Saturday, August 25, 2012

II Corinthians 5:17

Upon taking stock of the numerous changes in my life recently, this scripture came to mind.  I realize that its intended message didn't concern the decisions that brought me to OKC and the Mount, but I thought that taken out of the passage, these words were appropriate.  It seems that everything is NEW!

In December of 2010, when I decided to pursue a coaching position in Europe (Austria), I did not realize the changes that would be involved.  The developments that led me to an amazing experience in Vienna with the Rangers provided a "splash" that would ripple outward, affecting many different people and events.

In an earlier blog, I explained how I arrived at the Mount, I consider it a blessing that I looked on the MSM website and saw that Chris Stiles was the head football coach.  The events that were set in motion when I emailed him about the possibility of my assisting him started then.  Sent in late 2011, I had nearly given up on hearing a response to my email.  Then, after Coach Stiles replied with a possibility of my employment, things started to roll.

First, we would have to decide if our income would support a move.  Then, Susan would have to hurriedly put in her paperwork for retirement. She would also have to say goodbye to an amazing school and group of friends and co-workers that she dearly loves. We would have to sell a house (still waiting for this to happen), and obtain a house (and it is a good one).  

Then there was the move!  Let me just summarize by saying that moving 20+ years of accumulated "stuff" is a daunting task.  It can be noted here that moving four dogs in one Honda Element (also new; replaces the beloved Bronco) is a whole blog topic. A number of good friends and family pitched in to help this happen.  It didn't improve matters that it was done is the hottest time of summer.

Initial tasks like paying deposits, starting service for utilities, garbage and cable were things not done in years.  Figuring out where the furniture from the old should go in the new was an issue.  Meeting new (and nice) neighbors, introducing our dogs to their new home and spending the first night in a new home were all memorable first-time experiences.

Then there was the whole new school experience.

Opening in 1903 as a boarding school for young women, Mount Saint Mary is the oldest high school in the state.  The school is located in the same four story building that was obtained for the Sisters of Mercy under the direction of guidelines set forth by Katherine McCauley, their founder.  In 1950, the Mount became co-ed, and not long after, the Rockets became their team "mascot".  Additions and improvements to the original building have been ongoing but the ambience and character of the old building still transcends the century and more that has passed.

The school today exists as a private Catholic school with very high academic standards. ALL teachers must incorporate MercyValues and teachings (basically the way ALL humans should behave) into their lesson plans.  Oh, did I mention that the school administration believes that we are professional and does not require teachers to turn their lesson plans into the office?  ALL students are required to take the ACT.  ALL students wear uniforms.  ALL students are possible candidates for drug tests.  And although at least 40% of the students do not profess the Catholic faith, ALL students attend Mass at least once a month.  

So one of my first new experiences at the Mount, was a church service in which all students and teachers attended.  If my public school experience hadn't been left behind by the religious icons on the walls and the halls of the school and the daily morning prayer, this was a reminder that I wasn't in "Kansas" anymore.  An entire student body of nearly 400 reverently filed into, sat during, and participated in a service that lasted over 90 minutes.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Yep, things are just a wee bit different.

Before the school year began, new non-Catholic teachers attend a day-long workshop entitled, "Overview of  Catholicism for Teachers of Other Faiths".  My classroom responsibilities include teaching US History, government, and econ.  Since classroom space is limited and I am the "new kid", I am a "floater".  Meaning I have no classroom.  During a teacher's planning period, I use theirs.  

A-B block scheduling. 85 minute periods. Different classroom every period.  Staff development every Monday at 7:15. Lunch duty.  New email.  New insurance. New paycheck. Four stories of stairs to circumnavigate. Restrooms to locate. Window A/C units.  Computer networking issues. New teacher's work room. Adjusting to the differences in each of the classrooms. New bell system.  Meeting and counseling daily with 15 students for 30 minutes set aside each day (Rocket Time).  Just a few new "tricks" to learn for this "Old Dog" to learn.

