Monday, September 29, 2008

Doctors, Elections, and Ballets

Random updates!

So last week I went to the doctor. I was feeling sick and tired all the time. Let me tell you something. The Austrian (and I assume any socialist country's) health care system is weird. And freakishly efficient. It was a bit difficult to navigate almost exclusively in German, but it worked. I had to get blood drawn, which sucked, but the results were ready the next morning. Basically, I am iron deficient and have a virus or infection of sorts. So I have iron pills and antibiotics. Check this out: Both of those prescriptions together WITHOUT insurance were 20 Euros. I love reaping the benefits of socialism without paying taxes. :)

In other news, the Austrians had their elections yesterday. It's really interesting, because you hear so much more about the American election here than the Austrian one. College age students here are much more excited about Obama than any of their presidential candidates. And most of them know more about it than I do. I knew of several Austrian college students staying up til 3 AM to watch the debates. I went to sleep. Don't worry though. I am sending in my absentee ballot. I have to cancel out my Republican roommate.

Yesterday, a couple of friends and I went to the Hofburg palace and to see a ballet. The Hofburg is where the Habsburgs lived. Needless to say it is freaking massive. Before we got to the Hofburg, we found this ancient church that had a fleamarket in it. It was so awesome and soooo cheap. It was amazing. After the Hofburg, we went to see Onegin, which is a ballet. If you are willing to stand in a long line for a couple of hours, you can get standing room tickets to any opera or ballet for 4 Euros. Very cool.

This was a good weekend for me. I finally feel at home in Vienna.

That's all I have for you right now! I'm going to Klagenfurt this weekend to see Stephen which should be fun. I'll get to meet all of his friends from all over the world. Yay!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Warning: This Post May Be Boring

So I've been inspired by Veronica's post to tell you about my everyday life. It may be boring, but I think it is necessary information. I've pretty much only been posting about my travels!

Right now I'm still in the process of getting acquainted with my surroundings. I know it's been a month (wow!) but I'm still figuring out where to eat, buy office supplies, drink coffee, etc. You forget how much time it takes to really get those things down! I'm still trying to figure out the main streets, where they are, what's on them, etc.

Everyday I wake up around 8:30 (including today, which was unfortunate because I had a class at 8 AM). I go through the normal passive aggressive rush to shower before three other roommates get to it. I usually have some fruit for breakfast (the grapes here are delicious-straight from Italy!) and check my e-mail. It takes me about 35 minutes to get to the IES Center from my apartment. I walk about 5 minutes to the Strassebahn (streetcar) which takes about 10 minutes to get me to the U-Bahn stop. About 10 minutes on the U-Bahn and another 5 minute walk will get me to the IES Center.

Now that classes have started, I've gotten into the swing of things a little more. I have a routine and I know the people in my classes. Since I'm taking mostly business and german courses, I pretty much end up with the same people in all my classes.

Thought: Austrian teaching styles are very different from the U.S. And they may drive me crazy. They're very unorganized (no slides) and they just sort of ramble for an hour and a half. It's really difficult to take notes. And they generally ramble about things completely unrelated to the class. Like my Post-Cold War European Security professor rambled about how Austria was the first "victim" of Hitler. Which is a) untrue and b) not Post-Cold War. It gets old.

Almost everyday, I eat a chocolate pastry for lunch. It's really all I need to make me happy. The Polish lady that owns it always greets me in the traditional Austrian way ("Gross Gott!"), automatically gets my pastry for me, speaks only German to me (yay!), and says "Tscheuss Papa" when I leave. I think Papa must mean something else in colloquial Austrian German. It's fun though.

I also usually end up in a Viennese Cafe at the end of the day, with a couple of friends. Vienna was truly built around coffeehouses, and they continue to be a very important hang out place for the Viennese. I love them. I'm not even a huge coffee person. But their "Kleine Brauners" (small browns- basically yummy espresso) are great and they always have cheap, yummy pastries. My favorite so far is Apfel Strudel doused in warm vanilla sauce. Yummmm. I also really enjoy just going and talking to my friends. I feel like it's been awhile since I've just gone somewhere for the sole purpose of talking to people. Viennese Cafes seem to bring out the best in people's conversational abilities.

