Homeward bound

I’m beside myself with excitement! I’m planning a trip back to England in October to see my parents and family and then tacking on an eight-day European adventure. It’s such fun organising it all and I have already imagined myself sitting in atmospheric cafes, walking along cobbled streets, wandering around ancient churches, tuning into different languages, browsing street markets and more. Although living in Australia I’m next door to Asia, it’s Europe that steals my heart.

I haven’t been over to the Northern Hemisphere since December 2012 when I spent three nights in Copenhagen on my way to England. It was December and yuletide was in full swing. I felt as if I were in a Winter Wonderland and relished every minute.

This time I had planned to return via Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. A small and compact city, it would have been perfect for strolling around and soaking up the Central European vibe, but the flight times from London were limited and at anti-social hours. So where else? Berlin continues to be all the rage but I wanted somewhere that wouldn’t bring on a full-blown attack of guidebookitis. (see my post: https://thisquirkylife.com/2013/10/12//).

Then I remembered that I had read about Krakow being the 7th and newest UNESCO City of Literature joining Melbourne, Edinburgh, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavík and Norwich. And, of course, it’s Poland’s second largest city and stuffed with historic interest and significance – from the largest medieval plaza in Europe and Kazimierz (the old Jewish quarter) to countless churches and ancient tombs, a vibrant arts scene, a still-functioning salt mine and, of course, Auschwitz nearby.

I managed to get the second last thirty pound fare on Ryanair from London and, through Airbnb, I’ve booked into an artsy and affordable attic room in a share house in the old part of town. One of the hosts is training in Traditional Chinese Medicine (right up my street) and dances the Tango in his spare time, and the other is a landscape architect specialising in community projects. Reading the many enthusiastic reviews they sound like wonderful people to engage in conversation, but they also appreciate peace and quiet and do yoga in the mornings. I know I am going to love it there.

From Krakow I am heading to Vienna for just under 24 hours and from there I will get the train to Zurich. Researching hotels in Vienna and what’s on at the Opera brought back all sorts of bittersweet memories from my au-pairing days in 1982. When I worked in publishing in London in the 90s, I contrived to spend a day in Vienna after a sales trip to Germany. I think I met with a couple of publishers and then found time to go back to the street where my erstwhile employers lived. With a thumping heart I rang the doorbell but no one was home. Perhaps just as well. After all, we didn’t get on that well; I gave my notice in half way through and then had to grovel my way back a week later when things with a new family across town didn’t go so well. Although they had seemed much more fun, less stodgy and starchy, and the children were older and capable of more sophisticated games than Mr Wolf, I hadn’t reckoned on a fur-shedding cat taking up residence on my bed or that a very bossy and imperious cook with orange hair and thick blue eye shadow ruled the roost and wrote all the rules. I was highly allergic to cats in those days, something the red-haired cook used to her advantage. That and endlessly comparing me, unfavourably, to the previous au pair. According to my research on Google the father of my original employers is still living in Reisnerstrasse, but this time, inspired by a phrase a friend sent me: “the past is for reference not residence,” I won’t be retracing my footsteps.

The girls I looked after in Vienna

The girls I looked after in Vienna

Instead I’m staying in a wonderful-sounding old-style hotel called Pension Suzanne right in the centre of Vienna opposite the Opera House. I’m really curious to see what modern day Vienna is like. Is it still a bastion of stiff manners, etiquette, snobbery (the family I worked for were minor aristocracy) baroque interiors, quartets playing Mozart and lots of strudel, noodle soups and sachertorte? And are the Viennese of a certain class still wearing the green Loden coats and hats with brushes on? Scanning what’s on in November, I see there’s still plenty of theatre, opera and classical music performed in historic costumes in ornate salons, but there’s also Mamma Mia, Mary Poppins and Lady Gaga. I think I’m going to find Vienna much changed!