The "perks" are free health insurance, no co-pay at St. Anthony's hospital, free lunches, a laptop computer for every teacher (a Chromebook!), free coffee, easy-going and laid-back support staff and administration. There is a "black box" in each room that contains every type of media for class presentations. Teachers that would bend over backwards to help.  A small-town feel.  Oh, and we have been in school for 2 weeks and the ISS classroom is still vacant.  I haven't even seen any students with cell phones.  The students pay fines for things like dress-code, cell phone violations, etc.

My classes are demanding.  Although there are mainly motivated students, there remain those that don't "get the memo" yet.  The students are courteous and friendly.  Teachers are often referred to by nicknames given with respect.  I have become "Coach Hep" to most.  All of the parent contact that I have had is positive.

The football aspect is new in many ways, but at the end of the day, just as when I get in the classroom,  turns out to be the most comfortable thing of all.  The things that I have learned (and am still learning) that I can contribute to our young people.  Although each situation is new, there is a sort of timeless carry-over that often applies to the current.  I hope my experience(s) can help a whole new group of "clients".  I am adjusting to (and enjoying) being an assistant again.  To coaching with a whole group of great guys.  To being the oldest coach on the staff.  To a new locker-room, coaches office, field, weight room, managers, trainer, responsibilities,etc.

I absolutely loved my time in Altus.  If there is a small part of me that does good, it is because it was learned, tested and crafted in Jackson County. I trust that "Once a Bulldog, Always a Bulldog" will apply to me.  I am thankful to all it has given me.  I will ALWAYS be partial to Navy Blue and White and will miss TAB when it strikes up the fight song.  I miss the "Rock" and all those who have come into my life.  

Altus will always be a part of me.

But a new chapter has begun.

All things have become new.

Fly Rockets!
It gives me chills every time I walk into a locker room early on GameDay. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Welcome to Rocket-ville.

It has been nearly a year and a half since I began this blog to chronicle my experience as a coach of American Football in Austria.  Upon return, I didn't have a lot to write about, but now I have some information to share.

When listing my reasons for considering going to Austria in the first place, the phrase "once of a lifetime opportunity" always came up.  As it happens, it WILL be a just that.  Once in a lifetime.  So what  are  reasons why the amazing experience of coaching on another continent, will end at one season?

When I returned to the states, I knew that I could not return to Europe without my best friend and she wasn't ready to retire from her teaching position at Altus Intermediate School.  I figured that she would finally retire after this year and we would return to Europe to a team that might want my meager services. During this year, I worked for F.A.T.E.  (Fighting Addiction Through Education), taught a night class at Western Okla. State College, and drove a bus route.  I missed coaching football in the fall, but occupied myself by looking to see what coaching positions were open in Europe by following I contacted a few teams about the upcoming season but never solidified anything.  I guess there was a reason for that, but the reason will become clearer in another paragraph.

 I also began to explore the possibility of coaching for a private school here in Oklahoma.  Doing so would allow me to draw my retirement AND earn a full salary.  I was aware of a handful of private schools that offered football, so I did an internet search of the respective websites.  Upon discovering that the Head Football Coach of the Mount St. Mary's Catholic school was Chris Stiles, I knew I had to apply.  I knew Coach Stiles from coaching against him when he was at Lawton Eisenhower High School.  His teams were always highly competitive and his reputation in coaching circles is impeccable.  He knows a vast amount of football and above all, is an honorable and upright person.  I shot him an email and didn't hear from him for a while.  After a few months, I got a call that there may be an opening at the "Mount".  Although there was not a Social Studies teaching position open, there WAS a coaching job with the possibility of supervising In School Suspension.

In the meantime, I was elated to learn that I was to become a Grandpa for the first time.  This news made the possibility of moving closer to our grandchild AND coaching football a very desirable situation.  This was a complete surprise.  I thought I had a season or more in Europe to coach before it happened.  I don't plan to be halfway around the world for 6 months and miss!

