I’ve got plenty to tell in this e-mail, so get comfortable. Much has happened since my last e-mail, and I think it’s best to keep going in sequential order.
Vienna – I’ll start by telling the story of John Harris. He is exactly how I pictured him to be: fashionable, fashionably late, a grin from ear to ear, and full of entertainment. A native of Birmingham, we had plenty to discuss and plenty to see in his home of more than 20 years. Despite the rumors circulating around the Ramsey family, I found him to be an excellent driver. He treated me to some great Chinese food during my first day there, and we talked all about globalization and the effects of the Austrian economy as a result. I realize this isn’t the ideal topic of conversation for most weary travelers, but I had a great time.
While I was in Vienna, I stayed in an apartment that John owns, and throughout my entire excursion I can definitely say that the Ramsey family is full of hospitable people. I even got passes to visit his gym. I swam and took a dip in the hot tub with a bunch of older men who were taking a break from the sauna and wearing VERY tight Speedos…definitely not ideal, but modesty and company are merely a state of mind I suppose.
For the few days that I stayed in Vienna, I clung tightly to what is called “The Ring”. No, it’s not a poorly made horror film, but The Ring is actually what tourists and locals refer to as the 3 miles of main tourist attractions. The Viennese were very accustomed to seeing tourists in The Ring, and it made my life much easier being as I’m a bit handcuffed with no experience in any Germanic language (other than that whole native English speaker thing). Anyway, I had a great time catching up on sleep since I wasn’t being thrown out of a hostel at odd hours. John came over one night and taught me to ride his Penny Farthing (antique bike with a high wheel). I tried to convince John that I really wasn’t coordinated enough to ride his contraption, but once he said that every other Ramsey winner had done it. Since I have this awful competitive streak and couldn’t be the only one, I immediately jumped up on his bike before he had the chance to spit out another word. John and I both got a number of interesting looks from the Viennese, who aren’t very accustomed to making eye contact or smiling. I made one lady laugh out loud. We’ll say that the shock factor from the bike caused the laugh and not how uncomfortable that I looked on it! That night, John took me to meet the famous parrot, Mango. If you haven’t been to visit John or his home, they are two things you need to put on your to-do list. I decided to come back after I went to the Czech Republic the following day.
(We took a trip to Prague then returned to Vienna.)
Vienna, again –
When we got back to Vienna, there was a big benefit going on in the city to raise money for AIDS. It was sort of like Fat Tuesday during Mardi Gras with more flamboyant clothing – I repeat, MORE flamboyant clothing. Needless to say, it was quite interesting. John Harris was there, but Leslie and I decided not to get tickets from him. I think it’s safe to say that dressing up in crazy clothes isn’t really my scene; although after hearing John speaking about it, I was a bit disappointed in myself for not being more adventurous. By this trip to Vienna I was beginning to slip into convulsions from lack of the Italian Gelato, so we found a Gelateria in Vienna to “fix” this slight problem. (Sidenote: I’m thinking about starting a Gelatos Anonymous group on campus to help recovering addicts overcome their “problem” if we must call it a problem.) I was very impressed with Austrian gelato. I’d go back to Vienna just for the Italian gelato. Call it irony, but it might have been the best Italian gelato I had during my 3 month excursion. John says it’s the milk from the Austrian cows. After overdosing on dulce de leche and cioccolato, I passed out on John’s couch. The following morning, we strolled through Belvedere Castle and had a very interesting conversation about the plight of the poor and height of the wealthy. John is a very insightful man. He’s also a great chauffeur, because he took me to the train station by 9:00 for an early ride to Monterosso, one of the most beautiful, quaint ocean cities that I’ve ever visited.