May 10 – Leibnitz to Graz
I really tried with the language today. I mean, I REALLY tried and that language barrier just behaved like a massive great language bouncy castle and every time I hit it, it just bounced me right back again. I did not break through. I did not conquer that fortress barrier. I just bounced right off and fell in a verbal heap.
As Steve was still collecting zzzz’s this morning, I sat and watched You Tube videos of various people speaking German phrases and, not disturbing the Big Fella’s slumber, I quietly repeated words back to my online guides. Then, as we left our accommodation in Leibnitz, I asked the very nice lady there if I could try some language on her and if she could help. She happily obliged and let me practise and corrected me and told me when I got it right and wrote things down for me. The thing I’m having difficulty with, is there are a lot more syllables in German and the words I want to use are a lot longer than their English equivalents and my brain just isn’t wrapping around them. I started with the first word I always learn in any language – “Sorry”. I use that a lot, so it’s always priority #1. I apologise a lot…sorry I don’t speak your language, sorry I got in your way on a path, sorry I wobbled a bit too close to you, sorry I didn’t understand…So I got to practising “Entschuldigung”. Then the next thing I always learn is “I don’t speak [insert language here].” That way, I can say, “Sorry, I don’t speak German.” Then the lady taught me, “I am from Australia.” So my main aim for language mastery today was to master, “Sorry, I don’t speak German, I’m from Australia,” – “ Entschuldigung, ich spreche kein deutsch. Ich komme aus Australia.” So anyone speaking to me could switch to English if they chose to, or not, but they’d know I was not going to be a useful partner in conversation.
We got ready to pedal off in none other than…sunshine! You little beauty! It was warm and fantastic.
We were about to set off down the street when Steve said, “I’m going to take us a different way from the route but it’ll get us to the same place.” So off we went. Just down the street, Steve stopped and said, “We’re going the wrong way.” Well, that’s not unusual for us. We turned around and began going down this street and that until Steve again stopped. “I’m lost.” Again…nothing new there for us. Off we went again down some more roads and Steve stopped for a third time. “Right, we’re freestylin’” in other words, he was abandoning technology, maps, apps and GPS and following his nose to find the river, where apparently a nice flat path awaited us. Off we went again down this street and that, across this road and that. All the time I noticed how brilliant the drivers were…they smiled, they stopped and waited for us, even when they didn’t have to and they had right of way, but they stopped at roundabouts for us, stopped to let us cross the road. They waved back when I waved a thank you. They were brilliant. Eventually, we made it to the river. Success! We were on track!
The path was fantastic…flat and weaving along the river and then through open farmland with people working in the fields and all the time that great glorious sun shone down magnificently and the sky dazzled us with its bonza blue.
As we rode along, I mean the whole way, I was practising my German lesson for the day. The only way I could remember those long words and all those syllables, was to put it to a tune and sing it! So there I was, no doubt looking like a first class plonker, riding along, singling aloud, “Entschuldigung, ich spreche kein deutsch… Entschuldigung, ich spreche kein deutsch…” I was feeling confident, I had the rhythm in my head and those words were flowing. I had this!
We saw a bench by the river and stopped for elevenses and I actually had to put on some sun screen, that’s how warm and fabulous it was.
On we pedalled with some lovely scenery around us and passing through neighbourhoods until we were on the outskirts of Graz.
Then it all went haywire. Just as we rode into Graz, a great, huge, menacing black cloud descended upon us and…down came the rain! A quick stop and we were back in our coats. Sigh. Then the thunder started rumbling above us. OH, COME ON! GIVE US A BREAK!
We rode into the centre of Graz looking for some shelter for when the rain, which had eased, started up again, and found ourselves in a square by a fountain. We were standing there, making plans for our accommodation when I noticed an older man looking at us. I turned and smiled and he came over and spoke to us in German of course. OK, here it was, here was my first chance to practise what I had been repeating to myself for the last few hours. “Entschuldigung…er…ah…um…er…” Do you think the rest would get out of my mouth!? No it would not, those other words were stuck in there somewhere and I was as tongue tied as if I’d just been awarded a Scout’s badge for knot tying and all I could say was “Entschuldigung…er Australia.”
“Australia!” said the man. Then, in a mixture of German and English he asked about the trip and I answered in fluent…English.
“I am trying to improve my English,” he said.
“Well you are doing very, very well,” I said, “we wish we could speak more of your language!”
