November 15, 2007


November 11, 2007

Reitschulgasse 7

The past five nights I have slept at my new apartment, something that has taken a long time to achieve. It will be some time yet before the apartment reaches the level of prettiness and homeyness that I anticipate, but sleeping there is good for a start.

On Saturday Christian and I spent about a week at Ikea. It is much harder to start from scratch than to buy things for an empty apartment: we have to find curtains for three different rooms, a table and chairs, a duvet and cover, and, among other things, a way of covering our inherited, unattractive couch. The couch apparently originates from a species of Ikea couches spawned before they wore removable covers. I vacuumed it really well (so that you can stop having nightmares about dust mites, mom), but it has about 18 years worth of spilled drinks and cigarette burns. Unlike the couch, the apartment is still fresh and full of potential. Hopefully we will be able to order our curtains - they have a sewing/hemming service instead of pre-made ones - and then start to feel more at home. Still to be done are hanging some pictures, hopefully painting a wall or two, choosing lights, etc. I think that I will really feel at home once we have the internet there, which will be in about 2 weeks. It seems silly, but having to go somewhere else to use the internet makes it feel unfinished. Nonetheless, waking up in my own apartment - the first time Christian and I have lived just the two of us - is really cool.

As home is coming together, so is school. I am finally enrolled in four classes, plus my German course 18 hours a week. On my timetable are: "Theories Applied to Texts: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick", "James Joyce", "Contemporary British Plays", and the most recent addition "Madness in Literature: From Shakespeare to the Present". I find it funny in Canada mid-terms are over, while I went to my first class on Friday. Even though I was admitted late, I only missed two courses. However, despite my brief delusion that school here would be easier, as a native English speaker with only one class per course per week, I found myself to be a bit overwhelmed by work this weekend. Not just work, but work, and moving, and life all together. I have term papers in all four uni classes, two of which are 20-25 pages (!), one 15-20, and one thats length has not yet been announced, but will probably be about 20 pages as well. No wonder people here take 2-3 classes a semester.

School here is kind of ridiculous in that way. Because Austrians pay something like €15 to go to university, and can be students as long as they need to, the university is a bit less orderly than what I am used to. The basis for this opinion is my recent experience with my Moby Dick class. The first week that I was registered in the class, I knew which building it was in, but not the exact class, as it was not on the internet. I got there 30 minutes early, but 15 minutes after the class was supposed to start, got frustrated and went for dinner. The next week, I figured out which room the class was in, and got there early once again. There are only 8 other people in the class, however, and I didn't want to be the first person in the small room, so I sat outside with a view of the door, and waited. Once again, 15 minutes after the class should have started, I had not seen one person on the same floor of the building. With a stomach knotted from frustration, I went home and sent a desperate e-mail to the class list, along the lines of "Tell me what I'm doing wrooooooonnnnnngggggg!" Apparently, when the class met for the first time, they agreed that the course will only happen on certain dates, at certain times, none of which the Prof. felt the need to tell me when I emailed him about taking the course. On top of that, those courses that we do have will consist only of other students' oral presentations; everybody has to make one presentation of a literary theory and another of how that theory applies to Moby Dick. At the end of the semester, those topics make up the 25 page paper that is due. It is kind of scary, but at the same time it is so different from McGill that I kind of love it anyway.

Other than going to classes and preparing for classes, I am now a member of the Austrian spa/fitness centre called..."Ladies". It. Is. So. Nice. It is (obviously) for women only, so using the weights in the weight room isn't a matter of navigating your way through biceps and glutes and triceps and pecs. There is a schedule of drop in classes that you can attend whenever you want; I have already been to Pilates, and only missed Yoga to move. Next, all of the cardio machines have mini TVs in the front of them, with cable, which will be nice considering that we are not going to have a TV at the apartment. You'd think it would be hard to beat TVs in the treadmills, but it gets better. In the basement is the spa. There are three saunas: dry and hot, dry medium temperature aromatherapy, and steamy. There is also a whirlpool that is somehow a temperature that both relaxes and refreshes you. But my personal favourite touch is definitely the heated lounge chairs. My plan for this semester and the next is just to take whatever reading I have to do for school to the spa, and spend the day lying in a towel on the heated chairs. In Montreal I had the library, here I have the spa.

Anyway, as you can probably gather from this entry, things are going well here. Christian is busy getting ready for the mulled wine stand that he and his friend Rody run during the Christmas season for the University. I am looking forward to going there after classes for some of the delicious Glühwein, and hopefully I will be able to work there as they need me in order to make a bit of money before Christmas. We are having a housewarming party this Friday, to which anybody who thinks they can make it is invited. It is too bad that the apartment won't be finished, but the party is also supposed to be for Christian's birthday, which was October 3rd, so we didn't want to wait too long.

November 1, 2007

La Bella Italia

I would like to start by apologizing for taking so long to write about Italy, because I know you have probably been dying to hear all about, and about the other developments of the past week. It is funny to be writing about last weekend right now, because tomorrow and Friday are holidays, so it is already the weekend for me again. You should probably get a comfortable chair and some snacks, because this is a ridiculously long entry. Ok, here goes:

Thursday, October 25

We woke up at 6:30 to finish getting ready, and then Rody picked us up at 7:00 in his tiny little turquoise Fiat. The adventurers included Rody, Hammer, Christian and me. We had a seven hour drive in front of us, but it was only about ten minutes after picking up Hammer that I got a sense of how the trip was going to be, when the boys starting talking about how many "Haertepunkte" (hard points) Hammer would get for drinking a beer. They decided on 5, and so began our trip.

