Saturday, May 11, 2013


I like a good game of pretend. As a small thing, I liked pretending that my house was full of secret passages, and that by strapping on a camping pack and rooting around in my brother's crawl space with a flashlight, I would eventually find my way to either dungeons or buried treasure.

In winter, when the sun was shining and the temps were too cold for packing snow, I liked pretending to be a diamond hunter. I regularly roped my brother into this game. We would pile sparkling chunks of snow onto the sled and cart our spoils across the Arctic tundra until the bad guys showed up (read: Geoff got bored) and we were forced to abandon our expedition and launch a counter attack. In summer, we (Geoff and I) tore up Lindbergh playground with a great game of escape the volcano, or we (Pamela and I) strapped on beach towels and flitted around the backyard pretending to be beautiful butterflies. In fall, I hunted for elves amidst the tree roots on the way to school. I had countless pretends. There was rarely a moment - even when I was helping to run errands or sitting at school - when I was not pretending something.

Today, my pretends take a slightly different form. It's been a while since I last looked for elf shoes or excavated ice-diamonds. I still examine every abandoned building I see for traces of the supernatural, however. Sometimes I pretend I can speak German, though when someone asks me a question I have to come clean. Often, I pretend I know where I am when I don't actually have any vague idea.

Now, let me step back a bit and explain something. Wednesday was another holiday (Ascension Day), and I spent it wandering aimlessly through the Vienna Woods. Well. Not really aimlessly; I had several specific destinations in mind, but I had more trouble than you would believe trying to find them. About every fifty feet I'd reach a fork in the road that wasn't on the map, and I'd unfailingly choose the wrong path, have to double back, then choose the other wrong path and have to double back again. When I hit Burg Liechtenstein I was quite surprised, because I was sure I'd spent the past hour travelling south rather than northwest.

Burg Liechtenstein is an excellent Burg. Seeing it up close is kind of like stumbling upon your childhood dream castle once you're all grown up. It's got all the features in place - turrets, crenelled walls, arched windows - and it stirs up quite a bit of excitement, but it's really just a shell, a skeleton of what used to be.

I was likewise surprised when I came to the Amphitheatre, because it's east of the Burg and I was - once again - dead certain that I had been travelling south. The Amphitheatre is also where I made a shocking discovery. This is where the pretend comes in. This place?


TOTALLY FAKE. Not Roman ruins at all. Constructed 200 years ago by someone looking to spiffen up the forest a bit. I spent a good long while pondering this. I had a good long while to ponder, because the next leg of my hike took me in several different directions before I finally, and accidentally, stumbled upon the place I'd been trying to find all along. Why erect pretend Roman ruins in the middle of the Vienna woods? Are they supposed to fool people? Or are they supposed to be art? Or, alternatively, are they the 19th century rich man's equivalent of a model train set? And why are they labelled as 'ruins' on my hiking map when they are actually FAKE?

When I eventually climbed up to this one, I looked upon it with a suspicious eye. Another fake? Another pretend? No, I am happy to say. This one was built in the 11th century and, apparently, it was an enviable bit of real estate until it burned down sometime in the 1500s. Its view was magnificent, and I had a bite of lunch as I surveyed the land below.

Then I climbed down and went to investigate a burned-out chalet that I could see from out the castle window, which was silly because the train station was back up the hill and down around the opposite side. But I like my hikes to be feats of endurance. And anyway, being clever is just another one of my pretends.

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