Before we talk about our adventures, I want to start off by wishing a happy Memorial Day to everyone back home. I always enjoyed going to the cemeteries, and the ceremonies that honored all those that have served our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice. While in Austria, I particularly thought of my late paternal grandfather, who served in Europe during World War II. Though he did not die in war, though he was injured, we know that it meant a lot to him and it means a lot to the families who know people who have lost their lives protecting America. I was there in spirit today in Fort Dodge and Mt. Carmel, Iowa and I assume many of the Cyclones had particular loved ones they are thinking of on this day.
We started our day bright and early by loading up the bus and beginning the journey to Vienna, Austria. Before we left Prague we had two major moments. We started by singing Samara West a happy birthday, who got to celebrate her 19th birthday in three different countries.
Secondly, Jon Newman-Gonchar was reunited with his infamous neck pillow. Much talked about en route to Prague, Jon had left the pillow on the bus when we got to our hotel. He put together the pieces that he left the pillow on the bus on Sunday night while packing and it upset him. He held out hope once we saw that it was the same bus we took into Prague on Friday, but when he got on there was no neck pillow to see. Resigned to his fate, Jon was caught by surprise when we stopped by the bus company on the way out of town and his neck pillow was returned. It was an emotional reunion, and a relief for his roommates (Jesse Tupac and myself) that we will not have to hear him sulk in the misery of losing the pillow.
The trip out of Prague allowed us to see the suburban area of Prague, which was more modern than the city center. From a socio-economic perspective, it makes sense, but it also makes you appreciate how Prague’s city center has been maintained over the years. Once out of Prague, we saw some wonderful rolling hills and cattle farms out in the countryside. It was interesting that the highways went straight through the towns, it slowed down our journey but allowed us some more experiences of the Czech culture. We even saw some things that reminded us of home.
We eventually made it to Vienna and had a short time to explore the city center. We were running on a bit of a packed schedule, but we were able to check a few things out. It was not as old as Prague’s was, though they had a massive church in St. Stephen’s Cathedral similar to St. Vitus in Prague. It had a more modern feel to it, and it was still a great opportunity to see the big city center, though we did not have much time there.
After that, we bused to the Southwest side of town and visited the Schönbrunn Palace, which was the former summer home of the Austrian royal family until its demise during World War I. It was an immaculate place to visit, enormous in size and enormous in its grandiose. Every time you passed one room you would think you are not going to see a more beautiful chandelier, and by the next room you are thinking that is the nicest chandelier in the palace.
It is tough to understand a world of absolute monarchy nowadays because there are very few left. Most are in the Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar with a few outliers such as Brunei, Swaziland and technically Vatican City scattered around the world. Most royal families are honorary heads of state, they don’t have the governmental power they used to. It is tough to imagine having everything and the power, but it comes with a price. The Palace in Austria is now a tourist attraction, not the head of government anymore and one of the daughters of the Austrian royal family, Marie Antoinette, was queen of France when their monarchy crumbled.
The Austrian countryside was still hilly, though we could not confirm that they were coming alive with the sound of music because we were on a bus. However, Austria had many more villages and bigger towns that filled up the countryside. The towns reminded me of many in Iowa in that they were close communities that stood out via the steeples of churches.
We then entered Slovenia. To show how much of a difference there is between places we are going, Slovenia’s population is lower than Iowa’s. If you added Prague to Slovenia, it would increase the population of Slovenia by nearly 70 percent. Our home for the next three days, Maribor, is the second-largest city and it has a lower population than Cedar Rapids. It is quite the change of pace from our previous two stops. We are not in the city center either; we are on the southwest part of the city where our hotel is. While we are not close to the action, we are close to some beautiful scenery and landscape.
Our adventures tomorrow will begin with a ropes course and an alpine slide. That afternoon, we will be back on the court as we will take on a club team from Croatia. We were supposed to play the Slovenian National Team reserves, the team that just missed the cut for the national team that is playing in the European Qualifiers for the 2015 European Championships. However, due to injuries there really are not many reserves left in the Slovenia National Team so a club team has been called in from Croatia and will take on the Cyclones tomorrow night.