11 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Wednesday

Greg and Delinda left for an early morning flight back to the U.S. R&A training for me in the office. Ana and Heinz left for home after class so there was just Anke and me left for the evening. We went back to the hotel then asked at the front desk about a place to go for a walk. Of course, the golf course is off limits and the hotel is not in an area with sidewalks or bike trails. We asked about walking to the river and the guy acted like we were insane...it would be a 30-40 minute walk, he said. We're thinking, "Cool! That's a nice walk."

So we head out an eventually find our way to the river (only about 20 minutes) then follow a mountain bike trail through the woods along the river until it came out onto a highway. We turned around and went back toward the hotel, taking several detours and side trips along the way. It was a very pleasant walk, especially after so much sitting and eating for 2 weeks. All in all, we were out walking for about an hour and a half. We didn't tell the guy at the front desk about our journey...he obviously would not have approved.

We ate supper on the terrace at the hotel then called it a night. I had an early plane the next day.

10 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Mon-Tue training

To the Aussonne office for TDE meeting day...basically, a repead of the Parndorf meeting with different people...7 students from 3 countries (France, Spain, and Germany). Those students staying at the Latitudes met there for supper.

PRISM/Web training day. Ditto, Parndorf. We all went to Toulouse for supper at Eau de Folle. All but Greg. He had a nasty toothache and opted to stay at the hotel.

08 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Sunday

We got up, had breakfast at the hotel and took a cab into Toulouse for Mass at St Sernin. This is the 4th Mass I've ever attended and none of them were in the U.S. It was an awesome service. We were a little late getting there so we ended up standing in the back. Of course, it was all in French so I didn't understand more than a word here and there. But it was a lovely service with all the incense, pomp, and ceremony of a high mass.

After the service, we walked to the Capitol and walked through the Great Halls there. Each hall has floor-to-ceiling (20-foot) paintings and frescoes. The ceilings are paintings, too. Each hall had different styles and subjects. The first hall is mostly pastoral scenes in a romantic style. The next hall was Impressionist work. The third hall had monumental statues and scenes from Toulouse's history.

Then we wound our way down to the river where we discovered a sort of festival going on. They had these two long boats...each boat had 10 rowers, a captain running the tiller, and musicians (an oboe sort of thing and a drum). On one end of each boat was a long ramp or ladder-like thing ending in a platform that had 5-6 people on it. One person would stand on the platform with a shield and pole and they would 'charge' the boats at each other. As they got close, the oarsmen on the inside of both boats would fold up their oars and the guys with the poles would joust, trying to knock each other off. sometimes both would fall off, sometimes only one, sometimes neither.

Apparently, it's an annual event. I don't know how they decide who 'wins' since the people who get knocked off climb back into the boat and onto the ramp. But the crowd loved it...they would cheer their favorite boat and roar when one or both jousters fell off.

07 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Saturday

We caught our early flight to Toulouse via Frankfort. Because we were flying Lufthansa, we were allowed only one carryon item...period. None of this one carryon plus a personal item deal. Which presented us with a dilemma...we had this case of wine (which couldn't be checked because of its fagility) and we all had laptops (which also couldn't be checked because of fragility and the cargo hold temperatures) and Delinda's carryon bag with emergency clothes and the like in case her checked bag didn't arrive (again)...leaving us with 5 items to carry on between the 3 of us. Lufthansa was extremely inflexible on this point. We ended up putting my laptop in Greg's laptop bag (I carried them), my laptop bag in Greg's suitcase, Greg carried the wine case and Delinda just had to check her carryon.

Everything arrived in good order and we got a shuttle to the Latitudes Hoetl (about 10 minutes from the airport). Greg wanted to chill with his book and Delinda and I wanted to go to Toulouse for lunch and sight-seeing so we left him in the lobby and we caught a taxi. I had the taxi drop us at Wilson Place (31 Euros) so I could get more of the tea I got there last time. I got 300g of "Mysterious."

Then we wandered on to the capitol. Unfortunately, there was a wedding party in the main hall so we couldn't wander through the exhibits. We decided to walk down to the basilica at St Sernin. We wanted to go inside but there was a wedding party there and we didn't want to intrude. Actually, it was the same wedding party. But they didn't seem to be actually having a service or anything...it was the strangest thing. We were afraid they would think we were party-crashers or stalkers or something because we seemed to be following them everywhere. And in our shorts and Ts we really stuck out amid all the finery.

We wandered on and got some money from an ATM then set about trying to find someplace to eat at one of the little cafes on the square looking across to the Capitol but in France it's absolutely impossible to get a meal before 7:30 or 8pm. We could sit at the cafe and have coffee and ice cream but no real food. it was about 5:30. We finally found a little street vendor sort of place selling tabouleh and kabobs so we ate that.

We walked around a little more after than then decided to call it an early day for a change. We walked back to Wilson Place because there was a taxi stand there. We flagged one down and went back to the hotel (21 Euros...one wonders why there was a 10-Euro difference between essentially identical trips...).

06 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Friday

This was the day we were originally planning to take the train into Hungary and tour Budapest. However, it's a 2-hour trip each way and we'd had so many long, full days that we decided not to push it. There were enough things left on our list of 'Things to Do' in the vecinity that we decided to make a local day of it.

We got up, had breakfast at the hotel and checked out. Then we headed up the road past the hotel to the water. The "am-See" part of the town name means "at the sea" and I'd been meaning to check it out all week, just never had the time to do it. It's not actually a sea...it's a huge lake that's extremely popular for sailboarding and sailboating. The whole lake is very shallow...maybe only 5 feet at the deepest but it's very long, broad and marshy. The edges are covered in a very tall type of marsh grass or reed. The lodge there where we were was thatched with it.

From there we drove east and down the side of the lake looking for storks. They're very common in the area and a lot of the buildings have these platforms above the chimneys because storks like to build their nests on top of chimneys and if they don't give them a platform above them, they'll plug up the chimneys. We saw lots and lots of vinyards, but no storks.