On the weekends, I usually travel. But when I don't, sometimes people will go to a club or a bar, which is very different than in the U.S. Here, people will drink one, maybe two, beers and just talk. It's a fun way to meet actual Austrians. I also am doing as much sightseeing as possible while I'm actually in Vienna on the weekends. This weekend, for example, I am going to the the Hofburg (the palace for the Habsburgs) and the Spanish Riding School, which is where they do dressage with the famous Lippizaner horses (click here). I'm also going to see a ballet on Sunday at the Staatoper, where you can get standing room tickets for 2 Euros. Yay!

Anyway, that's pretty much how my days are being spent. Sorry if I bored you!

Oh and one more thing! I had my first (three and half hour long) session of Cultural Heritage of Austria. Thoughts: 1) It's in German and I can understand every word that she says! I feel like this is breakthrough for me and my German. I'm not even translating it into English in my head! It just makes sense. I'm very excited. 2) This class includes fieldtrips every week, which I am so excited about! I get to go to all of the museums, castles, operas, etc. for free! Yay!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bucharest Pictures!

Click here to see Bucharest pictures!

Friday, September 19, 2008

3rd World Europe

Greetings from Romania!

It's hard to even know where to start on this one.  So I will just go day-by-day and see where I end up.

Monday/Tuesday:  This was my epic journey from Klangenfurt, Austria to Bucharest, Romania.  It took a total of 25 hours to do it, but I made it!  The big train ride, from Vienna to Bucharest was 17 hours.  Fortunately, I got three seats in a row to myself, so I slept for about 14 hours of the trip.  It wasn't particularly comfortable, but it worked.  The really irritating part of it was that the Romanian border police, railway employees, etc. came through the train to look at our tickets/passports atleast 11 times that I counted.  In the middle of the night.  I never slept more than 30 minutes at a time before an angry Romanian police officer would blast open our door and demand our tickets.  My blood pressure was through the roof.  The particularly scary part about it was that they didn't speak English and seemed very confused as to what my rail pass is.  I had to hand over my passport every time, and I had visions of getting tossed in a Romanian prison.  But I survived.  Sharing my little compartment was a Bulgarian (I think) lady who spoke no English, but spoke German.  So we chatted for a while in German.  She told me that my German was better than a lot of Austrians she knew.  I think that's just because we were both non-native speakers and therefore could understand each other well.  It was fun.

Anyway, I got to Bucharest at about 2 PM.  And, as my Romanian train buddy had warned me about, there were dogs all over the place.  I saw at least a dozen dogs in packs on the way to my hostel!  Definitely decided to be inside before nightfall!  For the rest of Tuesday I basically just wandered around the area near my hostel and went grocery shopping

Wednesday-  I slept in til 12:30.  I'm on vacation! :)  I then went on my first sightseeing adventure in Bucharest.  I saw the place where the revolution of 1989 started (very cool!), the opera hall, and their parliament building, which is the 2nd largest government building in the world behind the Pentagon.  And then I ate Pizza Hut.  The evening, I watched 12 episodes of "The Office" on my laptop.  I <3>

Thursday-  I popped up at 6:00 AM to go catch a train.  I had decided the night before to take a day trip to Constanza, which is the 2nd largest city in Romania and a port city on the Black Sea.  I'm very glad I went, but I did spend a total of 9 hours on a train for about 3 hours in the actual city.  And those three hours were mainly spent lost.  Apparently, no one in Constanza sells a map.  So I didn't actually see any of the things I meant to see.  But I did get to see the Black Sea and I did get to wander around for a long time.  I did get a little lost trying to get back to the train station and tried asking someone how to get back.  Her Spanish/English and my English got it figured out. :)  The worst part about my day trip was that the train ride back was full, and since I didn't have reservation, I had to stand.  For 4 hours.  It sucked a lot.  And this old Romanian lady (think Babushka) came up to me and started rambling in Romanian, I told her I spoke English, she petted my hair several times, and then proceeded to stare at me for the next 2 and a half hours.  It was awkward.

Friday- Oh.  That's today!  I slept in til 11:30.  And I've been talking to this Aussie who has been backpacking for 5 months and will be for the next 3.  Crazy!   Anyway, today I will be visiting several churches and going the Lipiscani district.  Think: Gypsies selling cheap stuff.  Yay!