I slept until just before the Italian border, which, I have to say, was a little bit anticlimactic. I was hoping that there would be signs to the effect of "BUON GIORNO BENVENUTO IN ITALIA!!!! SPAGHETTI SPAGETTI CANOLI". But, in reality, the sign just said "Italy", and the mountains looked pretty much the same on both sides of the border. Plus, because of the EU freedom of movement zone, they don't even look at your passport (or stop your car), so I wasn't able to collect a stamp on my passport. Despite this, driving farther in to Italy definitely satisfied the image I had in my mind. Even though we were pretty much only in the most Northern part, it started to look like "Italy".

The reason we had left so early was to get a chance to see Verona before making our way to Pavia, where we would stay with Christian's friend Philipp Mirtl. We got to Verona around 1 pm, parked the car, and spent the afternoon wandering around the city where Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet. We saw a really old Roman castle, the Arena, that is pretty much falling apart, and the foundations of an Roman building three meters below where the street now lies. Perhaps the most touristy thing we did was to go to the house known as "Villa Capuletti" which is marketed as the house of the city's most beloved fictional female character. There is an admission price to go inside and see the tombs where Romeo and Juliet died. I found the whole thing very strange, that people were willing to pay to see a random Veronese home, just because it has a very strategically placed balcony. The only part of the Capulet myth that we bought in to was to write our names on the walls of the entrance for good luck.

After smoking a Romeo y Julieta cigar on a bridge in front of a truly Italian vista, we said goodbye to Verona, and drove the rest of the way to Pavia. In Pavia we met up with Philipp, and were introduced to the very hard, cold stone floor that was to be our home for the next three nights. I had my first of many pizzas at a small restaurant, my first of many Bloody Mary's at the only bar in town, and my first realization of what it is like to travel alone with four boys.

Friday, October 26th

On Friday morning we took the train to Milan, which takes about half an hour from Pavia. The day was cold and wet, and I will say right away that I enjoyed most of it less than I should have due to the wardrobe miscalculation of wearing flats sans socks in the light but persistent rain. Nevertheless, Milan is a beautiful and impressive city, cold feet or no cold feet. Upon first arriving in Milan, we were on a mission to meet Rody's Italian girlfriend, Paola, which meant walking past boutiques like Prada and Vivienne Westwood without stopping. We met Paola in a square in the center of Milan, which, she explained, is where they host Milan Fashion Week. Armed with a veritable Italian guide, we walked into the square that hosts the Duomo.

The Duomo is without a doubt the most impressive piece of architecture that I have ever seen, especially considering that is was built in the fourteenth century. We saw the inside of the Duomo, and then followed Paola and Rody to a restaurant where we ate more pizza. After lunch we sought shelter from the rain in the form of the Vivienne Westwood exhibit that was going on near the Duomo. Though I may complain about traveling with boys, they were really obliging about seeing the exhibit, and I found it really amazing. It was a satisfying way to see some fashion in Milan without getting snotty looks from store clerks. After seeing the exhibit, Rody walked Paola to the train station, and Christian and Hammer and I went and bought me a pair of less ridiculous shoes. We wandered around a bit more, and then headed back to the train station. We spent Friday night in Pavia at the same bar as before, which Philipp claimed is pretty much the only bar in town. It is called the Black Dog, and in true Italian style, it's an Irish pub.

Note that we all wanted to see The Last Supper, but apparently you have to make an appointment to see it, and it was booked until December 8th, 2007.

Saturday, October 27th

Saturday morning was rough. The floor of Mirti's (as he is called by his Austrian friends) bedroom was so hard that it felt as if the floor was pushing up against you. Hipbones and ribs felt raw, and muscles felt stiffer than the night before. Thank god, we had the comfort of seating five people in Rody's Fiat to get some rest on the way to Bergamo.

I am pretty sure that the only reason we particularly chose Bergamo to visit is that it is close enough to Paola's village for her to meet us there, but I am really glad that we did. It was my favourite day of the whole weekend. Somehow the dreary weather of the day before was replaced with bright blue sky and warm sun, so that we spent most of the day walking around in t-shirts (though I had chosen this day to wear boots instead of flats). Bergamo has an old city and a modern city. The old city is situated on a mountain within the middle of the modern city, accessible only by six gates or Funicular. On top we saw beautiful old buildings, churches, amazing villas, and the view of the city below us from a look out point on the very top of the mountain. We drank coffee in a 700 year old cafe, ate the most delicious gelato I have ever had (even if it wasn't free). Sitting at a round table in the cafe, we made the decision to take the train to Milan for the night, which set the course for our second adventure of the day.

Back in Pavia, after the hour and a half drive from Bergamo, I got ready to go out in Milan in less than 20 minutes. Unbelievable, I know. The plan was to get to the train station quickly enough to follow the rest of the ERASMUS students to a dance party that they were attending in Milan. We got to the train station in time, only to find that they ticket machine wasn't working and none of the other people were there. As they eventually arrived we figured out that we could buy our tickets on the train, but also that our options for taking the train home were either at 1 am (about two and a half hours from then) and 6:30 in the morning. This prompted a serious discussion about whether or not it was even worth the trip, especially considering that Rody had 7 hours to drive the next day. Finally, the train came and we got on it.

When we got to Milan, with about twelve ERASMUS students (ERASMUS is a European university exchange program), we soon realized that none of them actually knew where to go. They were following an Italian friend named Mathias, who was pretty close to being shady. We got on the metro and stayed on for about half an hour, passing even a station called "Uruguay". That's how far away from Milan we were. When we got off the metro, "Mathias" directed everybody on to a bus. We had really only been planning to check out the party and then consider our options, having been under the impression that it was in the square in front of the Duomo, but at this point we decided that things were getting a bit ridiculous. We got off the bus, and went back to the metro station only to be told that we had in fact taken the last train. Fortunately, Rody's Italian is good enough that a bus driver was able to tell us which buses to take to get back downtown, and we ended up near the centre of Milan again.

