Monday, May 25, 2009


So I'm in Ireland! And I have mixed feelings about it, to tell you the truth.

The negatives:

A of all, I miss Prague and all my USAC friends. Lots. The value of knowing a city and having a place to call home is immeasurable. I've met a lot of nice people so far, but drifting around, on my own, is not the greatest thing in the world.

B of all, getting around in Ireland without a car is kind of a drag. It's difficult to figure out, and as a result, I'm skipping several places that I wanted to see. But it's okay. I'm going to save money by spending more time in each city, and not traveling as much. So far, I've done Dublin and Kilkenny, Tuesday I'm going to Cork for 4 nights, Saturday I'm going to the Aran Islands for a night (hopefully). But as I'm looking at the tickets, I don't think I'll have enough money. I'd have to take a bus from Cork to Galway, which is 15 euros, then a transfer coach and ferry (return trip) to the Islands, which is 26 euros. Plus I'd have to have a hostel and all that, which would be about another 20 euros...Probably not going to work.

C of all, in the Czech Republic, prices are way cheaper outside of Prague. Not so in Ireland. Things are pretty much the same price outside of Dublin, which is LAME.

The positives:

It's Ireland. It is beautiful. The music is amazing. Also, being independent is fun, in it's own way.

But a lot of me just wishes I was home. Sorry if this entry is a downer - don't think I'm not having a great time in Ireland, I am, it's just been more difficult than I hoped it would be.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Life is for living

Dear USAC,

Why on EARTH would you make the program end the day after finals? That's just kind of dumb. I have way too much crap to do, and I leave in two days. Maybe you should change this, because it's all kinds of annoying. kthanxbye.

Yeah, two days. I leave in two days. I can't wrap my head around it, quite. My friend Ariel from high school is visiting me right now, which is awesome because it gives me a chance to go out and say goodbye to a bunch of things one last time. I feel kind of bad though, I've got a paper to finish and a big final to study for, so I can't give as much of my time as I'd like. I don't know when I'm going to have time to pack either HOLY CRAP I'M LEAVING! It's basically the saddest thing ever.

I keep having random moments of "crap, I'm really going to miss that" - last night, sitting in the kitchen on the windowsill, looking out at nothing in particular, BAM. "I'm really going to miss it here." Last Sunday, walking with Adriene and Casey through Staromestka, looking at all the different buildings and thinking about the boring architecture in America; shopping at Billa and saying "dobry den" to the cashier, sitting in a booth at Blind Eye and speaking Czech with a native (yes, I actually can speak enough Czech to get by! How wonderful is that?), walking to school through Vysehrad, talking to Petr Roubal about Chicago, being asked "Co jste delala o minuly vikendu?" by Lenka, the Czech teacher. I'm going to miss it all and so much more.

I feel definitely changed by this experience. Forgive me when I get home if I can't answer right away when asked about my experiences. I'm still processing and it might take awhile. Give me a little time though, and I'm sure I'll be boring you with "Oh, we did such-and-such in Prague" and you'll hate me and want me to shut up. I feel a little quieter and a little more confident all at once. I think I'm more proud of the time I've had here than of any other time in my life so far, other than Nicaragua. I feel very self-sufficient and at the same time, very well taken care of. It seems that life can be lived well in lots of parts of the world - I've seen a lot of things and met a lot of people who've confirmed that for me.

So enough with the philosophical musings. I've got a paper to write, sights to see for one last time, and things to pack. And I'm going to Ireland also. kthanxbye.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

If you call, I'll come running.

ONEMONTHonemonthonemonthonemonthonemonth one month from today I will be in America. Oh man.

I'm going to Ireland in a week. Oh man.

I came to an important realization this weekend. It is thus:

Camping is the great equalizer.

Seriously. 10 of us went camping in north Bohemia, at a place called česky Raj, which means "Bohemian Paradise". Bohemian yes, paradise...maybe.

It started off like any normal camping trip: we got a group together and bussed out about an hour and a half from Prague. We bought groceries at the Billa in Turnov, the closest town to our camp. Most grocery lists consisted of "chocolate, beans, cookies, bread, pomegranate water, wine, apples." So maybe this should have been our first indication of unpreparedness...