Thoughts on Romania:

1) In the outskirts of the cities, Romania is a third world country.  No water, no electricty, donkeys for transportation, starvation, disease, etc.  Slums with cardboard and corrugated metal.  It may not be as bad as Africa, but it's pretty damn bad.  And no on knows about it.

2) Barely anyone here speaks English.  Which is difficult.

3) There are honest to God gypsies (politically correct: Roma) here.  Fascinating.

4) I have been such a bum at night here!  I have gotten through almost all of Season 3 of "The Office".  

5) Bucharest is unlike any European city I've seen.  It's really, really sad actually.  You can just tell that it was once an incredibly gorgeous city.  Until Ceausescu came through.  That man was freaking nuts!

6) Bucharest is dirty, kind of ugly, and very Eastern European.  But I like it.

7) It is very expensive to eat out here.  The majority of Romanians can never afford to eat out.  They can barely buy groceries.  But I am going to go to a Romanian restaurant for lunch and see what I can do.

That is all for now.  I'm sorry the post is so long!  I just haven't had anyone to talk to the whole time, so I needed to get it out of my system!

I head back to Vienna tomorrow.  Another 15 hour train ride.  Woo hoo!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rollercoasters are scary, but fun

I am writing to you all from Stephen's university in Klagenfurt, Austria.  Klagenfurt is the capital of the region of Corinthia (so Stephen is currently a Corinthian, ha) and is in southern Austria.  It is very close to the borders of Italy and Slovenia.  For example, Stephen can get to Venice faster than to Vienna.  It's a very interesting city that, though it is still very Austrian, also has all the signs translated into Italian and Slovenian.  I would say it is a little smaller than Indendence, MO but being a cultural center of southern Austria, it obviously is cooler than Independence.  A lot less meth too, I would imagine. :)

I will be leaving here tomorrow afternoon for my journey to Bucharest.  I will leave Klagenfurt at 1 PM and get to Bucharest at 2 PM.  The next day.  Oh dear.  I have 5 books, my DS, my iPod shuffle, my computer, and a pillow.  I really hope I can make it through this with my sanity.

Bucharest will also be a little tricky because I am by myself and I am a female.  This means I have to be in my hostel before it gets dark out.  Thank god the hostel has wi fi and I have my laptop!  If anyone wants to Skype, after dark in Romania would be a good time for me. :)

Before you go to study abroad, everyone and their mom tells you about the rollercoaster of emotions you will go through when going abroad.  For example, I have just finished up with the honeymoon phase.  It's interesting to see how true that rollercoaster analogy is.  Study abroad is hard on your emotions and is definitely an up and down thing.  Apparently re-entry into the US is equally difficult.  Definitely scary, but definitely fun.

I will update again during one of the long evenings in a hostel that I have ahead of me.  Wish me luck!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

I got back yesterday from a weekend trip to Budapest with Stephen.  In reference to the title of this post, Budapest is actually two cities named, you guessed it, Buda and Pest.  We stayed in Pest in a cute little hostel that was also very dirty.  We did not shower for the whole weekend.  Gross.

The exchange rate and buying power of the local currency was incredible.  There are 239 FT to every Euro.  To get into a museum it was 100 FT.  Crazy!  A meal was around 2 Euros and the metro was less than a Euro.  It was very refreshing to be in such a cheap place finally!

We managed to see so much in such a short weekend!  We got there via a 3 hour train ride on Friday night.  On Saturday, we went up Castle Hill where saw Matthias Church and an incredible view.  We also went to St. Stephen's Basilica, the largest church in Hungary.  It is also the location of St. Stephen's mummified right hand.  It was gross.  We also saw a cool Fransiscan Church.  At the end of the day, we went to the thermal baths in the main park of the city.  There were 4 thermal baths at various temperatures and a sauna inside and a huge pool outside. There were a bunch of old men playing chess on cork chessboards. Such an incredible experience.  Needless to say, I have seen enough old, fat Hungarians in speedos to last me a lifetime!  Stephen and I also got ticketed by the metro police because we only had a normal ticket, not a transfer ticket.  It was very irritating, but fortunately not very expensive.

