The Little Things That Give You Away

My time abroad is reaching its final hours. While I’ve been looking forward to going home, in the last couple of days I’ve started to feel a bit more mixed about the end of the semester. I’m excited to see my family again, and to have all of my guitars again, and to have access to greasy, American fast food. But on the other hand, when will I have another experience like this again? While there is a decent amount of variance around the United States, the difference between Detroit, San Diego, and Rapid City feels like nothing compared to the difference between Berlin, Bucharest, and Sarajevo. I can get on a train in Vienna and in an hour be in an entirely different country with its own language, history, everything. A one hour train ride from Charlotte might get me to Spartanburg.

Traveling to different places isn’t the only thing that I’ll miss. Just living in Vienna has been something special in its own right. While it has been a struggle or a hassle at times, I think what I’ll miss most is being immersed in German. Sure, it can be embarrassing to struggle to find the words to explain to the person cutting your hair what you want (and then convincing them that, yes I really do what my hair cut that way, since apparently buzz cuts don’t exist in Austria), but it’s nice to celebrate mini-victories everyday when you understand something new or get some other confirmation that you really have been improving your German.

I probably sound a bit like a broken record, but it really has been crazy how much my German has improved since January. When the intensive period started in January, it was a struggle just to keep up with what was going on in class. If I wasn’t 100 percent focused at all times, I’d basically have no idea what was being discussed until someone new started talking. Now, while it still requires more focus than a class taught in English, it feels reasonably natural to have classes taught in German. My understanding of cases and grammatical structures has improved to the point that I now tend to make just one or two mistakes per page rather than the one or two mistakes per sentence I seemed to make at the start of the semester. My ability to speak German has also improved by a noticeable amount. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel like I have to think of what I want to say in English and then translate it to German, but it can still be a struggle to find the words to express what I want to say. My speaking ability definitely still needs the most work and unfortunately it is also the most difficult thing to work on in the US.

Going back to things that I’ll miss about Vienna, it’s hard to say what I will miss. I think that many of the differences between the United States and Austria are rather subtle, so I probably can’t predict most of the differences that I’ll notice. Some things, like stores not being open on Sunday, I know I will, at most, be indifferent about. The access to good public transport is definitely something that I’ll miss. While I do enjoy driving, it has been nice to be able to easily go anywhere in the city without having to worry about navigating through a bunch of narrow, one-way streets and then having to find somewhere to park. One difference I’m still undecided about is the general dining experience. On one hand the wait staff in Europe tends to leave you alone unless you ask for something, but on the other hand, it gets annoying trying to flag down your waiter, who then gives off a vibe like it is the worst thing in the world that you want to order something.

As I said above, I am excited to go home, but I’m not exactly excited to leave. The only thing that I haven’t enjoyed about being abroad is that there is an unmistakable feeling of temporariness. It’s not possible to fit your entire life inside two suitcases. While you can bring many of the big things in your life, the little things you left behind start to add up over the course of five months. Some things, like watching baseball at a time other than 3 am, are impossible to solve. Others, like not having a bunch of guitars and effects and amps, are solvable, but aren’t practical to solve when it’s only a couple of months that you have to deal with it. It’s not an everyday occurrence, but if I had kept track of all the things I wanted to do when I got home, I would have a rather impressive list. Every time you add something to the list, it’s another reminder that the place you’ve been calling home isn’t actually home. There is also the always looming return date. For most of the semester it isn’t an issue, but as the countdown turns from months to weeks to days, the coming end starts to cause some problems. Namely, the fear of missing out. I would sometimes worry that by doing one thing, I would miss out on some other thing. Luckily, I could combat those feelings by thinking about all the things that I believed I needed to do before I left. While there certainly are some things that I would have enjoyed doing, I think I got to cross off all of the items on my ‘must do’ list.

I can’t say that there is anything about my time abroad that I would call a major regret. I probably should have traveled more around Austria, but I’m also not someone who can constantly be doing things. While it would have been nice to visit other places in Austria, I also enjoyed having relaxing weekends where the most I’d do was visit a museum or two. I also would’ve liked to visit more places in the Balkans, but again, I don’t know where I could have fit it in. I also overpacked a little, but I’ll take that over under packing. I suppose that if these are the worst regrets I have about the last five months, then you can say that I’ve had a very successful time abroad.

