Paris

This was how I arrived in Paris.  Crammed onto a “couchette” in a 6-person compartment on a high speed train.  Being me, I actually enjoyed the couchette experience, and didn’t have much trouble sleeping once I established that I would have to scrunch my almost-5’11” frame down to 5’8″ in order to lay comfortably.

Couchette aside, I think the best part of our Munich-to-Paris overnight train trip was when Maria and I attempted to brush our teeth as the train pulled out of the station and picked up speed.  Failing entirely to keep my balance, I slammed into a few walls, and then almost fell over. I was also foaming at the mouth with toothpaste, and we were both laughing hysterically.  Then the conductor came by and we had to sober up and show him our tickets.

We arrived in the city at around 10:30 a.m., and then came the (by now ritualistic) task of figuring out:

1) How to buy tickets for the train/metro/bus

2) Which train/metro/bus stop is closest to our hostel

3) Which route to take in order to end up at said train/metro/bus stop

You may not believe it, but I’ve actually become somewhat of an expert at navigating public transportation, and at reading maps in general.  It took me until this long trip, but I think my sense of direction is finally emerging from its 21-year hibernation.

After checking in to our hostel, we set off again to explore.  Controlled exploring, mind you.  We wanted to do so many things in Paris that we actually worked out an agenda for every day.  (I have the itinerary saved on Mac, for those of you who don’t believe me)

Day one began with the Stravinsky Fountain.  Gabi, one of my traveling mates, is a music major, and so naturally wanted to visit the fountain.  I don’t know what she was expecting, but I was expecting some ominous stone bowl with a Poseidon statue spraying water from the center (or something).  In fact, we paused by a bright, modern-looking fountain at one point, and getting impatient, I suggested we continue our search for the actual Stravinsky Fountain, only to get laughed at.  The funky fountain was indeed Stravinsky’s.  Here it is:

During warmer seasons, the figures shoot water in different directions. They also move. No idea how this relates to Stravinsky, but it sure is a neat fountain.

In an attempt to gracefully segue into our next excursion, let me tell you that I’ve seen a lot of churches this semester.  I’ve been in monastery chapels, I’ve been in glittering Baroque basilicas and I’ve been in dim Gothic cathedrals.  So I feel secure saying that I’m a fair judge of churches.  Despite my newfound “authority” on the subject, however, Notre Dame completely blew me away.

Yes, I looked for Quasimodo up in the bell towers. No cigar.

I think it was the stained glass that got me.

Sorry about the blur, but I wanted you to get the scope of the church, looking at the altar.

After Notre Dame, we walked across the Seine to my dream bookshop.  My REAL dream bookshop.  Every other book store I’ve ever been in was just preparing me for this one.

Shakespeare and Company. What a magnificent place. This shop, my friends, is where the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, and (be still my heart) F. Scott Fitzgerald used to gather to drink tea (although let's face it; old F. Scott probably had something stronger) and discuss their writing projects. This bookstore was the hangout of some of the greatest literary minds of the 20th century. (Maybe here is where I should mention that this isn't the original shop; that one got closed down a few decades ago. But this one is a pretty good replica, so I feel my raving is justified)

Yes, there were literally books crammed into every available space. There were even shelves above the doorways and (as shown) along the staircase.

Even thought I promised myself (following the purchase of the 700+ page John Adams biography in Munich) that I wouldn’t buy any more books over here, I couldn’t help myself.  Be assured, however, that the purchase I made at S&Co. was extremely appropriate:

Later that night, we hit up the Louvre for their “free admission Fridays after 6 p.m.” special.  If there’s anything we college kids know how to do, it’s go after a good deal.

I kept thinking about The Da Vinci Code. Is that weird?

The Louvre, as you know, is huge.  Supposedly, if you were to look at each item in the museum for 4 seconds, it would take you 3 months to get through the entire collection.  Not being blessed with that kind of time, we hit the high points.

Egyptian stuff. How I love Egyptian stuff. But again with the overload. Why can't these big city museums share the love with other (smaller) cities?

The Winged Victory. Funny story about this one: I stood right in front of it for several minutes, looking at my museum map and saying things like, "if we go down that corridor on the left, we should find Winged Victory." My understanding friends finally took the map away and pointed up at the statue. I then resigned as Louvre Navigator. It was clearly for the best.

Raphael.

Good old Vermeer.

Venus de Milo

And of course…

The Mona Lisa. Everyone warned me that she's terribly small, but I didn't think so. Maybe the size of a standard wall poster. I wanted to stare at her for hours and think deep thoughts about that mysterious smile, but as there was quite a crowd, I had to settle for a quick look and a snapped picture.

Saturday (October 29th) was our trip out to Versailles.  Unfortunately (I was really kicking myself over this one), I FORGOT MY CAMERA.  And Versailles happened to be one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.  Out of the kindness of her heart (and probably so I wouldn’t pout for the rest of the day), Gabi took plenty of photos for me.  These are all hers.  Thank you so much Gabi!