Seemingly back on track, but now without definite plans, we realized that Italy, like Quebec, has a ridiculous can't-sell-alcohol-after law, but in Italy it applies to bars as well. You can't even by a glass of wine in a restaurant after 2 am. With this in mind, we made our way to the Castello of Milan, where we found a street vendor selling beer. Keeping in mind that we now had to entertain ourselves until our train home at 6:30, we settled in in front of the Castello and had a couple of beers each. It was still clear, and not warm, but not too cold. We sat on the benches outside the Castello for awhile, and then decided to walk through the Castello. While standing over what used to be a moat, I believe, we realized our outrageous fortune. Instead of having three and a half hours left until our train, we had chosen to explore Milan by night at the exact time when the clocks roll back an hour. I think it is the first time in my life that I have ever resented gaining an hour. After accepting our fate at the Castello, we walked through a National Geographic photography exhibit about equilibrium, which was really cool - and had a disproportionate number of photos from Canada.

The Castello at "3:00" in the morning, when we realized we had an extra hour to wait.

After the photo exhibit, around 4 am, Rody, Hammer, and Mirtl caved and decided to head back to the train station for some sleep. Christian and I decided to explore. First we went to the square in front of the Duomo. Seeing it on a clear night, from an empty square was much different than the day before, and much cooler. After taking in the Duomo, we walked through the Galleria, which is basically a semi-outdoor Victorian shopping mall. There is a huge Louis Vuitton next to a huge Prada, which are both across from a huge.. McDonalds. We had been here, too, during the day, but at 4:30 in the morning it was completely empty, and it had an echo. In an effort to relax and warm up a bit, we seated ourselves on a heating vent for awhile, and then finally walked down the fashion mile to meet the others at the train station. Until we got to the train station, I had been totally absorbed in the magic of spending a night wandering around Milan. I was caught up in the romance of the idea. But as soon as I sat down in the train, the romance was gone, and in its place was just exhaustion. I don't really remember anything else but getting in to a taxi in Pavia that took us home from the train station, and then waking up at 11:00 the next morning, once again on the cold stone floor, but with a really cool memory to take away from it.

The rest of Sunday, October 29th

After we finally all got dressed and ready to go, we said thanks and goodbye to Philipp, and drove to meet Paola in Rovetta, her village in the mountains North of Bergamo. From there we drove to Lovere, where we went for a walk through the village, and then stopped for our last Italian pizza of the trip. The pizza and the company ended up being so good that we only left Lovere around 7 pm, with the 7 hour drive left ahead of us.

The drive was, thankfully, uneventful. We stopped often for gas, which cost around 1.37 Euros per litre, and for espressos for Rody. Around 2 am I woke up to realize that we were only blocks away from the apartment. I don't think I have ever been so happy to see a bed in my life.

I really enjoyed our trip to Italy, and am happy to finally have been, but it was actually strange to be there. It almost felt as if the Italy that I had imagined was more real that the place that I was visiting, because I have seen it in so many different representations. We are planning to make a more extensive trip into the South some time in the Spring, and maybe the different region will be more what I expected. I am almost nervous about seeing Venice now, because I have imagined it for so long that I don't want to be disappointed. Although, I don't think it would be easy to be disappointed by Venice.

Right now it is 12:40 on Wednesday night, and I should be getting ready to go to Salzburg tomorrow for All Saint's Day. We didn't celebrate Halloween, mostly because the only Halloween celebrations here seem to be weak imitations of North American traditions, as they pretty much only adopted Halloween in the past few years. All Saints Day is a celebration of the dead, and tomorrow we are going to Salzburg so that Christian's family can visit the graves of his dad's parents and his mother's father. We are driving up tomorrow, and then taking the train back on Saturday for BJ's birthday.

When I come back, you can hear all about: my new apartment and how pretty it is, as well as our plans for moving in, the luxurious Austrian spa/fitness centre that I am now addicted to, the classes that I have been attending and enjoying, and the rides on my shiny new-to-me bicycle.

Happy Halloween and I hope that you miss me tonight, because I am definitely missing you.

Final Härtepunkte scores

Christian: 19
Rody: 14
Hammer: 13
Katie: 12
Philipp: 9

October 22, 2007

First Visit to Salzburg Photos

If the Flash player doesn't work, just click on "First Visit to Salzburg" Album, under References. There is another new post below this one...

Schmeckt gut!

If I had to describe this weekend in only one word it would be “indulgences”. Luckily, I am allowed more than one word to elaborate.

On Friday night Christian and I made the long trek to his friend Steffi’s birthday party, who lives all the way on the fifth floor of the same building. This was especially convenient because the weather has been cold and rainy, thus I was one of the only girls who arrived with non-frizzy hair. Steffi studied at the Université de Montréal last semester, so it was nice to see a familiar (female) face. The party was really fun. There were lots of other exchange students there, so both English and German were being used. I spoke French to a French girl who complimented me on my lack of a Québécois accent, to which I replied that I had spent the last two years trying to acquire one. Along with all the exchange students and Steffi’s other friends, Christian’s regular group of guy friends were also there. There are six other boys that pretty much do everything together: Rody, Hammer, Mickey, Bőrnd (pronounced Bernd), Thomas, and BJ. Most, if not all – I’m not sure – have known each other since elementary, and all stayed friends. They are all really nice and have been really welcoming, which continued on Friday night. When we go out with them, I don’t feel like I am just tagging along. Anyway, they were all there on Friday night, although no one else had brought their girlfriends, which was kind of annoying as I crave girl contact. Steffi wouldn’t let anybody leave, so even Christian and I, who had been planning to stay late, left later than we had intended, at 5 in the morning.

