between a plantation, farm, and estate—but the concept doesn’t directly translate to anything we had ever heard of here in the States, so the plan was to spend a couple days at his childhood home and then a couple days in Vienna, his current home.
There’s something magical about experiencing the place where someone grew up. There are stories that emerge, hints of what makes someone who they are, traces of people who have rubbed off on them. We met his parents, stayed in the centuries-old farmhouse/estate that he lived in, toured the countryside dotted with castle ruins and sleepy towns, and tasted the region’s wine.
Austrian Alex’s English is spectacular. He basically taught himself by watching English videos and TV and playing online games with English-speakers. With his parents, language was a bit more of a hurdle (though they were both much better English-speakers than they gave themselves credit for). But for me, language barriers present a different sort of bonding. You’re forced to read each other’s energies in a much more careful way, laugh over making yourself look like a fool communicating with wild gestures and sound effects, and truly appreciate one another’s sincere effort at connection. Once it came time to leave for Vienna, we were reluctant to go, but vowed to make our way back for a future visit—this time with a bit of German to contribute to the conversation.
For some reason, I didn’t expect to like Vienna as much as I did, but it absolutely took my breath away (again, that architecture!). Of all the cities we visited, this was the one I most wish we had had more time in.
Maybe it was because we were experiencing it with a local, but Vienna just felt so comfortable. My Alex and I kept saying that we could definitely see ourselves living there…but it was my youngest brother, Danny, who got to live that experience.
Completely unplanned, Danny arrived in Vienna on our last day in town to begin a semester-long study abroad. We met him for dinner only to find out that he had not slept at all on the flight over (“But Caitlin, they had such awesome movies!”), and was so jet lagged I wondered if he was going to fall asleep at the table! But it was such a perfect way to finish our time there—introducing my little brother to a city I had quickly fallen in love with, dinner with a spectacular view, and live music and beers with Austrian Alex’s friends in a plaza.
Up next: The French Riviera