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Promenade

My final week of classes was a rather unremarkable affair. On Monday, I went to the Volkstheater for a second time with my theater class to see Nathan the Wise. Then on Wednesday, my political geography class took a field trip to the Literature Museum that is across the street from the IES building. While at a first glance that might seem like a bit of a stretch in terms of relevance, but there is quite a bit that can be learned about a country’s political culture by looking at the works of literature that were written there. Beyond these two trips, I didn’t do much else during the week except for homework and finishing another paper.

On Friday, I did what any reasonable person would do on their last weekend before finals: jet off to the south of France. During my first day in Nice I did just about everything that there is to do in Nice. I walked along the promenade, I walked up a nearby hill to get a nice view of the city, I visited the Villa Massena, and then I had dinner in the old town. I also made several bad nice / Nice puns.

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Nice

Luckily the main reason for my trip was not to visit Nice. On Saturday, I woke up early to take a train to Monaco for the Formula E race that was being held there. When I exited the train station in Monaco, I realized just how much of the city was built into the side of a mountain (and just how mountainous the place is). After taking a rather roundabout way down the mountain to the track, I took my seat at the final corner of the track, Anthony Noghes. While my seat probably wasn’t the absolute best around the track, I did have a nice view of the final couple of corners, about half of the start / finish straight, and a video screen of the race broadcast. Overall, Formula E put on a pretty good show, but like attending any GP style race, I have very little idea of what happened during the race outside of my corner. The only real disappointment of the day was that due to the race, so much of the city was blocked off that I didn’t get to see any other parts of the track or the parts of the Formula 1 track that aren’t used by Formula E. While I probably could have wandered around to try to find a way to Casino Square, if you saw the way the city was laid out, you’d understand why I elected to just head back to Nice after the race.

Monaco from my seat

Monaco from my seat

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On my final day in Nice, I quickly realized that there was basically nothing left for me to do. So after having breakfast, I just sat by the beach and listened to music until it was time to get a bus to head back to the airport. Much like Bucharest, I imagine that Nice is a better place to visit during its actual tourist season. It probably would have also been better if I cared enough about art to visit one of the many art museums that are in the city. Luckily as a race fan, seeing a race in Monaco more than made up for the lack of things to do in Nice and definitely made the trip worth the effort.

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Always Forever Now

Tomorrow marks the first day of my last week of classes while abroad. Although I’ve probably mentioned how close the end of the semester has felt in my last 4 or 5 posts, it still seems a bit crazy that the end is already so close. Luckily for me, I’ve had several papers that were due recently or will be due soon, so I haven’t had much time to worry about my impending return to the United States. Unluckily for me, it also means that I’ve felt like I have to always be writing a paper and not enjoying my last couple of weeks in Vienna.

Despite the many looming deadlines, I did get out and do things in this most recent week. For starters, my Cultural Heritage class took a ‘Hitler in Vienna’ field trip. While this trip was more about the information than visiting different locations, we did visit the art school that Hitler wanted to attend as well as one of the apartments that Hitler lived in. After this trip, my next class met at the House of the European Union. As you can probably guess from the name, this is the EU’s official office in Austria. While there, we learned a bit about the EU and we also happened to run into one of Austria’s representatives to the European Parliament (who also happened to be a former student of the professor of my class).

I apparently did everything on the same day last week because on the same day as the two class trips, I went to another concert. This time I went to see the German band Sportfreunde Stiller perform (here’s a playlist of some of their hits if you’re interested). For an event like this, I figured that everyone would assume that everyone else speaks German and so they wouldn’t switch to English with me and would be a great chance to see how well I can converse in German. This thought of mine was correct. Unfortunately my German skills were not exactly what I was hoping for them to be. With the person at the coat check and the person I was standing next to before the concert, I had major “is this person even speaking German” moments. Strangely though, during the concert I had no issues understanding the banter between the members of the band in between songs. I can only imagine the confusion of the guy I was standing next to… “this guy just told me his German is really poor, but now he’s laughing at all these jokes in German.”

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Sportfreunde Stiller

 

On Sunday I took some time out of my busy paper writing schedule to visit the military history museum. Here I was able to continue my apparent fascination with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The museum has both the car the Ferdinand was in when he was killed and the clothes he was wearing at the time. The museum was mostly focused on World War One, which was a bit interesting to see how they treated the subject compared to the United States. In the US the war is treated more as our glorious alliance versus the bad guys, while the museum seemed to paint it more as a gray area as to if one side was more in the right than the other. Beyond the information bits about the First World War, the rest of the museum was mostly just a collect of various guns, sabers, and military uniforms. I would say that overall the museum was a bit disappointing, but I went on a day when it was free, so I’d say it was well worth the price.

