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Letters of the Week

We don't know about you, but travel always makes us want to write long juicy letters to everyone we know. Maybe it's bragging rights, maybe it's a burst of poetic inspiration from seeing the Taj Mahal, but one way or another, suitcases and sunsets in strange places turn us into letter-writing fools. So, if it turns out you're the same way....be sure to include us in your list of people you just have to drop a line to. Don't worry, you will make us jealous...but hopefully we'll also be inspired by your adventures.

Want to see what other Savvy visitors have to say? Read our letters of the week, and be sure to tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you!

April 6, 2001

Solo to Mexico

I retired a few years ago and traveled to various parts of the world. My wife, however, soon wife wearied of so much travel, so I decided to study Spanish and travel to Mexico alone. I had never learned a language well enough to be fluent and felt that Spanish would be very useful.

Before going, I listened to a set of tapes thinking that I would pick up the language quickly after getting to Mexico. My cousin suggested visiting Oaxaca, and when I arrived, I realized how poor my Spanish was. I was not able to communicate very well with the local people. Still, I managed to find my way downtown the first morning for breakfast and asked the waiter where I could find a school. Fortunately, another patron, a local man, spoke enough English to understand my request. He gave me a few simple directions, and I wandered around until I found the school.

Primarily, the school was for local people who wanted to learn English. My teacher thought her students and I would benefit from talking to each other and traveling together. The first student to volunteer to go with me was a doctor. I rented a car and we drove to nearby villages to see colonial churches, which were built soon after the Spanish conquest 500 years ago.

We stayed the night in a hotel, and I accidentally left my money belt there. I didn't discover this until after we had left, and of course, we had to turn around and go back. Luckily, the hotel had my money belt, but that was just the FIRST mishap of the trip. Later, I locked my keys in the car, and was confronted with automotive repairs on the rental as well. I somehow communicated all this in my almost nonexistent Spanish. My companion found a locksmith who got the door open and a mechanic who fixed the car for $2.

I spent the remainder of the five-week adventure studying Spanish and taking students who wanted to learn English on weekend trips. It was all very interesting and economical - although I'm still struggling to learn Spanish. Since that trip, I have returned to Mexico alone many times and have made many friends traveling through the country with Mexicans as my companions.


Beyond Vienna

I enjoyed your recent story about Vienna cafes, and wanted to add a couple comments that might interest travelers headed to Austria.

1. Look beyond Vienna. Austria has many other lovely cities with great "Kaffeehaus Kultur". For example, in Salzburg the hotspots are Cafe Tomaselli and Cafe Bazaar, which are frequented by both tourists and locals. In Graz, there is Cafe Stern.

2. The story also mentioned the introduction of Turkish crescent rolls in Vienna, which later became known as croissants. In Austria they are called kipferl and are served with coffee at breakfast, along with semmel, a kind of roll. The texture is less flaky than croissants and more authentic to Austria. That then leads us to the pastries served in every café - sachertorte, topfenstrudel and kaesetorte, to name a few.

On another Austrian note, Graz is definitely worth a visit. Graz is the second largest city in Austria and the gateway to Central Europe. It has a great Opern Haus, an enchanting clock tower, charming centuries-old city streets, and every summer the American Institute of Music Summer Program is held here. University students sing all summer long, with many impromptu programs on Graz's Hauptplatz, one of the best preserved in Europe. The Graz Armory is also very famous, with a huge storehouse of old weapons from many wars.

In short, if all you see is Vienna, you will miss some of the best parts of Austria.



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