​So that was Christmas and 2017!  What can I say?  Criticised for being negative, perhaps nothing.  As I sit here with my quill and ink, it is cold, dark and tipping it down.  There has been little light today and certainly nowhere near enough to boost one’s vitamin D.  Totally miserable, then, let’s reach for that sense of humour.  Funnily enough, I am convinced my life is part of an ongoing sitcom the writer of which is, at once, a comic genius but sadistic as hell!
We went to Austria for Christmas.  Translated, we spent six surreal days in the most magical scenery – as though stepping into a Christmas card – sandwiched between two days of torture!  They call it ‘travelling’.  I really don’t know where to start. 
Salzburg is really a skip from Edinburgh in airtime and we should be thankful that, in winter, we can fly direct with Jet2.  In years gone by, when we used to spend summer holidays in St Wolfgang, it would take a day to get there as we had to stop off in London or Schiphol to catch a connecting flight.  All younger, then, it was more of an adventure and both Edinburgh and Salzburg airports more reminiscent of Nissen huts.  I remember as a little girl, flying for the first time to Bavaria, I couldn’t wait to come down the steps of the plane onto the tarmac, like a film star!  Almost 30 years on, when I flew to Nairobi – a trip I had always dreamed of – I longed to do the same; for it to be as it was in Born Free.  Sadly, time moves on and my wish wasn’t granted.  Instead, I walked off the plane through a sterile tunnel into the airport, deprived of those memorable first sights and smells of Kenya. 
Flying to Salzburg for the first time in the summer of 2000, we climbed the steps on the Gatwick tarmac to the ‘Lady Patricia’.  Nothing could have been more appropriate!  Seventeen years on, having removed almost everything but a smile to get through security (still have all my own teeth), Becca and I completed a year’s quota of exercise just to reach the gate!  Arms breaking, we endeavoured to squeeze down the far too narrow aisle of the cattle truck – sorry, apparently it’s called a plane – in search of our seats only to discover that they were already occupied.  No room to manoeuvre, tell me how one was supposed to enable the seemingly intellectually challenged passengers – unable to match seats to numbers – out of our seats and into the aisle already occupied by us and our ‘guaranteed’ cabin bags in order to enable us to squeeze into our seats?  My brother always used to say that he would only turn left on a plane … and who said I was a diva?! 
We didn’t care that we were sandwiched in like sardines or, even, that we were repeatedly subjected to the awful music as they endeavoured to flog the in-flight merchandise.  Gone are the days when, having successfully negotiated the obstacle course to one’s seat, one could sit back and relax confident that all one’s cares would be obliterated in the complimentary double brandy and ginger ale.  However, one has learned to brace oneself to public transport today and, whereas once flying was somewhat of a luxury, devoid of sufficient funds it is, now, the equivalent of travelling on Lothian Regional Transport!  No matter on the outward journey.  Destination the snowy mountains of Salzburg and, to that end, we could suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.
It was night-time as we flew over the mountains into the land of The Sound of Music.  We strained to see the familiar fortress but to no avail.  Stepping off onto the tarmac, there was the inevitable bus waiting to take us to the terminal.  I suggested to Becca that I would rather volunteer to walk but …  Whatever happened to that one familiar terminal building somehow so appropriate for the surroundings?  It wasn’t important.  We were here.  We were in Austria for Christmas and tomorrow we would waken to the snow-capped mountains over the Wolfgangsee.  Just one thing to remember … Manny!  His plane from Gatwick was due to touch down shortly after ours.  Time for a glass of bubbly to celebrate our return to this beautiful country.  Jet2?  Wonderful airline successfully delivering us to our fairytale destination.  Won’t have a word said against them!  It’s amazing what one can choose to forget.
Christmas at The White Horse Inn, St Wolfgang was magical.  I wish I had a blog site which would enable me to post photographs.  Suffice to say, we woke every morning to a view across the lake which was to die for!  Too perfect, it seemed as though a backdrop to a film …  Austria is beautiful.  The mountains are spectacular; humbling.  Christmas is as it should be.  The little square outside the Weisses Rossl was abound with festive spirit – literally!  Little huts selling mugs of Gluhwein made more delicious by the twinkling of the traditional fairy lights adorning the ‘chocolate box’ houses, each hand-painted, windows complete with shutters.  Truly what dreams are made of.
