I had been preparing and planning for this trip for so long, and when the day to leave finally came, everything felt surreal. I arrived at the airport with bits of advice from my family and friends in mind: “Have fun”, “be safe”, “take lots of pictures”......also, “don't get an Austrian best friend!” (Molly) and “don't become a foreigner.” (Mike) And so, with a firm conviction in the best-friendship between me and Molly Hott, and with my feet firmly clad in American-made leather boots, I boarded the plane that would take me to Austria, my home for the next four months.
The flight was long and it was difficult to sleep. I felt cold almost the entire time, the movie selection was bad, and my Ipod did not work. I had not even packed a good book to read. But it wasn't all bad. It was a treat to see, from far above, the lights of Limerick and Cologne and dozens of smaller cities and towns sparkling in the night.
The bus ride from Vienna to Gaming took us past breathtaking scenery, even in winter. We drove the Vienna Woods, where the Roman army of Marcus Aurelius defeated Germanic tribes (as portrayed in the opening scene of Gladiator). We passed green and brown fields, villages and hamlets, a few vineyards, two famous monasteries, and an old church in ruins.
At last, we arrived in Gaming. The tiny village is surrounded by high hills that rise steeply and are covered with dark pines. They are the foothills of the Alps. A river runs through the village, so there is the pleasant sound of flowing water and many quaint little bridges. There are small shops and many brightly-painted houses with shingled roofs, and a village church.
A half-dozen small children ran out to meet us when we drove up to the Karthause. They excitedly greeted us, passed out flowers, and helped take luggage into the building to check in. One freckled-faced boy wearing lederhosen gave me a pink rose and then, spotting my two large suitcases, lisped: “Who's luggage is this? This person brought a lot of stuff!”
After checking in and dragging my bags up three flights of steps, I went walking through the village with Sarah and her friend Mike. With the sun shining, the cool air, and the pleasant sound of the river, it was quite a lovely time. I am tired, a little homesick, and a little overwhelmed, but I'm trilled to be here.