Monday, May 25, 2009

Vienna, Salzberg, Germany, and Tajikistan

"So here we are, four American college kids in the cheapest suits imaginable with a very small man from Tajikistan, who is also the sleepiest person in the world, sitting on the seventh row of a Mozart concert in Vienna."

I am on a roll when it comes to blogging, my third in five days.

I am back in London. No more Austria for me, at least for a little while. This past weekend has been one of the best weekends I can remember. We never stopped doing things. I haven't even slept. Over the past two nights I have probably gotten five to six hours of sleep in total. Go. Go. Go.

Saturday morning we decided to get a late start, because we were so tired from walking all through Vienna on Friday. We met at 10:00 and and got some breakfast. In Vienna, it is still legal to smoke in restaurants, so we enjoyed a healthy dose of second hand smoke with our eggs and coffee. We then went to the Hundertwasser's apartments. Hundertwasser is the Picasso of architecture. The building is wacky. No straight lines and crazy colors. There is cafe on the balcony of the apartments, so we got some coffee there. We then decided to go see the Danube, because it is a major river in Europe and I had to memorize it in eighth grade World Cultures. We decided to go through Prater Park on our way to the river. Prater Park is a beautiful natural park with meadows, walking trails, bike trails, woods, and an amusement park. That's right an amusement park, actually it was half amusement park and half carnival. It was a very strange experience to go from walking in the woods to suddenly being in an amusement park. People were everywhere, and like most places in Europe techno music was blaring. They had an American themed bumper cars ride complete with Uncle Sam, eighteen wheelers, Confederate flags, girls in bikinis, and state names. Pretty much everything that is America. Then we saw it--The Boomerang. A roller coaster that went backwards and forwards. Of course we rode it. Actually by most American amusement park standards it was a pretty lame roller coaster, but by Austrian standards it was awesome. From there we went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, an art and history museum. It was one of the best museums I have ever been to. It had extensive collections of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts, but the most impressive was the art. They had works from some of the best ever, including Titian, Veronese, Raphael, Rembrandt, Durer, Rubens, Bruegel, Van Der Weyden, and Van Eyck. Those are just the people I remember from art history class. I am sure that a more informed person would have enjoyed it even more than me. We then headed home to rest up before the Mozart concert.

While at home we met the most interesting person. His name was Farzod, but we called him Oddjob, because he was small and we couldn't really understand what he said when he first introduced himself. He was from Tajikistan, and he didn't speak English very well. Here are some sample conversations between Farzod and myself:

Farzod: What is your name?
Me: Joe
F: Jim?
M: No, Joe.
F: Jim?
F: Jim?
M: Yes, Jim.
F: Oh, ok, I am Farzod.

Me: Oh, cool, you are from Tajikistan. I have never met anyone from Tajikistan. I know it is by Afghanistan and China, but what is it like?
Farzod: It is between Russia and Afghanistan.
M: Oh, ok, but what is it like?
F: No, no, no it is between Russia and Afghanistan.
M: Oh, well, I am from America.
F: Oh, the land of dreams.
All of us: Yeah, I guess you could say that.

Me: Farzod, I am going home to go to sleep. Goodnight.
Farzod: Huh?
M: I am going to sleep.
F: NO! I sleep here.
M: Ok.
F: Keeps pointing at his bed.
M: Goodbye, Farzod.
F: He gets up and shakes my hand.

I am not making those up. I couldn't they are too good.

