The Shark, the Bear, and the Wardrobe

The final week in Linz was a hectic one, featuring non-alcoholic beer, a minor concussion, drunk teenagers with axes and dirndls and lederhosen as far as the eye can see. A fitting way for Emma and Bryony to end their time in Linz.

I don’t mean to brag (well, I do a bit) but I went skiing three times over the final week before half term. The first time was with the Squad, where we spent a (mostly) wonderful day skiing/falling down mountains and desperately hoping Emma’s knees wouldn’t dislocate. Because we have our priorities in order and stopped off to buy beers for the train home, we had to rush for the final shuttle bus – only to realise, to our utter dismay and disgust, that we’d accidentally bought alkoholfrei beer. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the most disappointed I have ever been in my life, including the time my parents told me they were getting divorced.

The other two times I went skiing were when I should have been teaching, but on hearing that I can ski (and I use that term loosely), the teachers were absolutely insistent that I skip lessons on two mornings to go skiing with the students at the runs 20 minutes away from Rohrbach in Hochficht. They even paid for our lift passes! Marina and I caused a minor havoc on the first day by getting on the wrong bus, which we were alerted to by our names being called over the loudspeaker by the teachers and having to do the walk of shame down to the front of the bus, thinking we were going to get a bollocking – but were actually presented with beers (alcoholic, this time) and the two of us perched on a seat for one person while the driver flew down the mountain with reckless abandon, leading me to wonder if he were perhaps a relative of Wolfgang. On the second day of skiing I fell and hit my head on the last run, temporarily knocking myself out and providing entertainment to some kindly Austrians who came to make sure I was still alive.

After an evening of recovering from my self-diagnosed mild concussion (which is almost as likely to have been me being melodramatic as an actual concussion), I awoke on Friday to a text from Emma alerting me to the existence of a Maturaball – oh happy day! The Matura is an exam that some Austrian students take aged 18 that is similar to A-Levels, and the Maturaball is similar to prom – but a much bigger deal than it is in the UK. Every school has a Maturaball, but I have sadly missed every opportunity to go to the ones I’ve been invited to so far and was beginning to think I would never get to experience one. Imagine my joy, then, when Emma explained that not only was I invited to the ball, but that dirndls were obligatory. YES.

After a dinner of Schnitzel and some dubious drinking games, a group of us headed to the ball. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, and to my horror I felt old. I mean, being two years older than the Squad and having them call me Oma also makes me feel old, but being amongst drunk 18-year-olds made me feel positively ancient. And there was so. much. tracht. A sea of dirndls and lederhosen spead before us, and nobody was in the least bit embarrassed – in fact, nobody seemed to think anything remarkable was happening. We spent most of the evening wandering around in a kind of daze, wishing we were a bit drunker than we were and wondering how on earth the Austrians were actually managing to a) ballroom dance to ‘It’s Raining Men’ and b) take themselves even semi-seriously.

At midnight, it was time for the students’ performance, as is tradition from the graduating class at every Maturaball. We wandered to the main hall to see what all the fuss was about. We regretted this decision slightly as we were treated to a very mediocre modern dance routine – the best thing I can say about it is that they all wore luminous green braces, which would have looked awesome if they were the only things you could see, but unfortunately you could also see the students attached to them. This was more than made up for when the pop music stopped to be replaced by some classic Bavarian song (you know the sort) and the whole crowd began a rhythmic clap as about 20 students in lederhosen (or ‘ladyhosen’ for the girls) of varying lengths marched onto the stage carrying an actual tree with a student hanging from it upside down. We watched in a confused mix of amazement and horror as they set the tree down and proceeded to do a series of hops, knee slaps and foot taps in a circle around the tree, before kneeling down by it beginning to hack at it with actual axes. Seriously. I don’t know whose idea it was to let these drunk, underage students lose with terrifyingly huge blades, but I would like to personally thank whoever it was. We flinched as splinters flew everywhere and I worried incessantly about the abundance of naked limbs and the absence of safety goggles. Once that was done, there was a bit more knee slapping before they carried the tree off to raucous applause, leaving us to turn to each other and ask in bewilderment, “Did that actually just happen…?”

