Archive for the ‘Salzburg 09’ Category

In Which I Indulge My Inner Nostalgic

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Not really sure what I intend to accomplish with this post, but I’m feeling nostalgic, and I’d rather put off some homework a while longer, so it’s getting written. A year ago today us AIFS kids finally made it to Salzburg and started building our lives in our new city. From my vantage point today, it seems ridiculous that there was ever a time I wasn’t friends with the people I bonded with, that grocery shopping was difficult, that riding the bus was a challenge, or that going to O’Malley’s wasn’t just what everyone did almost every night. Yet there was that time, and I can remember distinctly looking up to the Salzburg fortress on our first walk into the city that jetlagged Sunday night of our arrival and wondering how anyone could ever feel at home in a city built around an ancient castle, a city so different from the circa-1980s suburbs so many of us grew up in. Now I know. You feel at home when you memorize the bus map and schedule. When you have close friends and can walk around town and run into people you know. When you have favorite foods, places, and traditions. It didn’t take as long as one would think, and it hasn’t faded much over the past couple of months.

I still miss Salzburg everyday. I catch myself putting German radio on to fill the silence. I’m still hording a few bars of Milka chocolate and some bags of gummy bars. (For what occasion, I’m not sure) I have a slightly tattered Salzburg Red Bulls poster up on my wall. So, yes, I miss the place. But even more so I miss the people. I miss laughing until I cried over the silliest of things, and sharing the bizarre sense of achievement you get when you master even the smallest of tasks in a foreign country in a foreign language. I miss late night and early morning train/bus rides, and the sense that anything was possible because, no matter how insane the plans, someone was wiling to get on a train with you at 4 in the morning to god knows where.

Would I go back tomorrow? I would, but I know it wouldn’t be the same as it was a year ago, and that would be enough to make me hesitate. Salzburg, as any city, has changed I’m sure since I left it in December, and I’ve changed as well. I’ve re acclimated to life in the states where stores and cars are bigger, kebabs are not nearly so popular, and some of my best friends are scattered across the country instead of nearby where I want them to be. (Miss you guys terribly) But I know I’ll make it back to Salzburg day; I hope all of us will, together or separately. And when we once again find ourselves on the sidewalk in the middle of the city staring up at the massive Salzburg fortress, I hope it feels like coming home.

Servus, Salzburg

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Servus is Austrian/Bavarian dialect for both hello and goodbye. It’s the German “aloha.” And while I’ve been home for two weeks already, it still kind of smarts to think that we ever had to say goodbye to Salzburg and to each other. Our last weekend excursion took me, Rachel, Rachelle, Kirsten, and Phil out to the little town of Oberndorf with Frau Schoettke to see the little chapel where “Silent Night” was first written and sung. It was dark and cold, but we walked around a bit and laughed at our ability to stand with one foot in Austria and one foot in Germany for a portion of the trek. Austria decorated for Christmas will always be one of my favorite memories, and Oberndorf and the towns around it did not disappoint in the decorations department. The chapel itself was impossibly tiny but well worth seeing. Just when we all thought we’d freeze for being out in the cold for so long, a friend of Frau Schoettke’s invited us all back to his house for tea and Christmas cookies. He and his wife stuffed us full of delicious foodstuffs and talked to us in a combination of German and English about all of the things we had done and seen while in Austria. And we rather enjoyed tormenting their two cats, Sammy and Selena. When we caught the train back to Salzburg later that evening we laughed and talked about things yet to be done and purchased and homework yet to be turned in. Our days in Austria were rapidly coming to an end.
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I had a final exam on Monday as well as some half hearted attempts at cleaning and packing and some not-so-half-hearted purchasing of epic amounts of chocolate and gummy bears to bring home. Tuesday we woke up to snow, Salzburg’s wonderful way of seeing us off. Packing began in earnest on Tuesday, and Rachelle and I plotted out how we were going to finish all of the food in our kitchen before leaving Thursday morning. We dumped a lot of our stuff, lucky them, on our friends who are staying in Salzburg for the full year. Tuesday night we walked through the snow to the other dorm, Haus Humboldt, to laugh a lot and take our minds off of leaving. And laugh we did. Nearly everyone showed up at one point or another, and we got to witness one last mass panic when the dorm staff unplugged the Stiegl beer machine. Just before leaving we took notice of the shopping cart that had been hanging around the Haus Humboldt kitchen all night just waiting for me and Rachelle to climb in. Together we barely fit, but the real mistake was allowing Phil and Max control over where we were going. Somehow, we made it out of the situation alive. As it turns out, Phil took over the role of shopping cart passenger on the way out, and Zach, for better or worse, offered to steer the cart back down the street to our dorm. It wasn’t long until both Phil, and Rachelle, who had climbed on as well by that point, were both on the ground in the snow. Phil persevered, however, and he and Zach decided to take us on a snowy midnight detour down a random road behind the dorms. One thing led to another, and before we knew it we were in the middle of a playground in the woods. This playground held significant entertainment value because of its zip line. So there we were, the five of us coming up with new and ingenious ways of flying down the zip line, at nearly one in the morning, in the snow, in the woods, and with an 8:30 am class the next morning. Somehow no one died, though Phil’s ill conceived plan to run up a slide could have ended in a concussion, and we laughed harder than any of us had in a while, which, considering the amount of laughter that surrounded us on a regular basis, is saying something. When our fingers were numb and we had snow down our backs, we finally made it back to the dorm, where Phil managed to fall out of the shopping cart yet again. I think the clock read something around 2 by the time I climbed into bed that night.