We took a tiny, slow-moving train to Bohemian Paradise for the low low cost of 78 kc for 10 people. Yep, 8 kc per person. Not even $.50. We walked to our campsite, got all checked in, and found our teepees. We did, in fact, stay in teepees. And I'm not sure what comes into your mind when I say "teepees", but these were legit. And the campsite said each teepee had 6 beds in them, so we were all thinking like camping cots or just a soft pallet on the ground or something. But when we pried open the flaps of our teepee, inside were wooden pallets. Like, wooden packing crates.

We all cracked up. Now we KNEW we were unprepared: none of the guys had brought blankets or pillows, and only 4 of us girls had. So we were 4 blankets and 2 pillows among 10 people. That was awesome, and really great planning on our part. This even would have been okay, except that it started raining at about 10:30 and we had to leave our campfire behind and go to the cold cold teepee and huddle for warmth. We pushed all our crate-beds together and slept like sardines under 4 blankets with wet jackets for pillows. And ate crackers and Smurf-shaped marshmallows all night long.

But honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. And why I say camping is an equalizer: as we sat around the fire, I had flashbacks to Colorado, almost exactly a year ago, when we huddled in "Hotel Brush" and ate chili and cookies and watermelon mixed with dust and generally ended up loving each other a lot more. The same thing happened in Bohemian Paradise, and that was great. Plus, the scenery was the "paradise" part. It was breathtakingly gorgeous - huge sandstone rock formations, forests of pine trees with sunlight trickling down to the ground, moss on every possible surface, and that incredible foresty smell that is like nothing else.

The morning after our ridiculous crate-bed night, Sarah, Allie and I ended up sleeping in this little kitchen area, passed out with our heads on our arms on picnic tables. It was so warm in there, and there were no bugs, and no crate-beds - three things which made it better than the teepee. I'm sure we got some strange looks. Then we moved our little party to the Czech version of a beach, which basically consists of a large, muddy pond with a few tons of imported sand and a volleyball net. We slept there a little bit, too. Aren't land-locked countries just precious?

It was a really good time. I wouldn't change any part of it. Now I have to go to bed - we're watching the sun rise on our last Wednesday in Prague tomorrow. Sad face.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I keep bleeding, I keep keep bleeding love.

I have officially less than two weeks left in the Czech Republic. I leave Wednesday, May 20 for the UK and Ireland, and while I was almost wishing I were going straight home, now I'm excited about that again. Still don't really know what I'm going to do there, but it'll be awesome, no matter what!

Anyway, I've been to three different places since the last time I wrote. Kutna Hora, Karlovy Vary, and MORAVIA. Now, Moravia is actually an entire region of the Czech Republic, but I'm not altogether sure of the towns we saw, because it was a guided tour and they neglected to mention where we were.

Kutna Hora: has a bone church. As in, a church decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. It's pretty much exactly like it sounds - picture a small chapel with a quaint chandelier containing each and every bone of the human body ("even the tiny ear bones"). And picture a garland of skulls and pelvises trailing across the ceiling. Yep, it was weird. And strangely underwhelming.

Kutna Hora is also famous for it's medieval silver mines, which we were lucky enough to get to tour. Usually they're not open for tours at this time of year, but some small group of EU ambassadors (!) were in the area so we got to do the tour with them. It's kind of crazy the kind of information our program director can find out. I swear that man knows everyone. The silver mines were uber-cool and creepier than the bone church. We donned white robes and shell-shaped hardhats and descended. There were all kinds of the clearest underground streams that looked like still mirrors and stalagmites and stalactites and extremely narrow passageways and plenty of opportunities to hit your head. The coolest part was definitely when the tour guide brought us into the widest part and had us all turn off our lamps. Complete and utter darkness. I don't think I've ever seen/not seen such darkness before, where there's literally no difference between having your eyes open and having them closed. Insane.