He continued chatting for a while and then gave us a “Have a good day,” and walked away. A very nice, friendly man. Dash, darn it! Where did all my language go!? Inside my head I was fluent and nothing came out. I started the chant again in my head and I had it down pat. No worries now, I was good to go. As we walked the bikes out of the square, a man was walking beside me pushing his scooter. He started talking to me. OK, here I go, I can redeem myself.
“Entschuldigung…umm…ah…” I was stumped again! All that practise and nothing would come out.
“Francais?” he asked, “France?”
“Australia,” I replied.
“Australia!? Cool!” he said and gave a thumbs up and a smile.
Another chance to at least look like I was making an effort with the language and I’d failed again! I really was trying and those words just stayed stuck and wouldn’t come out.
Then we were riding up the street and a man came alongside me on his bike and said something to me with a big smile on his face. OK, now I could do it, I was sure, I’d been chanting those words in my head again. “Entschuldigung…um…ah…” Grrrr, it had happened again!
“You have lots of luggage,” he smiled, pointing to the bikes.
“Yes,” I said, “we’ve come from Australia.”
“Australia!” he said with amazement.
So in the space of 15 minutes I’d had three perfect opportunities to practise what had been playing between my ears all day and I had zero success. Language barrier intact. Every time I would bump up against it, it would slap me down! I’ve kept chanting and chanting and I can still say those words in my head. Now I’ll just have to wait for the next chance to let them loose and see if they run free through that barrier or bounce right off again. So frustrating! Today I just felt utterly thick and clueless! I always try and speak some of the local language wherever we are, just to try and be a bit respectful and courteous. Today though, I was hopeless! I mean, it’s not as if I was trying to learn pages of dialogue, just a couple of basic phrases. Hopeless, I tell you, hopeless!
After finding our accommodation, we set off for a roam through Graz. We headed for Graz Schlossberg, a huge hill and fortress overlooking the city. We walked through the tunnels, which were used as a refuge during bombing in WWII and then we set off for the top. Steve took the elevator and I went up the steps and met him at the top. The Schlossberg was amazing. A fortress on a hill, but the design was fantastic. I walked up and arrived at an open square with the clock tower and then walked up another path and it becomes like another tier, where there was a pergoda and garden and then up again and there was the bell tower and then up to another tier and there was a big open park. It was quite incredible and a wonderful space, with views over the city but parks and gardens one on top of the other all sitting high up on the hill, inside the fortress walls. It was brilliant.
After a walk around we sat in the beer garden and Steve sampled another local beer and I enjoyed a cup of tea, looking out at the hills and roofs below.
We rode the funicular back down and we were in a carriage behind a new bride and groom with their wedding photographer. I loved the jacket she was wearing over her dress, declaring her new status.
Then we had one more mission to accomplish. Steve had discovered on one of our many wet rides, that his blue raincoat had succumbed, just as mine had done, and was now decidedly un-waterproof. It would have to be replaced. Our budget is already crumbling, what with campsites being closed, campsites being unavailable or weather conspiring to make camping a non-option, resulting in weeks of solid wall accommodation we hadn’t expected or wanted. So, with the budget taking a hammering, we set off to find Steve a new coat and he decided that he wanted one that was utterly and completely and totally top of the range waterproof! Fair enough. So he found one in a huge store and lashed out on the fanciest, shmanciest, first class raincoat that exploded the budget a little more. Well, when you see it in the photos of the next wet ride, which we know will be just around the corner, you’ll see that as well as being totally waterproof, it’s totally visible too!
As we strolled back to our digs, we passed a band playing at some sort of promotional event and guess what they were playing? Guess…go on guess…you’ll never guess…guess…they were playing…”I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain…” Yes we have. We have arrived.
So…we had a great ride in the sunshine beside the river along a great path, passing many cyclists who gave us friendly waves and greetings. Fantastic….then it rained. But…then it stopped, which gave us a dry roam through a really amazing place. Amongst all that I learnt some language and had friendly people talk to me, giving me a great chance to practise and I…flopped…big time.
So, a day with some highs and lows. I am determined though! I will nail some German and when I have one script in the bag I’ll move onto practising another one. I just have to get this first lot to come out of my mouth! Maybe I’m using the wrong tune. Maybe I need a different rhythm to get it to implant itself between my ears and then out of my mouth. I know…maybe I’ll practise it to a new song. I wonder if I can get “Entschuldigung, ich spreche kein deutsch” to the tune of “Have you ever seen the rain?” Worth a try. Very appropriate theme. I’ll give it a go!
Distance ridden: 46.1 km
Time in the saddle: 3 hours 23 minutes
Battle score: Language Barrier 3: Heidi 0