The next day’s indulgence started when we woke up, at 1:30 in the afternoon. I won’t bother writing much more about Saturday, except to say that I did all my homework, read Anna Karenina, and didn’t get out of my pyjamas all day. Despite having woken up so late, I still managed to fall asleep around midnight.

Sunday we slept in, but not too late, and got ready to go to the “Buschenschenk” with Bőrnd and Martina, his girlfriend. The Buschenschenk is basically the Austrian wine district, where families have small restaurants on their property where everything they serve comes from their own gardens, farms, and vineyards. I wanted to have the most authentic Austrian Buschenschenk experience, so I ordered a Brettljause: a platter with different kinds of meats, sausages, cheeses, and spreads that comes with a basket of breads. Our bread was so fresh that it was still warm. There was turkey, ham, prosciutto, sausage, meat spread, a garlic tzatziky (sp?) like spread, but thicker than tzatziky, cheese, pickles, peppers, and tomatoes. We drank a Styrian specialty called Schilcher Sturm, which tastes like gourmet Boones. It is an immature wine, but it is opaque, and you can’t seal containers of it or else it will explode, so you have to drink it really fresh. Martina was driving home, so we also ordered a bottle of the house white grape juice that is so sweet that you have to dilute it with water. After the Sturm, we ordered a bottle of white wine to go with our dessert, which was so refreshing after the savouriness of the meats and the sweetness of the Sturm that it might have been the best white wine I have ever tasted. For dessert, Martina ordered two pieces of cake that ended up coming in three separate pieces because they are so big. One was a white cake with marmalade, brown sugar and nuts on top, and the other was a large roll of white cake with marmalade in the middle. I think if we hadn’t left then, we would never have made it out of our seats, so we went for a walk around the vineyard, picking grapes off the vines, and taking pictures of the colourful hills.

While Martina drove home, I fell asleep in the back seat, and woke up beside the apartment building. As soon as we were inside, I lay down on the couch and slept. Two hours later, I was woken up for dinner: cheese fondue. Had it been any other day, I would have been more than happy to eat chunks of baguette dipped in melted cheese and white wine, but on this day, it seemed like a daunting task. But, the picture of graciousness, I struggled through. Of course, it was delicious, but after dinner I walked up 24 flights of stairs to try and make up for the outrageous amount of cheese that I consumed. So ended my weekend of indulgence.

This morning Christian and I biked back to the second hand bike store, where I finally found a pretty, reasonably priced bike. It is a girl’s bike, all white, including the handles, pedals, and the basket on the back. Christian pointed out that it looks like the bike equivalent of an iPod. To get out of the cold rain, we went for coffee and then both biked to our respective schools. Tomorrow I have school at 8 am again, for six hours, and then I have to go to the university to convince various professors that they should let me into their classes, even though they might be full.

I don’t have school this Friday, for a national holiday, so we are probably going to drive to Italy with Christian’s friends. I am really excited for my first international European trip since getting here, and to go to Italy for the first time. It makes up for not getting to celebrate Halloween. Hopefully we will get to move in to our apartment when we get back. Our lease starts November 1st, so we are hoping that they will finish moving out this weekend so that we can start getting our stuff in. I am so excited about everything right now that even non-indulgence days are pretty wonderful.

This isn't exactly the same thing as what we had, but it has most of the same things. The next picture, though, is the exact Buschenschank that we went to, but the grape plants were full of leaves, and there were still some grapes.

October 18, 2007

A Day Out/A Night In

1. Everyone has three types of recycling, including "Bio-müll" which is compost, and the apartment building has a giant, well cared for compost downstairs, which is more awesome than ridiculous.
2. It is usually cheaper to order a half liter of beer than 250 mL of Coke in a bar.
3. You can smoke in the malls, and most public washrooms have an ashtray in the stall.
4. It is legal for the passengers of a car to drink while driving, and it is legal for the driver to drink while driving, as long as they are under the legal limit.
**5. The toilet paper is literally as thick as paper towel. Maybe it is just another symptom of a mindset German classes and on the train.
**6. You have to pay/tip to use some washrooms. And I don't mean because there is someone to hand you a warm cloth. The first bathroom I "visited" in Austria was at a gas station, and there was a man sitting outside the door with a little plate for coins. Apparently he is in charge of cleaning the bathroom, and that is where he waits for his tips. Not all paid-bathrooms are clean, however. One public toilet at the Stadtpark had no towels, no toilet paper (not even single-ply) but still required a 20 cent fee.

It may be clear by this post that talks mostly about the Austrian "W.C." that I haven't had a particularly exciting day. I had German classes from 8 - 10:30, and then Christian met me for coffee. We went to the bike store and saw two really pretty inexpensive girl's bikes, but one had the wrong price on it, so I am going to go back on Monday to see how much it will be. After Caritas, Christian went to school and I came home, neither of us realizing that I didn't have any house keys. His dad let me in to the apartment when he - fortunately - came home for Mittagessen about an hour later. I spent most of the day changing the template of this beautiful blog, doing German homework, and taking refuge from the nasty cold wet outside. Right now I can hear Christian and Anja bickering in the living room (where they are watching Popstars).

It has been a quiet day, but it is comforting to think that things are moving forward, and that I still have time for both vivifying and relaxing days.