When Coach Stiles called with the good news that I would be officially offered the job, I remember him making the statement, "welcome to Rocket-ville".  It didn't take long for me to happily accept. So as soon as I can get there, I will be making the transition from a Bulldog wearing Navy Blue, a year wearing Black and Gold of the Kornmesser Rangers AFC, to a Rocket in Royal Blue.

I loved my time at Altus.  33 year-old roots are hard to pull up.  I loved my time in Austria.  The people I met and times I had there will always be remembered with the greatest of fondness. But it is time for a new chapter in my life. So although I get to renew my opportunity to coach the same game, I will never be the same.  So I suppose the name of this blog should change.

Same Game; New Chapter.

I can't wait.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Auf Weidersehen Austria

Defensive staff post-game meeting.

"If you send somebody to teach somebody, be sure that the system you are teaching is better than the system they are practicing."
- Oklahoma's Native Son- Will Rogers

I was reading some Will Rogers quotes lately and came across this one.  It gave me pause to remember the moment that I thought I could teach somebody something better than they were practicing it.  I was watching the YouTube football video in which last year's 2010 L.A. Titans (now the Kornmesser Rangers) were playing the Traun Steel Sharks.  I watched the defense of the team that would become the Rangers and saw some things with which I thought I could help.  The team was very long on enthusiasm but lacked certain observable technical skills.

"If they just improved a few things....." I thought to myself.  Because coaches have to make decisions in the seconds between plays, it didn't take long for me to decide that I (we) could make a positive difference in a team.  Instill, practice, and insist on basic fundamentals.  Line up correctly. Play gap-control defense with discipline and an attitude of intensity (like you are mad at the world).  Teach turnovers.  Stop the run.  Control the pass.  Fly to the ball.  Hit hard. Emphasize the kicking game.  (Close games are decided by them.  That's why they call them "Special Teams".)  

So I suggested that Johnathan come along also.  When the Rangers agreed, Johnathan actually cut his European "Walkabout" short by two weeks and began installing the Odd-Stack defense that he (and later, the Altus Staff) had learned from current Tulsa Union coach Kirk Fridrich while coaching with him at Stillwater HS.  In reality, he did all the "heavy-lifting".  By the time I arrived in February, the basics of the secondary/lb play were in.  

We used our defensive terms, we coached stance, alignment, and technique.  We read and reacted to blocks, routes, and backfield actions.  We coached "scoop 'n score", interceptions, pursuit, and above all, TACKLING.
Johnathan made animated PowerPoints that showed when, where, and why we moved where we did.  Scouting reports were assembled and emailed.  Adjustments were produced.  Film sessions were scheduled and watched.  We made ourselves available every time extra learning time was requested and needed.  The players, in return, showed us the utmost respect and hustle.  They never challenged our knowledge and / or authority.  They had a multitude of questions as well as a few doubts and reservations.  I felt that we answered each one, (mostly) with patience and understanding.  I hope there was no question about our work ethic, intensity, or passion for the game.  We wanted to represent Altus, Oklahoma, and USA football in the way we had been taught and in the way it should be approached, practiced, and played.

We allowed just over 10 points and averaged causing about 3 turnovers per game.  We never allowed opposing offenses more than 175 yards passing or 150 yards rushing.  Often, these totals were much less. In one game, we stopped the best offense in the division in overtime when they had the ball on our one yard line with 1st and ten.  Numerous times, opponents were stopped on 4th down attempts.  3 and outs were common in every game.  We contributed to cause by scoring on defense in two different games.  When all hope seemed lost in the semi-finals, we stripped the ball and recovered it (the offense responded in kind by scoring the winning td on the next play).  We lost key players to injuries, etc and replaced them with success.  We saw guys improve their skills, virtually before our very eyes during the season. But the thing that we did of which I am the proudest was: we never let the opponent score more than we scored.

Undefeated. 2011 Silver Bowl Champions.

