Monday, May 31, 2010

Love, Truth, Beauty & Knowing.

Day 1: I have decided that there are few things in life that are more entertaining or more exciting to see than watching your 79 year old, almost 80 year old Grandmother remove her shoe, pull her knee up to her chin & tap her foot to realign her meridian...while sitting on the window seat of a 7-hour flight. Gotta love those anti-jet lag exercises. The idea is to tap on acupuncture points for a minute, based on your starting and arrival time-zones. And you perform this every two hours, changing the point on the body as the time changes. But I digress, back to my grandmother bending her leg the same way her 19 year old granddaughter is doing. Surely the German guys sitting next to us, returning home from a Las Vegas trip, are thinking we're crazy Americans, but then again, the one sitting directly across from me has been asleep on his buddy's shoulder in such an intimate way for the past two hours. So who's really crazy here?

"Oh would you look at that swagger? Holy mackerel!" --Grandma Pidge
Did my Grandma just use swagger the way it's meant to be used? Yes, yes she did. The first class seats on the flight to Zurich resembled something out of an Austin Powers movie, and I half expected one to spin around, revealing Doctor Evil, pinky at mouth, stroking his cat. The dome-like seat with extra leg room gave the first-class cabin this ultra-modern feel. We ooed and awed a little and made our way to 36A & 36B.

We pull out our novels, and stow away our bags. Hmm, I've got a Ted Bell novel, and she has a John Grisham...and did we both just place our bags in between the seats so we can prop our feet up later on? Spooky. So the flight takes off and we get our pretzels, drinks, and eventually the dinner comes out and a movie pops on the screen. I can't sleep. Not out of excitement, but rather this maternal instinct takes over whenever I'm with a grandparent and I want to be fully alert if something should happen. So I let her sleep and I watch part of a movie and just close my eyes so they won't be strained when we arrive in Vienna around noon. I've been travelling since 9 am central time. It was now 8 pm and we had 6 hours to go just to get to Zurich...

The sunset was majestic. Shades of pink, orange and purple were mixed together, creating a wonderful work of art high above the clouds. And then-- darkness. A few stars speckled the night sky, and every once in a while a distant red jet light was seen blinking through the night. But what was truly beautiful was the sunrise. Never have I seen such a sunrise, and it started just as breakfast was being served. Streams of deep red light rose from underneath the plane, but the cloud-line hid much of the show, leaving my imagination to run wild, wondering how much the world below me could be enjoying the view. A few minutes passed and the red stream rose higher yet, and a deeper orange began to show beneath it. The sky suddenly seemed to glow, in a peaceful way. Not in a deadly fume, mushroom cloud sort of way. The clouds parted a little bit, revealing the blue depths of the ocean and the colors continued to blend through the skyline. The yellows were playfully added into the deep oranges and the red rose further into the sky, fading to a dull pink above the plane. Then, as breakfast was being cleared the sun peaked its head over the wing of the plane, revealing it's brightness and splendor. Kind of makes you wanna buy property 7 miles above the ocean. If you ever get the chance to be flying slightly south but going east, during a sunrise, take that opportunity and soak it all in. A couple of hours later we were starting our descent into Zurich, Switzerland. And you would not believe how fairy tale like the land looked from 10,000 feet in the air. Little villages appeared to be painted along a vast scenery of farmland and dirt roads leading to new farmland and smaller villages. Tiny cars moved along the dirt paths and the Swiss Alps in the background pieced the work of art together. Surely fairy tales take place here everyday. All I could think was how lucky I was to be flying in over such a quaint little area, with the Alps painting a beautiful background along the way.

Zurich to Vienna was just the same, every hill and dirt road just captivated my every thought. And the car ride to the hotel, along the Danube canal was just breathtaking. While my grandma scoffed a little at the graffiti taking over the surrounding walls of the canal, I tried to catch a closer look at the detail of the graffiti, taking in this new culture with every kilometer we drove. The main road to get to Habsburgergasse where our hotel (Pertschy) is located in the center of Graben, the town square, looks like a more inviting version of the Champs Elysee in Paris. Some name brand stores, but mostly little boutiques and specialty shops lined the street with a myriad of people making their way to unknown destinations.

The hotel entrance is in the little alleyway, big enough for one car to pass at a time. Our driver let us out, and helped us with our bags into the teeny-tiny elevator. TIf you stand in the courtyard he is parked in, and look up, a square shaped balcony surrounds you, for 5 stories up. The check-in is on the 1st floor, which is actually the 2nd in US homes, and our room is on the 3rd floor, or the 4th in the US. Our door opens out onto the balcony and if we look down we see the courtyard and every other balcony of the hotel. People stand out there sipping coffee, or smoking a cigarette, enjoying the cool 12 degree Celsius breeze. And the room is just charming. Not exactly what Grandma had hoped for, but that's what happens when they renovate the room you've been staying in for the past 20 years. The walls are white, and there is a dresser with matching closet, and classic molding outlines the doors of the closet and the drawers. Little flowers dance along the edges and the legs are all the classic European shape. The bedding is a light yellow, and each bed looks like combination of a cot and a twin sized bed. Extremely comfortable, just petit. And the bathroom, ooh the bathroom. There is a step up to get into the white-tiled room. There's a deep set sink with a few different knobs for adjustments, a hanging toilet with two options for flushing and the bathtub is just to die for. I've never seen one like it in America. The tub is long enough to lie down in, without having to bend your knees...And there's a nice little fogged window that sits about halfway down the tub to give extra privacy. Cozy and beautiful is the only way to describe the room.