October 17, 2007

International German Students Unite

Though much has been happening, I haven't been able to write in the past few days, mostly due to exhaustion and activity. I started my German classes on Monday, and have already completed 12 of this week's 18 hours of learning. The thing that surprised me the most about the classes is how the students are from such varying backgrounds. I had expected a lot more North Americans, or at least English speakers, but in fact, I am the only native English speaker out of about 20 people. There are students from Bosnia, Kosovo, Egypt, China, Iran, Russia, Thailand, and Nigeria.The class is about half girls, half boys, and about half of the girls are married. One of the things that being in such an international environment has made me realize is how I took for granted that the way that I was brought up was "normal". Today in class I was trying to imagine all the different experiences that so many people must have, to have all ended up in the same room. I'm sure that the childhood and adolescence of Julia, the Russian girl, must have been as different from my own as Mohammed's, who is from Egypt.

The classes themselves are fun, and there is a really nice feeling among the students. Every one is very kind to one another, which I find really enjoyable. Though English is sometimes used as a common language if the German equivalent is unknown, the fact that no one really speaks the same language means that we are forced to speak German to each other. Because there is no other choice, every one is patient and helpful. I don't know whether it is a cultural difference, or whether it just differs from my own experience, but the attitude of the students here seems to be in stark contrast to the indifference most students have for each other at McGill. In the three days that I have attended classes in Graz, I have learned more about most of the students in my class than I did in a semester of German classes at McGill.

So, I am very much enjoying the company of the other students in my class, but the class itself has actually been a bit disappointing. The teachers are helpful and I like the way that they are teaching us, but most of the material that we are learning is stuff that I learned halfway through my German class last year. There is another placement test in about two weeks, when, they have told us, we will be rearranged according to our results. I would like to be in a class that is more challenging because I really want to improve my German, and I don't think it's going to get any better going over stuff that I already know. On the other hand, if we have 18 hours of class a week, it is possible that this class will get harder pretty quickly. I'm going to sit it out until the placement test, and then see how I do.

Other than school, we went to the Office Pub for the weekly Pub Quiz last night, and came in 8th, up from 16th the week before. I was able to contribute a lot, which was satisfying. Can you answer: "Which N.R. celebrity was born Nicole Camille Escovedo?" After the Quiz we went for Kebap at a stand near our new apartment. I am so excited to live there. It is so close to everything that we will just be able to have everyone over to our house instead of having to argue about which bar or restaurant to meet at. Unfortunately, the Germans have told us that they probably won't be ready for us to move in until the end of the month. This is particularly annoying at 7:30 in the morning, which is when I have to leave for school in order to get there in time from Christian's parents house. From our new apartment it will only take about 10 minutes. SIGH.

Ok-- I have to go to bed. I have a feeling that this entry wasn't as well thought out as others, but I have been so keen to do German homework that I am already tired at midnight. Tomorrow I finish at 10:35, so Christian is going to meet me at school (in part so that the Bosnian boys stop trying to marry me) and we are going to go look for bikes. Gute Nacht.

October 14, 2007

"The hills are allliiiiiiiiiiivvvee"

This weekend I started to love living here. Christian and I took the train to Salzburg on Friday afternoon, and got to his Grandma's house around 7:30 pm - Abendessen hour. The first thing we did was sit down to eat meats with cheese on bread, with beer. This is conventional Abendessen food (which replaces dinner), while the hot meal of the day is eaten at lunch: Mittagessen. Both Frühstück (breakfast) and Abendessen (dinner) basically consist of bread with either jam and butter or meat and cheese, respectively. Mittagessen comes with salad, and is usually some sort of hot meat dish or pasta. It took me a little while to get used to not having a hot meal at the end of the day, but it is nice because you are not so full after dinner, so I have gotten used to it. We'll have to see whether I revert to Canadian meals when we have our own apartment.

Friday night was quiet. Quiet as in I fell asleep around 11:30. Saturday morning we got up early to go spend the day in the city of Salzburg. Christian's grandma lives in a small town outside the city, called Eugendorf, so we took the bus from the Eugendorf to Salzburg. First we went to see the Mirabellschloss - a palace that one of the arch-bishops of Salzburg built for his mistress and their ten children - and the gardens that surround it. After finding our way through the gardens and the hordes of Japanese tour groups, we walked through the city towards the Altstadt (old town). I stopped to take a picture of a beautiful old fountain that was actually built to wash horses, where the stables used to be. The fountain is in front of one of the mountains in the city, and Christian told me that when his other grandmother lived in Salzburg during the war, they had to hide in the tunnels within the mountain whenever the city was being bombed. It is strange to hear stories like that from the German-Austrian side of the war because they are the same stories I heard in Canada, but from the other side.

As we continued walking through the Altstadt, I started to realize how beautiful the city really is. It feels more untouched than anywhere I have been in Europe before. Having said that, they were making a Bollywood movie in the square that kind of ruined the Old Europe atmostphere. After lunch at a festival, we went on a tour of the Festung Hohensalzburg, a castle at the top of one of the mountains, and then we walked through a really old, beautiful cemetery along the bottom of the mountain. I will post the pictures here once they are developed, because the whole day was pretty spectacular. When we got back to Christian's Oma's house, we ate more delicious Austrian food: Bratwurst with Sauerkraut and Semmel, an Austrian bread that they eat three times a day, and, of course, beer. Beer pretty much replaces milk and water as a meal time drink here.

This morning we slept in and woke up to a beautiful day. It is still really warm here, and the fields are still green, and the garden is still in bloom. Everything we ate for breakfast was from the village except for the butter, which came from Salzburg. Lots of the food is organic just because it is from such small gardens that they don't use pesticides. At breakfast Christian's Oma suggested that we go for a "walk", and then proceded to dig up her hiking boots for me to borrow. Christian drove to to the mountain that she had suggested, and it seemed like a daunting task. We both suggested just driving around long enough that she wouldn't be suspicious. But, we drove to the beginning of the trail, and then hiked the rest of the way up the mountain. It was beautiful to be in the Alps, above the clouds, and the mountain looks over Salzburg, so that I could see all the places that we had visited the day before. There is an Almhütte (pub/restaurant) at the top where we had a delicious beer, and then made our way down the mountain. On the way down, with green hills and winding roads below us, I couldn't contain, "the hills are allliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiivvvvee with the sound of muuuuuuuusic..." and a couple of twirls. But a beer on an empty stomach and dancing on a steep path don't really mix, so we finished the trip back and made our way home for Mittagessen.

