Sunday, March 31, 2013

When We Said Buongiorno/Guten Tag to Bolzano/Bozen

Although I always hoped that I'd have the opportunity to travel, I never thought that it was more than just wishful thinking.  I grew up hearing stories about where my relatives came from in Europe and about the struggles they faced as immigrants in the United States.

On my maternal side, my grandfather's family came from Italy, and my grandmother's family came from (the former) Czechoslovakia and the Austro-Hungarian empire.  I still don't know if I'm more Austrian or Hungarian, although I saw a girl who looked mysteriously like me on the train to Budapest.  At any rate, Ben and I knew we wanted to visit Italy from the minute we decided to move to Austria; his last name ends in a vowel too.  Capisce?   

Our journey took us to Bolzano/Bozen in northern Italy.  It's the capital city of Südtirol, or Alto Adige.  Why am I writing all the names in two languages, attentive reader?  Well, after World War I, the city left Austrian hands and became Italian.  Its history of Austrian and Italian possession is very evident in the city today.  Around town, Italian and German float off the tongues of the locals.  It seemed like almost everyone could speak Italian and German, and in many cases, English too.  All of the signs are in German and Italian.  Even though I knew we were in Italy, it was a little hard to believe because the two cultures and languages are so intertwined.

Our train went through the Brenner Pass on its way to Italy.  Doesn't really look like spring has hit the Alps yet, huh?  In the last two pictures, you can see what's called Lawinenschutz, or Alpine avalanche protection.

But once through the Brenner Pass, the scenery changed.  Say hello to the Dolomites and to a field of grapevines. 

After arriving, we quickly checked into our hostel and headed into town.

Apfelstrudel in Italy?  Yes, especially when ordered in German.  

For our first dinner, we went to Weißes Rössl/Cavallino Bianco/Little White Pony. Being a teacher, planning is a way of life, so, naturally, I spent some time reading reviews on Trip Advisor to come up with an eating itinerary.  Do you do this, or am I the only one?  Anyway, this restaurant had great reviews, and it did not disappoint.  I had pasta carbonara with speck, which is a cured ham and a specialty of Tyrol.  Ben had spinach spätzle with ham. Lecker/Delizioso. 

Illuminated magnolias in the main square reminded us of spring's arrival.  

This dog, who joined us for a digestif of grappa, received about 1,000 pets, sat on Ben's foot, and stole my heart.  When his owner came to collect him, she asked in German if we would like to take him home.  Ben said, "yes, no problem," and then she laughingly said, "one problem," as she kissed him and took him from our lives forever.  We need a dog.  We need a dog.  Repeat.

Also, we meet a cool Swiss gentleman who couldn't believe that Ben was American and spoke German so well.  That's always good to hear.  He told me that he met his wife in Milan and that she did "this" (*mimicked his hands being tied together*), and he still hasn't found the key.

The friendliness in Italy shocked me, as I've become accustomed to Salzburg and how people keep to themselves. Cultural differences, man.      

A presto!  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Salzburg Zoo

As I think you can tell from the preview post, we had a good time at the Salzburg Zoo.

For the sake of brevity, I will (try to) keep my commentary short so you can enjoy the animals like we did.  Brief thoughts, not paragraphs! 

Why are chickens so beautiful, and why was the one on top so cranky?  These guys lead good lives here.

Little primates can fly from branch to branch, but this iguana reigns supreme.  

Flamingos are comical birds: their long legs, their beaks, their crabbiness toward each other, their flamingo pond nearly in the shadow of an Alpine peak. And because I'm working on my naturalistic intelligence, I just wanted to share a new learning of mine; flamingos get their color from their diet of algae and other sea life that contains carotenoids.  Their livers break down the carotenoids, and then the color emerges on their feathers.  Newborn flamingos are grey.

Feeding the alpacas ranked high on our trip.  The little guy in the last picture was eating a dead Tenenbaum/Christmas Tree.  Why don't we just walk alpacas up and down our streets in December/January when they're all on the curb?  Natural waste managers and cute too.

The lemurs were allowed to roam pretty freely between exhibits, and this is what resulted. 

These guys are the same color as Ben's beard, right?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Little Preview of the Salzburg Zoo

This past weekend, the rain and greyness stayed away long enough for us to fully explore the Salzburg Zoo

Our favorite part?  The goats/Ziegen!

Make your own slide show at Animoto.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Living in a Dorm After you've Graduated - Part II

As I hinted at in my previous post, dorms are supposed to be filled with students.  The students came in late September/early October for the start of the semester, and while the vast majority of people here keep to themselves and are respectful, we've had some difficulty with some residents.  This usually happens on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, from approximately 9 o'clock at night until approximately 4 in the morning.  Why Wednesday night, you ask?  Well, every Wednesday night is Student Night at bars, and students get major discounts on drinks.  Also, the student housing association throws parties for students on select Wednesday nights.  Two or three of these parties have been held at our complex, and there's been others elsewhere around town.  Friday and Saturday nights should be pretty obvious.    

