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.