So the past five days were my “first week of classes.” Let me point out here that, of the 8 classes I was signed up for at the time, only four of them met. Of that four, the first (Understanding Literature) lacked a present teacher so we eventually all left and the middle two (Speaking and Language, the Historical Dimension of the German Language) were way over my head as they both turned out to be hardcore linguistics classes. So for all intents and purposes I’ve been to one class so far, with the rest starting next week. Some first week, eh? So now I’m in seven classes:
Culture of Wine
Foundational Issues of Austrian History (Middle Ages to 1700)
Austrian History and Culture in a European Context (through SUNY Binghamton)
German-language Literature (through SUNY Binghamton)
Slovenian History, Culture, and Language
The Laws of the European Union
and apparently with seven I have a fair bit of breathing space if I want to drop one, or if I have trouble next semester. With the exception of the first SUNY course, they all meet only once a week for 1.5-2 hours. Teachers here apparently don’t talk so much with the students during classes, though they seem very available afterwards. Plus, almost all of my classes are (1) in German, so I’ll be getting better but also (2) Vorlesungen (lectures) so if I can’t keep up there’s no hw, just a test at the end that I have the semester to prepare for. Sweet nectar.
My health insurance is finalized and I’m only really waiting to for the first bill so I can set up an automatic payment system through my Austrian bank to take care of it every month. We’ve all got our stipends now (300 Euro a month, or somewhere I guess in the area of 400+ dollars) so I’m eating just fine. All the supermarkets near us are pretty well stocked, but sometimes I’ve gotta make excursions to the Turkish grocery stores or the Thai market for special goodies (pronounced Singha, Kirin Lager, and peanut butter). Plus I now have my Österreichische Ausenthaltsbewilligung, so I am officially a resident of Austria now! How very fortunate that for a meager 110 Euro I get to stay here. I wonder how much they charge for citizenship. . .
So it looks like I’ll be heading up to Nijmagen in the Netherlands to visit Case in the first weekend of November (we’ve got a nice four-day weekend then). Turns out it’s the birthplace of Eddie van Halen. Goody. Maybe his home is on their version of the National Register of Historic Places. Or a list of things to be demolished, either/or. I’m also considering a trip in the near future to Florence to visit Noah and Ansley, but that sorta depends on how long they’ll be there and when I get a good opportunity to go (and hopefully a good deal on a ticket).
I’ve come down with a bit of a head cold here, but it’s no big deal, just drinking lots of tea and taking things easy with the walking and the cold and rain. Seems like today’s gonna be pretty light, just gonna clean up the room a bit, head to the supermarket to get some beers and snacks, then Leslie, Paul, and I are gonna check out the Cubs game (should start around midnight here, local time, so not too bad. . . ).
So as it stands, everything except my insurance is paid for and set in stone, my classes are getting started (in German, which is OH so fun), my appartment is nice, the weather sucks, the city is great, and I’m having a wonderful time. HA.
So we all got in yesterday, home safe and sound.
On Wednesday I left for Munich with Leslie and Paul; we went from Graz to Salzburg, then Salzburg to the Munich Hauptbahnhof. When we arrived, we had to scramble a little bit from U-Bahn to S-Bahn, S-Bahn to bus, and then finally from the bus to our lovely campsite (Campingplatz Obermenzing, very cheap, relatively nice, and they handled the Oktoberfest rush like champions). As nighttime had already fallen, we discovered (to our dismay) that setting up the tent was not so easy, especially considering that at the time it was raining. At some point, the security guard showed up and helped us put everything together. Karl-Joseph Ohring, or Sepp for short, was a great guy; when our tent didn’t come together so well, he invited us to stay in his camper/tent-annex for the evening and worry about paying and whatnot the next day. When we woke up, he even prepared a nice breakfast of rolls, scrambled eggs, butter and jam for us. He gets around to telling us that some massive group of Australian tourists had left a week prior, with some two to three dozen tents just left. Big tents. Spacious tents, with rain covers and a nice little covered area in front of the door where you could take off your shoes and leave your bags. He assures us that we can grab one, so we do, place it in our tent, pay for the nights we’ll be there, and head in to Munich.
