Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Weekend in Munich, Germany!

As I went to bed late Sunday night, I was planning on titling this blog post ‘Bavaria, You're Beautiful’. From Friday up until that point, Munich and the state of Bavaria was outdoing itself with its beauty, kind people, and fun atmosphere. My thoughts changed on Sunday when I had the sobering experience of visiting Dachau Concentration Camp. My magical thoughts about Munich slowly faded as I read about and walked through the atrocities that were committed from 1933 to 1945 at that exact place. I am grateful that I was able to experience so much in Munich over a lengthy three days, and I feel more well rounded after having positive as well as heart-wrenching feelings in this historical city of Germany.

 We arrived in Munich via train at 6:10am on Friday morning. The station was hustling and bustling, and it reminded me of Grand Central Station in New York City. We attempted to purchase U-Bahn passes, but the computer system was much more confusing than in Vienna. Passes were not as simple and straightforward. Eventually, we purchased the correct pass, and headed for the hostel.

It was a rainy, cold morning, but I was still excited to be in another country. Along the 15-minute walk, I noticed the street signs: Goethestraße, Beethovenstraße, Mozartstraße. I hoped the rest of the city had as much culture as these three street signs displayed. Once we found the hostel, we checked in and made it upstairs. This hostel was great, and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Munich. It’s called Smart Stay off of Mozartstraße. The staff was pleasant, the rooms were nice and clean, the location is wonderful, and the bed was incredibly comfortable.

Exhausted from the train travel, we closed the curtains to block out the morning sun and napped for a while. When I woke up, it felt like a new day. I was ready to go out and explore. We hopped on the U-Bahn (which played classical music at the platform) to Marienplatz, the city center. The U-Bahn reminded me of the C train in NYC. The seats were navy, the walls were brown, and the floor was gray/black. The whole thing was pretty dingy looking. The train drops you off right at Rathaus, or the city hall, which was a stunning thing to see when you emerge from underground:

Rathaus München
Kristina, Gintas, Patrick, and I met up with Jenn, Emielia, and Chris, and we went sightseeing around the city for the afternoon. We went inside stunning churches, window-shopped, snapped photos, and had a grand time. We got hungry for lunch after a while and took the U-Bahn to a restaurant called Vanilla Lounge. Again, I highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Munich! The food and coffee were delicious, the prices were good, and the waiter was the sweetest man! I had pancakes, eggs, and some crispy bacon. Such a good meal!

The inside of the Theatine Church

Gold leaf roses at Munich Frauenkirche

The cobblestone streets of Munich

The two towers of Munich Frauenkirche
After lunch, we made our way to the English Gardens, a large park similar to Forest Park in St. Louis. Even though it was cold and a little gloomy outside, the walk through the park was pleasant. We did a lot of walking this past weekend ... We then walked through a small village right on the outskirts of the city center, and then hopped onto the U-Bahn to the Olympic Park.

The lake at the English Gardens
Munich hosted the summer Olympics in 1972. Prior to visiting, I read about the Munich Massacre and was eager to find a memorial or plaque to commemorate the fallen Israeli athletes, but I was unsuccessful in my search. Although a little desolate, the Olympic Park was very cool. It was eerie to think at some point in time, the park was crammed with people from all over the globe attending one of the largest sporting events in history. Here are some photos:

Inside the Olympic Park

Inside the Olympic Park

The Olympic Stadium
There is a large hill in the park. When you get to the top, you can see most of Munich and inside the stadium. That was awesome.

The view of the stadium from the top of the hill

The view of Munich from the top of the hill
BMW World is right next to Olympic Park, so we went there next. The architecture of the building was unique and the cars in the lobby were cool. There is a whole museum with different cars, motorcycles, and technology. Jenn, Kristina, and I sat and had a cup of coffee in the café while the boys and Emiela went to go play.

BMW Welt
Day one concluded with a visit to the beer hall, Augustiner Großgasstäte, and the enjoyment of a beer and a soft pretzel.

Perfect way to end the first day!
Day Two started at 6:00am for me. We checked out of our hostel and made our way to the central train station. We embarked on a 10.5 hour tour of two castles and three cities in Bavaria (the state that Munich is in). The ride to the first castle was about an hour and twenty minutes outside of Munich. The snowy countryside and mountains were breathtaking. The town that the Linderhof Palace is in is called Ettel.

