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Journals from Vienna 2008

2008-08-28 Week one in paradise

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Dinner at the Kögerlalm

Liebe Gre aus –sterreich! (Greetings from Austria) Only a week and a half has gone by since I left the US to start my adventure here in Austria, and already have I learned so much with so much more to learn. The trip began with a crazy amount of travel time " 11 hours direct from Portland to Frankfurt, then 4 hours layover in Frankfurt, then 1.5 hours to Vienna. I went the whole trip without sleeping until what was nighttime here in Austria (9 hours later), so approximately 32 hours with no sleep. That first evening here in Vienna, we ate as a group outside, in front of a beautiful church at an amazing little Italian restaurant. Being the faithful pizza eater I am, I naturally ordered pizza. The pizza here in Europe was very much different than what I am used to at pizza schmizzabigger, thinner, fresher, crunchier, and overall better. After dinner, though I was probably more tired than I have ever been, it was necessary to walk off that huge dinner so Melissa Davaz and I did just that. We took a leisurely 30-minute walk around the 8th district of our new home, checking out the different shops and buildings along the way. Once back at Pension Baronesse, the quaint and beautiful pension " more like a 5 star hotel we stayed at " we called it a night. In the morning we awoke at 5:45am to eat breakfast, which blew the continental breakfast of American hotels out of the water; afterwards we headed out with the Straenbahn (also, streetcarlike the max in Portland except better because it's Austrian) to the Wien Westbahnhof to catch our 7am train to Dorfgastein. We spent 5 hours on the train to Dorfgastein " a small Austrian village of about 2000 residents in the Alps, near Salzburg " talking about immigration laws, cultural differences, life, food, and much more auf Deutsch with our German instructor and the secretary of our school. Finally, Saturday after an all-together approximately 24-hour travel time trip, we met our destination in Dorfgastein. Harold, the owner of Haus Tirol where us girls stayed the week, picked us up and brought us to our awesome apartments on the top floor of their house. This town is exactly the mountain paradise I have always dreamt of visitingold buildings, friendly people, green mountains all around, and fresh air, all surrounding a striking Catholic church. Despite the light sprinkle of rain falling around us, the group took a walk around the town and went to buy food for the next couple of days for breakfast. That night we went out to a pub, ate a traditional Austrian meal of Wiener Schnitzel with potatoes and a Stiegl beer. If you have not yet tried Wiener Schnitzel, you must as it is likely the best food ever. After dinner and a welcome to Dorfgastein schnapps (the strongest alcohol in the world, and homemade by Harold and his family " the owners of Haus Tirol) from Harold, most of the group came back to our room and played a little kings cup in German " which was hysterical. Sunday was likely the most hilariously amazing day of my life; not only was the weather perfect, sunny and warm, but the day was action packed until the end. After lunch, class and a short meeting, everyone went back to Haus Tirol to play a game much like horseshoes but not quite, with our main man Harold. In his words: the iron tossing game is really for a bunch of rednecks, but you basically throw these spiked rings at a white block and the closest one wins the roundwe play for beer. Win or lose, everyone gets a beer or 5, which makes iron tossing not only an awesomely strange but practical game. Talk about a great cultural experience, standing around on a Sunday afternoon in the Alps drinking amazing beer while playing some crazy iron tossing game in your backyard on a delightful sunny day. Later that night we ate mushrooms with noodles and talked with Wolfgang, our hilarous German instructor. It was then decided that it was in order that we go to the local bar Stoani " which is named after the extremely hospitable owner. There we played some pool, drank a bit of beer, received free schnapps due to the fact that we were such a large group of Americans in an area not many Americans visit. Melissa and I wanted to go for a night hike to check out the mountain a little bit, but when her flashlight found its way to the river we took it as a sign and turned back. Monday morning it was time to get up bright and early to go hiking up to the Schuhflicker Mountain. The hike started at about 10 am and ended close to 3 pm. It was extremely hot that day, but it was perfect weather for a hike in the Alps. The sun was shining through partially cloudy skies, painting perfect skies. Cowbells could be heard for miles up there, which I found interesting because I was unaware that cowbells still existed as a way for finding cows. After about an hour and a half of hiking in the beaming sun, we met our first destination " the