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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Amstetten Ahoy: Sleep and School Visit

After little or no sleep for practically a week, I arrive in Amstetten - where I will be spending the next nine months of my life! How can I contain myself? What can I do? Where can I go? Where is this Pension Leichtfried I booked on the internet, and how the hell do I get there from the train station?

I don't know, so I ask this taxi driver who is sitting at the train station. I ask him if he's free (like, I try to be polite...not really sure of Austrian taxi etiquette) and he says, "Well, you can't have far to go," and I'm like, "Yeah, I know, the town is like 20,000 people. But do you realize how long I have been hauling these heavy bags around?"

Well, indeed it is only a 5 minute car ride to the place, but I would rather have gotten there in a car than gotten lost in the streets of Amstetten (so scary! The locals call it Fritzltown after the guy who locked his daughter in a cellar for 24 years...) and anyway, my shit is heavy.

So, I get to the Pension, and everything is just fine. I get loads of sleep, and, since I have internet, and TV, and I get breakfast in my room, I don't really ever have to leave! But  I do.

Here are some photos from my Stadtrundfahrt: 

"Downtown" Amstetten -->

<-- the Rathaus

The MALL! All-important. Seeing as Amstetten *has* a mall, it is one of the bigger small towns in Austria. Who'd a thunk, right? It's sort of like Green Bay because people from smaller places like Wieselburg and Melk come here to go shopping - not unlike people in the UP going down to Green Bay to partake in Old Navy, Best Buy and Woodman's!

This is someone's shrine to St. Jerome (litterally, this is what some person put in their front yard). If ever I forgot that Austria is a Catholic country, I will now remember! 

The Tanzhalle James Dean :

The church --> 

Well, there are actually 2 in Amstetten. Important things, you know.

Other pictures that look nice:

<-- the Wolf of Amstetten

There is some sort of legend associate with the town (I didn't actually read the plaque - otherwise I could probably tell you what that legend is!)

And finally, there are these weird-looking pear things all over the place...I think they are supposed to be like the cows (or, excuse me, bulls) in Chicago (or the butterflies in Green Bay. Also stupid.) Um, yeah. No idea, but they are probably done by local artists and what-not, trying to promote regional pride. Why they chose pears, only an Amstettner could tell you.

So, then, after I finished snapping pictures (I almost forgot about this part because of the pictures!) I went to the school to introduce myself. Everyone is super nice!!! One of the teachers showed my around, and then my supervising teacher (Betreuungslehererin) took me out for lunch. She is super sweet & I am very glad to be here :)

Monday I go to Graz for my orientation, which means another 4 hours on a train and crap, but at least I will only (presumably) have part of my luggage to haul around. Awesome.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vienna, by Contrast

Wednesday I got into Vienna. Still pretty tired, but wanted to look around the city.
So, I went to my hostel from Westbahnhof and, after depositing most of the luggage I had with me (THANK GOD) in a locker, I wandered around until I found the bus stop to get to my hostel.

But, of course, still being out of it, I needed a cup of coffee to stay awake long enough to get to my hostel without falling asleep on the bus or something & finding myself across town with no purse. So, I stopped at an outdoor cafe that served breakfast and had 2 cups. I think I ordered a Verlaengerte (a.k.a. Americano, if you're in Starbucks) with milk on the side. I wasn't quite sure how to get across what I wanted, especially since the owner (who was waiting on me) was Italian. Now that I know better, I can safely say there are about 30 different types of coffee one can order in Vienna alone.   

As I sat down, I happened to notice this sign across from my table: 

A long-lost relative working as a tax handler in Vienna?? Or maybe Weller is just a popular last name around here...I was tickled, at least.

 Once I got to the hostel, I was let in by the owner who was cleaning the place. And it looks really nice! With little leather rugs and parquet floors. There are 2 rooms with 8 beds in each. I'm sleeping on the top level, and it looks so nice I want to just crawl into bed right then. But, I feel like I will need to wait until the guy finishes cleaning, so I figure I and wander around for a couple of hours and then come back and nap.

