Monday, November 20, 2006

A Home Away From Home

In the past blog posts, I talked about certain landscapes in specific places that affected me in different ways. I talked about how mountains, rivers, horizons and churches affected my past and how they definitely will affect me in the future. In a way, this study abroad experience wasn't just to add stamps to my passport, but was more of a self-discovery journey. It helped me figure out who I was before coming to Europe and ultimately, who I want to become in the future. I'm so excited to continue my travels, to extend my passion of traveling to other parts of the world and to grow as the person I am. There is still so much I think I can learn from and share with others. The world has not seen the end of me!

The first picture depicts part of my walk to school. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that path.
The rest of the pictures show Salzburg, Austria in the gorgeous spring time! It is incredible to think that Salzburg features so many buildings and structures that are thousands of years old. America has nothing even close to that! In essence, the real history lies in Europe. We could all learn so much from being there. I know I did.

The "Bad" Is Something Good

During one of my last weekends traveling the different landscapes of Europe, I decided to spend it at a small town called Bad Gastein about two hours outside of Salzburg, Austria. There, some friends and I decided to climb one of the biggest mountains there, hopefully all the way to the top. I'll admit that I am not a huge hiker fan, but that day I pushed myself to the extreme. I needed to conquer the mountain as self-vindication. Everytime I wanted to give up, I told myself that I could do it and pushed on further. We spent all day climbing that mountain. In some aspect, it also gave me time to think. Since I'm always thinking, this long climb helped me put things into perspective. I was to be leaving for home in one week and I was unsure how things would be with friends and family. I was apprehensive about my magazine internship awaiting me back home. Most of all, I didn't know how I would handle leaving all of my new friends and family here in Salzburg. But instead of dwelling on that, I focused on my climb. I had to do this for myself. We finally made it to the top and the view was just incredible. Breathtaking. It was like nothing I had seen before and didn't even compare to any previous pictures of the mountains I had taken. The overwhelming feeling of joy, of accomplishment swelled inside of me. I had done it. The attached pictures show the amazing Alps that surrounded me. I also took a picture of me looking down the side of the mountain...possibly looking back at my past, but ready for my future.

A "Hungary" Desire

I had to go to Budapest, Hungary. My great-grandmother was born in Mischendorf, Hungary. Though it doesn't exist in Hungary anymore, visiting her home country meant more to me than visiting any other place. I felt when I got there a certain connection that I hadn't felt anywhere else. It was as if I my great-grandmother was there with me. During my trip to Hungary, I had the chance to attend church on Easter Sunday. Though the mass was said in Hungarian, I ironically understood every part of it. I even lit a candle for my great-grandmother who passed away when I was young. I know she would have loved the fact that I went to Hungary in memory of her. I included a picture of the gorgeous church we went to for mass. I also included a picture of my feet on top of a road cap labeled Budapest. For some reason, I felt it reflected my journey across the world, into Europe and into the discovery of my past. Of my evolution. Having my feet there also depicted that I was THERE. That I stepped into the home country of my relatives and continued my great-grandmother's memory.

At the end of our Hungary excursion, a few of us took a night time walk around Buda and Pest, which are separated by glowing bridges (at night!). It was one of the best moments of my life. I remember sitting atop one of the open castles and looking out over the Seine River and the bridges. It was almost hard to believe my great-grandmother had been born in this very place. I felt a sense of pride and loyalty at that moment. It was a night I would remember for the rest of my life.

An Unforgetable Horizon

Venice, Italy. At first, finding out that there were no automobiles was shocking. But after arriving there, I could see why. It took nearly an hour boat ride to get to the island of Venice, located off the mainland of Italy. There, shops, kiasks, restaurants, museums, hotels, hostels, churches and vendors lined the brickpaved road. Not a single car was in sight. In order to travel to other islands or back to the mainland, one needed take a boat ride. While in Venice, Jenelle and I enjoyed the Italian life by tasting its delicious food and experiencing its unique customs. The most memorable part was taking a gondola ride! It was so relaxing as well as informative as we took a tour around part of the city. Having no cars around provided us with the peace and quiet we needed after two weeks of non-travelling and living out of a suitcase. It also gave us time to reflect on what we were doing, experiencing countries and their lifestyles that some may never get the chance to do. We felt so thankful and tried to live our last few days of vacation to the fullest. The first picture is of the river with gondolas passing by. Another is of me in Venice and the last is of the sunset (I love sunsets as you can tell!). Looking at the Venice sunset reminded me of how grateful I was to be there. And even though our spring break was coming to an end, we still had a month left in Europe.

Chocolate Indulgence

Visiting Brussels, Belgium (again!) was an excellent idea! Though we only had a day to make it worthwhile, our main intent was to relax and enjoy our surroundings. And of course, while in Belgium, you HAVE to take advantage of its never ending supply of delicious chocolate! There was chocolate EVERYWHERE! I can officially say, as a taste taster of hot chocolate everywhere I traveled, Belgium has the best hot chocolate; thus the first picture is of the restaurant, Aroma, which sells the best hot chocolate. Really, this should come as no surprise. I have also included a picture of my main connection with Belgium....the waffle! While in Belgium, it is a rule to try the ever famous Belgium waffle....the best I have ever had! The other picture consists of a chocolate fountain. Yum!

