Shopping for a Stallion at the Spanish Riding School Part 1
“When the Horses Still Lived at the Palace”
by Nikki Alvin-Smith

Shopping for a Stallion at the Spanish Riding School Part 1

Several conversations with the Director of the Spanish Riding School, Dr. Oulehla, were required to organize my trip to look for a Lipizzaner stallion before I headed out of New York and found my way to Austria. My horse shopping adventures this time would take me to the April Elite Hanoverian Auction in Verden, Germany first, then back via Bremen to Frankfurt and then on to the beautiful Heldenplatz Hall in Vienna.

Interestingly Dr. Oulehla is the only person in the 450 year history of the breed to hold the position of both Director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the Federal Stud Farm in Piber simultaneously. So it should perhaps have come as no surprise, that although I was only interested in purchasing a stallion already under saddle, he insisted I make the commute from Vienna to Piber to meet him in the Alps before spending time riding at the Heldenplatz hall.

The additional day needed to accomplish chuntering by train up and over the famous Semmering Pass, a world heritage rail route, turned out to be quite the adventure. And at the end of the day, one I was happy to have experienced.

The day began with a rushed taxi ride from the Astoria Hotel to the station. I was late and I worried the taxi driver wasn’t taking the most direct route to the train station, Wien Sud. The back streets of Vienna whizzed past the window in a blur as the rain tipped out of the sky. The atmosphere was damp and chilly and reminded me of England's wet dreary days. Vienna has a distinct Eastern European atmosphere and I felt as though I was on the edge of Russia. I clambered out of the Mercedes, paid and thanked the driver and ran into the train terminal.

I utilized my school learned German and managed without difficulty to obtain a first class ticket to Graz, with proviso of changing trains in Bruck an der Mur. Graz lies across the Alps toward Austria’s border with Yugoslavia and is well renowned for its industry and is a major manufacturing hub.The ‘amused at my German ” ticket man told me to run to the platform and I bounded across the big empty terminal and up the escalators to find the outbound train.

Once aboard I worried whether I was on the right train. I had read the board and it said Bruck but the boards can be wrong. After all Vienna is a crossroads to Hungary and Czechoslovakia and who knows where I could end up if I made a mistake. I looked about for someone on board to ask but the train seemed empty which just added to my concern. Surely someone must be going to Bruck? A three mile long red train just for me eh? The conductor blew his whistle defiantly and the old fashioned train lurched out of Vienna and into rained out ugly suburbs.
I wandered up the train taking in the third class seats at the back of the train. I never saw any second class. My guidebook had suggested that first class was worth the extra money to secure a non-smoking seat and I heeded the experienced guidebook writer’s advice with reverence born of previous experiences abroad. Though the tumult of crowds the book had mentioned were strangely missing. Was my eight hundred and eighty-eight schillings an over payment into the 1996 Austrian economy?

I asked two young men that were puffing away with great satisfaction amongst the vacant seats of open plan third class, whether the train was headed for Bruck. They just nodded and grinned at my apparently hysterical German accent. With confidence in my language skills melting I walked on until I finally reached the front and the six seat compartments of first class. As most of the train was allocated
‘ smoking’, it took a while to find a non smoking compartment. The only other person I saw aboard was a gray bearded elderly gentleman reading a newspaper. He looked at me with idle curiosity then adopted a piercing glare as I hesitated in the corridor and I saw the thought “please don’t disturb my peace in here” cross his mind. Ah, an effort to preserve the sanctity of space. I walked on down the corridor and stopped at the first non smoking cabin I came across. I sat down enjoying the luxury of the upholstered wide seat with headrest. How very private and very civilized this method of transport seemed after the flight over the pond in the noisy jet.

The train was a beautiful old fashioned creation and evoked fond remembrances of my childhood where summer holidays were spent crossing France, Italy and Spain by train to reach tiny beach towns free of any other English tourist. This was the first time I had been on board a train since I was a kid and it was weirdly comforting to be in such an old carriage. There was nothing better on those holidays than boarding the 'Sleeper', taking the top bunk in the sleeper and the clackety-clack of the train that sent you to sleep and waking up the next day to the train barreling through tunnels, watching the steam engine snaked out in front of you on the big turns. You were in France when you went to bed, and in Italy when you awoke. Great fun. I felt like I had stepped back in time to a different era. But then Vienna had felt like that to me since my arrival.

