Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye....

Last final hours in Minnesota, USA before I board a flight back to Austria. This will mark the beginning of the longest stretch, in which I will be living abroad. In the last 18 months I've managed to come back to the US three times, but as of now, I have no plans to return any sooner than September-- that is, if I even come home.

My plans to stay in Austria are as of now indefinite. I have no plans on returning in the next year, unless something should happen, or the unfortunate circumstance in which I cannot find another job to keep me overseas.

So goodbye for now America. See you when I see you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

American Observations

It's not surprising that not much has changed in Minnesota in the matter of three months, except for the obvious record-breaking snow totals. Shakopee got a dumping of snow of colossal proportions. From the infamous snow storm of December 2010 two weeks ago, Shakopee received 22 inches of snow in one fall, according to local sources (aka my friends). Add to that another 5 or 6 inches on Christmas, in addition to the snow leading up to the big blizzard, and we seriously have a good 2-3 feet of snow on the ground. The snow banks are so tall, that it's impossible to see around corners when driving, and there is no shoulder on the highway, because it's full of snow. I'm just glad I'll be gone when it all starts to melt.

In case you, like my honest self, aren't so keen on keeping up with American politics while abroad (I admit it; I'm guilty!), then you should know that Minnesota now has a democratic governor; after a recount, Mark Dayton will officially be our new governor come 2011. Also homosexuals can officially serve openly in the military. That's new. Yay for tolerance!

Otherwise America, at least Minnesota, hasn't changed a whole lot. Oh! My cat Garth has spent nearly every day sitting on my lap-- he's gotten a lot tamer and sweeter since I was gone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stateside has never felt so good

Back home, and after an incredibly chaotic journey. I have to keep looking on the bright side, as I could still be stranded in Europe, as many passengers are still stuck in Heathrow.

In any case, I was able to fly out Sunday morning via Austrian Airlines to Amsterdam. Of course our aircraft was delayed, so I missed my connection in Amsterdam, but was rebooked straight to Minneapolis, which was a pleasant surprise. I experienced fabulous customer service from Delta in Amsterdam, something that Vienna could really learn from. Again, customer service is NOT a German word.

Finally got to Minneapolis, and of course my luggage was missing. In fact, Delta had NO record of my bag, meaning it was never scanned, and they had no idea where it was. Apparently it ended up hanging out in Amsterdam for more than 24 hours, and I was able to get it last night.

The chaos is over, and I am thankful to be back. I was greeted by giant piles of snow everywhere-- it's incredible. The snow banks are taller than I am.

The sun is shining, it's cold, and there's snow everywhere. I'm back home :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Europe is a whiteout... I'm stuck in Vienna!

Got myself to the airport today to have the worse experience thus far with traveling. Tried to check, but was told to stand in a line to see the "status" of my flight. That turned into three hours of waiting, because there was only ONE person working for economy flights at the counter. Thankfully I got there early enough, as the line steadily kept going further back. Finally got up to the counter, of course after missing my flight, to be told I can't go home until Monday morning-- two days time.

Awesome. Absolutely no flights out of Europe to America for the next two days... everything booked solid, and there's mass chaos in Amsterdam, because a blizzard came and canceled 250 flights, as well as shutting down London Heathrow completely. So KLM refused to fly me to Amsterdam, even though the status of my flight from Amsterdam to Chicago this morning was still confirmed and scheduled. The flight to Amsterdam still took place, but they'd only allow people whose end destination was Amsterdam to fly. Even though my flight was still confirmed this morning... chances of it being canceled were high, but still... but all of that didn't matter, because by the time I got to the counter, I had missed it entirely.

This is why it was the worse experience ever: because there is NO customer service in Austria, and they simply were not prepared for this. They didn't know how to handle the angry customers, didn't know what to do with their staff, and it was mass chaos. Instead of sending more people to work at the rebooking desk, they had TWO people walk around and hand out drinks to people in line, or they had people walk around asking where they were flying. Meanwhile just one person worked at the economy desk trying to rebook us all, a feat which took 20 minutes on average per person.

