Archive for October, 2009

Through the Iron Curtain

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Last week was pretty slow by the normally chock full Salzburg standards. I had two tests so we spent quite a bit of time studying. The vice mayor of Salzburg came into our Austrian Culture class one night, and listening to what he had to say about the challenges of governing a city like Salzburg was pretty interesting. Then Salzburg had its annual jazz festival so some of us ventured out into the city to listen to some music. Granted, jazz by Salzburg’s definition is not quite what most Americans would call jazz, but it was fun. Wednesday night we found ourselves listening to some sort of gypsy band that sang in Spanish. Thursday night we jumped around from venue to venue and ended up exploring some parts of Salzburg that we’d never walked through before. It was good to have a fairly relaxing week though because it meant we had sufficient energy to embark on our latest weekend adventure, this time to Budapest.

Our train to Hungary left the Salzburg train station at 4:30 in the morning. After some consideration Rachelle and I, as well as our friends Mike and Phil who came with us, determined that it made the most sense to just stay awake through Thursday night and then sleep on the train for most of the morning. So Thursday afternoon I called to reserve a taxi for 3:30 AM and hung up a few minutes later only semi-confident that the woman at the taxi company had understood what I was telling her. When we were all standing in front of our dorm, freezing, at 3:30 and there was no taxi I wasn’t entirely surprised. I was however, a little nervous we were going to miss our train. After a few minutes of being creeped out by a strange car driving down our street backwards, discovering that it was in fact the newspaper delivery man and not a serial killer, and fretting about our lack of a ride, we walked towards the main road in hopes of finding a random taxi. We had just gotten around the corner from the dorm when we saw just such a taxi coming towards us. Much jumping up and down ensued. The taxi put his turn signal on as though he saw us, but then he turned down the street we had just come from. Assuming he was simply turning around, this did not concern us greatly at first. When we realized he wasn’t coming back for us we realized he probably had been our original taxi all along and was now waiting outside of our dorm. Rachelle proceeded to run down the street to fetch him. Just after she’s turned the corner Mike and Phil and I witness a bus pull out of the bus depot a block from our building. It’s 3:45 in the morning. You’re lucky to ever catch a bus past midnight here in Salzburg. And not only was this bus randomly leaving the depot in the middle of the night, it had Main Train Station as its destination. The three of us just about died. We have since declared it a Phantom Bus. Maybe it never existed.

Eventually Rachelle came back with our taxi and we made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. When we got on the train though we suddenly realized we had no idea where to sit. Our tickets had an assigned compartment, but all of the train’s other passengers had just come from Switzerland in the middle of the night and understandably were all sprawled across the seats sound asleep. We clunk up and down the train a bit before finally asking someone where we ought to be. Of course it’s four cars behind our current position, so we traipse all the way back. Upon finding our correct compartment we discover two women fast asleep. Awkward. We have to wake them up. They speak Hungarian. Eventually we all get seated and attempt to sleep for the seven hour trip.

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We got to Budapest groggy and hungry and quickly discovered we had no idea what was going on. We came out of the train station into a chaotic construction scene and had only a vague plan that involved getting to the metro. Where the metro was we hadn’t a clue. Fortunately someone pointed us in the right direction of the underground, and we lugged our luggage down the long escalator only to be reminded that we had no Hungarian currency, and we couldn’t buy metro tickets in Euros. Cue trekking back up the escalator and venturing out into the surrounding streets in search of an ATM. This was no easy feat. When we did find one we had no idea how much money we needed, as the Hungarian forint was so inflated at one point that a meal might cost 1000 forint. Really strange to see an ATM spit out a bill with 10,000 written on it. Money in hand we guessed our way through the metro and to our hostel. The hostel was in the middle of yet another construction site, and a crowd of rowdy people carrying flags seemed to be standing directly in front of our building. Confused, tired, and growing increasingly annoyed at our inability to read Hungarian, we fought through the crowd and to the hostel door. Now the the outside of this building was possibly one of the sketchiest buildings in the history of ever. We had already become nervously aware of the general rundown appearance of parts of the city, and so it was with a great deal of trepidation that we hiked up the several flights of stairs we had to take to the hostel itself. Much to our delight, the hostel turned out to be a perfectly lovely little hotel, with free cookies and a lot of other travelers willing to share their various travel stories.

