Kim's Austrian Adventure

My year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Graz, Austria. Yes, there are other cities in Austria besides Vienna.

29. Juni 2006

You know you're in Europe when...

  • Reading: Travel itinerary

  • Listening to: Liz Phair: Flower

  • German Word of the Day: fahren

  • Translation: to drive

  • Example: Morgen fahre ich nach London./Tomorrow I'm going to London.

Today I bought 70% chocolate. Dark. Lindt. I took a bite of it on the bus and almost cried. Absolute heaven for less than two euro.

That is how you know you're in Europe.

24. Juni 2006

I don't need football -- I need sleep

  • Reading: The Devil Wears Prada (meh)

  • Listening to: The honking of horns, post 2-0 Germany victory.

  • German Word of the Day: das Abenteuer

  • Translation: adventure

  • Example: DAS war aber ein Abenteuer!/Now THAT was an adventure!

It is a miracle that I am

1) sane

2) awake

3) alive

Gabe and I headed to the Switzerland vs. South Korea match in Hanover around 6pm. Autobahn + Mini Cooper = two hours fifteen minute drive time. I have to commend the engineers who made the grips on the door extra comfy -- they complimented my white knuckles (the sort of thing that happens when one is driving 220 kmh/136mph) quite nicely. The red of the bugs splattered on the windshield also complimented the American flag on top of the car.

We made it to the stadium just in time for kickoff and took our seats next to two Swiss twin brothers in full team regalia. Gabe asked me what the Swiss were chanting and it took me a while to figure it out. At first I thought they were saying "Auf, schieß!" This would make sense, as it means "Come on, shoot!" After listening a little more closely and observing the clothing, I realized they were saying "Hopp Schwiiz!" They weren't drunk, they were Swiss, making me all the more thankful I selected Austria instead of Switzerland for my exchange year. Trying to understand Schweizerdeutsch is hard enough, let alone trying to live my life there with the Crazy Swiss.

Aftwer Switzerland won 2-0, Gabe and I headed home. It was more of the 220kmh business, involving a few races with SUVs. We suddenly slowed down a bit and Gabe said "Uh-oh."


"Um, I think I'm out of gas."

"Out of...what? How? Huh?" My sleepless day was about to get a lot longer.

The Mini, though outfitted with fantasticly comfortable handles, is lacking in a "Hey you, you're running out of gas" warning. We pulled over to the side and tried to figure out what to do, finally deciding that we would walk the 5km to the next gas station.

5km. In the dark. In flip-flops. Along the autobahn with people driving as fast as we were. Luckily we arrived at an SOS box after about a kilometer. The irony is that I noticed one on the way to Hanover and wondered "Who needs one of these when everyone has cell phones?" Oh thank you, thank you, SOS box. I shouted into the speaker above the din of the cars, stating that we needed gas.

To our surprise, a tow truck showed up. When I asked about the gas, I received a lecture on not filling up the tank (as expected) and then was told "We're not a gas delivery service. I'll tow you to the next station." Gabe and I could do nothing but laugh at our situation. I had been up for 23 hours and counting, and we still weren't home.

We got back to the flat around quarter to five and I fell into bed without putting on the sheets. By some miracle I am now awake and chipper. It could be because Germany is winning 2-0...

I don't need sleep -- I need football

  • Reading:

  • Listening to: French announcer in an X-box football game

  • German Word of the Day: umbuchen

  • Translation: to change a reservation

  • Example: Ich habe meine Karte nach Graz auf morgen umgebucht./I changed my ticket to Graz; now I'm leaving tomorrow.

I boarded a bus in Vienna at 20:30 last night. After a bumpy ride through the Czech Republic, where some of my fellow travelers, who were on their way to the Tunisia v. Ukraine match today, got kicked off for not having the proper visas, we headed down the bumpy roads toward Germany…bumpy roads which kept me awake until about 3:30 when we were making our way in to Dresden. By then it was pre-dawn and I had managed to sleep for about an hour. My sunglasses were no match for the sun, so I dragged a brush through my hair and tried to contain my Berlin-related excitement. When I arrived at the apartment I rang the bell on and off for 20 minutes until someone straggled to the door. Poor Peter, who went to bed around the time when the sun was rising, was gracious enough to let me in and show me around. My brötchen saved me from certain death.