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One Minute Warning

As evidenced by the two final papers I wrote over the weekend, my time abroad is nearing the end. Although I still have about three weeks left, compared to how far away the end felt just a few weeks ago, it seems like I’m almost most out of time. Thankfully I have classes that make me do things. So instead of being overwhelmed by thinking about what I will or won’t be able to do, I instead have had a list of things I have to do.

The first of these things was attending a play at the Burgtheater. As part of my Viennese Theater class, I got to see a performance of a German translation of the play Disgraced. Like so many of the other places I’ve visited in Vienna, the Burgtheater is very much another place where the building itself is as interesting as whatever is going on inside of it. Also, as you would expect with such an impressive building, the performance was probably the best that I’ve seen while in Vienna.

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Entrance to the Burgtheater

Another place I was required to go to was the Volksoper for a performance of the Magic Flute in its original German. Having never been to an opera before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As such, I elected to buy an obstructed view ticket since all of the standing room tickets had been sold. I didn’t expect it to be too obstructed, but when I sat down I realized that I could see literally nothing. Luckily the person whose seat was next to mine didn’t show up, so I was able to move to get a nearly unobstructed view. Compared to the plays that I had been to, the opera was on a completely different level. The stage was massive and had many extravagant moving pieces and was generally more interesting than the plays that I had been to.

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‘Obstructed View’

 

One of the papers that I had to write was about the district of Vienna that I’ve been living in for the semester. Every district has a museum that we were required to visit as a part of our paper. Despite the district that I live in being the second smallest and the rather sketchy setup of the museum, it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. For instance, I learned that what is believed to be the first ever gasoline powered car was built just a couple of blocks from where have been living. In less enjoyable, but equally interesting is that in my district there are small markers placed around the district in memory of those who were deported during the Nazi rule of Austria. Although I hadn’t noticed the plaques before, since learning about them, I’ve seen them multiple time, which has been a rather effective reminder of the scale of the holocaust.

 

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After visiting the museum, I actually did something touristy for fun. While I had never heard of it before, apparently the movie The Third Man is ‘the movie’ that takes place in Vienna. I went with one of my roommates to see it and much like the museum, it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. While the movie is in English, there are some parts where a character speaks German. Although speaking German isn’t required to understand the movie, it did seem to add to the experience to understand everything that was said.

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A Sort Of Homecoming

The day after returning from Sarajevo, my parents arrived for their visit to Vienna. Being the wonderful son that I am, I elected to roll out of bed early to meet them at the airport and guide them to their hotel. Unfortunately, my parents elected to bring typical North Carolina weather with them. After months of consistent spring weather, the day my parents arrived, the weather abruptly reverted to winter form (and now that they’ve left, it has abruptly returned to spring-like weather). Despite the lousy weather, I started to show my parents around the city in order to attempt to show off everything I had been learning in my Cultural Heritage of Austria class. Unfortunately, my knowledge seemed to be rather selective. As a result, I was only able to give great insights like “someone important is buried here” or “something important happened there.”

The next two days were also spent visiting places that I had previously been to. While I’m sure you’d love to hear about Schönbrunn for the third time or the Imperial Treasury for the second time, I’ll instead skip ahead to when I actually did something new. For the last day of my break, I went with my parents to yet another well known and very popular tourist destination: Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava and Vienna are the closest capitals in the world so it only takes a one hour train ride to get from one to the other. Of the obscure capitals that I have visited, Bratislava takes first place for least to do. After only a couple of hours, we had seen basically all that there is to see. A couple of churches, a couple of old buildings, a fancy new bridge, and a restored castle is all there is to the city.

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After Bratislava, it was back to reality. I had classes to go to and my parents went off to the middle of nowhere Slovakia and to Budapest. Even with my parents in another country, I was still subjected to visiting things for the second time. This time my Cultural Heritage class visited the Natural History Museum and while it was basically deserted when I first visited, it was packed with very loud, elementary school aged children this time. Our tour guide was also rather old and soft spoken so I can’t say that I understood much of what was said.

