Archive for the 'Austria' Category

An appendix

One of the things that makes Austria great is that Pierce Brosnan features in adverts for luxury supermarket food there.

Since my year abroad is officially over – as of 4 days ago – it is time to retire this blog. A lot of my friends are still out in Europe. I’d have liked to do that, but I can’t really justify hanging about away from home doing nothing. I think it was a good time to move on, even though I dearly miss Linz and the people there. It’s not an altogether pleasant feeling, but I’m trying to adjust to life at home again as well as I can.

So, I’d like to reflect on a few things…

Did the year abroad live up to my expectations? Yes and no. I knew it wasn’t going to always be a picnic. I indeed found that far from a drawn-out holiday, living abroad could be expensive, exhausting and emotional.

I remember very well the night before I got the Eurostar to Liège, lying in bed, so nervous. I hadn’t spoken French in months, and I was so worried I’d fail at even buying a bus ticket. I’d heard the first few weeks were hard; and yes, the first few weeks there were quite unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Even the simplest tasks were like moving a mountain – I remember it was quite a while before I had my own cutlery and crockery and stuff, just because I had no idea where to obtain it from. I also had no money when I got there – the ERASMUS grant didn’t come in until much later – so I couldn’t really explore and have fun, and I think that definitely affected how I interacted with my peers (i.e. badly).

It was tough. I already had some personal issues, and on top of that came the unfortunate environmental factors. It just added up and I felt like I couldn’t take it, I couldn’t go on. They were some of the lowest times in my life, actually. I remember counting down the weeks til I could go home. And my semester in Austria – which I was already sure would be better – seemed like a century away.

I realised later that Liège was the location for a rather dark film we watched for a class last year, La Promesse. When I mentioned this to friends who’d also seen it, they understood!

I had an awesome time in Linz and it was the place I enjoyed the most – no question – but I have come to realise some things about the differences between my experiences in Belgium and Austria.

I think it is actually much harder for a foreigner to assimilate into Austria. At first I found people to be a little too “direct” for my liking. Subtlety and politeness don’t really have a place there. But over time I made the best out of this – when in Rome, as it were. I began to have no problem with pushing in front of people in non-existent queues, and I stopped prefacing all my opinions with “I’m sorry, but…”, because I realised that speaking my mind was hardly going to ruin somebody’s day. (In fact, even in the few days since coming back to England I’ve had to alter my manners a bit – some people have looked a bit shocked when I say something a bit too bluntly. And I’ve totally forgotten how to queue.)

But I never did get used to the way people stared. On public transport, in the street. People of all ages and genders. In England, we are taught from childhood that staring is the height of rudeness. On the bus, you keep your eyes out of the window or on the ground. I felt like I was constantly being visually criticised and evaluated, even though deep down I knew it wasn’t personal. Not great when you’re in a bad mood and just want to feel invisible.

However, I do think the one thing that was consistently blocking me out was the dialect. Don’t get me wrong, I super loved being in a place with a different form of German, that was why I was interested in coming to Austria.  Overall, my German definitely improved by default of immersion, but the local dialect made it slightly more difficult to understand people, which meant I had to concentrate harder on listening – which was exhausting. I found I kept saying “Bitte?” like a stuck record. But also, I feel that the fact I wasn’t in on what was almost a secret language put a strain on my relationships with others at home, work and generally in public. On my account my housemates would have to speak Standard German, and one of them eventually admitted it was easier to speak English with me because he felt so weird and overly formal trying to speak SG, as if presenting the news. (A friend of mine even tutored someone who needed to practise his SG as he was going to do a presentation.)
At times I felt as terrible as I would if I marched into a shop in another country and immediately demanded they speak my language without even asking if they could. So there was not only that issue, but the fact that this meant in public situations I could be construed as a German. And that leads us to the fact that the Austrians have a mixed relationship with the Germans (a topic within itself).

Despite those difficulties, I’m glad I got to experience a new German-speaking country. But given half a chance, I’d definitely have picked another destination for the French side, like France – perhaps even in the Mediterranean or Pyrenees regions (to counterbalance the morale-draining winter). But lately I’ve been thinking about whether I would take Liège on with a completely different attitude if I went there now, with what I’ve learnt from being in Austria. I wonder if I’d be more motivated to hunt down lecturers and ask what the deal is with randomly cancelled lessons, if I’d be more outgoing and open to meeting people (even if it meant putting up with doing stuff I hated). I know there is no point dwelling on the past and whatiffing, but I honestly think that my experience in Linz has been so beneficial that I’m actually now able to see where I went wrong before. On the other hand, if I’d been thrown into my assistantship for the first semester, would I have been able to cope with all the responsibility? Maybe in some ways my time in Liège was a useful little segue into the “real thing”. It’s interesting to think about, but I guess I just need to accept everything for what it is, what it has been, and do what I can now in the present.