Not great quality but you get the idea…

We woke up on Saturday more hungover than was fair, but dragged ourselves out of bed to begin to check off the final items on our Linz Bucket List, the first of which being an English breakfast and unlimited tea (!) at the Ars Electronica Centre, which is listed by Lonely Planet as one of the 1,000 things to do before you do and is literally a 46 second walk from Emma’s house.

I didn’t actually have the English breakfast but I did have unlimited tea so…

Feeling revived by breakfast, we wandered around the Centre. The first thing we were greeted with was an installation called ‘Robot, Doing Nothing’, at which point we immediately returned to our pre-breakfast gloomy state. We were cheered up with a surprisingly good 3D film about deep space and a robot baby seal that purred and snuggled up to you when you stroked it.

I would recommend that Lonely Planet revise their list of 1,000 things to do before you die, perhaps replacing the Ars Electronica Centre with ‘Go to a Maturaball’.

After a disappointing round of the tacky souvenir shops, we went for froyo (which was less disappointing) and then for a curry with Charlotte. I had been craving a curry since one of my teachers mentioned how good the curry in the UK is, and did I know that there was a proper curry house in Linz too?  I severely doubted this, but the vegetable jalfrezi did not disappoint and neither did the free schnapps from the waiter at the end of the meal. There was just time for a quick ‘purple rain’ cocktail (which tastes like a liquified version of parma violets mixed with about a kilo of pure sugar) at Hemingway’s before we collapsed into our beds, exhausted.

No rest for the wicked, though. We were up early to visit the Schlossmusuem, another classic Linz tourist attraction. We weren’t really sure what it was before we went, and to be honest, I’m still not really sure. It started off as a technology museum, then morphed into a kind of creepy religious artefacts room, before transforming into a corridor of wardrobes. Progressing through the museum, we came across coins, paintings, conference rooms, a giant chess set, fossils, a video of five successive Saturdays in Linz called ‘Nothing Will Happen’ (it lived up to its name), some photography and a graffiti wall, before finally stumbling across a darkened room called ‘Upper Austrian Nature’ containing a vast array of stuffed animals, some live tropical fish, and a 20-foot-long plastic shark suspended in mid-air, despite the fact that Austria is a land-locked country.

We left the museum a little confused, having decided that the museum must have been created when some rich Austrian (probably a Hapsburg) found himself with more wardrobes than one person could ever hope to fill and decided to store them somewhere and make people pay to see them. His mates obviously then caught on, palming off their collections of old coins that their grandparents didn’t exchange when the euro came into play and the tropical fish they couldn’t be bothered to feed any more, and now make a pretty penny out of silly tourists like us who pay 4,50€ each to wonder what on earth the point of the museum is.

Having said that, I would recommend it, even if just for the shark. It’s pretty cool.

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Then it was finally time for me to visit the Pöstlingberg, which Emma has visited no less than 8 times, and which I have consequently heard much about because it is one of the very few things there is to do in Linz (and again, I use the term ‘to do’ loosely). We had a pleasant-ish ride up on the tram, with three of us squeezed onto a seat that was ambitiously built for two people. If I remember one thing about Austria, it will be having a numb bum from trying to fit too many people on one seat.

The view was mostly obscured by cloud and though church at the top was very lovely, we got a bit creeped out because there was one man singing eerie songs to himself on a front pew. Emma and I got the giggles and started whispering the greater good to each other and had to make a sharp exit, lest God smite us for being disrespectful.

The café was shut for refurbishment, overtaking the non-alcoholic train beers as the worst moment of my life after having heard endless stories of how good the kuchen is there. We tried to console ourselves with a walk to see the deer, who were patently disinterested in us and remained stubbornly at the bottom of the hill, so we trudged back to the tram stop and looked at the creepy plastic statues before heading back down the hill into Linz.

Seriously Austria, why do you always have to make it weird?