The Rangers organization gave every effort to do things first class.  Sometimes, events beyond their control or foresight prevented some plans, but the intentions were always of the highest caliber.  Team president Gerhard Brauer and his wife Manuella show their evident love for the game through countless, thankless, unseen, and unglamorous efforts.  Head Coach Mathias Weinberger gave us the freedom to coach defense. He adopted a pragmatic approach to the challenges of the higher level of competition than in past years by accepting our suggestions at times. He also demonstrated his knowledge of Austrian football that resulted in another undefeated season.  Assistants Manuel Auzinger and Matthias Neumann gave of their time unselfishly and with great skill.  Guardian angels like Melanie Pinz, Mona Wi, and Claudia Schwarz were constantly helping where they could.

It was a new experience for me to be coaching players that were as old as my former assistants.  I once remarked to 39-year old middle linebacker Franz Koloshar, that I was used to coaching WITH guys his age and not actually coaching guys his age.  The players were married, had children (sometimes both at the same time), jobs, and school.  They were from 17 to 39 years old and possessed varying degrees of English usage.  Many times they said things I couldn't understand and at others, were blunt and brutally honest.  Their main exposure to American football was NFL and movies.  They kept up with and watched games at odd hours because of the time difference.  Some started playing football around 10-12 years old, some at 21.  They bought and carried their own gear.  They were pre-law students, railway workers, airline employees, and polizei (police).  They were teachers, students, youth ministers, and bartenders.  But we were all bound together by our love of the game of football.  

And because of that love, I got to experience an amazing 5 and ½ months.  An unforgettable first season of American football in Austria.  I may return to this incredible country and if so, I expect to compete at an even higher level with similar results.  But I will never have another first season in Europe.  

So was Will Rogers quote from before 1935, applicable for this season?   Was what we taught better than what they were practicing?  I would like to think so, but I hope that we taught some things that were at least, useful. And let me finish by saying one more thing.

 This Same game; new continent has been a great ride.

Auf Weidersehen

Pre-season scrimmage at Salzburg

Practice sessions in cold nights!

Susan, Johnathan, and I after the semi-final victory.

Pre-season scrimmage at Graz

Graz Scrimmage warm-up
Going over defensive signals in pre-game

Mani and I
Consulting the game day chart on the sideline.
Johnathan.  Gameday/Sideline Face

Johnathan, Me, Mani Auzinger

Calling defensive signals. On the sideline with Coaches Weinberger, Auzinger, Hepner, and Neumann.

Silver Bowl Champion Coaches
(L to R) Manuel Auzinger, Johnathan Hepner, Mathias Neumann, Mathias Weinberger, Lyn Hepner

Kornmesser Rangers
2011 Silver Bowl Champions

Living a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

Auf Weidersehen Austria.  It was a great ride.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Canal traffic under the Rialto Bridge

We decided that after a sobering and solemn trip to Auschwitz, that we needed a vibrant, happy, beach destination to finish off our European experience.  The first one that came to mind was Venice, Italy.  We took a night train from Vienna’s Huttledorf train station to Santa Lucia Train station in Venice.

Venice is a city like no other in the world.  Situated in a lagoon in the northern Adriatic Sea, it literally sits on the water and on a number of small islands.  The streets of Venice are “paved” with water.  Although it is served by a train that crosses from the mainland, it is the largest city in the world that operates without cars or trucks.  The Grand Canal is the main artery and numerous, narrower canals branch off from it.  Even police and ambulance move about in boats.  Public transportation is in the form of “vaporettis” (water taxi).  Of course, gondolas are the most famous mode of transportation in the historic city.

One of many narrow canals in Venice

The city, that reached the height of its influence in the 1300s, is set upon wooden pilings that have been driven through the sand and clay beneath the water.  Since wood does not decay where oxygen cannot reach it, the city foundation is actually petrified wood and has supported the city for centuries.  Venice was a thriving center of trade between Asia and Europe. As of recent years, it is believed that the water level of the ocean threatens the city and is causing it to “sink”.  So slowly,  like its influence throughout history, the city is sinking.