We were tired the next morning, and most of us had bruises to show for many failed attempts at maneuvering on an icy playground, but I made it through my three classes that day as well as miraculously fit all my things into my two suitcases. That night after our Culture final exam, some of us went out for one last kebap before heading to O’Malley’s to suffer the inevitable goodbyes. Virtually the entire group, all 36 of us, sat around the otherwise empty bar (It was only 7 o’clock, mind you) and chatted and reminisced. Eventually everyone was on their feet, singing and dancing and laughing like it was just any other night out. That mood collapsed when, almost simultaneously, we all broke down and started crying. I’m sure the rest of the bar’s occupants thought we were all insane. Rachel and Kirsten were two of the first to leave, and so Rachelle and I were a bit of a mess from the start. Then, as people began making their exits in ones and twos, you would no sooner get over one goodbye before having to hug and cry over someone else’s departure. Almost everyone, guys and girls alike, was red eyed by the time we decided to leave.

When we got back to good old IK, we had to eat the rest of our food, so we made a second dinner of leftovers and the dozens of sausages Phil had failed to cook at a reasonable time. What followed was a ridiculous night involving Rachelle, Max and I collapsing on Zach’s bed while he and Phil tormented us with a “who can pick the saddest song and make the girls cry contest.” I do believe Phil won that one when he decided to be absolutely evil and play “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” But we had to laugh too as we watched all of Zach’s completely ridiculous video diaries from the semester. His atrocious camera work and very Zach-like commentary deserved all of the mocking they received, but at least they kept smiles on our faces. All too soon 2 am rolled around, and Rachelle had to meet the van that would take her to Munich for a 7 am flight. We’d been bracing for what we both knew would be the hardest goodbye, and we cried good and hard for a few minutes before I had to rip the band aid off and let her go. After her leaving, and some more crying, I eventually attempted to get some sleep before my own 8:45 taxi to the airport.

In reality, I only slept for a few hours and was awake again by 6. I sat in Phil and Zach’s room as they put the finishing touches on their own packing up before their 7 am van. I cried again saying goodbye to the two of them and Jessica. When my eyes finally hurt so badly that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to cry again I took a shower, took out the trash, and packed up the last of my own stuff. Max came over to help lug my huge bags down the three flights of stairs, and all too soon it was my turn to leave. There were six of us in our van, and we started out the drive to Munich telling stories from the night before and laughing about all of the things we were going to miss about Salzburg and each other. Then our long nights caught up to us, and we slept the rest of the way to the airport.

