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Back to Austria in 2011

Old Fence

When I fell in love with my husband (we met on a trip across the Australian outback), I began series of long haul flights between Seattle and Vienna or Salzburg. On my first trip I went for two weeks, or maybe it was three, and my trips got longer and longer. After a while, I could no longer say I was just visiting. I had a driver’s license. I had seen a dentist more than once. I enrolled in “Deutsch fur Auslanders” class. I obtained a residency visa. The kicker, forcing me to release my death grip on the idea that no, I was just a visitor, was when I got a job with the multimedia division of Sony in Salzburg. I had a commute and taxes and a paycheck.

That was too much for me, life was all too residential. When my contract was up, I returned to Seattle and refused to go back. “Oh no no you don’t, Austria,” I thought, “you are not suckering me in to living in your beautiful Alpine nation where there is awesome cake, unbelievable cross county skiing under sunny skies, and affordable health care! Absolutely not.” I was committed to suicide inducing winters, infuriating health care costs, and well, actually, you can get spectacular cake in my neighborhood so there’s that.  Thing is, I sucked as an expat and I was being drawn into a life I didn’t really want. I was lonely, homesick and there was no pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) to be found nearby, not for love or money.

None of this is to say I did not enjoy Austria. That’s simply not true. Austria, for visitors, is divine for all kinds of reasons. There is a general sense of refined hospitality about the place, a welcoming manner that you can experience in the fanciest of Vienna hotels, the most rustic of county guest houses, and at every type of accommodation in between. The food in Austria is some of the best I’ve eaten in my travels — a local food movement in Austria seems irrelevant as even the freeway cafes get their baked goods from local chefs, their produce from local farmers. The countryside is beautiful, it is exactly as you imagine, snow-capped peaks in the winter, lush green meadows in the summer, quaint villages, jewel colored lakes… and Vienna, oh, Vienna is grand, but real, too, with all the grit of a living metropolis in the middle of Europe.

View of the Salzburg Fortress

I loved many things about Austria, skating on the lake in the frozen winters, sitting in my mother-in-law’s kitchen on Sundays eating home made strudel, riding my bike along the river, taking long hikes out to guest houses where the coffee was easily as good as anything in Seattle and came with fresh baked Sachertorte. I loved the sprawling palace complexes in Vienna, the vast museums, including that portrait gallery where we always joked, as we exited, that surely that was Captain Kirk, not some former Austrian duke. I loved the Naschmarkt and the flea market, a crowded maze of delicious things to eat and heaps of junk and treasures, Turks and Slavs and Roma trying to sell eggplant and violins of unknown origin and old fur coats and spices in red and orange. I loved the big bench tables at the beer gardens in Salzburg, giant plates of stodgy and delicious food for not very much money, and I loved the tourists on the Sound of Music tours. I loved driving over winding mountain passes, up, up, up above the treeline, until you step out of the car into the sky surrounded by glaciers. Truly, Austria is a beautiful country and a fine place to travel.

This summer, we will go back to Austria. It will be my first visit there in four — or is it five? — years. (In case you’re wondering, various inlaws have been to Seattle during that time.) I’m looking forward to it in a way that I haven’t in many years. Without the weight of that terrible question over my head — “When are you moving here for good?” — I think this will be a visit I can enjoy in the same way I enjoyed those first visits to my husband’s homeland. It will be nice to see the family — it’s been too long. It will be nice to explore. And it will be so nice to see Austria again for all the things I loved about her.

I’m participating in “The Travel Blog Mob” (we’re not dangerous). This month’s prompt — for the above post —  was A Destination for the New Year. Check out the other mobsters:

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12 Responses to “Back to Austria in 2011”

  1. Andi says:

    How cool that you met your hubby in the Australian Outback…I fell in love there as well! Must be something in that red clay dirt…

  2. lilalia says:

    A friend and I sort of have loose plans to go to Vienna this summer as well. Do keep in contact and maybe we could meet up at one the cafés for cake and coffee.

    Did you see that The Guardian did a fantastic video of Viennese cafés last week? Must take a look, maybe your favourite ones are there as well.

  3. Jennifer says:

    True and funny that places we live in seem to lose their glamor, whereas similar places, when visited, seem wildly interesting.

    Have a great time in Austria this summer! We’re toying (lightly!) with the idea of a Switzerland trip in July, so…well, ya never know.

  4. Just stopped by to say that is a stunning photograph! I was with you on most of your loves in Austria–but the Sound of Music tour was not one of them. All the Austrians we talked to do not. like. that. movie.

  5. Lola says:

    Haaaaa. Can absolutely relate! You’ll have a fantastic time back in Austria, and do swing by Stockholm on your way home ;)

  6. It is the suicidal winters that keep waring wannabees at bay and the proliferation of Pho shops that keep the locals sane…you did the right thing!

  7. it’s difficult, being an expat. that said, i am glad you’re going back! i’ve not been to austria yet. YUM, all the good food…

  8. Theodora says:

    Sprechen sie deutsch? Not that one needs it.

    It’s lovely to hear your passion for a country which so many dismiss as, well, sort of part of Germany. And that insider-outsider view which being married to a local gives you…

    • pam says:

      I do speak German, with a backwoods Austrian twang. Seriously. I’m very rusty at it, but I wasn’t bad while I was living there, not so bad at all.

  9. Chloe says:

    Just stumbled on this and oh, how do I hear you. I lived in Austria for a year as an exchange student over 15 years ago (ouch!) and have been back every other year since, sometimes more. My husband now tags along each time, and considers my host-family his family, too – and they treat him like a son.

    Every time we go, we see Austria exactly as what you describe above: the food, the nature, the food (!), the quality of life! It’s tempting to ask “Why don’t we just move here?” (and we ask every time we visit). But part of me knows it would ruin the charm. Part of me wants to move there and spend every Sunday picking cherries in the garden, eating cake and drinking coffee with Oma. But part of me knows it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s such a great place to visit, that making it “normal” would spoil it.

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