As I write this, I’m sitting in the morning sun that comes in through the blinds to the living room. I’ve poured the first cup of coffee this morning and I can’t help but reminisce. Coffee, like almost all of the food stuffs on this trip, was one of our favorite things in the Englisch family house. Michaela and Rainer have a very cool coffee maker that grinds and prepares each cup one at a time. They drink a brand from Italy called Lavazza and just yesterday, I found it (albeit in an already ground form) at Cost Plus World Market. It’s good–but not as good as it was there…
This trip was a once in a lifetime trip for us. We may well indeed go back to Europe some day, but it will not be quite like this.
There was a part of me that knew this intuitively and thought about it everyday. We kept up a very brisk pace as we experienced Austria the U.K. and even Hungary for two days. We were always on the go. For me, the whole thing begins with the flight to London back on July 1 and 2.
I can be a nervous flyer and tend toward claustrophobic. The longest flight I’ve ever taken is between Los Angeles and Boston and I kept in mind that the flight from L.A. to London is about three and a half hours longer than that. I didn’t even consider the flight between London and Vienna because, I assumed, once we got to London, a two-hour hop across the English Channel would be no big deal. I was right about that.
And I did OK on the longer flights as well–even though the flight home took place just several days after the downing of MH-17 by Russian separatists over the Ukraine. It didn’t help that while sitting at the airport, various television screens were broadcasting scenes from the wreckage. I didn’t need anymore help being nervous.
Our last five days in Austria we spent in and near Salzburg at Fuschl Am See (Fuschl on the lake) at a bed and breakfast there. It was glorious, too. The rooms, small by American standards, were comfortable and unique and there was plenty of common living space on a wooden and enclosed patio deck adjoined by Sue’s and my and Shannon and Laurie’s room. The Ebner family, who built, own and run the Inn, were the kindest and nicest people. We enjoyed talking with them each morning. We arrived on a Sunday evening and on Monday morning, we headed into Salzburg and up to the Salt Mines.
As I said, I tend toward the claustrophobic and it was my intention from the time we jumped in the car not to go down in the mines. I had no intention of spending an hour and a half below ground in a cave in cramped quarters. But when we got out of the car and walked over to buy tickets, I got one too. The tour is 70 minutes and Sue was calmly encouraging me to go as was Shannon. “You’ll regret sitting up here for over an hour doing nothing.” She was right about that–I knew she was.
No pills, no liquid courage, nothing. I got in the queue, went down to the entrance and suited up in the white overcoat and pants one wears in the mines and off I went. Michaela knew of my claustrophobia and she was solicitous of me as we boarded the little electric train and headed into the mountain. She asked if I was alright and even patted my shoulder at one point (which I doubt she remembers–but it helped).
The salt mines are a wonder. It was the Celts who discovered salt here back around Roman times in something like 400 A.D. Using crude tools and digging what amounted to small tunnels, they harvested salt here, lived here and died here. There’s even a model of a well preserved man down in the mine built to look like the one they found preserved in all of the salt sometime back. It’s rather gruesome to look at, however.
The tour is led by a guide, ours was Lucas, and he was quite good. He spoke German and English and led us into the first room where all 65 of us or so sat in a small theater and watched the first of four videos that are shown on the tour. The video introduces you to Wolfgang Reichert (I believe this was his name), a priest who built much of Salzburg on the backs of those who labored in the salt mines. While you’re doing the tour, you cross over the border from Austria to Germany-so, I can honestly say that on this trip, we did go to Germany-albeit underground for about a half hour.
It was during the video that I downed my first and only panic attack of the trip. I’m still in awe of the fact that I stopped it on my own–with Michaela’s, perhaps unwitting, help. I sat next to Sue as the video started and in the cold air (50 degrees Fahrenheit all the time), I began to sweat and get dizzy. I recognized it was happening and started talking to myself. It was then that Michaela asked me again if I was OK, perhaps she noticed-I’m not sure. My reply was, “I think so. I assume God is in control.” Michaela smiled and assured me He was. And that was it. I was fine the rest of the tour. I opened up, relaxed and learned so much down in those tunnels. I got on the two wooden miners slides at more than 100 feet down screaming like a child as we straddled the rails and rode deeper under the mountain. I really enjoyed every moment after that.
From getting on International flights to going down more than 600 feet under a mountain to trying new foods and traveling into a former Eastern-bloc country, the number of firsts accomplished for me personally, little victories allowing love and curiosity to triumph over fear and safety-concerns, made me feel accomplished and allowed me to do things I ordinarily would never have done. And I’m just so glad I did that…