Enough about the hotel and the room though. Onto Vienna :)

I'm still trying to memorize the 12 letter names of places, but I got smart and decided to gather a few souvenirs to help me remember. We started the day out at an Italian restaurant for a light lunch. I ordered an asparagus salad with chicken and when I tried to add a little pepper the whole thing dumped out onto my plate! So the waiter kindly brought me a new one and away we went. Then Grandma showed me this wonderful sculpture that was crafted during the Middle Ages when the Plague was affecting all of Europe, and especially Vienna at this time. The sculpture was intended to be a gift for God, in His honor, and in return he would stop the plague. So there is a scene of people dying on top of one another with gold inscriptions and honoring all around. Then we walked to the underground transportation system and bought tickets for the week. The tickets not only work on the Uriban, but the streetcars and busing system as well. Coming out on the other side of the Uriban station we just walked into, we stopped in front a giant Cathedral and laughed a little as tourists snapped shots of the gothic structure. And by we, I mean Grandma. Hey, I'm a tourist too after all, right? Then again, I have a gazillion pictures of the cathedrals in Paris so I didn't need many of this one :)

Then we took a streetcar tour of the little city, noting how the History Museum & Art Museum face one another. And then we saw the famous Opera house, and all its splendor. What I didn't know was that the front piece is the only original section, because during the war, the Americans bombed the Opera house, leaving little left to preserve. I started to nod off a little bit on the ride back, so Grandma suggested we go to her favorite little cafe where she usually gets her 4 o'clock coffee and the occasional pastry. So we sat down, and I ordered a Einspanner (one shot of German coffee with whipped cream) and Grandma got Viennese coffee, I believe. I noticed the whipped cream in Vienna, is actual whipped cream, not vanilla extract, sugary, whipped cream. So this was the first time I truly enjoyed espresso in its full form. And I let Grandma pick the pastry we were to share, expecting something small, with little sugar and no gluten to accommodate her dietary needs. Low and behold, the waitress comes out with this chocolate dome...I'm wondering what's inside when Grandma licks her lips and cracks the dome in half. The dome is solid chocolate mousse. I guess Grandma didn't lose her sweet-tooth after all! I noticed the chocolate was rich was but not unbearingly so. Maybe there's not a stick of butter involved in the preparation of this dessert like in Paris, or my house. So we sat, listened to a few lady's conversations, trying to pick up bits of the German language intertwined with the French language, and then headed back to the hotel for some rest.

Around 6 we got our jackets back on and headed to dinner. A place called Gosser Bierklinik, this dark pub/restaurant. Since we had eaten plane food and a light lunch/dessert already, we decided on a small but hearty dinner. So looking over the menu, I recognized Gosser on the drinks list. I asked Grandma if they brewed their own beer and she said well yes I guess so, since they call this place the Beer Clinic! So I said alright, well I guess I will order myself one to try....realizing how bold this statement probably sounded coming from a 19 year old's mouth first day in Vienna, I quickly added the old, If that's okay with you, onto the end of my sentence. "Well sure, we're not driving and I'm not responsible for your underage drinking, and they won't care anyway!" So I ordered my Gosser Spezial and the waiter was surprised I ordered the small size, and just one. Must be a pretty good beer then! I ordered a Hungarian stew called Goulash and Grandma ordered a cheese/spinach souffle, which in the end we decided was a quiche. And miraculously enough, the spicy Goulash was complimented nicely by the light Gosser beer. So it ended up being a lovely evening! And when I got back to the hotel, after calling Evan and Mom on the payphone in the Uriban station, I found out the rooms have WiFi, so I will be able to keep up with emails and research on common phrases.

So far I've learned how to greet someone with a sort of blessing which is used in everyday life, how to properly say I'll see you later when you leave and then of course Danke. It's not pretty, but its getting there. One baby step at a time.

And right now, nothing sounds better than soaking in the tub for a while, finishing up Hawke and then maybe, just maybe reading a chapter or two of this new book I've been working on the past few weeks :)

So, as Willy Wonka says to Mrs. Gloop, "Adieu. Aufwiedersehen. Gesundheit. Farewell."

(for now.)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

11:34 p.m.

The air is stifling. For it only being the end of May, the summer heat has already hit hard. Summertime in Saint Louis is hard to beat. Heat radiating off asphalt pavement, laughing children running around with sticky hands from the sweet treats delivered by the ice cream truck, and Cardinals baseball games on nearly every body's mind. The month of June is always perfect. Everyone is out of school, enjoying the hot days sitting by the pool, and having cookouts during the cool but humid nights. Tonight isn't one of those nights.

The stifling air is not a product of the outdoors. Well, indirectly it is. The stifling air haunting my bedroom tonight comes from a forty-year old home's circulation. The second floor is naturally hotter, naturally less breezy, and naturally more uncomfortable for those very reasons.