Christmas Eve is the real celebration in Austria and the 11th Century church, around which the village of St Wolfgang was built, is right next to the Weisses Rossl.  As last year, it was a privilege to attend the Midnight Mass; three strangers amongst friends.  I shall never tire of hearing Silent Night sung in its native tongue, German.  So beautiful as was the sound of the brass band playing that very hymn from the church tower as we gathered in the square with the locals after the service.  One of those forever memories.  From the moment I saw The Sound of Music as a little girl, I dreamt of going to Austria, to the mountains.  I must have done something good!
On that uplifting note …  Six days later, we had to leave and, in the absence of Tom Cruise and his private jet, it was back to Jet2.  Worse, though, flying with major hangovers!  Who is stupid enough to over-indulge the night before leaving?  Meet the Massons.  Do not let this reclusive cover fool anyone.  Given the right company – yes, definite stumbling block – we are always up for a party!
We had a pact that we would pack before we went to bed.  Sensible.  Reasonable.  Never going to happen!  Becca’s case had arrived marked ‘Heavy’ so God knows how we were ever going to add the mountain of stuff we had bought … plus I had found a ‘must have’ in a local café: a wooden sign complete with little bulbs which light up the letters spelling ‘Family’.  Yes, ironic in the extreme but, despite my circumstances, there has never been anything more important to me.  Then there was Becca’s ginormous Christmas bauble …  Whatever!  Off we went to say ‘goodbye’ to our friend at the bar, a young German guy who had reminded me of a good-looking Justin Bieber.  We had nicknamed him ‘Bieber’ but he was so much more: polite, friendly and sarcastic!  He seemed to guage us immediately and became an instant friend.  Suffice to say, given that it was our last night, we were a little melancholy but we sat at the bar and he poured our drinks – and more – whilst letting us choose the music.  The inevitable photoshoot over, I retired to bed but, as the real snow fell, Becca and Manny partied on with Adrian and his friends until 4am.  Cases packed?  Not a chance!
I was the first to surface dreading the impossible task ahead in order to make our taxi transfer to the airport at 11.20am.  Becca was bad but Manny was still ‘unconscious’ on his bed, fully clothed!  Help!  No panic.  Plenty of time.  I thought I could pack for us all.  I was fine … and then I bent down! 
Two hours of sheer hell followed in which I packed for myself and Manny – still ‘unconscious’ – whilst directing Becca.  God knows how we made it to Reception and the taxi for 11.20am but we did – only to find that the taxi was ‘overbooked’ and Becca and myself ended up sharing a seat.  Manny was in the row back with two strangers and no window.  In the hour’s journey to Salzburg airport, I felt every bump and every winding corner as he fought to surpass the nausea.   The ‘hightlight’ of the journey, however, was Benno – our driver and old friend – pulling out his mobile phone, yet again, to show us all photos of his beloved dog, Tommy!  Here we were, Becca and I feeling hellish, sharing a seat, and Manny using every piece of willpower to stop himself throwing up, while Benno showed us photos of his dog.  Absolutely superb!  These little vignettes abound with humour …   A year ago, Benno had had to pull over on the motorway for Manny to throw up as he struggled to cope with the 24 hour bug doing the rounds.  Groundhog day?
We made it!  Manny spent some time in the Gents before his 3.30pm flight to Gatwick while Becca and I spent six hours in Salzburg Airport before all but missing our flight to Edinburgh at 7.05pm!  Content that we would be first on the plane, we managed to negotiate security with our enormous sign and bauble.  We, even, got seats right at the gate so that we would be first to board.  Unbeknown to us, they changed the gate but we had our backs to the board and were oblivious.  Unwittingly, Becca caught sight of it and I rushed to the gate to be told that we were the last passengers and the flight had been boarding for half an hour!  What?  We had been in the airport all day … 
Transported to the plane by our own bus, we piled on with everything but the kitchen sink and were told just to put it on the seats.  Note to self: endeavour to be last on to plane and Bob’s your uncle!  Once again, we were leaving Austria.  No complimentary brandy but a wealth of stories and memories.  Isn’t that what life’s about?
‘We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.’  
Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, 1879.
Frohes Neues Jahr!
This is Trish, signing off.