So, to begin:  we had bought (and printed) our Versailles tickets ahead of time, and decided to spring for the “behind the scenes” palace tour.  However, due to a series of unfortunate events involving a metro that would go no further and a few instances of getting on The Wrong Train, we were late for our tour.  About a half hour late.  (Here is where my playing up of Versailles begins (warning: I may compare it to Disney World at some point in the near future)).  When we finally did arrive, we went straight to information, showed the woman behind the counter our tickets, and explained our dilemma.  She then proceeded to lead us through a(n exclusive) back door and all the way across the enormous Versailles courtyard to where the tours were meeting.  She explained the situation to the man there, and he simply changed the time on our tickets and told us to have a seat; the English tour would be starting shortly.  It was all very above and beyond, and I can’t tell you how happy we were that everything worked out so nicely.

Our tour group consisted of the three of us, a friendly British couple, and a rather passionate guide.  It truly was a behind the scenes tour; we got to step over velvet ropes and go up secret staircases, with the guide offering interesting little tidbits all the while.

Especially fascinating to me was the fact that everything in the palace was taken away and auctioned off during the French Revolution, and that the Versailles museum is still today receiving pieces back.  Not everything is given back, however; these paintings and chairs and rugs have been in wealthy families for years (and after all, wouldn’t you be keen on having a Versailles treasure in your home?), so obviously they’re not all willing to relinquish them.  This is where the palace funds come in; they have a certain amount of money given to them by the French government (I assume) with which to repurchase said pieces.

It was the funniest thing to have our tour guide point out an intricately carved table and say, “Oh yes, that one came back last week.”  The French court was extremely meticulous about cataloguing every item in the palace, so historians today are able to put every lamp back in the exact spot it occupied over 200 years ago.

Hall of Mirrors. Rather painful, as I was not having a good hair day.

After our tour, we walked out to the grounds.

They were huge! And gorgeous! I could see why every other palace in the world sought/seeks to imitate Versailles.

Go to Europe in the Fall. Then you get to see things like this.

The Versailles grounds are enormous, and once you get away from the main (formal) part, you’re faced with dozens of different paths, and private fountains around every corner.  We stumbled upon this at one point:

It's called The Temple of Love, and is located on a small island surround by a stream. We crossed a bridge to get to it.

When you really get away from the central area, you enter Marie Antoinette’s private domain.  She wanted a place where she could be away from the strict etiquette of the French court, and so she created a small peasant hamlet for herself.  Literally.  There’s a mill, a dairy, a dovecote, a barn, various animal pens, and a large house for the queen in the middle of it all.  The buildings are very rustic looking; they’re wood with thatched roofs.  Even the queen’s house doesn’t stand out from say, the barn, save for its larger size.

I loved the Queen’s Hamlet (as the village is formally known) most of all because it was so, so lovely.  There were ponds filled with swans and fish, wild gardens and hedges everywhere, and the buildings sprawled with simple charm.

There were even animals in all the pens!  They had pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys, geese, chickens, and cows.

A goat actually escaped while we were walking around the hamlet; all of a sudden we heard shouts and looked up to see a little white goat trotting jauntily towards us, with a grounds worker chasing after.  I have a feeling she would have enjoyed the whole scene:

Our third day in Paris was officially called our “Grave Day.”  The Grave Day consisted of two cemetery visits and a catacombs tour.  Yes, we are witty indeed.

We also saw the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe, but they don’t fit the theme.

First stop was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Despite being in the center of the city, the cemetery was quiet and peaceful. And very picturesque; no simple headstones here. Instead graves consisted of huge stone crypts decorated with scalloped ironwork and statues.

We ran into some old friends while wandering around:

Oscar Wilde was under construction, so we didn't get to give him a kiss; it's tradition for women to put on copious amounts of lipstick and smooch his grave.

Edith Piaf

Jim Morrison also had his own memorial tree, covered with layers and layers of messages. This one was my favorite.

Cemetery No. 2 was the Cemetery de Passy.  It had a view of the Eiffel Tower:

Another of my favorite artists:

So what happens when you run out of burial room in your large, rather unsanitary city? What happens when all of your cemeteries and churches are filled to overflowing?  Why, you exhume the long-dead, of course, and artistically arrange their bones in underground catacombs.

The catacombs were filled with thousands and thousands of bones, all stacked up into patterns and mazes. It was eerie at first, but I got used to it. I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

Um, excuse me sir, but don't you have one lobe too many?

As we exited, a woman stationed by the door checked our purses.  Apparently visitors quite frequently try to steal a souvenir femur or two.  Gross.

You would never guess that this is the gateway to miles of human bone mazes, would you?

