Servus is Austrian/Bavarian dialect for both hello and goodbye. It’s the German “aloha.” And while I’ve been home for two weeks already, it still kind of smarts to think that we ever had to say goodbye to Salzburg and to each other. Our last weekend excursion took me, Rachel, Rachelle, Kirsten, and Phil out to the little town of Oberndorf with Frau Schoettke to see the little chapel where “Silent Night” was first written and sung. It was dark and cold, but we walked around a bit and laughed at our ability to stand with one foot in Austria and one foot in Germany for a portion of the trek. Austria decorated for Christmas will always be one of my favorite memories, and Oberndorf and the towns around it did not disappoint in the decorations department. The chapel itself was impossibly tiny but well worth seeing. Just when we all thought we’d freeze for being out in the cold for so long, a friend of Frau Schoettke’s invited us all back to his house for tea and Christmas cookies. He and his wife stuffed us full of delicious foodstuffs and talked to us in a combination of German and English about all of the things we had done and seen while in Austria. And we rather enjoyed tormenting their two cats, Sammy and Selena. When we caught the train back to Salzburg later that evening we laughed and talked about things yet to be done and purchased and homework yet to be turned in. Our days in Austria were rapidly coming to an end.
I had a final exam on Monday as well as some half hearted attempts at cleaning and packing and some not-so-half-hearted purchasing of epic amounts of chocolate and gummy bears to bring home. Tuesday we woke up to snow, Salzburg’s wonderful way of seeing us off. Packing began in earnest on Tuesday, and Rachelle and I plotted out how we were going to finish all of the food in our kitchen before leaving Thursday morning. We dumped a lot of our stuff, lucky them, on our friends who are staying in Salzburg for the full year. Tuesday night we walked through the snow to the other dorm, Haus Humboldt, to laugh a lot and take our minds off of leaving. And laugh we did. Nearly everyone showed up at one point or another, and we got to witness one last mass panic when the dorm staff unplugged the Stiegl beer machine. Just before leaving we took notice of the shopping cart that had been hanging around the Haus Humboldt kitchen all night just waiting for me and Rachelle to climb in. Together we barely fit, but the real mistake was allowing Phil and Max control over where we were going. Somehow, we made it out of the situation alive. As it turns out, Phil took over the role of shopping cart passenger on the way out, and Zach, for better or worse, offered to steer the cart back down the street to our dorm. It wasn’t long until both Phil, and Rachelle, who had climbed on as well by that point, were both on the ground in the snow. Phil persevered, however, and he and Zach decided to take us on a snowy midnight detour down a random road behind the dorms. One thing led to another, and before we knew it we were in the middle of a playground in the woods. This playground held significant entertainment value because of its zip line. So there we were, the five of us coming up with new and ingenious ways of flying down the zip line, at nearly one in the morning, in the snow, in the woods, and with an 8:30 am class the next morning. Somehow no one died, though Phil’s ill conceived plan to run up a slide could have ended in a concussion, and we laughed harder than any of us had in a while, which, considering the amount of laughter that surrounded us on a regular basis, is saying something. When our fingers were numb and we had snow down our backs, we finally made it back to the dorm, where Phil managed to fall out of the shopping cart yet again. I think the clock read something around 2 by the time I climbed into bed that night.
We were tired the next morning, and most of us had bruises to show for many failed attempts at maneuvering on an icy playground, but I made it through my three classes that day as well as miraculously fit all my things into my two suitcases. That night after our Culture final exam, some of us went out for one last kebap before heading to O’Malley’s to suffer the inevitable goodbyes. Virtually the entire group, all 36 of us, sat around the otherwise empty bar (It was only 7 o’clock, mind you) and chatted and reminisced. Eventually everyone was on their feet, singing and dancing and laughing like it was just any other night out. That mood collapsed when, almost simultaneously, we all broke down and started crying. I’m sure the rest of the bar’s occupants thought we were all insane. Rachel and Kirsten were two of the first to leave, and so Rachelle and I were a bit of a mess from the start. Then, as people began making their exits in ones and twos, you would no sooner get over one goodbye before having to hug and cry over someone else’s departure. Almost everyone, guys and girls alike, was red eyed by the time we decided to leave.
When we got back to good old IK, we had to eat the rest of our food, so we made a second dinner of leftovers and the dozens of sausages Phil had failed to cook at a reasonable time. What followed was a ridiculous night involving Rachelle, Max and I collapsing on Zach’s bed while he and Phil tormented us with a “who can pick the saddest song and make the girls cry contest.” I do believe Phil won that one when he decided to be absolutely evil and play “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” But we had to laugh too as we watched all of Zach’s completely ridiculous video diaries from the semester. His atrocious camera work and very Zach-like commentary deserved all of the mocking they received, but at least they kept smiles on our faces. All too soon 2 am rolled around, and Rachelle had to meet the van that would take her to Munich for a 7 am flight. We’d been bracing for what we both knew would be the hardest goodbye, and we cried good and hard for a few minutes before I had to rip the band aid off and let her go. After her leaving, and some more crying, I eventually attempted to get some sleep before my own 8:45 taxi to the airport.