We ate lunch that first day at a Hungarian restaurant not far from our hostel. The rest of the day we spent napping and wandering around, getting our feel for the city and the things we wanted to see and do. It was also a Hungarian national holiday, celebrating the anniversary of their 1956 Revolution. We saw a huge parade of people carrying Hungarian flags and lots of the buildings in the city were decked out in red, white, and green. Though the revolution was ultimately unsuccessful, Hungarians are still very proud that theirs was one of the first attempts to overthrow communism in the Eastern Bloc. Saturday we woke up and set out along Vaci Street, one of Budapest’s main tourist drags, until we got to the Central Market Hall. The first floor of the huge building is mostly food stands with vegetables and fruits spilling out everywhere. Upstairs is filled with souvenir stalls and people trying to sell stacking dolls, lacy tablecloths, and beer steins. We wandered through the maze of aisles, bought some neat pastries (real whipped cream!), and then left to see more of the city.

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Exploring seemed to involve climbing a lot of hills. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River, and the Pest side is relatively flat, but the Buda side has several large hills. We climbed up endless amounts of stairs, and from there we could look out over a lot of the city. We saw the former palace, which is now a museum, and Fisherman’s Bastion, which is some sort of former fort overlooking the river. To me it just looked like a sandcastle. The guys went into a military history museum, but Rachelle and I sat outside rather than stare at a bunch of old war stuff. That night I had one of my favorite foods for dinner- cabbage and noodles! Yum.

Sunday we planned to venture to Memento Park. After consulting numerous guidebooks it seemed that this park would be a cool place to see a piece of history because, basically, after communism ended in Hungary, Budapest put all of its old communist statues in one park rather than destroy them. We caught a tourist bus from one of the main metro stations and quickly realized how ridiculous the whole thing was going to be. Communist march music blared over the bus’s speaker system. We drove about 20 minutes outside of town and got off the bus at a dusty patch of ground in a semi-residential area. The guide informed us that we had an hour and half to see all of the “sites” of Memento Park. Picture if you will half a dusty football field with two dozen or so large, angry looking statues spread around, and none of the figures have any explanations or labels concerning their history or former location. Imagine our joy at discovering we could see all of them in fifteen minutes. Granted, the statues were kind of cool in a we’re-definitely-in-Eastern-Europe sort of way. But even after admiring them thoroughly we had tons of time left to kill, and so we spent it watching old Hungarian spy training videos in a dark little room on the edge of the park. Pretty interesting to discover their government’s undercover agents in the 1970s were fairly incompetent. (And one of the men was a Horvath!)
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After being completely dumbfounded by the oddness that was Memento Park we took the bus back into the city and then attempted to get lunch. Of course it was Sunday so not much was open. What we did come across was a cheap Chinese place on a little side street. Questioning our choice in eating establishment we walked in and proceeded to point and order whatever it was that looked vaguely familiar. The woman at the counter spoke more English than we’d anticipated so communication wasn’t as tricky as anticipated. The real treat came when she put our food on the plates and then stuck them in the microwave. Reheated Chinese food. Oh boy. But it wasn’t too bad, and no one died of horrific food poisoning so chalk it up to an entertaining cultural experience. After we ate lunch we wanted to take a tour of Budapest’s awesome Parliament building. Of course we missed the last English language tour of the day by about a half an hour. Instead we went to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube and marveled at what is supposedly a resort area in the summer but basically looked like a bunch of overgrown tennis courts and lots of shuttered bars and hotels. But the fall leaves were pretty. Later that day we hung out with the Australians and other Americans staying in our hostel and went out to dinner with a French guy who was there as well.