After our eyes adjusted and we took a few deep, cleansing breaths of fresh air, we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived just as it was getting dark, and only had to sit in the grassy park for a few minutes before this happened:

Thanks to my Lit. professor, I know that when the Eiffel Tower was first built, the French absolutely hated it.  I’m not sure if that feeling still exists, but back then they thought it was ugly; just a big hunk of twisted iron towered over everything else in Paris.  A 1889 newspaper story on the tower claimed the following: “And during twenty years we shall see, stretching over the entire city, still thrilling with the genius of so many centuries, we shall see stretching out like a black blot the odious shadow of the odious column built up of riveted iron plates.”

I’m sure that I walked up to the Tower with a bias; I’ve been seeing it in movies and reading about it in books for years, and thus have the Eiffel Tower imprinted in my mind as the great romantic symbol of Paris, and largely, of Europe.

But it is, my friends; it truly is.  Despite being made of iron, and despite its sturdiness and its height, the Tower up close is spidery and delicate.  Pieces of rust-colored iron loop together over and over all the way up into the sky, and when you stand beneath it craning your head back, you find it hard to believe that hundreds of people are dining in restaurants and buying tacky souvenirs and riding in elevators above you.  I didn’t want to go up myself.  Not just because of the long lines, but because I found I would rather just sit and look at it.  So that’s what we did.

After about 45 minutes, we finally turned away from the Eiffel Tower, and walked to the Arc de Triomphe.

I really can't explain why I'm leaning forward awkwardly. To avoid being hit by one of the cars speeding behind me?

I didn’t take any good pictures of the Champs-Elysees.  Mainly because it was just a big shopping street.  With about 4 H&Ms.  They sure like H&M over here.  In German, it’s pronounced “hah und emm,” which I think is hilarious.

Before calling it a night, we traipsed over to the Moulin Rouge.  It wasn’t far from our hostel, in the Montmartre district of the city.  I later found out that Montmartre is where the “soiled doves” used to hang out.  It’s also where the likes of Dali, Van Gogh, and Picasso used to hang out.

So there’s Paris for you.  I’m only realizing now that I didn’t take any food pictures!  It’s too bad, because we certainly ate well in Paris.  My favorites were the French onion soup and the macaroons.  And the bread.

Venice

We decided to go to Venice on a Tuesday, and by the following Friday morning, found ourselves hurtling through the Alps on our way to Italy.  Although I slept for most of the trip, I do vaguely remember there being a few inches of snow on the ground, and then going through a long tunnel and seeing green grass again.  I don’t remember snoring, but apparently that happened as well (or so I’m told).

Our first night in Venice consisted of a lengthy struggle to find our hostel, which was in a town about 20 minutes away.  At first we were going to take the train, but after we bought our tickets, we discovered that the conductors were on strike, and that the trains wouldn’t be running again for several hours.   We then trooped out to where the buses were parked and managed to buy a ticket for one (we thought) that would get us where we needed to go.  Thanks to some successful communication (aka frenzied hand gestures) with other riders, we were able to get off at the right stop, and found the hostel* within just a few minutes.

*A note on hostels:  They are nothing like the dirty, unsafe, crawling-with-miscreants places they’re often made out to be.  In my experience so far (I’ve stayed in 4), hostels have been cheap, youth-oriented lodgings that put a lot of emphasis on helping you to make the most of your trip.  For example, almost all the hostels I’ve stayed at have offered free guided city tours.  They also provide things like restaurant coupons, maps, brochures, and general good advice about where to go and what to do in the area.  We were in Paris over Halloween, and our hostel there was even having a Halloween party (with face painting and a costume contest)!  Additionally, the hostels have been clean (the last one I was at cleaned the bathrooms twice a day, and I suspect the others did the same), and safe (lockers and/or safes are provided for your laptop, purse, etc.).  The only real difference between a hostel and a hotel, I think, is that hostels are cheaper (we’ve been paying about 18 Euros per night), and that as a result, you need to pick up after yourself a little bit more.  At most hostels, you are given a clean set of sheets when you check in, you use those sheets for the extent of your stay, and you are asked to bring them down to a hamper in the lobby when you leave.  Our last two hostels (in Amsterdam and Berlin), also had us wash our own dishes after breakfast, which I thought was perfectly reasonable.  Breakfast is usually free (or relatively cheap: 2-5 Euros), and typically consists of bread, fruit, cereal, various jams, and coffee or tea.  The last thing I want to say about hostels is that they’re great for meeting new people.  In Amsterdam, for example, we stayed in an 8-person mixed room (with bunk beds; it felt like camp!).  Two brothers were staying in the room with us, and we all got talking one evening and ended up going out to dinner together.  It was really fun; they were from the States also, and I think we were all just happy to talk to people other than our traveling companions (no offense to my traveling companions, but I think it’s a truth universally acknowledged that when you spend 10 straight, full days with the same people, you get a little tired of each other).  The end on the hostel spiel.  No more shuddering when I mention them from now on, deal?

