Archive for the ‘Bus Trip’ Category

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…

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!

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!