Then we drove to a small town called Weidl that is between Neusiedl (where our hotel was) and Gols (where we went to the wine tasting). Weidl has a flower shop that sells the Pittnaur wine and we all wanted to take some of it home with us. We finally found the shop and ended up purchasing 11 bottles between us (I already had a bottle of Hungarian wine that Hajnalka had biven me, giving us a total of 12). They gave us a case to carry them all in and we continued on to Vienna.

We checked into the Astron hotel near the airport then on to the First District. We had a number of things on our To-Do list...we wanted to go to the Tee Haus so I could buy my tea, Greg wanted to do the catacomb tour at St Stephans, I wanted to climb the tower at St Stephans, Delinda wanted to find a Body Shop store we saw the night Felix was showing us around so she could stock up on Body Butter, we wanted to see the Summer Palace, and Greg wanted to find part 2 of the book he'd just finished. We managed to find a convenient place to park on the street and headed out.

We hit all the major English/British bookstores in the area and none of them had Greg's book. While we were looking for the Body Shop, we blundered into the clock Felix showed us and it just happened to be noon. At noon, all 12 characters parade through the win dow to the music of a carillon...a process that takes 10-15 minutes. We found the Tee Haus and I got 200g of the tea I wanted. Greg and Delinda bought various teas, too. The next catacomb tour at St Stephans wasn't for a while yet so we went to find lunch and the Body Shop.

The catacomb tour cost 3 Euros but was definitely worth it. The guide would give his spiel in each area in German then send the German-speaking group off to the next site while he repeated it in English. The catacombs are still in use for burial of high-ranking bishops, cardinals, parish officials and the like. The most recent internment dates I saw were early 2002...and some went back hundreds of years.

The rest of the catacombs were for public burials. Originally, people were stacked neatly in their coffins but when they ran out of space, they started taking the bones out of the coffins and stacking them neatly (and tightly) by type in another room. The longer leg and arm bones packed into a tight wall with the smaller bones filling in the gaps and strategically placed skull accents. They then reused the old space for new bodies. There was also a chamber dating from the Black Plague days where so many people died so rapidly that there was no question of coffins and neat burial. There was an open hole to the surface and bodies would be unceremoniously dumped into the cavern below. You could see the jumbled, conical pile of bones in the one room. Given the way the catacombs are deep, damp, dark and not particularly well-ventilated, the smell and rats must have been indescribable at one time. At this point, it's no different than your average unfinished basement of an older home...only vaguely damp and no smell of decay at all.

The trip to the top of the tower was an altogether different experience. There are actually 2 towers but the one was never finished. The unfinished tower is where the big bell is (it is only rung once each year at midnight of New Year's Eve/Day) has an elevator (for 3 Euros) to the top. The taller tower has a stone circular stairwell consisting of 343 steps and ending at a room that is still 130 meters from the very top of the tower (2.5 Euros to climb) the room at the top of the climb has a very impressive 360-degree view of Vienna. With a good map, it's easy to spot and identify the major landmarks...even easier if you drop a couple Euros into one of the spotting scopes mounted in the windows.

By the end of all that, it was mid- to late-afternoon and we still hadn't made it to the summer palace. We trundled back to the car and set off to find it. By the time we got there, all the tours inside the palace were closed for the day but we had a couple hours to wander the grounds. The entire estate is huge. I have no idea how many acres/hectares...but they include a zoo, a conservatory, a maze, elaborate gardens with an enormous fountain, and at the top of the hill above the palace is another monumental structure with huge statues, a restaurant (not original, I'm sure) and observation deck high above that. A body could get lost out there. And it must take a whole army of people to keep all the hedges trimmed and shaped, things planted and tended, not to mention caring for the zoo animals.

We had planned to attend a horigan at Gerhardt's restaurant that evening but it would have been a long drive out there from Vienna and experience had shown us there was no way we'd get out of there at a reasonable hour so we decided we'd just return to the hotel, return the rental car, get something to eat and get ready to catch our early morning flight to France. By the time we'd done all that (resorting to supper at a McDonalds at the airport) it was still after 10 by the time we got back to the Astron. Which, by the way, is a very convenient hotel to the airport but has delusions of grandeur in charging $113/night for a Motel 6 room.

05 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Thursday

Today was the day we had planned to make it to the abby at Melk and to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. We started by stopping at the Parndorf office, which led to checking email which made it 10:30 or so before we actually hit the road. It's a little more than 2-hour drive from Parndorf to Mauthausen but an easy road. You just get on the autobahn and go.

After we'd been driving a while, we decided to stop at a rest area on the way. Have I mentioned that European restrooms are an experience?? I don't know if this rest stop is typical but it was basically a pit toilet and even for pit toilets it was pretty disgusting. There was a hand-pump outside for non-potable water to wash with afterward. Luckily, I had a wet-wipe thing from the plane stuck in my purse. I still, felt scummy...

Onward to Mauthausen... We found the little village and got directions to the concentration camp at the Information Booth. We also got diretions to a nice restaurant to have lunch. A nice restaurant with nice (and FREE!) restrooms. It was a lovely place...it looked like an old house that had been converted into a restaurant with additions along the way. There was a large deck off one side where you could dine and look out over the valley that was obviously a new addition. The food was very good, even if we had no idea what we were ordering. I can muddle-and-guess my way through a French menu but haven't a clue when it comes to German. Anyway, whatever it was, it was tasty.

Then we headed up the hill to the concentration camp.