In reality, I only slept for a few hours and was awake again by 6. I sat in Phil and Zach’s room as they put the finishing touches on their own packing up before their 7 am van. I cried again saying goodbye to the two of them and Jessica. When my eyes finally hurt so badly that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to cry again I took a shower, took out the trash, and packed up the last of my own stuff. Max came over to help lug my huge bags down the three flights of stairs, and all too soon it was my turn to leave. There were six of us in our van, and we started out the drive to Munich telling stories from the night before and laughing about all of the things we were going to miss about Salzburg and each other. Then our long nights caught up to us, and we slept the rest of the way to the airport.
Once in Munich, things just got more interesting. When we checked in at the British Airways counter many of us discovered our bags were overweight, and, according to one BA employee, simply wouldn’t make it through our connection in London if we didn’t get them lighter. I managed to reach the weight limit just by moving my German dictionary and one other heavier item into my smaller suitcase. Other friends were not so fortunate. Jimmy found himself throwing away his shoes. Ryan came over to all of us with his arms full of clothes he had pulled out of his bag. Obviously not able to carry a wad of clothing on the plane as a carry on, he then proceeded to put many of those shirts on. Needless to say, that was entertaining. Meanwhile Ryan and some of the other girls who had arrived in a different van discovered that their flight had been changed to an earlier one so as to ensure that they would have time to catch their connecting flight to Boston in London. This left Jimmy, another Boston-bound kid, confused as to why his flight had also not been changed. Everyone rushed through security to get the Bostonites to their flight on time, and we found ourselves greeted by another group of AIFs kids at the gate. Turns out the earlier flight was the same one that our friends who had left Salzburg at 7 were on. This meant one last round of goodbyes before those of us remaining settled in to wait for our afternoon flight. A one hour delay meant we waited longer than we had intended. Jimmy saw his chances of making his flight home dwindle by the minute. When we finally got on the way to London we were all a bit relieved. Except poor Jimmy whose only consolation came from the fact that the flight attendant assured him he would make his connection because he had brought his running shoes, the lone pair of shoes that had made it through the earlier purge and which he was now carrying by the laces. Minutes before landing this same flight attendant informs him that his flight has in fact been changed to one leaving two hours later, so he’s alright after all. Once we land in London, we somehow manage to drive practically the full way around Heathrow as we wait for crew to de-ice planes. The three of us headed to Philadelphia are growing increasingly concerned at this point because our connecting flight is leaving in less than an hour and we have yet to be anywhere near to getting off of the plane. When we finally disembark we have to go through security yet again where we said quick goodbyes to the girls headed for JFK, and what was originally scheduled to be a three hour layover in London ultimately ended up being a case of having to run to the gate only to get there and find them already boarding. Of course by boarding I mean putting us all on buses and sending us halfway across London to wherever they had managed to park our plane. Once on board we of course managed to sit on the tarmac for over an hour before takeoff. Lots of fun. Somehow, I suppose because the pilot managed to, in his words, “put the pedal to the metal,” we only landed in Philly a mere ten minutes later than scheduled. Our long day of epic travel and tears was ended. At this point my internal clock was striking somewhere around 3 in the morning and begging me to go to bed, but I managed to stay relatively awake and coherent for my parents on the drive home.
Jet lag was not my friend for my first few days home. I found myself keeping the hours of an 85 year old woman, going to bed at 9 and getting up at 7:30. But I’ve since adjusted. And it has been good being home for the holidays and seeing friends and relatives I hadn’t seen in so long. But I remain terrible at goodbyes and looking through the nearly 700 photo prints I got in the mail a few days ago has done little to convince me that I wouldn’t drop everything and head back to Salzburg tomorrow if I could pick right back up where we left off. Those three months were more than I ever could have asked for, in every way possible. More fun, more exhausting, more educational, more challenging, more jam-packed full of laughs and friends and languages and Kodak moments than any three months have any real right to be. I learned a lot about Europe, about the US, and about my own ability to take everything as it comes as well as the fine art of laughing when you’re starving but dinner is taking two hours because your two little burners barely work and you don’t have a microwave. I wouldn’t trade a single moment. Many thanks to the best group of new friends a person could have, a group of people who played a huge role in helping to make the experience the chaotic, entertaining cultural exchange that it was. So, Servus Salzburg, with your so-pretty-they-look-fake mountains and church bells and pastry shops on every corner. You will be missed. ‘Till next time.