Possibilities pose on the shelf of creativity. In the sculpting hands and firing synapses of the committed artist, a wedge of alabaster, foreboding canvas, or blank page evolves into something profound and present, provoking the imagination of those who linger and remember.
It’s been a while since I’ve boarded my dusty desert time machine. I figure we can all use a summer holiday escape. Away from daily reports of emerging COVID-19 hot spots, social unrest, and the grind of our shrunken stay-at-home lives.
Join me as I travel back nine years to late July 2011. When our resourceful guide and friend Yvette (a Canadian living in Tunisia), led six men (five Americans and one Canadian) on an eleven-day, Outgoing Adventures tour of Italy.
It was my first European odyssey. Six years before our 2017 Ireland immersion. Eight before Tom and I made a delicious 2019 dash through Germany and Austria.
There will always be a special place in my heart for Italy. The architecture, ancient history, hum and handsome men of Rome. The mystery and magic of Siena.
The countrysides and cooking of Tuscany. The alleys and alabaster of Volterra. The cliffs and colors of Cinque Terra. The style and silk of Florence.
Most of all, the enduring exuberance of the Italian people we met all along the way … lovers of art, pasta, wine, afternoon strolls and evening gelato.
Consider this my tribute to beloved Italy. A splendid sampler of nine representative images I captured that–nine years later–continue to feed my creative consciousness, spirit of adventure, and wonder about a nameless Florentine boy with a blue umbrella who followed his mother’s red shoes.
You are a ring of lush palaces, pastries, parables and past civilizations.
Of cavernous courtyards, cascading cathedrals and crusty cafe croissants.
Of stained statues on strassers, strolling strangers and circling streetcars.
Of hidden September stables where loyal Lipizzaner stallions saunter.
Of magnificent museums, Mozart, mythology and melange metaphors.
Of baroque avenues, ornate artifacts, elegant archways and acute angles.
Of afternoon tea, while gazing at you through sunlit storefront windows.
When in Vienna … when in Wien.
Written by Mark Johnson, October 2, 2019
Some memories are like rare monarch butterflies. They land before you in a brilliant twist of fate. They perch on a sunflower petal for a moment, as one did yesterday on a path at the Desert Botanical Garden here in Phoenix. But before you know it, the moment has passed. The breathtaking beauty has flown away.
That’s how I felt about my visit to Salzburg, Austria, earlier this month. So, on the last day of September, before my fleeting recollections of fabled Austria fade and vanish into the sky, I’m going to turn back the clock almost two weeks to a few sensory-filled moments in this captivating and historic city.
It was the afternoon of September 17. A Tuesday, to be precise. Tom and I had just completed a walking tour of the city with forty others. Harold, our friendly and knowledgeable guide, led the way.
After the group disbanded for the day, my husband and I were craving some down time. That’s when we found the quiet comfort of Cafe Bazar, an historic haunt along the banks of the Salzach River. Given my literary endeavors, a friend had told us to go there. Since its birth in 1909, legends such as Marlene Dietrich, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Klaus Maria Brandauer and many other artists have been Cafe Bazar guests. One can only imagine the magnitude of their stirring conversations.
At any rate, Tom and I sat in the same room where they had … soaking up the Salzburg scenery at a table for two on a Tuesday. To be clear, we didn’t sip tea while we ate our jam and bread. We each ordered a cup of Wiener melange (German for “Viennese blend”). One shot of espresso topped with a dollop of steamed milk and foam. Let’s just say it was the perfect complement to a freshly baked croissant and apricot jam in spectacular Salzburg.
If you’re a lover of The Sound of Music like me, you’ve already caught my creative drift. For an American baby boomer, it’s impossible to visit Salzburg and the surrounding area without recalling moments from the iconic 1965 movie musical.
You know, singing “Do-Re-Mi” like the Von Trapp kids did. Bobbing up and down on the steps in Mirabell Gardens. Pretending to dash around a bubbling fountain in formation in one of the freshly made outfits Maria made from old curtains. Channeling Julie Andrews as she twirls with her bag, struts under a canopy of trees, and sings “I Have Confidence.” Even consuming a drink with jam and bread at Cafe Bazar.