Mauthausen, as they explained it to us, was a work camp as opposed to a death camp like Auschwitz or Dacchau. there were 3 types of camps used in WWII by the Nazis...the extermination camps where, if you were sent there, there was no chance you'd ever come out again...you were sent there to be eliminated, plain and simple. Then there were the camps that were set up to be a type of prison where you, theoretically, could see the error of your ways, be "rehabilitated" and returned to society. In reality, few people were ever released by the Nazis and the vast majority died in miserable conditions. And there were the work camps. In the work camps, there was also the theoretical possibility that you could be released but their real aim was to "break" people and work them to death. Mauthausen was the latter type of camp. Prisoners there were forced to quarry rock for Hitler's grand building plans. Conditions were genedrally more deplorable than the prison camps. Very few people survived. When the American forces liberated the camp, one of their first actions was to bury 1,200 people followed by 300 per day after that...people who were technically alive at the time of liberation but were in such a state that they didn't survive much past it.

We toured the grounds with a tape player giving us a guided tour of the remaining barracks and grounds. There was also a short film in the museum that gave a lot of the history of the camp. It was the most appalling, dispiriting, horrifying experience of my life...and all I did was hear about it. Greg decided to go on to see the stone quarry and the "Stairs of Death" but Delinda and I had had enough by then and just waited for him at the car.

From there we drove back toward Vienna to finally see the monastery at Melk.

We got there an hour or so before closing time and about 15 minutes after they stopped selling tickets for tours. We did manage to see the cathedral sanctuary (in the Baroque style) and some of the public grounds before being kicked out. We still didn't get inside the monastery or onto the garden grounds. Next time...

Back to Neusiedl and the hotel for the night.

04 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Wednesday

PRISM R&A training today. Most of the students left for home in the afternoon or early evening.

We were going to go to Vienna for a Felix-guided tour and supper so we dropped the few students flying home off at the airport on the way. Most of the rest of the students were close enough to home that they drove.

We were supposed to follow Dirk and Chad's vehicle to a parking garage in Vienna and, mindful of our attempt the night before to follow them, we borrowed Chad's cell phone so that if we got separated, we could call them and get reconnected. Turns out we didn't need it, we followed them easily to the garage (a conventional garage this time...not like the mechanical marvel we used on Sunday) and headed out by foot to see more of Vienna.

We started with beer at the Krau-Krau...a little sgreet cafe/bar near the garage. Not being a beer fan, I decided to try sturm...a local specialty that is basically a 'pre-wine.' After the grapes are crushed and have just started to ferment, it's called sturm. We learned about strum the night at the hotel supper but I hadn't had a chance to try it yet. It's sweet...not as sweet as grape juice...and cloudy, because it's made from crushed, unstrained grapes. It does have an alcoholic kick but it tastes so much like Squirt or juice that you don't notice it until you try to stand up.

Felix caught up with us there and then lead us on a tour of the area. We saw the facilities where the Lippizan stallions are housed and trained. We saw a huge clock that has historical figures instead of hands to tell the time. Each hour is a specifc person and their postion in the window tells the minutes...so, for example, if it's Empress Maria Teresa three-quarter's through the window, it must be 16:45. We saw a display of what was once a tree in the nail-makers district. Originally, all the streets were home to specific tradesment or guilds and this one street was for nail-makers. Whenever a nail-maker would head out or return, he would pound a nail into this tree. Eventually, there were more nails than wood and this artifact is now mounted on the corner of a building protected by plexiglass. We walked around the outside of St Stephans and Felix showed us where the Haas & Haas Tee Haus is. It was closed, but at least we now knew where to look. We went to a true, old-style coffee house...the kind that you hear about the famous philosophers, artists and actore hanging out in. And this was a famous one. It's run by this 90-something year old lady who still opens the shop every day at 4am and doesn't leave until the very last thing at night. You can see that the place hasn't changed in, probably, the whole time she's been running it. And won't until she doesn't anymore.

Eventually, we made our way to a restaurant at the top of a building across from St Stephans. The restaurant has an outdoor seating deck and glass walled dining room for looking out of Stephansplatz. Very impressive. It was a wonderful meal and another full day.

03 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Tuesday

PRISM/Web training day. I had about 13 students from 9 different countries (Italy, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal and Czech Republic...Poland and Bulgaria had to back out at the last minute due to harvest issues in those countries). Over lunch discussions I found out that:
  • The very windy weather over the last couple of days is very typical of the region.
  • The things in all the vinyards that look like really cheesy wooden guard towers or outhouses-on-stilts are actually deer stands. Apparently, deer hunting is very big there. In fact, I had venison several times.
  • Gerhardt (one of my students) runs a vinyard. When he found out I was interested in seeing a vinyard and how wine-making works, he offered to set up a tour and wine tasting with THE premier vintner in the area. Turns out most of the students were interested in a wine tasting too so we made the arrangements for that evening before supper.
We left the office in a little 5-vehicle convoy to go to the vinyard. Greg, Delinda, Rolando and I were vehicle #2. Greg was driving, Delinda was riding shotgun and assinged the duty of keeping track of Dirk's vehicle ahead of us. As we hit the very first round-about in Parndorf, we lost them while being distracted, wondering how such a BIG bus could negotiate the little round-about. By the time the bus was through the circle, we realized we'd totally lost sight of Dirk and started down the wrong road. We knew the place we were going was somewhere east of Neusiedl so we got turned around and headed that direction, all the while trying to figure out we were going to find everyone again.

Of the 4 of us, only Rolando had a cell phone...but we didn't have a cell phone number for anyone else in the group. Eventually, Rolando ended up calling the Pioneer office in Italy to get Felix' number. He then called Felix in the Parndorf office who transferred him to Dirk's cell phone who handed the phone to Gerhardt (the student) who guided us to the little town of Gols and told us to wait there. He met us in a little parking lot at the edge of town and led us through a maze of tiny little dirt track roads back into the vinyards. We'd have NEVER found it otherwise.

As we arrived, there was a small plane flying low over the fields. They told us that was to keep the birds away from the vinyards. They pay pilots to spend all day just making passes over the fields.