You see, Berlin in my favorite city in the world. It was the first place where I actually tried to speak German and people somewhat understood me, and the place where I first understood the insanity that is football in Europe…well, in the world, really. Some team (I think Ukraine) qualified for something way back then in 2000 and the streets were clogged with cars for what seemed like miles. People were hanging out of cars, waving flags, and getting out of their cars and high-fiving the people stuck in traffic behind them. My American friends and I were highly confused – all that for a simple qualification?

Fast forward to 2002. I was living in Hamburg. The World Cup was taking place in Japan and the Germans were amazed that they had made it out of the preliminaries. Second place in the World Cup translated to madness: songs celebrating Rudi Völler (the coach) on TV, mass celebration in Frankfurt when the team flew home, German flags everywhere. Football took the place of hockey as my favorite sport. There was no gratuitous violence, but I could yell at the TV even more, and that with a delicious German brew in my hand.

When we arrived on the outskirts of Berlin I could already feel the football fever: every other car had a German flag waving out of the window. A tingle ran up my spine as I spied footballs on the windows of the subway and on every other available space.

I am running on one hour of sleep, caffeine and adrenaline. I don’t need sleep – I need football.

19. Juni 2006

B.O. terror alert

  • Reading: Democracy in Britain

  • Listening to: Boy George: Do you really want to hurt me?

  • German Word of the Day: das Deo

  • Translation: deodorant

  • Example: Morgen kaufe ich das ganze Land Deo!/Tomorrow I'm buying the entire country some deodorant!

I was going to go into great detail about the disgusting things I smelled today when the weather made it to almost 90 degrees fahrenheit and I was stuck on public transportation, but rather than make you sick, I constructed an alert system.

16. Juni 2006

A few of my favorite things...Come on! You have to allow me at least ONE "Sound of Music" reference! It's a miracle I haven't been to Salzburg yet.

  • Reading: Florian Illies: Generation Golf Zwei

  • Listening to: Beck: Odelay: Sissyneck

  • German Word of the Day: WM WG (pronounced vay-em vay-gay)

  • Translation: World Cup Apartment

  • Example: Nächstes Wochenende fahre ich nach Berlin, um an der WM WG teilzunehmen./Next weekend I'm going to Berlin to take part in the World Cup Apartment

World Cup apartment, you say? Yes indeed. Check it out.

My friend Katahrina is there all month and invited me to come up and stay for a few days. And hello -- it's Berlin. Do we all remember my obsession with Berlin? I don't think I ever let anyone forget it.

Another obsession? Music. Last weekend I had the opportunity to see possibly my favorite musical piece of all time, Carmina Burana, at the Stefaniesaal in Graz.

By some miracle, after thinking we were late for the tram and running in 3.5" heels, Chrissi and I managed to arrive fifteen minutes early. A family friend of hers, Otto, was with us. We walked up the stairs and asked an usher where our seats were, and he pointed us around the corner. Upon arrival, we noticed the seats
1)Costed way more than we had paid
2)were occupied.

Wrong seats. Thanks, usher.

Five minutes until showtime. We head out of the nearest exit and end up locked out of the hall in a stairwell. Back to the beginning. As we arrived at the doors, we could hear music and were immediately yelled at (in a whisper) by two busybody ushers. "Why are you late? This is highly impolite. What are we supposed to do with you? You will interrupt the orchestra. We really can't believe you're so late." I tried to interrupt and suggest that they let us in during the applause. Chrissi and Otto tried to explain that it was the usher who pointed to us in the wrong direction. Neither of the ushers listened to us; they instead chose to complain to each other about us. They unlocked (yes, they LOCK the doors to the hall during the performance.) the doors and wordlessly pointed to the fold-down seats on the wall. We went in.

The first four pieces of music were from various films, so we took the opportunity after the second piece to sprint across the hall to our seats. Upon arrival, it was deja vu: our seats were taken. Chrissi leaned back to whisper that they were taken and three people decided to loudly "PSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!" us, which was louder than Chrissi and completely unnecessary, as people were still clapping and the music hadn't started yet. Then, some incredibly mature Austrian (I mean this literally, as Chrissi and I were the youngest there by at least 30 years) sarcastically whispered "Too late!"

