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Published: March 11th 2007
My Year in Asia had always seemed to stretch endlessly out before me, all the way to the distant curve of the horizon and into the vagueness beyond. So it was with a sense of real disbelief - as well as sadness - that I realised I only had three weeks left after returning from Burma! And these three, already inadequate, weeks passed by ridiculously quickly - a loud, fast-forward blur of parties & dinners, cramming for final exams, nights out on the town with good mates, and all the inevitably bittersweet 'Lasts' that come with leaving a place... The Last som tam
from the chatty ladies opposite the IC, the Last lazy afternoon at the Rangsit public pool, the Last truly-unbelievably delicious bag of grilled pork from the street-vendor I'd visited almost every day, the Last night out with the Adventure Squad A-Team & friends, and so on and on. They were amazing times - even if I did rack up a sleep debt I'm still paying off! - but sad as well of course. I may never see those people or places again. And even if I do, everything changes, nothing ever stays exactly the same, and it will
The Lippizaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School
An amazing display of controlled power and disciplined grace, set to classical music by some of Vienna's many composers.
all be different. Not necessarily worse - or better, for that matter - just different...
I certainly didn't have long to dwell on these thoughts though. I arrived back in Perth a couple of days earlier than I'd initially booked; it was worth the rescheduling fee just to see the look on Mum & Dad's faces when I turned up unexpectedly on the doorstep! It had been almost a year since I left, and I found with surprise that I felt (at least initially) a bit like a stranger in my own city. The next couple of days passed quickly though - unpacking, meeting up with friends, a dentist appointment and so on - and then it was time to repack for the next adventure! My brother Joel had almost finished a year of student exchange in Vienna, my Mum was taking her long-service leave (10 weeks off), and my Dad had five weeks off too - we'd decided to seize the opportunity and join Joel in Europe for a big family holiday. After all, chances like these don't come along very often! (Which is a very good thing, from my bank account's point of view...)
celebrated my birthday - which lasted an extra hour this year, as we chased the setting sun westward - by boarding a flight to Vienna with Mum, (Dad to follow soon). It was awesome to catch up with Joel when we arrived (38 hours later!), see his student dorm room (where we stayed too - cheers Pete Thornton!), meet some of his friends, and be shown around his
Vienna. An impressively grandiose city at any time, (I'd loved it when I visited three years ago), I found the stately Habsburg buildings and wide open spaces of cool white marble frankly jaw-dropping after seven months in crowded, dirty Bangkok. (This is not to say that I preferred it to Bangkok of course, just that it was very, very different.) Over the next week or so, we visited a few museums, wandered around the gardens of Schonbrunn Palace, (where, three years before, I'd snuck in with a friend after closing time to spend an uncomfortable but free night - take that
, expensive Viennese hostels! - on the marble floor of a beautiful monument), attended an incredible performance of the Spanish Riding School, drank Viennese coffee in smoke-filled cafes where the condescending waiters
Hundertwasser Haus, Vienna
The organic-inspired creations of a rogue architect.
all wear bow-ties, and rambled around the Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets) drinking gluh-wein
(mulled wine) and soaking up Vienna's festive (but still very dignified!) atmosphere.
We had almost three weeks to play with before Dad arrived, so decided to go on a few short trips, using Joel's dorm room as a base. First up was a day-trip to nearby Bratislava, the fast-developing capital of Slovakia. After wandering around the cold streets of the city centre, and up to the windswept castle, we tucked into delicious bowls of steaming goulash, (at a cool student pub where you get a free soup if you got an 'A' on an exam in the last week). Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, Bratislava seems to be on the way to catching up (in some ways at least) with its peers in Western Europe - with accompanying price hikes of course!
Next up was Salzburg: a small, fairy-tale city of soaring music & winding lanes, its perennial romance had been further enhanced at the time of our visit by all the Sylvester decorations, (to celebrate New Years Eve). It seems that Austrians wish each other good luck for the New Year with the
Me and my brother, reunited after a year apart. =P
fortuitous symbols of pigs, four-leaf clovers, horse-shoes & mushrooms, and they were everywhere - on sweets, hats, ornaments, jewelry & clothes.
Back in Vienna, we continued to enjoy the company & generous hospitality of Joel's university 'buddy' Clara, and her dad Otto. We were even lucky enough, (cheers Clazza!), to go on a ski trip with them, staying in a relative's holiday cottage in the small mountain village of Purgg! I thought I'd started to get the hang of snow-boarding last time I tried, (on a previous student exchange, in Sweden), but it seemed I had to start from scratch again. I spent most of my time falling, over and over, and then struggling to get back upright again - arms windmilling wildly - as four-year-olds raced effortlessly past me, doing impressive jumps & tricks on their pint-sized boards... (I blame it all on the ridiculous beanie Mum bought me for Christmas, and begged me to wear on the slopes.) =P Just being out in the snow was amazing enough though, after having become accustomed to sweating through the sticky heat of Bangkok.
Needless to say, travelling around Austria with my family was a huge shift in many
Gloriette Monument, Schonbrunn palace gardens
Three years ago, a friend & I spent a cold night here to save money on Vienna's expensive hostels. Thankfully, Joel let us stay with him this time. =P
other ways as well, and it all felt very surreal for the first week or so. For one thing, after a whole year spent on my own, it was a very different experience to be spending almost every waking moment with my family! Luckily, we've always been extremely close and all get on very well together. So, as I'd expected, we ended up just having a lot of fun - catching up on all that had happened over the past year, laughing as we remembered old stories & adventures, and excitedly sketching out rough plans for new ones... Of course it was a shame that Dad couldn't be there too, from the start, but we knew he'd be joining us soon.
The other big shift was more general, from Asia to Europe, a huge change in weather & culture - not to mention the prices... =/ For the first few days, it seemed impossible that I had truly been in Bangkok only a week before, writing my last exam, and had been home to Perth - and now here
- since then!...
There was never much time to think about all this though, as we always seemed to
be on the move. A couple of weeks before my Dad arrived, Joel finally
seemed to have some school-work to do, (it seemed his year had been as academically easy as mine), so Mum & I decided to give him some space and set off for a visit to Prague & Krakow. I'd visited Prague once before & loved it then, (I suppose everyone does), and was looking forward to showing Mum around what I remembered so fondly. Krakow, on the other hand, would be totally new for both of us...
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