We met Gerhardt Pittnaur (the vintner...not Gerhardt, my student) and he gave us a tour of his winery. He has about 13 hectares (very large for that area) and a very new processing facility (less than a year old). His family has been making wine for several geneartions and the Pittnaur label has a very good reputation in a province (Bergenland) that is known as Austria's best wine country. We saw the large plastic crates used to bring the harvest grapes from the field. We saw the presses and large stainless steel tanks where the inital fermenting takes place. And we also saw the cool-storage room where the wine, now housed in oaken barrels (made of French oak...American oak is more suited to Spanish wines, according to Gerhardt) is stored for a couple of years (typically) until it's bottled.

Then it was on to the testing. He'd set up a couple of tables and a large umbrella out front with some baskets of breads and wine glasses. We started out with a Chardonnay (not typical of Austria, but he was in the process of branching out to a more international market), then 4 of his label's red wines. The Zweigelt is a tradional Austrian wine, hints of ripe cherry and a strong peppery-spicy bite. The grapes growing right around the building were the zweigelt grapes so we got to taste the grapes directly and then the wine made from them. The Pino Noir was also a sort of international style...only slightly peppery, more smooth than the zweigelt. The Pannoble is a very special wine...it's actually a blend of 5 different wines (called a cuvee). There is a sort of co-op of vintners in the area that are responsible for the region's Pannoble every year. The vintners blend their own Pannoble every and then come together to decide whose version will be THE Pannoble for the year. It was a VERY good wine. The St Laurent, however, is the top wine under the Pittnaur label. It's a very local wine...only produced in Austria and some tiny parts of neighboring countries. It's a very old wine, some of the oldest in the country and definitely my favorite of the wines we tasted. The most expensive, too...go figure.

Then we got to taste some of this year's vintage straight from the barrel. He has this sort of long glass tube with a big bulge at one end. He would stick the long, skinny end into the barrel and sphon off some wine from the barrel up the tube and into the bulb. he would hold his finger over the end of the tube to keep the wine in and pour the wine into our glasses from that tube. This is a sort of 'raw' or young wine, normally it owuld be bottled and sit for a while in the bottle before being drunk. It was very smooth and mild and obviously needed some age on it before it would be a really good wine.

From the vinyard, we joined the rest of the group at a restaurant in Neusiedl. Another late night after a very full day.

02 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Monday

(Labor Day in the U.S. Nothing special in Europe.)

We had breakfast at the hotel, hooked up with Rolando (from Italy) in the lobby then headed to the office at Parndorf. We met all the other attendees and spent the day discussing the release of TDE for Europe. We all had supper at the Wende restaurant and it was very good.

01 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Sunday

We had designated Sunday as our day to tour the Wachau valley (a scenic valley through which the Danube River runs...there are a number of castle ruins and medieval villages sprinkled in among a LOT of vinyards). We headed north figuring we'd hit the river sooner or later and could just follow it upstream. We drove along the south bank and eventually to a small town where we found an ATM. We struck up a conversation with a woman from Vienna who suggested where we should cross (Krems) to the north bank of the river and tour castle ruins at Dernstein then go to some other little town (I've forgotten the name) where we could take a ferry back to the south bank. From there we could tour Aggstein (another medieval city with castle ruins) and then on to Melk (a monastery with impressive gardens and a Barroque cathedral). She thought our schedule was way too agressive but did her best with her suggestions to accomodate us. And without her help, we'd have never gotten as much done as we did.

We found Dernstein and hiked up to the ruins.The castle had originally been perched at the top of a steep drop atop the valley rim. It was a pretty rigorous hike but the view from the top was worth it! You could see far up and down the river (the main reason it was originally located there...) as well as all the valley on the other side of the river. From a defense and fortification standpoint, it was the perfect spot.

We found the little town with the ferry. For about 4.20 Euros, we crossed the river on a little ferry that could hold maybe 4 cars and a double-handful of people.

A word or three about the Wachau valley...about 3 weeks prior to our visit there had been a really bad flood in this valley. The river fairly regularly foods to some degree but they described this as a 100-year flood. We could easily see high-water marks on buildings and a lot of vinyards were buried under sand and/or silty mud. Bad as it was here, it was much worse upstream in Germany.

At Aggstein, the castle had likewise been perched high over the river. It would have been a much longer hike than Dernstein but we could drive right up to the castle. There was much more of the original castle left here...you could actually go into rooms and lookouts and the like. In most places all the floors were gone...the rooms you could go into used to have several floors above them (you could see marks on the walls where the floors/stairs/fireplaces used to be) but are now open. Like Dernstein, the valley view was incredible.

We drove on to the monastery at Melk but arrived just after closing time. It has a very impressive gate.

Have I mentioned anything about European public toilets yet? They are...an experience. While we were at Melk, one of us (who shall remain nameless) was in dire need of facilities. There was a set of public restrooms right there outside the gate. Problem 1: Most public restrooms are not free. In cities or "attraction" areas, there is usually an attendant with a basket and you are expected, nay, commanded to deposit your 30 cents and she will make change for you if necessary. In other places, it's usually the 'pay toilet' deal where you put some coins in the door before it will open and let you in. Problem 2: The restoom here at Melk was of the latter type and the door required 20 cents in the form of 2 10-cent pieces. Problem 3: Between the 3 of us, we didn't have 2 10-cent pieces. Problem 4: Everything was closed, so there was no place to get change. Problem 5: The only other people on the premises did not have a 10-cent coin either.

You begin to understand why most out-of-the-way corners and bushes in Europe smell like urine...

The resolution to this ticklish situation? When in Rome... There were 2 women headed toward the restroom (2 from the group that we had hit up for 10-cent coins earlier...which they didn't have) so Delinda tagged after them thinking if they got a stall to open, she'd see if she could sneak in after them. Turns out they've played this game before. They bypassed the women's bathroom altogether and used the urinals in the men's room. The exact logistics of which I'll leave to the imagination...