I’m publishing this in a bit of a rush because I want to get it out of the way while it’s all still fresh in my mind. I am leaving for Montreal in a week, and I have lots to prepare – not least that it’s time to brush up on my French again! I have been wanting to visit there for years, so I am extremely excited that I finally have enough money. And more importantly, I’ve realised that the year abroad has actually filled me with the confidence to actually just go ahead and buy that ticket. I think that this time last year, even though I certainly wanted to go, I don’t think I’d actually have had enough courage to do it. There’d be too much “what if”. But these days, having experienced so much wonderful stuff and becoming less naive by also experiencing some bad stuff, I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t. I feel I owe it to myself, even. I look at how far I’ve come (on a personal level) and it’s a wonderful boost.

Overall, I hope that this blog has been useful and/or inspirational to anybody who’s thinking about studying or working abroad, even if it isn’t in Belgium or Austria. Couple more tips:

  1. Wherever you end up going, make sure you bring plenty of paracetomol (or whatever your painkiller of choice is) with you. Gone are the days of getting them for 60p from the supermarket. Welcome to making a special trip to the pharmacy and paying 6 € for them.
  2. You’ll probably hear/read a lot of people saying the year abroad is the best year of your life. Take that with a pinch of salt. I put myself down a lot in the first semester because I definitely wasn’t having a good time, and I think that impacted everything else. Just take it as it comes, but don’t put pressure on yourself to make it amazing. I would advise that you try to establish a good friendship group (i.e. support network) early on, even if you don’t always feel like socialising. It means you won’t feel alone when challenges do arise.
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Miscellaneous Austrian delights

This is the view from my window in halls during a rainstorm on a Sunday night. It may not really sound exciting, but for me it was one of the nicest, most atmospheric parts of living there. Of course it rains all the time in England, but this was something quite different. Sometimes I would wake up, with a view of the forest on a mountain covered in clouds ahead of me, and the refreshing sound of the rain. It was even better when it was dark. One of my best memories there is standing with someone on the balcony at 4am in our pyjamas when there was a storm, the sky a grey-purple colour, and it was just intense. The air is so clean there, so the smell is also wonderful.

Turtles at the botanic garden in Linz

The insect hotel at the botanic garden

These signs are everywhere outside shops – dogs aren’t allowed in 😦

I was in the bookshop, stocking up last-minute on some literature to keep up my German (and French!) levels during the summer. And I stumbled across something I’d glanced at before, but never quite looked into… the Alpenkrimi, the crime novel set in the Alps. I mean, I just find it kind of cool that an entire genre dedicated to this exists. You can also get Alpine Mills & Boon-style books.

To the average English speaker, the title of the book pictured below may raise some giggles. But it’s actually a play on the names of Upper Austrian towns – firstly, there is actually a town called Fucking; secondly, many places have the word Bad in them, which basically means lake (e.g. Bad Ischl). So yeah, put them together and you have a recipe for an amusing novel, I guess.

Also, for the love of God, don’t search “bad fucking” on Google Images.

Lastly, I found out in the last week there – by complete accident on a dictionary website – that the German word for “anus” is After. And since “after” is one of the most commonly used words in English, I can only imagine the sniggers in class that I was oblivious to. I know that German also has quite a few words that English people find funny, like Fahrt or dich, but I don’t know how I could have only just found this out.

Despite the fact I avoid McDonalds on principle, I went here quite a lot to get a chai latte, as it was the only place where it was guaranteed they’d have soya milk. We don’t have McCafé in the UK, so it’s going to be an Austrian thing that I’ll miss…

And did I ever mention how sporty Austrian people are? You see 70-year-olds jogging along without a care in the world. The other day I saw a man rollerblading along my street, pushing himself along with hiking sticks. It put me to shame.

Innsbruck and Brennero

I feel a bit weird categorising this under “Italy”, and maybe I am indeed taking liberties, but you’ll see why in a bit…

It was my last full day in Austria and I wanted to make the best out of it. I chose Innsbruck because it was a city, so there’d hopefully be lots to do and see; but since it was in the beautiful Tyrol, I’d also get my last chance to enjoy the landscape! The return ticket set me back 50 € but I think it was worth it – the way I see it, I’m getting a lovely train journey as well as actually being in the destination.

Once again, I happened to be there on a bank holiday, so it was a bit quiet, but still nice. People had said to me that the dialect there was almost incomprehensible, even to other Austrians – and I did find this to be true!

Hat fail…

At the train station, I noticed there were trains to Brennero in Italy. It was only 7 € return and about half an hour away, so I thought I might as well go and see what was there – a spontaneous, cheap trip can’t hurt, right?

