Friday, April 30, 2010

Ear infection??? :(

It's four am and I just woke up to pounding and warmth inside my "bad" ear. Well, it appears that my annual ear infection has come about. And of course it has to happen on the weekend, which has always been the trend in the past years. I've managed to find a doctor that appears to be open tomorrow (it seems as though they have a rotating schedule of weekend and holiday doctors here) and I'll have to head over there and hope I'm not waiting all day. One thing about the American health care system is that you don't have to wait. I'm all for universalized health care and all, but when you want some damn antibiotics, waiting for hours just isn't so ideal.

I can't fall back asleep, so naturally I'm online. The doctor opens in two hours, and I suppose I could head in early. But sleep sounds wonderful...

Prague-- A beautiful city and wonderful experience

I just returned from a five day trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. I was fortunate to share my experience with one of my classes from HAK Braunau. Each year the classes take a trip together with a couple of teachers as chaperone's. They usually don't venture too far from Austria, usually taking a bus somewhere or perhaps flying within Europe. Sometimes the trips are a time to practice learning a foreign language, like visiting Great Britain or attending a language camp somewhere-- but the trips can also just be a way to get out of Austria and have fun with classmates.

The purpose of visiting Prauge, in this case, was more of a leisure trip, rather than to learn a language. Thus, I ended up speaking mostly German the whole week. It wasn't required for me to go, but I thought it would be a fun opportunity for me to get to know the students more, and I have always wanted to go to Prague.

We left early Monday morning and immediately took a tour (everything was in German this week-- even the excursions) of the city. Our tour guide was the cutest, most stereotypical elderly Czech man wearing tweed and a baret. I swear he was at least 80, but he was trekking around the city in good health and spirits. Right from the beginning I was impressed with Prague, a beautiful city that retained much of its history, since it wasn't completely destroyed from WWII bombings. The city embraces a mixture of baroque and gothic architecture, which is a nice departure from the typical baroque style that is found throughout Europe (nonetheless, it is still one of my favorite styles).

Tuesday morning we had a second tour to complement the one the previous day. Our fun tour guide showed up again in tweed with his baret ready and excited to show us his city. I was quite impressed by our guide; not only could he lead tours for a number of hours at his age, but he is a warehouse for information about Prague in several languages. Later Tuesday evening, after a somewhat mediocre meal from the hotel, we all watched a production at the "Black Light Theater", a style of theater I had never seen, but that provided lots of entertainment.

Wednesday morning we left Prague and headed to a "KZ Lager", or a concentration camp/Jewish ghetto in Terezin. The work camp itself is situated within two fortresses, which were used earlier as protection of the small town/settlement. The town itself, just a few minutes from the work camp, is deteriorating and somewhat depressing. I couldn't imagine living there, but the ghetto is still lived-in.

Later that afternoon we visited the Skoda manufacturing plant. Skoda is a very popular car brand in Europe, originating from the Czech Republic. I had never been to a car plant before, and it was so interesting to see the production. I also learned lots of new words in German concerning cars and production! Wednesday was a long day, but I decided to go into the city with another student and watch the Barcelona v. Italy soccer game in a fun Irish pub.

Thursday was another long day. In the morning we took another side trip out to visit a glass/crystal company. That was also quite the experience to see how beautiful crystal products are made in less-than-pleasant working conditions. For instance, the glass blowers work in excruciatingly warm temperatures and are allowed to work almost naked. To curb their heat exhaustion, the company pays for them to have unlimited access to beer! Yes-beer! The tour guide assured us that the beer is low in alcohol concentration, and that the workers are never "drunk" at work. I thought that was just a crazy, interesting fact.

In the afternoon we headed back to Prague and took a one-hour boat tour on the Vltava. It was a very relaxing experience, and I can confidently say that I have seen most of Prague, at least from the outside. After a nice shopping session in the city, we headed back to the hotel, got ready and went out to a nearby beer tent to enjoy our last night in the city.

This morning we departed from Prague and headed to Český Krumlov to visit the Eggenberg brewery. The brewery was interesting, but the fresh beer from the restaurant there was even better. Sadly we didn't have enough time to see the whole city, but what I was able to see impressed me enough to want to visit the city again later on.