Dinner that first evening in Venice was calzones at a local restaurant.  For some reason, mine was made in the shape of a fish.  I was delighted, and if I hadn’t been so hungry, I’m sure I would have felt bad about stabbing into dear Nemo.

Saturday was our only full day in the city, but that turned out to be okay; Venice, in my opinion (and in the opinion of others I’ve talked to about it), is not a city for visiting museums or landmarks.  It’s a city of atmosphere.  Thus, we mostly wandered around and looked in shop windows and down alleyways.

What I love about this picture is that the gondolier shown got his gondola (with paying customers aboard) stuck in this canal shortly after I snapped the shot. We enjoyed watching him struggle (which may seem cruel if you didn't know that he was probably charging that poor couple about 100 Euros for the half-hour boat ride).

One shop we passed was selling what looked like paper-bound notebooks.  I went in, of course, and ended up talking to the owner for about a half hour.  It turns out that he binds the books himself; he buys the hand-painted cover paper from a local artist, and then puts together the notebooks right in the shop.  He seemed so happy to be talking about his work, and the notebooks were so beautiful, that I absolutely bought one.

The one landmark that we did seek out in the city was St. Mark’s Square:

St. Mark's Square is "one of the few great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic." I wish I had read that quote before I went to Venice; maybe I would have focused on the prevalence of 'human voices' instead of being crabby at the prospect of such large crowds (which I unfortunately was).

The Basilica (you can see more of it in the previous photo) was lovely. A fine example of the 'frosted' or 'heavily frosted' style of architecture (note: not official terminology). We went inside, too, but there were NO PHOTOS ALLOWED. There's not much I hate more than those three words.

Florian's! I don't know anything about this place, except that in one of my favorite books, the main character visits Venice and goes to Florian's, and is all aflutter because it's apparently a very famous place. I haven't heard anything about it beyond that book, but it looked like a rawthar classy place to take tea (alas, too pricey for the college student budget). Let me know if you've heard of it.

After St. Mark’s, we walked over the Rialto Bridge.  The bridge is completely lined with shops selling everything from fine jewelry to souvenir shot glasses to Venice’s famous leather goods.

For the rest of our time in Venice, we simply walked around.  We had our lunch in a secluded courtyard, where I took on the task of stamping my feet at pigeons looking for handouts, and then, finally tired of walking (and not too keen on maneuvering quiet alleys in the dark), we took a water bus back to the train station.  I was happy we got to be on a boat for at least a little while; it completed The Venice Experience for me.

Here are a few more “glamour shots:”

Okay, so maybe this one isn't exactly a "glamour shot," but I almost fell in the canal trying to take it, so I couldn't not put it in the blog. Note to future Venice visitors: the algae that forms on the stone steps near St. Marks's is extremely slippery.

I became slightly obsessed with St. Mark's winged lions over the course of our day in Venice. They're absolutely everywhere!

 Done with the winged lions now.  I promise.

And to prove that I was indeed in Venice, here’s one of me looking bemused at the prospect of waiting an hour for our bus to arrive.

Berlin Prologue

I am currently sitting (to be precise) on the top bunk in a hostel in Berlin’s East Side.  Contrary to popular belief, the East Side is actually where things are happening nowadays.  It’s up-and-coming, it’s modern, and (for us history buffs) it’s surrounded by the remains of a certain wall.  Very cool.

I don’t have many other impressions of Berlin to share with you right now, as we got in late last night (1 and a half hour train delay; it was grim), and pretty much scooted right to the hostel, and then out again for some dinner, and then back in again to collapse into bed.

I do, however, have impressions of Venice, Paris, and Amsterdam to share with you.  Oh, do I have impressions.  I will hopefully be cranking out those posts starting tonight.

See you then!

Vienna

Our weekend in Vienna began early as, I’m grudgingly learning, all good trips do.  The large group of AIFS kids staying in my dorm trudged to the bus stop at around 7:00.  The bus dropped us off at Unipark’s broad plaza, and from there we walked around the side to where our Vienna bus was waiting.  The driver, who is a favorite with AIFS, and has gotten us safely to and from many a place, speaks only German.  He gave us a smiling “Morgen!” as we boarded.

Keeping in character, we all fell asleep about 10 minutes into the 3 hour drive.  I only dozed and hurt my neck resting it against my right shoulder, but all pain was forgotten upon arriving in Vienna.

Because Vienna was beautiful.  I know that I throw that word around a lot, and I know that I’ll continue to do so, but please know that Vienna is a specific breed of beautiful.  Vienna is the beautiful that comes from being a city of 1.8 million, but of feeling much smaller.  Vienna is old and the buildings are carved and leaning overhead in a comforting sort of way.  Vienna is built of opera houses and palaces and churches and museums.  Vienna is culture and pastries and sidewalk restaurants and the Danube.  It’s a wonderful, wonderful city, and definitely my favorite thus far.  (Although I have many more places to visit, so I’ll keep you updated).