Not much else of note happened this week. On Thursday, my parents returned to Vienna in time to have dinner before they flew back to the US. Thursday also marked the beginning of my final month abroad. Hopefully, the pressure of time running out will serve as great inspiration towards doing things that will make for great stories on my blog!

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Shadows and Tall Trees

As mentioned in my last post, I have this week off of class for spring break. Much like my last long break, I decided to visit another popular tourist city: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. You are probably wondering why I would choose Sarajevo as my destination, to which I would say that I’m wondering why as well. The only reason I even knew the city existed was thanks to the U2 song, and by extension, the only thing I knew about Bosnia was the war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Despite that, Sarajevo was one of the first places I looked at visiting and when it seemed like the most worthwhile trip, I decided that any trip I made needed to include it. I looked at including another Balkan capital, but Bosnia’s infrastructure still hasn’t been completely rebuilt, so it really only made sense to only visit Sarajevo.

My flight into Sarajevo arrived fairly early in the afternoon, so I was able to spend several hours just exploring the old town part of the city. Sarajevo is often considered to be the point where East meets West and within only a few minutes it was rather clear why that is. After only a couple of minutes of walking, I passed a mosque, an Eastern Orthodox church, a synagogue, and a Catholic church. There is also a very clear point where all the buildings switch from a typical Ottoman style to an Austro-Hungarian one. Eventually my meandering through the streets took me to the Yellow Bastion where I was treated to a nice panoramic view of the city.

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At the end of the day, I got my first taste of what is probably now my favorite group of foods. For every meal, I ate Bosnian food and everything I tried was amazing. Sarajevo Sahan, Cevapi, Burek, you name it, it was delicious. Also, not only were the portions on par with what you would get in America, everything was super cheap. My most expensive meal, including a drink and a tip, was 11 Bosnian Marks, which is about 6 dollars.

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Remnants of the Bosnian War were everywhere and impossible to miss. Almost every building that existed during the war is still peppered with bullet holes. You can still see places where mortar shells landed (although is on purpose as they’ve been painted red and usually have a plaque in honor of those killed by the shell). The first place I visited on my second day in the city was Gallery 11/07/95. This museum is primarily about the Srebrenica Genocide. On July 11th, 1995 Republika Srpska (and Serbia) conquered the town of Srebrenica, which had previously been declared a safe zone by the UN. The forces of Republika Srpska then began the systematic murder of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks and forceful removal of the remaining 25,000 – 30,000 citizens of the town. This all occurred while the international community, more or less, closed its eyes and pretended nothing was happening. In an effort to hide the genocide, the bodies were buried throughout the country, particularly in places where they could try to pass them off as casualties of the fighting. They would also use machines like bulldozers and front end loaders to bury the bodies and as a result most of the victim’s remains were found mixed with others and often in multiple mass graves. In one example given, there were the remains of one victim found spread across three mass graves over 30 kilometers apart. There have also been cases of the mass graves being laced with landmines. Despite this, over 6,000 of the victims have been identified and given a proper burial. Unfortunately, some of those buried are only a couple of bones because the parents of the victim don’t believe that they will live long enough to see their child’s entire body found.

 

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Eventually the museum turns to Siege of Sarajevo, in which they have the Miss Sarajevo documentary playing on a continuous loop. The film is interesting because it isn’t about the war, but rather the people. A group of children playing pretend in a car that was destroyed by a mortar while you can hear machine guns in the distance, a dance club in someone’s basement, or an underground beauty pageant were all things shown during the film. It is also quite the experience to watch someone run from sniper fire on the very street that you were walking on a few minutes earlier. Interestingly, the end sequence of the film was used by U2 as their music video for their song of the same name.

After getting the rather depressing view of humanity, I elected to go back to exploring the city. I visited the site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the small museum about the Austrian rule of Bosnia. Following this, I climbed up a nearby hill to visit the ruins of an Ottoman-era fortress. Here I was treated to yet another panoramic view of the city as well as a view of one of the neighboring towns. I planned to do further exploration of the hill that I was on, but it started to rain and so I elected to return to the city and eat some more cevapi.