We're back in Graz now, and I am still kind of glowing with the satisfaction of such a good weekend. I feel like we were away much longer than two nights. Tomorrow is an important day: I have my first German classes, and I have to pay my tuition/register for university. Hopefully the fresh Austrian air will have done me good.

The hill on the left is the Gaisberg, the mountain we climbed, which I admit is less impressive looking in this photo than it was from the bottom, and the city in the background is Salzburg.

October 11, 2007

A Series of Increasingly Fortunate Events

In stark contrast to my rather tranquil weekend, the past few days have been almost overwhelmingly progressive. On Monday I went to another class at UniGraz: Canadian Literature, which I had been really excited about. The teacher took attendance, which was nerve wracking, and I spent the time it took him to go down the list praying that I would not be the only one whose name he didn't call. I had to explain my situation in front of the whole class, which actually made me grateful that he had made everybody move into the first few rows, so that I didn't have to yell it loud enough for those who had stayed in the back to hear. Anyway, the class was really interesting in terms of getting an idea of how Canada is perceived by other countries, though it wasn't really satisfying as a literature course because they seem to be reading the books to learn more about Canada, rather than just analyzing the books themselves. The prof. went through a slide show of every province, with pictures of the biggest cities. Despite the fact that the photo from Calgary must have been 15 years old, it still made me a little bit homesick -- though the one from Montreal did the same. "Canada has 9 provinces and 3 territories", the prof. kept repeating. It was frustrating being there knowing that I was not a real student.

Having not made any progress with school, it was nice to be moving forward with other things. On Tuesday morning, we met with our new landlord to sign the lease for our apartment. He went through every point with Christian, and I followed along as best as I could. His name is Herr Walcher, and he is the anti-Martha, who said that he would only go into our apartent if he saw smoke. After our business with him was finished, we went over to our apartment and met the people that are in the process of moving out of it, to talk about which of their things we would like them to leave behind. Neither Christian nor I remember ever having heard their names, so we refer to the couple collectively as "The Germans". The Germans are planning to move out of the apartment by Saturday so that we can move in around Monday, because they want us to pay them half of this month's rent. Hopefully it will be possible, because every time we go over there I get really excited about having our first apartment alone together. Tuesday night we went to see one of Christian's favourite bands, I AM X. I had never heard of them before arriving in Austria, but because of Christian's oh-so-endearing habit of listening to a band's albums on repeat in preparation for seeing them in concert, at least I was familar with some of their songs. In the end, I had a really good time. They put on a really good show, with cool visuals playing behind them, and the crowd was really into it, which is always kind of contagious. There was a guy and a girl in front of me who had dressed up like the lead singer, and brought along their own fake microphone so that they could sing along all the more realistically, who were fun to watch whenever my attention wavered. After the show we stopped at a bar where I drank an Edelweiss - it's not the national anthem, but it is a beer - and then Christian's very obliging friend Micky drove us all the way home.

Still a little bit disheartened by my experience at the Uni on Monday, I got up on Wednesday morning to go find out what the results of my German test from the week before had been, and hopefully register for some German classes in order to be able to learn something this semester. When I got there, I told the woman my name, and she handed me a time table with 18 hours a week of German classes. I start at 8:00 in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which, it must be noted, is the earliest I have ever had school in my entire life. Nonetheless, I was happy to have something to fill up my days again. I bought groceries on the way home, and Christian and I made Mittagessen for Anja and ourselves. A day full of German, I had my first German class at the Office Pub last night as well. In true new-to-the-city fashion, I managed to get lost and fall off my bike in the middle of the Hauptplatz on the way there. I had expected the pub to be full the way it had been for the pub quiz the week before, so that when I walked in and the pub was almost empty, I was sure that I had made such a treacherous trip for nothing. When I asked at the bar, however, the bartended pointed me to a group of about 8 people sitting at a table with pints in hand, notebooks nowhere to be seen. The "German Class" at the Office Pub apparently consists of some German speaking, but mostly English speaking, and lots of comparing, contrasting, and complaing. The class finished at 9, but I ended up staying until 12, just talking to the other people. It was nice to speak English to native English speakers again, mostly just because I didn't have to feel guilty that I wasn't speaking German, and it was nice to finally meet some new people. I think that I am really lucky to have Christian here, to live with, just to spend time with, and to steal some friends from, but it also shelters me in a way that I think I have to consciously try to overcome.

Wednesday night ended on a high note, and Thursday morning came soon after. Too soon, actually, as I was woken up by the doorbell ringing twice before 9:30, though with two important deliveries. The first was the plug that I had ordered off of Ebay, so that I can finally write these posts on my own computer, instead of Christian's endlessly frustrating Austrian keyboard where the y and the z are switched, and the second from UniGraz. After thoroughly stating my indifference about getting in or not, I opened the envelope. "Sehr geehrte Frau PEACOCK!" it said. "You have been admitted to the Karl-Franzens-Universtitat Graz for two semesters." Of course, the letter was all in German, so I still don't know exactly what it says, but I know that I have to go pay my tuition tomorrow, and then I can register for classes, and then I can go to school! I am so happy that they didn't reject me. My indifference was a sham! I am still nervous about going to classes, but now that I will be able to go to the same kind of classes that I have already been to, but with the added assurance that I am actually supposed to be there, I think that it will get more comfortable quite fast.

