June 17, Salzburg, Austria

Ugh.  I feel entirely overwhelmed.  I don’t know this city and it feels harder to navigate than Vienna.  I can’t find the street on I’m on on the map I took a picture of on my phone so I wouldn’t have to pull out a paper map like all the other tourists. There are beggars kneeling in every direction waiting for some guilt-stricken foreigner to drop a few coins into their penitent hands, cup or cap.  And, I’m very hot which is amplifying my crabbiness.

I resolve to pull out my paper map from the hotel.  So frustrating.  I wanted to have enough sense of this space and place so I wouldn’t have to do this.  The trouble is, once I find myself IN the map in “real life” it becomes a high-walled maze and no longer the organized drawing I studied from a birdseye view.  I swallow my pride, pull it out and get my bearings.

I remind myself: breathe and calm down.  I pray.  I tell myself, ‘You’re in no hurry.  Take note of the shops and architecture.  Try to enjoy it.’  I must add, knowing I’m writing for all of you helps me make more loving and gracious choices.  You hold me accountable to being my best self.  I’m grateful.

A man on crutches helping him walk his curved, uneven legs through the cobblestone Salzburg streets approaches me and with a pitiful look on his faces asks me for money.  I have no change.  I also don’t want to encourage the unhealthy system of begging.  I make a gesture with my fingers implying I have no change and I offer a sorry face.  I am sorry.  I’m sorry this is how he spends his days — roaming the roads of Salzburg focused on money and consumption, invoking annoyance, disgust, pity and guilt from strangers, and subjecting himself to being reviled or ignored, rarely receiving the compassionate response surely desired.

As I walk into the next platz in the direction of the restaurant I had scoped out for lunch I am met with the strong smell of sweet bread filling the air.  I look to its source “Alteste Backerei”, the oldest bakery in Salzburg.  My curiosity/nose lures me in.  I find it is mostly a museum inside.  The bakery appears set as if it were still whatever year it was established and a red velvet rope guards the space. No one is around.  I wonder to myself, is the bakery museum somehow pumping delicious pastry aroma through the air like IKEA with their cinnamon rolls just to lure people in without  being an actual working bakery?!  I was going to be both disappointed and impressed if it were true.

I then notice to my left there is a sparse selection of baked breads, but not one is at the counter.  Then someone appears.  Yay!  I see they have roggenbrot (Rye bread. I love that I can find rye and spelt, ‘dinkelmehl’, practically everywhere in Austria and Germany!)  I decide to buy the flat bread, which appears much like a piece of thick, dark pita, and split it with the man who was begging, if I can find him.

I find him and do split the bread with him, happily receiving my offer (some people snub their nose at food and continue pressing you for money, which I decline to give.  If that’s really what they need I trust God will bring someone else to them.) Since I’ve been here rather than buying an item of food for someone who is begging I am more inclined to share something I buy with them.  You may think, well, that’s selfish.  A few months ago I thought the same.  Now I see this gesture as something quite beautiful.  If the person begging sees me eating and then sees me decide to split my food with them or give them the rest of my food then I am no longer merely offering a handout, but now we are sharing a meal.  I realize traveling alone has brought this to light.  And, I am finding great joy and also company, even if at a distance, in getting to share my meals.  It feels like God at work in our midst–drawing us estranged neighbors back into communion with each other.

So, this is where I am at today.  I’m still mulling around this new perspective and would be open to and interested in hearing yours.