24th December – Twas the night before Xmas

The day started out as an early one. The alarm ringing madly next to Philip’s ear, demanding that someone wake up and switch it off. I awoke thinking how fabulous it was that we had slept through to our 7am wake up call. This generally doesn’t happen on the first night in Europe. Philip however awoke unimpressed. “Why did you set the alarm this early?” he asked. “Because I need to wash my hair” was my reply. “Whilst I applaud your enthusiasm” he said, “it is VERY early” and proceeded to pass me the phone. I looked at it not really sure what he was going on about. At that point I realised that my phone was still on Hong Kong time and that it had gone off at 7am HK time and was therefore ringing at 12:20 Salzburg time…yep a little TOO early for hair washing.

We proceeded to go back to sleep only to awake again at 5am. Not bad for a first night. Lying in bed with Philip still asleep next to me, there was time for a little reflection (some would say a little more sleep!)

Working with EAL kids makes you think about language and learning a language a whole lot more. Travelling means you are the true AL language learner…whatever language that is depends on where you are. Reflecting upon it we have three different types travelling – Philip the learner who thinks that it’s just all too hard and really why bother when you’re going somewhere else soon. He’ll look at gestures but if it’s really important knows that people will say it again in a more demonstrative way, do it for you or try and use some English. Claire is the new arrival. She’ll hook up with someone more confident and make sure that those around her know that the person she is with has far more language than her. She panics a little if her support is taken from her but can find a way to make it work if she has too. Then there’s me. I love it but know that you have to be willing to laugh at your mistakes, listen intently to those around you and cue off feedback. I’ll listen and try and connect the limited words I have into some form of understanding. I practise the words I know and try to add one or two to them where possible but I also get myself into a pickle every now and again when people assume I know more than I do-how true is that for our kids. At times I look to someone talking using a full on conversation and nod and smile like I understand-our kids again. So what do I do?
* use familiar words or words that have worked in the past
* laugh at mistakes and feel a bit “chuffed” at success
* look a lot at signs,notices, posters, brochures, anything that gives me a clue or is used repetitively so I get context
* if all else fails wave and point, smile and nod and use yes or no when I think I should. 

To all us teachers of EAL kids…sounds familiar hey!

So moving away from the lesson (can take the teacher out of the school but not out of the person), there were three big challenges today *As with all Elliot tours, see as much as you can in a day without ruining or demeaning the experience *Eat as much of the local “good” stuff and maybe a little of the weird as you can (and with these markets there is a lot to eat!)
* Work out what you can buy at the markets when you still have an awful lot of travelling to go being mindful that at some stage Philip will say “I told you so” or “it was your choice”

Given we were up early, first objective started off well. Given that breakfast was paid for, second objective also began well.

Breakfast was your typical European breakfast with a dash of British eggs and bacon for good measure. The quality was high with plenty of choice and things such as Brie and Prosciutto in abundance. The bread selection was also very fresh and for someone like me who loves “picking plates” just another tick on the “reasons to come to Salzburg”.

After breakfast we headed for the funicular to take us to the Hohensaltzburg fortress perched high above the city of Salzburg. This was after a detour through the old cemetery ( yes the one in the “Sound of Music”) and also through the back blocks of the market. I love this part of the market area as it’s where the locals come on the 24th to buy their meat, fish, cheese and hams for tonight. They also have beautiful table centre pieces that are very reasonably priced ( from around 5 euro to about 35 euro) and small xmas trees already adorned with small candles that will be lit at home tonight. It’s really special and makes you think about how you would do xmas if you lived here.  IMG_4205

The view from the fortress looks across the city of Salzburg. With a beautiful blue sky, green hillsides and white snow cap alps in the distance, the view was real Austria – yep your Sound of Music kinda thing! We could even see the Von Trapp house just to top it all off. We spent some time looking around and then walked down ending up back near the Church. At this point canons went off from the fortress above and we were to learn that it is a tradition – twelve canons at 12 o’clock each day for the week before xmas.

With the last chance to shop and eat at the markets we gave it our best shot. Food wise: chocolate coated banana, waffle with berries, chocolate coated gingerbread Bretzel and a strange thing that was like a chopped and mashed up pancake in a bowl ( kaiser schumarren) coated with chocolate sauce – this was probably our favourite.

Shopping wise we bought more than we should and will, at certain times in our trip live to regret it but know that once we get home we will be thankful. Gotta tell you though if it was directly back to Melbourne we could and would have needed to buy another suitcase. They just don’t do xmas and xmas markets like this back home.