In Munich, the first thing the three of us decide to do (after, of course, visiting the Viktualienmarkt) is have a little lunch at the Hofbräuhaus, along with some really swell beer. Afterwards we wandered around Munich a bit, checking out Marienplatz and a couple of the churches in the Innenstadt, then headed off to Oktoberfest to scope things out. As it turns out, “scoping things out” means getting a seat with some nice young Australians and having a bit more beer (this time, Spaten!). After a Ferris Wheel ride and some snacks, we head back to the campingplatz for some well-earned rest.
To find that the big green tent had been removed from our camping spot, and all of our stuff dumped out onto the ground and left under our tarp. Apparently, even though Sepp said “Ja” and his boss said “Ja,” his boss’s boss said, in no uncertain terms, “nein.” No free tent for us. So we had to set it up again, once more in the dark and the rain. Eventually we finish, go to bed, and wake up to a very special day: the Friday when Case gets into town. So we run around all day, hang out in an Irish pub for a while and meet some swell folks (a guy from Dublin who loved Band of Brothers as much as I do, which really says something) dip into some really good cider to ward off the cold, rainy day outside, and eventually meander over to the Hauptbahnhof to pick up Case. We meet him after some initial trouble, and decide to scope out D’Wiesn with Case so he can get a feel for Oktoberfest. Same kind of “scoping out,” we get a beer, see some madness, check out some rides, and eventually make it home.
On Saturday, the last day of our trip, we wake up, hit the Hofbräuhaus again (this time it’s complete madness, with Italian men going crazy all over the place) and have some lunch. At this point, we decide to split off from Case and Paul, as Leslie and I are going to Sauerlach (about 25 minutes south of Munich by S-Bahn). Fortunately, we leave right as our friends Jessica and Jane, plus their French friend whose name I misremember, show up, so no trouble making sure they have folks to hang out with. I meet Leslie’s aunt Helga and her great-aunt Resie, they make some good food for us and a bit of coffee to go with. Right before we leave, we call Case to figure out where to meet up. Case proceeded to tell Leslie that he had lost Paul, the Italians had gotten arrested, and (as it had been an hour and a half since they had seen Paul) Paul must have been mistaken for an Italian and duly arrested for carrousing with busy Hofbräuhaus waitresses.
So we leave Sauerlach in a funk, concerned for our dear friend. We go back to the Campingplatz to see if he drank too much and went home to sleep it off, but he’s not there. We wait for a few hours and eventually Jessica returns with good news: Case found Paul, they’re with Jane at Oktoberfest and all is well. Jessica and Frenchie McFrencherson (with all apologies to M. McFrencherson) go to bed and we start to doze off, when Case returns. Bad news: Paul got lost. Again. We begin to fret more and more, since the last train to the campingplatz runs at one, and it was 12:30 when Case came back. After a good bit of fretting, Paul makes it back (apparently by the very last bus), and we all breathe a deep sigh of relief and pass the hell out. In the morning, we bought our train tickets, had a nice last lunch with Security Guard Sepp, took some final pictures and hopped on a train back home. The picture at the bottom here is where our second train-switch (transfer? my English sucks now. . . ) took place, a tiny town called Bischofshofen somewhere between Salzburg and Graz. As you might notice, this is indubitably one of the most beautiful train stations in the ENTIRE HOT-DAMN WORLD. Check it and enjoy!