I settled into my comfortable seat and felt excited at the prospect of seeing the Piber Stud, the home of the Lipizzaner breed and the place that my favorite dressage mentor Alois Podhasky, had mentioned so fondly in his writings.

The rain pelted the train as I peered through the steamy window with growing delight at the changing scenery. Mundane industrial grime faded building by building to green grass and open fields. Sand stone farmhouses were scattered between broad expanses of grass and the odd fence. An odd mixture of orange and green. Livestock was limited to an odd goat or milking cow paddling about in a muddy corral. Ancient cars rusted as they stood sadly by the front doors. It reminded me of a pre war movie scene. The European Union hadn’t done much to help these people yet. Who knows, maybe they wouldn’t welcome the changes that would take over their infrastructure and regulate their every move as time marched on. Austria was a sharp contrast to the modern Germany from which I’d just arrived.
As such thoughts tumbled randomly in my mind I was startled to attention when the door to my compartment slid open. A conductor in a worn blue uniform stood at the door and asked for my ticket. Her Austrian was hard to understand but I gave her a friendly smile as I handed her my ticket. She didn’t smile back. Ah – the Austrians. My heart ached briefly for America and home, where the people are open and friendly. She clipped the ticket and handed it back to me. Her tired dark eyes flickered with a hint of a smile but her mouth didn’t curve.

One of the things I find most enjoyable about travel, is the random conversations in broken mixed languages that ensue in order to get along your route. This journey was no different. Despite my broken and frankly awful German and her almost non-exsistent understanding of English I was tried to ask her how long it would take to reach Bruck an der Mur. I noticed a glimmer of a smile in her eyes as I bantered on in my strange version of German. She told me an hour and asked me where I was going. I explained to Piber, Koflach and she nodded. "Ah, to see the horses?" she asked me and smiled.

As soon as I mentioned our destination and 11 a.m. meeting with the revered Dr. Oulehla, she became quite animated and as the train was quite empty, she spent some considerable time talking with me as the train sped up and took us higher and higher into the Alps headed to the Semmering Pass.

Semmering RailwayIncidentally if you find yourself in Austria it is well worth taking a ride on the 160-year-old World Heritage Semmering Railway as it is the most scenic route in Austria, running for 41 km (26 mi) across the Semmering Pass in the mountains between Vienna and Graz. Built between 1848 and 1845 in the pioneering days of railway construction, it became the prototype for all high-mountain railways. It is an inspired feat of engineering with sixteen viaducts, fifteen turmels, and a gradient five times greater than anything that had been built before.  The line was engineered by the Venetian Carlo di Ghega in 1842.

The highest point of the railway is 898 m (2945 ft). It then descends the southern slopes of the mountains to Mtirzzuschlag, a small provincial town where Johannes Brahms composed his Fourth Symphony. The dramatic landscape of sheer gorges, craggy mountains and forest makes for a hair-raising ride - winding round sheer rock faces, shooting into tunnels and crossing precipitous ravines. This pass is actually a bottleneck between the Hungarian/Austrian empires and thankfully has managed to maintain its character and beauty despite the need for more high speed access over the Southern Alpine route.

I watched with delight as we met each curve on the track and I could see the length of Austrian Townthe train as it tootled along behind us and was surprised that so many carriages were being pulled when the train seemed so empty of passengers. On the journey back to Vienna the reason for this became clear. More on that later. And then the rain turned to snow. The scenery became more rural, the houses smaller and farther apart. The wind howled and the majestic views were sometimes obliterated by the snow for miles at a time. And then the train halted abruptly. Fifteen minutes ticked by and with no guidance or sound from the P.A. system I began to wander the corridor and tried to see up ahead and figure out what had caused the delay.

I checked my watch anxiously, fully cognizant that the connection I needed to make in Bruck an der Mur was only available every few hours. It would be sad to come over 3000 miles and miss the appointment. Eventually some crackle and some German language came over the P.A. system as I could not decipher it I was none the wiser but I was comforted by the fact that at least someone was driving the train and I hadn't been abandoned.

Finally the train started to move slowly forward and passed through a small station and on the platform was a crowd of men in thick black wool coats armed with tiny shovels. The train had been delayed by snow on the track. A lot of snow. All of the men were equally red faced, panting, and tired. I opened the slider window and waved enthusiastically at them shouting my thanks and they raised their caps and grinned. Their attire looked circa 1940 and it felt as if we had slipped back in time. Their old woven jackets and baggy trousers didn’t look warm enough to keep out the cold of this altitude. I thought of L.L. Bean cold weather gear and lightweight huge plastic shovels at Home Depot. Life here appeared the same as sixty years ago. It was sobering.

