After the ultimate of lazy days on Sunday (I never even left the dorm), we went as a group to Burg Hohenwerfen, which is about a half hour south of Salzburg and well into the Alps. We parked at the base of a rather large mountain, and our “culture expert” and tour guide, Andreas, calmly informed us we would simply be walking up the hill. Our epic 4 hour city tour last week taught us that Andreas tends to underestimate the amount of effort involved in things like mountain climbing, so we we weren’t all that surprised when he directed us towards the dirt hiking path that led up the mountain instead of to the incline train that started in the parking lot. Some of us got bored with the endless switchbacks and started climbing straight up the mountain. Lots more effort involved but we had some laughs attempting not to fall over backwards on the steep trail. When we finally got within the walls of the fortress we still had another steep climb and dozens of steps to go until we got up to the building itself. Really Andreas, a walk up the hill? But the fortress was gorgeous and the view from that high even more so. Hohenwerfen also has several birds of prey, from local falcons to a bald eagle, and the staff puts on demonstrations to help illustrate the way people would have used birds in hunting way back when. We sat on the side of the hill and watched the birds soar over our heads and occasionally dive straight for us. The falconers used whistles and bells to call them and tossed them pieces of food every so often. I only understood about every eighth word of the spoken presentation, but I don’t think it mattered. When the show was over we trekked back down the mountain, a much easier feat than the climb up. Our bus driver decided to take the scenic route on the way back to Salzburg. We drove through the mountains for a while and then through our driver’s hometown. He even took us past his house, which involved squeezing our huge tour bus down a narrow small town street. Sometimes I wonder about Austrians.
On Tuesday, when we discovered the supplies in our cupboard basically consisted of stale bread and Nutella, Rachelle and I decided it was time to either brave grocery shopping again or starve. We chose a different store this time and managed to have a much less spastic shopping experience. We’re really enjoying working our way through the cookie aisle. Chocolate covered gingerbread? Heck yes. Also, Pringles are huge over here. I feel as though there are about twenty different flavors in the snack food section. Most exciting though was that we found all of the ingredients to put together a pseudo-Mexican dinner for that night. Some of the girls got together and, though we made a huge mess and had to borrow stove space and silverware from friends, Taco Tuesday was quite the success. I think it boosted our confidence in our abilities to cook in our little kitchen closets, too, so meals more elaborate than canned soup may be in our future. The rest of the week appears to be devoted to figuring out how to do laundry and studying for our German final exams. Real classes start on Monday!
Somehow it just doesn’t seem real that I was getting on a plane to London only a week ago today. I feel like I’ve been away from home for months. In a good way. We’ve crammed so much into such a short amount of time. My first weekend abroad was spent exploring London and getting to know the group of fun people I’m going to be in Salzburg with for the next three months. Jet lag attempted to hold us back, but most of us managed to stay sufficiently awake to avoid getting hit by those always unexpected other-side-of-the-road drivers. We fought The Tired long enough to see some of London’s major touristy spots even while still managing to sneak in a bit of a very much needed afternoon nap. In our free time some of us decided to tour Buckingham Palace as it’s only open to the public through the end of this month. After having seen so many castles long since devoted to tourism, it was a bit strange to walk through the hallways and know that, no matter how glitzy it was, people still lived there. Though I do have to say, the Queen’s backyard was a bit disappointing. It was a large field. I feel as though flowers and hedgerows should have been involved.
Our time in London came to an end far too early in the morning on Sunday. We got up in time to leave our hotel at 5:15 AM. For most us of this meant we were traveling on about ten hours of sleep spread over two or three days. Lack of sleep made the news we got upon getting to the airport, that our luggage van had broken down somewhere along the side of a suburban London highway, all the more depressing. So we sat on the floor of the airport and guzzled coffee. For hours. Finally we greeted the arrival of our rescued suitcases with more enthusiasm than any of London’s sites had gotten out of us. We made our flight with only a little time to spare, and my sleepiness induced crankiness was eased somewhat by the even more exhausting tale of my German seatmate, a girl who had come all the way from Costa Rica via Miami and was finally making her way home to Germany after more than a day of traveling. She still had enough energy to chat, so she told me about Salzburg, and her school, and whether I would understand anything the Austrians said, because “they don’t speak real German.” When we finally got to Munich we had changed time zones yet again, but all of us piled onto a bus that would take us to Salzburg and our home for the next few months.
It was on the bus that we found out for the first time where and with whom we would be living. Turns out my dorm resembles a bit of an Ikea ad. It’s a whole lot different from the red brick, white columned buildings at Mary Washington, but it will do for now. My roommate, Rachelle, is from California, and we’ve been having a grand time laughing as we figure out what to make of the ridiculous situations we put ourselves in. Our shower is a death trap, our kitchen is inside a closet, and we can’t turn the fan in the bathroom off even if we wanted to. But it’s fun. And I’m loving it. We’ve bonded with the other Americans in the building, and it seems that just today there are Austrian students moving in, so soon enough the dorm will be a interesting mix of people and languages and customs.
We had orientation for the first few days that we were here. We learned how to use the bus system, how to find our classes, and spent a few entertaining hours emptying out several stores of their cheapest cell phones. Virtually everyone in the program now has the exact same phone, and how we’re going to tell them apart if we should ever put them down together I have no idea. Our orientation tour of the city showed us how lucky we are to be living in a town that goes back thousands of years. Our overly enthusiastic guide informed us we would be trekking up mountains, girls in flip flops and all, and though we mumbled a bit about the rain and the cold and the endless walking, the views from the hills were stunning. Every time you turn a corner in this city you’re greeted with a new view even more dramatic than the last. Having a fortress on the hill is still something I’m getting used to.
We spent our free time scouting out the cheap yet tasty restaurants, buying bus passes, and figuring out how to get by speaking an awkward combination of German and English. Germish, if you will. Rachelle and I had our first real culture shock experience when we attempted to go grocery shopping. We had been warned that we would have to bag our own groceries. We were prepared for this. We muddled our way through shopping, which is time consuming when you have to guess at what a lot of the items are, and worked up the courage to go up to the register. I have never seen a person scan groceries as quickly as the woman at the check out counter did. As she’s scanning them she’s practically throwing them at us, even though Rachelle is throwing things in our bag as quickly as she can. It was stressful. And afterwards highly amusing. And now we know that we just have to push everything into the cart until after we pay; once that’s done we can walk calmly over to the “bagging area” to organize things and recover from the trauma of watching your groceries moving at the speed of sound. It’s the strange little things like that that keep making me realize we really aren’t at home anymore.
We started intensive German classes this week, and they run through the end of next week. We don’t start our real academic classes until almost October. Three hours a day of grammar is a bit much, but I do know far more of the language than I realized. I’ve started working up the courage to speak German to the Austrians, though they don’t do much for a person’s confidence when they instantly switch to English. All in all though, the Austrians we’ve spoken to have been amazingly friendly despite their reputation as being standoffish. We’ve gotten tips on everything from which train to take to Oktoberfest, to which spicy peppers to avoid eating in our Indian food, to which bus stop to get off at when we’ve looked lost and confused. Some of us had a highly amusing time of it attempting to communicate with a group of older Swiss men at a restuarant, but somehow between our broken German and their handful of English phrases we got quite a bit said. But I feel like something got lost in translation the other day when someone asked me if I was Amish upon finding out I was from Pennsylvania.
I’m starting to feel like I know my way around a bit more, and it’s fun planning our future weekend excursions. We don’t have classes on Fridays so three day travel weekends here we come. Italy! Slovenia! Croatia! Czech Republic! Plans to see them all! Stay tuned.