After this we headed across the river to find the small entrance to the steps that lead up to the Abbey. Few tourists know this path but given the choice of tour operator-Elliot tours once again came through with those secret and intimate experiences that many tourists don’t get to see.
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Once we had climbed the copious steps that brought us to the top of the Abbey and made it possible to look towards the Fortress we noticed a strange thing. Coming from one of the stone sentry lookouts was a clothes line with clothes billowing in the breeze. Claire hesitantly decided that she would nonchalantly go down, slowly meander her way past the sentry box and see what was happening. As she did so a lady wearing a Santa hat came out of the sentry box and offered her a cookie. Now previously we’d mentioned that we were willing to try something weird. Given what was being smoked, this was just a little too weird! A man came out wearing a red and white striped Santa hat and apparently there was another person inside also chuffing on something that is not just local to Salzburg. Whilst Claire was doing her best to be discreet whilst being offered a “cookie” from the lady, two police officers appeared. Claire, fearing that she may have been apprehended for “cookie trafficking” did her best to scamper back up to the lookout without appearing to scamper. Her little legs were going at a mile a minute whilst the arms were trying to remain in a “I’m just going for a stroll, officer” position. Looking at her from the lookout position, Philip and I did have a fairly sizeable chuckle.
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After that we walked down to the Mirabell gardens, checked out the Sheraton nearby where we will be having our Xmas dinner tonight and then walked back along the river towards our hotel. Claire was tempted/talked into trying roasted chestnuts but like us wasn’t a massive fan asking whether they were actually cooked inside – yes they were; they just taste like they’re not!The concept is more enticing than the reality. As we have a big night panned and everything shut at 3pm we decided to spend a little time back at the hotel before heading back out around 5pm. 
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From the Elefant we walked through the Alstadt (old town) to the river and then walked along the river approximately 1.5km back to the Sheraton. The walk was extremely pleasant as the temperature was still sitting around the 4 degree mark and the lights on the bridge radiated xmas cheer, whilst the fortress on the hill illuminated the night sky.

At the Sheraton we were greeted with champagne, orange juice and an assortment of canapés. The restaurant was filled with tables of all different sizes covered in crisp white table clothes, a multitude of glasses, silver cutlery and a small sprig of spruce, dotted with walnuts and peanuts. Simple but classy. Our table of 3 was in a small alcove not far from the buffet selection. Looking out through the full screen windows spruce trees glowing with small white lights added to the ambience of the evening. A quartet played a selection of xmas carols whilst we sat back and enjoyed the evening.

We had been a little worried about food with Philip being such as fussy eater but there was no need to stress. The Austrians had it all covered – the duck, roast beef, seafood, vegetables and salad. In addition to this was the kids meal which turned out to be a favourite not just for us but for others also – the Wiener Schnitzel and parsley potatoes. Cooked to perfection – crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Pan fried and not greasy. Delicious (or maybe it was just the time and place but whatever it was they were very enjoyable). There was also a selection of desserts; the highlight being the freshly cooked crepes with berries and ice cream.
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Feeling very content we walked back along the river and back to the hotel. At this point, Philip conceded defeat unable to conquer midnight mass. Claire and I left about 10:30 to get to the Dom by 11pm when the doors opened.
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The opening of the doors and gates signified the rush into the cathedral. People from all nationalities were present in the building and one wondered how many had been to church any time in the year or was this their once a year experience? For me midnight mass has always been special, I think because of the people that I share it with. It takes me back to a time when Oma and Opa, aunts and uncles and cousins would have xmas eve at Oma’s house and then head off to mass together. Dad would go home and plays Santa setting up the presents ready for the morning. Just a special part of xmas. Therefore this was something I wanted to do even though Philip was never going to take part and Claire hesitantly thought she’d give is crack – she has indicated that that was her oncer especially when mass went for over an hour, was completely in German and she had no idea of the way a mass works. But hey she was there joining in. The highlight of the mass came at the end when all the lights within the church were turned off and four singers and a guitarist played “Silent night”. Everything was focused on them and where you were. It was so beautifully done unlike the monotonous version that a bunch of school kids sing when they have to cos its part of a carols program.

At 1:30am we arrived back at the hotel with a multitude of church bells ringing from various venues across the town. Not a bad way to end an eventful day.

By |December 26th, 2013|Austria, Europe, Our Trips|