Our last day we had just about run out of things to do and see but we soldiered on. We had yet to see Andrassay Street, a high end shopping district with some of the city’s historical sites, so we walked up that. There were so many Western stores that it was hard to imagine what the city must have been like under communism twenty years ago. We trudged through the misty rain and made it to Hero’s Square at the end of the street. The square is a monument to the 1956 Revolution and is flanked by a few museums and whatnot. We wandered through the square and into City Park which has its own castle, zoo, and circus. We saw the castle, but mostly we just walked around and enjoyed the fall leaves (Rachelle, our resident California girl, especially). After still more walking we ended up back at the Central Market Hall to spend the rest of our Hungarian forint on some pastries. Our train left at 6 Monday night, and we were lucky enough to get a six person compartment to ourselves so we could stretch out. The train lurched its way across the two countries, getting in to Salzburg at 1 AM, a half hour later than it was supposed to be. Luckily, our 8:30 class on Tuesday had been canceled so we unpacked, collapsed, and slept for quite some time. All in all, it was a great trip to someplace that we picked kind of spontaneously. Everyone was really friendly, and it was unlike any other place I’ve been so I’m super happy we went. Today we just bought more-expensive-than-necessary tickets to Florence, Italy for next weekend so more travels to come. For the next week and a half though I’m going to be doing a lot of homework. And we’re all excited for Halloween, Salzburg style.

La Roux Is Definintely Into the Boy Who Knew Too Much

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

First off, I feel I should inform you, the readers of this blog, that I have been accepted into the University of Westminster’s study abroad programme for Spring 2010 which means one of two things will occur: I will update this blog even less frequently than I already do (which might actually be impossible) or adapt this blog to include more topics than reviews, like say what studying in London is like and other related things. I haven’t decide what approach I’m going to take, but given how infrequently I write in this blog, most of you probably wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t update. So anyway, onto the main topic of today’s blog: The worthiness of pop music and two reviews (that show how pop music is worthy of consideration by music snobs.)

There is something to be said for good sugar pop (as a fellow radio colleague called it). As I’ve said in the past, writing a good hit-worthy pop song is not easy task, something that far too many people don’t seem to appreciate.* However so much of sugar pop is disregarded as fluff while more “artistic” bands and artists are lauded over while the writers of pop songs are ignored and pop stars left for rehab (or worse.) Every once in while though, sugar pop should be, or at least deserves to be, reviewed and treated the same way its more respected musical categories are treated.

When Life in Cartoon was released in 2007, I had no idea it had been released. I had never heard “Grace Kelly” (or for that matter “Relax (Take It Easy)”) and was quick to hop on the bandwagon of slagging off Mika for the pleasure of making fun of someone who was in competition with my favourite band, Kaiser Chiefs. So when I stumbled upon the fact that Mika had released a new album and single I saw an opportune moment to take up the mockery once again on my radio show (since that’s what I do and most of the original mockery had occurred well before I had a radio show.) I stuck “We Are Golden” towards the end my show and didn’t really bother to give it a listen. [It should be noted that in the previous weeks and months I had given my self unto the wonderful joy that is brought about when listening to Barry Manilow, Queen, and the Scissor Sisters** so my state of mind was in a good place to accept what I’m going to describe next. It’s amazing what listening to the Scissor Sisters repeatedly will do to one’s point of view.] In the course of broadcasting my show and subsequently having actually listen to “We Are Golden” I found out something about Mika: He knows how to write a really infectious pop song. A trained musician (with some of that training having happened at the Royal College of Music) Mika knows how to effortlessly incorporate the musical trickery of the Western European tradition into the format of your standard pop song. But what’s slightly more impressive (at least in my mind) is his further incorporation of his falsetto range, which he manages to do without falling into the Darkness trap of using it just for shits and giggles or as some odd way of showing off (something can’t be said for his first album, which does sometimes fall into that trap more than once.) The best sugar pop sound effortless and simple while being actually much more complex on the page. The Boy Who Knew Too Much, the majority of which was written by Mika, does just that while also showing the kind of musical growth you would expect of an artist who is so clearly influenced by glam rock and elector/glam pop***.
Recommended Tracks: The whole damn thing except for maybe “I See You.” But even that’s tentative, so just the whole damn thing.