There are no resident assistants (RAs) who live in our complex, as I discussed here.  When students party loudly and late into the night, we have a few choices.

1. Ignore it.
2. Ask them nicely to be quiet. 
3. Suffer when they continue to make noise.
4. Exasperatedly yell at them at 3 AM in your best teacher voice. 
5. Complain at the reception desk on the next weekday, and be told to write an e-mail to the housing coordinators explaining the situation, as if that will magically restore the sleep we've missed.

Briefly, here's the low down on some parties that have been particularly annoying.

First:  Last fall, a group of rowdy Americans who live in our complex partied in the courtyard until roughly 5 AM on a Sunday morning.  They threw beer bottles and pretzel bags into our fountain.  They laughed and laughed.  They yelled.  Worse yet?  Sunday was a religious holiday, and many Austrians are quite religious.  I was seriously disgusted with their behavior (and seriously sleep-deprived), so I left them an ominous note telling them how poorly they were representing our country.  All Americans can help improve our reputation abroad by conducting themselves with self-respect, and I needed to communicate that to them.  It was actually pretty hilarious when I saw them go outside the next day, find the note, and then contritely look up into all the windows as if they were being watched.  I guess I was watching them (creeper, I know), but I wanted to make sure they cleaned up their mess so the cleaning staff didn't have to.  Anyway, no more outside parties occurred after that. 

Second: At the end of last semester, a group of students (American and British) partied in the common room one floor below our room.  Ben asked them nicely to be quiet around 11 PM, and I threw on a robe and asked them to stop laughing so loudly in my best shrill teacher voice at 3:30 (I remember because I started my tirade with, "Hey, it's 3:30.").  When Ben went to work at 5:30, they were still awake and still drinking.  I was so frustrated. 

Third: This Wednesday, a group of Austrians were partying in the common room right outside our door.  Quiet hours are from 10 until 8, and it was 11 o'clock.  Ben was exhausted, but he got dressed, and said to them in his teacher voice: "I have to be up in 5 hours.  I need quiet."  I was shocked, shocked! that he stated the situation so bluntly and in English, and I thought that they would continue to make noise.  But, within a few minutes, their little party had disbanded, and we had peace and quiet.  The next morning, the main perpetrator rang our doorbell and presented me with a Twix bar and an apology for the previous night, and he did so in English. 

Now, as someone who has studied statistics, I can't use a sample size of three to make any generalizations about which culture is more respectful, but a Twix and an apology?  That's pretty good.          

So, what have I learned about myself by living in a dorm after I've graduated?

The college lifestyle and the college schedule do not reflect who I am anymore.  I need and value sleep, and I need and value my liver.  Essentially, I've become less cool, and I'm über-okay with that.  I readily acknowledge that we're in a different situation than most of the other resident in terms of being married and being finished with school, and I can't fault them for being in a different stage of life.  I can fault them, however, on not being respectful.  When people work together and live together, they need to be considerate, and that should be learned at an earlier, pre-college age.   

But, my biggest realization from living in a dorm in my mid-twenties is that I can be happy with less.  When we moved here, I brought a large suitcase, a carry-on, and a small shoulder bag.  That's it.  And I've been fine.  I'm working with a wardrobe that's probably a quarter of what I own, and I clothe myself every day, no problem.  We do not have any kitchen appliances - no microwave, coffee maker, blender, etc.  We feed ourselves every day, no problem.  I haven't driven a car in over six months, and I get around, no problem.  This is not to say that I don't remember how convenient it is to have more clothes, a microwave, and a car, or that I don't want to use these things when I come home.  But, I feel like I've gained a new perspective, and that's the reason people travel, isn't it?  To make the unfamiliar familiar.  To expand their horizons.  To learn how other people live.  And in doing so, you change how you live too.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Living in a Dorm After you've Graduated - Part I

Last April, we learned that Ben won the opportunity through Fulbright to teach here in Austria.  It was the Saturday before Easter, and we had just slept over at Ben's sister and brother-in-law's apartment.  Ben checked his e-mail while I was still struggling to get out of bed, and he began reading aloud.  As soon as I realized what was happening, I sprung out of bed and kept hugging him.  I was so proud that he was awarded this chance to live here, and overcome with excitement for traveling and new adventures.

Then, the practical side of me stepped in.  "So, they don't provide us with housing?  Like, not even a list of places to stay?  How are we supposed to find an apartment there when we're here?  Don't the authorities need to have an address for us?  How are we going to do our paperwork? etc. etc."
Moving to another continent was a scary proposition in itself, but not knowing where we were moving into was scarier still.  We searched for apartments on a few different websites, but no one was listing apartments for September in April.  I tried my best to help Ben search, but Google Translate and other add-ons on my web browser didn't make the search much easier.  

Then, we found that Salzburg has a network of dorms.  To my knowledge, there's three universities in the city: Universität Salzburg, the general university; Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, specializing in music; and FachhochschuleSalzburg, specializing in applied sciences.  That means that dorms are abundant!   

