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Spittal an der Drau, Austria, January 1999
written by Robert Storm
Every year my father Rauli goes to a meeting of the Journalists' International
Skiing Club (SCIJ). In January 1999 he was going to Spittal an der Drau,
Austria with them. About a week before, one of the Finnish members canceled
his going there. So my father asked if I'd like to go to Austria. I had
been making so many magazines that he thought they would admit me as a member
of SCIJ. The participants didn't have to pay for the hotel, only flight,
and my father would pay that for me. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, I
had thought about going to Paris in May. But this trip would be completely
free for me so why couldn't I go to Austria in January and Paris in May.
I could ski a bit and maybe go to Salzburg or Ljubljana some day. I was
admitted as a member so I decided to go.
Saturday 16. January 1999
We flew from Helsinki to Innsbruck. Then we had to travel by train for four
hours. Spittal an der Drau is in the Southern Austria, in the state of Carinthia
(Kärnten). Our hotel unfortunately was about 5 km from Spittal, in
a very small village of Seeboden. The hotel was very nice, and there was
excellent food in their restaurant.
Sunday 17. January 1999
The second day I realized that these SCIJ trips are bigger things than I
thought. In some countries (not Finland) the SCIJ trips are considered the
journalists' world championships in skiing. There are even qualifying games
in some countries. In some countries the newspapers hire top-ranking skiers
so the can send them to these "world championships". So suddenly
I realized I was a journalist AND a worldclass sportsman!
I hadn't really skied in years. Downhill skiing isn't very easy in the Southern
Finland where I live because there aren't mountains and not much snow. But
I was glad to noticed that after all those years I still could ski quite
well. The Goldeck mountain in Spittal unfortunately wasn't a very good place
to ski. There wasn't much snow so the competitions had to be arranged in
other mountains outside Spittal. This of course wasn't very nice because
after all it was the city of Spittal that arranged the whole thing.
In the evening we met people at the Castle Porcia which was a very beautiful
place. It was called "the greatest Italian renaissance building outside
Italy". There were people from almost every European country but not
many from outside Europe. There were a few Americans and a few people from
Israel. Some Japanese people were supposed to come but they didn't. I think
this was maybe a bit dissappointing but it was nice to meet people from
different European countries anyway. We ate a bit of soup but were still
hungry so we went to a restaurant. Unfortunately I don't remember the name
of the restaurant. The interior decoration was incredible: everything from
baroque furniture to serpentine! Very kitsch and very interesting. I ate
some pasta which was good.
Monday 18. January 1999
Others went skiing but I wanted to see the town of Spittal. There wasn't
much of interest for me. It's one of those places that aren't beautiful
Alpine villages but not cities either. Some beautiful buildings.
In the evening there was the welcoming party. It was one of the most amazing
things I've attended. First we walked in a procession with the flags of
our countries, just like in the olympic games. People of the town were all
watching us. I felt like an olympic hero. When the French people behind
us Finns waved their flag, I started singing the Marsellaise. They
seemed to be surprised that a foreign boy knew the words of their national
anthem. I don't think that people in France realize how well known the Marsellaise
is outside France.
We assembled outside the Castle Porcia. There were a brass band and a hot-air
balloon. The major of the town made a speech and so did somebody who they
called "the president". I'm still not sure if he really was the
president of Austria or maybe the president of the state of Carinthia. Or
maybe the president of some enterprise. This all was really amazing, unfortunately
it was cold.
Inside the castle we had a meal from a buffet. It was a bit strange, mostly
different kinds of meat. I saw some vegetarians who were wondering if there's
anything they can eat. The best part of the meal was the dessert, they had
different kinds of pastries and fruits.
Tuesday 19. January 1999
The giant slalom competition (or gigantic slalom as some people seemed to
call it). I came in 6th last in my category, and my time was 1.53. That
wasn't bad at all. The time of the best was a bit over a minute. The slowest
was a guy from Ireland, 4 minutes. Everybody was wondering how he did it.
In the evening there was a seminar on divided cities (Belfast, Bruxelles
and Jerusalem). It was the idea of an Israeli who obviously wanted to show
that the things aren't better in other places of the world. Besides her,
there were one Irishman and one Belgian guy talking. The best part was definitely
the Irishman, he was an excellent speaker who made everybody interested.