We got back in the car and headed back to Vienna. It took a lot longer than we expected. Traffic was backed up a loooooong way out of Vienna for some reason...either road construction or people headed back to town after the weekend or something. We finally made it to Vienna and found this underground parking garage on Stephansplatz. It looked like a normal garage when we pulled into it. However, when we pulled into a bay that looked like an entrance, a gate closed behind the car and we were instructed (in stern German, which we didn't understand) to get out of the car. By then, there was no turning back and we had NO idea what we'd gotten ourselves into. We were further instructed to enter a smallish cage beside the car bay where another door shut and barred the way back toward the car. When we took the ticket, a door opened on the other side of the cage and we stepped out just in time to see the bay door in front of the car open and the car disappear into a black void. On a TV monitor beside the cage, we could see our car being tucked into a spot in what looked like a big warehouse with cars and vans all stacked up and tucked into their little pigeonholes. We just hoped and prayed we could get the car back again.

We had supper at the Augustinerkeller and then went back to collect the car. It was actually pretty cool. We stuck our ticket into a machine that billed us about 7 Euros for parking there about 3 hours and then in another machine that signalled the equipment to fetch the car from its pigeonhole. We watched on the monitor as a device located the car, pulled it out of its storage place and then it appeared bakc in they bay where we originally deposited it. It rotated the car around so it wa pointing the otehr direction then the big bay gate opened and we got in and drove back out the way we came in.

31 August 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Saturday

After our 18-hour trip "across the pond," we arrived in Vienna (that's 'Wien' to the locals). One of Delinda's bags didn't. We got a rental car and attempted to head to our hotel. I say "attempted" because none of us could figure out how to get it into reverse. We prefer to blame this on travel fatigue and jet lag... We finally stopped a couple of gentlemen walking through the parking lot and asked them if they could help us out. They got us on our way.

We found the Hotel Wende in Neusiedl-am-See, checked in, showered and headed back to Vienna for whatever meal it was time to eat, sightseeing and walking around until we could legitimately go to bed.

We were headed for the famous and historic "First District." Originally contained within the city walls, there is now a roughly circular road (known as "the Ring") where the wall used to be. Inside this ring are many sights and famous places including St Stephan's Basilica, the Winter Palace, the stables and training grounds for the Lippizan Stallions, monumental statues and narrow brick streets.

We had a city map. We even had a detailed map of the First District. Could we find it? Nooooooo... This, we prefer to blame on the fact that German street names all have at least a couple dozen characters per word and the street signs just aren't that big. By the time you've picked out the first half dozen or so characters, you've already whizzed past the sign.

At one point, we thought we were getting close. We kept seeing all these signs pointing to points of interest and, in particular, a major one that said, "Einbahn" with an arrow. Greg had a smattering of German left over from his high school days and knew that "Ein" meant "one" so we thought maybe Einbahn was the First District. So we followed the arrows. Needless to say, we drove all over in what seemed like completely random fashion before we finally figured out that Einbahn does NOT mean First District...it's a general street sign that means "One Way."

We finally found a place to park and just decided to call it close enough. We went to a little cafe across the street and ordered something to eat. We struck up a conversation with a British family at the next table and discovered that we were parked right ON a section of the Ring and that was the First District across the street. They told us about a pedestrian mall that leads to St Stephan's Basilica and we decided head that direction after eating.

After the meal, we ordered tea (for me) and coffee (for Greg and Delinda) and the tea I had was wonderful. I asked the waitress if the tea could be purchased locally and she said yes...at the Tee Haus and waved an arm in the general direction of the Ring. I got the specific name of the tea (Sonnen Insel...Sunny Island) from the menu and figured I could look up the Tee Haus in a phone book (Haas & Haas at Stepansplatz).

The spire of St Stephans guided us in the general direction until we finally emerged in St Stephans Square (Stephansplatz). It's an awesome Roman/Gothic style basilica with an imposing tower on one side, stone gargoyles all over and a pattern on the roof made with colored tiles. We went to the main entrance but it was closed to visitors because Mass was about to start. Delinda wanted to light a candle and we wanted to do a service in one of the basilicas anyway so we went in and sat down for the service.

It was a more contemporary service than I expected...no organ music, no robed choir, no incense. The music was provided by a youth choir in T-shirts and shorts with guitar and flutes. The service was in German so I didn't understand a word of it, but the sermon was heartfelt and the pews were packed.

After the service, we wound our way back to the car and back to the hotel. Delinda's missing bag was waiting for her in her room.

30 August 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Friday

Greg, Delinda and I boarded the plane for our trip to Austria.

16 May 2002

Habitat for Humanity

Up at 5:30. I was the last to shower today.

I’m not feeling too lively today…digestive disturbances…and didn’t do yoga or eat breakfast.
Giovani washed Bob’s truck…it needed it after the dusty roads to San Felipe…and drove us to San Salvador. We stopped a couple places enroute to get mangos and melon.

Checked into the International Hotel and Alvaro met us for lunch. It was so good to see him again!

He joined us for our visits to Habitat for Humanity and the handicapped computer place.
At Habitat we met with Alfredo Castro. They have projects in 8 departments (states). There are regional committees who select the families that get the houses. It’s a 6-month process to select them and they generally try to do about 10 homes at a time in any given community to cut down on materials and effort. The selected families come to the office in San Salvador for orientation. The family must own the land and have some regular income. Construction is concrete block although it is being modified now to be more earthquake resistant. The whole community is involved in the building.

Delegations that work on the houses get ½ built units to finish. The projects are always new construction for dwellings…never refurbishing existing structures or building community buildings. The family pays $20 to Habitat in a sort of “loan”. Habitat started in El Sal in 1992. This June, they will build their 2,000th house. It costs $3,500 for a house with an outhouse, doors, windows, etc. The minimum age for Habitat workers is 15 (with guardian) or 18 (without).

15 May 2002

Beach trip

Beach day! Vamos al Playa Cuco.

It’s about a 2 hour drive to Cuco Beach on the southern coast. Giovani drove us and several of the parish team. We arrived at our own “little” cabana off the beach where we would spend the rest of the day. The gringas changed into our suits and we walked to the shore. There was a strong wind move the fine, ash-gray sand around and the waves were rolling in. It was a very broad, flat beach with occasional palm frond sun shelters.