Many people study abroad here, and I'm not just talking about for one semester.  We've learned that many Germans come to Austria to study because they don't have to pay tuition, and hey, they (generally) speak the same language!  But, it's not just Germans.  Some of our neighbors are from different Eastern European countries, and the Erasmus  study abroad program helps citizens of the EU pursue their degrees in EU-member countries like Austria.

So, back to my story - we decided to go for a dorm because dorm managers have experience dealing with international residents, and they are set up in a way that caters to booking in advance.  To calm my nerves, I wanted an address and a plan, and the dorm provided that.

After making our decision, we wired over an exorbitant sum of money to reserve our spots in a one bedroom with private bathroom and kitchenette.  I was willing to make some compromises, but sharing a bathroom and kitchen space were out of the question.  Safety is a huge priority, and I would not have agreed to a dorm if we couldn't have some privacy.  And, the pictures on the website looked very modern, clean, sleek -  we were excited to have a place and a nice one at that!  

[Ben walking down our neon stairs on our third day here.  As a side note (don't I just love those): that backpack has been worth its weight in gold.  It comes with us when we go shopping and traveling.]

So, pictures lie.  We do indeed have our own kitchette and bathroom, but it's not as advertised in the photos.  Our kitchenette is not in our room; rather, it's on our floor, down a hallway with locked compartments, and one of those compartments is ours.  So, maybe it's good that our little kitchen isn't connected to our room because it cuts down on snacking, and who wants their bedroom to smell like food anyway?  Next, our bathroom - the photos showed renovated bathrooms with sleek fixtures and a stand-up shower stall.  The first time I stepped foot into our bathroom, I felt like the room was moving.  Ben told me I was imagining it because I was tired after not sleeping on the plane.  But no, the bathroom is kind of like a floating room encased in plastic.  No new fixtures were to be found, but on the upside, we have a bathtub instead of a shower stall. I would have sincerely missed taking baths if we didn't have a tub for eight months.  All in all, after dealing with the initial shock, I was okay with living here.  Plus, we arrived in mid-September, and the semester didn't begin for a few weeks.  Tranquility. Peace. Quiet.  That helped me imagine that we were all alone inside this big building.                  

But then students started to arrive, and that's where we'll pick up in Part II! 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Gölles Schnapsbrennerei und Essigmanufaktur AKA When you Discover you Like Vinegar

As a continuation of Ben's birthday celebration, we toured the Gölles Schnapsbrennerei und Essigmanufaktur, or the Gölles Schnapps and Vinegar Distillery.  You know when you enter into an experience with one set of beliefs and afterward you emerge older, wiser, and feeling completely different?  Well, that's what happened!   Who knew I liked vinegar?

Here's Ben amongst the barrels of vinegar.  To start the tour, we came into this storage area, and when we walked through the door, the smell of vinegar reminded me of delicious German potato salad.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Ben and I are big fans of German potato salad.  Ben even made a huge batch of it for our wedding, however, our family and friends didn't love it so much, so we had plenty of leftovers for (a) week(s).  Take a guess.  So, in this storage area, we saw the barrels, and we watched a movie about the company and how they manufacture their vinegars.  Ben did a wonderful job of translating for me, and I left anticipating the tasting in the next building.     

The vinegars were separated into three categories: classic, fruit, and balsamic.  In the classic category, there were red and white wine vinegar.  For fruits, there were varieties of raspberry, peach, and tomato.  For the balsamics, there were white (the king of the day), wine, apple, and pear.  We didn't try them all, but the tour guide selected a few from each group, suggested which dishes the vinegars would best pair with, and away we tasted! 

An idea I liked was the spray bottles on the right.  As much as Austrians like vinegar, no, they don't use it as perfume.  It's for flavor-control.  When I have insalata caprese, I don't like the mozzarella drenched in balsamic, so having a little spray bottle of balsamic would alleviate the over-saturation problem.  Although I now know that vinegar is tasty, I still don't want it drenching my food.  Just an idea if you want to get into vinegar!  

The second half of the tour was dedicated to schnapps.  Just as with their vinegar,  Gölles does not use anything artificial to flavor their schnapps.  When they make tomato vinegar, they use tomatoes to produce it.  When they make raspberry schnapps, they use raspberries. There's no flavored syrup here.  This helps to explain why some schnapps is more affordable, while others are astronomically priced.   In another video we watched, we learned that it takes tens of kilos of fruit to make one bottle of schnapps.  The price difference between bulk apples and bulk raspberries, for example, causes the raspberry schnapps to be much more expensive.

So, with all this talk of fruit, you would think that the schnapps would taste like fruit.  Wrong.  A slight hint of fruit could be detected after your throat was set on fire.  I'm sure for schnapps connoisseurs, the Gölles schnapps is very fine, but I didn't care for the clear varieties very much.  The ruby-red raspberry and cherry, on the other hand...   

The schnapps tasting took place in the schnapps cellar, which had an Olde World ambiance that I liked.  Yes, the ambiance was so ancient that there was an extra "e."