After the speeches they made a table of the situation in different things
in those countries. The Israeli gave the ratings for the things in Belgium
after the speech of the Belgian guy but the Irishman gave the ratings himself.
The Israeli wanted to make the situation of Belgium seem as bad as possible
so she gave as bad ratings as possible. So the table showed that the situation
is worse in Belgium than Northern Ireland. This of course isn't true, though
there are problems in Belgium between the French speaking and Flemish speaking
people, the situation is much better than in Israel or the Northern Ireland.
Fortunately somebody from the audience said that Belgium differs from the
other two countries in a very big respect: In Belgium people don't kill
each other because of the nationality or the language they speak.
In the get-together some people performed a Mr Bean sketch, and olympic
winner Franz Klammer gave away the prizes of the giant slalom competition.
Wednesday 20. January 1999
We made a short trip to Granska Gora, Slovenia, which isn't far from Spittal.
Slovenian worldcup winner showed us the skiing resort but unfortunately
we had too little time there. After that we drove a bit around the area.
The political and economical situation in Slovenia is much better than in
any other former socialist country. This is quite amazing because it's is
a part of former Jugoslavia, and there have been horrible wars in the other
Jugoslavian countries. Slovenia has cooperated a lot with Austria and Italy,
and the three countries were even trying to get to organize the winter olympics
together. The next SCIJ meeting was organized in Maribor, Slovenia but unfortunately
I couldn't go there.
Thursday 21. January 1999
In the crosscountry skiing competition I got skis with a bit broken bindings.
My shoe came out of the binding almost immediately after the start, and
it took me quite a while to get it back. I came in 4th last though there
were some people who hadn't ever skied in their lifes. The last was the
same Irish guy as in the giant slalom. I think he should have received a
special prize. He said he was a real sportsman, he enjoyed skiing so he
wanted it to last as long as possible. More people should have this kind
There was some meeting in the evening that was boring and lasted for hours,
people were arguing about silly things. In the get-together somebody was
playing the zither. I was completely sure he would play the greatest zither
hit of the world, the theme from the classic film Third Man. When
he started it, there was a huge applause. Then we got to eat and drink products
of each other's countries. We had Finlandia Vodka which probably wasn't
the best possible idea, it just strengthens the Finns' reputation as vodka
drunks. And after all vodka is originally a Russian drink, not Finnish.
(I think we should have had Mämmi which the strangest Finnish food.
It's some kind of sweet porridge, it's dark brown and looks like shit).
Friday 22. January 1999
There wasn't any essential program this day so I wanted to go to the city
of Salzburg. I've been there a few times before, and I think it's one of
the most beautiful cities in the world. Especially the old town is beautiful.
Mozart was born in Salzburg so there's a lot of Mozart stuff everywhere.
I even saw a sports shop with a skiing Mozart doll in the window. I didn't
do anything special, I was just walking around. I bought a cd of the musical
Tanz der Vampire which is composed by my hero Jim Steinman and has
been performed and released only in Austria (there will be a Broadway production
in 2001). Walking in Salzburg inspired me to write one of my best songs,
Love for Sara. In Salzburg I was dreaming of being there with this
Sara who I was in love with. And I thought of this when I wrote the song
I came to the get-together of the evening a bit late. There was a band playing
mostly pop but they also played one of the greatest Austrian hits of all
time, On the Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. A lot of people
seem to loathe this waltz but though it's a cliché, I think it's
really great. Then they played California Blue by Roy Orbison and
Jeff Lynne, I thought it was a nice surprise. They played quite well though
their English was almost unbelievably bad. Girls from some restaurant school
had served us every day of this week but this day they got to dance too.
When I was already leaving, the band started playing a familiar intro: No
Matter What from the musical Whistle Down the Wind by Andrew Lloyd Webber
and the great Jim Steinman. I'm a huge fan of Steinman and had seen and
loved the musical. I also loved Boyzone's hit version of No Matter What.
I was already taking my coat but I ran back and started singing along. After
the song I applauded frantically. It was a perfect ending for the trip.
Saturday 23. January 1999
Early in the morning we left Spittal an der Drau. We went to Innsbruck via
Italy by train, and then we flew to Finland making a stop at Leipzig.
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