So yeah, Kutna Hora's a pretty cool town. Much cooler than Karlovy Vary, where we went a week later. It's a spa town, and it seems that spa-ing is pretty much the only cool activity available in Karlovy Vary. We took a tour of the town and sampled the "healing" mineral waters, most of which tasted like vomit or metal, take your pick, and bought cute little mineral water tasting cups, which are curved and have a straw in the handle, which is pretty freaking precious. My friends called me Karlovy Vary (or Karlsbad, the German name of the town) all day. We bought some snacks and ice cream and laid in the park for about 4 hours. No kidding. Not a lot to do in Karlovy Vary.

But the day after KV, we went on a Moravian Extravaganza! Four towns in 6 hours! The first place we went was Moravsky Krumlov, which contains half the name of my favorite Czech town, Cesky Krumlov, so I thought it would be really cool. Sadly no, but it does contain one of the most amazing art exhibits I've ever seen. Alfons Mucha, the famous Czech painter (you'd definitely know his work if you saw it, google him) took it upon himself to paint 20 canvases containing the entire history of the Slavic people. And okay, that's impressive enough, but these canvases. They are HUGE. 18 by 24 feet. Even one of them is the biggest painting I've ever seen, but there are 20. It's absolutely crazy. I could post a picture, but it doesn't really do it justice. If you ever have the chance to go to Moravsky Krumlov, be sure to check it out. Actually, I don't know why you'd go to Moravsky Krumlov except to see them...'cause there's nothing else there.

After that, we went to Milukov (I think) and had lunch and hiked up a beautiful hill. I was wearing completely inappropriate shoes (story of my life) but it was worth it. From the top you could see Austria and many, many rolling yellow fields of rapeseed, which is quickly becoming my favorite plant. I want to dance through those fields, but apparently most humans are highly allergic to unadultered rapeseed oil. So maybe I won't do that. But it won't stop me from dreaming!

We drove to another town after that and hiked around a lake this time, and saw some Turkish-influenced architecture with Arabic inscribed on the sides. Then we headed to the Moravian countryside and did a wine tasting. All in all, it was a really fun day. We spent the night at the little villa where we had dinner, and came back the next day. Great weekend. And I promptly spent the next two days holed up inside because of course it was RAINING when we came back. And it's not like at home, where it can rain and still be warm because of all the humidity in the air - no, here when it's cloudy, it's also cold. Not okay with 40 degrees during the day in May. Not cool, Prague.


1. Prague Zoo
2. See an opera
3. Watch sunrise at Charles Bridge
4. See some black light theatre
5. Brenov Monastery
6. Bohemian Paradise
7. Karaoke in Prague
8. Revisit all my favorite parks

So much to do, so little time. Then Ireland and Scotland!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hello darkness my old friend...

I have only three weeks left in Prague. This is incredibly sad. I love it here. I wrote a love letter to Prague a couple months ago, but that love has grown by leaps and bounds, especially now that the weather is SO INCREDIBLY FREAKING GORGEOUS!

Great things I've done lately:

1. Divoka šarka valley - I've gone to many parks in Prague, and each one is awesome, but this one takes the cake. Huge limestone rocks, beautiful trees, a stream running through, and so much green everywhere. It looks like I would picture the Irish countryside looking. Amazing. Casey and I hiked and climbed the highest rock, and the sun burst through the clouds right as we sat down at the top.

2. Pilates. I'm working out! Hooray for me!

3. Sat in Letna park and re-read the Twilight series. Don't you judge me.

4. Made lists of songs I intend to record when I get home.

5. Bought a super cheap flight from Prague to London, and one from London to Dublin. Total cost: under $70. Sa-weet.

Dumb things I've done recently:

1. Thought about food I haven't had in a long time...Diet Dr. Pepper, Taco Bueno, lettuce wraps from Pei Wei, Sushi, Mazzio's Pizza, fountain drinks from There I go again.

2. Become lactose intolerant? I guess that's what happened - my stomach had been hurting for more than a week, and I thought maybe it might be dairy that was causing it, so I quit eating it. And now I feel mostly better...weird.

3. Not planned anything for my trip to Ireland...I need to get on that. I've just been looking at pictures and thinking, oh, that looks nice...

Anyway, it's a short post, but just know that I love Prague. Love it love it love it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I will be home in less than two months. Wow. And yikes.