first Gipfelkreuz (aka mountain peek cross). After a short rest and a small snack, some of us pressed on up the steep path to the second Gipfelkreuz. Contrary to what we had heard, the hike up to the second cross wasnt too tough, and it was certainly worth the beautiful view it provided. From the top of the mountain you can see for miles, mountains upon beautiful mountains, village after villagecertainly an experience that words cant even begin to describe. It really is something entirely different to see pictures of the Alps than it is to sit at the top of one of the mountains and take it all in. After a while we began the journey back down the mountain to eat dessert at a mountain farm. Let me tell you, if you think you like apple strudel, wait until you taste after a day of hiking in the Austrian Alps " it is a must do if the opportunity presents itself. On the walk back down the mountain, we were walking through a cow pasture when one of the cows decided to get some action from another onethat was hilarious and disgusting, I cant decide which factor was more prominent. Once back at good ole Haus Tirol, we were so tired we all crashed out extremely early. Tuesday was yet another amazingly wonderful day. Melissa D and I went to the bakery near our place and got coffee and breakfast/lunch. The coffee here is astounding, it is stark and flavorful. I have been waiting for a coffee to taste like this for a long time. Interesting side note on the topic of coffee " Starbucks is starting to take its hold on Vienna, so I popped my head in a Starbucks to see what they were charging for their beverages here4,50 euro for a grande hot chocolate (at todays exchange rate thats about 6.75$) and people are still lining up for that crap they call coffee with amazing Viennese coffee across the street!! Later on that day - after class - I did some walking around and a bit of exploring, nothing much to report there. That evening the whole group of about 40 people boarded buses and headed up to the Kgerlalm, mind you that this was likely the scariest ride of my lifetaking a bus on a road that seemed hardly fit for a small automobile to drive on. Finally, we arrived at the 400-year-old farm where we would be eating dinner. Dinner was buffet-style, and if you are not a fan of meat (like myself), it wasnt really the greatest set upI pretty much ate olive oil marinated feta and bread for dinner that night. Then we all ordered a round of tree sap schnapps, which were homemade at the farm like everything else we ate that night; that was probably the most amazing tasting alcoholic beverage of any sort that I have ever tasted: it was like candy. We watched the sun set over the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, and then headed back down the mountain. Later that night a few of the English teachers and us decided to go to Stoanis pub for some Feuerwasser (fire water) shots " another amazing drink, which consisted of a shot of plain schnapps, an orange wedge, sugar, and of course, fire. It was a great night that consisted of a lot of chatting, drinking, and generally enjoying life. Wednesday we had German class and then headed to the next village over, Hofgastein, to visit the thermal bath there. This place was extravagant; all together there were probably 7 separate pools, including one with a movie theater inside of it. All of the pools except for one were heated, hence thermal, both the inside and outside pools. On this day, we spent the most time with the kids that were learning English, speaking German and playing around the pool with them. The kids were a lot of fun--about 5 of us and 6 of the kids went down the slide in one big line and it was really a lot of fun. Spending 5 hours playing pool games with little German speaking kids was definitely a good time, but we were all ready to get back to Dorfgastein by the end of the day. That night we ate dinner at Steindlwirt again, which wasnt quite my favorite restaurant but it was still good. I think I forgot to mention earlier, we ate every night as a group with the instructors and other students. Andrew, Matt, Melissa, and I went to Stoani that night, which was really nothing eventful but quite fun because we had great conversations about all sorts of things. We each had a beer, and Melissa naturally had ice cream, then we went to bed to get some rest before hiking the next morning. Thursday morning we got to sleep in a bit, because we didnt have to meet up with Wolfgang until 10 am to go on what they said would be a leisurely walk up the mountain. Once we began hiking up, the walk felt like anything but leisurely. After about an hour of pretty tough hiking, we found ourselves at yet another alm farm. It was another perfect view of green mountains, with a pair of snow-covered mountains peeking their heads out in the background. It would certainly be amazing to move out into a small town in the Austrian Alps for a year or two, work in a bakery and life the simple life. I had a cup of coffee and let the idea of such a simple life run through my head