And that, in a nutshell, was my trip to Prague. Pictures to come, if I'm feeling up to posting. Otherwise check them out on Facebook.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Playing Dress Up

Tonight I finally get to wear my pretty dress that I had brought to Austria after my Christmas trip back home. I had hoped to wear it to a Maturaball (graduation ball) here in Braunau, and despite there being five or so balls per year, I have missed them all. So tonight I'll be attending some ball over the border in Simbach with the TAs living there. I'm excited to finally get dressed up, and hopefully my dress fits a bit better now, as I've lost about five pounds in the last two weeks on my new diet/workout regime!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

June 21st, 2010

It's official; I'll be home this summer for three months. I just bought my ticket and will be arriving in Minneapolis on June 21st. I'll head back to Austria September 20th, so almost three months. I can't wait to spend the summer with everyone back home!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vegan?

I just did something I've never done before: I just threw away all of my cheese. It was a bit hard to part with my cheese, since I'm a huge cheese fan.

But I've decided to take the "Eat to Live" six week challenge, which is essentially a vegan diet. I'm already vegetarian, and although I do enjoy cheese, that and eggs are really the only animal-product I still consume.

I've always felt my best when consuming a high produce diet, and I've missed that feeling over the past few months as I've been traveling and trying local, and often unhealthy, cuisine.

Thankfully I'll have support from a friend who is also beginning the six week challenge tomorrow. However, she's back home in the U.S., so we will have to rely on email support for a while. Wish me luck!

Zagreb, Croatia





April 2nd - 4th

After a lovely time in Slovenia we all (attempted) to take the train into Zagreb, Croatia. Unfortunately, someone in our group had forgotten her passport and was forced to get off the train in some small border-town in Slovenia, go back to Austria to get her passport, and meet us the next day in Zagreb. Ooops.

Impression of Zagreb: I loved Zagreb. The weather was fabulous, there were beautiful flowers all over the city, and the people seemed to be much friendlier in comparison to other cities I had been in prior to Zagreb. Similar to Ljubljana, Zagreb has a mixture of baroque and secessionist architecture. The city is much larger than Ljubljana, yet it still retains the charm you would find in small-city Ljubljana. Croatia is a candidate EU country, and they are very proud of this fact. I've never seen so many EU flags in a European country, other than perhaps Brussels. The city seems to be quite modern, but traveling throughout the countryside to the Plitvice Lakes National Park exposed another side of the country to us. Many of the homes in actual Croatian towns were lacking windows, some quite run-down. Many communities on the way to the parks, about two hours away, seemed unchanged since the Balkan wars, as some buildings were partially destroyed, thus completely abandoned. I can imagine on the coastal tourist towns it's another story.

Highlights:
=the tourist office was the best I've been to thus far in Europe. We were able to pick up a free walking tour brochure that kept us entertained for a couple of hours.
-because Easter took place the weekend we were there, the city was decorated with many flowers, a giant "Last Supper" statue, and giant Easter eggs throughout the city.
-our hostel was great and the staff was so friendly. A huge change from Ljubljana.
-Things were very cheap. Rick Steve's recommended an awesome sandwich shop to us in his book, and it was only two euros. We sat in a city park and soaked up the sun as we enjoyed our sandwiches.
-on Easter Sunday everything was closed, so we took the opportunity to take a two hour bus out to the Plitvice Lakes National Park-- a definite must-see, full of waterfalls, lakes, trails, and forests

Lowlights:
-again we were without someone in our party one night because of complications getting into the country
-we didn't have enough time to take advantage of the cheap currency and get our hair cut. So I spent about four times as much on Thursday in Braunau-- but she did a fabulous job; it's not a mullet!

Ljubljana, Sloevnia





March 31-April 2

After Florence and one night back in Padova, I boarded a small van with a Slovenian "bus" driver and an unidentifiable Balkan family towards Ljubljana. I had made a reservation with a Slovenian bus company from Venice to Ljubljana, but somehow I ended up in this van from the same company and the family, rather than catching the bus.

When I arrived in Ljubljana I finally could breath a bit, because of the underwhelming amount of English I didn't hear. I checked into the hostel, met Emily F., a friend of Emily and Matt, who would be traveling in Slovenia/Croatia with us.

Impressions of Ljubljana:
not too many tourists
small and quaint city
impressive architectural mix of baroque and secessionist
cheap products (cola was 65 cents)
much more affluent and westernized than I had anticipated

Highlights
spending two hours in the Contemporary Modern History Museum and chatting with the museum curator about this and that
people-watching
checking out the National Gallery and learning more about European artists
playing the role of individual tourist for a while without a big group
dragons
graffiti

Lowlights:
Significantly cooler, cloudier and rainier than in Italy
drama surrounding Emily and Matt getting stranded overnight in Piran and the hostel's fault concerning the matter


Overall, I really enjoyed Slovenia. I would love to come back and see more of the country.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Florence Photos



Florence, Italy

Okay so back to updating Easter break.