On to the promised Vienna and Budapest blog! Good luck getting through the whole's reeeeally long. Sorry.

On Friday, April 3, 2009, I embarked on what would surely become THE BEST FIVE DAYS OF MY LIFE. After packing about twenty minutes before we left, we all got to the train station and departed on the Expedition Bus. "This bus has been to the Arctic Circle and the Scandinavian countries, so don't worry," says Petr. (Can I just start calling him Ptr? Let's save all the E's, why don't we?) "Aaaand the seats fold down into bunk beds, so if you have need of a nap, we can arrange it. I have never seen...such a bus." And if only you could all hear these things with Ptr's crazy Czech accent and strange vampire-esque inflection, you would surely laugh as hard as we all did on the Such-a-Bus.

Oh, the things that man does. Come to think of it, what exactly DOES that man do? (Here comes the Thnikkaman!) Points if you get that crazy reference (except for Rachel, who darn well better get it.)

So our first stop was Divci kamen castle ruins, about 2 hours away from Prague. We went on a beautiful hike through the woods and met the famous Geiger, who is a friend of Jan and Petr's and has been involved with USAC for 6 years. He just got back from traveling in Mexico and the US, which is weird. I mean, it seems so strange that Europeans take THE big trip of their lives to America. We saw some excellent ruins and climbed all over the walls. The nice thing about lesser known sites in Europe is that you can do a lot more - I mean, you can't even get close to Stone Henge or a lot of the castle ruins in Britain, but we climbed the walls and raced through the grounds and we were the only people there. It was awesome. After the castle, Geiger offered to hike to Cesky Krumlov with anyone who wanted to. It meant missing the castle and town tour, but as I'd already been to Cesky Krumlov twice, I didn't really mind. (That's right, this blog includes, for the third time in as many entries, CESKY KRUMLOV! I was there Again. It is a great place, but really, my trips there have been getting a little excessive.)

So Geiger took Sarah, Casey, Jill and I on a really nice walk through the countryside. We found out that Geiger is his last name; he goes by Geiger because his first name is something that starts with a K and ends with Too Many Consonants, and no Americans can pronounce it, apparently. We stopped at a monastery called Zlata Koruna (Golden Coin, weird name for a monastery), saw a couple of tiny towns, then took a really sloooow train into town. We met up with our group at an outdoor terrace restaurant, and listened to this crazy man Bryce talk about Cesky Krumlov while we had a beer. This guy ended his talk by asking who among us took "happy pills", and I became convinced that his "happy pills" didn't mix too well with his two beers. Strange man.

That night we had dinner at the Eggenberg brewery. I ate fish for the first time (and probably last) of the semester, and talked to Petr about American politics and his favorite states in America (he likes Texas. We maybe can't be friends anymore). After dinner, Petr and Geiger took us to a dance club and dance we did. My friend Allie has started calling USAC "camp" and I think it's pretty accurate. We do very little school and very much awesome stuff. Jan and Petr and Geiger are probably the best counselors ever, but I want to know when we're going canoeing.

The next morning, we got up early to go to Vienna! And about five minutes after we got on the bus, Petr told us that if we were hungry, there was cheese and bread on the bus...and he was not kidding. The biggest block of cheese I have ever seen. I have never seen...such a cheese.

So we got to Schonbrunn Palace at around 11:00 - it's a "summer palace" and the first thing we saw was this large, one-room structure that was apparently used only for breakfast. The emperor would ride his horse up the hill for breakfast in this huge elaborate room. A bit ridiculous. But still pretty. We saw some Roman ruins and a spring, and it was HOT outside. Hot. Seriously - the sun was with us the whole trip. It was amazing.

After Schonbrunn, we had schnitzel at a restaurant and I was sitting next to Petr again somehow. He told us the cooks in the restaurant put ketchup on our plates because we're American and they just assumed that we would want ketchup. I had some kind of delicious strawberry drink with my meal...can't remember what it was called (some German word), but man, it was tasty. We also had one of the funniest moments of our entire trip when Petr asked us what our favorite Czech words were. I said mine was "škrtl" because of all the consonants, and he then told us the longest Czech word with no vowels at all: ČTVRTHRST. And that was hilarious enough, but THEN he tried to explain what it means: "When you are forming flicking...something." We died laughing, all of us, and I still have no idea what the heck he meant.