I went out in the surf with Kelly and Julie came out later. The Salvadorans stayed in the wading zone. Cross currents and backwash was strong. I needed a hand from Kelly to get back on firm footing in the shallower water.

I flew my pocket sled kite from the sun shelter. Kelly went for a run down the beach. Julie and I went back to the cabana…neither of us could really afford to stay out in the sun.
We lounged in the hammocks and chatted until lunch was ready…fried fish, veggies, rice, tortillas and beets.

Kelly and I played “pool soccer” with the parish team in the cabana pool…women against the men. The men were soundly trounced. Forget the fact that there were 5 of us and 3 of them…
We sang in the bus on the way back and stopped in San Miguel for gas and drinks.

Back at Fundavita we did some packing to get ready to leave the next day then walked to Hayde’s house for supper. Hayde and her daughter, Milagro, had been in Des Moines in ’99 so Millie could have surgery to correct a problem with her feet (the tendons in her calves were too short and she couldn’t stand flat footed or walk very well). They stayed with the Hoffmans…good friends of Lynn’s.

We had an absolute feast…platters piled with chicken, salad, pupusas (Hayde runs a pupuseria in Berlin), avocado, beets, rice, jocotes (little fruits with a pit that taste like green apples but without th astringent quality), horchata (the rice drink), etc.

The mayor of MU and his bodyguards showed up later but didn’t eat. He and Bob and Giovani shared some of the J&B the mayor had given Bob. I think it was the first time I’d seen the mayor “cleaned up” and not ‘being the mayor.’ It was interesting…

We walked home in heavy, heavy fog…very unusual for the area. It had rained briefly but rather heavily while we were eating.

I had a headache and went to bed almost as soon as we got back. I got up to pee at 3:30 and there was no power but it came on shortly after that because the yard light was shining through my window before I got back to sleep.

14 May 2002

San Felipe & Mercedes Umana

Can’t even tell it rained last night…it didn’t make a dent in the dust.

But the water is running and we can take showers and fill the pilas. I washed some clothes and put them on the line to dry before we left for San Felipe (where the water tank project is).
At San Felipe we met one of the teacher’s (Mario – whose English was very good) and some of the children from the school. We saw the soccer field that had been created with help from 1st Presbyterian and the site where the water tank will be build.

The main source of income in this village is working in the fields for the big land owners (at 25 cents per day).

We met with the community in the school. The school has 6 grades, meets 5 days/week, has 4 teachers (2 men and 2 women), and 117 students.

This is the community that cornered Bob to press for emergency medical transportation after one woman in childbirth died while they were trying to carry her town.
  • They asked us to take word back that they need clothing and shoes for the children
  • One woman asked for scholarship money ($120/year) for uniforms and schooling for her children…otherwise they would never get past the education of the local school.
  • They asked for seeds and fertilizer to help with planting the crops.
  • They asked for help paving their road to facilitate connection with town and cut down on the dust in the dry season.
  • They have electric lines in place in the school but no solar panel to provide the power. They would like to have power so they can access educational programs that are broadcast on national TV stations to augment the education in the school.

Bob had told us about a midwife kit that he was delivering to the community…they were going to have a dedication celebration for it…. But as he was on the way there, he was met by a man whose wife was in labor and needed it immediately. While we were there, we met the woman and her baby and the midwife. The midwife kit contains string, special scissors, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and cotton balls. The midwife also wants Mercurochrome, pre-natal vitamins, latex gloves and masks.

On the way to the midwife, we were met by a family who wanted to show us their little girl. She’s 3 years old but very small and cannot walk or talk. They wanted a wheelchair for her. They had another child who died at 15 of apparently the same thing…it sounds like some sort of degenerative genetic disease. After she got too big to carry around she basically could only lay on the floor. Because of that, they are fairly desperate to get some way of having this child be more included and have a more humane life. The cargo container (still sitting in port….) has wheelchairs but they are adult size. We thought maybe a stroller would be more child-friendly…will try to get one for next trip.

Back to Fundavita in the back of the truck. The dust on the road is incredible…I was standing in the back and watching the dust roll away from the tires as if we were driving through water. Everyone was covered…when we got back, everyone cleaned up and washed clothes before having lunch and heading out to Mercedes Umaña.

We started to wash our own clothes but Maria Elena apparently couldn’t stand to watch our feeble efforts and insisted that she liked to wash clothes. The process is very hard on the clothes but the results are extremely impressive.

At Mercedes Umaña… The library is coming along…it needs a roof. They’re hoping to have that completed by the end of the month. They need a special roof (a type of laminate) to keep the building inside cooler (for the computers…and people and materials). Tile is coolish too but is more fragile and susceptible to errant rocks and prone to leaking.

We saw the clinic expansion project…it will more than double the clinic size and provide some separation between some of the functions…giving patients some more privacy and the staff a place to meet away from the clinic and patients. We toured the rooms and met the dentist, doctor and staff. The doctor looked at Julie’s finger and prescribed antihistamines and a hydrocortisone cream. They wouldn’t charge her but we gave them $5 as a donation to the clinic.

We saw the park improvements and some street projects.

The mayor gifted Bob with a bottle of J&B scotch. We figured it was an olive branch as Bob said relations had been strained.

We met with the mayor and some of the council. We presented the money we raised with our El Salvador dinner and I gave him the money the Engstrom’s donated for their library. We invited the mayor to go to the beach and supper at Hayde’s with us the next day but he said he had to be in San Salvador for a meeting. He might join us for the supper though.

It was great to see some of the people we met the first time…the 3 Musketeras, the mayor, Jesús and Doris, Diña, etc. Wilfredo is off to university in the city.

On the way back to Berlin (out of the way, actually, but no matter) we took a woman home below the geothermal plant. It was a lovely little valley…the sort of place I’d seek out to camp in. Living there would be a different story.

