Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 5 / Vienna - Rail Jet

GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
Part # 5 / Rail Jet to Vienna

Mühldorf Train Station
We were in the middle of our three-week exchange with our sister school KKG in Bavaria, celebrating 25 years of an educational and cultural relationship through the German American Partnership Program, also known as GAPP.  As part of this milestone visit, we were going to take our 18 American students on an overnight trip to Vienna, Austria.  The very thought of such an adventure was both exciting and just a little unnerving.  It was a tremendous responsibility to take our students 200 miles away from our German home city of Altotting.  In addition, Vienna is a city of 1.8 million people, quite a contrast to the peaceful setting of the Bavarian countryside. However, we were all looking forward to making the trip by train, the most popular mode of mass transit on the continent of Europe.  On the morning of our departure, we piled our overnight suitcases in the car and headed for the train station in nearby Mühldorf.

Austrian Railways / Rail Jet
As we arrived at the train station, I couldn't help but notice I was being dropped off by my German host Andy, much like our students who were also arriving by way of their own host parents.  This weekend trip would be just for the American students, giving our German hosts, a little personal family time without guests.  We huddled up to get our tickets, navigated our way to the proper boarding platform, and awaited the advancing train from the west to arrive.  We were soon joined by the regular local travelers on their way to work, a family visit, or even an adventure of their own.  As a kid, I loved trains and enjoyed the hobby of model railroading and still do on a small scale.  I still have the train set I had from my childhood and put it up under the Christmas tree each year along with all the plastic life-like buildings that still survive.  I had really enjoyed traveling by train in Bavaria during my last visit when we ventured short distances to local towns and our full day-trip to Regensburg in Germany.

View of the Austrian Countryside
We were taking the Rail Jet line to Vienna, a significant upgrade to the previous trains I had traveled on during my previous visits to Bavaria.  Our train arrived at the station as scheduled and after getting the green light from the conductor, we grabbed our gear and piled into one of the cars to get 20 seats together.  I imagine some railway employee yelled out the equivalent of "All Aboard" in German but I was much too excited to notice.  The interior of the car was very comfortable with several style seats available.  Wendy and I sat in the middle of our group in the traditional cabin-style seat pair facing forward, which were much like a airline seat.  It was well padded, comfortable, and roomy enough to cradle the back of your head, creating a lounging position.  A group of students nearby had a quad of seats facing one another with a reasonable size table between them, which soon generated a card game.  As the train began to pull away from the station, we had officially started our journey toward Vienna.  Much like bus travel, it is nice to leave the driving to someone else, enabling you to relax and enjoy the view out the large generously sized windows.  The beautiful countryside was visible on both sides of the car, giving view to colorful farms, jagged mountains, small quaint villages, and even a few large industrial centers.  It truly is the best way to see the heart of the country.

Train Station / Salzburg, Austria
We crossed out of Germany and into Austria as the train passed over the Salzach River, the twisting natural boundary separating the two nations.  Within a short time, we entered into Salzburg, the city known by Americans as the setting for the famous film, The Sound of Music.  Within seconds, Wendy was singing the catchy tunes of the movie in my ear in an effort to cause a continuous loop of the movie soundtrack to relentlessly play in my head for the remainder of the journey.  Unfortunately, her efforts were successful as Julie Andrews (Fraulein Maria) was singing, belting out song, after song, after song in my brain... Let's just say, I was "16 gong on 17" for quite some time!  Salzburg is a beautiful city I have visited with students twice before.  In addition to the Sound of Music, the historic city is a popular destination for tourists to visit Mirabell Gardens, the Salzburg Cathedral, and Hohensalzburg Castle, the large imposing fortress looking down over the city it once protected from a hillside known as the Festungsberg.  In stark contrast to the historical architecture of the ancient city, the Salzburg Train Station was also beautiful in its own right, a modern style of arching white metal supports and accompanying glass.  The modern station's physical appearance seemed to compliment the bold white fortress to the north.  We stopped briefly to take on additional passengers before leaving the birthplace of the composer Mozart behind, moving ahead to the city where his musical talent flourished.

A Lumberyard's Harvest
We continued on our way east through the beautiful ever changing landscape, brought into view with every passing mile... I mean kilometer.  Much like Bavaria, the rural landscape of Austria resembled a patchwork quilt of farms, villages, and evergreen forests.  We passed several large lumber yards of stacked logs awaiting processing at local saw mills.  Some of the yards had industrial sized sprinkler systems drenching the wood with water to prevent them from drying out and cracking to preserve their valve.  Stewards' of the environment, reaping the bounty of what nature had to offer was paired with responsible conservation to ensure the future harvests.  Many hillsides were covered in young, bright emerald evergreens, to replace those previously extracted from the forest. The cycle of rebirth maintained the beauty of the Alpine environment and complimented the green and amber colored fields of barley, wheat, and soybeans.  The calm peacefulness of the outside view was periodically interrupted by a sudden west bound train, flying past the windows, without warning in the opposite direction.  The surprising burst of blurred red, black, and gray of passenger or freight cars was startling to me but the veteran passengers seated nearby hardly took notice.

Austrian Rail Jet High Speed Train
For me, rail travel provides the best mode of transport.  You have fewer start and stop transitions of a bus, the comfort of being on ground level as opposed to 30,000 feet in the air when on a plane, and most of all, you don't have to worry about your wife yelling at you when taking your eyes off the road.  Long gone are the clickity-klak bumps of yesteryear, as the parallel ribbons of steel are now welded together, providing an endless and seamless smoothness for the train.  There is little noise as the engine is powered by electricity, fed through a series of cables located up above that run along with the track line.  Due to the lack of friction it is very difficult to cipher just how fast the train is moving along the way.  This peaceful movement can easily rock you gently to sleep and most of our students were resting deeply with eyes closed as we neared our destination.  Before long we arrived at the Vienna Train Station, where our train came to a dead end stop right up against the terminal.  As I would learn later, the train had another engine on the far end of the train that would lead the cars back west after a short rest. This particular train was scheduled daily on the same route and made the trip back and forth several times a day without ever having to turn around.  Smart!

 High Speed Train Docked in Vienna
We disembarked and enter the expansive modern train station to meet up with a former participant in the GAPP Exchange, who now lived in Vienna and offered to serve as our guide in getting to our hotel within the heart of the city.  Stay tuned for our planned adventures to be published soon!

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