for a bit, before it was time to head back down the mountain. Since we had free vouchers, we went swimming at the local pool for about an hour before class. After a delicious vegetarian cannelloni at Eggerwirt, we headed over to watch a traditional Austrian performance at the Festsaal. Men and women were dancing wearing Tracht clothing, and there was even a number in which the men danced and chopped up a log " it was super awesome. There was also a band of men on the stage, playing instruments and chugging beers " one dude had about 7 empty beer bottles next to him. After the performance we went to the local dance club type place Kuhbar which translates to cow bar, and yes they did have a cow as their bar symbol. There we danced a train and the macarena with 50-60 year-old women in Dirndls, easily one of the highlights of my lifeI mean seriously, doing the macarena with old ladies in traditional Austrian dresses?! My life here so far has been like a dream--the most amazing things have been happening to me. At about midnight we headed to Stoani for a couple rounds of Feuerwasser, and shortly after went home for some quality sleep. Melissa D and I had big plans to go hiking at around 6am every morning but that never seemed to work out, which in hindsight is really too bad. Friday was likely the busiest day of the stay in Dorfgastein, as we had to perform our musical that day. We had about 4 hours of musical practice that day; let me tell you, that musical was probably the most ridiculous musical ever written. However, it was a lot of fun to work with the kids and make fools of ourselves doing that silly musical. At 6 that night, with maybe 10 hours total of musical practice, we presented our masterpiece to a fairly small crowd, in which most were parents of the children in the musical. It was actually a lot of fun to do once the time came to perform " the kids were great, and they really made the play worthwhile. That night we celebrated Shannons birthday with a couple of rounds of card games at the apartment, as well as the two bars we came to love, Kuhbar and Stoanis. The night was a great success; there were many rounds of free schnapps, plenty of dancing, a little bit of spying, more funny things said than can be counted, and of course typical birthday celebration debauchery. Most of us were out until about 2am, wreaking havoc and enjoying ourselves as much as possible. Rise and shine early Saturday morning to catch our train to Salzburg, home of the Sound of Music. Upon arrival in Salzburg we were greeted by a tour guide and a bit of rain. The tour was a 3 hour-long historical/architectural tour of most of the old city in Salzburg. It was great to walk around and see all of the important stuff, but after a while it did get quite repetitive and boring. Some of us attempted to order a mlange at Caf Tomaselli, where Mozart drank mlange and wrote musicbut it was too full, so we went across the street to kiosk tomaselli and received the worst service of our lives. Salzburg may be beautiful, but the Salzburger people are not quite so beautiful " nothing like the mountain hospitality I had grown accustomed to in Dorfgastein. Most of us headed up to the Salzburg fortress after our lousy experience at kiosk Tomaselli. It was well worth the 10 Euro to go up to the fortress. The view was beautiful; from the upper turret one can easily see the entirety of Salzburg as well as the magnificent mountains surrounding the city. Personally, I found the tour to be a waste of time, and a shame " such an amazing relic in this fortress turned into merely a tourist attraction, stripped of its original belongings and dcor. I find it to be a disgrace that so much of the meaning behind tourist attractions such as this one is somehow lost in the transition from history to industry. However, being the Sound of Music fan that I am, seeing Salzburg was really a worthwhile experience. Walking through the Mirabell gardens in all of the symmetrical glory, standing before Mozarts place of birth, strolling up and down the Getreidegasse, looking out over Salzburg from the fortress, drinking coffee at the famous [kiosk] Tomaselli, and just generally being in such a historical center was truly an unforgettable experience. It was time to head back to Gastein much too early for my liking, mostly due to the simple fact that I knew we would be leaving in the morning. All of us were so worn out from Salzburg that we simply went straight to bed. The next morning it was time to pack our bags and say good-bye to Haus Tirol and Dorfgastein; as sad as I was to go, I was also very happy to finally meet the Hausers, my host family. This is my short summary of my first week. If only I had the whole week on film so that I could simply show everyone the awesomeness that my first week in Europe was. In the future my messages won't be quite so detailed, but when I can get the chance to sit down and write again I certainly will. Bis bald, alles Liebe (Until the next time, much love).. Ashley

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