For us, Austria has always meant Vienna and, of course, Salzburg for its famous music festival, but what about Villach on the Drava River in the far south of the country near the Slovenian and Italian borders?
Kay and I knew nothing of this small city except that it was near where we had just spent two weeks among the Slovenes. We were prompted to go there for the opportunity of a rare rendezvous with our Australian friends Tim and Jan, with whom we had formed a great rapport when they occupied a flat for a couple years in our building in Istanbul. This summer they had been touring Southern France and Austria’s alps for several weeks on electric bikes and would be staying in Villach at the end of July when we would be nearby.
Pardon my French. Actually, not my French. Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait a beau voyage is a line from a sonnet by French poet Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560). I recently came across it in the prologue to Rebecca West’s lengthy Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, the best travel book ever written according to our favorite travel author, Robert D. Kaplan. It recounts a journey that West and her husband made through the Balkans in 1937. The spirit of du Bellay’s line resonates with me. I like to think there is still something, if not heroic on the scale of brave Ulysses, at least important about choosing to expose oneself to the vicissitudes of personal travel. Although the mechanics of travel have probably never been easier, its industrialization, by which I mean mass tourism, tends to diminish our experience of it. As people conscious of the sense of adventure and discovery that the tourism industry tries to remove from travel, we struggle to regain these things. Fortunately, we have our imaginations for this.