Sometimes, behind a photo there is a story. And sometimes, behind a photo there is a particular story. I have quite a few of those, and I thought I would like to share them with you by and by.
This particular image is one of my favorites, and also one of the very few I have with snow. I was already living in Hawai’i when this image was taken and, well… snow is hard to come by in Hawai’i, except for occasionally, in the winter, at 14,000 feet on top of Mauna Kea, where Poliahu lives.
If you discount a patch on top of said mountain, I have not seen snow since January 2006, and definitely not since going digital, which is why this is a scan from film. But even if I had a thousand images featuring snow, this would still be one of my favorites.
The date was January 1, 2006. The location was the magical, mysterious Vienna Woods, or Wienerwald, a gentle forested hillside area west and southwest of Vienna, Austria. It is a beautiful recreational area full of walking and cycling trails, and in the winter, it turns into a winter wonderland. Indeed, the perfect place for a Shinrin-Yoku outing, come to think of it.
In December 2005 I flew to Italy, to spend Christmas with my family, yes, but most of all because I had let my Mum talk me into joining her and my Dad at the one event that she waited for all year long: the New Year’s Eve Grand Ball at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. The ball is a spectacular event that recreates the grandeur of Imperial Austria, including actors that play Franz Joseph, Sisi and their court, all dressed in Victorian gowns. The palace is indeed an exquisite setting, with various rooms all decorated for the occasion, each with their own orchestra, dinner tables set up around dance floors, and stages where a themed variety show takes place throughout the evening, in between moments when diners would get up and dance.
That would all sound fabulous were it not for the fact that, already by then, the Ball (which my parents attended for about 13-14 years) had become highly touristy, and greed had driven the organizers to place the dining tables and seats so tightly together that you could hardly move – a very unfortunate thing in a place where people were (then) still allowed to smoke. And the food was nothing special either. I still do not know how I made it to midnight, but I escaped soon after the toast, while my parents stayed on to dance.
However, despite the fact that these issues had gotten worse with every passing year, the Ball still held an irresistible magic for my Mum, and though they haven’t been since my Dad’s first surgery a few years ago, she still has stars in her eyes when she talks about it. As for my Dad… well, my Dad would do anything for my Mum. Besides, he does enjoy dancing and he is quite good at it, or was anyway, as he doesn’t dance much anymore.
My brother Roberto, who had lived in Vienna for ten years and knew it like the back of his hand, had joined us for the trip, if not for the Ball. The next morning, while my parents slept their late night off, he and I, along with my aunt Luciana, who had also come along, drove out of town towards the hills for a few hours I will never forget. We headed for an area of the Wienerwald called Kahlenberg. It started to snow on the way up, and we made a pit stop at one of my brother’s favorite trails. I hung back while he and my aunt walked ahead, and snapped a few images. This is one of them.
Afterwards, we continued to the top of the hill, where we brought our limbs back to life at the Hotel Kahlenberg with some hot chocolate and a little food. From the terrace of this hotel, we had a spectacular view of the whole of Vienna below even on that snowy day. I just checked their website and, clearly, the place has undergone quite the renovation because it looks very different from what I remember.
But Wienerwald is more than just a beautiful place in nature. It is magical, and I feel it is one of those places where the energy is strong and the veil very thin. As I stared out of the car window on the winding way down at twilight, I could see/sense medieval-looking riders finding their way through the forest. At first I thought I was imagining things, but when I mentioned something to my brother, he said I was not the first to say that. Roberto then told me the story of how, in the 1700s, Empress Maria Theresia had hundreds of trees planted in the Wienerwald hills, with very specific instructions for where exactly each tree was to be placed, down to the square inch. I thought that was very interesting, but he had no further explanation, and so far I have been able to find any. If you know more, by all means, please let me know in the comments.
If you ever find yourself in Vienna, whether summer or winter, I highly recommend a visit to the Vienna Woods. I cannot believe I have not been again in all these years. But the call to Hawai’i was strong, so I stayed there a lot. Who wouldn’t?! I just wish I had more images to share with you. Eventually there will be.
“May You Be Happy
May You Be Blessed
May You Prosper in All Things.”
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