Unlimited Toast

Servus, Salzburg

December 31st, 2009 · Comments Off

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.

Tags: Salzburg 09

On the Home Stretch

December 13th, 2009 · Comments Off

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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Tags: Salzburg 09

Christmas in Salzburg

December 4th, 2009 · Comments Off

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.

Tags: Salzburg 09

Salzburg Gets Visitors

November 27th, 2009 · 1 Comment

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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.

Tags: Salzburg 09