Back at Fundavita, we saw Elena’s son Andres. They said he’d fainted at school the day before but was ok. Kelly said he’d been anemic.

After supper, we hear the Parish Team’s personal stories from the war.

Chepe couldn’t get work as a tailor so went to the fields to cut coffee. He heard that his father and brothers had been taken by guerillas. 4 days later his father and 2 of the brothers had escaped and returned home. The 3rd brother was with the guerillas another 2 months before he got away. He was trained in 1st aid and worked for the Red Cross for 5 years (1980-1985) in Berlin. As a part of the Red Cross, he wasn’t on either side but had to be neutral.

Miguel was 4½ when the war started. The guerillas robbed their farms and took their animals. His mother was assassinated. The family had to leave their home and go hide in the mountains. When he was about 14, he was captured by the guerillas. One of the soldier-captors was a girl he new from school. She asked him if he really wanted to be a guerilla and he said no. She said she’d help him get away and did. In 1986 he was captured again by the guerillas and again ran into the same girl. She helped him again but it took 3 months to get away. At 16 he was captured by the army. He and his father were forced to cut coffee and destroy roads. He believes that his community is desperately poor to this day because of the ravages it suffered during the war.

Blanca – the war began for her in 1979. She was studying in Berlin. It was not so bad for people in Berlin as it was for those in the country. She worked in social and health services. In ’82 she went to San Salvador to study. The army told her parents that they were all guerillas because the children were all in studying…learning is leftist. She wasn’t afraid of the guerillas and didn’t like the army philosophy. She says that poverty is nothing new in El Salvador. There was poverty and corruption before too. Poor people have always been taken advantage of. Life is worse since the war. Before there was at least work…even if the wages were low. Now the guerillas (FMLN) have pressured the owners to pay more, raise minimum wages and unionize. Poverty is just as bad as before, only for different reasons and is increasing.

It was an intense evening. Andres was dropping in his seat and we decided to call it a night before we got to Milagro or Maria Elena’s stories.

13 May 2002

Coffee processing & NGOs

Got up, showered, did yoga, had breakfast then off to the local coffee cooperative.

The coffee is all locally grown and processed. The harvest starts around November and may go into January. The kids get their “summer” vacation from school during this time so that they can work in the fields.

We saw the processing room where the coffee is roasted, ground and bagged. First, Ricardo had to clean out the roaster. He said they do this every 2-3 batches because ‘basura’ collects and if they don’t clean it out, it can catch fire. It takes about 10 minutes to clean out the equipment and 40-45 minutes to roast and grind the coffee. They will roast and grind to customer specifications. He had Styrofoam coffee cups stacked around with samples of roasted beans so that customers can specify the darkness. He also had small jars of grind samples.

The raw beans are dumped into a hopper and then piped up to the top of the roaster by a flow of air. The roaster is gas powered and when it’s up to temperature, the beans (about 50 pounds) are dropped into the roaster where they are heated in the rotating drum. Ricardo uses a tester scoop thing to check the process. When the beans are the right color, they are dropped into the mesh-bottomed cooling vat where they are stirred by a rotating paddle. Air is drawn down over the beans and through the mesh to help the cooling process. When they are cool, they’re run through the grinder and bagged. They sell the coffee for $1.70/bag…either ground or beans.
Then we walked to the Cordeco office. The office is a sort of an umbrella organization of NGO organizations work through to provide human and social services for the people of the community. The organization started during the war when they had to work in secret. After the peace accords, they opened the office in Berlin. They have a board of 9 volunteers. Some of the groups they work with are:

Procomes – agriculture and community organization – They help people get loans to buy seed and fertilizer. Most of the people will plant crops on about 2 acres. The average family (that has land) will have 3-5 manzanas (about 6-10 acres), generally 1.5 or 2 of those manzanas will be farmable. They plant corn in May and harvest in November. They plant beans in mid-August and harvest in November. They have very little livestock. Almost no one has horses anymore…anthrax killed almost all of them in the past year.

Fundesa – focus on housing issues – help people with lining up the money and materials to build their houses.

The women’s paper coop is also there – they collect paper, plastic and aluminum for recycling. The focus of this group is on environmental issues but they also try to earn money through recycling the products. The paper they collect they make into piñatas (newspaper and some of the plastic) or reprocess into handmade papers that they use to make cards, boxes, bags, etc. They don’t make much money at this. Local people see it as “made from garbage” and don’t value it. They still do it because they believe it’s the environmentally responsible thing to do but the coop has dwindled to about 6 women because it just doesn’t make much money. They also do a lot of educational workshops in the schools about environmental issues.

We looked at their paper and products and thought some of the handmade papers that had leaves and flowers and the like in them were beautiful. We bought several sheets to sell at the Latino festival later this month. If we can demonstrate a market for it, they may actually have an appreciative outlet for their efforts, make more money and not spend the time making and decorating the cards if people just want the paper. We’ll see how it goes.

I bought a note pad and several bookmarks from them while we were there.

They took us on a tour of some of the Fundesa housing projects in the works in Berlin.
We walked back to Fundavita for lunch then went to San Francisco for the solar panel dedication.
They were very excited about the panel. We had a microphone and speakers for the celebration…not that they needed it, but they’d borrowed it from the mayor’s office, probably because they could. There was prayer, reading of the Word, sermon, singing, we sang and played our 2 songs, and had refreshments. Then most of the people left and we met with just the community council.

There are 82 families in the community and they would all like to have their own solar panels. They can’t have electricity run to the village because most of the people don’t own the land and all the projects require land ownership. They don’t have much money but are willing to provide all the labor they can. Bob is working with Miguel to get the project sponsored through our Session to the national level.