Snow, trees, and the mountains in Ettel
The palace, built by and for King Ludwig II, was extremely extravagant and beautiful.

Outside of the palace

Ceiling in the foyer of the palace

Group photo at Linderhof!
After visiting Linderhof, we drove to the small village of Oberammergau. It was a short visit to buy souvenirs and to view the 5,000-seat theatre where the Passion Play is performed every ten years. The theatre was closed when we visited, but I got a good shot of the outside.
The Oberammergau Passion Play is performed here.
 The next stop was the Neuschwanstein Castle, the castle that the Disney castle is based off of! There is a one-mile hike up to the castle, where we encountered many Asian tourists and horse-drawn carriages. The castle also belonged to King Ludwig II, but a large portion of it is unfinished because he mysteriously disappeared during the construction after he found out his diagnosis of mental illness. The tour of the castle short and sweet. The various halls and rooms reminded me scenes from Disney's Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. It is a must-see when visiting Munich.

The scenic view from outside the castle

Schloß Neuschwanstein
Once getting back to the city center of Munich, Gintas, Kristina, Patrick, and I departed for our second hostel. Little did we know that this hostel was basically in the suburbs of Munich. We walked for at least an hour in the dark trying to find this place. After some directions from nice locals, we made it. We settled in, and then Kristina, Gintas, and I headed back into the city (which took forever by S-Bahn) to meet Chris, Jenn, and Emielia for a drink.

The seven of us ended up at Hofbraühaus, THE beer hall in Munich. The ground floor is a large open space filled with long wooden tables and benches, an oompah band, locals in lederhosen, tourists, lots of beer, and soft pretzels. The place is filled with tons of drunken happiness and chatter in different languages. Everywhere you look a group is clinking mugs, and this sometimes results in shattered glass. We ended up sharing a table with four Frenchmen. They were very nice and proceeded to get very drunk. The men stood on the benches and sang the French national anthem at least three times throughout the night, and shattered one beer stein while aggressively cheersing.

One liter of beer!

The Frenchmen having a good time (Photo by Kristina Vidovic)

Do you notice the two men in the background? (Photo by Kristina Vidovic)
It was a wonderful night that ended in perfect snowfall as we walked back to our hostel.

Day Three consisted of our visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and grounds. It was an eerie and haunting experience which evoked many emotions. Although it was difficult to walk through (especially on a snowy, cold day), it was important. If you want to talk about the experience in person, I welcome that. I do not think I can sum up all that I felt in a paragraph or two. I leave with you a photo of the outside of the memorial for the six-million fallen Jewish souls, where I reached my emotional peak. I will remember that moment vividly.


Monday, January 20, 2014

First Week of Classes and a Day Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia!

Since my last post, I started my classes and crossed my first international border since arriving in Vienna!

Classes this term will definitely be a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it. On Monday and Wednesday evenings, I am taking a 3000 level business class (and my first business class ever) in Human Resource Management. I was a little started by the amount of work, considering on the first day of class 130 pages of textbook reading were assigned AND a four-page essay was due for the next class. But, I took my anxious energy about the class and chugged out the essay and the reading. The professor (a 30-something Brazilian man) admitted he assigned that work to see if we could rise to the challenge of his course, and he was quite pleased. I am hoping I can utilize the business and human resource strategies I learn in his course and apply them in a theatrical setting. As a freelance stage manager, the more I know about business and management, the better.

 On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I am taking a course titled Visual Literacy. I am ecstatic about this course, since it is the closest thing to European Art History at the Webster University Vienna campus. The professor is an incredibly knowledgable German woman, and she brings a different perspective to examining art than I've experienced before. I will be able to gush about the class once I have a few more sessions under my belt.

My final on-campus course this term is Audio Production I for Non-Majors. During the first class, we learned the basic of Logic Pro. It should be interesting. For a class outing, we will be visit one of the largest recording studios in Vienna.

