It’s a grey, drizzly morning in Innsbruck, Austria on a walk from the hotel to “the Golden Roof” and umbrellas are popping up like mushrooms. Black ones, pink ones, blue ones, stripes, tartan patterns, corporate logos, touristy logos, you name it.
One thing I’ve noticed about European cities is they seem to have a fair bit of residential housing in the city interiors, and there are more people who commute on foot. This also explains one of the reasons why Europeans tend to be, and I’m trying to put this politely, more svelte than a lot of Americans. Add to this inner city foot traffic the train commuters and other travelers, and soon you have a polyglot of people showing how they react to a bit of rain. Innsbruck was but one of the places we saw a whole catalog of umbrellas.
Ah, rain. No matter how well you plan a trip, no matter what time of year, you can’t control the weather. We had chosen August, knowing full well there’d be more crowds to deal with (although not how bad they’d really be), but thinking it would be warmer in the alps with less chance of rain. Had we travelled but a week before we’d have gotten that forecast in spades, we were told it was too hot. But the fates decreed our period of travel be almost entirely blessed by overcast skies and occasional rain. While it did not ruin the trip, which was still quite enjoyable, it did put a bit of a damper on it.
One of the quirks of traveling via guided tour on a bus is a seat rotation schedule. The idea is that the best seats are the ones right in front, where you share the view and the huge windows with the driver and tour guide, and rather than sitting willy nilly each day you rotate from the seat you had the day before. This gives everyone a shot at the best seats during the course of the trip. There’s a bit of strategy to this the first day – pick the seat that will get you in front on a good day.
Again, the fates mocked my strategy. We arrived nicely in the front seat on a nice scenic day for driving. However, it also turned out to be the rainiest day of the entire trip, so much of our view included cloud obscured mountains, rain slicked and dappled windows, and windshield wipers going swish swish.
This particular day took us back into Germany. Our excursion took us to Ludwig’s Linderhof palace, with a quick stop at the Benedictine monastery in the village of Ettal, and a lunch stop in Oberammergau.
Oberammergau, we were informed, is best known for a large-scale passion play which is performed every 10 years. It involves over 2000 actors, singers, instrumentalists and technicians, all residents of the village. During the off years the theater is used for other, less ambitious productions.
Oberammergau is also known for the murals painted on many of the buildings, and for the skill of its woodcarvers.
So what does any of this have to do with Oregonians?
A hint has been dropped in several places. It has something to do with rain. Still no clue?
For some strange reason, most Oregonians, or at least those in Portland seem to think that using an umbrella is unhip, uncool, and a sure sign that either you’re a tourist or you haven’t lived in the area very long. I guess it has something to do with the fact that we have a longish rainy season (anything not called summer), and when it does rain it doesn’t usually rain hard. So, unless we want to cripple ourselves by tying one hand up with an umbrella when we’re out and about, we just skip it. And we do like to be out and about. Besides, it’s hard to shake hands with a new friend over a craft beer if one hand’s holding a beer and the other is holding an umbrella. It’s handier to just wear a rain jacket with a hood.
To be sure, you will see umbrellas used in Portland. Even I use one from time to time. But then, I’m not a native, I’ve only lived here for 38 years. Oregonians don’t tan, they rust. Guess I need to develop another layer or two.