A fan hums continuously and disturbs the taped posters on the wall. In order to feel the fan's effects just a little bit more, my feet are hanging over the edge of my polka-dot covered bed, and my right foot shakes out of habit. My cat is lounging next to me, wondering why this bright glow is keeping her from sleeping. Every once in a while her irritation causes her to lift her head from the bed, turn it slowly towards me as one ear cocks back, as if a sound has caused her senses to awaken her. When in reality, it's the drumming of my fingers on the keyboard and the brightness of the screen that causes her insomnia. My insomnia, however, is caused by other reasons.

When I was younger, I used to lay wide awake before every vacation or trip I went on. The only difference is the reasoning behind it. As a kid, there are no obligations to keep track of, no promises to uphold, and friends were always there when you got back. The adventure I was about to embark on was what mattered. Sure there was some anxiety when I wasn't travelling with a parent, but mostly I laid awake wondering what was waiting for me, wondering if we could leave as soon as I saw the sun's rays peaking over the hill. But tonight I lay awake for a different reason.

Sure I want the plane to take off already, but I want to be sure of a few things when it lands. I want to know I'll be accepted as an American student, who is truly interested in learning the culture of both Austria and France, and not just some spoiled American kid on summer vaca. And I want to know that I'll be able to find my way around foreign airports and make it to my connecting flights on time. And then find a trustworthy taxi driver to take me to my House-Mother's apartment. And I want nothing more than to understand Madame Dru and learn from her about her lifestyle in Paris. It's one thing to be a student in a city, but to see how it's inhabitants live their lives is one that has always fascinated me. Part of me wishes I could fast-forward to the part where I will be sitting in cafes, sipping lattes or a glass of white wine, asking the waiters where they are from while pieces of live performers songs ring through my ears. People on bicycles will ride by and the tires will bounce along the cobblestones. And not only do I want to sit in the city and see how people interact, but I want to see how they fall in love, appreciate one another and appreciate (or disrespect) complete strangers. I know it won't be Eden, or even close to a Paradise, but it will be something-- something spectacular.

And while I am sad to leave my country behind for a month, and while I feel guilty for diving into not just one, but two new cultures....ignoring my own, I know that when I step outside to walk to class, or enter a new arrondissement, I know that the pavement will still be steaming, children will still be running around gaily with ice cream stuck to their grinning faces, and...okay maybe it won't be baseball, but the talk of the town will be the World Cup and the Tour de France. And maybe, just maybe, keeping those few things in mind, the cultures won't seem so different, and American soil won't seem so distant. I can carry that piece of knowledge and understanding with me, secretly of course. We all know the French would hate to be compared to the Americans...

And so the fan hums on. My cat has chosen a new spot to sleep, and I have rolled onto the bed properly, and laid my head to rest.

By this time tomorrow, I will be in Vienna, drinking my morning coffee, reading an international newspaper at a local cafe, watching the summer work its magic.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Saint far.

I've been home a few days and it's definitely had it's up and downs. I've spent a lot of time with my Mom, Brandon, Jason & Sophia, my granddad, and my great aunt. Tomorrow I'm going to see my other grandparents for lunch and spend a few hours at their house.

I haven't been as motivated as I thought I'd be to workout, but I'm sure after a month of just roaming around not really lifting weights or being in a gym setting, I'll be ready to work when I return to the states.

With just a few more preparations to take care of, the time before my trip dwindles and Sunday morning does not seem so far off. I still don't know what I want to pack, how many "going out" clothes I want to bring--because I'm not going to Paris to go out, but I know its something I should experience, especially since the drinking age is 18, not 21. But I guess it all depends on how my House Mother, Madame Dru, feels about me going out. I know I need to be careful about my daytime clothing, however. The French can be very judgmental about appearances and if I'm not careful, I could be seen as a prostitute, or worse, someone just giving it up for my classic outfit even! (jeans, a tank top and flip flops) So outfits have to be carefully planned because this time around I won't be on a tour bus the majority of the day; I'll be on the metro, talking to people, sitting in cafes, and going to classes with French professors instructing me.

I think clothing should be the least of my worries though. Look how silly that last paragraph seems now! I should be more concerned with safety or getting along with my family and how classes will work out. The learning ethic is much different than anything I am used to. Instead of the professors almost spoon-feeding me information, the classes are setup more like a graduate program in the U.S. where a program is developed but the learned information rests entirely on the students' shoulders and the professor acts as a guide, or a mentor. I'm fine with this type of instruction, but with only 4 weeks to adapt and absorb information before exams and then returning to the states, I hope I can adjust quickly!

Anyway, better throw a load of laundry in, and go over my to-do list one more time.

Next stop: Washington D.C. & then Vienna with Grandma Pidge

Monday, May 17, 2010

Summer Break: Day 1

I've been home less than 24 hours and I'm already at it. Watching old episodes of shows, baking up a storm and working out in the morning. 13 days until I leave for Europe.

Hopefully I'll be able to write about my adventures in Vienna while I'm there, but if not, I'll be sure to write while I'm in Paris.