I’m still shocked by the amount of snow we had in London last week, I don’t know about you, but the only thing I wanted to do was to have a cup of hot chocolate and binge watch Netflix all day long in my bed… well, that would be a good definition of me most of the winter, but this week it was extreme!
Last Friday, while walking towards the Thai restaurant to pick up our take away dinner I had a flashback memory, and despite the snow storm I felt happy. The reason of that sudden happiness resides in the fact that I just felt as if I were back in Graz, the Austrian city I had the chance to live in for a year as an exchange student. I remember how much snow we had that year, which to me, coming from a warm country, felt as a permanent Christmas postcard for four months. It made me tougher, as it was back then when I could resist at -10 degrees and have my daily my 30 minute walk to uni, even in the coldest days. Now I can't be bothered going out to get milk if it rains... I always say that living there was like a being part of another dimension out of the real world, out of responsibilities or worries, only enjoying the perks of being an exchange student, meeting people from all sorts of places and choosing subjects that started no sooner than 11am, so I could sleep…
I was like a bear, but a very happy bear.
The good thing is that there are certain things such as the snow, or little details such as the smell of the chimneys coming from the houses, that take me back to my Austrian memories. Specially, the detail that would instantly take me back to Graz is that smell. No matter where I am, I could travel back to my happy memories with that aroma... how bizarre is out olfactory sense, which can take you to the most livid memories with the strangest smells! Apparently, smell goes to the limbic system faster than the other senses, and that is why we are able to link aromas to memories or moods.
By now I guess you can perceive that I really enjoyed my year abroad, and I easily become nostalgic when I think of those days. It is therefore that, after years of daydreaming about going back, last November S and I decided to take a weekend holiday and travel to Graz, so we could revisit all the places we used to go when we were free and young. We didn't have much time so we scheduled Vienna on Friday, Graz on Saturday and Sunday morning, so we would be back to London on Sunday evening. Short but intense. I couldn’t wait for it.
However, what I didn't predict, and what surprised me the most, was my perception of the Austrian reality five years later: the details I gave for granted back then, and now I could not give them for granted, even if I wanted to. The first thing was the size of proportions; to me - petite as I am, all I could see seemed to be made for extra large people! To begin with the toilet (the first thing I saw as I arrived in the hotel), I won't lie if I say that I almost have to jump to sit down, and my feet wouldn't touch the ground. Not a nice feeling when you are 27.
But that was only the start of my Lilliputian journey in this new, bigger (?) Austria. We stopped to have dinner at Salmbräu, a brewery near the Belevedere area which serves incredible Schnitzels. Again, the size of the chair would make me go back to my childhood years, but I accepted the fact and got ready to taste my awaited reward for the night - after asking our order in surprisingly good German, even though that wouldn't matter, because the waiter was Spanish. Keeping up with "Gulliverian" sizes, when we got our order, S had a Schnitzel which could feed a family of four, plus roasted potatoes and Sauerkraut for another four as a side, and I could only finish a quarter of my spinach and cheese roll - and I swear I was hungry. We sinned though, and ordered an Apfelstrudel, because you are haven't been in Austria if you haven't eaten Apfel - or Topfen - Strudel.
All I can say is that we needed a long walk to put all that food down and, given that we had a night in Vienna, we decided to head towards the American bar, or Loosbar, a small cocktail bar designed by the architect Adolf Loos, usually packed with big, tall Austrians. The design is mesmerising, it easily takes you back to the golden years of Vienna circle in the beginning of the 20th century, and I could easily see myself sharing drinks with Nietzsche. However, I don't think he would even spot me, in fact, I barely could see faces in that bar, only chests and legs moving along the small space like waves. By the time we hit the bed, I had already acknowledged my height more times than desired. Maybe I realised about it before but it definitely wasn't part of my nostalgic memories.
The following day in Graz did nothing but confirming everything I had experienced the previous evening: Austria is a combination of tall people, large portions and proportions. No wonder I gained 10 kg in my first months, who wouldn't?
Back in London, after feeling a bit shaken by the whole comeback-and-felt-different experience, I smelled once again the characteristic aroma that central heating leaves in the streets. And I couldn't help but think of Graz, but this time was different, this time is was my Graz. Because even though I have changed and therefore my perceptions differ to those I had back then, memories will always stay alive with the right stimulus.
And that just made me happy.