After lunch we went to our hostel and then walked through the city. We went up Mariahilfer Strasse, a huge shopping street, and through the Museums Quarter, through Maria Theresa Platz and the Hofburg residence and it was gorgeous. Much, much prettier than I remembered three years ago. I absolutely loved Vienna. Near Stephansplatz, John and Allie and I broke from the group and got ice cream, after seeing a bunch of people with ice cream cones going the opposite way. Then we got pizza from a stand on Mariahilfer Strasse where the guys who owned the place said, "You are from America! From New York, no? No? I live in New York once! I love America! You are American!" And it was delicious pizza.

After the pizza, several of us went to the Austrian equivalent of a Czech Herna bar (nonstop) because it was the only darn thing open on a Saturday night. What's up with that, may I ask? It was only 10:30, and nothing was open. Laaaame. Anyway, we drank a Radler (half beer, half lemon soda?) and went back to our hostel, where we were talking in very not-loud tones when the hostel owner came outside, freaking out that some neighbor was going to call the police. So our night in Vienna was a bit lame. But the days were great.

We went to the Belvedere to see an Alfons Mucha exhibit the next day. There's a permanent Mucha exhibition in Prague that isn't very cool, and this one in Vienna put it to shame. They had the most gorgeous piece of jewelry I've ever seen
Though that hardly does it justice. They also the second panel of his gigantic "Slav Epic" which was very cool. I bought the coolest souvenir ever - a wooden bottle opener shaped like a mushroom. It's sweet.

After the Belvedere, we had time to do whatever, so some of us had Sachertorte (sorry Rachel, not as good as I thought it'd be...I feel bad for not loving it...) and then I went back to Maria Theresa Platz and slept in the grass for half an hour, which was indescribably glorious. Being able to sleep in the grass outside after so many months of snow and rain and cold was AMAHZING. I felt so good and just plain happy when I woke up.

We stopped by Hundertwasser Haus on our way our of Vienna and used the "Toilet of Modern Art". Auf wiedersehen, Vienna!

Then suddenly, we were in Budapest, which I like to refer to, affectionately, as Crazytown. Evidence:
1. Hungarian. Is. The Weirdest. Language. Ever. It is called a "Finno-Ugric language", which basically means, "Good luck learning this if you weren't born speaking it." Yes, I complain about Czech being crazy, but it's got nothing on Hungarian. Check out a few sample phrases: Jo napot! Szervusz! Viszontlatasra! Nem beszelek magyarul. Fizetek! WHAT?!

2. Budapest looks suspiciously like Vienna. Here I am picturing it all crazy and full of gypsies, but no. Very like Vienna.

3. Their currency is called the Forint, and the conversion is approximately $1=228 forints. HOW am I supposed to figure that out in my head, may I ask!?

4. Spas. Many spas. Old people in speedos and bikinis.

Anyway though, Crazytown is really cool. We had the most delicious soup EVER, which we all know is enough to make me happy - it was some kind of peppers and carrots and potatoes and beef good. A Hungarian friend of Geiger's, Rikard, showed us around the castle at night, we learned that Budapest is actually Buda and Pest, two towns, and that Buda is the cool side. Then we sat for many hours with Geiger and Rikard and watched the Danube River flow by, our feet dangling over a highway...

The next day, Sarah, Casey, Allie and I went with Geiger in the early morning (7:00!) to a really cool pool and swam for an hour. It was weird, it was inside some old hotel with really nice architecture. Very cool. Then we ate an amazing breakfast at our hotel (Hungarians know their food) and went to another SPA. Luckily for me, this one was not so into the nudity, though there were enough old Hungarian men in Speedos that I'm certain my eyes are scarred forever. But it was warm enough to lay out! And get SUNBURNED!! I never thought I'd be so excited about the ability to get burned. Loved it.