The first thing we did in Vienna was take a bus/walking tour with a professional guide.  It was a great general overview of the city, and she dropped us off in the center of town so we could go from there.

The two girls I was with had to tour through Mozart’s Vienna residence (or the one with the museum, at least) for a class, and since I’m always up for a museum, I went with.  It turned out to be a sub-par tour, in my opinion.  There were very few artifacts that had actually belonged to Mozart and his family, and besides that, historians don’t know what many of the rooms in the house functioned as.  For example, we’d walk into (yet another) big empty room, and the audioguide would say something like, “We don’t know what the Mozart family used this room as.  It may have been a dining room, a bedroom, a large library, or a home theater.  We’re leaning towards dining room based on the discovery in the year 1960 of a fork in the corner, but we can’t be certain.  We ask you to use your imagination with this one, folks.  P.S.  The fork can be seen in the display case on your right.  Don’t touch it, or embarrassingly loud alarms will sound.”  While I understand that when it comes to history, a lot of things are unavoidably guesswork, I think that the museum could have been strategically arranged in order to at least give visitors something interesting to look at (i.e. with period furniture).  In all fairness though, there were a few neat displays, and I did learn plenty of new things about Mozart.  Apparently, he liked to gamble.

Friday turned out to be a Mozart-themed day, because that very evening we went to see one of his operas.  For 4 Euros (I kid you not) we got standing room for The Magic Flute.  Luckily, we were within the first 160 people in line (numbers 148, 149, 150, respectively), so we got to stand in the Parterre section; front and center, right below the Emperor’s box.  While the view was fantastic, the standing was tough after a day of walking around in The Boots.  There were several velvet-topped railings to lean on, but those were quickly snagged by the people ahead of us in line.  Railing spots were saved by tying your scarf around a rung.  My feet only barely made it through the first half of the show, but after intermission many Parterrers didn’t return, so we got to lean for the second half (believe me; leaning makes all the difference to tired feet).  Also stationed along the railing were small screens that translated the opera’s dialogue and songs into English.

About The Magic Flute itself:  my friend Gabi is a music major, and The Magic Flute is her favorite opera.  She told us right off the bat that it was a great first opera, as it’s light and funny and is full of songs that we would recognize.  She was right on all counts.  The costumes were beautiful, the set was modern and interesting, and the singing was of course divine.  I was definitely one of those kids who would pretend to cringe whenever singers hit supernaturally high notes, but in Vienna I was simply impressed.  I can only imagine what kind of training (and talent) it takes to be able to move your voice so quickly and subtlely.  We stayed for the entire three hour show.  I didn’t think we would, but the story turned out to be too engrossing to leave.  That Mozart was quite a guy:  not only could he compose like nobody’s business, but he had a sense of humor to boot.  And a gambling problem.  But we don’t talk about that.

Here’s our Parterre view (not bad, eh?):

I know the flash is weird in this one, but hopefully you get a sense of how elegant the opera house itself is:

Saturday was a packed day.  It began with a tour of the Kunsthistorische Museum (or Museum of Fine Arts).  You guys, I was in heaven.  They had Caravaggios there.  And Velazquezes.  And Titians.  And Bruegels.  And Rubens’.  They also had a painting by Vermeer, who is one of my favorites (mainly, I’ll admit, because I’ve read Girl With a Pearl Earring).

Here’s the Vermeer:

I really like that Vermeer portrayed himself in the portrait, and the sense of depth he created using the tile floor and the curtain. I remember learning that he liked to play with depth and light. I would also like to apologize for the poor quality of this photo, but know that I had to push through about 20 people just to see it properly. One man insisted on standing smack dab in front of it (blocking EVERYONE else's view) for about 10 minutes! I tried poking him in the back with my camera lens, but he still wouldn't budge...

Here’s my favorite out of all the paintings we saw.  I couldn’t get a good picture of it (they keep museums pretty dim; I’m assuming so the light doesn’t damage the art?), so this one is Googled:

What I like about it is that when you first glance at it, you simply see a bunch of children playing various games. But if you look closer, you can see that none of them are having much fun at all; in fact, some of the games are rather violent! Our guide told us that the painting is meant to depict the rough lives that children had back during the Middle Ages.

Another thing I want to mention about the museum was that it had a huge Ancient Egypt display.  We’re talking cases and cases of jewelry, about five mummies, plus huge columns (a gift to the Emperor), makeup tools, burial artifacts, and even a dress (I was a bit skeptical about the dress; how in the world had fabric survived for thousands of years?  The dry air, I guess?).

The St. Paul science museum only has a meager “Egypt” room, home to one measly, toeless mummy.  I really think that Vienna should share the wealth.

