I have been in Vienna for a couple weeks now, Austria for three, and the novelty and excitement of being in a new place is kind of starting to wear off—but definitely not completely! Mostly, I'm just starting to get used to the city, the language, and the classes and it's starting to feel more normal as I adapt to my life here in Vienna. It may not be completely “new” anymore, but the excitement is still there, and every day I hope to (and most often do!) discover something new and create a new memory of my wonderful semester here in Austria.
There are a lot of different things to cover in this blog entry, so I’ll just take things one at a time. To start with, public transportation: Our first day here upon arriving from the airport we were looking around with our jaws open—how could we possibly find our way around such a humongous city? How were we ever going to figure out the transportation system? But in actuality, Vienna is not that big and not as scary and complicated as we were making it out to be. Vienna is, strangely enough, quite small once you think about it. Everything is pretty close to everything else—in fact, this actually confuses me immensely. I get the most lost when I don't realize it's easier to walk somewhere than to take the subway and I get completely turned around because Stephan's Cathedral is actually right in front of me, that's the bookstore we saw on our tour, and the City Hall is really not that far from the institute!
It's easy sometimes to just jump on the subway to get where you want to go, even though it's just a fifteen-minute walk, but it's not the best way to see and experience the city (especially when it's a nice day!)
We all live relatively close to the institute; I am living with a nice elderly couple in their apartment on Mariahilferstrasse which is about fifteen minutes from the Institute, West Train Station, and the famous Naschmarkt. My host parents are former Austrian nobility and the apartment has paintings on the walls, a piano in the dining room, pictures of their 10 children and 23 grandchildren all around, 1 and a half bathrooms, a kitchen, and a sitting room. There is another student from Romania living here who has been in Vienna for almost a year already but I believe he's leaving in October. There is also a very nice housekeeper named Eva who was on vacation for the first week and a half I was here. She's really sweet, comes from Hungary and speaks no English and little German.
There are some things that take some getting used to living with a different family in a different house. The first few days the most difficult thing to adjust to was remembering how to lock and unlock the front door!
There are four keys: 1 for the outside door and 3 for the door to the apartment. The keys don’t look like “normal” modern keys.. they have skeleton keys with odd ridges and are double ended. It's not as confusing now though as it was the first day my host mother gave me the keys, and it's actually kind of fun to use them.
We began classes and orientation at the institute on Monday August 20th. We have since had our first Ethnic Diversity class and first two Cultural History and Politics class. The topics we are studying in these classes are fascinating and include Vienna during Roman times, the different ethnicities and cultures of the people living in the Balkans, and how the government is organized in Austria and the history of the first republic. We will be going on a fair few of excursions (at least once a week) with our professors and have already visited the Roman Museum with our History teacher, Professor Hanreich.
The first week we registered with the city of Vienna and had many tours of the city. A nice man, Markus, told us about “Kulturelle Moeglichkeiten” or cultural possibilities around Vienna. He showed us the State Opera, People's Opera, Haus der Musik, the philharmonic, and a few museums, explaining how to get tickets for each. A few days later he also showed us where we can do sports and also spend our free time, for instance by swimming in the Danube river or going to the Prater Amusement Park.
In addition to getting used to the Institute we have also been hanging out on our own, either going to specific places we want to see or just wandering around and running into an interesting museum or store.
I really recommend to anyone who studies abroad to just go for a walk. You will find things you never knew existed and in a city like Vienna, there is always a new and exciting street to walk down and explore! For example a couple of us ran randomly into the Museum of the History of Torture one day. I also randomly found one of the branches of the public library when I was killing time one evening and have since gotten a library card (3 Euro 50 cents for a student price), checked out and read several books.
We have gone out as a group several times since our arrival in Vienna. We've gone to the movies a few times, and also to the City Hall where there was a film festival every night until the beginning of September. We also went swimming in the Danube river one Friday afternoon. One week it was constantly in the high 30s (Celsius) and we stayed at the river for nearly three hours.
On Saturday the 25th of August, Annika, Kelly, Addison and I went to the Schoenbrunn palace, summer residence of the Habsburgers. We stepped out into the gardens.. and they are absolutely gorgeous…and huuuge! The gardens seem to go on forever, and we couldn’t possibly explore every corner of them in our time there.
But we did go to the Labyrinth/Maze and had a fun time walking around in circles and doing small games and activities. It cost about 3 euros for a student ticket—one interesting thing about Vienna is almost everywhere there are student reduced prices for people up to 24 or 27 years old. This is so awesome (and helpful for a poor student traveler), and why don’t we have this in the US?
After the Labyrinth we went into the Tiergarten (Zoo). We stuck together for a little bit but then I split off from the rest of the group to go see some things on my own.
After I saw the monkeys, I went around and saw all the animals on the “Neptun Route”: Nutrias, Rhinos, Pelicans, Cranes, Reindeer, Barbary Apes and Sheep, Sea Lions, Penguins and, my highlight of this route, the American Water Buffalo! Apparently these bison were a gift from the Lakota Native Americans to the Austrians as thanks for support.
We met up for lunch and then split off again; they went on the Tyrolean Route to see the arctic wolves, Bee house, and European Lynx and I went off to see the lions, tigers, koalas, giant pandas, giraffes, zebras, and elephants.
These first few weeks in Vienna have been different than I expected but also so much more! Vienna is truly a beautiful, surprising and extraordinary city. The semester is finally starting to get going and I'm so excited to find out where these next few weeks will lead me.