Once in Munich, things just got more interesting. When we checked in at the British Airways counter many of us discovered our bags were overweight, and, according to one BA employee, simply wouldn’t make it through our connection in London if we didn’t get them lighter. I managed to reach the weight limit just by moving my German dictionary and one other heavier item into my smaller suitcase. Other friends were not so fortunate. Jimmy found himself throwing away his shoes. Ryan came over to all of us with his arms full of clothes he had pulled out of his bag. Obviously not able to carry a wad of clothing on the plane as a carry on, he then proceeded to put many of those shirts on. Needless to say, that was entertaining. Meanwhile Ryan and some of the other girls who had arrived in a different van discovered that their flight had been changed to an earlier one so as to ensure that they would have time to catch their connecting flight to Boston in London. This left Jimmy, another Boston-bound kid, confused as to why his flight had also not been changed. Everyone rushed through security to get the Bostonites to their flight on time, and we found ourselves greeted by another group of AIFs kids at the gate. Turns out the earlier flight was the same one that our friends who had left Salzburg at 7 were on. This meant one last round of goodbyes before those of us remaining settled in to wait for our afternoon flight. A one hour delay meant we waited longer than we had intended. Jimmy saw his chances of making his flight home dwindle by the minute. When we finally got on the way to London we were all a bit relieved. Except poor Jimmy whose only consolation came from the fact that the flight attendant assured him he would make his connection because he had brought his running shoes, the lone pair of shoes that had made it through the earlier purge and which he was now carrying by the laces. Minutes before landing this same flight attendant informs him that his flight has in fact been changed to one leaving two hours later, so he’s alright after all. Once we land in London, we somehow manage to drive practically the full way around Heathrow as we wait for crew to de-ice planes. The three of us headed to Philadelphia are growing increasingly concerned at this point because our connecting flight is leaving in less than an hour and we have yet to be anywhere near to getting off of the plane. When we finally disembark we have to go through security yet again where we said quick goodbyes to the girls headed for JFK, and what was originally scheduled to be a three hour layover in London ultimately ended up being a case of having to run to the gate only to get there and find them already boarding. Of course by boarding I mean putting us all on buses and sending us halfway across London to wherever they had managed to park our plane. Once on board we of course managed to sit on the tarmac for over an hour before takeoff. Lots of fun. Somehow, I suppose because the pilot managed to, in his words, “put the pedal to the metal,” we only landed in Philly a mere ten minutes later than scheduled. Our long day of epic travel and tears was ended. At this point my internal clock was striking somewhere around 3 in the morning and begging me to go to bed, but I managed to stay relatively awake and coherent for my parents on the drive home.

Jet lag was not my friend for my first few days home. I found myself keeping the hours of an 85 year old woman, going to bed at 9 and getting up at 7:30. But I’ve since adjusted. And it has been good being home for the holidays and seeing friends and relatives I hadn’t seen in so long. But I remain terrible at goodbyes and looking through the nearly 700 photo prints I got in the mail a few days ago has done little to convince me that I wouldn’t drop everything and head back to Salzburg tomorrow if I could pick right back up where we left off. Those three months were more than I ever could have asked for, in every way possible. More fun, more exhausting, more educational, more challenging, more jam-packed full of laughs and friends and languages and Kodak moments than any three months have any real right to be. I learned a lot about Europe, about the US, and about my own ability to take everything as it comes as well as the fine art of laughing when you’re starving but dinner is taking two hours because your two little burners barely work and you don’t have a microwave. I wouldn’t trade a single moment. Many thanks to the best group of new friends a person could have, a group of people who played a huge role in helping to make the experience the chaotic, entertaining cultural exchange that it was. So, Servus Salzburg, with your so-pretty-they-look-fake mountains and church bells and pastry shops on every corner. You will be missed. ‘Till next time.

