Archive for November, 2009

Salzburg Gets Visitors

Friday, November 27th, 2009

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The family came to town last weekend! I picked them up at the Salzburg train station around 1 on Saturday with bus tickets and chocolate bars in hand, and they somehow managed to remain enthusiastic about seeing Salzburg despite the jet lag and the crowded train ride from Munich. Kebaps for lunch revived them a bit and then we trekked down the road to my dorm so that they could see the bad spring break hotel that I’ve been living in for two months and meet Rachelle. We took them into the Cathedral and walked past Mozart’s house. Then we all wandered around the recently opened Christmas markets for a little while before sleepiness got the best of the family, and I had to send them off to their hotel to recover from jet lag. Sunday we wanted to go out into the mountains but then realized we’d missed the only bus of the day out to the hiking trails by about a half an hour. Oh darn. We settled instead for climbing up the fortress hill here in town and looking down over Salzburg from up there. We ate lunch at a beer hall on the hill, and then I let the three of them go into the fortress on their own so that I could get some homework done. That night we took the bus out to Hellbrunn Palace to see one of Salzburg’s other Christmas markets (and because I’d been told that there would be live reindeer at this one) and oohed and ahhed at the twinkly lights and the decorated trees. There was lots of good stuff to be purchased, but alas no reindeer to be seen. Disappointment.

On our way back to their hotel that night we got stuck in epic traffic as 20th Century Fox had so considerately blocked off some of the major roads in Salzburg to film their silly movie. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz came to town to film Knight and Day, which apparently involves people jumping off of roofs and having car chases down narrow streets. Oh, and a helicopter of some sort. And, as if the traffic weren’t bad enough, now we’re all going to need to go see the darn thing when it comes out in July just because we’re going to want to see Salzburg make her cameo appearance. And someone in our group got Tom Cruise to sign his forehead.

Monday we wandered around Salzburg some more, giving my sister plenty of time to accumulate lots of strange stuff at the Christmas markets. Late in the afternoon they tagged along with me and Rachelle to our weekly grocery shopping excursion and proceeded to buy lots of random Austrian goodies. My sister then ordered a hamburger at dinner that night. Fail.

On Tuesday, their final day in the city, we shopped some more (the Christmas markets are endless mazes) and ate lunch at a little out of the way cafe in order to escape the rain. Kirsten, Rachel, and Rachelle joined us in hiking up the Kapuziner Berg that morning, a feat that we had yet to accomplish in Salzburg and which involved quite a lot of steps. But the views were quite awesome.
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I had to run away to take a test for our Austrian Culture class, but we said our goodbyes later that night over pizza at a little restaurant near their hotel. They left on a 6:45 train to Munich the next morning. Their trip went so fast, but I’m glad they all could come so that they’re not relying on pictures alone to imagine we’re I’ve been living all fall. It’s a city worth seeing, and one I’m going to have a very hard time saying goodbye to when I leave in less than three weeks.

That’s right, less than three weeks. I still have so much to see and do and papers to write and things to buy and foods to try. But somehow it will all get done. I think. I had fried dough and sauerkraut for dinner at the Christmas market on Wednesday (Austria will clog your arteries) before we went ice skating one more time on, and this time more of the girls came with us so that we had quite a group. My friend Kenza bonded with an adorable Austrian little girl who then kept following us around and holding her hand. Too much cuteness. We had a lot of fun, and I somehow managed not to fall even once.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, though it was hard to notice over here. Some kids were pretty upset about not being home for the holiday, but it was interesting to try and take the Austrian point of view and see it as any other Thursday in November. Some of us went to the weekly farmers’ market in the morning and marveled at the endless amounts of cheese and breads and meat. I have determined I’m going to need to live in a city with markets. They make life much more fun. That night, after an afternoon session of paper writing, we did get some semblance of holidayness when we all got dressed up to go to dinner. It wasn’t turkey and mashed potatoes, but it was a good meal at the oldest restaurant in central Europe, as well as performances of various numbers from Mozart’s operas. The restaurant was beautiful, and it was nice to be there as one big group to help ward off the homesickness some people were feeling.