So, tomorrow I am going to the University to pay my tuition so that I can start to register, and maybe even get an ID card, and then we are taking the train to Salzburg for the weekend to visit Christian's grandma and see the city. If we can move in to the apartment some time next week, everything will actually be almost the way I had imagined it. I bet you can picture the look on my face right now.

"Welcome Fraulein Peacock"

October 7, 2007

Strange Days

This weekend has not been particularly eventful. Friday night, after having met with our new landlord, we were both soaking wet from biking home in the rain. We ended up staying in and watching a movie with Christian's parents, and then watching the episode of House that I had downloaded. All TV series here are one season behind, and in German, so in order to keep up with the ones that I want to watch, I am left at the mercy of the Internet. Anyway, on Saturday it was a crummy day outside, spent reading or messing around on the computer until the entire family + me drove to a nearby shopping mall. It was a fruitful expedition, but except for one minorly funny incident, pretty unremarkable. For Saturday night we had made a commitment to go see one of Christian's friends' band play at their CD release party. Christian had played their music for me before (at, and I thought that I might not really enjoy it. But, they were surprisingly good, and they put on a pretty good show.

Perhaps as a result of my less-than-thrilling weekend, I have decided to start compiling the following list, which I will update as necessary.

1. Everyone has three types of recycling, including "Bio-müll" which is compost, and the apartment building has a giant, well cared for compost downstairs, which is more awesome than ridiculous.
2. It is usually cheaper to order a half liter of beer than 250 mL of Coke in a bar.
3. You can smoke in the malls, and most public washrooms have an ashtray in the stall.
4. It is legal for the passengers of a car to drink while driving, and it is legal for the driver to drink while driving, as long as they are under the legal limit.

These are the things that have struck me so far as the most different between Austria and Canada, for better or for worse. I'll update it with more ridiculous things as I notice them, but for now I have to get off the computer.

October 5, 2007

Wir haben eine Wohnung - We have an apartment!

Today I really started to feel like I will actually be living here, which was both a bit scary and very exciting.

I had my first day of school today. Even though I am still not registered, I went to one of the lecture classes where they are not supposed to take attendance. My first contact with another student was as the other students and I were waiting in the hallway where the classroom was supposed to be. The only other student who wasn't talking with friends in German turned to me to ask, "Is this class in English?" To which I replied, "I hope so." It was. In fact, the lecture was much less intimidating and even less foreign to me than I had expected. It was basically like being at a North American university, except that I was the only native English speaker. The course was Review of American Literature, and the topic this Semester is the 19th Century Concept of the American Frontier. When the American professor asked, "What is an American?" I looked around at the other silent students and thought about the reaction that that question would have caused in a Canadian classroom. People were more forthcoming with answers than I would have expected in a Canadian classroom, but there were also less people, so maybe this is just one of the differences. I found it strange listening to this American woman describe her America, while sitting in a European classroom. In response to her question, people provided both positive and negative interpretations of what an American is, but only the positive descriptions made it to the blackboard. As we discussed the racism and the status of women in the 19th century, it became more clear to me that, along the fact that I have already taken an American Literature class, this is not a class that I would like to register in once I am admitted to UniGraz.Despite this, I'm glad that I went because it made me realize that an Austrian university is actually not much more intimidating than a Canadian university, and, as an added bonus, I made friends with the boy who spoke English to me in the hallway. His name is Josef and he is from the Czech Republic.

After school I came back to Christian's parents house for Mittagessen, and then we had a post lunch nap. Life here is pretty good. Post-nap we went to see the apartment that we visited yesterday again, to confirm that the tram line that goes down the street in front of our house isn't excessively loud. It's not, and I'm glad because I really like the apartment. Reitschulgasse 7 is the address, which is the first part that I like because it means "riding school avenue", and we are apartment 1. The first thing that I will say about the apartment itself, and I am sure you will understand, is that the landlord is really really really nice. I hope that I am not jinxing it by saying that, but as soon as we had given him the deposit, after a nice visit where he and Christian discussed the lease and asked all the important questions, he gave us a bottle of wine! It is such a relief that I think that even if the apartment were half as nice, I would have been happy to take it. Fortunately, though, we liked the apartment even before we met the landlord.

It is pretty close to the city centre, near Jakominiplatz, which is where the trams meet -- but not sketchy, so don't worry. The building itself is old, pretty and light blue. There are three floors; our apartment is on the second. When you walk in, the kitchen is directly to your left. There is a bar with two stools, which was Christian's favourite part. Straight ahead is the bathroom, and then there is a short hallway that goes to the left, towards the living room. The ceilings are high, and the doorways are the old wood frames that open in the middle. They make it feel nice and old, even though the kitchen and the bathroom are new. So, the living room is quite big, about twice the size of my room in Montreal. At the far end of the living room from its entrance is a door that goes in to the bedroom. The bedroom has a window facing the street, and is big enough for two people not to be crammed with their things. On top of being happy with the apartment, the rent is low, and the people that are leaving would like to leave behind lots of things like the stools for the bar, a couch, the curtain rods, etc. The lease will start November 1st, but the tenants are hoping to move sooner than that, so we will probably move around the middle of the month. All things considered, I think we have made a really good choice.

I am excited to actually be able to finally unpack my suitcases! Living with Christian's parents has been really nice, and very convenient, but it being here feels much more real to me now that we have our own place. It is easy to imagine myself studying in a corner of the living room or getting ready to go out or serving drinks at the bar in the kitchen.

I'll post pictures as soon as I have some, which will probably be sometime next week.

