Today’s travel memory is brought to you by summertime heat–days that start out hot, become alarmingly hotter, and end in your body, bones and all, reduced to a puddle on the asphalt. If this sounds like the beginning of another post on my new home in Florida . . . oddly enough, it isn’t. Today’s memory is from Schloss Schonbrunn (Schonbrunn Palace), in Vienna, Austria. It was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, modified in the 19th century, and partially reconstructed after WWII (the palace took a direct hit in 1945)– so it is, in every sense, “one for the ages.”
Emperor Leopold I had planned to build a palace that would rival, or surpass, Versailles. At the end of the day, Schonbrunn did not meet that goal, but its elegant lines and interiors still impress. The Palace has over 1400 rooms, but only 30-40 are opened for touring.
We visited on an outrageously hot day in July of 2015, when the mercury was hovering at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We toured the inside of the palace, which was impressive–but we were wilting in the un-airconditioned and little-ventilated space, along with a throng of fellow tourists, so our photos skew toward views of the garden, where at least we could catch a slight breeze. (Two days later, we’d find ourselves in Budapest and standing under the nozzles of misting trucks, brought out to offer relief from the extreme heat– relief that’s hard to come by in a region that so rarely deals with this sort of heat, and where air conditioning is the exception to the rule.)
The grounds are massive, and they boast not only beautifully manicured gardens, but plenty of shady spots for sitting, and a maze for your children (or you!) to test your wits in. (Being somewhat witless, and horrifically directionally challenged, I sent the children in ahead of me and then wandered in shady patches and took photographs.)
Schonbrunn is a very popular tourist destination, so if you go in the summer, you might consider purchasing tickets online ahead of time to avoid lines. Schonbrunn also hosts many concert series and has a zoo on its grounds, so there is lots to do. Plan on spending at least half a day there (better still, a whole day).
Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite photos from the day: a bicycle in the gardens. Not sure why I love this photo so– maybe it brings a human scale to a massive palace and grounds, or simply offers a sense of adventure and movement (travel!) to a formal landscape.
There was a blog-space challenge making its rounds this week, for posts and photos of “The Things We Leave Behind.” There have been great photos of, and posts about, crumbling architecture, changing cityscapes, found objects, etc. The challenge catches me in a nostalgic mood, having just moved back Stateside, so my mind has lighted on personal memories– earlier travels when my children were little. I’ll share just a few of those photos here.
The first photos come from an early summer day in Yorkshire, England, when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the actual car from the movie) made an appearance at a local manor house one Saturday. The owner of the car, who had actually driven the car in at least one scene in the movie, was proudly displaying his picture-perfect auto and answering a frenzy of questions from fans of all ages.
One lucky person, whose name was drawn out of a hat, got to go for a ride in the car. We didn’t make that cut, but we enjoyed ogling the iconic car anyway. It was a magical day.
I look at the photos now, and it does feel like an era left behind: our lives in England, our children’s wide-eyed elementary and preschool years, and a certain fabled-space that those two things created in their synergy.
It’s funny, but when I looked at a number of old photos that I might post of “Things We Leave Behind,” I found that my present nostalgic filter made me see each of them differently. For example, this photo from Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire. I went looking for a picture of the impressive ruins of the Catholic abbey that Henry the VIII closed down (but which partially stands proud to this day), but what I saw immediately in the photo was my son’s love of the Davy Crockett coonskin cap which he wouldn’t take off of his head, even in the summer heat. It was a funny phase. . . but eventually left behind.
When I looked at this photo of graffiti on the walls of Kings College Chapel, in Cambridge, England (some of it dating back to the 1600’s), I immediately remembered a lazy afternoon stroll along the Cam River and “the Backs” of the university with my daughter. And I also thought of the graffiti on the walls in the Tower of London, some of it from prisoners kept there hundreds of years ago, and I remembered my children’s amazement at it, and their love of British history when it was so solidly placed in front of them, and so brilliantly re-animated by the British book, TV, and stage series “Horrible Histories.” Living elbow to elbow with history is something that Europeans do very well, but Americans a little less so.
Maybe that’s just a matter of circumstance. Europeans simply have so much more history to steep in than Americans, and it’s in your face on every street corner. Still, it offers a certain long view of the world that is so very valuable–a sense that we don’t really “leave behind” things, so much as we build on and around them.
Like childhood and Chitty Chitty, there are certain things that we should never totally leave behind–and couldn’t, even if we wanted too.
I have a buddy named Vic. I haven’t seen him since about 2001, but never mind that– Vic is one of those friendly people that you count your pal despite the decades that may intervene between your visits. I can’t say that I’ve had many occasions to think about Vic in the back and forth of my day to day life, but this week he’s been a constant companion, whispering in my ear every time I look out the windows off the back of my house.
Vic is from Georgia, down to the very marrow in his bones. He’s prone to phrases like “knee high to a grasshopper,” so when he whispers in your ear it’s a voice that is distinct and immediately recognizable.