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For my final full day in Sarajevo, I took a tour to many of the sights that are not easily reached by foot. After starting at the Yellow Bastion, the tour went to the Tunnel Museum. During the war, the only way to get into or out of the city was through a tunnel that was dug beneath the airport runway. Thanks to the tunnel everything from food and medicine to gasoline and liquor was able to be brought into the city without having to risk crossing the wide open expanse of the airport’s runway. The next stop on the tour was yet another reminder of the war. The road up the mountain we were on was lined with signs warning about the minefields that were on either side of the road. Next was the abandoned ski jump and podium from the 1984 Winter Olympics. Thanks to this stop, I can now add “stood on top step of Olympic podium” to my resume. After eating lunch on the podium, we visited a hotel that had been destroyed during the war and is now used by what is essentially the Bosnian SWAT team for training exercises. Following this was a drive to a different mountain which had the (mostly) abandoned bobsled track. The second to last stop was at what was once a sniper’s nest for Republika Srpska during the war. Unsurprisingly, this gave me yet another panoramic view of the city. The final stop on the tour was at the main Jewish cemetery. After the Jews were expelled from Spain, Bosnia was one of the few places to allow them in. Because of this, many of the grave stones were in Spanish, even after several hundred years.

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My last day in Sarajevo only left me with enough time to eat one last meal of Cevapi before heading to the airport. Being the frugal flier that I am, I ended up with a decent length layover in Belgrade. I was starting to get hungry so I decided to exchange 5 Euro for Serbian Dinar to get a snack. I wasn’t really aware of what the exchange rate was so you could imagine my surprise when I received almost 600 Dinar. Interestingly, Nikola Tesla is on the 100 Dinar bill as well as the equation that defines the unit Tesla. As a physics major, this more or less solidified the 100 Dinar bill as my new favorite piece of currency. On the flip side, I also received several 1 Dinar coins, which may actually beat the penny in terms of general uselessness of a piece of currency.

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Things to Make and Do

After my trip to Bucharest, I only had two weeks of class before I got another week off for spring break. In a stunning turn of events, the weeks did not drag by (in fact, the whole month of March seemed to not even exist). This was probably thanks to the fact that I actually did things that broke up the monotony of classes.

First, I made my second visit to Schönbrunn, this time to actually go inside. Unfortunately for the quality of this blog, pictures inside were not allowed, so if you want to know what it’s like inside, you’ll just have to visit yourself. Unlike my first visit to Schönbrunn, the ground wasn’t a literal sheet of ice, so I was able to walk up the hill behind the palace and take a nice picture to make up for the lack of pictures from inside.

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My visit to Schönbrunn was not made out of my desire to feel like a tourist. Instead, as part of my Cultural Heritage of Austria class, I had to write a paper on my impression of my visit to the palace. We were told to use a German language audio guide as part of our visit, so being one to follow unenforceable rules, I asked for a German audio guide. A bit to my surprise, I realized that I was actually understanding what the audio guide was saying. This realization was the beginning of a two week epiphany that I’ve gotten rather good at understanding spoken German. It wasn’t that long ago that I would struggle to just pick out words in German news broadcasts and now I can watch a Formula One race in German and actually understand what the commentators are talking about. I’ve also gotten better at understanding songs, which has led to a couple of funny realizations of what songs I like were actually about (luckily no bad realizations [I would occasionally wonder if I was actually listening to Pegida hymns or something], mostly just realizing that the song has a silly premise). Despite my progress, there is still one area where my listening skills are basically useless. Whenever the subway driver (conductor? engineer? pilot?) makes an announcement, it just sounds like random noise. Not one to be discouraged though, I just blame my inability to understand the announcements on the speakers.

The next place I visited was another repeat visit. As part of my Political Geography class, I took a tour of the Austrian Parliament. Having already visited to sit in on a session of Parliament, it was rather cool to be able to actually visit the actual area where the representatives debate (and sit in one of their seats). Unfortunately, I don’t have much else to say about Austria’s Parliament building. Luckily, I am bailed out by the fact that they do allow photos to be taken and so I can make this paragraph look bigger by adding some photos here!

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As part of my Cultural Heritage class (apparently classes are the only reason I do things nowadays), I visited both the Imperial Treasury of the Habsburgs and Schloss Belvedere (yet another place that I had previously visited). Apart from the normal crowns and robes of former Austrian rulers, the Imperial Treasury has some rather strange treasures. For instance the horn of a unicorn which is actually the horn of a narwhal. How someone got the two mixed up a couple hundred years ago, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine it went something like this: “Sir, I know we found this while on a boat in the Arctic, but it totally has to be the horn of a unicorn!” Schloss Belvedere is a former palace that has been turned into a museum of Austrian art. It is here that you can find Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, which despite my general disinterest in art, was rather cool to see in person. Unfortunately, much like everywhere I’ve been visiting lately, photos were not allowed inside, so I have no interesting pictures to share from here either.

