A well travelled piece of cheese, coincidence and circular stories

(Please note all pictures at the end due to iPhone formatting challenges!).

I started writing this on the train from Budapest to Zurich (I got on in Vienna). It was good to spend all day sitting down after a hectic but happy few days! Sipping a cappuccino – I NEVER drink coffee but having burnt the candle at both ends, it seemed a good plan – I discovered a piece of blue cheese in my bag.

Rewinding to Kraków, a fellow ‘airbnber’, a lovely guy from Asturias, Spain, insisted on giving me a chunk of his favourite blue cheese – a mix of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk.

He’d brought it all the way from Northern Spain and reckoned it was among the best. I’m not big on dairy usually but it was rather good if a bit rich for breakfast!

Cut to my last night in Kraków when I moved to a motel near the airport ready for my 6.25am flight to Vienna. There was no way I could get my luggage down four flights of steps (bear in mind that each flight had 24 steps with a tiled halfway landing) at 4.30am. Out of respect to the Asturian, I popped the cheese into my bag before I set off.

Extracting every last ounce out of my time in Kraków, my luggage, the cheese and I went to a traditional Jewish restaurant in Kazimierz to catch some Klezmer music on the way to the motel.

The restaurant called ‘Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz’ was a great find. I’d called a number earlier in the day, and not speaking Yiddish or Polish, muddled through in German and English, enough to get the name of the street.

The decor reflected the building’s history as a tailor’s shop with sewing machine tables, wedding dresses and suits hanging from the ceiling, coat hangers on the wall, boxes, shelves and leather suitcases dotted around.

One of the numbers the band played was a song I’ve sung in my choir- ‘Bei mir bist du Schoen’ by the Andrews sisters (are you reading K and R?!). So there I was foot tapping away, drinking mulled wine and feasting on duck with cranberry sauce.

A familiar looking and sounding pair walked in and sat at the table behind. An English father and daughter. Where did I know them from? Where they perhaps famous? Actors? We got into conversation and it transpired that they had taken part in a BBC historical reenactment program called Turn Back Time – The Family. It screened in Australia as well as the UK and I had seen it. Not only that, I remembered the roles they had played through the ages, pre-World War One being the toughest when they were a working class family. I was interested to hear it was pretty authentic, privations and all, apart from the emergency mobile phone (a health and safety requirement) that doubled up as a torch when visiting the outside loo!

How likely was it that they would find an Aussie fan in downtown Kraków?! Quelle coincidence! Needless to say, we found plenty to chat about and bought extra rounds of drinks which put paid to my early night.

The motel was in no man’s land surrounded by lorries, factories with pacing guard dogs and automated gates. My taxi got a bit lost but, thanks to that extra shot of raspberry vodka, (coffee, dairy and booze- what’s going on?!), I was too relaxed to worry. Of course it was all fine and, on arrival, I was greeted by an outstandingly charming woman
(customer service in Poland is not always the best) who helped me print my boarding pass for the next morning.

I was in Vienna by 10am having had 4.5 hour’s sleep. Ouch! Checking into Pension Susanne, a fabulous old-style hotel right in the centre, I realised the cheese was still in my bag! I’d somehow got rather attached to it and so put it on the windowsill to breathe. Then it was 12.30 and time for lunch at the flat of the family I au-paired for in 1982.

Amazingly, the father of the family still lives there and it’s hardly changed in 30 years. I could remember it all, the same ancestral oil paintings, the same dining table, the same heavy Biedermeier furniture and Louis X1V style chairs in the living room. But they couldn’t remember me!! Hardly surprising; the children were 3 and 5, they had lots of nannies and it was the mother who
took charge of everything. Sadly, she died in 2009 and Peter now lives with a carer.

I was flooded with memories of my time there, not all of them happy. I was terribly homesick back then and struggled to feel at ease with a Viennese family boasting aristocratic heritage. Suffice it to say, I walked away with mixed emotions. There’s something rather call cold and formal about Vienna in my experience.

However, I broke the rather depressed spell with an afternoon stroll taking in a bit of retail therapy treating myself to a Gmundner Porzellan vase- oh God, more luggage- a mug of Gluhwein in a rather tacky Christmas market, making a short pilgrimage to the Ephrussi Palace (see my previous Ohhh Vienna post), and then marveling at some of the traditional shops, one for example devoted to chandeliers and crystal glass and one to hunting gear and dirndls. Zara and H & M, which seem to be everywhere from Kraków to Zurich, are not a patch on these old established stores.

There was just time for the briefest of naps before the opera, which was magnificent from the choreography to the singing and subtitles on little screens in front of each seat (there was nothing like that in 1982!).

The Cunning Little Vixen is a short opera so afterwards I went to the famous Hawelka cafe near the Jewish museum. The artist Adolfo Frankl, a holocaust survivor, lived and worked there. I had come full circle – he survived Auschwitz and his story, those of other survivors and the 144 brave souls who managed to escape helps to balance the horror of the crimes committed there (I only touched on them in my blog, but they have stayed with me). What depths of emotional and physical resilience the survivors must have drawn on. I drank to them, this time in peppermint tea.

As for the cheese, it’s now in my Airbnb landlady’s fridge in Zurich! Madness, I know! It’s time for me to go offline and prepare for the long journey home. Methinks the cheese has probably gone off already! More on Zurich another time.

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3 thoughts on “A well travelled piece of cheese, coincidence and circular stories

  1. Your photographs are marvelous, and your story is stirring. To see that flat after 30 years must have been a jolt. Too bad not a blink of memory from the father. Sad that the mother had passed. Of course, the children were too young then. I enjoyed reading of you and your big cheese adventure, Charlotte.

    • Hi there Mark,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. So glad you enjoyed my last post. Sorry for taking a while to reply but I flew back to Australia this week and that takes a while – to do and recover from! It was a bit strange going back to the flat in Vienna, a bit haunting in a way. In his defence, the father is 83 and not in the best of health. And he took care of earning the money when I was there and didn’t very involved in the domestic stuff! The opera was fabulous though!

      • I enjoyed being part of your return to Vienna. Of course, the father was in no position to remember a lass from so long ago, though I am sure you were memorable, Charlotte. His circumstances simply worked against it. I’m glad that the opera was fabulous for you.

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