A Glowing Rememberance

After London, Jenelle and I traveled to Dublin, Ireland. I especially was excited to visit Ireland because it is home to the celtic symbol. This is also referred to as the trinety knot, a unity of three pressed triangles connected by a circle. I was introduced to this symbol in high school and ever since then have been intrigued by its meaning of peace, love and unity. It also has stood for a simple symbol of family, or in the religious aspect of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While in Ireland, this symbol was prevelant everywhere we went. In one of the stores, I even purchased a ring of the celtic symbol which I wear everyday. Even the Dublin airport displayed these magnificent symbols as seen in the picture. I also attached a picture of the gorgeous St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin that we visited.

In Paris, I got the chance to take advantage of my new found interest in art. I loved going to several art museums and seeing what I had learned so far from my Modern Art clas, especially all of Claude Monet's work. I also was elated to FINALLY visit the Eiffel Tower....and even got to see it glowing! I attached a few pictures of the Eiffel Tower, one from a distance and one from right under its belly. So many celebrities visit this site and for me to actually have stood there was incredible. Not only that, but prior to arriving to the Eiffel Tower, we were given a brief history on the origin and creation of the tower. Definitely interesting!

Spring Break, 2006

Spring Break for college students usually incorporates alcohol, parties, friends and sleepless nights. My spring break this year wasn't as such. Instead, my friend Jenelle and I planned a six country trip over the course of two weeks. These countries consisted of London, England; Dublin, Ireland; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, Netherlands and Venice, Italy. Each city gave me a connection that was unique compared to the others. Each place was distinct in its culture, beliefs and way of life. Their differences in style and fashion contributed in setting them apart from one another. I loved everything about each country, but my favorite countries were England and Italy. England, known for its gloomy days, was beautiful during my duration there! It was sunny with a hint of warm weather! I even went down Notting Hill hoping to catch a glance of something in the movie. No such luck. One of the best parts of the trip was actually seeing things I read in history books or remembered from childhood stories. Attached are a couple pictures of the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge located in the heart of London, England. Crossing the Tower Bridge was amazing. It was huge but gorgeous!

A Thrilling Excursion

One of best parts about living so close to the Alps was, of course, skiing! I hadn't skiied since I was seven-years-old, so it was relatively new to me. The first place we went skiing was at Dachstein West. It was one of the best places to go to for beginners. A few us stayed on the "bunny hill" and mastered our beginner skills. By the end of the day, I felt like I had accomplished a lot! The picture of me in my ski gear with my poles on the ground is of Dachstein West. It was a gorgeous place! The mountains enclosed us while we skiied down its sister hills. It was definitley a place to remember! Another place we went skiing at was Zell Am See. Each of these places were in Austria, except the latter was much more difficult! At Zell Am See, there was no "bunny hill." The paths where winding and at extreme heights. It was hard to believe that something so beautiful at a distance could create something so difficult! This was definitely not the place for beginners. Because of experience at Dachstein West, my friends and I mastered the paths we chose and managed not to break a leg or our necks! Despite our fears, we enjoyed an activity of precision and skill. The attached photos depict the town of Zell Am See atop the mountain and me posing after reaching the top.

Salzburg, Austria

Living and socializing with new people, let alone be on a new continent was an exciting and scary idea. I didn't know what to expect from living with a host family. Liz and I chose to be roommates. Our host family was Phoebe and Ioan (pronounced Yo-Han) Kloss. They had five children, with three living on their own. The other two, 16-year-old Hieronymus and 11-year-old Enzio, lived with us. When I told friends about living with a host family, many of them said they could not fathom doing so. Yet, as apprehensive as I was, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Each and every day I woke up with the Alps in the background and adventures just waiting for me to experience them. The first picture depicts the Alps rising just beyond the house I stayed at while the second one is of the Alps during sunset. This was one of my favorite times of the day. My room was attached to a balcony where I could sit down in one of the wicker chairs and gaze at the sunset. People say that Europeans are so relazed and enjoy life more free of stress. I couldn't have felt more happy or relaxed than I was at that time. Not many people can step outside their house and enjoy such a beautiful part of nature. I was truly lucky to have been able to be a part of that opportunity.
I also included a picture of one of my favorite spots in Austria, the flamingo pond. Sometimes when I needed to just get away and be alone, I would walk past this pond and just gaze at the flamingos. It was a source of peace and serenity for me; a place where I could gather my thoughts and reflect on my life at that moment in time.