So a couple of days ago Graz had itself a big ole festival called Aufsteirern, basically filling most of the space between Jakominiplatz and Hauptplatz with little green tents offering info on hunting in the region, lederhosen (for Gents) and Dirndls (for the ladies), various toast sandwiches, wursts, pretzels, and a local favorite, Sturm (a naturally carbonated early-grape young wine that tastes like raspberry lemonade and has a pretty decent kick to it as well). The whole thing was a bit much, so we didn’t stay long, though long enough to get ripped off on an overpriced gyro and a schnitzel sandwich. Things are settling in pretty well here, though I’m still waiting for roommates to come in. I bought some warm weather clothes a few days ago and, as it turns out, this was a good thing; it’s gotten really rather cold and wet around here in the last 12 hours and I’m very thankful for my new, warm hoodies. The storm has been quite impressive though, and on a number of occasions the thunder has literally rattled me in my seat. The hills here are beautiful, with the mist pouring down from all sides into the valley that is Graz, and the lightning seems to have some strange ability to last for a couple of seconds in the sky before fading. Magic.
The german intensive class is progressing well enough, though the test we had on Friday was a bit rough (got a 2-3, where 1 is best and 5 is worst) and I think my Deutschskillz (TM) are really starting to come together. I’ve finally got enough groceries that I’m no longer just buying more every few days, and it’s nice to be able to prepare FOOD food, not just meat+cheese+bread. In fact, we’ve got avocados, onions, tomatoes, apples, bananas, jams, bread, meat, cheese, vinegar, oil, pasta, sauces, herbs, salt, pepper, and (contrary to the warnings of many abroad-studiers before me) PEANUT BUTTER. Two weeks here, and I managed to find the stuff at a Turkish grocery store; not only that, but the Turkish stores are open on Sundays and there’s a fair few in the area, as well as a Thai market (which also offers some other homesick pleasures like okra and black-eyed peas, though I don’t yet know how exactly one cooks these up delicously). As you can tell, I’m really quite proud of myself.
Yesterday Leslie, Paul, and I went to the Ikea here, and by here I mean far, far away from where we actually live, but technically I suppose still in Graz. As it turns out, Ikea is Swedish for “incredibly cheap, awesome shit that you didn’t think you needed until you walked through our crazy doors.” It’s a very specific word, created as you can tell by a very specific people. Leslie got a whole boatload of crapola, including some crazy set of various items that all have in common only two clear things: they are made out of plastic and can probably (hypothetically) be used in a bathroom. I got a towel.
So we’re all on track to get our residence permits, in approximately ten days, and I’m covered in terms of health insurance. I now have an Austrian bank account, into which the school will very kindly deposit my monthly food stipend (can’t wait for that; I’m gonna use it to buy fancy clothes and cheap beer!). We’re close to the end of the Deutsch-Intensive course and the Humanities faculty at the Uni-Graz has as of today opened registration for classes, so I need to get on that whole “registering for classes” thing. I figure I’ll just wing it. What’s the worst that could happen?
As far as I can tell, that’s all the happenings here right now. I’ve met a few people, tried a few new beers, seen some lovely parks and a couple of castles, climbed a (small) mountain, and eaten (and even made!) some terrific food. I’m happy, all told, and I’m incredibly comfortable here. I’m even starting to understand people through the relatively thick and occasionally bizarre Styrian accent, though an encounter with some folk from Salzburg a few days ago was a nice reminder that Hochdeutsch isn’t dead, just far from the norm here. Hope you’re all doing well (that is, all three of the people reading: hi mom!) and I should have some interesting new pictures sooner or later. As soon as I can make them smaller.
So far, the internet situation here in my Studierendenheim is pretty crappy – Leslie, Jessica, and I can´t seem to make the frigging download go so that we can use what I am sure is a very special and very wonderful internet. This wouldn´t be too big of a deal, except that the only internet cafe we´ve found so far seems a little pricy without much in the way of quality. In any case, there might be a delay in updates here, as well as any people hoping for e-mails or much in the way of facebook activity. I´m settled in fine, though, and Graz is very beautiful (if not a little cold and wet at the moment), and the train ride here was long but incredibly scenic, especially once the delays, train changes, and brief bus ride around some construction were over. Tired. Hungry. And tonight, we all get a free beer on the Uni at a place called the Bierbaron near campus. Whoopdidoo.
