Jul 23, 2012

Travel and other thought-provoking summer events

10 days in a bus can still teach one a thing or two. Like how asphalt will tent in extreme heat, blocking the whole autobahn. Or how upsetting Norwegians find dealing with older German tourists who speak fondly of their time in Norway back in the 40's (I'm sure some US GI's have made the same faux pas when visiting Europe). Or that whatever may be going on financially, the Germans and Austrians still manage to keep the sides of their roads manicured. Or that words like "cup" and "large" don't translate at all. It's "large cup" in English, "grosse Tasse" (more or less) in German and "stor kopp" in Norwegian. My German was terribly rusty, but I did manage to use it. And I discovered that German-speakers have something in common with the French: They love that you try to use their language.

So, this year's summer vacation was a bit early for me, and it feels like I didn't actually have a vacation. Still, I'm happy I took the bus trip to Bodensee (or Lake Constance, to you foreigners).

My grandparents loved traveling in Germany and Austria. I do, too. Our bus driver was part Austrian (another WWII-related faux pas) and I have roots from the Berlin area and Bavaria. We talked about genetic memory—whether or not our genes not only gave us physical characteristics, but also a bond to the place those genes evolved in. We both felt there is something to the hypothesis. Something about feeling very at ease with the people and the landscape.

Since last I traveled on the continent, I've gone low-carb. Avoiding bread went well. I love that Germans and Austrians like soup. I had several good ones, and our hotel in Bregenz had very good food. I had Steinpilzensuppe in Meersburg for lunch, simply because the waiter knew the English word "mushroom". Also on the menu there was Flädlesuppe but our waiter didn't know enough English to explain, and said something about shellfish, so I took the mushroom soup. I have now learned that "Flädle" means pancake. Just as well.

We ended up in Meersburg on the day we took the ferry from Bregenz, a regular ferry service. Lake Constance is huge, and our ferry took 3 hours to Meersburg with several stops on the way. At one point, the wind picked up and made the sea choppy; on land, we could see lightning striking. I wandered off on my own, only to discover that I should have paid closer attention when the guide said "a good 20 minutes to the top". The top I got to after 10 minutes wasn't the top she meant. Long story (10 minutes of trying to not panic): A taxi took me to the tour bus parking lot. Yes, I got to be a typical tourist: Lost. (I also discovered that cell phones are like currency: They function best in the country of issue. I wish somebody would figure out how to make the things global, like credit cards.)

I was quite charmed by Bregenz. Just the right size, and conveniently located for seeing the Bodensee area. Photos with comments are here. There are three pages and none of them link back here or wherever. The reason for this is that I can't figure out WordPress (after all) to get my website going, and I don't like publishing photos without captions. I'm always wondering what I'm looking at when I view other people's non-captioned photos, so&hellips; If and when I get things fixed, this blog post will have updated links.

When I got back to Norway, I just vegged. Tried to figure out what to do my last week off from work, and did nothing. The newspapers were mostly about the Romani people camping in Oslo and who have received a lot of vitriol in person and in online comments. And then the newspapers started revving up their articles about last year's tragedy and how people were doing now a year later and what the commemoration on the first anniversary would be like.

Sometimes I wonder about the timing of these things. Sometimes it seems to me that the Universe is setting us up deliberately so that we humans can learn our lessons. A traditionally undesired group of foreigners camping in our capital is juxtaposed with the anniversary of one of our own killing other Norwegians because they represented (in his mind) a too lenient attitude towards foreigners.

Norway has traditionally been a homogenous and skeptical country, easily xenophobic even towards strangers from other parts of Norway. There are voices now suggesting that we do need to address this side of ourselves. We can't pick and choose who to like and support. We know now that we too have crazies who will act on their beliefs and with violence, and that the target isn't necessarily the people we don't like. Quite the contrary: Innocents are always the victims.

I found myself swayed by the headlines and comments until some good journalism made me read up a bit on the Romani. I discovered that how they fare in each country they are in depends a lot on the country. The country's own attitude about the Romani determines whether or not they become a problem. Just like with individuals, expectation and assumption influence outcome.

Gypsies in the streets, former German soldiers on vacation… I once said to a friend that ultimately the past doesn't matter; there is no healing those wounds. What matters is how you handle the present. Try not to add to the injury. Try to create something good right now.

4 comments:

Jono said...

Genetic memory explains a lot of my longing and homesickness of places where I have only been able to spend a few weeks. Your last paragraph reminded me of a basic medical tenet I knew as an EMT and first responder. First, do no harm.

I am sometimes a bit jealous of your vacations. Thanks for sharing them.

Tom said...

I'm a little jealous as well. My mum is Austrian and I used to spend quite a bit of time visiting family in Austria years ago but haven't been for a couple of decades. Bavaria and the Tyrol are my favourite places on the planet, but just miss Europe in general! I was in Amsterdam just a month ago which was fabulous but doesn't compare to the beautiful countryside and people in mid-Europe. Even seeing cobble-stoned streets in Amsterdam made me feel I was back where I should be! Bars and restaurants everywhere, people sitting outside drinking coffee (OK, it was Amsterdam, so they were smoking stuff as well) and just relaxing amongst happy people and old beautifully old buildings.

Wish I could just get on a bus and go there like you!

Thank you for a wonderful post.

Tom

alice said...

Wonderful is right! That was a great read and such lovely photos! I'm having one of those days where I'm constantly on the move, but this made for a terrific treat during my lunch break, and -- bonus! -- will give me plenty of fodder for thought once I get back to work.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Thanks, everyone! I do get to visit some great places, but there's still so much left to see!