We stumbled off the 10 hour train ride (another story) into a bustling station, and like the hundreds of other newcomers, were a bit overwhelmed.  Dragging our suitcase (with only 3 operational wheels), we bought a ticket on the vaporetti to Lido Island to locate our hotel.  Situated on the Grand Canal, this is probably the busiest vaporetti stop in the city.  We negotiated our way from the floating, moving dock onto the floating, moving ferry. We crammed ourselves and luggage onto the crowded vessel and shoved off from the dock.

Susan riding through the "streets" of Venice.
Being land-locked Okies, we were amazed at the sights as we wound our way through the canal and through the port  as we rose and fell with the gentle waves as we crossed to Lido.  Vessels ranging from gondolas and motor boats to a barges and cruise ships populated the busy waterway.   I was amazed that so many watercrafts could move about without so much as a close call.  The vaporetti stopped a number of times to allow passengers to get on and off.  Within about 45 minutes, we were offloading at our island destination.  Again, we found ourselves among a crowd of bewildered tourists.  Being unfamiliar with the area and following the “man-law” of not asking directions, we struck out to where my personal “GPS” told me that our hotel was.  In retrospect, maybe I should have asked.

From the stern of the vaporetti; on the way to Lido Island.
Lido island is a long, narrow spit of sand populated by stately villas, beach cabanas, shops, businesses, and hotels.  It allows motorcars, has public bus service, and is infested with approximately 1 trillion bicycles and motorbikes.  We consulted our map and found the street on which La Meridiana hotel was situated and struck out on foot.  About 30 minutes of dragging a suitcase in the island sun had me questioning the wisdom of my actions so we asked a nice Italian lady the whereabouts of our elusive destination.  With fractured English, she informed us that the hotel was about 20 meters down the narrow street, along a canal.  20 meters turned into 200, then 400, then 800.  Finally, a blessed event, the sighting of the hotel!

Our hotel.  La Meridiana

Our hotel was situated in a quiet neighborhood, about 250 meters (really) from the beach.  It was nestled amongst the drooping branches of stately, tall trees.  A tall wall of shrubs formed the outer perimeter and the white, stucco-covered villa was covered with vines. Cicadas serenaded us in the still heat of the morning.  A distant hooting of an owl could be heard.  As we walked through the arched entry, we encountered a pleasant, shaded dining area.  When we entered our room, the first thing I noticed was the blessed feel of air conditioning! The room was not huge, but big enough.  It had an adjoining bathroom connected by a private hallway.  In the bathroom, I discovered a sight to which I am unaccustomed.  Two toilets; sitting side-by-side?  One looked familiar but the other, a bit different.  Maybe the spare was a place I which we could wash our swimsuits?  We never tried it.  Mild curiosity  was the only attention it got.

What's that there "extry" toilet fer ya'll? 

We took a walk to the beach.  On this busy Sunday afternoon, the beach was well populated.  People of every imaginable age and shape were engaging in the customs of the beach.  Sand castles, volleyball, soccer, sun-bathing, etc. I have to include the fact that we encountered far too many speedos, rolls, and wrinkles (not necessarily in that combination) for my comfort.  We both got the feeling that no one was bothered about either the appearance they projected or  those they encountered.  Overall, it was a happy place.

The east side of Lido Island.  This is one of many beaches.

We returned to our hotel and cleaned up to go out to eat.  We learned how to ride the bus to the busy Maria Elissabetha street and strolled until we found an outdoor portion of a street café.  We both ordered pizza and were not overwhelmed by the products that were served.  They weren’t bad but I thought that in the country famous for pizza, a better example could have been produced.  I may be prejudiced but I agree with my son Johnathan, in that European pizza is not as good as American.  European pizza is very thin and has very little sauce.  (Inexplicably, in Austria, corn is scattered as a common topping.) Disparaging pizza in Italy is equal to blasphemy, right?  Anyway, since we were worn out from the long day and night’s travels, following our unspectacular pizza experience, we returned to our room and collapsed.