The snow they had cleared was over five foot deep. The train pushed on through and we made a steep climb to the summit and then began our journey down the other side.

The clock however was ticking, and I saw we were late and I would miss the connection. I might see more of Bruck an der Mur than Graz or the Piber stud in Koflach.

Then the old P.A. system crackled a bit more and the voice was that of the lady conductor. In some amazing broken English she announced, " To the Britisher on the train. We are holding the train for Graz. Platform 3."

Amazing. How accommodating was that and what sway Mr. Oulehla must hold for them to hold a commuter train for over 20 minutes for me. So the train pulled in to the station, the snow had been left on the mountains where it belonged and the sun was shining. I grabbed my bag and ran down the platform. The driver of the train and the ticket lady were hanging out the doors waving me toward the stairs and pointing to the train a platform away.

The reception on the second train was not quite as warm. The train lurched off quickly as I shut the door and I narrowly missed falling over into a man's lap. Nearly every person on the train glared at me as I passed down the central corridor. The train was full of rightfully angry commuters smartly dressed in suits and executive attire and they knew I was the reason for their late start to work. I apologized in my poor German to everyone as I made my way down the train in search of a seat. At what felt like the 20th carriage an elderly gentleman saw my approach and he stood up and smiled. With a twinkle in his eye he spread his hands wide in a welcoming gesture and invited me to sit down in his four seat area. Evidently my German had tricked no-one and in very good English he said, " You must take no notice. Despite your reception from impatient people, we are very proud to welcome you to our country." Needless to say I enjoyed a very convivial conversation with this gentleman who turned out to be Hungarian.

I disembarked at Graz and headed for the taxi rank of one or two cars and requested a rate to take me the 25 miles to Koflach and to the Piber Stud Farm. A reasonable rate was agreed and I set off. I explained to the driver that I was late and he drove as fast as he could. The roads were dry, the views stunning and when I arrived in Koflach the village was pretty with an ornate 400 year old church as its centerpiece. As I approached the Stud Farm I was totally impressed by the gorgeous castle.

Piber Stud OfficesThe buildings were immaculate. One of the best things about Vienna had been the horse statues everywhere. Here there were more statues, impressive square courtyards and stunning yellow and white detailed masonry with gold inlay. The only problem with the offices in the castle program, as I’d since discovered elsewhere, was finding the door to get in. Each entrance had giant doors made of very thick wood and brass rings for handles that were higher than my eye-level. I was feeling distinctly Alice in Wonderland before I found a tiny sign by a big bell and not being able to translate it and being rudely late at this point I boldly rang it. In true magical fashion the door spoke to me in German. I looked for an intercom but found none so just said loudly that I was here to see Dr. Oulehla. A brief pause then with further magic powers the doors glided open. I stepped into the office with magnificent mahogany lined walls and carpeted with luxurious wool tan carpets. As plush as any Park Avenue law office I’d ever seen. It spoke of class, chic and luxury.
A few women milled about behind a huge mahogany counter and behind them a row of faces peered in my direction. Once again the counter was set high to be intimidating. Either that or Austrians were just much taller than I’d realized. But not one person smiled at me, or acknowledged me in any way. I waited. I saw from the large antique gold clock at the back of the room that I was thirty five minutes late.

Eventually, a woman condescended to come over to the counter with a stony faced expression and I made my apology for being 35 minutes late for our appointment. I explained about the snow on the pass but she seemed to know all about that. I was informed that Dr. Oulehla would not see me now as I was late and that the Stud Farm Manager would instead take me on a tour of the facility to meet the horses and that afterward I might gain an audience with the good doctor or perhaps it would have to be tomorrow. Well O.K. 3000 miles, 35 minutes late, didn't seem so bad to me but the point was made and I was soon walking the stud and chatting amiably with the Manager whose English was very good.

I explained that I had no real interest in a young horse that was not under saddle, and though I did not say so to the Manager I was also aware this time of year, April ,was not the time of year to select a horse of a young age in any event, as the horses available post winter were known to be the 'lesser' quality and you would be looking at the left-overs.