This week I was able to get the ball rolling on travel, and I couldn't be happier! On Friday, myself and seven others hopped on a train to Bratislava, Slovakia for a day trip. Bratislava is about a forty-minute train ride from Vienna. I didn't get my passport checked or stamped during either train ride, and I think it is because the countries border each other. Oh well. Below is a photo of Jenn and I as we disembarked the train to find ourselves in another country!

We crossed an international border!

Much like Vienna, Bratislava was cold and gray. Although, I am recognizing a trend of colorful buildings to help distract from the somewhat depressing climate. I loved the bursts of color around the city and cannot wait to visit various places and compare the color palettes.

Colorful church

 An additional challenge of visiting Bratislava was that English nor German was helpful when trying to communicate with the natives. Although, the universal language of pointing and smiling was helpful.

We visited four of the main attractions that Bratislava has to offer. From the train station, the Grassalkovich Palace, or the presidential palace was a ten minute walk.

The Grassalkovich Palace

Following the palace, we progressed toward the city center and climbed the winding road up to the Bratislava Castle. From the entrance to the castle, you could view most of the city. The castle was extravagant with marble floors and banisters, red carpet on the steps, stark white walls, and gold EVERYWHERE. There was an art museum within the castle that had many portraits. Each room had an attendant to make sure patrons were not snapping pictures. Could you imagine spending hours every day in complete silence in one room surrounded by the same portraits of old, deceased royalty? I would have nightmares about it within the first few hours. Along with the museum, we were able to climb multiple flights of stairs within the castle to get to the very top and have more views of Bratislava. Below are some photos I snapped during my visit to the castle: 

View of Bratislava from the castle entrance
The front of the Bratislava Castle

The view of rooftops through a castle window

The gold detail, the marble, the stark white walls, and the red carpet were all stunning!

A view of the flag from the top of the castle

After visiting the castle, we continued our walk to the city center. We visited Michael's Gate and St. Martin's Cathedral. There was cobblestone everywhere, and it was enchanting roaming in a city with some much history. The first photo is of Michael's Gate and the second is of St. Martin's Cathedral.
Michael's Gate

St. Martin's Cathedral

We found a restaurant to eat and relax to finish off the day. I ordered a delicious olive-topped pizza and a large beer. The beer tasted like most light beers I've had. Nothing too special. With full stomachs, we boarded the train back to Vienna and thus ended our first international day trip.

I spent most of Saturday and Sunday quarantined in my room accomplishing homework and working to fend off a sore throat and a cold. I am feeling much better after many hours of sleep. 


Monday, January 13, 2014

Hallo! First Post in Österreich!

Guten tag from Wien! After one of the most stressful weeks of my life, I finally feel oriented and unstressed enough to tell you all about my adventure of getting to Vienna, Austria for my semester of study abroad.

There was sobbing in the middle of O'Hare Airport,  a blubbering voicemail to the Webster  Study Abroad office, utter glee when they agreed to rebook me onto a flight, $20 worth of free food, lost luggage, early morning sun in Frankfurt, Germany, a foggy taxi ride to Webster University Vienna, and joy now that I am finally settled.

My flight directly from Chicago to Vienna was scheduled to depart on Monday, 06 January at 4:10pm. The flight was delayed to take off around 5:30pm. In hopes that we would depart and that I soon would be in a deep sleep far above the clouds, I happily boarded the plane and proceeded to snack on airplane pretzels and watch Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (I enjoyed that immensely). After three hours of sitting on the plane not budging from the gate, the captain announced that we could not fly and that we all needed to disembark the aircraft immediately. Next shot: complete chaos.

Imagine about 125 people crowding a single computer and yelling in various language such as English, German, Polish, Spanish, and French, while a couple of women from Austrian Air attempt to accommodate every single person in an orderly fashion. It was insanity. I decided to head home and sleep in my bed for a night after meeting a sweet hipster Austrian couple and discovering that I had no way of getting on a flight that evening. I did invite the couple to sleep on my couch because no hotels were available as I was leaving, but they declined the offer.

The next morning, I am on the phone with Austrian Air at 8:30am praying that I am rebooked and off to Austria by the afternoon. Many minutes of waltzing music is followed by good news that I am to be flying to Vienna in the afternoon.