The self-titled debut album from British techno pop group La Roux starts off promisingly enough. The first half of the album sounds like a throwback to the early 80’s when drum machines and synthesizers ruled the airwaves**** but with enough gloss to show that it was written and recording in the 00’s. Although a clear line could be made between between La Roux and many of the early new wave band what makes La Roux distinctive, at least for the first half of the album, is Elly Jackson’s vocals. While in many of the songs Ms. Jackson tends to let herself settle into her breathy upper range, the moments when she goes back into the lower part of her range (which in my opinion is the stronger part) a needed grittiness is added to the songs. Unfortunately after “I’m Not You’re Toy” the album lapses into a repetitive cycle of broken hearts and thin textured techno beats. With time and more maturity La Roux could quite possibly be an excellent band. La Roux defintely shows that the band has that potential and it’s a good album. It’s just not brilliant.
Recommended Tracks: “Tigerlily,” “Bulletproof,” “I’m Not You’re Toy,” “Armour Love.”
Album Grades: The Boy Who Knew Too Much: B+; La Roux: C+

*When I told my theory professor what I’m planning on studying next semester there was a glint of disappointment before he said “okay” and changed the subject. This is an example of not appreciating pop music enough. Also this whole footnote esque thing is a crossover from the entries in the WMWC blog. It’s also just how my brain works normally, so get use to seeing these.
**I’m not trying to assert that these three are in any way related. They’re all just very dramatic and bombastic. I would never equate Queen to Barry Manilow, I’m not thick.
***I don’t think glam pop is an actual pop music sub-category, but it’s the best descriptor I could come up with for most of the music heard on The Boy Who Knew Too Much. However if its, go me!
****Ultravox is what I’m thinking of. And yes, they didn’t rule the American airwaves, but La Roux isn’t from the US, so that’s okay.

Tales of Further Travel

Monday, October 19th, 2009

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We woke up last week and found that we’d skipped fall and gone straight to winter. Winter coats and scarves came out and noses froze a bit on the way to class or around town. Then it snowed for almost two days straight. It didn’t stick to the ground, just made everything wet, but it was all sorts of strange to see snow against a backdrop of colorful fall leaves. It’s still very chilly outside now, but supposedly we’ll be back to normal October temperatures by the end of this week. Which is good, because we don’t seem to have any heat in our room. We’re kinda cold. Aside from the snow though most of the week was relatively uneventful. I had a cold for a few days, an ailment I (somewhat dramatically) nicknamed The Death and which it seems almost everyone has been afflicted with at some point or another on this trip. We went to a German conversation hour on Tuesday and chatted with Andreas about various things in an attempt to boost our German skills beyond those of a little kid. Wednesday we decided to be very Austrian and go out for coffee/hot chocolate after class in the morning which was fun. That night was our weekly girls’ dinner, but we agreed that rather than cook we would order pizza so we got our take-out fix in.

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We got up early yet again on Friday to leave for Vienna. We trekked across the country and got to the capital around noon. Our first order of business was a city tour. It was super cold and spitting rain, but the city is gorgeous and so full of things to see that it hardly mattered that the weather was out to get us. Later that afternoon some of us went to the Mozart House. Yes, we have two of those in Salzburg, but, what can I say, the man moved around a lot. It was interesting to hear about his life and his family and all of the work he managed to get down in spite of the rotating cast of characters he entertained and hosted in his home. After the Mozart House we went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant near our hotel. Yay for spaghetti.

Saturday morning we got to sleep in a bit before we went to the Kunsthistorische Museum aka the Art History Museum. Lots of very cool, very old paintings. Many of them seeming to feature dead fish. Not quite sure why. Some of us probably could have spent a lot longer in the museum (we hadn’t even made it to the ancient Egyptian section), but we decided to go check out the flea market down the street instead. We wandered for bit, Kirsten contemplated buying a violin, and I contemplated the potentially disastrous consequences of trying to get home any tea cups I might buy. Opted against buying one. Rachelle and I did, however, get lunch for less than two Euros when we bought a giant piece of bread and some hummus to share at the food section of the market. By the time we’d had our fair share of shopping some of my friends taking a philosophy class had to dash off for a tour of the Freud House, So it fell to me and Rachel to scope out potential dinner destinations. We settled on a place near the hotel recommended to us by a friend, and when everyone returned from the Freud House spouting philosophical theory we got dressed up and went out to celebrate Rachelle’s birthday at a restaurant that gave us more food than we could possibly have eaten. Especially since we were running short on time until we had to be at the opera. We ate as much as we could and made it to the opera house with enough time to get in line for last minute standing room tickets.
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Regular seats at the Vienna Opera start at 50 Euros, but if you don’t mind sore feet you can get standing seats for 3, so we decided to go for it. We saw Tosca, which was part soap opera part comedy. It’s in Italian of course, but they have little screens with subtitles in English and German so we could keep track of the action. The singing was wonderful, the sets and costumes were gorgeous, and I still can’t quite believe we got to go to the Vienna Opera House. Luckily there were two intermissions that gave us a lot of time to sit and let our feet recover. We wanted to get famous Viennese Sacher Torte after the opera, but of course most of the cafes were closed at 10:30 at night. We settled for apple strudel. Still good.