Really, Italy, that's your best pizza? Seriously? 

Monday was beach day.  I have never really been a sun-worshiping “beach person” but made the effort because of Susan’s desire to visit the one near our hotel.   She had the official swimsuit and beach towel.  I donned my gym shorts and absconded with a towel from the hotel room.   Rightfully fearing the feel of a miserable sunburn on my fish-belly white skin, I left Susan sunning on the beach and I struck out to find sunscreen.  After a fairly long walk, I found a shop, entered, selected a bottle of sunscreen and handed the clerk what I thought was more than enough to pay for it.  She looked at me and after a bit of an awkward moment, I realized that it was 18 Euros (about 23 bucks)!  Sheepishly, I pulled out another ten-euro note, paid, and beat an embarrassed and hasty retreat with my valuable spf 20.    

The 18 euros turned out to be well-spent as we spent upwards of two hours at the beach.  That may not sound like much to seasoned beach-goers, but it was enough for skin that hasn’t seen natural sunlight for years!  Later, that day and the ones to follow, I was mildly but painfully reminded of the places to which I neglected to apply the sunscreen.  Susan spent much time on the beach, timing how long to lie in one position and then re-positioning strategically to another.  I tried that.  For about 3 minutes.  Then I got back in the water.  Then I tried the sun-bathing ritual again.  For about 3 more minutes.  Not my gig.  The whole experience was different and enjoyable.  I even made the statement that I could enjoy a life that included a lot of days enjoying a beach.  Later, we returned to the hotel to wash off the sand and rest.  The afternoon found us exploring more the town and more beaches. That evening,  a beach-side café and moonlit walk down quiet streets, to the hotel.

Cruisin' on the Canals
Tuesday was spent roaming up and down the canals and narrow streets of Venice.  Crossing the port in the now-familiar vaporetti, a combination of bright sunlight, heat, and humidity accompanied us. Shade and breeze became a valuable commodities as we meandered.  With no real agenda but to experience the place, we were not disappointed in what we saw.  The architecture of many centuries formed the backdrop for the thousands of tourists that crisscrossed places like St. Mark’s square.  During the day, we crossed the Rialto Bridge and later, strategically found seats in the stern of a vaporetti that took us on an unofficial tour of the Grand Canal.  From our vantage point, we saw the buildings on the canal in various states of decay.  The ambience of this city emanates from the very thing that makes every other city less desirable.  Crumbling foundations and facades of buildings built centuries before formation of the Constitution of the US, overlook the greenish-blue waters of the lagoon and city.  Cargo laden boats scurry up and down the canals delivering everything from bottled water to refrigerators.  Traghettos, (gondolas that have been de-commissioned and relegated to simply carrying people across the canal) dodge larger vessels as they transport people that don’t want to walk to the next bridge.

Venetian Clothes Dryer

We plunged into narrow alleys and streets, encountering shops, restaurants, and sights of every kind.  Beggars, street performers, and waiters constantly beckon the crush of tourists to spend their money.  Cameras hang from the perspiring necks and wrists of visitors from every continent.  Gondoliers awaiting another fare, stand beside bridges straddling the canals and heartily encourage people to board their floating business and livelihood.  The obligatory souvenir shops fill every imaginable nook and cranny.  It doesn’t take long before every street begins to look like the rest.

Tourists in St. Mark's Square

We inspected menus of the restaurants near the most popular places.  Cokes (.33 liters) are brazenly sold for over 5 euros and dishes of ice cream (gelato) go for 14.  A meal, complete with 3 courses and wine could go well into the hundreds.  We retreated with heads spinning to Lido island, where prices were a little lower for our evening meal.  On Lido, we explored more of the community and found a free public beach. 