Dinner didn’t wind down until about 11 at night, and yet 21 out of the 36 of us were up and ready to drive to Innsbruck at 6:30 this morning. We drove down through the Alps in the dark, arriving in the still sleepy town of Rattenberg while the frost still clung to the grass and the sun wasn’t high enough to melt the fog off of the mountains.
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In typical Andreas style, we hiked our way up a hill to see a fortress that it turns out we couldn’t get into anyway. But the views were good, and the hike kept us from freezing in the early morning mountains so no one complained too loudly. After our stop over we got to Innsbruck about a half our later. Two time home of the Winter Olympics, Innsbruck is much further into the mountains than Salzburg, and the peaks looked almost fake in all of their snow capped hugeness. We stopped for strudel at a little bakery (sour cherry and cinnamon-yum!) before going on a tour of the city with Andreas. The Christmas markets are all set up in Innsbruck as well, so the whole city smelled like Austrian Christmas- sauerkraut, chestnuts, and cinnamon.
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Innsbruck is rather like Salzburg in that many of its streets are winding and narrow, and the buildings themselves old and smashed together at strange angles. But Innsbruck has giants built into their streets and a Fairy Tale passage featuring statues of dozens of different fairy tales. We had fun trying to decipher the stories we knew from the German titles. After the tour we had just enough time to catch lunch and do some souvenir shopping before it was back on the bus and off to the town of Hall, a little outside of Innsbruck. Hall was another typical Austrian town, complete with Christmas decorations and church spires. Had Andreas had his way we would have made multiple stops after Hall, but we all insisted that sheer exhaustion was putting a damper on the touring, and so we all piled back on the bus for the last leg of our last AIFS excursion of the semester. We had a Sound of Music singalong before curling up as best we could in our seats and falling asleep on the 2.5 hour drive back to Salzburg.

Tonight we’re tired, there’s a party of Spanish speakers going on outside our door, and I’m wishing I had maybe done some homework instead of mess with blog entries and photo updates. But what’s done is done. Tomorrow we’re getting together with the girls at Frau Shoettke’s to ring in the Christmas season by improvising Christmas cookies as best we can with the measuring utensils and ingredients we could muster up. Should be fun, and hopefully the results will be edible. Sunday is a ‘real football’ face-off between Salzburg and Vienna, so we’re going to try and be there to cheer on our Red Bulls. So much to see and do, so little time! For better or worse, we’re on the home stretch.

To Bohemia and Back

Friday, November 20th, 2009

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Rachelle is being studious and working on her research paper at the moment, but my brain couldn’t handle any more refugee law. Blog writing is far more attractive then doing homework late on a Friday night anyway. Last Friday at this time though we were in Prague. We were up before the sun (we’ve done that far too many times this semester) that morning and on a bus to the Czech Republic by 6:45. We drove through the old border control station not too far outside of Vienna and then finally arrived in Prague around 1 in the afternoon. We had a city tour to orient ourselves after checking into our hotel (where Rachelle and I discovered, to our amusement, that we had the handicapped room), and it was only a matter of minutes into the tour that we all fell in love with Prague. It’s a city full of many different architectural styles (City of a Thousand Spires) with a history that hits you over the head while you’re walking around. We all crossed the Charles Bridge and rubbed a certain statue, a gesture we were told guarantees that we will make it back to Prague one day. There was a market going on in the Old Town Square that we wandered through before heading back to the hotel room and watching American TV dubbed in German while getting ready for dinner. We don’t have much access to TV here in Salzburg, so it was pretty funny to see actors we recognized speaking with what were obviously not their own voices. Dinner was provided for us at, oddly enough, a place called Al Capone Restaurant. We had schnitzel. Austrian food in an Italian-American restaurant in Prague. It really is a small world. We went out after dinner and some of my friends decided to embrace Czech culture by embracing absinthe. Wise decision? Probably not. But there are some interesting pictures of them all attempting to light sugar on fire before drinking it.