After feeling completely drained and defeated, I went home only to discover that-GUESS WHAT- my flight from Amsterdam to Chicago indeed took place! So guess who could be in the air right now? ME! But guess who wouldn't let me on the plane in Vienna? KLM!

After spending two hours on the phone with the poor KLM customer service rep, his supervisor, and then with the "issues" department, I was able to get on a flight tomorrow morning. I complained my brains out, saying that it was unacceptable that I wasn't allowed on, that I missed my flight, and that they handled the situation totally wrong this morning. After 1.5 hours of fighting with no results, they handed me over to the "issues" department, and "magically" there was an option for me tomorrow. I was so exhausted and thankful that I didn't even ask for anything else, although I think I deserve something for making me miss my flight.

In conclusion, I'm tired and pissed off, but happy at the same time, but annoyed that I have to get up and do this all again tomorrow morning. Wish me luck that the storm passes and that I can fly home!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lost in [Sailing] Translation

I've got a side job right now: I'm translating an entire website about a sailing company from German to English. This is my first real freelance translation job, and it's a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. When I read something in German, I completely understand it within context. I don't need to think about it a different way, I just understand.

Now trying to translate EXTREMELY long German sentences saturated with metaphors and idioms into short and concise English sentences that makes sense does not always happen on the first try. What does happen is my brain translating it word for word, and I come up with a strange sentence that makes no sense. So then I have to go through it again. And again.

Not to mention sailing vocabulary is not exactly everyday vocabulary I use here in Austria, nor have I ever used in the past. In any case, I am learning a new set of vocabulary that I will probably never need again, unless I win the lottery and can afford to go on one of these pricey adventures. Or maybe they'll be so impressed with my [hopefully] awesome translating skills, that they'll have to invite me to Thailand to accompany them on one of their trips. Haaaa, fat chance.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sofia, Bulgaria

This past weekend I visited Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, with my friend Rob. I had found a cheap flight the week before, and so we decided to go for a long weekend Urlaub (vacation) to an off-the-beaten path location in Eastern Europe. I mean, Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, a country in the EU, but it's not quite the most glorified tourist destination. Living already in a tourist destination in Western Europe, I wanted exactly that rugged-edge and real feeling of travel. I wanted to see how people actually live, and not just look at a bunch of churches and monuments (although we did do just that on our first day).

Sofia is slightly smaller than Vienna, at about 1.4 million inhabitants. It's situated next to the Vitosha mountain, and it's not too far from the Macedonian and Serbia. It's a former communist country and was recently admitted into the EU in 2007. There are examples of the communist influence all around the city, from monuments of Stalin to communist-style buildings. There definitely is this eerie communist cloud still hanging over the city in a way. On the other hand, there's architectural influences from Vienna and Western Europe, as well as a literal yellow-brick road that was donated by Austria, and the city is becoming more modern with new buildings going up all over the city. The contrast is so striking to see a brand new building 30 yards away from a completely desolate house. Or to see an extremely nice SUV and then 10 minutes later see a horse and cart pulling a bunch of crap.

Everything is quite inexpensive, and the exchange rate was in our favor. I didn't really watch out to make sure I didn't overspend, and the entire weekend was quite reasonable. The hostel was cheap and amazing, food was delicious and cheap, and I got a pair of adorable boots for only 15 euros. I'm sure if I would have really tried, I could have done the entire weekend on 50 euros, minus the flight there.

Some highlights of the weekend: eating an amazing traditional Bulgarian meal with people from all over the world who were staying at our hostel (I had traditional cold yogurt soup, a salad, an assortment of appetizers and wine for 12ish euros); the walking tour we did with our tour guide who had lived in Minnesota for three summers; the Dali exhibit at the National Museum of Foreign Arts; the Ale House, a brewery where the taps are at your table and you fill your own glass; the free breakfast at the hostel; going to the largest Billa (an Austrian grocery store) I've seen and getting free samples.

After the weekend I have developed a new interest in the Balkans and I plan on going back to Bulgaria, perhaps to a rural town, as well as heading further east to Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and so on. Pics on Facebook.