Last weekend we did a big trip to Innsbruck. There was a Bosnian holiday on Monday, so we took the liberty of an extra day off and carved out four days.
Our trip began on Friday, leaving Tuzla after school and making our way to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We landed at our bed and breakfast just before 6 p.m. and decided to go out to the movies. It was the first time I’d seen a Hollywood movie in the theater since leaving Berkeley in August. Can’t say that I’d been missing the movies, but it was sort of fun to go to a multi-plex and see Catching Fire (the latest installment of the Hunger Games series). It was in English with Croatian subtitles, a huge screen, great Dolby sound. I came out of the movie really satisfied, not because it was great movie (can’t say I’d recommend it unless you’re in the middle of the series and then you just can’t miss it). I think I was so satisfied, because the four of us were on vacation. We were exploring. We were happy to be together, and happy to have found a movie that was exactly what the boys wanted on a night when it fit perfectly and no one had to be left behind. We ate a piece of pizza from the fast food joint afterwards and fell into our beds perfectly happy.
We got up early the next morning and started off for Austria. From Zagreb, we made our way across the Slovenian border, through Ljubljana and on up to Salzburg. It took a bit longer than we expected. Five hours after leaving our bed and breakfast we stopped for lunch at a Landzeit highway rest stop (known for huge buffet selection of regional specialities made to order or laid out great mounds of roasts, vegetables, salads and breads.) The most exciting thing about the stop was the snow. It had started outside of Ljubljana and was falling heavily in Salzburg. The snow was thrilling for Averil and Yates. It’s not that they’d never seen snow before, but this was different. We were in it. It was happening to us. This first snow was an action not just a thing. The boys participated–by throwing snowballs at the rest stop, rolling big fat snowman snowballs and then smashing them and generally running around in sweatshirts designed for Berkeley winter.
We called our friends Kyle and Andreas and told them that we’d be later than anticipated. We had a few more hours to go before we reached Innsbruck. A few more Sherlock Holmes stories on audio books. A few more games of Whirly Word (a good car game). More listening to Dad’s music collection. The roads were slick and careful Germans and Austrians dramatically reduced our speed. By the time we got to Innsbruck it was after 4 p.m., dark and snow still falling. But as we entered the warm house, the smell of frying spices, the glow of kitchen lights and sparkling wine glasses. Our friends Kyle and Andreas cooking for us. We picked up the conversation in the Innsbruck kitchen as though we were continuing a thought from yesterday’s interaction. But yesterday had been five years earlier (a week in Berlin in 2008) with Kyle and over a year since Andreas had been in Berkeley. Andreas continued to cook and cook, serving us a middle eastern feast of salads and lamb pie, shukshuka and gorgeous cheeses. We fell into our beds at midnight again sated, with good food and the love of old friends.
In the morning, the reality of snow hit–Averil and Yates had already gone out for a walk with the dog and snowman building by the time I got up at 8. Here’s the fort they built for Andreas (who is now safe from winter attacks that may come at any time). Averil and Yates just kept saying how much they love snow. Kyle, Andreas and Klaudia came up with more layers of clothes for us all–boots, parkas, gloves. Later in the day, we wandered in the Christmas Market and then joined Klaudia for an evening at the spa in Seefeld. Huge warm pools, a slide with “wild water” for the boys. The magic of being in a warm pool as big fat snowflakes fell on our faces. We took the train back to Innsbruck from Seefeld and drove home.
Monday, another day of wandering. More Christmas market, a funicular ride up the mountain to get views of Innsbruck. A several hour wander in the Alpine Zoo. We talked and talked. The boys contributed. Then Klaudia made us Schnitzel with traditional potato salad, cranberry sauce and lovely chocolates.
We’ve been thinking a lot about the Christmas market and the views of Innsbruck. It is a beautiful city. Clean and well kept. Decorated and equipped for tourists. Full of holiday cheer–even before Advent begins. Are we missing the Christmas spirit? There is no decoration in Tuzla. There won’t be any Christmas to speak of–no holiday sales, or encouragements to drink mulled wine. We might find a tree and put it up in our house, but there won’t be lots of other families doing the same. We might make Christmas cookies, but I’m going to have to search for cookie cutters.
But maybe it isn’t the Christmas market, the cookies and mulled wine that make Christmas. I think what the Innsbruck weekend suggests is that this nostalgia is contextual. What we loved about the Christmasy-ness of Innsbruck was Kyle, Andreas and Klaudia. The warmth of these friends was what made it a holiday.
We don’t miss something that doesn’t belong in the place we’re in. I expect that instead of missing Christmas in Tuzla, we’ll be looking forward to celebrating New Year’s. When we came home to Tuzla on Tuesday night we found it blanketed in its first snow. It is a whole new look for the City. Older people are grumbling about winter beginning. But Averil and Yates are happy to have found warm boots. We’re buying hats and gloves. We’ll get more jackets and snow pants. It will snow again soon. There will be sledding and cross country skiing. When we have our car, there might be mountain hikes on snow shoes and snow picnics.
On Wednesday, the boys and I performed in a school concert. Averil and Yates played a piano duet and then Averil and I played a horn duet. It was fun. We played well. The local paper wrote a human interest story about the American Family in Tuzla. Averil’s teachers were so supportive of our involvement in the program. Here’s the article in the paper: http://www.avaz.ba/vijesti/teme/porodica-iz-sad-a-novi-dom-pronasla-u-tuzli
Then on Thursday, I made pies and served them at the library. In the evening, we had a Thanksgiving dinner featuring a turkey slaughtered by our farmer friend Kata on Thursday morning. Friends came and shared sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted parsnips. They brought rakia, chocolates and open hearts. We talked and talked. We played with kitten.
Our thanksgiving prayers included family, near and far. Friends, old and new. The thrill of exploring new places and comparing differences. It is a blessing and a pleasure to have the constant conversation about politics and the economy because it helps us to see what we must do, where we must take a position against injustice and corruption and for what would be better. We are thankful that we have enough to eat and that from that abundance we can share the pleasure of good food with friends and strangers. We are thankful for the snow, the delight of new weather, the cold and the contrasting warmth of our apartment.