April and I actually ate at TGI Friday's after the spa...I'm a bit ashamed, but you know what - it was delicious, I actually got a refill on my drink for free, and I don't regret it. Something you have to know about studying abroad - it's something of a mark of shame if you admit to going to Starbucks or McDonald's or TGI Friday's and liking it, especially somewhere like Prague, where it's very possible to avoid American chain restaurants due to the influence of Communism and stuff (especially Starbucks, the first one didn't even come to Prague until 2006). So even though there's a stigma attached, I'm okay with admitting my transgression :-)

Ji Min and I went to a market later that day and saw a Hungarian folk band play. They got a bunch of people from the crowd to dance, and it was all kinds of adorable. I never say no to bagpipes. That night, some of us went to a bar called Morrison's, and it was probably pretty cool, but so crowded that I wanted to DIE. I don't think I've been in a more crowded place.

In the morning, after another delicious breakfast, we went to Slovakia. Now, I love Slovakia, but not Bratislava. There's really nothing there. The castle's under repair, the "Old Town" is tiny, and the whole city has none of that Eastern European charm I've grown so accustomed to. But one cool thing - I was asking Rikard about the differences between Slovaks and Hungarians, and as we were talking, he pointed a man out and said, "Oh, that's the former prime minister of Slovakia," and then continued with his story. Kind of crazy.

After uneventful Bratislava, we went to Devin Castle, right outside of Bratislava, and it was awesome. There's a huge well that you're supposed to pour water in and then make a wish before it hits the bottom. It takes about 7 seconds. Insane. My group made me sing into the well, which was, for me, one of the best moments of the trip. I sang Killing Me Softly and made people join in on the was really cool. I don't know how to explain it except to say that it was really cool.

Then we headed back to Prague. It was an insanely awesome trip. I'm sorry this entry was so long, and I'll post a link to some pictures soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Austria! Austria!

SO sorry everyone. I'm a terrible blogger. I vow to keep up with this thing better from now on...

Anyway. Onward and upward (also, no more pictures on the blog, because my computer's old and slow and it takes about twice as long to make a blog if I put them on here. But I'll put a link to them on facebook)

Spring break happened. It was incredible. A (brief, maybe?) rundown:

Madison came with me to Cesky Krumlov (it is, for me, my lovely) and we hung out in the general loveliness and hiked again to the top of the hill to watch the beautiful sunset, and talked about life. We met an Australian girl named Shan who came with us for a delicious breakfast of potatoes, sausage, orange juice, eggs, and toast, for the low, low price of 99 kc (under $5). Madison left after one night and I stayed on. Shan and I walked up the street to a pub and took two jars of beer back to the hostel, which we shared with three girls who work at a hostel in Prague, an Australian guy named Josh who works at a hostel in Olomouc (a town about three hours east of Prague), and one of the Krumlov House workers, Cam, who is also Australian. We talked about food, namely, movies, and music. Apparently Cam used to be quite the metalhead and followed Iron Maiden on tour for each his own.

The next morning, a shuttle bus took Shan, who was on her way to Vienna, and I to Linz, Austria, so we could catch trains to other parts of Austria. I got a VORTEILScard, which gets me a 50% discount on all Austrian train fare for a year, then I headed off to Salzburg. Riding trains is really convenient and quick, but really nerve-wracking, because you have to pay attention and make sure that you're not supposed to change trains at some obscure station in the middle of the country. I was right in the middle of writing in my journal about my train confusion when I realized that I was supposed to be switching trains at Attnang-Pucheim, so I grabbed all my stuff and ran up to the conductor, pointing at my ticket and asking , "Salzburg? SALZBURG?!" And he said something in German and pointed out the window. Then, sensing that I was insane and probably didn't understand what I was supposed to do, he walked me off the train and showed me the platform where I could catch my next train. Very nice man.

So I made to Salzburg, relatively intact, around 1:00 pm on Monday. My couchsurfing hosts weren't getting home until 7:00, so I had a few hours to explore on my own. I left my backpack in a luggage locker at the tourist information point and did a recommended walking tour from Rick Steves "Best of Europe" book, which was really cool. I saw the Salzburg Panorama, which is basically what it sounds like - a 360 view of Salzburg, painted sometime in the 19th century. It sounds kind of lame, but it was actually really cool. There were also paintings of other cities in the 1800s; Istanbul (still called Constantinople at the time), Cairo, Jerusalem, the French Riviera, Niagara Falls, and a bunch of other places. Well worth the 2 Euros, in case you're ever in Salzburg.

I had coffee in Cafe Furst, where I tried my first Mozartkugeln, otherwise known as a "Mozart ball". It was delicious, and I learned the ancient Austrian art of sitting in a cafe and making a cappuccino last for two hours. Around seven I walked up the river to my couchsurfing place, and met two of the sweetest people in Austria, Michael and Steffi, and their adorable dog, Anouk. They let me sleep in the guest room and gave me spaghetti for dinner, then Michael gave me a tour of the city and took me to the bar where he said he spent much of his youth. We talked about America and my impressions of Europe and Europeans, and I asked him what he thought about Americans. He told me about living in California for a few years for his job, and said that when he took a business trip to Texas he saw men in suits with cowboy hats and boots, and couldn't believe that people actually did that. He thought that only happened in the movies - sadly no, I told him. I asked him if people actually wore liederhosen, and he said, "Oh yes, sometimes Steffi will put on her dirndl and I will put on my liederhosen and we will go to the market. But only in the summer, though." Cultural differences, my friends.

I had been planning to stay only one night in Salzburg and go to Hallstatt the next day, but reading my guidebook I found that most things in Hallstatt are closed until mid-April, so I stayed in Salzburg for another day. Michael and Steffi were nice enough to let me stay with them another night, and they even lent me a bike to ride around Salzburg. I'm so glad I stayed another day, because I had time to hike up the hill to the fortress, and visit Nonnberg Abbey, the abbey from Sound of Music. I saw the very hills that are alive, and I can believe that they've sung songs for a thousand years, for real. Salzburg is an unbelivably gorgeous town, surrounded by mountains, intersected by a river, filled with old men in those little green fedoras with a flower in the brim and bikers biking along the Salzach River. I loved it.

The next day I caught a train for Bad Gastein, a spa town about two hours from Salzburg. I stayed in a hostel, and almost as soon as I got there, I met a really nice British girl who reminded me a lot of my friend Rebekah who I did The Old Maid with at Broken Arrow Community Playhouse. We got lunch together, then I snagged a map from the lobby and took a Winterwangerwege (Winter Walk) through some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. It went along a river for almost 5 km, into a little settlement with adorable cabins and campgrounds. Here's an embarrassing story for you - on the way back I had to pee really badly, but there were definitely no bathrooms around, so I went to go in the woods and my shoe got sucked into some mud that was hidden underneath a bunch of moss. I heard some people coming so I yanked my foot out really fast and nearly lost my shoe, then had to walk several miles with a mud soaked shoe. Not a big deal though; it was so beautiful I hardly noticed.

Back at the hostel I met up with Rebekah's British doppelganger and we had dinner in the restaurant at the hostel, where we talked about the weirdness of an Austrian spa and how I wasn't quite sure if I could handle it. But I figured, I'm only here for one day, I'll probably never come back again, and you only live once anyhow, so nevermind modesty, I'm going to that spa. Did I mention that part of it is a nudist area? No? is. So the next morning, I bought my spa ticket, procrastinated a bit by buying my next train ticket and getting groceries, and then went. And acutally, it was really fun. The main part isn't nudist, just really warm thermal pools and hot tubs with fully "clothed", though quite old, and proud, Speedo-wearing Austrians. I'm pretty sure I was the youngest person there by about 20 years, save a couple other people who were from the same hostel as me. There was one really hot thermal bath outside, which was like sitting in a huge hot tub. But surrounded by breathtaking mountains. With snow falling on my face. And so much romantsy steam rising off the water that I felt like this couldn't be real, I had to be in a dream. And believe it or not, I went to the nudist part. And it was an experience. One that I will never repeat again, but certainly an experience. Let me just say, Austrians have very few body-image issues, apparently. I also got yelled at by an old Austrian woman for having my feet on the wood in a sauna. As though that was the biggest issues with a bunch of naked people sitting around...

After the spa I felt incredibly clean and relaxed and ready to go to Innsbruck, Austria, the next stop on my tour. The train ride from Bad Gastein to Innsbruck was gorgeous, especially when I saw a little town called Zell am See ("See" means lake in German) which I would love to go back to one day. I felt like a got a full day of sight-seeing in just by looking out the train window.

I got to Innsbruck at 6:00, and had an hour to wander from the train station to my couchsurfing host's house. It was enough time to convince me that I could live in Innsbruck forever and be happy. It's a lot like one of my favorite places in America, Ft. Collins, CO, in that it's surrounded by mountains, has a big university, and is generally one of the most precious pieces of land on the earth. My couchsurfing host, Andi, was also really awesome. He took me to Zappa Cafe and Music Bar, that I suspect Dad would have loved, and we talked about the difference between Austrians and Germans (conclusion: Austrians are better) and I increasingly wanted to live in Austria as the night went on. It's a great country. (Props to people who've studied abroad there.) He offered to drive me to Munich the next day because he had to take his dad to the airport, but it ended up not working out. But we shared Milka Eggs (why are candies shaped like eggs so GOOD?!) and Edelweiss beer and he was a generally wonderful host. Innsbruck makes my list of the best towns ever.

Also let's talk about couchsurfing for a hot minute - if you don't know about it, it's basically an exchange where you offer to hsot people who come to the city where you live, and people in turn host you when you come to their cities. You meet people who really know the city and have an insider's perspective, and it's actually very safe because every person gets reviews from people they've hosted or been hosted by, so you can tell they aren't total creepers. I've met some of the coolest people in the world so far. It's amazing.

Anyway, next I went to Munich. I didn't love Munich as much as the other places - it's so BIG, you can really see why Hitler wanted it for his headquarters, because it's all very majestic and grand, but I don't know, it doesn't really seem to have as much of a soul as some other cities (i.e. PRAGUE and Vienna and Budapest). That's actually probably too harsh - Munich is very beautiful, there's a lot of stuff to see, but I think I'm really more of a small city/town girl at heart. Munich's a bit intimidating. I couchsurfed, yet again, with a Romanian guy who took me to a couchsurfing party, where I was one of only two people who didn't speak German, which could have been bad, but everyone was really accomodating and we spoke a weird mash of German, English, and Italian (which, surprisingly, almost everyone knew enough of to get by). So that was awesome. I went to the Englischer Garten, the largest city park in Europe, and watched some guys surfing on the rapids of the river, which was hilarious. I lay on a bench and soaked up the sun, which was weak since it was March, but still the most sun I'd seen in a while. I walked around and marvelled at the fact that Munich could be almost completely rebuilt in such a short amount of time, and started to actually miss Prague, like it was home or something.

I got back early Monday morning - 5:00 am. I was actually relieved to see Czech on the signs and billboards - Czech might be a crazy language, but at least I know enough to figure out what I'm buying in the grocery store. German is just a different beast altogether. It seems like it should be fairly close to English, but really, no, it isn't at all. Give me Czech anyday.

So, to recap, Austria rules, Germany drools (okay, not really, but AUSTRIA IS AMAZING). Czech is in fact, a very simple and well-thought-out language, with no weird double s's or weird o's and e's that actually have a u sound with them (the crazy ř notwithstanding). Couchsurfing is the greatest thing ever. Munich is a fun name to say. Americans could take some lessons from Austrians on body image. It's really fun to travel alone -and not really scary at all. I had such an amazing sense of self-sufficiency after I got back safely to my flat in Prague - like, I did this, I traveled through three countries and five cities and made it! I experienced Austria on my own! I feel different now - not perceptibly maybe, but deep down, I feel like a better person because of this spring break.

And coming home to Prague was awesome, but kind of a letdown - it's weird to come "home" to a place that isn't really "home".

I love the world. And soon I will tell you my adventures from Vienna! and Budapest! which was probably the greatest five day stretch of my life. And it will be soon, I promise. No more three week breaks for me.