The journey was great – we were so high up! – but in the end the town itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. It was literally just a border crossing with a bit of a town around it. Not surprising, I suppose, since it turns out it’s been one of the main crossings through the Alps since Roman times. I’d hoped to be able to walk around the mountains, maybe, but there didn’t seem to be any access to them. Every single car passing through seemed to be full of Germans on their way to the Mediterranean.

In fact, the town reminded me of the TV show Twin Peaks, for some reason. It just had this strange vibe; not in a supernatural way, just a kind of unease, I suppose. Then there are these two pictures:

(Fake curtains in an outdated shopping centre)

So yeah, this is dubiously tagged “Italy”. I don’t think I heard a single person speaking Italian. Interesting experience though. Sort of.

Berchtesgaden and St. Wolfgang

I headed off to Salzburg once again to catch up with my friend from home. This time, we were actually going on a guided tour of the local area. Even though my inner snob usually makes itself known at the idea of such things – I feel like they are overpriced and lack personality – I ended up really enjoying it. Furthermore, it makes a pleasant change to venturing out somewhere on your own and having to organise your own transport. It did cost 70 € for two tours, but both of them were incredible.

We crossed the border into Germany on a bus full of other tourists, and got chatting to some older ladies from New Mexico who had come to Salzburg for a dog show. The first stop was the (confusingly spelt) Salzbergwerk in the tiny town of Berchtesgaden. This is home to a centuries-old salt mine. We had to put on some funny overalls and board a little train which took us half a mile inside the mountain. We also had to slide down a chute which was surprising, and very fun. We wandered through the caves. It was very cold down there, but the whole experience was utterly spellbinding.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, so this is one I got from the internet. We had to take a little boat across the 200m-deep-water to get to the other side. The whole place lit up in different colours, it was incredible.

The surrounding countryside was gorgeous. Look how blue the water is! I wish I could’ve paddled in it.

Map of the Hoher Göll, the mountain on top of which the nearby Eagle’s Nest sits (this was Hitler’s retreat, and it is still visitable, but we didn’t go)

After that we had lunch in Berchtesgaden, and then got on the bus back into Austria – specifically to the Salzkammergut, which is a district of lakes and mountains that spans three states (Upper Austria, Styria and Salzburg). The next place was St. Gilgen, where we would get a boat across the lake to St. Wolfgang. I felt like I was in a dream, or a children’s storybook…

Just beautiful. It’s going to be hard to get used to not being around Austria’s stunning nature when I go back home. This was also probably the nicest honourary birthday I’ve ever had!

I’d also like to mention that I’ve never heard so many people saying ‘Excuse me, are you from London?’ when overhearing a conversation I was having with someone… bizarre.

Alles Gute muss einmal zu Ende gehen

It is the eve of my last Monday at work – the next one will be a bank holiday, and then the next one I will be flying home – and so I feel it is finally time to make a “leaving” post, especially since over the coming days I will be frantically preparing for my departure. The prospect of all the paperwork and the goodbyes is freaking me out quite a lot, so I imagine I’ll be putting it off by messing around on the internet, but I think I just need to get on with it.

Before I do that, though, here’s some pretty great news: This blog has been featured on Third Year Abroad, a very, very useful site designed to help students plan and enjoy all aspects of their time studying or working abroad.

Since this is obviously something that’s on my mind a lot lately, here are some positive things I’ve gathered about both Austria and England…

Things I’m going to miss about Austria:

  • The announcement made like clockwork before a certain tram stop on my way to school, that haunts my dreams: ‘Sehr geehrte Fahrgäste, wir bitten Sie, Ihre Sitzplätze anderen Personen zu überlassen, wenn die sie nötiger brauchen. Vielen Dank.’
  • The endearing fact that certain teachers and pupils think that I must know everything about every English-speaking country on the planet. But this has made planning lessons on Ireland and South Africa much more fun, as I’ve learnt some new things myself!
  • The cheesy jokes that get made: ‘In your country you drive on the left side, but for you it’s the right side!’
  • The wide-eyed shock people have when they learn that I willingly speak two foreign languages, particularly their own. It used to annoy me, but now, looking back, it’s just quite amusing.
  • The Upper Austrian dialect/accent still being an endless source of mystery and entertainment. So many times the kids at school have tried to make me say Oachkatzlschwoaf, which means squirrel tail, because they know that anyone who’s not from round here has real difficulty saying it. (In Standard German, it’s Eichkätzchenschweif.)
  • People walking around on the street in Lederhosen and Dirndl like it’s nothing.
  • The amazing availability of vegan-friendly products in Spar supermarkets (here, it’s akin to Tesco, unlike the corner-shop type of store it is back home).
  • The breathtaking scenery, like, everywhere.
  • Reading the Guardian Weekly in the staffroom at one of my schools. Just made me appreciate it more, I suppose.

