Welcome to the twenty-first post of the Great Writing Challenge of 2012.
Five days a week for six months, I will be given a topic to write about. The stipulation: it must be 250 words (or more), and positive in ton
Thanks to Rai for today’s topic. If you would like to suggest topics for me to write about, please email me at TheRebeccaProject [at] gmail [dot] com.
I really want a piece from you about “Austria” – whatever you associate with it, be it your trip here or something completely different like what you were thinking growing up or when it first appeared on your mental screen.
I cannot say for certain when the country of Austria first popped up on my mental map, but no doubt it had everything to do with the Sound of Music. Like many children in the English-speaking world, the Sound of Music was such an integral part of my childhood. And most of what I knew about Austria was framed through the eyes of that film.
Yet it was not until I met my Austrian friend, Rai, that I learned one of the most astounding facts about Austria: Austrians are generally not familiar with the Sound of Music. And for so many of us, it was our only concept of the country.
Eight years after first meeting Rai, I finally managed to travel to Austria and see it for myself. And from the moment I arrived, everything went wrong. I had crazy girls in my hostel room. I dropped and broke my camera. I couldn’t find a department store to buy another. I was missing the American enormously. So much about travel is about dealing with the tough days, and try as I might, I just wasn’t feeling Austria.
I wandered around Vienna, and willed myself to be impressed that this building was older than my country. I went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and only managed a “meh”. I watched the ice skaters skate the course in front of the Rathaus. I felt so alone, so disconnected from everyone and everything at that time, and imagined that I would always feel this way.
But all it took was meeting a friendly face to help me emerge from the funk. It was a great reminder that so much of what we need as humans is connection. I gained so much more from hearing Rai speak about his city than I did from any guidebooks or tours, and just the to-and-fro over dinner was exactly what I needed. Not everywhere you travel do you know someone, but for those few hours with Rai and Martin, I felt a real sense of belonging in Austria.
When I dream of travelling places, I dream less of the physical surroundings and more about the potential connections I can make with those who live there or are just passing through. I want to engage with people, find out about them, their thoughts and experiences.That’s what makes travel so alluring for me. People are fascinating creatures, but you have to put yourself out there first, and be willing to open up.