The next morning some of us girls met up with a friend of Kirsten’s who was studying in Prague for the semester. She and a friend took it upon themselves to show us the ins and outs of the city, and they played the role of tour guides rather well. We were up early enough to witness Prague covered in a mist so thick that from the middle of the bridge you couldn’t see either shore. The girls took us up the many flights of stairs to Prague Castle (because what is a trip without climbing a mountain I ask you?) which is more of cathedral within a walled compound then a castle, but cool nonetheless. Had the fog not been determined to obstruct the seeing of anything more than two feet in front of you, the views from the hill would have been gorgeous. The castle gardens weren’t open and the cathedral was holding mass so we couldn’t get inside either of them, but all the more reason to make it back to Prague. We walked around more of the city, eventually coming to Lennon’s Wall, a section of wall graffitied over and over again with Beatle’s lyrics, peace signs, and names. It started as a means to convey anti-communist sentiments but has sense evolved into a general expression of peace, love, and all that jazz. Kind of cool to see the things people had scribbled on it. Not too far from the wall was a fence where couples wrote their names on a lock before clamping it to the fence and tossing the key into the river beneath. A bit melodramatic for my taste, but it makes for a cool collection of locks. After yet more exploring we came to the vegetarian restaurant that the girls had made reservations at for lunch. It’s become one of their favorite places to eat in the city, and after lunch it was easy to see why. We were excited to find cheddar cheese on the menu (Gouda’s great and all, but Austria doesn’t know what it’s missing with it’s lack of cheddar) and discovered a new taste for hot apple juice. The girls studying in Prague are also AIFS students, so it was fun to compare and contrast our experiences with the same program but in different cities. It seems a lot of us who ended up in Salzburg had at some point considered studying in Prague, but, as much as I loved it, Salzburg is so much of a home now that it’s hard to imagine spending the semester anywhere else. We said goodbye to our tour guides shortly after lunch, leaving us with time on our hands and not much of a plan. We settled for pretending to do homework while actually watching further strange German television. We ate dinner that night at the market in the square, where we ordered something we had at first thought to be some sort of snazzy Czech pizza but which turned out to be deep-fried dough with ketchup, garlic, and cheese. Interesting, and, we all agreed, really not very good. But we ate it anyway. We people watched in the square for a while, and soaked in the city a bit.
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It was an early night though because it was an early start yet again on Sunday. We traded the big city environment of Prague for the small, medieval Czech town of Český Krumlov about 30 km from the Austrian border. The entire town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, quite the feat considering that twenty years ago it was falling apart under communism. It was a cute town, “crooked” as our tour guide called it, full of colorful old houses and narrow streets.
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We ate lunch at a tiny little sandwich shop and then spent the rest of our Czech currency on an odd Czech dessert that consists of rings of fried dough coated in sugar and cinnamon. Yum. Though of course, in true Czech style, the line took forever, and we then had to run to catch the bus. It was worth it.

We got back into Salzburg around dinner time. The rest of our week passed fairly uneventfully. The homework is piling up, so many of us have spent quite a bit of time holed up in our rooms attempting to finish assignments. In our Austrian Culture class on Tuesday our teacher invited a man who had grown up in California but who moved to Salzburg as an adult 27 years ago to come in to talk to us about the differences between Austria and the US. He rambled a bit, and he of course hasn’t lived in the States for a time longer than we’ve all been alive, but his perspective was interesting. I was especially amused when he, the native English speaker, had to stop a few times and ask our professor, the native German speaker, what the English word for certain things was. Just goes to show if you don’t use a language you lose it.

