Friday, at 10am I went outside my house to wait for the Bauer couple, Helli and Konrad. They quickly arrived at just past ten and soon Helli was kissing me warmly on either cheek, greeting me with a hearty “Servus!” This greeting tends to be used by Austrians among friends or family, rather than the more formal “Grüß Gott” and Helli was definitely using it with enthusiasm. She informed me that we were going to have small "Ausflug" (a small getaway) and visit some place special to my family.
Away we drove through the Loibl pass through pin-hair curves, passing dramatic mountain scenes to Bodental. This is where the mysterious Meerauge (eye of the sea) and Märchen Wiese (fairy tale meadow) are located, both of which I visited with my family when last in Austria. The Meerauge is a pool of glacial melt that is bright blue and, according to legend, connected to another one just like it in Slovenia where one day a cart fell through in Austria and ended up in Slovenia. The meadow is supposedly populated by tiny gnomes that eat the grass from below, keeping the meadow neatly cropped and short at all times. It was too windy to make it to the meadow or the Auge , but it was breathtakingly beautiful to walk among the mountains. We even met a man, who used to go to grade school with my grandfather and Helli’s brother.
Back at the car a while later, we drove to Rosenthal, which overlooks a beautiful valley filled with, as Konrad puts it, 4-legged lawn mowers-- aka. Sheep. We ate in a restaurant where my grandparents visited every trip and Helli introduced me to the owner, explaining I was the grandchild of Richard. After a lunch of Almdudler (my favorite Austrian drink, which is something akin to fizzy herb-flavored apple juice), chibab-chi-chi (which I am not at all spelling correctly), and warm apple strudel, we headed towards Ferlach, where my grandfather grew up. We drove through the town, passing his old house and the old mill where my great-grandfather worked, and would up at Hollenburg a giant white castle on a hill. We climbed up into the courtyard and looked out over Ferlach down bellow, admiring the sunshine.
Soon, the three of us headed back to where Helli and Konrad live.
Their son, Konrad Jr., and his family (which includes his Swedish wife) live three houses down from the apartment block the Bauers call home. We sat and chatted for an hour. Konrad Junior popped over about that time and he energetically began talking at rapid-fire speed in German, cheerfully relating details of his previous trip to America when he was a young man and stayed with my grandparents. He was surprised all this had happened before I was even born! He also told me that there are pre-paid SIM-cards one can buy from certain grocery stores, bu the phone has to be unlocked. Cards from “Yes!” are the best, but “Bob,” part of the A1 network is another option, as well as one from the French company “Orange.” He also offered the use of an old phone to put one of the SIM-cards in, saying he happened to have an extra. Before he left, he handed me his phone number and firmly stated, “Wenn irgendwas ist, ruf an” (If anything happens, call….meaning if I ever needed help or wanted to meet with any of them, just to call).