He took me out along single lane roads, high on a hill to a large stone barn. The barn was not as pristine as the office building. Yellow paint peeled off to white paint beneath, gray stone beneath that. Next door was a house, small but well made. He marched up the pathway and rapped on the stout door. It opened to reveal a portly chap. He stood in his thick grey jacket, shirt half buttoned chowing down on what looked to be a doorstop of a cheese sandwich. He was a little startled to see his 'boss' at this time of day. Words were exchanged. The sandwich was wolfed down, a hat was donned, shirt was buttoned and jacket adjusted.

The handler then guided us to the big Young Stallion with Handlerbarn and to a large corral beyond the barn and one by one he presented yearling to two year old colts. They were turned loose in the corral so I could see them move and he helped motivate them with the use of a longe whip. As many of you know young horses under two years old are incredibly difficult to gauge in conformation as they hit growth spurts and those usually begin from the back and work forward and you cannot be sure how it'll finish up. I stood with my back to the stone barn, basked in the warmth of the early Spring sunshine and politely watched one horse after the other. Of them all the colt I liked the most was apparently already sold to boxing legend George Foreman. I was not sure why they were showing me horses that had apparently been sold. I explained once more that I was not interested in such young horses, lovely as they might be.

The Manager asked me if I would like to see the three year old horses. A big yes please from me on that question. He guided me into the barn where the handler clapped his hands and all the milling horses promptly went directly to the tie stalls. Amazing. A couple he tied up, others just stood there politely. My eyes scanned the herd quickly and my mouth watered. Any horse lover would drool over these magnificent animals but as a dressage rider I was transported to another plane. The top-lines were smooth, necks well set. Their youth showed in their high croups and undeveloped necks but the raw material was first class. However, these horses were not available for sale. Not to me and not to anyone. These horses the Manager assured me, had been selected for the School to keep. Ah. I could see why. I complimented him on their quality.

2 & 3 Year Old Colts

The horse handler opened the door to the end of the barn and the shy young man invited me to follow him through the throng of horse hind ends to a gate halfway down the long building. Behind this gate ten or so horses peered with great interest at the newcomers.
“ You may purchase this horse,” the Manager pointed to a reasonable looking critter who hung back behind the leaders of the herd at the gate.
“ How old is he?” I asked.
“ He’s three but he is a..” here the Manager searched for the right way to explain. The Manager reddened in the face and asked a question of the horsekeeper whose response was to turn beet red and shrug. I tried to catch some of the German but it didn’t translate. Well at least not to me. It was probably German 102.
A myriad of strange gestures ensued. Pointing to the sheath of the horse, numbers in German, ein,zwei, nicht zwei. I finally understood, a cryptorchid ( a horse with an undescended testicle(s)).
“ Would I be interested in him.” As I’d explained at some length previously that we wanted a stallion, proven both in the breeding shed and under saddle, to breed and to show at FEI dressage levels this horse hardly fit the bill, on any count, as it were.
I answered with a polite but emphatic 'no thanks'.

I was led out of the barn past all the tantalizing quality horses. The Manager dismissed the handler who I quickly thanked and told him I was sorry there was not a horse here for me. He winked at me. I thanked him again. I was certain he’d been through this routine many times.

The Manger then asked if I would do him a favor and take a look at a stallion they had under saddle. Great. We seemed to be getting somewhere. He shouted orders to the retreating handler to telephone someone and off we went to the next enormous building that magically housed a brilliant indoor arena. You would never know it was there at all from the outside. This was something I had come to find out about Austria. Doors opened out of seemingly nowhere to great expanses of indoor spaces fit for a king. So in we went and the Manager asked me to watch the horse be ridden and tell him if I could determine any soundness issue. I will mention that like many experienced horse folk I consider myself quite accomplished at defining even mild lameness. I watched and watched, requested specific exercises of the rider and his horse that the elegant young man easily facilitated, but I could not see an issue and I said so.

" Ah - this horse has a hind leg or back issue that seems to come and go. The issue seems to be with his nervous system and followed after a bout of illness. He is not showing it today. Dr. Oulehla. wanted me to offer this horse to you to take back to the U.S.A. in the hope that you can determine the nature and cause of the issue and fix it," he said smiling sagely.

Politely I declined.

" But you have room on the pallet? It would not be expensive."

Humm. I had just bought a horse from Verden that would fly out via Frankfurt and yes, my plan was to add a horse from Vienna to that pallet and a pallet can technically even fit three. But a horse with some unknown issue was not for me. Dr. Oulehla is a vet of some repute himself of course.