Wednesday and Thursday the excitement built in Salzburg over the imminent arrival of Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise who are filming a movie here over the next few days. One girl in our group has reported a Cameron Diaz sighting, but they’ve fenced off most of the movie set so hers may be the first and last. We went ice skating at the newly set up outdoor ice rink in the old town Wednesday night, and though our feet were sore by the end of the evening, Rachel, Rachelle, and I had a lot of fun. And the Christmas markets started here this week as well, so we’ve all been slowly getting into the holiday spirit, though the oddly warm weather isn’t helping too much. We have four different markets, each with a slightly different flair to them, and I’m sure we’ll be spending quite a bit of time Christmas shopping and pasty eating at all four of them. Some of us put on our dirndls today to go wander the markets, only to find ourselves the unintentional stars of the place. We had a number of Austrians comment on our outfits, and a number of Americans ask us what we were wearing and why. A bit more hard to swallow was the angry Austrian man who yelled at us for daring to wear flip flops, sneakers, and sandals with our dresses. We didn’t bring our whole closets with us, so our shoe choices are rather limited, but that shook us up a bit, and our enthusiasm for wearing our dresses and taking fun Salzburg pictures dwindled (we did, however, have people taking pictures of us. Tourists are weird.)

My parents and sister are coming tomorrow (in fact, I believe their plane is probably in the air by now), which is crazy because it feels like it was just yesterday that they finally committed to coming to visit. I’m meeting them at the Salzburg train station in the afternoon, and it will be fun to show them all the places I’ve explored over the past two months. Now if only all of my homework was done…

Excited!

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Countdown: 72 days!

When in Rome…

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

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…or Florence, as the case may be, eat lots of gelato! At least that’s the rule we went by during our weekend in Tuscany. Rachelle, Rachel, Kirsten and I left a week ago today for our Italian adventure. Before our train that night I had a walking tour with my history class to see all of the places in Salzburg that have a connection to World War II or the Third Reich, and it was really strange to learn that some of the buildings we pass by everyday were sites of Nazi book burnings or SS prisons. Few of the buildings have any markers to indicate what they were, but most are so little changed that they are easy to identify from 1930s and ’40s pictures. Depressing.

But shortly thereafter we were getting ready to board our 9:10 train. We all got a bit of a shock only a short while into the trip after Angry Austrian Train Man, his name as we refer to him now, yelled at Rachel for daring to put her foot up on the seat in front of her. German can be a frightening language as it is, so it shakes a person up when its being directed at you loudly. His outburst quickly became rather amusing though, and we played cards and chatted until we got to Villach, Austria were we needed to make a train transfer. From there to Florence we attempted to sleep, sprawled across our seats and squished on top of each other, but we all got at least a little rest before the train pulled up in Florence at 6:30 in the morning. Our hostel had asked us to confirm our early arrival time, so of course when we got there around 7 no one was around to answer the door. Someone finally came and, bleary eyed, politely inquired as to what the heck we were doing there. Confused, cranky that we were being dumped out into early morning Florence instead of being able to take a few hours nap, we left our suitcases with him and promised to return a few hours later. A snack at a cafe perked us up a bit, and we decided we might as well head to the Accademia Gallery, where the David statue is housed. It opened at 8:15, and we were first in line, so we had the whole place practically to ourselves for a time. The statue is one of those pieces of art we’ve all seen in textbooks since elementary school, so it was really cool to see it in person. We wandered through the rest of the galleries as well, oohing and aahing at the different statues. As the museum was getting more crowded we could feel our eyelids drooping and decided to escape to our now-ready hostel to take a quick cat nap.

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A few hours later we were far more ready to face the city. We grabbed sandwiches for lunch and hiked up to Michelangelo Plaza, a hill with a gorgeous view out over the entirety of Florence. So awesome. We hung around soaking in the view for a while, and then we explored a church on the hill that had a tangled maze of a cemetery behind it. We got some gelato and sat on the side of the plaza watching the sun get lower and a cute newlywed couple take wedding pictures with all of Florence in the background. By the time we hiked down from Michelangelo Plaze the sun was setting with a vengeance, and we were getting hungry. We took the time to stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, an old covered bridge that today houses lots of jewelry stores. Shiny. Dinner followed (pasta of course!), and then it was more gelato. Yum. After our train ride the night before we were all falling asleep at 8, so we made it an early night and headed back to our hostel with the tiny creaky elevator and our room with no heat.