<--  View of street from the room

I make it out to Museumsplatz & wander around snapping photos. I notice that the Volkstheater has some Neil Simon play on tonight, (Roses Geheimnis) so maybe I can enjoy some culture while I'm in the big city. The ticket is 9 euro, so, why the hell not?

Here are some of the photos I took while wandering around:

Natural History Museum

Statue of Maria Theresia (Hapsburg empress & mother of Marie Antoinette)

<--  Memorial wall of Emperor Franz-Josef I (husband to infamously vain Empress-Consort Sissi)

Statue of St. Micheal in Michaelerplatz. There is one just like this in Paris in Place St. Michel. Now I wish I would have gone there to snap a photo while in Paris, just for comparison's sake.

More Michaelerplatz photos...

And, steps away, the Roman ruins of Vienna! I am such a sucker for Roman Ruins. This is what's left of some self-appointed provincial emperor's 2nd century underground central heating system:

And the remains of his garden privacy wall: 

Gotta keep those Barbarians out, you know.

And then I walked right into the Spanish Riding School stables! They allow tourists to come in during weekday afternoons. This is pretty awesome, as the school is one of the "finest examples of classical dressage" that exists in the world.

Also known as the world-famous Lippizaner  horses...purportedly the best-trained horses in the world! Emma Martinson, I hope this makes my blog worth following ;) I have a feeling if horses can't do it, nothing will.

And then I saw these two kissing (or whatever they're doing...maybe they're fighting) and got a picture! Well, maybe it is worrisome if they are kissing because the Lippizaner school only trains stallions...but perhaps we can think of it this way: Vienna is a very gay-friendly city, and this extends to it horse population.

This guy looked right at me! I had  to get a picture. Probably a little Casanova at heart.  -->

 After this, I walked back to the hostel and took an nice long nap before I went out to the theater. That didn't really help, though, because I ended up falling asleep through part (maybe most?) of the play. From what I gathered, this woman is a writer who is having writers block, and her husband or somebody dies, and then she sees his ghost or something. It was also a comedy, so I was kind of like, hey, I've seen Blithe Spirit. How different can it be from this one? Maybe when I'm better reseted, I can go back to Vienna and give the Volkstheater another chance.

Paris, cont.

I almost forgot! In my freak-out, sleep-deprived post-airport angst, I *almost* didn't post these photos I took in Paris!

I walked up to the Sacre Coeur from my hostel, and wandered around until I had to leave for Vienna.

Here is a carousel/gift shop    -->

 Nothing like getting your consumerist kicks in at a sacred site, right?

 <--  Here is a view of the street from the courtyard.

A little farther up the path. No "pelerins a genoux" here. (see Montreal Page)

 And finally, a view from the top!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Revanche! Relance!

CDG - mid bomb scare
Paris: AIEEE!

First, I get into Charles de Gaulle at 1:30 pm and figure I need to mail one of my suitcases, because I am definitely over the baggage weight  limit for a within-Europe puddle-jumper. So, expecting I will have to mail my suitcase to Amstetten, I walk over to the Austrian Airlines kiosk (after asking at 3 *other* information booths) and the guy takes one look at my bags & says that my stuff is all too big to fit on the plane & it will cost 15 euro per kilo over limit (20 kg is the limit - I have at least 50 kilo to schlepp around) so I kind of freak out & then go find the post office in CDG. I get my 23 kilo bag out to mail to Amstetten for 68 euro and then schlepp the rest of my shit back up to the area where you can get on the Metro...

My carry-on luggage
What should happen then, but the French National Guard comes storming in, big burly guys with machine guns & tell everyone to get out of the airport area and they turn off the escalators and people run around screaming (well, OK, the French don't go running around screaming, but some less obnoxious, subtle, French version of that - if only for effect), and then finally they turn everything back on, and the crowd dissipates, and then I ask some old guy smoking his 10 millionth cigarette what just happened and he's like, "bomb."