The next morning we went to the Citadella, which is a 13th century castle at the top of a very huge hill.  It was really hard to climb up it!  But it was quite possibly the most incredible view I've ever seen.  However, like the Grand Canyon, I feel like pictures can never really capture the view.

All in all, Budapest is definitely a city I recommend everyone see!

To see pictures of Budapest click here.

I also put up pictures of my first couple of weeks in Vienna.  Click here.

P.S.- My address is Bethany Owens c/0 IES,  Johanessgasse 7 Vienna, Austria A-1010.  I like mail!  (No private carriers.  Just USPS or other national postal services.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pastries: My Impending Doom

So I'm sitting in the study lounge (aka ball room) waiting for Stephen to get here so that we can get on our train to Budapest!  I'm very excited, especially after discovering that I can get a massage in a thermal bath for the equivalent of $2.00.  Yay Eastern Europe!  Even entrance into museums is less than 1 Euro.  Incredible!

This week has absolutely flown by, which is good considering that the week before that lasted an eternity.  I've done some touristy things, such as seeing Hundertwasserhaus (click here) and going to the famous Cafe Sacher to eat Vienna's famous Sachertorte (delicious!). I also went to a Heuriger (click here) with my German class, which is a sort of traditional wine garden.  After most of the class left, 3 of us and the teacher sat around chatting with the owner who gave us some sturm on the way out, which is an Austrian wine that is unfermented.  Yum.

So I've been in Vienna for about a week, and I have some observations I would like to share:

1)  Vienna is the most freakishly clean city I have ever been in.  There's even less graffiti here.  The old Austrian women will literally yell at you if you put your feet on the U-Bahn seats.

2) The Austrian Stare.  So I thought it was bad when I went to DC.  Here, if you smile, they think you're hitting on them.  The Viennese will just stare at you in what would be considered a rude way in American.  It's a little disconcerting.

3) There are dogs everywhere.  Like ever third person you see has a dog.

4) Austrian German is not german at all.  It is truly, as my mom calls it, basterdized German.  I can't understand it for the life of me.

5) Think of everything you've ever heard about Austrian pastries.  Now multiply that by ten and you have reality.  I may gain 20 pounds here purely from the delicious chocolate crossiants down the street that I have eaten everyday I've been here. 

6) Vienna is the perfect mixture of the East and the West.  It is unlike any of the Western capitals we went to, and very, very different than Prague or Bratislava.  It's a truly fascinating mixture.

7) The Bratwurst stands here are to die for.  So are the schnitzel stands.

There really is more to say, but it's a Friday afternoon and I've have 15 hours worth of German this week.  I will come up with more later.  Tschuess!

Monday, September 1, 2008


So I returned yesterday from Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  Needless to say, it is a very, very different city than Vienna.

We (my three roommates and three other friends) took an airport shuttle to Bratislava, which took only 45 minutes.  It is incredible how different two cities that close together can be!  My German teacher says that legend has it that the only reason that Austria was west of the Iron Curtain was that the Austrian foreign minister could drink more vodka than the Russian foreign minister.  I guess the Slovaks can't hold their vodka.

We got off the bus at Novy Most, which is right by the center of Old Town, the only worthwhile part of Bratislava.  It is a truly beautiful area though!  It is full of historic buildings and cute little cafes.  We even got to look in on a traditional Slovak wedding!

After wandering around a bit, we decided to walk to our hostel, which was a university dorm that was converted to a hostel for the summer.  After walking FOREVER, we finally arrive to what can only be described as the place that "Hostel" was filmed.  For those of you who missed that piece of cinamanic art, this hostel was old, there were burn marks everywhere, communist symbols spray painted on walls, bugs, and nasty rooms and showers.  There were weird Slovak students lurking in the hallway.  Our room was literally in an area called "Blok J"!  It was a scary night.

The next day we went to the top of a huge hill to go to the Bratislava castle, which was neat.  We caught an early bus back, because there really wasn't a whole lot left to do.

All in all, a nice trip, but not a place I would like to return to!

I think that Stephen and I may be heading to Budapest this weekend, which should be pretty interesting.  And I think that during the week break I get in a couple weeks, I will be going to Bucharest, Romania.  Yay Eastern Europe!

Pictures from Bratislava: