Saturday, September 29, 2012


I visited Salzburg last week. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures, so just close your eyes and imagine.  

This was my first time traveling between Bischofshofen and Salzburg in the daytime. The train ride between the two is supposed to be beautiful. I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. The highlight of the train ride was the castle overlooking another little village called Werfen.

The weather report said that Salzburg would be rainy all day. I was a little disappointed by this forecast, but it wasn’t raining when we arrived. We walked into the old city from the train station. We noticed that there were a ton of people milling around, more than usually according to Holly, the other TA I was with. There were also a lot of men and women wearing Trachten or traditional Austrian costumes. For more information about the Trachten of Austria, go here for information about the Dirndl and here for information about Lederhosen. There were vendors along the river and inside the old city, selling food and all sorts of other things. Holly figured out that it was St. Rupert’s Day, some kind of festival, hence the Trachten, vendors and massive crowds of people. Rupert was a saint that founded Salzburg.

We were starving and after meeting Holly’s friends, we bought huge pizza pretzels. They had other kinds, including a chocolate one that smelled amazing. I regretted not buying it and saving it for later.

We wandered around for a while and the other TAs, who had been in Salzburg already, decided to go up to one of the beer halls. It’s called St. Augustiner and probably the most famous one in Salzburg. It’s a huge building with a beer garden. Unfortunately, because of the rain, we sat inside.

Walking inside, there are a bunch of snack stands serving foods from pretzels to schnitzel. We walked past the food stands and into the area where the beer is served. You take your own mug, a half liter or full liter, rinse it out in a big fountain, pay and then give your mug to the man working the tap. It was a confusing process, so I’m glad I was with someone that was familiar with what to do.

We sat in one of the large halls. Because it was just me and three other ladies, we attracted attention from the other tables full of men near us. They didn’t realize we were American at first until they came over to talk to us. Once they realized we were American, they started switching to English. At one point, one of them brought us a paper plate full of a thinly sliced, white, almost translucent vegetable and a pretzel. We finally figured out that it was a pickled radish. It was a little strange, but it grew on us after a while. After delivering the radish and an awkward silence, they left us alone. Besides the radish, I also had some schnitzel.  

The day before, I was offered candy and this day, I was offered a pickled radish. Austria is an interesting place.

I promise that I will take pictures next time!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mexican food and guns

I've found two things that Texas is famous for (or infamous, depending on your perspective) in Austria: Mexican food and guns.

The shelf at the store nearest me.
At the closest grocery store to me, there is only one shelf of Mexican food.

At the bigger grocery store.

At the bigger grocery store in the town center, they have TWO shelves of Mexican food! While the selection is limited, I'm glad to know that I can buy tortillas and I saw that one can buy an assortment of chili peppers at the larger grocery store. Who knew?!

The first day in my new home, I noticed that the family I'm renting from has a gun on their wall. This is purely decorative, I'm sure, but it surprised me!

Photographic proof!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Never take candy from strangers

I worked in a cafeteria-style restaurant for many years. I had many customers ask for butter to be spread on the bread while making a sandwich. The first time I heard this request, I thought it was strange. Who would want to eat butter on a sandwich? And then I went to Germany, where my host mom slathered butter generously on any type of sandwich she was making. I learned to like butter on sandwiches after that, though my preferred condiment is still mustard.

On my first day in Bischofshofen, my landlady took me to the grocery store. I didn’t have much time, and when I was standing in line to check out, I realized all I had in my basket was toilet paper, semmeln (bread rolls), cheese, nutella and butter. Traveling can really make me lose my appetite, and I had barely eaten in the past day. When I made my semmel, I piled on the butter!

This week was full of getting my last minute logistical things taken care of, such as opening a bank account, registering with local authorities, finishing my application for my residency permit and buying house shoes! I’m still working on getting an Austrian phone.

Today, I visited my main school, which is a private Catholic school that is up in the mountains overlooking Bischofshofen. When I asked the main teacher how I should get there, he told me to either take a taxi or walk. I decided to walk, and thought that the walk couldn’t be too bad. Unfortunately, I had to walk along a busy highway with no sidewalk and walk uphill the rest of the way! I also had left my hair wet, because I figured it would be dry by the time I got up to school. Well, between sweating and the cool humidity, I looked like a mess by the time I made it to the school.
The beginning of the hike. And clouds and fog.

Walking up to the school.
Almost there!
I met all the English teachers and was given a tour of the school. Everyone seemed very nice and I think I will enjoy the school and the students and teachers.

