This past weekend, Melissa Davaz and I traveled with her host family to their lake house in Bodensdorf, Carinthia. A few of our wonderful fellow Linfielders were here visiting this past week, therefore I almost backed out of the Carinthia trip, in order to hang out with them here. It is a good thing I ended up following through with my plans, as I had an extremely delightful weekend, by far one of the best during my time here in Austria. Despite my love for Vienna, I realize every time that I leave the city that mountains are where I would really like to be. Thursday after a great day of walking around the sixth district and the Naschtmarkt, eating tasty gelato, and hanging out in the Muesemsquartier with the group and our conversation partner, Arno, it was time to make a quick pit-stop a my apartment to throw some things in my backpack, drink a cup of peppermint tea, then head off to Melissas to load up the car and get on our way. After almost four hours in the car, Melissa, Gerda (her host mom), Rupert (Gerdas son), and I were greeted by Michael (her host dad) with traditional Krntner Ksnudelnl " best described as a dumpling-type-thing filled with Topfen (similar to cottage cheese but better), more cheese, and spices, topped with hot butter. From the moment that I tasted the delicious, homemade Krntner Ksnudeln I knew that it promised to be a great weekend. On Friday morning, there was a fresh loaf of Schwarzbrot (dark bread) sliced and placed in a basket on the table; in addition to the bread were various sorts of cheese, homemade jams, and nutella. This fantastic and typical European breakfast was ready for us every morning of the weekend. Following about an hour and a half of breakfast and conversation, Rupert, Melissa, and I decided to go for a bike ride, because the beautiful, sunny weather was said to last only a few more hours. It was an exquisite autumn day for a bike ride, with a light fog accentuating changing color of the leaves, which were blowing in the wind and reflecting off of the lake. Halfway around the lake is another small town, with the church in the center; upon entering the church it was apparent that its interior, like many Catholic churches in Austria, had been renovated during the Baroque period, but that it had clearly been a Gothic church, and maybe even Romanesque earlier in its history. It was a great feeling to walk into the church and be able to analyze its architecture and art, a skill that I certainly did not have before taking Dr. Hanreichs Kulturgeschichte (Cultural History) course here in Vienna. As the next day was the Austrian national holiday dedicated to remembering the dead and paying respects, we visited the old, stone wall-enclosed cemetery next to the church. After the cemetery visit, it was back on the road, or rather, the shoulder of the road. During our return trip, Rupert showed us the Affenberg upon which monkeys live, or so he said. Just as predicted the weather became worse as the day turned to afternoon; therefore upon our arrival back at the house in Bodensdorf, I stayed in to read and relax, whereas Melissa went for a short walk. In the evening Michael came upstairs to ask us if we would like to ride with him to the nearest bigger city, Villach. We figured that we would ride with, to get out of the house and take a break from reading, but much to our surprise, Michael showed us to the train station in Villach, thereafter driving us to the main strip, where he then dropped us off. Both Melissa and I were truly confused as to why we were being dropped off in this city, as we had thought that we were simply riding with Michael somewhere. Feelings of confusion, disbelief, and unwelcomeness had began to rush through me at this point; I found myself thinking of every possible reason why we had been dropped off in this city as the rainy day turned to night, without having been forewarned or given an option. At this point we decided it would be best to get a coffee, away from the cold and wet rain. Upon our arrival back in Bodensdorf, we realized " much to my relief " the whole situation had merely been one huge misunderstanding. Soon thereafter we ate a lovely homemade meal accompanied by good conversation with one another. Much to Gerdas satisfaction only after all of the food was consumed did we begin with the many rounds of a card game, which I am still not certain that I fully understand. However, the point of the card game was not important to me, it was being in the company of good people, speaking German, and sharing laughs that I enjoyed the most; for me it was a win just to be sharing the weekend in charming little Bodensdorf with such amazing people. Saturday was another magnificent day. Once again we all met at the table for a nice breakfast together, where we decided to take the car and head up to the top of the mountain. Near the top of the mountain, Michael parked the car and everybody got out to do some hiking around. As we neared the top of the mountain, we slowly ascended through the fog that had settled over the quiet valley, leaving us with the most spectacular view of the Italian and Slovenian Alps, across the sea of fog in between. It was truly a breathtaking view--it gave me the feeling that there was nothing between where we stood and the two neighboring countries to the southwest of us. Although there is no snow on the mountain yet, the mountain upon which we stood is said to be a fairly good ski area here in Austria; hard to believe that when it is early November and there is less than an inch of snow on the ground. After a peaceful rest at the top it was time to head back to the car, in order to find an Alm, where we could taste the Caranthian warm drink speciality, Glhmost. Although there was a private party going on inside the small room of the Alm, the owners were more than happy to have us sit down and join them for a round of Glhmost. Glhmost is best described as a warm apple wine that tastes a bit similar to apple cider and wine. The most important thing is that it was delicious, warm, and came from good people; it does not really get too much better than that. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around near the lake, taking pictures of the beautiful sunset, and relaxing. After eating yet another delicious meal together, we picked up where we had left the card game the night before. While sitting around playing games, Rupert and his girlfriend decided that they wanted to drive to Venice in the morning and back home in the evening, and proceeded to invite Melissa and me to come along. Of course an opportunity like that was not one I was willing to pass up, and since we had to wake up and leave Bodensdorf by six am, it was directly to bed for me. Bright and early, namely five am, I awoke to eat breakfast, shower, and get on the way to this "little place" called Venice, Italy. Only three hours of open freeway stood between us and our destination. Upon entering one of the thirty tunnels we would have to drive through, Rupert found it necessary to inform us that Italys tunnels are the most unsafe tunnels in the EU, which didnt help my preexisting fear of tunnels. During the first stretch of highway into the Italian Alps, it looked so similar to Austria that it was hard to believe we were in Italy, but despite the familiar landscape, about forty minutes into Italy it became increasingly easier to notice the difference in the architecture and layout of the towns. Inevitably it was necessary to stop at a gas station to get fuel for the car, as well as for us, as humans run on coffeeor so Ive found ;). I must admit that the gas station coffee shop cappuccino in Italy is one of the best cappuccinos I have ever tasted. It was as if the second we crossed the Austro-Italian border the taste of the coffee increased by a ratio of ten to one. At around 9:45 am we arrived in Venice. Upon seeing the price for the bus aka ferry that takes you to the city, we decided it was not worth the 10Euro one-way fare and that we were going to save ourselves each 20Euro. Petra (Ruperts girlfriend), who speaks fluent Italian, assured me that the Venetians do not strictly control the tickets, an argument that I fully did not believe, as it is a BOAT in the Mediterranean, where one cannot simply run away if one does not have a ticket. I still cannot fathom the logic of not having someone constantly on each bus checking tickets, but Im regardless thankful to the laziness that this implies. However, since the boat we needed was right there, and they only come every 30 minutes, I decided to trust her word and sprint onto the boat as it was about to leave the dock. Although I was extremely nervous that we would be caught, it became my opinion that it would have been a great story if I did get caught taking a free bus trip in Venice, and that if I did not get caught, well, I saved myself 20 Euro " in addition to that, it is still funny if you can imagine four people home alone-ing it onto a boat, for which they do not have tickets. Above all, it was an experience that I will never forget, not that I recommend it to the folks at home. Venice is probably the most interesting place Ive seen during my time here in Europe; there is simply nothing else like it. The buildings all look as if they belong in another time period, as if they could fall to pieces any minute. In addition to that, the entire city is full of people, I could never imagine what it must be like to live there! One thing I hadnt imagined was the flooding of the main square, St. Marks Square. Im not sure about the history of Venice, but I was extremely surprised to see that the famous main square would be flooded to the point that one had to walk around the square on risers. And there are still people out there that do not believe in Climate Change--ha, if only they could see that. After eating Panini sandwiches, we headed over to the famous Bienale Architecture Exhibit, supposedly the largest architecture exhibit in the world " but dont quote me on that one! Petra is an Architect, so she really wanted to visit the exhibit, and I decided to join, as I do not know much about architecture. I had absolutely no idea how expressionistic, philosophical, and interesting architecture could be! It was quite the experience to be there, seeing all of these concepts and ideas being expressed not through paintings, photographs, or writings, but through the design of bathrooms, kitchens, buildings, and even cities. Being there was very eye- opening to other methods of expression and thought processes; Im grateful that Petra wanted to go to the exhibit; otherwise I doubt I would have experienced it at all. It is truly experiences like my day in Venice that make studying abroad worth it: spending the day with two almost complete strangers, experiencing things together, learning from one another, and sharing laughs and life. Around 4 pm it was unfortunately time to leave Venice, I wished I would have had more time there, but was grateful that I even got to see the city at all. If/when I come back to Europe, Venice is certainly on my list of places to visit. After about 7 hours in the car, we made it back to Vienna, to get some rest and prepare for the coming week. Ciao! Ashley Bennett PS " After spending countless hours in the car on European highways, I am convinced that the people here are crazy. For instance, if a car is coming up behind you at twice your speed, they just blink their left blinker and practically touch the back of your car until you get out of their way. At least in Austria, I know the people go through a pretty intense driving school before they can even take their drivers license test. PPS " Ive been pretty busy the past couple of weeks, and actually started writing this the first week of Novemberwhoops.