The Laughter Club Bus Tour of Europe
MAY 9, Monday: Bedding Down in a North-Italian Castle (Day Three)
Early in the morning, Anne and I go out to the Children’s Play Area (the presence of which was one of the reasons why I chose this hotel) and do a makeshift Laughter Session, playing like 3- to 8-year olds and laughing while we do so. The large breakfast buffet is pleasing for all. Then we head out – we’ve got two-plus hours to go east in Austria, then 90-ish minutes to head south to get to Italy.
For lunch we stop in Innsbruck (Austria). There’s a big-bus-sanctified parking lot, from which we walk through an art-object-studded park and into the old city. Driver David shares some historical highlights, and we buy lunch provisions and return to the park to dine on a row of benches. Anne and I do Yoga Headstands in front of an art object/stone slab. It looks like we are working on a series: “Headstands in The Oddest (European) Places.” After the 2-plus hour break, we head south towards Bolzano (and then Merano), Italy.
The streets in Merano get smaller and smaller, and Driver David gets more and more distressed. The final turn-off for our destination castle is impossible for the bus to maneuver. Responding to my cellphone call, our contact Margot Regele comes down – she can speak German, fortunately (as well as Italian) and a satisfactory parking spot is determined to be available, although it is located further downtown. We haul our bags up to Schloss Pienzenau, our petite castle-for-the-day, where the charming hostess welcomes us with refreshing drinks and sincere warmheartedness. Sufficiently fatigued from the drive and parking challenges, we decide to not go to the town squares (Merano and Bolzano had been proposed), but instead to freshen up a bit and then have a nice laughter group experience here at the castle.
Margot sparkles with vivacity as we have a Laughter Club session on the grounds of the castle. Local laughter club friends and leaders arrive from time to time; we end up with a group of about 25. All the Busriders who are Leaders (five of us: Anne, Ruthe, Dave, Celeste and myself) guide a laughter exercise or two. A fellow named Klaus (he is from Innsbruck) leads several exercises, with great vigor. The laughter magic begins: everyone is feeling like old friends, even if we haven’t shared a single word - and if we did, we probably would not understand the other person’s language. Nonetheless, after a few minutes of laughing and looking into each others’ eyes, we feel like we are good buddies and longtime playmates. The feelings are nearly palpable, even among these foreigner/strangers: Trust. Fun. Happiness. Compassion. Unconditional Joy. Love.
During tea breaks, Margot plays the recording of the Laughter Club Anthem (“We spread joy, peace and laughter…”) several times, including the non-vocal and gibberish versions. We play together for about 90 minutes.
It is still sunny and bright as twenty of us head down the hill (on foot) for dinner at the acclaimed local restaurant/pizzeria. Of course this too is al fresco – why eat inside when the weather is so wonderful? One of the laughter clubbers is Trudy Stimm, a WWII survivor who lived in New York for decades. Her English fluency is much-appreciated. She gives us a contact for a local bus operator, perhaps for next year’s Laughter Club Bus Tour (in Italian-speaking countries). Strolling back to the Schloss we enjoy the views of fields and distant mountains - we are still in the low Alps. Back at the castle, Klaus (self-accompanied on guitar) regales us with upbeat songs, many of which are laughter-filled versions of American tunes - but the words are now in German. Ha ha ha! Two of our group have single rooms, but the rest are in a very large (roomy enough to sleep 16), airy atelier. Bedtime testimonial by Anne: “I’m in a castle in Italy, looking over orchards in the moonlight!” She was perhaps too breathless to also mention the moonlight glistening on the distant mountain peaks… or filtering through the vast orchards of apple and olive trees just below…
Again, life is good!