I didn’t want to walk on the highway with no sidewalk, so I asked the main teacher a better way to walk down. He suggested I take a hiking trail down the mountain and that I would avoid the highway going this way. I set off and found the trail, which was very narrow. I wasn’t wearing appropriate shoes, so I had to carefully walk down. I was a little worried I would fall and no one would find me, but luckily made it down the mountain. I only saw about three people when I was walking down the trail and through a field. I am definitely not a “nature girl” but I did enjoy being out there (mostly) alone, despite my unsuitable footwear. 

Here are a smattering of photos from my hike earlier, after I walked down the trail:

Later in the day, I was set to meet another TA that lives in the neighboring village. I met her at the train station and didn’t realize that this village is all uphill until you get to the center. I walked uphill for long stretches several times today! We wandered around the village, had some ice cream, looked at some dirndls and had a beer at an Irish pub. We also walked down to the dormitory where she is living. On the way, an old lady stopped us and held out her hand filled with candy and offered us some. We declined, but I now wish I had taken some as a “souvenir.” We both kept laughing about the ridiculousness of this the rest of the day. Is this an Austrian thing?! I have never had this happen, EVER!
The town center of St. Johann.

The McDonald's sign and the mountains in the background.
I told the other TA that I had seen a McDonald's from the train, so we set out to find the McDonald's to eat french fries. We walked to McDonald's, which was through this weird industrial area and not the best place to walk, but we made it! The McDonald's was super crowded and we both got McDoubles and fries, which tasted amazing. I had curly fries, while the other TA had the regular fries. They also have noodle bowls and shrimp wontons on the menu. We saw a lot of people eating the noodle bowls! We plan to go back to try those menu items. On the way back to the train station, there were three teenage girls giggling crazily behind us and we thought they were going to jump us, but they were just being silly.

Today was full of some wacky, unexpected events, but I think those are the best kind of days.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Luggage and Other Stories

After a whirlwind few days of packing, I left for Austria on Saturday. In an attempt to save money, I booked a flight on Icelandair to Frankfurt and then would take the train to Bischofshofen. Icelandair luckily allowed two checked bags, which of course I took advantage of, but would come to regret later.

The adventure started at the airport when I was informed that one of my checked bags was too big. After a little shuffling around, everything was good, though I probably reached the limit of my carry on luggage, with my duffel bag, backpack and purse. I did tear up a little at security, as this will be the longest I’ve been away from home, but after I made it through security, I was fine.

I have a hard time sleeping on planes, but was so exhausted that I hoped I would fall asleep. Unfortunately, as I was about to fall asleep, the plane hit some turbulence. I don’t really like to fly, and I know this is ridiculous, because flying is safer than driving a car, but turbulence really makes me nervous and of course I could not sleep after that.

Icelandair always routes through Reykjavik. Despite what a man said on the plane, I’m pretty sure the Reykjavik airport is not the world’s smallest airport. We arrived in Reykjavik around 6:30 a.m. Reykjavik time. I barely spent any time in the airport and was on another flight to Frankfurt. Most of the people also on this flight were speaking German. At this point, it really hit me that I’m leaving for 9 months.

When I got off in Frankfurt, I had to fetch my bags, which were both massive and weighed a lot and find the train station. While retrieving my bags, a German man helped me and laughed at how many bags I had. I was sweating from all the effort of trying to wrangle my bags. I was also nervous about catching my train. Frankfurt is one of the few European cities with a train station at the airport. This made it easy to catch the train from the airport and not have to go into the city. I first had to take a bus to the train station. Waiting at the bus stop was a massive horde of people also hoping to catch the bus. I wheedled my way onto the bus with my five bags and held on precariously. There was a woman with a baby in a stroller behind me and every time the bus lurched, I was worried I would fall on the baby.  

Once I was in the Frankfurt train station, finding the right track was pretty self explanatory, but getting on the train was not! I want to thank all the random people that I met on Sunday that helped me with my bags, because it was not an easy task! I almost fell off the train while trying to get on with my luggage. Trying to maneuver down the aisle was difficult as well, and I had to cram my luggage in and hope for the best. I found my seat and was sweating like crazy, which seemed to be the theme of the day. I've been to Europe several times and have noticed that Europeans don't seem to sweat. Is it just me or has anyone else noticed this? I feel like I'm sweating like crazy and Europeans just look like so cool and collected.

The train ride to Munich became notorious in my mind. Shortly after I got on the train, I heard a man yelling in English and generally being obnoxious, even though others were telling him to calm down. Another rider finally got up and started talking to him and the (possibly drunk) man told the “mediator” to hit him and argued. They made him get off at the next station, but not before he could tell a woman sitting near him that she was a “ladyboy.”

