Memory Pervades: Travel Accounts from Austria

God, it’s so green. It lines the valley floor with the ascendancy of water; even the mountains lean to understand the virescent face of its defeat. It’s a hue that makes you question the way you even learned colors at all; perhaps there was confusion in assimilation—the deception of a still-bound crayon made by an ambivalent creator. What we were taught, or what we have learned along the way, is not always absolutely so; and this is the fundamental reminder of travel. 

We started our journey in Munich, just before Oktoberfest, but just in time to have a breakfast beer after a very long flight delay (thanks United). In college, I once spent a day in Munich, backpacked, and trekking the entire city from the time our tired feet stepped off the train in dark until the time they boarded in dark for another restless night of transit. But it’s always different to more seasoned eyes. 

We left Munich full-bellied in a rental car and drove across the countryside, flanked by German cars going twice our speed—their colors lost against the green of the terrain. Our first destination in Austria was Ehrwald, nestled against the Tyrolean Zugspitz Arena. Austrian hospitality almost always means that someone meets you at the door in lederhosen with warm greetings and instructions for assimilating to Austrian culture (there are actually no instructions at all, but the lederhosen says it all). We rested our heads the first night at The Romantik Hotel Spielmann. In the morning, we took the Gondola into the mountain heights and hiked upwards to arrive at the greenest lake you’ve ever seen. It was so green; when it touched my fingertips I shuddered from vibrancy, and not coldness at all.

From Ehrwald we drove to Pertisau—a small but movie-set-resembling village on the Achensee Lake in Tyrol. If you weren’t absorbed into the green below you, the mountains appeared insurmountable and bordered the little town’s enchantments at every vantage. We climbed as many of the peaks as we could and followed the trails from alm to alm where we could gain sustenance from wheat (beer) and water (also beer). We lodged in Pertisau for four nights at the Hotel Sonnenhof, which provided some of the culinary highlights of our journey. The idea of a daily European breakfast still haunts my dreams. 

In Melk, seemlingly rising out of the Danube and amongst the grapes of the Wachau valley, you will find one of the world’s most famous monastic sites—the Melk Abbey. The history is enough to behold, but the library and church were enough to knock me over. As we conveyed down the spiral stairs from the library to the church, Bach’s Adagio in G Minor could be heard on the organ. The visual impression of a Baroque church is something that can be explained little—what seems gaudy to recount is triumphant and ethereal to perceive. That night we rested in our heads in a castle hotel that dates back to the 12th century. It was not lost that we spent our day and night within walls meant to fortify rituals of divinity.

The trip ended in Vienna, which was the perfect way re-modernize perceptions and quicken the slow-beating heart of the country. Vienna is a city of culture, coffee and cafes—it moves much differently than the green beings of its pastoral lands and bears resemblance to other European cities of its size. I particularly enjoyed the Albertina Museum, an artistic and moving meal at Tian Vienna and walking through the city’s 7th district.

It was a quick and perfect journey into another land, and I’m still dizzy from the altitude of it. Why is it so intoxicating? Something to be squandered—but not in a reckless sense, nor in the American way we are so accustomed to. What is it that lingers here differently than the lands I know? Memory, perhaps. Memory that reveals mistakes and broken borders, collapsed dynasties and the waltzes of lost battles. Divine memory that sings in requiem and perseveres through centuries of cadences—who will shudder at that account? I am young (sort of) and so is my country and we let memory spill from the sieve like it will pile-up and rebuild itself into doughy history. I’m not sure it will. I’ll sleep like an amnesiac tonight and wake up with green grass on my toes.