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The More Things Change...

By Ann Waigand

Dr. Clay A. Hubbs has often talked of the many subscribers who, like me, traveled and studied abroad a quarter century ago and are still at it. The more things change, the more they stay the same. My fondest memories of my first study abroad experience—a semester in Vienna, Austria—are ones I’ve discovered I can still replicate.

Musical Improvisation In Vienna

In 1969, at the age of 22, Peter Planyavsky became the organist at Vienna’s St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Five years later his playing drew my boyfriend (now husband) and me to the cathedral every Wednesday evening. As dusk fell, the cavernous space would grow quiet, allowing Planyavsky’s music to dominate. But the best was always saved for the last 10 minutes. That’s when Planyavsky broke into complex improvisations. He’s still at it, but since he now has a busy schedule as a teacher, check ahead of time to make sure when he’s playing. Organ concerts are held Wednesdays from May to November. Planyavsky also plays for services on Sundays and at a biannual Organ Festival at the cathedral (in 2001, September 12-26). Check out St. Stephan’s website [www.st.stephan.at], particularly the section on cathedral music, [/dommusik].

Behind the Exhibits at the Albertina

While I was reveling in Vienna’s musical offerings my husband often spent an afternoon at the Albertina, which houses a priceless collection of graphic arts. To his amazement, he could simply request to see a Dürer or Rembrandt etching and a member of the gallery staff would bring it out for his viewing. In 2001, things haven’t changed much there either. You’ll need a little more ID and justification to see Dürer, Rembrandt, or Egon Schiele, but Wolfgang Schreiber of the Albertina informs me that the old system is still in place. Log on to the Albertina’s website [www.albertina.at] to access the list of its holdings.

Ecolodges in Central America

Among the winners of Conservation International’s new Ecotourism Excellence Award was John Aspinall, who runs two ecofriendly accommodations in Costa Rica: Tiskita Lodge (011-506-296-8125) offers 16 cabins in the midst of a private biological reserve on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. The lodge originally housed Smithsonian and Earthwatch scientists; it provides views of active lava flows from Arenal Volcano, less than two kilometers away.

I was surprised not to find Giovanna Holbrook, matriarch of the family that owns Holbrook Travel, on the Conservation International list. In 1984, when Giovanna learned of plans to destroy 500 acres of primary rainforest surrounding La Selva ecological station, she impulsively purchased the area, which had previously provided only limited facilities for botanists and scientists. Over the next years she built facilities that respect the land and give back to the local community. Now Selva Verde—in addition to accommodations and guest services—encloses a nature reserve with a butterfly garden, over 365 species of birds, and an abundance of mammal life. The complex also includes a learning center for the young people of the area. It provides basic after-school activities and courses to train members of the community as guides.

Selva Verde Lodge, Chilamate, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica; 011-506-766-6800, fax 011-506-766-6011; selvaverde@holbrooktravel.com, www.selvaverde.com. Or call Holbrook Travel at 800-451-7111, www.holbrooktravel.com.

Kyoto Walks

Because of the language barrier, many of the sights, sounds, and activities in a Japanese city remain a mystery. That’s why on a recent trip to Kyoto I joined Johnnie Hillwalker’s walking tour. Why were all those housewives and retirees strewn along the temple walkways, on their knees working, laughing, and socializing. This, Johnnie told us, was a community group, donating their time to scrub a gleam back into the temple’s ceremonial brass. Johnnie ends his tour at a tiny tea and sweets shop, within eye-shot of a landmark, Kyomizu Temple. We could watch the production, taste the wares, and find our own way home. Contact Hajime Hirooka at Tel./fax 011-81-75-622-6803; h-s-love@ mbox.kyoto-inet.or.jp.

Iceland’s Elf School

Over 50 percent of modern-day Icelanders believe in elves and hidden people, and the local Public Roads Administration has even delayed road construction to move a rock believed to be owned by dwarfs. In fact, according to my textbook from the Icelandic Elf School, the island is home to 13 types of elves, three kinds of hidden people (including the Blue People), four varieties of gnomes, two forms of trolls, and three types of fairies. You can learn about all of these, and mountain spirits, too, in a half-day course taught by Magnus Skarphedinsson, the school’s founder and brother of one of Iceland’s most influential politicians. En route to receiving my Elf School diploma, I learned that the hidden people, whose life spans roughly double that of humans, probably descended from Irish peasants living in Iceland. When the Vikings came and attempted to enslave these Irish settlers, they fled into a hidden world, and there they have remained.

If you don’t have time for Elf School, pick up a map of hidden people sites in Hafnarfjördur, Reykjavik, from the Tourist Information Center in Reykjavik or Hafnarfjördur, or contact the Elf School at Sidumuli 31, 108 Reykjavik, Iceland; 011-354-894-4014, fax 011-354-588-6055; mhs@vortex.is.

ANN WAIGAND, a consultant and writer on special interest travel, was the founder and editor of The Educated Traveler newsletter.