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Sunday morning we got to Schönbrunn Palace before the mobs of tourists showed up. Schönbrunn is the former summer residence of the Hapsburgs. It was also the site of the famous meetings between Kennedy and Khrushchev in the ’60s. We took yet another audio tour through the palace and heard all about the millions of children Maria Theresa had and then married off to various heads of state. After the tour we climbed a little hill behind the palace and could look down on Vienna from up there. We got back on the bus as even greater mobs of tourists poured in and then sleepily made our way to Melk Abbey. Melk is in the middle of nowhere, and we had a sort of strange tour (Brightly color coded rooms? Strange statues built into the wall?) of the abbey. The best part of the whole thing though was the library. I want that library. Floor to ceiling books, all of which are still used for research. It was awesome.
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After all of us bookworms had been sufficiently awed, we all slept the whole way back to Salzburg on the bus. Arrived at IK to discover that the heat in our dorm room wasn’t functioning, so Rachelle and I froze a bit trying to study for the test we had in class this afternoon. It’s still an ice box in here but hopefully we get a little warmer soon. This week it’s a lot more homework and then Budapest for a long holiday weekend!

A New Start

Friday, October 16th, 2009

In an effort to minimize ping-backs and generally establish a blog that has nothing to do with my, much beloved, freshmen seminar, I’m starting this new version of Anglo-Audiophile. All of my old posts will be up soon and I’ll try to do some reviews this weekend as well. Anywho, enjoy.

Grandma’s Chaos Tour

Monday, October 12th, 2009

We passed our one month mark in Europe last week, and it’s crazy to think we’ve been here for as long as we have. Despite its significance, however, last week went by fairly ordinarily. Wednesday we were treated to a free lunch at a wurst stand which was rather greasy, but good. That night my friends and I made dinner (it seems Wednesday night dinners have replaced Taco Tuesdays), and we had fun making pasta and catching up on gossip. I only have one class on Thursday, and it’s an evening one, so I spent the afternoon searching out the university libraries I’m going to need this semester. I played the role of the confused exchange student very well as I still don’t know how to find books in the teeny tiny Social Sciences library. One day soon I’ll have to summon the courage to enlist the help of a frazzled librarian. Fridays are free, and so some friends and I finally got the kebaps (delicious, cheap, Turkish sandwiches) we’d been craving and then spent the afternoon at Frau Schoettke’s making improvised but quite tasty apple tarts with Kirsten and Rachel.

Rachelle and I attempted to go to bed early Friday night, but 4 am rolled around awfully quickly and the alarm clock was beeping away. Yes, we got up at 4. We had to be on a bus at 5. Somehow no one slept in, and 30 of us were able to get on said bus, passports in hand, and set off on what our tour guide for the weekend, Frau Schoettke, called “Grandma’s Chaos Tour.” The trip lived up to its name very shortly thereafter as Frau Schoettke’s friends began passing out shots to everyone on the bus. At 5:30 in the morning. Oh boy.