Here’s a picture of me on the museum steps.  You can see in the background how beautiful the building itself is.  We’re talking frescos, marble, the works.

Fun fact for you: Did you know that you can tell the difference between real and fake marble because fake marble is room temp (or slightly cooler) and real marble is cold? After explaining this to us, our guide had us put our hands on the column (on left), and then on the stairs themselves. The column is fake. The stairs are real. Even emperors of Austria-Hungary like to save money where they can.

Our next Saturday outing consisted of a ride on the world’s oldest ferris wheel (built 1897).  I wasn’t too keen on spending 9 Euro for an amusement park ride (essentially), but my friend really wanted to, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s that you have to give and take with the people you’re with.  Trust me, she paid me back later (I made her go see the Imperial Crypt.  Heh heh).

The view from the top (note: you can't really see the 'pretty' part of Vienna)

Looking down on the permanent little fair where the ferris wheel is located.

After the Ferris Wheel came The Parting Of The Ways; I went off to tour the Hofburg Museums to my heart’s content.  I knew that I’d be slow in there, and no one else was interested, so I happily went solo.  I saw the Imperial Apartments and the Sisi Museum.  The Apartments Tour (audioguide included) began with display after display of the Habsburg’s silver.  And plates.  And napkins.  And vases and carved centerpieces and knives and forks and spoons.  The audioguide made the tour compelling enough, but at one point I found myself literally trapped in a maze of painted china, and knew I had to get out.  So I skipped ahead (oh the joys of museum-ing alone) to the actual Imperial Apartments, which were much more interesting.  I got to see the rooms of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) from the late 19th century.  Sisi (one of Austria’s more (ahem) eccentric monarchs) even had a pair of exercise rings hanging from the doorway of her boudoir.  Can’t you just picture a queen in a heavy dress and petticoats working out while uniformed guards watch in shock?

The Sisi Museum was even better than the apartments, as I’m specifically interested in her life.  While it was very cool to see things that had belonged to her (clothes, knick-knacks, etc.), I didn’t learn anything new (I read a maddeningly thorough biography about her last winter) about her life.  What struck me as strange about the museum (and maybe it’s just me) was that they displayed the weapon that had killed her.  Sisi was assassinated with a metal file (a blunt one, which grossed me out), and they HAD IT IN A GLASS CASE FOR ALL TO SEE.  Isn’t that a little creepy/morbid/disrespectful?

Anyway, in the late afternoon we regrouped.  We stopped by the Austrian National Library, which was beautiful, but as the books were kept far back from the public via velvet robes, there wasn’t much to see literary-wise.

I was happy to be there, nonetheless.

We wrapped up the day with a lively trip to the crypt.  Just kidding about the lively.  The Imperials are buried in the bowels of a church, and some of their tombs are ridiculous!  We’re talking huge structures plastered with gold and dripping with intricate carvings.  Maria Theresa’s tomb could have held about four people comfortably.  I didn’t take many pictures down there, because obviously it was a solemn place, but I did get a few of Sisi and F-J’s tombs:

From Left: Elisabeth, Franz Josef, their son Rudolf

Sunday began with a tour of Schonbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer palace.  Wasn’t I spoiled with all the royal sights in Vienna?

The palace had another good audioguide tour, but most of what I learned echoed what I had learned touring the Imperial Apartments the previous day.  There were some great rooms, however.  I wish I had been allowed to take pictures, but we saw the room where six-year-old Mozart gave his first concert for Empress Maria Theresa, the room where John F. Kennedy met with Nikita Khrushchev in 1961, and the “Millions Room,” decorated with precious rosewood panneling.

I was able to take pictures in the gardens:

With only 30 minutes until we had to catch the bus back to Salzburg, we decided to go through the maze quickly.  Yes, they have a maze.  A few of them, as a matter of fact.  We went into the big one first and decided it was too big for us to realistically get through, so we went through the kids’ one instead.  Here’s what followed:

Bravely, I lead the group toward the exit.

But wait! That's the way we came in...isn't it? WHERE ARE WE?

We break while our fearless leader descends into madness.

(Don’t worry, we got out okay; that’s just the end of my photographic record.)

I’ll end with some more shots of lovely Wien:

Oldest house in Vienna. Also, Mozart stayed here at one point (that guy is all over the place).

Free Willy! This one's for you, Am. Even though killer whales eat baby humpbacks. Only mentioning.

The classiest H&M I've ever seen.

Marks/bars on the church wall where customers could measure bread before buying it at the market. If the bread wasn't at least as big as the round mark, the baker was in for some nasty punishment (involving being dunked repeatedly in a vat of water).

In Which I Realize That I’m Actually in Europe

I know it’s a little late for this, but it literally just hit me that I’m in Europe.