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Saturday morning we woke up in time to get to the Uffizi Gallery before it opened. We had been warned that it gets super crowded later in the day, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t have to climb over people to look at paintings. The gallery was gorgeous, full of Renaissance era artwork, most of which Kirsten was able to explain to us. We took a hint from Kirsten’s old family vacations and each chose something to count in the paintings. There were a lot of horses, but not enough to keep me out of fourth place. We must have seen virtually every painting in the place, and by the time we’d wound our way out of the galleries and through the endless Asian tour groups we were in desperate need of some lunch. Pizza seemed an appropriate choice, though resisting the temptation to pick it up and eat it with our fingers proved exceedingly difficult. We all ordered different kinds, and all were rather tasty. That afternoon we found the Florence street market, full of leather products and jewelry and t-shirts that said silly things in Italian. We went into the Duomo (the main cathedral) as well as some other churches. And I’m pretty sure we ate a lot of gelato, seeing as that’s all we ever did. We even had a rule that we couldn’t eat the same flavor twice, so between the four of us we tried just about everything. Ever since Budapest, Rachelle and I seem to have a knack for coming across random parades, and Florence was no exception. What we at first perceived to be an anti-tax protest turned out to be a mini gay rights parade. You go Italy. The parade worked its way down the street, and we found a little place to have pasta for dinner again that night before managing to discover an English pub showing American college football on TV. The half of our quartet who actually enjoys football found this entertaining.

Sunday we woke up to rain and cold and not much left on our list of things to do. We finally discovered a place with cannolis (yet another food on our ‘we have to have while it Italy’ list) and sat eating those while waiting for the rain to stop. Of course, in keeping with the theme, a bizarre parade of Italian soldiers in uniforms ran by the cafe playing ‘Hava Nagila’ on their trumpets. Europe never fails to make me laugh. We then attempted to venture and find gardens that were marked on our map, but as it turns out the Four Seasons hotel had bought them and fenced them off, so alas, no gardens for us. Cold, and with our jeans wet almost to our knees, we stopped for cappuccino if for no other reason than that we were in Italy. This non-coffee drinker had to drown hers in sugar but drank it. Eventually we found ourselves at the Medici Palace, which you had to pay to get into, so we settled for taking silly ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ pictures with our umbrellas outside. Finally, finished exploring, we ate gelato yet again and then dragged our stuff back to the train station. We staked out a table in the back and proceeded to cover it in homework assignments as we attempted to catch up on our work while waiting for our 6:30 train. Of course it’s hard to concentrate when you’re freezing. Florence does not believe in heating its buildings it seems. Several hours of shivering later we celebrated the fact that our train was not one of the many canceled ones that evening and piled on for the quick two hours to Venice. We had just enough to time to make our connection there, and then we were stuck for the long haul back to Salzburg. Poor Diego, our Italian compartment mate, was probably regretting his choice of train when the four of us showed up. I know I caught him talking about ‘quatros Americanos’ on the phone at one point, and if I knew the Italian word for crazy I probably would have heard that proceeding it. He was a good sport though, and the train ride went relatively quickly. Angry Austrian Train Man was back, but he was much friendlier this time, and when I woke up for a moment at a stop still in Italy it was snowing like insanity. We got back home at around 4 in the morning, and my German skills were tested when our taxi driver back to the dorm decided I should want to chat in a foreign language at that time of the morning. The whole trip was a blast though; it was a stunning city with lots of good food and lots of bonding time for the four of us.