GREAT! I know they had a bomb scare earlier in CDG, like two weeks ago or something, but, seriously, what is with this? Anyway, the army dudes apparently got the whole thing figured out & once the escalators were turned back on, we were all safe once again, and I could actually get down to the trains. So, I hopped on the RER Bleu to get to Gare du Nord and got to the Woodstock Hostel. So absolutely exhausted b/c slept max. 5 hours last night. Our stupid new neighbors leave their dog out all night right outside my bedroom window to bark its fool head off. Mom has taken to spraying it in the face with water every time it barks - including in the middle of the night! It did not help last night, but perhaps after a few weeks of old-fashioned Pavlovian training, she will get somewhere. At this point, I think, Detroit-Wayne has nothing on CDG. If you don't have to go to the airport, Paris is wonderful. If all you do is sit in the airport trying to figure out how you are going to get yourself AND your overweight baggage to Vienna, Paris sucks.

So once I get to the Woodstock, I take this picture of my bed:

Oh, sweet, dear, beloved bed!

But I can't go to bed right away. It is only 4:30 and I have to wait until bed-time like Rick Steves says, so my body can adjust to the time change in a healthy way & I won't be overly harried by jet lag. So, I figure I might as well introduce myself to my roommate, who is sitting outside smoking on the patio area, and from whom I had to get the key. It's only polite to introduce myself, right?

She's sitting with two other guys, and I can tell already she's German, even though she's speaking in English. She is talking nonstop in that funny way Germans have when they are speaking in English.  But, well, still charming. At least to me. I introduce myself and at first she thinks I am French (or speaks to me in French anyway) but I figure she is talking to someone who does not know French because they had been speaking in English. There are actually 3 people at the picnic table in the patio area: Christine, the German, Rasmus the Dane and Simon, who is from New Zealand. Well, I guess that explains why they're speaking in English. I think, OK, I'll introduce myself, chat for 20 minutes, and then grab something to eat from the sushi restaurant down the street, come back and go to bed before 6. Awesome plan, right?

Well, I sit down and start chatting, and we are all having an interesting conversation. The next thing I know, the sun is setting. I think, Oh, it's getting darker earlier. It's probably around 7. Then, we chat more. Christine tells me she is an occupational therapist in Paris on her vacation. Rasmus is a student planning on becoming a Kindergarten teacher, and Simon just competed in the Settlers of Catan world championship in Germany (playing for Australia, who came in 6th place - out of 30 teams). Who'd a-thunk? So, anyway, about 10 minutes after the sun goes down, I look at my phone to see what time it is, and it is already 9:30! OMG, I think. No wonder I'm tired! Minus the 2 hours I slept on the plane (half of Clash of the Titans and then an extra 45 minutes before they served a pre-landing snack), I have been up for 30 hours. I can hardly believe it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Flight: Chi-Town => Dublin

I took off from Chicago yesterday, and going through security, I saw this little Asian man with three cases of Jack Daniels from the duty free shops. All I can say is, if you're going to splurge in the duty-free shops (and get your money's worth out of it being duty-free), you might as well do it with Jack Daniel's. I'm sure the guy's some high-powered Japanese/Korean/Chinese businessman who needs copious amounts of whiskey to give as company presents, etc. But still~ that's a lot of booze!

So, in O'Hare, waiting to board, I sat across from this big, loud Irish family. The daughter was sitting directly across from me, a little hefty, with sort of typical Irish coloring (dark hair, blue eyes, freckles) and wearing this big black down puffer jacket making her look twice as big as she actually is. In light of my joint writing adventure with Callie, The Fat American (inquire if you dare!) I thought about a companion piece to be published in France, which could be titled, L'Irlandaise Grande and set in Chicago. Well, then again, maybe not. I just really like the title.

Once I got on the plane, this American woman who had been standing behind me for much of the check-in/security/boarding says to me, "I love your hair." And then her husband says, "As we say here, it's like a woolly lamb." Was this supposed to be complimentary? Where is "here"? Chicago? The US? Did they think I'm Irish? Anyway, they were the average middle-aged couple going on some sort of vacation to the rolling hills of Ireland, possibly pandering to some sort of idealized version of Gaelic tradition, and discretely reminiscent family histories (i.e. that great-great-uncle Seamus came into New York harbor in 1892 from County Cork with nary a possession in the world but the shirt on his back - the only thing he *didn't* drink away in the taverns of Kanturk). Not that I'm a cynic, or that I don't wish them a good time. Nothing of that sort.

