When I read that the introductory retreat for IES would be held in Mariazell––a place renowned for its Lebkuchen––I was naturally quite excited. Mariazell is a very quaint sort of Austrian town in the Steiermark. The town is a pilgrimage destination for the religious as well as others simply appreciative of the beautiful basilica that stands in the middle of town. I have an uncle who went through a Mariazell phase; during this phase I was asked, nearly every time I saw him, “do you know what my favorite place in the world is? Marizell. A beautiful place… incredible!”
A beautiful mountainous setting seemed a good place to allow all the incoming students to get to know one another; though the city of Wien itself is mainly what drew us to the program, spending the beginning together in the serene winter beauty of Mariazell seemed quite a good idea. The bustle and vivacity of the city could come after we’d adjusted to the fact that we, as a group, would all be sharing in a similar exchange experience.
The sun rose on the first day to reveal a beautiful mountainous landscape under a constant gentle falling of snow. The morning was spent continuing the introductory presentations that had been started the day before; as we sat inside the large conference room discussing what to expect from our stay in Wien, the snow continued to fall, blanketing the pine trees scattered over the landscape outside the window. This same weather continued for the rest of the stay in Mariazell. The weekend passed quickly, between the presentations––which, though powerpoint presentations, were engaging and amusing thanks to the staff––, the excursions into Mariazell and to the Erlaufsee for a snowy Wanderung, the evening entertainment of a Schuhplattler performance combined with an opportunity to taste Austrian Bauernkrapfen and Schnapps, and a final “quick and dirty” crash-course in Viennese waltz led by Helmut.
The day of the drive back to Wien came quickly. The weekend had been an eventful one and I can say that I agree with my uncle about Mariazell entirely––it is an extraordinarily beautiful place (for more reasons than one; for a more in-depth look at one of the culinary delights in Mariazell click here). The group certainly seemed ready to delve into Wien, but at the same time seemed very appreciative of the peaceful introduction to Austrian while in the countryside. As we drove away from the hotel, something that Heidi had said during the tour of the church in Mariazell came to mind: “I walked from Wien to Mariazell on a pilgrimage; it took about four days.” Mariazell was beautiful in the winter, though I am very eager to return again once it has warmed up… what better way to simultaneously hike through the beautiful Austrian landscape and fulfill my desire to revisit Mariazell than a pilgrimage of my own? Something to consider for the break in April perhaps…
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Colin Baumgartner is a Junior studying to be a secondary English education teacher. Colin grew up as a second generation Austrian and has always had a distinct sense of being split between two cultures––Austrian and American. Studying abroad in Vienna, Colin will have an opportunity to really explore the Austrian side of his heritage. When not buried in literature or writing, Colin enjoys blogging, hiking, cooking, working out, and traveling. Colin is an unabashed aesthete and gourmand, so the beautiful foods, sights, and people of Europe will not go unnoticed or unrelished. Dum vivimus, vivamus!</span></p>