When we first met Farzod we thought he was really into partying, but we were wrong. We came to this assumption because every time we saw him he was sleeping. We would wake up in the morning, and he would be sleeping. We would come home in the middle of the day, and he would be sleeping. We would get back at night, and he would be sleeping. The boy could sleep. Our only conclusions was that he was going out and staying out all night long and then sleeping all day. When we finally got up the nerve to ask him why he slept so much he said that he had been working the night shift at the hospital and that he was in Vienna training to be a doctor. We felt dumb. However, he did sleep on average at least fifteen hours a day. He was always asleep. Well after our long discussion with Farzod, we had to get dressed to go to the concert. The attire was dressy so I had bought a 25 pound suit from Primart--their version of JC Penny. The suit actually doesn't look that bad. As we were about to leave Farzod came and asked if he could come too. None of us had the heart to tell him no, but we told him how much it cost and that it might be sold out. He didn't understand any of it. He got dressed in jeans, corduroy blazer, and a tie but because he is so short he had to tuck the back skinny part into his dress shirt, like a kid when he wears his Dad's tie. We took the subways over to the concert and went inside to pick up our tickets and for Farzod to buy a ticket. Tickets cost 25 Euros with a student ID. Farzod could not afford a ticket, so we all pooled our money and bought him a ticket. I think the ticket lady was so impressed by our kindness that she gave us 80 euro tickets, even though we only bought 40 euro tickets. We were on the seventh row. So here we are, four American college kids in the cheapest suits imaginable with a very small man from Tajikistan, who is also the sleepiest person in the world, sitting on the seventh row of a Mozart concert in Vienna. It was like the Beverly Hillbillies at the opera. As soon as the music started Farzod feel asleep--like always. At first the only reason I went was to say that I had seen Mozart in Vienna, but I must admit I actually enjoyed it. After the concert we all went home and went to bed because we had to be up at the crack of dawn to catch a train to Salzburg.

The train left at 5:55 in the morning, so I was up at 5:00 and had gone to bed only four hours before. However, I had too much adrenaline coursing through me to be tired. I was ready to go. It is about a two hour and forty-five minute train almost all the way across Austria and it is beautiful. On the train we meet a bizarre man named Cole Artur, who had lived all over, and he informed us that the world was coming to an end because he gets "too much paper with chemicals on it in the mail everyday". Got it. Once we got to Salzburg, we had no idea what to do. We didn't even know where the city was in relation to us. Then we bought a guide book with a map and the city was at that point all but concurred. We walked downtown and had some stroudls and coffee. The main attraction is Salzburg is the Hohensalzburg, a castle built on top of a mountain in 1077. It served as the home to the Archbishop of Salzburg, who was not only the religious leader, but also the secular leader. The archbishops always had tons of money due to the salt mines located close by. Salzburg means the salt city. In the olden times if one had salt one had money. Salt wasn't just used for cooking but also for preserving. The saying "isn't worth his weight in salt" is a Roman saying meaning that if one got a slave he probably bought the slave using salt and if the slave wasn't any good then he wasn't "worth his weight in salt". Salt was valuable. This meant the Archbishops could build an incredible castle, and that they did. The castle is huge and looks very intimidating on the mountain. One has to take a trolley to simply get to the castle. We spent about 3 hours touring the castle and looking at the spectacular views of Salzburg and Austria to the east, and the Alps and Germany to the west. We ate lunch on the west side and had fabulous views of the Alps. While we were eating we noticed a tiny dot passing between to mountains, we quickly decided that it had to be a gondola. We had to do it. We spent the next thirty minutes trying to find a way to get to the gondola. The person in the tourism booth told us it to take bus 25 to the Untersberg stop. After about a 25 minute bus ride we were at the gondola, we quickly paid our 19 euros and were on our way up. In some parts it was straight up. On the way up the views were incredible. Once we got to the top to the views were even better. If not the prettiest thing I have ever seen, then it is up there. We hiked about thirty minutes into Germany, through snow and over rocks, in my loafers--the same loafers I wore to the concert the night before. We were now about 6,000 feet above sea level, and to our east was nothing but Alps and Germany, and to the west was nothing but valley and Austria. It was incredible. It was the end of May and we were having a snowball fight. We stayed up for about an hour then took the last gondola down and then a bus to the train station. We then caught the train back to Vienna. On the train we met the only normal people we met the whole weekend. They were three college students from Australia and they were studying in Vienna for six months. They were from Australia, but one was originally from Hong Kong and one from Sri Lanka. Very neat, smart, and cool people. We got back to Vienna around 10:30 and went straight to our hostels.

The next morning we were up at 4:00 to catch our 6:55 flight back to England. Both Airports were a breeze and we where back at Regents College by noon. It was an incredible weekend, but I am very tired, so I must go.

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