I made my connection in Munich, which was very crowded, but a little easier to go from one platform to the next. On my second try of getting my luggage on and off the train, I was more successful and it was easier because of my earlier practice. I also didn’t have to maneuver down the aisle this time, because I had planned on it a little better. I was so exhausted by this point, that I could barely stay awake on the train and kept dozing off. At one point, I could see the Alps in the distance, which excited me, but darkness came quickly and it was hard to see anything.

I was nervous about getting off at the correct stop, so I got up too soon and waited near the door with all my luggage. The granddaughter of my landlady was waiting for me at the train station and helped me with my luggage and she drove me to my new apartment. I had seen pictures, which I posted here, but it’s even nicer in person. Plus there were sheets on the bed and towels in the bathroom and everything was provided for me! I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity of the family and how nice my apartment was.

Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of my apartment or Bischofshofen yet. I’m still unpacking and I’ve been too exhausted to take any pictures. More updates to come later!

Monday, September 10, 2012

How Did I Get Here?

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be going to Austria to teach English, I would not have believed you. 

So how did I get here? 

When I was little and later in high school, I knew I either wanted to go to the Culinary Institute of America or go into clothing design and be a costume designer. I was so sure of this. Nothing could dissuade me! 

However, reality ensued. I attended my state university, which has a great clothing design program. The program is quite competitive. I wasn't accepted into the program until my 2nd year of college. In my first few design classes, I struggled to stay afloat. Anyone that knows a design major knows how much they have to work to maintain grades! I had no free time and was super stressed all the time. To make a long story short, besides my textiles class, which I loved, I struggled in ALL of my design classes.  I realized that I was more an appreciator of design than a designer. (Side note: I'm like my Mom in this way. She originally went to art school, but abandoned it when she realized she is more of an appreciator of art than an artist. Like mother, like daughter, I guess!) I had two chances to go through portfolio review, before continuing on in the major. I canceled my appointment for the first and panicked before the second and just never went. Effectively, I had dropped myself out of the program.

By this point, it was the end of my junior year, and I had nowhere else to go except back to the College of Liberal Arts. I had taken only two years of high school Spanish, and needed two more years of a language in order to graduate. I was interested in taking an American Indian language, and I registered for a Dakota class. However, the more I thought about taking Dakota, the more I realized that while it would be a fascinating language, it wasn't the most useful language, especially for traveling abroad. 

In high school, I studied Spanish. I'm originally from Texas where the automatic second language is Spanish. I continued studying Spanish in high school without a second thought. I actually hated Spanish class and dreaded going. I thought I was terrible at languages, and was relieved that I could get away with only two years of high school Spanish and still get into college. (Later, as you will see, I’m quite good at languages. I probably was bored and my teacher didn’t challenge me. One day I’m going to get back to my Spanish.)

Why did I choose German? My dad's family originally came from Germany (actually, where they came from is now part of Poland) and my great grandparents were the last to speak German. They grew up during World War I and were discouraged from speaking the language. I wanted to embrace my heritage. And I also liked the way German sounded. Some people may think German sounds ugly or angry, but ever since I saw Run Lola Run in high school, I've liked the way it sounds. Run Lola run has become the de facto movie for German students to see, but, for me, it really promoted the language.

At this point in my studies, I was still planning to major in American Indian Studies. One of the first classes I took in college was an American Indian class. That class and the book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, fueled my interest in American history as well as American Indian history and culture. But after taking my first German class, I knew that German was what I wanted to study. 

I abandoned my plans to major in American Indian Studies and changed my major to German that first semester of my senior year. I felt my decision was crazy. The German advisor thought I was a little crazy, too. I was a senior after all! My credits were scattered over so many departments that I felt that either way (German or history), I was starting over.

I completed a German major in two years and was very proud of myself. I was awarded a certificate from one of my professors deeming me an excellent German student. Unfortunately, I was never able to study abroad in a German-speaking country while in college. However, after I graduated, I worked as a teaching assistant for a month in Berlin, and I spent a month in Berlin two years later when I took a German class. While my time in Berlin gave me the confidence I need in speaking German, I always regretted that I didn’t study abroad for a long period of time. I really wanted a Fulbright position as an ETA/USTA in Germany or Austria.

Most Fulbrighters apply during their senior year in college. My path was more unconventional. How many design students go from sewing at 3:00 am to teaching English in Austria? If I had told my design instructors that I was going to Austria on a Fulbright teaching assistantship, they would be happy (and relieved) that I had found a field of study other than design.