My choice of in-flight movie was Clash of the Titans. I was debating between that and Remember Me with Robert Pattinson but considering the bizarre dream I had about going to summer camp and being bitten...don't really need to go into that...I decided that I would watch action-flick rather than romantic-flick because I would be almost guaranteed to fall asleep through romantic drivel. Plus, I've been wanting to see the new Clash. And, all I have to say is: Sam Worthington is definitely the new "it" boy for action-adventure, ever since Avatar was so huge! He kind of reminds me of a Bruce Willis type - but Australian and better looking. I ended up falling asleep during that one anyway. Very disappointed there was no mechanical owl. Also, Liam Neeson ain't no Lawrence Olivier (even old man Olivier) and Ralph Fiennes is obviously being type-cast as the evil snake-like villain ever since he played Voldemort - or maybe he will just do anything if the price is right. I am also including The Reader in this type-casting thing. He was really mean to Kate Winslet's pseudo-sociopath ex-Nazi, which I thinkis saying something.

Once I got to Dublin, I got through security, and as I put my shoes back on, this little old man in a plaid jacket came up to me and asked for help finding his gate. On the ticket, he was pointing to the time the flight took off, so I figured maybe he was not familiar with flying? Or English? So, I told him to check his flight number and destination on the screens that are all around the airport, and that the gate is only listed on one of those monitors...because the airplanes normally don't know which gate they're flying into until they actually get to the airport. Well, the last I saw of him, he was standing in front of the screen checking it out, so hopefully he got to where he was going.

Looking for my own gate, I realized there was still 2 hours to go before I could board, so I went to have breakfast at this Starbucks-type place. All the workers have dialects of which I am ignorant and we are mutually unintelligible. I have to point to what I want, and they have to point to what I owe on the cash register. I really didn't think I'd have to deal with this until I got to France. So much for not having to worry about a language barrier in another English-speaking country!

<-- This is what I ordered. Egg & Mushroom sandwich that was really gross & weird. Complete w/brown sauce.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tomorrow! Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is another day.

Tomorrow is the day I fly to Paris! How exciting.

I am packed & ready to go!

There's really not much more to say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Success! The weather was mostly gloomy, but nothing unmanageable. We just put everyone in the garage instead of the backyard.

Also, there was a good turn-out. This photo was somewhat of an after-thought, as Zoe and Donna and Nancy and Judy had left at this I guess these are the younger set.

Jessica and Mike made an appearance, but that wasn't until later, so they are (obviously) absent.

On Monday, Jessica, Callie and I made plans to get together for one last hurrah in Appleton. We ended up at the Stone Cellar, which has a very nice beer garden...perhaps something I can look forward to? More beer gardens, that is; not lunches at the Stone Cellar.

After lunch, Callie and I made our way to Main Hall to drop in on some of our professors at our old Alma Mater, Lawrence University. We weren't necessarily expecting to do so, but I'm glad we did, because it was great to see them all! Last fall, Callie's health, how shall I put this? Troublesome. She is doing so much better (so much so that she is planning to come visit!!) and still as full of life as ever. Since her health problems began last May, right before graduation, it was definitely a good thing to show everyone at Lawrence how well she's doing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Confirmed Guest

I discovered yesterday to my great JOY! that Jean Marie will be in attendance! She is coming out from Minnesota to spend the weekend. I am so excited, because I have not seen Jean Marie for over a year.

Callie will also be joining, as will sister Sam (who just started her sophomore year at Eau Claire). Mom & Dad are driving up to Eau Claire to get Sam, and Callie's plans are to drive from Wausau. My party is going to be so fun!

Except for the fact that it is supposed to rain all day on Saturday...arrgh! Why, whenever I want to plan a party, is the weather crappy? That is, perhaps, not entirely true, but it seems like the last few parties I've planned have turned out this way. Although, I invited way fewer people to this one than we did to Sam's high school graduation party last year, which is the saving grace.