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.

1 comment:

    oh gosh. this made me so terribly nostalgic that i am almost afraid to hear of your travels in vienna because i will probably fling myself on my bed in cold, cold upstate new york and bemoan my lost study abroad days. actually no i am crazy eager to read that post. as you can tell by how soon i'm commenting. because i'm a creeper, and miss you tons.