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October 4, 2007


Wednesday, September 26th

I arrived in Munich to an airport full of signs only in German. A nice customs man let me into Europe and told me where to get my bags. Christian was waiting with flowers and a car to escort me to Eugendorf bei Salzburg, where I met his lovely Oma. Lots of delicious food and excellent naps ensued.

Thursday, September 27th

After a tour of the village where Christian grew up, we went back to his Grandma's house for raspberries from the garden and delicious Apfelstrudel. In the early afternoon, she took us to the train station and sent us off. I slept most of the way from Salzburg to Graz, but not too much to miss the fact that the traintracks wind through the alps, and that I really am in Europe. Christian's dad, Norbert, and sister, Anja, met us at the train station, while his mother, Monika, was at home preparing a dinner of raclette. It was really nice to see the other side of the webcam, and finally know what the apartment is like. They have made me feel really welcome here, which makes settling in much easier.

Friday, September 28th

We had to be at the University between 9 and 12 to talk to the admissions lady about my application, so we got up, got pretty, and got there by bike. Walking in to the university for the first time was pretty impressive. The first room that I walked into had huge vaulted ceilings, with pillars and marble floors. Christian spoke with the woman who holds my fate in her hands, and she told him that she will send us a letter once she has made her decision. We biked home for Mittagessen, had a post-lunch nap, and then went for a walk in the mini-woods behind their building. There used to be a brick factory in front of the woods. All that is left of it is a rectangle of brick archways, and the ponds that have come as a result of the clay pits. After dinner, we went with Christian's friends Rody and Hammer (they are both called Stefan and so both go by their last names) to a party in a suburb of Graz called Lannach. We slept over at the house to avoid driving home. The party was fun, but I was in bed early due to an Austrian drinking game that I have not yet mastered.

Saturday; September 29th

Due to a very very very bad hangover, I slept late on Saturday, made lunch with Christian and Anja, and then went back to sleep. Christian woke me up and forced me to go for a walk in the park behind his house, which did me much good. We had dinner with his family, and then had friends over for beer. Once everyone had assembled here, we went to a club called Postgarage for their monthly "Russian Style Disco". The bars here close at 6 am, but we headed home around 3:30.

Sunday, September 30th

Slept in, but not too late, and had an Austrian style breakfast of bread and jam. Christian and I finally went on a tour of Graz, and we had a beautiful day to do it. We biked down to the city centre and wandered around a bit then we climbed the stairs to the top of the Schlossberg, where I had a nice cold Cola Light. After a bit more touring we met up with Thomas and BJ in the Stadtpark, and then biked home in time to be taken out for Chinese food. I am looking forward to finding an apartment, but living with Christian's parents really isn't so bad.

Monday, October 1st

Though university officially starts today, neither Christian nor I had classes. First we biked down to the Uni to pick up the course booklet for English so that I could at least see which courses I could audit until they let me in. At UniGraz we met up with BJ, and then went for coffee. We had to cut coffee short in order to be home in time for Mittagessen with Monika, and then we went back out in an effort to find me my own bike. Up to this point I had been using Monika's bike, but it is way to big for me, so that every time we stop, I fall to one side. Car owners do not seem to like this. No luck finding a bike, but we found a cheap used bike store that was closed.

Tuesday, October 2nd

While Christian was at school, I ventured out in to Graz alone for the first time. I stopped at the Kunsthaus and bought postcards, and then had lunch in the Hauptplatz. Christian and I met up around 3, and went to the bike shop again, but it was closed for a field trip. We came home for a little while, and then went to the Office Pub, which is an English speaking pub where they have a pub quiz every Tuesday night. Christian and his friends have a team, of which I am now a member, and as a native English speaker; I am supposed to be an asset. This edge is dulled, of course, at the same rate as my consumption of the inexpensive beer that they sell, but the game is fun nonetheless. The quiz finishes around 11:30, and afterwards Thomas, BJ, and Christian wanted to get something to eat in the Hauptplatz. We were there until the clock above the square struck 12, and then we celebrated the first minutes of Christian's birthday.

The Kunsthaus by Christian

Wednesday, October 3rd

Christian's 23rd birthday... We slept in, and woke up to a message from Christian's mom, saying that I should go write a German placement test at 3. We got dressed and biked downtown for lunch, and then biked to the exam together. The test was fine, and took only 20 minutes. When it was done we met up to look at an apartment. Christian had already looked at 13 apartments before I got here, but it was the first one that I had seen. I would have taken it because it had a dishwasher, but otherwise it wasn't very special, and the building it was in was ugly. We came home and I napped while Christian did assorted birthday things (i.e. checking how many birthday wishes he got on facebook), and then had a delicious steak dinner with his family. After dinner we biked down to Christian's favourite bar, that he has been going to since he was 16: Music House. We had a few beers there, a good time, and then biked home. The most ridiculous part of the day was still to come, though, when we got stuck in the elevator, between floors, at 3:30 in the morning, and with no cell phone signal. Christian pried the door open and we could see the bottom half of the first floor door and the top half of the lobby door. Neither would open, however. After trying to get out for about 15 minutes, we pressed the alarm button. Nothing happened except for a noise like an ambulance farting. We pressed it again, and again, and again, at 3:30 in the morning, but noone answered. Finally we decided that holding it down until somebody rescued us was the best option, and, sure enough not long after the repair man showed up.

Thursday, October 4th

Christian had school early Thursday morning, so he got up and came back by 10 to find me.. still asleep. Embarassed by the possibility of his mom coming home for Mittagessen and finding me still in my pyjamas, I got dressed and biked to the city centre to explore some more. After some more discoveries in the inner city, I biked home to meet Christian so that we could go see another apartment. This one was much nicer, and bigger, and less expensive. Christian went to his gym class and I biked home. Spent the evening watching Popstars with Anja and Monika.