I declined again and the Manager smiled and moved on.

My Ride" I have a horse for you to ride," he said. Excellent news. We walked on to a small paddock at the top of the hill and behind us far in the distance coming from the direction of the main palace building came a horse being led. It was presented to me in the paddock and I hopped on happily. The horse was young but moved nicely. As I put him through his paces I could feel some stiffness to the right and after a few more minutes was pretty certain there was some slight lameness. I jumped off and asked if I could see the horse untacked at liberty. He was soon set free to show off his moves. I saw immediately he was not 100% but he was very pretty and a lovely mover.

" This is more what I am looking for," I said and explained in detail the features of the horse I admired. The Manager looked delighted. Then I added bluntly, " But he is not 100% sound."

The man looked at me with his eyes wide and then smiled with just a hint of admiration. Whether it was a test to see how I rode before the forthcoming visit to the Hall or whether the horse was genuinely footsore or sound is hard to know. But I went with my gut feeling. It was a shame because he was a lovely horse. We headed back to the office where the receptionist said Dr. Oulehla. was now keen to meet me. Wonderful.

I was guided into a magnificent office with a large conference table that shined a welcome. Dr. Oulehla. stood up behind his humongous desk. The furnishings here were top drawer, so to speak. He shook my hand firmly and invited me to sit at the conference table. He took his seat at the head of the table and I apologized for missing the eleven o’clock appointment and he waved it away with a comment about the notorious troubles of the train and the Pass. He explained that most days he traveled to Vienna and that he has to contend with the same problem of course. Then we began the discussion of the breeding lines, horse size, training etc. that I was interested in.
"Ah, but did you see something you liked here?" he asked.
" Yes, but not that was available for sale," I said.
" I hear that you liked one of the yearling colts," he looked quizzical.
I explained which one I thought best suited my needs but re-iterated my previous comments that I was not searching for a horse that age. This seemed to dance by him, perhaps lost in translation. Perhaps he thought I would buy a youngster to go along with the adult horse. Next thing I knew he was up and behind his desk and picked up the antique phone. As he dialed he spoke enthusiastically,
Young Stallion" I am calling George. I would rather the horse go with you to New York. He added with a chuckle that he hoped that George wouldn’t ride it, just look at it in the field. “ Because of his size,” he noted with a smile.
Hurriedly I told him I did not want to buy the colt, and I certainly would not want to usurp a horse George Foreman had chosen. Dr Oulehla looked disappointed and hung up the phone.

He seemed quite flustered and returned to the conference table and sat down, this time at the head of the table next to me and not the other end. We talked some more and I reminded him of our conversations and communications before we had come to Austria. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get to see a stallion under saddle in Vienna at all.
Suddenly he jumped up from the table and went to his desk. He took a pen and a scrap of paper and started to write. Then he came over and handed me a list of four stallions by bloodlines. Then he took the list back from me and added another name. The last name he pointed to as he handed it back. This is a special horse. I think you will like him best.
“ I will meet you tomorrow in Vienna at ten a.m.. You will be shown the horses on this list and you may make your selection in the morning after the a.m. performance and then come back in the afternoon to ride them. “
I was pleased to at last have the result I had traveled all this way to obtain.
“ Thank you Dr. Oulehla,” I said as I stood up and gathered my papers up. I did not want to take more of his precious time than necessary fully aware of my thirty five minute failure earlier.
The great man stood close in front of me, and planted his hands firmly on my shoulders as I looked up at him.
“ We will find you your stallion tomorrow,” he said and pulled me in toward him and gave me a warm hug. I stepped back and he offered a warm smile.

I thanked him for his time, obtained the directions for the security entrance for the hall in Vienna and asked him if it was possible to call a taxi for our return trip. His secretary took care of our request and I bid him goodbye.

Piber ChurchI headed outside to wait for the taxi which took some time to arrive. I admired the beautiful church and the pretty village of Koflach. Trees were just starting to blossom and daffodils raised their yellow faces to the sun. It was tranquil and beautiful.