The advantages they see to the solar panel they have: they can have all-night vigils in the church, meetings after dark, the microphone/speakers (which they’d like to have of their own), and it allows students who have to work in the fields during the day to study somewhere after dark. Otherwise, they’d have to buy candles/oil or (more likely) not study at all. And there are no health issues with exposure to the lights as there can be with the soot/fumes from fuel oil, candles or fire as well as reducing the eyestrain. The panel project has served as an example for the people here and in other communities and has brought the community closer together in working on, learning about and sharing it. The panel is guarded every night by 2 people to make sure nothing happens to it.

Some general wants/needs/issues
  • Water is still a critical issue here. The Swiss and El Salvador Red Cross is working on a project to get water collection barrels for each family. A communal water tank project is not possible because of the lack of land ownership (85% do not own their land). They would like a total of 35 barrels for the community…but at this point, they could get maybe 15. The negotiations right now are on how much money the community has to kick in.
  • They are interested in solar ovens and dryers. They are interested in the health (not breathing cooking smoke) and cost (don’t have to buy or scavenge wood, doesn’t deplete the environment) benefits. Some have been made at Fundavita but they don’t have any yet. Need money for materials. The mayor of the municipality has said he would support 25% of the project (a solar oven for each family) if they can get the money for the rest of it.
  • They need a latrine for the church…and others in the community. Currently most homes don’t have one. They are gathering info on who needs them, how many need to be build, etc and are working with organizations to get this done.
  • They’d like to have land for a soccer field to be shared among the 4 casarios in the area as a way to help keep the youth from crime.
  • They’d also like better musical instruments for their worship and celebrations. The guitars are very old and have been repaired by whatever materials they have on hand, the bass is strung with twine, the keys on some of the stringed instruments won’t stay etc.
Back at Fundavita we had supper then spent time with Bob talking about the day. I think we helped put into perspective some things that had been bothering him, gave him some ideas about how to maybe deal with future delegations, etc.

Went to bed at 8:30. It “feels” like rain and there is some thunder and lightning in the distance. The rainy season is overdue and the people are very concerned about whether they will get enough rain to support the crops. Right now there is no soil moisture so they can’t plant. It did rain a little after we went to bed but not much.

12 May 2002

Pottery & Fundavita

I slept great until the roosters started crowing…2am. I put in earplugs and went back to sleep. Got up around 6, showered, yoga-ed and then went down for breakfast…huevos rancheros, pan, frijoles, platanos fritos, juego, café and té. Then we loaded up in Bob’s new pickup for the trip to Berlin.

One person could ride up front with Bob and the other 3 were in the back with the luggage. He had some plastic chairs we could sit in but we decided in fairly short order that it was better to sit on the bed directly where you were out of the wind. However, the main mode of transportation for Salvadorans is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (and standing on the tailgate and/or sides) for however long it takes.

We stopped at Ilobosco (a ceramics artisan community) to shop a bit. I got a sun plate (~$4 I think), a round-bottomed, terra cotta vase with a ring to sit it on ($1.70), a Noah’s ark ($4), and a bead bracelet ($1.50).

After Ilobosco, I rode in the cab and Bob and I chatted about a lot of things related to Westminster’s work there, his work, the people and personalities, etc. I asked him about things we heard about the first time we were there and what the current status was…mainly if the geothermal plant had done what they talked about the last time (provide transportation for medical efforts to the remote villages), concerns about water quality and contamination, etc. He didn’t know anything about the geothermal thing and we talked a lot about the water issue. I told him about the water quality monitoring project I had done with the Sierra Club and that I’d check into the kits we used. There was a lot of interest in maybe getting some so that people could determine for themselves whether the water was good. They don’t trust the info they’re getting from either the geothermal plant or the government.

Arrived at Fundavita in time for lunch then relaxed in the backyard hammocks for a while. We practiced our songs for the San Francisco dedication. I did some yoga on the patio. Then we walked to mass at the local church.

I didn’t understand a word of it. Last time (when I hadn’t been studying Spanish for 6 months…) I at least got the gist of what the sermon was about. With this guy, I wasn’t getting anything. I was sitting next to Bob and asked him if the priest was talking “at” the parishioners or if he was actually trying to connect and be understood. Bob said it was a very academic presentation and that it was most likely way over the heads of most of the people there. He wasn’t getting a lot of it and, in fact, fell asleep for a while. This is the priest who despises poor people and has made it very difficult for the parish team to work in this municipality. They pretty much have to do their work in spite of him when he’s supposed to be their guide.

We headed back to Fundavita for supper and an early bedtime. I sent an email to Del & Robyn to ask them to let me know how mom’s surgery went (tomorrow) and that they could send the info to Bob’s address.

11 May 2002

Arrival in El Salvador

It was raining fairly heavily as I arrived at the airport. The unstable weather made for an extremely rough flight to St Louis…pretty close to the roughest I’ve ever been on. St Louis to Miami was much better and Miami to San Sal was perfectly smooth.

Arrival at San Sal was pretty uneventful. There was a slight altercation with immigration. Lynn and Jane were charged $10 for the tourist card and Julie and I weren’t. Lynn was questioning why they had to pay and we didn’t. But none of the officials there spoke English and my Spanish wasn’t up to dealing with it. Eventually they had about 5 immigration officers there, all of them speaking Spanish and us not. Eventually we gave up and just wrote off her $10.

Met Bob and Giovani outside the airport. We drove to the International Hotel and checked in. We settled in for a bit then walked to La Ventana for supper…a place Bob described as a “yuppie place” but it fit the bill as it had a variety of food options and wasn’t expensive.

The music was too loud (typical of the culture) and the place had a LOT of art work on the wall. Most of the ones in the room where we were eating were huge paintings by the same person who did the ones we saw at the Jesuit college chapel the last time we were here. I thought they were an odd choice for both locations. They were mostly stark, sketched images of nude, dead bodies riddled with bullet holes…men and women piled haphazardly, sometimes bound hand and foot with barbed wire. Images to dine and pray by… But I guess it shows how deeply the war colors their world still.

We walked back to the hotel and called it a night.