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Stranger in a Strange Land

As I mentioned in my last post, I effectively had this last week off of class since my last final was on Monday. To take advantage of this extra break, I decided to travel to the city on the top of every person’s must visit cities list: Bucharest, Romania. For whatever reason, whenever I told someone where I was going, the first thing they asked was always “why” to which I always cunningly replied with “why not?” To actually summarize my thought process in planning this trip, the idea began to brew when I saw that there were cheap, direct flights from Vienna to Bucharest. This reminded me of an episode of Top Gear that was filmed in Romania. After rewatching the episode in question, I was basically sold, so long as it was easy to get to the city from the airport and that I didn’t need a visa to visit. With affirmative answers to all of my important questions, I booked my trip.

While Bucharest has a rather extensive public transport system, it was designed more with the city’s citizens in mind, rather than tourists. Because of this, other than taking a bus to and from the airport, I walked everywhere. Luckily, the weather was exceptionally nice and everything worth seeing in Bucharest is fairly close together. The only thing about this trip that was unlucky was that because it wasn’t tourist season in Bucharest, almost every museum I was interested in seeing was closed for renovations. Since walking around a city doesn’t lead to that interesting of a narrative, I’m just going to dump a bunch of photos here:

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One museum that wasn’t closed was the National Museum of Old Maps. When I arrived at about 2 pm, the doors of the museum were open, but all of the lights were off and there was nobody in sight. For whatever reason, I decided to walk in and was almost immediately stopped by a security guard. He only spoke Romanian, so he told me to wait while he got someone else. The second person also only spoke Romanian, so she told me to wait while she got someone else. Luckily, the third person spoke English. After I paid him the entry fee to the museum, he went and started turning on all of the lights. Despite being the only person in the entire museum, the security guard didn’t follow me around, like I was expecting him to. However, when I was leaving the museum, I realized that there was somebody following me around, turning off all of the lights once I was done with a room. I suppose this is how I know I have rather obscure interests.

Another place that was open was the Palace of Parliament. For the equivalent of about 4 dollars, I was able to take a tour through what is the fourth largest building in the world by volume and the heaviest building in the world. It was started by Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1984 and enough of it was completed before his ousting that the new Romanian government decided it would be cheaper to mostly finish it and use it for both houses of Parliament rather than to tear it down. One last interesting fact about the building is that almost the entire building is made from materials from Romania.

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Although I was only in Romania for a couple of days, on four or five different occasions someone tried to ask me for directions in Romanian. This amused me since I hadn’t made a particular attempt to blend in, but apparently I looked Romanian enough. Also, in the couple months that I have been in Vienna, I have yet to be approached by an Austrian for any reason. On my way back from Bucharest, I was asked by a Turk for help navigating the trains to get from the airport into Vienna. Since we were going to almost the same place I got to talk with him a bit and I discovered that he is a professional mountain climber who has summited Mt. Everest. So if you ever feel stupid for being unable to navigate a city’s metro system, just remember that even someone who navigates mountains can have trouble navigating through a metro system.

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The Wanderer

According to WolframAlpha, Thursday marked the halfway point of my semester abroad. It was a bit surprising to discover that to be the case, but the math checks out. Of course, reaching the midpoint of the semester also means midterms. Unlike Wofford, midterms at IES are treated as a much bigger deal. There are no regular classes for a week, instead most classes just meet once to take the midterm. By some amount of luck, I will be done with my midterms on Monday, which means that I will have an entire week off of classes.

Thanks to hitting the midpoint in the semester, My thoughts have been a bit reflective. As such, I have started to think about the things that I miss about living in the United States. One thing that living in Europe has taught me is that the world (or at least the part that I’m interested in) runs on EST. Being 6 hours (or 5 since the US starts daylight savings two weeks earlier) ahead of the east coast means that most everything interesting starts at or after midnight here. Another thing I miss is the existence of low in quality, but high in quantity fast food (read Cookout). Overall, I’m a bit surprised by how little I miss about the US. I think this is because living in Vienna hasn’t been all that different from living in any other city in the US. It’s almost been disappointing how little culture shock I’ve experienced.