I spent most of this week stressing about homework because I had a big presentation for a class on Wednesday. I am all sorts of happy to have it over with. Yesterday too Rachelle and I had the fun adventure of searching out the Austrian equivalent to Draino so that we could finally fix our evil shower that refuses to drain. I’d really rather not ever have to empty a shower with cooking pots either, but luckily we were both amused enough by it that we didn’t take the time to consider how gross it really was. For the time being the problem seems to be solved. We made Austrian food for our weekly girls’ dinner last night, so that was fun. I met a girl from the second floor of our building who is from Columbia and only speaks Spanish and German but who wants to learn English, so it was quite the experience with all of us attempting to use a combination of Spanish, English, and German to communicate. Not much else too exciting though. We leave for Prague at the crack of dawn tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a spectacular city so I can’t wait to see it. Can’t quite believe we leave for home 5 weeks from today though; we’re trying to cram in everything we still have to see and do. Not to mention those three major research papers I still need to get a handle on.

Homework and Halloween

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Well, I had a lovely picture of the tree I can see from my window all pretty and orangey-yellow, but my computer won’t let me upload it at the moment, so you’ll all have to take my word for the fact that fall in Salzburg is gorgeous. That is, when it’s not grey and rainy and disgusting outside as it seems to be frequently. We’ve been hanging around Salzburg for the passed two weeks getting caught up on homework and marveling at how fast our semester seems to be speeding by. Last week we had some classes canceled so I had lots of time to eat Halloween candy and hide away in the library doing research for my impossible asylum law research paper. I must say that the libraries here do not make research easy. We’re very lucky that so many of the books are in English, but a trip to the library really shouldn’t be such an ordeal. If you ever do manage to find the book (and the library! There’s one for pretty much every department.) you’re looking for you might not be able to check it out for more than a week. Blargh. But we’re managing. Taking a break from studying, Rachelle and I adventured all across town on Friday to find a Halloween store. Halloween is celebrated here, though it’s not as popular as at home. She bought a witch hat and I got some silly glasses that, when paired with my tie-dye shirt, improvised a fairly decent hippie costume. We put on our costumes later that day to have a little mini Halloween shindig with some friends, but I ended up spending actual Halloween working on the same ridiculous paper. And eating candy, so it counts as celebrating.

The rest of the weekend (and an added holiday made it a four day one) I probably didn’t leave the dorm more than twice. I was going a little stir crazy by the end of it, but when I look at the calendar and realize I don’t have another free weekend until December I knew I had to get as much work done as possible. This week the students here in Austria were protesting budget cuts that were affecting higher education so they were staging sit-ins in some of the classrooms and posting signs around the university. Our Austrian Culture had one of the students come in to explain the movement to us, and it was really interesting. They don’t pay any fees at all to go to a university here in Austria, and the threat of implementing even 300 Euro a year tuition prompts outrage. Such a strange concept to all of us who pay so much to go to school, but very interesting to get a real world example of how the Austrian welfare state plays out in reality.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the room by myself when an Austrian man (a maintenance main perhaps?) came in and started speaking German to me. At first I assumed he was going to fix our only just barely functioning heater. Wrong. He actually wanted to measure our bed frames. Hmm. He had me help him hold the measuring tape and everything. He even measured mine twice. He kept mumbling to himself in German, and then he was gone just as quickly as he’d come. No idea what that was all about. Then last night instead of making dinner with the girls like a normal Wednesday, some friends and I decided to take advantage of student night at the Salzburg opera and went to see The Marriage of Figaro. It was very entertaining even if we had little concept of what was going on most of the time. Unlike the Vienna Opera, Salzburg’s only has subtitles in German so we had to rely on our German skills and my friend Kirsten, who had wisely read the story before we went, whispering basic plot points every so often. Of course any understanding we might have had went out the door when the show ended with random villagers coming to attack the main characters with pitchforks. Pretty sure Mozart didn’t write that part. Today I did laundry and rather than fight for the one dryer we have for our entire complex I now have clothing strewn about the room. I just hope some of it dries before I need to pack for Florence later this evening or I may just be breaking out the hairdryer so I have some dry sock. But that leads me to Florence! Italy! Rachelle, Rachel, and Kirsten and I have an overnight train at 9:15 tonight. Here’s to three days of pasta, pizza, gelato, and lots of wonderful museums.