On the Home Stretch

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

For better or worse, but mostly for worse, we’re almost done. Almost to the point of packing suitcases and getting on transatlantic flights headed for the States. Even with finals looming and the calendar telling us flat out that we only have four days left together in Salzburg, it’s a bit surreal. Last weekend, though, it seemed like we were never leaving. That I was going to spend the rest of my life cooped up in my dorm room writing research papers. Because of my three independent study classes I had three very large papers to write, and fortunately for the procrastinators among us some conveniently timed Austrian holidays gave us a five day weekend to work on them. Over the course of those five days I managed to finish nearly all of the work I have left for the semester, my only remaining tasks being editing one last paper and writing a short summary for my International Conflicts class. My papers will not be the best papers ever written, but they definitely include some creative turns of phrase included to help reach the 6,000 word minimum.

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But tales of homework make for a pretty boring blog post. Saturday night Rachelle and Max and I took a study break to head into town and catch a ‘Krampuslauf’ which means Krampus Run. The Krampus are creatures said to accompany St. Nicholas the night before he makes his rounds, and they weed out the naughty children by hitting them with whips or switches. It’s a tradition that basically only exists in Bavaria and this part of Austria, so we figured we had to see it for ourselves. There are officially sanctioned Krampus who aren’t allowed to really hurt you, but then there are also unofficial groups who have no qualms about actually beating people. A combination of both types floated about Salzburg the week leading up to St. Nicholas Day, and many friends reported having not so pleasant encounters with the terrifying men in furry suits and scary masks. When the last Krampuslauf of the season rolled around we were a little nervous, but mostly convinced that they couldn’t possibly be as scary as everyone had said they were. We bravely made our way to the route of their run and then stood in wary anticipation. The crowd got thicker and we eventually heard bells in the distance. When the six or so Krampus got to our spot on the street we found ourselves struggling to reconcile our desire to take photos with our even stronger desire to run for our lives. Krampus are scary. Really scary. They are huge and get right up into your face threatening to hit you. Everyone in the crowd was screeching and attempting to hide behind one another as the Krampus grabbed random people from the crowd and tormented them. When the Krampus (plural Krampi? Krampese?) finally shuffled past us we heaved a sigh of relief and made our way to the bus to get back to our dorm and back to safety. It must have taken a good half an hour before my pulse returned to its normal rate. All I can say is, no wonder Austrian children are perfect little angels. If American kids were threatened with a Krampus instead of lame coal in their stockings, they’d be much better behaved too.
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The Krampuslauf was the most drama I experienced this week. We went out for Italian food with Kirsten and Rachel on Tuesday night but that was just about the only other time I left the dorm during our five day homework marathon. Thursday night brought the last karaoke night of the semester at O’Malley’s, an evening of terrible singing and smoke inhalation to be enjoyed by all. Friday we ventured back out to Hellbrunn Palace to see the Christmas Market there. I had been with my parents, but Kirsten and Rachel had yet to see it, so we wandered around for a bit, though their lack of reindeer disappointed me yet again. Friday was a shopping day, and Rachelle and I trekked through the Christmas Market in search of various things for ourselves and our friends. I’m trying real hard not to think about the fact that each time I go into a certain store or catch a certain glimpse of the town might be the last time I do so this semester. Taking my mind off of our imminent departure was a Christmas party at Frau Schoettke’s today, which was fun and probably the last time a large group of us AIFS kids will be together outside of class. It also snowed this morning and again tonight, so we got to experience something at least resembling a snowy Salzburg. It didn’t stick on the roads, but walking home from Frau Schoettke’s tonight was about as wonderfully Christmassy as it gets. This week: the Silent Night chapel, final exams, one last kebap, packing, and more crying than I’ve done in a while.
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Christmas in Salzburg

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Last Saturday Rachelle, Maya, Kirsten, Rachel and I woke up early to spend the day making Christmas cookies. We lugged our baking ingredients and cookie cutters to Frau Shoettke’s apartment and spent the rest of the day crowded into her tiny kitchen improvising recipes and taking hot trays out of the oven with tea towels instead of hot pads. Apparently Frau Shoettke doesn’t believe in them. Hot pads, that is. She did, however, have a set of American measuring cups so we managed to mix most of our four types of cookies (plus fudge!) rather well. Our biggest debacle came when we realized we had forgotten that sugar cookie dough needs to chill before it gets rolled, and we had somewhat stupidly saved the sugar cookies for last. When we finally attempted to roll it, the dough stuck to the table and refused to allow us to pick up any cut out cookies we managed to create. So into the freezer it went. Eventually, after adding an alarming amount of flour and learning to roll the smallest amount of dough at a time we got all of our cookies made, hedgehog shaped ones and all. More importantly, they all tasted quite good. Later Saturday night we went to a “Latin Party” hosted by another university here in Salzburg, and the girls attempted to teach me some semblance of actual Latin dancing. Not sure that worked out so well.