Finally the taxi arrived. The driver zoomed up and stopped by my side, wound down the window and told me he was not going to take me to Graz but he had called another firm and they would come. Another fifteen minutes went by before the second car arrived, I asked what the fare would be before setting foot inside the cab. His answer was more than double the fare for the ride up to Piber. I told him this was too much and explained the double rate but he just grinned and said, " You have no choice. There is no-one else. "

He had a point. So I climbed in. I confess to being a little nervous during that ride as the cab was unmarked and there were to men sitting up front. But during the ride it became clear they were father and son, but they were definately hustlers. Once in Graz I paid the driver and he looked cross. I had not given him a tip.
" This is not enough," he said.
"That is what you quoted," I answered. He paused a moment.
" There is no tip."
" No, there is no tip," I said calmly, gathered my belongings and headed into the train station. He was not pleased but then neither was I.

The train ride back to Vienna was the complete opposite of the ride to Graz. The first trainTrain to Vienna to Bruck an der Mur was crowded with people, many of them smoking. I made my way to the front of the train and thankfully there were seats available and no smoking was allowed. I was very glad I took the advice of the guidebook and bought that more expensive ticket. I could understand now the reason for the large collection of carriages on these trains. Soon I was standing on the sunny platform at Bruck, waiting for my second train.

When it arrived this train was also crammed with people. I made my way through the smoky haze and located a seat and sat for a while and chatted with a lady from Czechoslovakia who had been visiting grandchildren in Graz. I quickly discovered there was also apparently a dining car, as the gentleman who sat across from me was scoffing down a big sandwich and chugging red wine. As a result he was in an extraordinarily chatty mood. He introduced himself as George and explained he hailed from Czechoslovakia too. His magnetic personality and interesting chat made him a great companion.

We laughed a lot. He drank red wine, I went to the dining car and bought myself a cup of tea and a chunk of cheese in a two inch thick sandwich. It was hard to get my mouth around. I was a bit stunned by the giant size of it. George found this highly amusing. What was it in this country that always had me feeling like Alice in Wonderland. I ate it hungrily and offered him half which he gleefully took and munched down quickly. Something to soak up the wine he said. Good idea I agreed. I told him the story of my experience with Piber and the horses. He told me that they would never sell a good horse out of the country. We talked amiably of politics; of Yugoslavia (sadly presently in the grips of war), Poland and Hungary; of family and work and weather. It was an education and made the journey very pleasurable.
He explained a lot to me about living in Hungary, Czechsolvakia and Austria too, and he suggested that perhaps I did not find the Austrians very friendly. Here is an event that I had experienced the day before when walking the city and visiting the art museums that I then told him:-

The square with the major art museums is massive and I spotted an elderly couple standing next to a line of empty coaches. The gentleman was struggling to pull a wheelchair out of the bottom compartment of the coach and his wife stood shakily at the bottom of the stairs awaiting the wheelchair's arrival. The coach driver meantime sat in his vehicle chowing down on his lunch. As any normal person would do I immediately offered to help and soon had the wheelchair set up and helped the lady into it as gently as possible. The couple were extremely grateful and soon realized that I was English and I asked them how they came to be left here alone when all the other coach passengers had left. They had been waiting some time they said, expecting that the driver would help her out of the coach but he had just disappeared.
"Would no-one else help you?" I inquired.
" No, we are Czech and they are Austrian," the lady said, " But thankfully the British have arrived." Her eyes gleamed with relief that finally they were on their way to the galleries.
As the old gentleman eyed the huge square he sighed deeply and I watched as he summoned the energy to begin the long push over the cobbles, around the ornate garden designs to the distant doorways of the museums. They said goodbye and he began to push his wife in her chair on the trek. It was immediately apparent that he was hardly up to walking himself so I offered to push the chair to whichever museum it was they wished to visit. Some minutes later the wheelchair with it's very grateful occupant was safely on the smooth surface inside the museum and we said our goodbyes.

As I concluded my story and George drained his wine glass I asked if this was indicative of the relationship between his homeland and Austria.
" That is unfortunately very common," he said ruefully. He stood up to go back to the dining car. He came back with two glasses of wine. I didn't drink alcohol back then as I was on a 16 year hiatus, but it was rude to say no so I took the glass with thanks.
He held up his glass, " To friends and safe travels," he toasted and we chinked glasses and sipped the wine.
" I hope you have a better reception tomorrow at the Palace with the Austrians you meet than the couple experienced at the museum," he said with a wry smile.
" So do I," I said, " So do I."


Part 2 will be coming in our May Edition: Inside the much revered Spanish School, inspecting the stallions at the palace stables, riding in the famous hall, and stepping back in time through under-road tunnels and back doors.