One of many outdoor cafes in Venice.  We met some great folks from Australia here later.

As sunset approached, we watched the people as they wound up the day.  We observed a group of teenaged girls from Uruguay, posing in a “planking” position for a picture (if you haven’t heard about planking, Google it).  The young men near us on the concrete bleachers, taking the picture from afar, got tickled at the scene behind the girls.  In the near background, two “larger”, “mature” women in swim-suits, were arranging their towels in preparation for a bit of sunbathing (in rather unflattering postures and positions; let your imagination form the picture in your mind).  As the “plus-sized” pair settled in (with their gelato), the laughter of the boys became louder.  The teen girls, awaiting the picture to be taken, turned to discover the source of the laughter from the boys.  This led to laughter from the girls. Thankfully, the ladies in the background never caught on.  Someday, maybe this picture will appear on Imagur.  It may be one of those things in which you have to be there to appreciate.

We rode the vaporetti back to Lido as the sun was setting over Venice.  The cool of the approaching night combined with the lights reflecting off the water provided a production that our camera could not portray.  Suffice it to say that dusk in Venice it was a highlight of any day.

The camera can't portray the beauty of the actual view.  Taken in the port between Venice and Lido Island

Our train didn’t leave till 9 pm on Tuesday, so we spent the day crisscrossing the canals of Venice with the unlimited trips afforded us by the 24-hour card we purchased.  We saw much more of the same and I may sound unappreciative or unsophisticated, but I feel that we got the “feel” for the city in the time we were there.  During our stay, we encountered and interacted with some really great people.  At our hotel, we met a professor of philosophy and his wife, on their way to a wedding in France and later, to teach summer seminars.  At a canal-side café, we met a mother and daughter from Australia celebrating their respective birthdays in Venice thanks to the reduced fares available to flight attendants.  Sadly, we left each encounter without a picture of either pair, however we DID leave with a warm feeling of friendship with someone we will probably never see again but who will be remembered fondly.

By the time 7 pm rolled around, we were ready to return to Vienna.  One obstacle remained to overcome.  The trip to Venice had been in 2nd class seating.  This situation involved sharing a 6-person compartment (3 facing 3).  In this lower priced situation, the seats were spaced too closely for this quasi-claustrophobic, the temperature too high and the air too stuffy for a 10-12 hour return.  My objective was to upgrade to a first-class seat with reclining bus-type seats with more leg room and only the back of the next seat upon which to avoid eye contact for many long hours.  As we were looking for an office to expedite such an upgrade, I noticed a train employee from the OBB that I recognized from the trip from Vienna.  This turned out to be a stoke of good fortune.  I approached him, asking if he worked on the Venice to Vienna train.  His eyes widened in amazement that I recognized him from the earlier trip but told me that he didn’t think any first-class seats were available.  I thanked him and began to leave when he added that they DID have some availability in the sleeper cars (on which he worked).  He beckoned us to follow him and as the train had just arrived, took us aboard to a previously-unoccupied room aboard the car.  It had 3 spacious seats, a sink, closet and 3 bunk bed type berths that folded down for sleeping.  Compared to the experience from Vienna, this was a little piece of heaven!  I had left in my wallet, just enough to pay for the upgrade in cash.  Regrettably, I didn’t have much with which to tip him for his unexpected, welcome extra efforts.  I scraped up 15 euros in notes and coin and sheepishly explained that it was all we had and that he deserved more.  He accepted the 15 euros graciously accepted my reduced financial statu.  Later, he delivered two gift packages with water, wine, fruit, and candy and took our order for breakfast to be served at 7:30 the following morning.   Having spent a hot and sweaty day in the heat and humidity, this part of the trip was an unexpected but extremely welcome conclusion. I appreciate Alex of the OBB for the “extra mile” that he travelled for us.