Things I’m looking forward to about going back to England:

  • A good cup of tea.
  • A good curry.
  • Chips.
  • Beans on toast (the fact that the first four are food-related betrays many secrets of the current state of my stomach).
  • Netflix.
  • The TV panel shows that encapsulate our nation’s sense of humour, even if I do sort of hate them.
  • The mighty pound sterling. I just feel better paying with it, for some reason.
  • Being able to use uniquely English slang instead of having to talk slowly, in RP, all the time.
  • Not having to be constantly scrutinised as The Foreigner. It’s a novelty at first, but it can get you down a bit.
  • The Queen’s Jubilee. I’m no royalist, but it’ll be a nice change to have a bank holiday for a reason other than the official day of [insert name of random saint here]. Bank holidays in Austria aren’t always good because they mean that every shop ever is closed.
  • Taking a bath. Not specifically English, but sometimes there are times when you are just so stressed out and tense and only a hot bath can solve it.
  • Being able to be more adventurous with cooking and actually use the awesome cookbooks I got last Christmas. Kitchen facilities here only allow me to make a rotation of about three different meals (who really wants to spend all their money on baking tins and other stuff they can’t bring home?).
  • Visiting places I’ve never been yet. During the past year, I may have travelled to a myriad of great cities and countries on the European mainland, but there is so much in my own small country that I am ignorant of. For example, apart from a few days in Northumberland with my family when I was quite a bit younger, I have never properly been up north. All the time, I hear people at uni back home talk about how cool Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds are, and all I can do is nod and smile. I really want to sort that out.
  • Family and friends. I suppose.

I will refer to the second list when I have already been at home for a week and inevitably wish I was not.

A short post about Austrian bread

The one on the left is called a Laugenstangerl, and it is also available as a round roll. I don’t really know why I am so addicted to it, as I generally don’t care too much for white bread, but it is so good. It is often covered with pumpkin or poppy seeds, and is soft and fluffy on the inside. I find myself buying it as a little snack most days of the week.

The one on the right is called a Laugenbreze, although maybe people would think “pretzel” when they see it. I suppose its texture is similar to the other one but this time it’s in a cool shape. You can also get them covered in large grains of salt, which I really, really dislike. I remember the first time I was buying some bread rolls in a supermarket, completely oblivious to the salt crystals. I got home, took a bite, and was horrified! It reminded me of when I tried to eat those salt-dough Christmas tree decorations I used to make as a child (I’m sure it wasn’t just my family that did this…?).

The prefix Laugen- means lye, which is a strong alkali (sounds a little off-putting, admittedly!) used to glaze the bread. The standard German word for bread rolls is Brötchen – which means “little bread” – but in Austria it’s better to remember to use their word, Semmerl.

Graz

Just the day after I got back from Vienna in the evening, I got up at 5:30 and hopped a bus to Graz. I was able to do this because I had a couple of days off school due to a national holiday. I’d heard that Graz was a pretty cool city, but I didn’t know anyone there, so I decided to couchsurf, and once again I had a great experience.

The journey to Graz took about three hours, and it was hot, but the journey was salvaged by the beautiful scenery. When I got there, I went to where I was staying – the flat of Tom and Robert. They were both vegan, which made food absolutely no bone of contention (good pun, right?). I found out they’d be organising a show that night and the bands – Spraynard and Caves – would be staying at their place! I had already listened a bit to Spraynard, a US band, and Caves, from Bristol, were unknown to me. But their sets were absolutely great and made me a bit sad that such a scene was lacking in Linz, since it had been quite a while since I’d attended a “jumping around” show. Hanging out with the bands afterwards was also awesome. I don’t know, this whole stay just inspired me in a lot of ways, not least because such great food was provided! Before the show, there was a barbecue of vegan schnitzel which was absolutely heavenly; and then for breakfast, pancakes made of flour and soya milk, and various spreads and homemade breads.

As a city, Graz is lovely. The buildings are very pretty and probably the nicest in all of Austria. The atmosphere is very student-orientated and everyone seems to know everyone, and not in a bad way. There is a wonderful park in the middle. For these reasons, it reminded me of Ghent, in Belgium. I don’t think I wrote about visiting that city on here, but it’s in Flanders and it was so cool… if I had to live in Belgium again, I’d definitely want to live there!

This is inspired by a bridge in Paris where lovers/friends write their names on a lock and seal their relationship!

Inside Schlossberg, a mountain with a castle at the top! You had to take a lift inside the mountain to get up there, which was pretty cool.

View of Graz from the top