One of Vic’s favorite phrases back in the early 90’s was “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” It was applicable to any situation, and so it rolled off his tongue the way dice roll smoothly, but purposefully, from a gambler’s fingers. And it always seemed to hit its target: truly, our best laid plans are all contingent on factors beyond our control to some degree. So that’s how it punctuated his speech—everything you were doing, might do, or had very nearly clinched had this element of unpredictability to it. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be (“Good Lord willing,” it was), or there was always the possibility of unforeseen occurrences or disasters (sometimes the creek rises a little, sometimes the roads become rivers).
In the balance of things the good Lord is willing more often than the creek rises. Thank goodness.
But what does this have to do with me?
My friend Victor has been a chatterbox lately for a very good reason. I’ve just moved into a house that sits by a creek. Not really a creek, but more of a canal-shaped pond, and not so much by the pond as on the pond. It was a bold move on our part.
Two years ago, I wrote a post in this blog called “House Hunting at a Distance, aka Mission Impossible.” The post aired my frustrations with trying to find a house in Germany before we were actually in Germany. This year, we found ourselves faced with mission impossible once again, as we moved from Germany to Florida. But, this time, we chose to accept that mission.
With very little rental housing available for us to consider, and what was there today was snapped up by tomorrow (I kid you not, there was an absolute feeding frenzy around rental houses in this area in early May), we took the dive on one appealing house, despite realizing that it had some pitfalls. Some great selling points, yes, but great pitfalls too. (Do you remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is in Ollivander’s Wand Shop? Ollivander notes that Voldemort, whose wand is Harry’s twin, did great things. “Terrible, yes. But great.” This scene absolutely gave me chills. There is a complex, but undeniable truth to that logic. But I digress. . .)
So now we’ve moved into our beachy bungalow, and I am living with the terrible and the great all wrapped up in one package. Namely, the creek-that-shall-not-be-named, which happens to sit a few feet out my back door.
It makes for a beautiful view as you sip morning coffee or take your evening tea. It’s really an extraordinary landscape. We’ve only been here a few days, but already we’ve seen herons, turtles, cardinals, and rabbits all cavorting across our back lawn and in the water. In the evening, the sound of frogs is like nothing I’ve ever heard before—not the run of the mill “ribbets,” but like there’s a whole orchestra of croaks and duck-calls and trills. It’s so dark out, you can’t see the vocal rascals, but I go to sleep imagining a virtual “Wind in the Willows” of dapper little frogs in ascots tuning up their instruments.
And alligators? Well, yes. We’ve asked neighbors about alligators and they do occasionally show up too. It’s not so much a worry as a reality to be aware of.
At least, that was the story two days ago.
Today, they caught a six footer in the next pond down (that’s about eight houses down, to put it in perspective). My doggy won’t be cavorting out back of the house any time soon. . . or any time at all.
I’ve got to admit, the thought of a large alligator on my block is terrifying . . . but also a little invigorating. (There is an echo to Ollivander’s words, “Terrible, yes. But great.”) Maybe awe-inspiring is the phrase I want. For all of the creature-comforts that I like in a neighborhood, I’m glad to know that we haven’t entirely driven the creatures out of their habitat.
If our red stone castle-house anchored us immediately to our European environs, this bungalow has transported us handily into the heart of Florida. It’s certainly manicured for the Florida golf and baywater crowd, but it’s undeniably wild too. Sip your sangria and tee up your golf ball, and, oh yes, look out for the gators!
So on the subject of wild Florida, and back to the wisdom of my friend Vic, I’m also feeling the weight of the very literal question, “Will the creek rise?” A question no one can answer definitively. But the neighbors say “No, the creek spills into another pond next to it that lies about three feet lower down.” I’m told that, despite big storms in the past 5 years, there have been no worrisome creek levels. In fact, in my neighbor’s own words, “there just won’t be a problem with the water unless there is something really horrible like a big hurricane.”
So no worries. That never happens in Florida.
Cue the refrain, people: Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. It may be my new mantra.
I should give my friend Vic a call. He’s well schooled in how these things work. And if Vic doesn’t answer the phone, maybe I should consult our friend Ollivander.
This blog has been very quiet lately, but not for lack of stories to tell and a backlog of travel photos to share. The silence in this space comes from a flurry of activity on every other front of my life. Call it “moving madness”– boxing up and shipping out my worldly possessions, crossing t’s and dotting i’s on the papers and accounts that anchored my life in Germany, last minute travels (spoiler: Barcelona pics to follow), finding temporary lodgings, comforting a confused canine friend, and managing the stress of a family in transition and saying goodbye to a fabulous sojourn in Europe.
Madness. It sinks into the brain and the body, and shorts out all your circuits temporarily. This morning, I’m coming up for air to post a photo from our last night in the old house on Jakobstrasse. For two years, it was a crazy, quirky old friend, and we will miss it, despite its many flaws.
I hope to be back online soon and continue sharing bits of our travels and our move experience. For today, I have only a stollen moment of web-connectivity, so I leave you with this one photo. A bittersweet goodbye to the house one German man in the village told me they used to call “Villa Sunshine.”