We arrived at Vienna Wednesday morning, unloaded our 3-wheeled suitcase, and made our way back to the Villa with another stockpile of great memories.  I didn’t mention it to Susan, but I was experiencing the lingering sensation that I was still rising and falling with the waves (as on a boat on the ocean).  Surprisingly, later she happened to mention that she was experiencing the very same sensation.  Even though we were never out of site of the shoreline of Venice, some 12 hours after we disembarked from our last ride on the vaporetti, we landlubbers were still feeling the effects of the Adriatic Sea.  Over the coming years, in the same manner, I expect to bear lingering memories of the great experience that was Venice.

We have only a handful of days left before we return to the states.  This is actually a good thing as my supply of Euros has descended to a level with which to purchase little more than a few last sightseeing trips remain.  As I close this chapter, a thought occurred to me. 

A handful of days left…..hmmm….

Maybe we should live our lives like we are on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.  Make the most of the time you have, rest a little along the way, and be friendly to the people you meet.  


Sunset on the Grand Canal.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Visit to Museum of the Austrian Army: Pictures, Mostly

Today, I drug Susan to a military museum under the guise that we would visit a beautiful castle called Belvedere Palace afterwards.  We DID visit the Museum of the Austrian Military.  We kind of missed going to the palace.  But only because it was raining.  We WILL visit Belvedere later.  Besides, after a stimulating museum tour of the history of Austria's military, who has the energy to see any old beautiful palace anyway?

I was too "frugal" to want to rent the audio tour headphones and plunged into the two story fort-turned-museum to see the Austrian's contribution to thinning out the world's population over its long and glorious past.  I don't have a lot to write but my short synopsis is this:

Austria has known war and been involved in war on and off for centuries.  Their allies as well as enemies have varied from war to war but the remaining constant seems to be that the common, everyday, soldier bore the brunt of the fighting and dying while the crowned heads/leaders of Austria as well as the other nations, got or lost the glory.  Not too different of a story of any nation of the world.  Now or in the past.

My main reason for visiting this museum was the fact that they have the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated, sparking the events that led to WWI (which was just the first half of the story.  WWI led directly to WWII).  After perusing literally tons of war-making hardware, paintings, and trying to de-cipher German inscriptions, I found the car.  Not only the car, but the tunic Ferdinand wore on that fateful day.  A small bullet hole was noticeable just below the right side of the collar.

The one bullet that caused that tiny hole unleashed a firestorm of war the likes of which the world has never seen.  Estimates set at no less than 40 million dead littered the world from Sarejevo to the Marne and Chateau Thierry and later, from Stalingrad to Midway, from Pearl Harbor to Normandy Beach, Iwo Jima, and Hiroshima before it was over.  That small, singular hole created by Gavrillio Princip's pistol added to the one formed when another single bullet formed a self-inflicted hole in Adolf Hitler have had untold influence of this century as well as the last.

Having alluded to the Second World War, I noticed that there is barely a shred of a mention of the Austrian involvement in the Third Reich's war effort during WWII.  This may have to do with laws passed after the war.  In any event, the  museum is very informative and impressive.  They even have some up-to-date exhibits of today's Austrian military.

This is a collection of pictures we took on the tour (before and AFTER the staff told us "NO FLASH" Tip for Austrian Military Museum- put up some signs!).

Various uniforms of the early 1800s

The biggest artillery piece in the museum.  It's shell (see below near the breech) is as big as a sofa!

Susan stands beside a WWI "flying machine".

WWI tank.  Not sure how it got in the water.

Gatling Gun.  Circa 1867

20 mm cannon on a carriage with seats on each side.


WWI uniform with chest-plate and face protector.

WWI gas mask apparatus

The car (with flash)

The car (no flash).

Ferdinand's Tunic.  
The bullet hole is almost imperceptible on the upper left side of it as you face it (between the first and second buttons and to toward the neck).  I do not know what caused the tear on the opposite side breast.

What child doesn't dream of a birthday party at the Museum of the Austrian Military!?!

Whose up for some cut-the-tail-off-the-donkey or some balloon break bingo with Mausers ???