Sunday was busy yet again as we had planned to get out to the stadium to see a football game at least once while we’re here, and Salzburg was playing Vienna on Sunday, a rivalry worth seeing. We met our friends at the bus stop about two hours before the start of the game in the hopes that we could get there and get tickets before they sold out. We weren’t quite anticipating what happened next. At a bus stop outside of town, in front of a random fire station, the bus driver turns off the bus looks at the five of us strangely for staying in our seats and says “Ende.” The bus was done. According to our map and all other available information that bus went all the way to the stadium. Just not for us, apparently. At a lose as to what to do, we got off of the stopped bus and tried to assess our situation. We were in rural Salzburg and an unknown distance from our destination. I had carried my road map with me every day for the entire semester until I gave it to my parents the weekend before and forgot to get it back, so of course we had no actual map when we needed it. Turns out Kirsten is directionally skilled even when it comes to bus maps, and she managed to lead us on a scavenger hunt of sorts from bus stop to bus stop until we found the stadium on foot. Never a dull moment.

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When we got to the stadium we got in line for tickets and managed to get five for the fan/student section. This meant we got cheap tickets, but we had to sit with the crazies. Or stand, because the only time we got to sit was during halftime. But before we even found our seats we had to get into the stadium which involved going through security. We got in line and were soon thereafter informed that we were in fact in the mens’ line. Oops. So we got in line again. After we’d all gotten through the correct line they told us we couldn’t get into the building through that door because our seats were on the other side of the stadium. Cue walking back around, through a third security line, and then finally into the stadium and into the fan section.
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We cheered on the Red Bulls for the next ninety minutes or so, clapping and yelling German gibberish like the crazed people around us. The section had its own drum to beat out the chants, and two men who led the crowd in cheering. We picked up some of the words/meanings of the chants, but for the most part it was just fun being around all of that enthusiasm. The Vienna fans were across the field from us, but they had their fair share of flags and choreographed chants as well. They even had flares. As to why they took Rachelle’s water bottle away at security but let the fans in with flares I haven’t a clue, but it made for quite the scene. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, but perhaps it’s better no one scored a goal. Regardless of which team it had been, I think I would have feared a bit for my life.

Monday and Tuesday were homework days. I still have epic amounts of papers to write, so the spare moments I have are mostly spent pretending to work on them. Wednesday morning AIFS treated us to chestnuts, gingerbread, and punch at the Christmas markets so that was fun. We watched lots of adorable Austrian school kids walk through the market on outings with their teachers. At one point a teacher bought one cotton candy for the whole class to share and then held it high and the air while tearing off small pieces to feed to the kids. It was like watching little birds. Adorable. Later on Wednesday, for one of our last Womanly Wednesday’s of the semester, a few of us got together to eat cake for dinner and watch movies. I’m fairly certain there’s a direct correlation between eating cake for dinner and craving vegetables for days afterwards, but no regrets in the nutrition department.

Thursday morning we had our departure meeting which really brought home that we’re leaving in less than two weeks now. We got information about our return flights and filled out program evaluation forms. Paperwork shouldn’t make anyone sad, but I almost burst into tears just thinking about how hard it’s going to be to say goodbye to Salzburg itself and all of the people I’ve met. Good thing it’s a long drive to the Munich airport because I’m going to need all of that time to achieve anything resembling dry eyes I’m sure. Trying not to think about it. I have papers to write this extra long holiday weekend so that’s at least distracting me. Happy that it snowed a bit this morning, enough to stick for a while but only until it started raining. Hoping to catch the Krampus tomorrow night. What are Krampus you ask? That, my friends, is for another blog post.

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…

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.

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.

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!