You see, we’re going to Vienna this weekend for one of our program excursions.  A few hours of each day will be devoted to tours (which I like; it’s nice to know what exactly you’re looking at), but we have the rest of the time free.  With the help of Rick Steve and my friend Gabi, I was just now figuring out what to go see during said free time.

That’s when I realized that Hofburg Palace is in Vienna.  And that Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sisi) lived in the Hofburg Palace.  I read a biography about Sisi last winter.  It was rather poorly written, but she led a fascinating life.  And tomorrow I’m going to get to see where she lived that life.  I’m going to see her rooms, her dresses, her jewels, her desk.

Then I sank to the floor in shock (or tripped over a pair of moccasins I had left out.  You choose), as it struck me:  I’m in Europe.  I’m living things I’ve read about.  I’m seeing art pieces in person that I saw slides of back home.  I’m walking the streets that Mozart walked.  I’m speaking a different language every day everywhere I go.  I can see Alps from my dorm window.

Unfortunately I can’t sit here reeling for long (yes, I’m still on the floor); I have packing to do, and I have eating to do.  Ultimate ran late tonight, so I haven’t had dinner.

Actually, and I’m sorry to have to get off my high, eloquent horse, but if you’re wondering about Ultimate (and I heard some of you were laughing about the whole situation.  I won’t point any fingers, Aunt Lori), let me assure you that I’m not THAT bad.  I mean, I’m definitely struggling with the throwing a little bit, because it turns out that I’ve been gripping frisbees wrong my entire life.  I’ve also been throwing with my whole arm my entire life, which doesn’t help me much in a wrist-oriented sport.  But, and here’s the thing that keeps me from being straight up horrid at Ultimate: I can catch the darn frisbee.  Thank you to both the Gruntner and Ellsworth branches for enforcing games of touch football, for initiating impromptu games of catch, and for generally encouraging (and genetically donating) a decent amount of hand-eye coordination.  My trainer (coach) calls me the “frisbee whisperer” because somehow the thing actually lands in my hands fairly frequently.  It certainly helps to make up for the times when she shakes her head as I throw yet another disc into empty space, leaving my intended target shocked and confused.

So Ultimate is wonderful.  I’m making friends with the Austrians on the team, who are very kind and patient and funny.  We all speak a sort of German-English combo, with crazy gestures thrown in for good measure, and somehow everyone always understands in the end.

Here’s another S.O.M. sighting for you.  This is the fountain featured in various parts of the movie.  I believe Julie Andrews splashes one of the statues during “I Have Confidence,” and I think the children dance around it during “Do Re Mi” as well.  I’m the speck in the gray cardigan:

A Test, A History Lesson, and Some Soccer

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. this morning.  Once again, with the help of Special K Red Fruits Cereal (I promise Kellogs is not paying me to continually promote them; I just really love my cereal), I was able to function properly enough to review my notes, pack my stuff, hop a bus, and navigate the gorgeous, albeit unnavigable UniPark (the new university building; I’ll post a picture soon).

Because I still don’t have the buses timed exactly, and because I like to be early to things anyway, I had a good 10 minutes to go over my notes some more.  You see, today was test day in International Conflicts/Conflict Resolution.  We had a test after only three days of class.  Unprecedented, I think.

The good news was that it was an essay test; we were given two questions, and had to write 1 page minimum answers, using as many specific references as possible (which may not sound like good news, but what I like about essays is that since they’re so general, often you can avoid bits of information that you’re not sure about, and focus on the stuff you know really well.  You can also have fun trying to see if eloquence will get you brownie points.  It usually doesn’t, but it takes up space quite nicely).

The bad news was that the only real way to prepare for the test last night was to reread about 70 pages of articles on conflict theory, WWI, WWII, and the Cold War.  I’m certainly glad I did so, although the essays were both concerning the League of Nations and the UN, so I wish I had focused on those bits more.  Oh, well.  That’s the point of test taking, I guess; it’s always a surprise.

Later on I had German, where we learned how to describe the location of items.  “Der Teppich ist vor dem Bett,” for example.  The rug is in front of the bed.  It was review for me, but good review.

At 5 was Austrian Culture.  We’re currently talking about Austrian identity, and how they didn’t really have one for the longest time, because although Austria has been populated for a thousand years, they didn’t call themselves “Austrians.”  People would instead refer to their village as their identifying feature, or to their rulers, but there wasn’t a sense that all the people in the land together were Austrians (mainly because Austria was so segmented and so diverse).  Even in the early 20th century, people here voted to become part of Germany, because they just didn’t think that Austria could make it by herself.  The League of Nations didn’t allow this, however, because of the lovely deeds Germany and Austria had committed the last time they joined up (aka WWI).  WWII was obviously another letdown (although Salzburg was occupado during the war, and although it had indeed wanted in with Germany prior to the war, let me assure you that people around here weren’t exactly happy with Hitler’s doings).  It wasn’t until the 70s (that’s right; the 1970s) that people in Austria voted 60/40 in a poll that they considered themselves to be Austrian.  1970.  And 60/40 isn’t an overwhelming vote, either.