The Arrival

My time in Germany was an adventure I will never forget. It helped me grow in ways I never thought I could. I made countless friends and began a new chapter in my life. It had only been a week but I was excited to start my time in Salzburg, Austria. On our way the bus made a stop at a local store. There we had the chance to grab snacks and use the restrooms. My friend Jenelle and I were too fascinated at the view of the Alps to step foot inside. I had never seen mountains before! This was such an exciting time for me. I knew they were a spectacular sight, but you don't realize just how amazing they are until you are there seeing them with your own eyes. I almost felt like I could reach out and touch them just so I would be able to remember that very moment. Instead, Jenelle and I grabbed our cameras and took pictures of what was to soon be part of our new home.


My favorite city in Germany was Heidelburg. Not only was it a huge city full of bustling shoppers and tourists, but it had amazing bars! It was also one of the cities where we stayed long enough to get a full idea of what it was like to live there. The only barrier we came across was conversing with the taxi drivers or bartenders. Some of the people in the group spoke German, so it was easy if they were around, but when they weren't it was a battle to understand each other. The town was gorgeous! It was filled with houses and shops capped with red-brown roofs. The town was spaced out in long rows of stores, houses and various red buildings. There was an exciting aurora given off by the atmosphere that we all felt. I included a couple pictures of the town with me. Yet, if you ask anyone about Heidelburg they will either tell you about its nightlife or how cold it got! It was so cold while we were there, we froze within 5 to 10 minutes! It was actually painful at times! Still, it was my favorite city in Germany. Looking at everything from the town, the nightlife all the way to what I wore, signifies a positive connection to the special place where lifelong friendships were made.

A Milestone High Above

Before I left I took a journal with me to record each of my experiences everyday. And I was successful! One of my goals that I remember writing was to always, always, always try something new. I was to NEVER turn anything down, whether it be food, travelling or a difficult activity. While in Germany, we had a chance to climb a staircase and view the Rhine River from far above. I never done this before. Several people gave up after 150 steps or so, but Liz and I kept going. When it came to the point of passing out, we rested but kept climbing. We finally got to the top after approximately 350 stairs! Only a few days into our trip and we accomplished a milestone! I included a picture of all of the people who successfully made it to the top and another picture of the amazing view of the Rhine River. It was so incredibly breathtaking, I didn't want to leave. At time, I don't think I had ever seen a river this gorgeous before! Looking at that picture now reminds me so much of my determination as well as a foreshadowing of what was yet to come during my journey.

Trier, Germany

Prior to arriving in Salzburg, Austria, everyone in the study abroad group was required to attend a week long trip around Germany. We travelled to cities such as Trier, Linz, Nurenburg, Ruttenburg and my favorite, Heidelburg. Our first stop was in Trier. It was a small town lined with houses, stores and bars. I included one of the very first pictures I took during my study abroad experience. This picture is of several friends I made while I was over there for four months. Sometimes it is weird to look at it and think how at that moment, I barely knew any of the people in the picture, and yet four months later they were my best friends. I grew a connection to Trier because it was the first place I visited, the place I stayed and the first place I was able to make memories while in Europe. To me, I don't think of Trier because of the type of landscapes there, I think of it as a place where a new beginning was made, a new chapter to my life. I've also attached a picture of the youth hostel we all stayed at for the first night. I'll never forget what it looked like and how much fun I had my first night away from America.

Departure Day, January 18, 2006

Salzburg, Austria. Saying these two words didn't mean much to me last fall. I knew as I signed up to study abroad that it would indicate a huge leap of faith for me. At times, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. The days leading up to my departure, I refused to talk in depth to people about what was about to happen. I was scared, anxious and excited all at the same time. How was I supposed to leave Illinois and everything I was familiar with for the past 21 years (then)? I was afraid to leave friends and family behind. I was nervous about what I was going to see, experience and who I was going to meet. I was unable to answer my own questions of what might happen if I got into a dilemma, possibly a language situation. On January 18, 2006, I boarded a 10-hour flight to Brussels, Belgium. I recall looking out my plane window and looking at Europe with no lights on. Did Europeans only live by candlelight? How much acclimating would I go through? Would I like it? All these thoughts ran through my head. I had two flights and on my second flight over I met, Liz, the girl I eventually ended up rooming with in Austria. Meeting her that day made it that much easier to feel at ease. Once we landed, Liz and I spent time getting to know each other better. We found that we had several things in common (movie lovers, popcorn, extra salt!) and some things we didn't (she is a Green Bay Packer fan! boo!). Yet, all of these similarities and differences brought us together in a world that was so unfamiliar, so scary to us. This began my passion for Germany.

Project Proposal

In our Literary Narrative class, we had to create a unique project that detailed our attachment to landscape. This landscape can be where we grew up, traveled or found interesting. It may be a place that motivated us to act, inspired us to think or persuaded us to try new experiences. Many may write about the best place they went on vacation or a particular place they spent their childhood years. I would like to reflect on my amazing experience this past spring studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria. I want to tell my story through memorable accounts of the good times and the bad. I want to tell my story through pictures, words and emotions. I also want to share with viewers my time in other countries that I had the golden opportunity to visit. In essence, I want people to feel like they were with me on this incredible journey of mine. This place changed my life. Join me as I share with you a part of me that will forever be remembered.