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Most of us attempted to sleep on the bus as we drove through Austria in the dark, but soon enough we arrived in Trieste, Italy, where we disembarked to stretch our legs and walk around pretty Castle Miramare on the Adriatic coast. The views were gorgeous and the weather warm so everyone enjoyed it. I had never been to Italy before, so even though it was a short visit I’m excited to be able to check it off my list.
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All too soon it was back on the bus and headed towards Slovenia. Frau Schoettke informed us that Slovenia is one of the ugliest countries, but I didn’t think it was all that bad. The geography definitely changes though, from the mountains and evergreen trees of Austria and northern Italy to hills and scrubby trees. And there’s very little to see, just a handful of houses and a odd abundance of roadside ads for cell phones. We drove straight through Slovenia, and when we got to the border of Croatia we left the European Union and so had to stop at border control. At this point Frau Schoettke informed Rachelle that it was to be her job to use her “pretty eyes to make the border guards stamp our passports.” They don’t normally take the time to stamp everyone’s I guess, and I’m not sure if it was Rachelle batting her eyelashes or the beer Frau Schoettke gave them, but somehow we got stamps from both Slovenia and Croatia. Cool.

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Shortly after we crossed the border we stopped in a small fishing village to eat lunch at a waterfront restaurant. Frau Schoettke had already decided that the food of choice was to be calamari. I ate the pieces that looked like onion rings, after drowning them in tarter sauce, but my friend Phil got all of the pieces that had identifiable squid characteristics. We lingered over lunch, and watched Frau Schoettke drink more and more wine, before finally leaving for our hotel in Umag, Croatia, a few kilometers further down the road.

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Our hotel was a resort, though one mostly shut down for the season. Frau Schoettke has been coming to the beaches here since she was little, so it’s no wonder she loves taking each new semester’s worth of AIFS students. After a minor mishap involving room reservations, we all jumped into our swimsuits and headed to the beach, where some people quickly shed their swimsuits again. Yes, it was a nude beach. And a few of the guys in our group may have been extremely enthusiastic about this. And Frau Schoettke may have encouraged this enthusiasm. A lot. The weather was warm, but it was 5 in the evening and cooling quickly and the water was pretty cold. I got in up to my knees, but a few people managed to legitimately swim in the short time we had before rushing off to a buffet dinner in the hotel. Because the resort is primarily a destination for German/Austrian and Italian tourists, the dinner was an amusing mix of sausages and pasta, but we all ate well and stuffed ourselves with ice cream to top it off. Later that evening we found a taxi driven by one of Frau Schoettke’s friends (Really, who isn’t that woman friends with?) and drove into the little town of Umag itself. Not much was open, but we walked around for a while anyway. Croatia feels like you’re somewhere else. The buildings were just a little rough around the edges, laundry hung out of every window, and I think we saw more cats than people. If that’s eastern Europe, I can’t wait to go back. But we finally found our friends in a bar (well, we heard them before we saw them) and got treated to an entertaining round of interpretive dance by several group members and a middle-aged Croatian man with a ponytail. Too funny. It started to storm shortly thereafter, and we went back to the hotel to watch the lightening from the balcony in our room with some friends. After getting lectured for being too loud by the woman in the room next door (in a language we didn’t recognize), the four of us retreated inside to watch American movies in English with Croatian subtitles. After having been up for almost 24 hours we were so tired that reading the subtitles was a vastly amusing ordeal. In case you were wondering, it seems New Jersey translates to Jerseyu. You would find that funny too if you’d been as tired as we were. Needless to say we fell asleep very quickly that night.
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In the morning we had yet another hotel buffet for breakfast (this time there were crepes! With chocolate sauce!), and then it was back on the bus again. We drove back across the border and into Slovenia where we stopped at a massive cave system. We had to take a little train into the side of the mountain before getting out to walk around. The caves just went on forever. It was cold in there, but we amused ourselves discussing the possibility of death by stalagmite (or stalactite? I still don’t know) were they to fall and what sort of Lord of the Rings characters the various rock formations looked like. After a few hours in the caves, it was time to get on the bus yet again and drive the last few hours of the trip back to Salzburg. By the end of the trip, everyone was going a little stir crazy from being cramped up on the bus so much. Some of us chose to alleviate this through sleep, others through the seemingly continuos consumption of alcohol. So while the trip was chaotic at times, and no one was ever where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be, and I’m still not sure how some of my friends managed to get completely drenched when all they had to do was run from the taxi into the hotel during the storm, the trip was all kinds of awesome. How often can you say you’ve been to four countries in one day? It was a whirlwind, and all of the countries we saw certainly deserve more than a few hours visit, but it was a good start.