March 28-30:
Rae and I went to Florence, which is definitely a place worth visiting, but slightly overrated. To me it seemed as though the city really plays up its Renaissance history for the tourists who come. And the Renaissance just isn't really my thing. For example, I spent two hours in the Contemporary History Museum of Slovenia and was upset that I didn't have time since they were closing. But it took me less than an hour to get through the world famous Uffizi museum and, honestly, it was rather boring to me.

And another pet peeve was that I heard more English in the city than Italian. It seemed like every single High School choir in the United States was on spring break and decided to come to Florence and do a "choir" tour. Add that to the thousands of tourists from Europe who were also on holiday. Don't get me wrong, I'm a tourist myself. But there's something about trying to navigate through giant tour groups of inexperienced American wearing matching sweatshirts holding their "Rick Steve's Europe Through the Back Door" book that really overwhelms me. (I have to admit, however, that I love Rick Steve's... he totally was with us in spirit in the Balkans).

Florence highlights: sitting on the Piazza Michaelangelo the first night to watch the sun set over the Tuscan hills and the city lights come on; chatting in line at the Uffizi with an American/Austrian family; cheap and delicious wine; the wonderful complimentary breakfast at the hotel

Number one highlight: getting out of Florence to the Tuscan countryside. We went to Greve in Chianti, about an hour outside of the city. There we sat at a wine bar and I had the BEST Chianti wine of my life, as well as the best cheese plate of my life.

Lowlights of Florence: waking up to find the girl in our hostel room smoking (thereby switching to a hotel); not getting a full refund from our non-English speaking "international" hostel owner; accidentally walking in to an American bar and witnessing hundreds of American exchange students sing Karaoke; having to pay 72 euros round trip for the 1.5 hour train ride (this is why I appreciate OeBB more and more after each country visited).

Some people fall in love with Florence their first visit. I fell in love with Tuscany-- not Florence. Florence itself seems so centered around tourism. I couldn't experience real Italian life there. However, I was only there for a short period of time. Perhaps I should give the city a second chance.

Thank you Fulbright for your understanding

Hey everyone,


So much for finishing updating my blog about the trip over Easter break. I've been super busy since I got back, so I'll get around to it eventually.

But just a quick update: I finally received confirmation that the Austrian Fulbright accepted my application for a second year, and that I'll be teaching at two HAKs next year in Vienna! The best part is, all of my friends who applied for a second year will be there with me in Vienna! Great news, I'm so happy.

I'd like to take this moment and thank the Fulbright Commission for sympathizing with my position of living in Braunau this year and sending me to Vienna next year. DANKE SCHOEN!!!!!

Strangely enough, I will miss Braunau. Don't worry Braunauns, I will come back and visit. I promise!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Padova and Venice, Italy

I returned yesterday from my eleven day travels during Easter break. To make things easier, I have decided to blog separately for each city visited.

On March 26th I embarked on my nine hour adventure from Braunau to Padova, Italy (near Venice). A friend of mine, Raeanne, is interning for an international church there for a few months. When I arrived in Venice I experienced Italy's fine and reliable (sarcastic tone) rail system, as I got on the most crowded train of my life and stared out the window waiting to find my station, since nothing is ever announced on those regional trains. It's just a guessing game.

After guessing where to get off, and thankfully being right, I met Raeanne and we headed to her apartment. I got to know the city on my own right away, since Rae had to work a bit in the evening. Padova is a medium sized city, mostly populated by students. The city has a famous church where many Italians make a pilgrimage to so that they may hug the tomb of a famous saint... Anthony I think? Padova also has the largest square in all of Europe. I found the city quite nice, which is evident by the high fashion and the fact that it is one of the most affluent cities in Italy.

The next day we checked out Venice, the city composed of over 100 islands. There are no cars in the city, rather gondolas and water buses transport people around the town. I really enjoyed Venice, but there were far too many tourists in the main San Marco square for me. To begin our time in Venice we stopped at an Italian cafe and snacked on giant Italian pizzas and drank Italian wine. It's completely normal for Italians to drink wine at lunch, or nearly all times throughout the day. I bet that some people wake up and start drinking wine for breakfast. The wine is so cheap and so delicious. I have definitely found a new appreciation for Italian wines. Also the cappuccinos in Italy are a real treat.

After dining we got ourselves lost in the small allies, window shopped and soaked in the sights. I bought a typical carnival mask, some beautiful Venetian blown glass, and some other things. In the afternoon we toured the Doge's Palace, where the former Venetian government and prison was. And finally in the evening we took the water bus back to the train station, since gondolas are way too expensive.