The next thing I know, I am throwing my bags to the ground and trying to hold back tears at the Austrian Air desk. I was told there was no seat available for, there was no way I was flying to Austria that day, and that they they could not rebook my flight. I then proceeded to embarrass myself in front of many airport patrons by sobbing and begging to be put on any flight. To my surprise, my slight tantrum was very productive. I go from being completely ignored to having a seat on a flight to Frankfurt at 6:00pm and a $20 food voucher. Success.

Once arriving in Frankfurt, I hoped on a morning flight to Vienna. I was so overjoyed to finally be in Europe. I encountered the hipster Austrian couple again at the baggage claim in Vienna and we hugged and celebrated that we all made it. Below is a photo from above the clouds:

The latter half of my week was fantastic. Besides the airline losing my luggage and being exhausted from traveling, I've had a great adjustment to Wien.

A List of Things I've Discovered and Accomplished These Last Six Days in Wien
- I've taken my first solo international flight. I became a better traveler because of the airline troubles.
- I've moved overseas to a country in which I know very little of the native language. I'll be living here for the next four months and immerse myself in the Viennese culture and lifestyle.
- I've successfully ordered meals in German.
- I've tasted many wonderful cups of coffee! I've also ordered all of them in German. Thank goodness for the Viennese coffee house culture because I can usually enjoy a delicious food and drink, catch up with friends, and sometimes get free WiFi!
- Webster University Vienna took us to the Leopold Museum (modern Austrian art), and I've fallen in love with Gustav Klimt's work! Each piece is breathtaking. Klimt's Death and Life is my favourite so far:

I cannot wait to visit the Belvedere and be mesmerised by The Kiss.
- The wine in Vienna is especially good and bottles can be inexpensive (two to six euro). One of the first night's here, I enjoyed a dry white wine, although it was difficult to capture a decent photo of the label:

When I went to the grocery store the other day, Hofer (which is also Aldi), I purchased a good bottle of red wine. The Blaufränkisch grape is grown throughout central Europe, and it was delicious:

- The public transportation here in Vienna is spectacular. It is incredibly efficient! To get to the university, I have to take a tram, the U-Bahn (train/subway), and a bus. Every time I reach the platform it seems as if the mode I need is pulling right into the station. Below is the U1 line for the U-Bahn:

- So many languages and so much culture! Whether I'm at the Webster University Vienna campus or walking in  Stephansplatz, I am surrounded by people from all over the globe. It makes me ecstatic to be making friends on an international level, and I know I will learn an incredible amount from these interactions.

Classes at the university begin today. I'm excited to be back in a school setting after many months off. I also hope to travel this coming weekend.



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Small Fish in a Mighty Large Pond

On a snowy New York City evening three weeks ago over dinner, my boss and I were discussing the excitement of travel. I was explaining to her my plans for the spring semester of my third year of college -  to study abroad in Vienna, Austria and see as much of Europe as I possibly can in 16 weeks. 

Susan, a well-traveled woman, seemed elated as she shared her stories of traipsing around the globe. From spending time touring in France, to hiking in Peru, to explaining the peculiar taste of the turkish coffee she drank in Istanbul, she wrapped these intriguing stories with one simple thought.

I regret not jotting these words down on a spare napkin and slipping it into my coat pocket so that I am able to quote her exactly. This dinner conversation over delicious gyros has stayed with me, and the following notion has been at the front of my mental filing cabinet of wise words to embrace. 

She said something along the lines of: We all have basic needs. Food, shelter, and family are the first that come to my mind. When exploring the multitude of cultures around the world, I discovered that we, as human beings, share this foundation. Although, various cultures value different aspects. What is important in American culture, may contrast what is important in Viennese culture, and what is important in Viennese culture may differ from the French culture. Despite the differences, when you examine the larger picture we all need and want the same things. We're all human.

As a student leaving to study abroad in Europe in 24 hours, I want to examine and absorb as much of the world's various lifestyles and cultures as I can. Susan's words will remain in the back of my mind as I account my experiences in this blog and in my personal travel journals.

I am so thankful to Webster University, my family, and the many others who have equipped me with the abilities to become a global citizen, especially over the next four months. I cannot wait to discover more about the world around me, myself, and how minuscule I am in the vastness of everyday life in this world. I will cherish being a small fish in  a mighty large pond.

Next post in Vienna,