It’s been another day in Frankfurt, and I’m actually really glad I spent another (that is, a second extra) night here. I walked around some more and decided to get good and adventurous (. . .) and actually cross the Main river, and I couldn’t be more glad. It’s a really lovely part of town, and I spent some time sitting in the park there reading Brave New World (I can’t thank Owen enough for lending me a copy at the end of last year, and I hope he forgives me for not remembering to give it back or even to start it until today). I would kick myself for not bringing my camera, but it’s a moot point since the software for the camera-to-lappy dealy-bopper I got before I left doesn’t work with my lappy (it won’t take those mini-CDs) and in any case it was raining, which I understand is somewhat bad for the life span of a camera. This city really does strike me as a most excellent town, if more so to live in. It reminds me of Chicago, but in deeper shades of silver and blue, which turns on my aesthetic libido like nothing short of Greek revival architecture.
Last night was pretty uninteresting, just sort of bummed about. In my room was a very nice young Canadian girl, an old, cute perv of an Indian man from Calcutta (who politely informed me that porn here is astonishingly cheap) and the smelliest, loudest-snoring Kraut you could ever imagine. I don’t think I’m supposed to use the word Kraut where German people might read, but at this point I can’t exactly untype it. . . that strikes me as only more awkward. But God almighty damn was it hard to sleep through the racket and, in all seriousness, the funk that this guy was giving off. He must have left early this morning, but I can still sort of detect it; to give you an idea, before I ever even saw him, I walked in the room and new I would have at least one new roomie that night because his stench was still there. Potent.
So all in all, things are going rather well. I’m consuming more than just Sprite and roasted half-chickens from the Doner place next door, and I’m even getting vitamins now (thank God for Germany’s love of fruit juices in jaw-dropping combinations like pineapple-orange-mango-passionfruit-carrot-pear-grape). I look forward to going to Graz tomorrow, even if I don’t look forward to the train ride. I have two minutes to do my changeover in Selzthal, and I really hope to not screw that up. Hope and pray that I don’t end up in the cosmopolitan megalopolis of Selzthal, Austria (population ~1800). At least in Linz I have 10 minutes to do the switch.
I need a razor really bad. I’m starting to grow one of those high school beards. Like, the crappy kind. Where the hell do you buy a razor in Germany? I’m terribly afraid of walking into a store and asking, only to find out they only sell, I don’t know, ducks or football bats or something like that. I can’t explain it. Maybe the Schlecker? The fear is too great to go it alone. . .
So far, so good. I successfully made it to Frankfurt, and I’ve spent the last few days bumming around, recovering from my flight, and doing as little as possible because I’m tired, still a little sick, and just not exactly up to par all around. No worries! I’m doing much better!
Frankfurt is a pretty interesting city, but it seems more like a great place to live than a great place in which to be a tourist. The area near the train station is a little sketchy, but unbelievably multicultural and also incredibly cheap. I’ve had more than a few conversations with some very drunk Germans, not to mention a handful of very kind gentlemen asking whether or not I’m interested in any heroin! What courtesy! (For those among you who must be worried, I assure you that none of this happened without plenty of other people around, I’m not just wandering off by myself down dark alleys.)
Of course, it appears that my travel plans have been more or less shot to hell and back. It seems I’m going straight to Graz from here, though I have yet to decide how. I think I need another night here, so I can get in contact with my “buddy” in Graz who is supposed to pick me up. I don’t really see the point, of course, with my dorm ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE BAHNHOF, but who am I to argue with professionals? Thank God this hostel isn’t half-bad (Stay-and-Learn Hostel, Frankfurt am Main, at www.frankfurt-hostel.com!) so one more night won’t kill me, except perhaps from boredom. Trying to be thrifty, you see. All in all, though, I suppose I’m puttering along just fine. Spent more on hostels than I intended, but otherwise I’ve been quite careful with my cash; my health is definitely improving, and it seems I finally have something resembling a plan in place for what I’m doing and how I’ll get to Graz. Kind of. Stay Tuned!