None of this really mattered though, because our main event of the weekend was fast approaching – The Last Squad Supper. Emma, Bryony, Charlotte, Martha and I (with the additional honorary member of the Squad, Martha’s sister Ruth) gathered at Madame Wu’s for a final goodbye over champagne afternoon tea. It seemed very fitting for Bryony and Emma to end their time in Linz back where we started.

It also wouldn’t have been right for Emma to leave Linz without a final act of slobbery, since that’s how we’ve been acting since we arrived – and we finished up Saturday night in bed with a McDonalds and a beer each, watching House of Cards. It was wild. I loved it.

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Sunday was a day of chores. We needed to wait for Mr DHL to come and pick up Emma’s boxes to send her belongings back to the UK, and despite having given us an estimated pick up time of ‘between 9am and 6pm’ (HELPFUL!), he arrived at a respectable 11am. We could have kissed him, we were so happy!

We managed to get our other chores done, including a trip to H&M (which was essential – ahem), taking Emma’s library books back, Emma and Bryony unregistering their residence at the town hall (cry) and me going to argue with the people in the phone shop about why the SIM card I’d just bought wasn’t working (which, miraculously, they managed to fix in about 5 minutes without even charging me).

Then we went on the massive let-down of a trip that was St Florian. I had such high expectations, having seen photos of the stunningly beautiful library at the monastery and having wanted to visit since I arrived. I had waited until now because it had been closed over winter, and even now that it was open to the public again, had very specific opening times – never at the weekend, only a half day on Friday, and closing before 4pm every other day with a minimum two hour lunch break. I thought I had planned everything perfectly to arrive in time to see the library, and though I was trying to keep expectations low, I was buzzing with excitement as we arrived in the deserted village of St Florian and had lunch in a small Konditorei before going in search of the library.

We eventually found the Cathedral which was very beautiful, but to be honest I’ve seen so many churches now that I’m a little bit church-ed out and I wanted to see some books. We finally located the gift shop, where the cashier was on the phone. We waited patently at the desk for a good five minutes while she chatted away, before she looked over our glasses at us an enquired what we wanted. We asked for directions to the library. She sighed, told her friend she would have to call her back, and then informed us that library tours had to be booked in advance. I squeaked that this wasn’t on the website and we’d come all this way just to see it and that this was Emma and Bryony’s last chance but this didn’t seem to bother her. I asked if we could book a tour now, and how much it would be. She said we’d have to pay the price for 10 people (an eye watering 95€) but that in any case, she couldn’t be sure there would be a monk free to show us around. She didn’t seem open to bribery or begging and was clearly not the kind of person that would  have softened at the sight of tears (which is a good thing as I can’t cry on demand anyway), so we left, feeling very rejected. I did try every door just in case someone had forgotten to lock one of them, but no such luck. I supposed this was our punishment for giggling at the Pöstlingberg the day before.

But, you know, it just wouldn’t have been an authentic Linzer experience without a good deal of being let down and wondering what the fuck had just happened to us. So, in that sense, it was a fitting end.

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The Ars Electronica Centre looking sad to see them go :(

Our final goodbye to Linz was dinner at a very expensive but very lovely restaurant outside the Mariendom where I chose the ‘healthy’ option that turned out to be fried cheese in a burger bun (!?) before an early start for Emma and I to get to the airport. An old Jehovah’s Witness tried to convert us while we were waiting for the bus, despite our protests that we didn’t speak German. I, however, was still pissed off with God for not letting me see the library the previous day, and unceremoniously dumped the leaflets she gave us in the bin.

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And then it was back to Blighty for us. I’m getting so used to things ending and changing that I’ve almost accepted that nothing much stays the same for long (am I getting wise/old/boring?) but I was still very very sad to say goodbye to Emma and Bryony. Of course, it isn’t goodbye forever, just a few months at most before they come back to Austria or I make a trip back to Froggyland (ah, France, I’ve missed you) – but Linz won’t be the same without them.

It will be better.

Only joking. Miss you already :(

Until next time, auf Wiederschauen!

3 thoughts on “The Shark, the Bear, and the Wardrobe

  1. Pingback: A Year Without – February: The Snooze Button, The Results – Annie Adrift

  2. Pingback: All quiet on the Austrian front – Annie Adrift

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