Long term reflections over, let’s reflect upon what I’ve been up to since I last wrote a blog post. As part of my Culture Heritage class, I’ve continued to visit many different sites around Vienna. One place was the currently under renovation Karlskirche. Thanks to the renovations, it’s possible to take the temporarily erected elevator to the top of the dome. I also visited the National Library of Austria. I unfortunately neglected to take a picture while there, so you will just have to take my word for it, that the building was rather impressive. The last place we visited was the Imperial Crypt of the Habsburgs. This was probably the strangest place I visited in Vienna, probably because it’s not everyday that I’m surrounded by more than 140 dead bodies. Continuing the theme of seeing strange things, as part of my theater class, I went to a performance of Der Talisman. I believe that the best way for me to describe what the performance was like, is to say that I had many of the same thoughts while watching the play as I did watching the movie Airplane. That is to say that the majority of my thoughts during the play were along the lines of “what is this play even?”

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One final story I have to share occurred while I was walking through a train station. Someone came up to me and asked if I spoke English. I said yes since I’m a nice person and would like to help out a lost tourist. Unfortunately, this man was not a lost tourist. Instead of asking where his train is or some other touristy thing, he started talking to me in a mix of English, German, and Hungarian (or at least I think it was, he said was from Budapest, but I don’t actually know what Hungarian sounds like). So here I am, in a train station, with someone changing languages with almost every word. I must have looked rather uncomfortable because a police officer walked up behind the guy talking to me and started listing in. Unluckily (or luckily) the police office just shrugged and walked off, leaving me to continue to think about how to end a conversation with someone who I don’t even know what he’s saying. Luckily for me, the guy eventually just stopped talking, shook my hand, and left. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Speed of Life

It feels like just yesterday I was writing about my excitement to start regular classes and now I already have three weeks under my belt. One thing that everyone seems to forget to mention when talking about studying abroad is that fact that you still have a normal school workload. I expected this, but it’s still a bit difficult to keep the romanticized version of study abroad out of your head. Between this and the relative ease of the intensive German period, it’s easy to fall into a mindset of thinking that this semester will be a complete breeze. As such, the biggest challenge of the last few weeks has been trying to catch up to the speed of life.

Luckily, the classes at IES haven’t been too different from what I would expect at Wofford, so getting into a nice rhythm hasn’t been too difficult. The professors here are just as happy to assign homework as they are at Wofford. The ones I have are particularly in favor of assigning a decent length reading plus writing a short paper. While this normally wouldn’t be too bad, it’s a bit of a different game when it’s done entirely in German. It’s also tough knowing that if your mind wanders for just a second during class, you’ll have very little chance of figuring out what’s going on until someone else says something. The bright side of this struggle is that success feels that much better. Also, it’s becoming a near daily occurrence of noticing how much better my German is getting. I recently made brownies using instructions that were in German without having to translate anything. My sense of accomplishment has never (literally) tasted so good!

So far Viennese Theater has been my most difficult class. As expected, the class involves a lot of reading and since the plays weren’t written for kids, they are a bit of a challenge to read. We then analyze the texts in class, which isn’t a strong suit of mine when done in English, so it’s an extra challenge to try to do it in German. The class is rewarding, though, when we go to an actual performance of the play and I don’t have to stare at the English supertitles in order to follow what’s going on.

Another class worth writing about is my Cultural Heritage of Austria class. This class meets once a week for three hours. The first half is spent like any other class, but for the second half we visit various sights around Vienna that pertain to our in class discussions. In the three weeks of class we have visited ancient Roman ruins, several churches, two monasteries, and a house that Beethoven once lived in. One of the monasteries that we visited is called Schottenstift, which, if translated literally, means Scottish Monastery. You’re now probably wondering why it has such a name. Strangely, the reason is that the original monks of the monastery came from Ireland. Try figuring that one out.

Verduner Altar at Stift Klosterneuburg

Verduner Altar at Stift Klosterneuburg

My Business German class is considered to be a language class, so it’s been fairly similar to my regular German class. It has involved more reading and writing than regular German, but it’s a 300 level class so it hasn’t been too hard compared to my other classes. In an unsurprising turn of events, my easiest class, so far, has been my only class English taught class. The only interesting thing I have to share about this class is that I keep expecting it to be in German. There’s been multiple times that I’ve found myself trying to figure how to word a question in German before remembering that I’m supposed to use English.

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