But, as charming and memorable as those Hollywood images are, they aren’t the real Salzburg. No other city can boast that it’s the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Salzburg also has the distinction of appearing on the UNESCO World Heritage List. That designation came in 1996.
Twenty-three years later, in September 2019, two guys from Scottsdale, Arizona, passed through town. They sipped on a cup of Wiener melange with jam and bread, watched the world go by, and cherished the gift of Salzburg … a forever-artistic city.
Munich (“Home of the Monks”) is much more than beer and pretzels.
The capital of Bavaria and the third largest city in Germany has deep roots. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they wind and trail back to the Benedictine monastery at Tegernsee, which was founded in 750.
Nearly twelve hundred years later, more than forty percent of Munich’s buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing raids during World War II. Today the city is a hub in the banking industry and home to the annual two-week Oktoberfest celebration, which ends on the first Sunday in October.
My husband and I toured Munich on September 15. It was a quiet Sunday about a week before all of the beer-laden and oompapa festivities of Oktoberfest. All of the shops were closed, but that didn’t faze us. We were content to ogle stylish Oktoberfest apparel through storefront glass and soak up summer temperatures. We couldn’t have ordered a more perfect day to navigate the normally bustling Marienplatz on foot.
We craned our necks skyward when the Glockenspiel in the New Town Hall played promptly at 11 a.m. Afterwards, we discovered a charming cafe and dined outside. We filled our bottles with fresh water streaming from a city fountain. Next, we were ready for a defining moment: climbing to the top of St. Peter’s Church for An Unobstructed View of the city’s historic skyline.
At this point, I realized how far Tom and I had come. I’m not talking about the actual distance from our home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to Munich, Germany, via a congested connection through Montreal with a sea of tired travelers. I’m referring to our personal journey.
After my cardiac event in St. Louis on July 6, 2017, the notion of climbing 299 steps skyward anywhere (much less in a tight space with few opportunities to pause) seemed implausible. Yet, without fanfare, on the last Sunday of summer in Munich two years later, Tom and I paid three euros a piece to an attendant for the experience of saying we had done it. We entered the church for the pleasure of mounting steep and circuitous steps. We joined a trail of able-bodied adventurers, who flowed up and down around us.
To the top of the church spire we climbed. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the pinnacle. We took a deep breath or two and stepped out into an open-air observation area, where steel bars shielded us.
Together we wrapped our way around the circumference of the tower. We gazed across the horizon. We took a few more extended and grateful breaths. We captured a series of photos of a storied city.
Without the effects of beer or pretzels, we found our Bavarian bliss.
Yesterday, my husband and I completed a whirlwind, nine-day tour of Germany and Austria. Today, I’m riding through jet lag … Vienna to London to Houston to Phoenix (and memories of seemingly endless security checkpoints and something close to twenty-four hours of air travel and airport lounging).
On this Monday, I’m also recovering from our Sunday morning sprint through Heathrow Airport to make our first connection (thank goodness for my generally improved fitness and the gate agent who pushed us like a track and field coach from the sidelines as we dashed from one end of the United Airlines terminal to the other).
In addition, between yawns, I’m flipping through vacation photos; sorting through the mail; paying the most pressing bills; buying groceries; thinking about tackling our pile of laundry (that’ll have to wait until tomorrow); and doing my best to remember when I’m supposed to eat and sleep.
At any rate, it was a fabulous trip. (Exhibit A is this photo of me outside Nymphenburg Palace in Munich a week ago.) In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from our adventure and some of the colorful and kind people we encountered on our journey through Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna … three profoundly beautiful, cultural and historic European cities.
I’ll always remember you, rolling in over the gaelic green. I felt cool comfort knowing the veiled intentions you whispered in my ear wouldn’t be denied. No matter how much I wanted to gaze beyond the moss and ferns you shrouded, you held me there. You knew I needed to stand strong above the craggy cliffs of my past. You knew I needed to feel rooted to the emerald island, thankful for the mystery of my mending heart.