That was a pretty blatant summary, but let me get to the good part:  our professor was also talking about modern Austrians’ opinions about Germans, and how they think Germans are arrogant, and citified, and not to be trusted (this is just what we discussed in class.  I assure you that I have nothing against Germany or the German people).  Germans, on the other hand, think that Austrians are “cute,” and “quaint,”  which of course is maddening to the Austrians.  Anyway, our professor, a huge soccer (football) fan, told us about the 1978 World Cup, and how Austria had gotten second in its initial group, and then gone on to lose twice in its next group (sorry if I got those stats wrong).  Although two losses meant that Austria was out of the running, the Austrian team still got to play the German team.  Now, since (as I said) Austria was out of the running at this point, it didn’t matter if they won or lost.  Germany, however, was still vying for the win.  And then, (as my professor put it) somehow the Austrians pulled it together and played as they never had before, completely crushing the German team, and ruining their chances in the rest of the tournament.  Apparently, the tape of the 1978 Germany/Austria game is a staple in Austrian households, and if you ask anyone on the street about it, they can tell you exactly how the match went.  The match is widely known as “The Miracle of Cordoba.”

To finish with something unrelated, here’s a picture of me with the Sound of Music gazebo:

We weren’t allowed inside, because apparently people have broken hips trying to jump around on the benches in imitation of the movie.

Stuff I Did Today

(Yet another eloquently-titled post)

I woke up at 6:30 a.m., which would have been horrible had I not had Special K Red Fruit cereal in the cupboard for breakfast.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how good cereal is with dried fruit?  It’s an exceptional stand-in for fresh fruit, when fresh fruit is grossly expensive, and when you have to choose between fresh fruit and a trip to Paris, and Paris wins.

(Although I did buy some kiwi yesterday for scurvy prevention and such.  Don’t tell Paris.)

At 8:30, I went to my International Conflicts class.  That’s the class where my professor has a dog named Bianca who lies on a blanket while he lectures.  We discussed WWII and the Cold War today.  I haven’t spoken up in that class yet, which I’m feeling not so great about, especially since I’m so interested in the topics we’re covering.  It’s not that I don’t do the readings or understand the material, it’s just that I think I’m a little intimidated by the political science and history majors in the room.  I don’t want to say something stupid and have everyone jump down my throat.  It’s silly, I know, but I think that this is a normal pattern with me; I have to feel comfortable with the class and the other students and the professor before I start speaking up.  Hopefully said assertiveness will appear soon.

German was next.  We talked about what we were wearing, did some group activities (man I love the way this professor teaches; group games are such a great way to learn.  I don’t think they should be disregarded in the higher ed. classroom just because students are 21 instead of 11.), and then segued straight into the dative case.  Luckily, I learned the dative case a few semesters ago, in Beginning German I.  Unluckily, I’m good at forgetting things like dative cases.

After German, I wandered around the old town for a little bit, and discovered that Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is playing at the local movie theater all week.  In English.  I can hardly believe that I’m finally going to get to see that movie (and in Salzburg, no less).  I also think that when I go to see it, I’m going to go by myself.  Not because I’m anti-social, but because I’ve never gone to see a movie all alone, and I’m curious about it.  Maybe I’ll just feel like the biggest loser on the planet, but I suspect that I’ll feel independent and cool and artsy.  It is Terrence Malick, after all.

On my way back from the movie theater (ahem.  Das Kino.), I passed the church where Joseph Mohr composed “Silent Night.”  That’s the thing I love about traveling (and I’m sure I’ve said this before); so often you come across quirky things that you didn’t know to look for.  I mean, what Christmas carol is more famous than Silent Night?  Furthermore, what Christmas carol is more lovely to sing while in church on Christmas Eve?  That feeling, that Christmassy, anticipatory, quiet, snowy, peaceful feeling that we associate with Silent Night, that feeling originated in Salzburg.  In a church that I stumbled upon while rejoicing about seeing a Terrence Malick film.

And then, as if I hadn’t had enough of a monumental day already, a friend of mine showed me the cemetery flanking her dorm.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Her dorm is actually a former convent, I believe, and so it comes with its own church and cemetery.  And buried in the cemetery is Mozart’s father (among other well-known Salzburgers).

Another shot from the cemetery. It really was lovely; located in a quiet courtyard with plenty of statues and flowers and oil paintings scattered about.

My night, in contrast, to my day, has been a little dull so far, but that’s fine with me.  I caught up a little more on my Project Runway (before everyone else got back to the dorm and slowed down the internet), and now I’m planning on doing my Kafka reading for Lit. and going to sleep.

Here's a shot I took last night. I like that if you look carefully, you can see the moon through the bus wires. Strangely, it was the first time I've noticed the moon since I've been here.