I mean, honestly. It's not like we looked like teenagers. We were both dressed well and weren't running around screaming. Also, this is Graz. I got dirty looks at the Vienna opera house, but no one yelled at me. I think these people were taking themselves a little too seriously.

The performance was, for the most part, good. One problem with listening to a recording of a piece over and over is that hearing another orchestra/director play it comes as a shock to your ears. Chrissi isn't a musician and she even noticed some mistakes. Oh well. I got to hear a choir and full orchestra perform my favorite piece ever. Sweet.

3. Juni 2006

Limited Edition Toiletpaper

  • Reading: Frommer's Austria

  • Listening to: Goldfrapp: Black Cherry: Crystalline Green

  • German Word of the Day: das Klopapier

  • Translation: toiletpaper

  • Example: WM Klopapier? Wahnsinn!/ World Cup toilet paper? Insanity!

Yesterday I met the new U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Susan McCaw, but the Austrian secret service boys, earpieces and all, were on top of things and hustled her out before I could get a picture. Hence, I came home and took a more interesting picture. Behold.

This, friends, is World Cup 2006 Trivia toilet paper. In our apartment. I never knew that France had only won the World Cup once or that the World Cup Mascot's name is Goleo VI. I am no longer ignorant.

After some searching around, I found an example of something that would never be seen in America:

Toilet paper with the German flag on it. Can you imagine the uproar it would cause if the image of the American flag was on the little squares? Riots in the streets, boycotting of stores...

I'll bet you can buy it in Iraq.

1. Juni 2006

No kangaroos in Austria

  • Reading: Exam schedule

  • Listening to: David Byrne: Girls on My Mind

  • German Word of the Day: die Post

  • Translation: mail

  • Example: Die Post bringt allen was./The post office brings everyone something. (Apparently they don't consider the time frame on this.)

I've been here in Graz for 13 weeks now. Matt started putting together a care package for me (Girl Scout cookies! Yay!) the day after I left, and sent it maybe two weeks into my stay. I eagerly checked my mailbox daily, growing more and more disappointed with its emptiness. After two weeks I really thought I would find a note asking me to come into the office and pick up my package. No dice. Ok, Austria doesn't do mail on Saturdays. So it's a little slower. Austria is further east than Germany. It's going to take a little longer... I grew more and more anxious every day and took out my frustrations on my poor little mailbox, slamming it shut when the note wasn't there.

After about five weeks, Matt began to worry. When he finally figured out the problem, I'm surprised he didn't go to the post office and punch someone. You see, I live in Austria. The package, however, was headed to a land of kangaroos and shrimp on the barbie. Yes, the package was sent to Australia. AUSTRALIA. Matt had corrected the idiot...Err, woman at the post office twice, but it still got sent to Australia. ETA? Hopefully before I finished my exchange year, if I was lucky. The USPS was no help, snapping that they would call if they heard anything and simultaneously slamming down the phone.

Yesterday I had an 8 a.m. date with the washing machine. The snooze button won and I didn't fall out of bed until 8:25, losing the opportunity to do a load of laundry. I grabbed my basket and stomped down the stairs, my eyes barely open. When I got to the office to buy coins for the washing machine, I related my frustration to the secretary. She sympathized and promised forego the note in the mailbox (she's probably sick of me slamming it shut) and call me as soon as she received any packages for me.

She gave me a sideways glance, taking in my messy hair and sleep-like state and promised to call after 10 a.m.. I grumbled something resembling a "Danke" and headed back upstairs to catch 25 minutes of sleep before I needed to do my next load.

As soon as I got under the covers, the land line in the apartment rang. I'm the only one who receives calls on it, so I ran out, stubbing my toe in the process, and picked it up.

"Kim, is that you? Your package is here!"

She didn't even finish her sentence and I was already out of the door, tearing down the stairs in my PJs and Birkenstocks at breakneck speed. It was my package! MY PACKAGE! On the outside Matt had taped an A4-size sheet of paper with my address in bold. "Austria" was also on the customs form, but someone had taken the care to draw big, black lines through both of these and write AUSTRALIA on the box. Thanks USPS.

I'm still waiting on a package from my mom that was sent almost twelve weeks ago. Hope it gets here before Christmas -- she accidentally sent my library books in it.