We got back to Salzburg to discover the temperature had dropped dramatically, and fall has finally arrived for real. There was snow on the mountains around the city when I woke up this morning, and there is talk we might get some on the ground in the city by the end of this week. Crazy! I like the cold, but I can’t help but miss my nice warm Virginia falls a bit. Now for the rest of this week I just have to stay warm, stay dry, and catch up on homework so that I can enjoy this coming weekend in Vienna!

Surviving Classes and Oktoberfest

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

As friends back at home studied for midterms, us AIFS kids in Salzburg finally got around to starting classes this past Monday. Classes are sort of strange in that our schedules are all over the place, with some classes being early, some late, some once a week, and some twice a week but at different times and/or in different places. Strange. I’m crazy enough that I’m facing three independent study courses this semester, so I have three fairly large research papers due in December. My time management skills shall be tested as I attempt to get all of that work done, plus other schoolwork, while still traveling and just being in Salzburg. We’ll see how that goes. But really, all of my classes (all political science and history courses) ought to be very interesting, especially as taught from the European perspective. But one class on Tuesday evening somehow took it upon itself to test my fear of heights as well. Immediately after class had ended around 6:45, all of the lights in the building went out, and a group of us discovered the front door was locked from the inside. The building had closed for the night with us still inside. So, being the resourceful/completely moronic students we are, a few of us decided the best way to get out of the building was to climb through a second story window and jump down to the sidewalk below. In full view of the main street and the people waiting at a nearby bus stop, we did just that. A few minutes later we discovered the rest of our group had calmly walked through the unlocked backdoor. Duh.

During the week we continued to find time for fun stuff in between the schoolwork and the ill-advised escapes. Wednesday morning we went for a pastry tasting event that left all of us in sugar comas. We drank hot chocolate and stuffed ourselves with generously-sized free samples of five different Austrian pastries, all of which were wonderful. I hardly ate for the rest of the day. That is, until much later that night when Kirsten was lovely enough to cook dinner for several of us at her homestay apartment. We squished ourselves around the table and had a fun few hours of eating and laughing, even after the light in the living room went out and we found ourselves eating by candelight. Thursday consisted largely of homework, capped off with karaoke night at the local Irish pub. Always an experience.

Dirndls
On Friday (we only have classes Monday-Thursday) we woke up early and got on the train to Munich. We wound our way through rainy Bavaria until we got to the main train station in Munich and started our tour with Andreas, the same entertaining tour guide who had us climbing mountains during our Salzburg tour weeks ago. He showed us many of the major sites of the city, including the old Nazi parade grounds, the Residenz, and the Frauenkirche. We made it to Marienplatz at exactly noon, so we were just in time to see the glockenspiel play and witness the Bavarian knight knock out his French opponent just as he does high up in the clock tower everyday. We ate lunch at a market that sold everything from pretzels to horse meat, and then Andreas took a handful of us to a store that sells reasonably priced Tracht, traditional Bavarian/Austrian clothing. We had been drooling over all of the brightly colored dirndl dresses at the Salzburg festival for days, so some us were super excited to buy one of our own. Probably ridiculous, and probably something I’ll be hard pressed to find an excuse to wear once I’m back at home, but they’re coming back into fashion over here (as are lederhosen, which some of the guys bought as well), and they were fun to wear around in Munich all day and will be fun to wear here in Salzburg over the next few months. Though I do feel a bit like Little Bo Peep in it. Finally dressed like we belonged there, we then set out find Oktoberfest. We followed the crowds to a huge festival grounds full of carnival rides, games, food stands, souvenir stalls, and of course the requisite beer tents that went on forever. There were so many people that we never did find a place to sit inside a building. We did sit outside for a while though, and it is very surreal to have been a part of such a massive international cultural event. We caught the 9:48 train back to Salzburg having successfully avoided leaving any member of our group of friends asleep on park benches or in the clutches of some drunken Polish creepster, a feat I had deemed improbable at the start of the day. Long, long day, but one brimming with amusing events. This weekend we all have homework staring us in the face, but there is a special event at Salzburg’s museums tonight that we’re going to try and check out. Next weekend Croatia!