Saturday, December 17, 2011

The day my hair froze...

Friends, I cannot move. Every single muscle in my leg is already cramping with soreness. Oh, but was it worth it.
So, as most of you may know, my boyfriend is quite the adventurer and outdoors junkie. That's not to say that I am not, but he is usually the one that initiates things and I come along for the fun! From ice-climbing and mountain biking in Peru to zip lining in WV, we've had many adventures already. So, when he approached me with the idea of going snow-shoeing in Austria, I said, sure! As I always am, I was a bit wary at first and always question my current stamina and conditioning for the activities he picks out, but I am so glad I went!!!
We booked a day trip with Yannick, who runs this one-man trekking business based out of Vienna called Trekking Austria. Anyone looking for an experienced and fun guide, I highly recommend him!!! (I also think this would be a great activity for Fulbrighters in the spring...if we can waltz, we can hike, right? Anyone interested??). Oh, and have I mentioned Yannick is a former French marine?!
So at 7 am of this dark, cold, rainy morning, Greg and I got picked up at the Westbahnhof by Yannick. It turns out that because of the weather, we were the only ones signed up for the trip--he kindly still ran it and even still gave us the group rate. We piled into his little car and headed to Steiermark (Styria) to a region named Semmering. Yannick explained to us we would be hiking a loop up to the summit of Stuhleck, which reaches 5846 ft. at its summit. With regret he warned us that we wouldn't be able to see any of the mountain ranges surrounding Stuhleck, since the weather was so awful. The entire climb to the summit was predicted to last 4 hrs. and then another 2.5 hrs. to reach the bottom again (we took a more direct route headed down).
We set off right after 8 am and in no time I was working up a sweat as we veered off the normal hiking trail onto rougher terrain. For anyone who hasn't ever walked in snowshoes... they are awkward at first and you have to walk a little wider than normal, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly. We walked through the woods, climbed up rolling cow pasture hills, climbed over logs and through barbed wire fences, hopped across babbling brooks, admired evergreens dusted with snow and enjoyed the peaceful presence of nature.
Until, that is, we reached the summit.
Yannick had warned us right before we reached the plateau that we would have to walk more quickly, that we should add on all layers we have, and that the wind would be particularly brutal. Oh, was he ever right!

Friends, I love nature. I really do. But when we hit the plateau and moved beyond the protection of the nice, tall evergreens, nature seemed to release its full aggression on us! I have never physically been out in a blizzard before, but after today, I think I can say that I have. The further we climbed along the plateau, the stronger the winds got, blasting cold air and snow onto us relentlessly--it felt like tiny little pins on my face. Soon I was doing everything I could to keep my head down, turned slightly to the left, trying to tuck as much as I could behind my hood. Visibility at this point was about 10-15 ft. ahead--Yannick tried to point out the hut we would be taking a break at on the way up, but I squinted as hard as I could and still couldn't see it until we were literally standing directly below it. It was everything I could do to just keep putting one snowshoe in front of the other. I kept channeling warm, happy thoughts about our upcoming vacation in Florida over Christmas break...
When we finally reached the hut, I was so incredibly happy to see it--walking those last 200 meters reminded me of what it felt like the first time I ran a half-marathon. Relieved, happy, proud,... and utterly exhausted!

And then I realized that my hair had completely frozen over. I no longer had hair. It was a huge chunk of ice attached to my head! The picture is on Facebook, along with others from the trek.

Luckily the hut was nice, warm and cozy so it thawed relatively quickly--we had hot tea and soup to warm up our bodies, while our coats, gloves and hats hung over the enormous stove heater in the middle of the hut. Places like these are really common on ski slopes and trekking mountains in Austria. They are tiny little restaurants nestled on the summit of a mountain, and normally provide several rooms to stay the night for people on longer treks, as well. I asked Yannick how these places stay stocked over the winter and he said normally the business owners stay there all winter and some even have supplies flown in by helicopters. Getting "snowed in" takes on a whole new meaning after hearing that...
And Yannick was right about the lack of visibility--all the pretty mountains were hiding behind a thick, grey cloud (the same one that was responsible for the blizzard-like conditions...).
After we refueled, we made our way back down. Walking down in snowshoes is a bit more challenging than going up. You sort of have to sit back on the shoes and use your poles more to make sure you don't slide down the incline. (And, in case you are wondering, going back down the plateau was just as crazy as it was going up it--at one point I almost got blown over, couldn't see a thing because of the ice pellets and had to extend my mitten-clad hand in the general direction of Greg, while helplessly and pitifully shouting out his name...Being the patient and considerate man that he is, he came back and held my hand the rest of the way down--and remained close behind me for the rest of the trip down!).
Once we reached the safety of the forest's edge though (we kept joking about how we felt like we were in Narnia or Lord of the Rings), the weather condition improved a LOT! We wandered into the woods with fresh powder snow about 2 ft. deep and Yannick showed us how you can literally run down the hill in your snowshoes. It was a lot of fun! These forests had evergreens with branches so heavy with snow I thought they'd snap off at any moment. But it remained completely serene and beautiful. Snow was falling softly all around us, as if nature was trying to make amends for its bad behavior on top of the mountain. It was amazing to see how many weather conditions we actually walked through in the course of the day.
The rest of the walk down was pretty uneventful. We used a trail that--get this--a lot of people use back-country skis on to ski UP the hill. Crazy, I know. They do a 2 hr. hike UP to the summit in their skis and then ski back down. I mean, talk about outdoor commitment. I had never seen back-country skis until today and they have special adjustments and also special boots that allow you to be able to glide upwards in them. Sort of like a fusion between cross-country and downhill skis.
So, if you ever get the chance, go snowshoeing! And as bizarre as this sounds, the weather up top made it feel even more like an adventure and a true accomplishment to reach the summit. Plus, now I know what the Romantics were talking about in their poetry--its indeed a humbling experience to witness nature in a fury.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Balancing Work and Play

After an almost 1 month hiatus, I am returning to you, my friends! :)

I am currently sitting in a little English pub/cafe close to Schwedenplatz, sipping a cappuccino, squinting at my computer screen and trying to figure out whether I might need glasses. Or maybe its just because I have been staring at a screen for the past 6.5 hours. Today I sent out the first 20 pages of my next dissertation chapter. While I had hoped to have the entire chapter finished by now, at least I am making some progress and could turn something into my adviser. As you may guess, this writing has taken precedence over blog writing. I have tried a few times to sit down in the evenings and write a short post, but I can never bring myself to actually do it.

Another exciting step I took today was to contact the author I am currently working on. Her name is Barbara Frischmuth and she lives in Altaussee. I met her a few weeks ago at the Erich-Fried Literature Prize celebration at the Literaturhaus in Vienna. And if you're wondering, it wasn't a totally serendipitous meeting--I had looked her up online and realized that in a few days she would be speaking in Vienna, so I arranged to go (its wasn't exactly stalking... just a very well researched undertaking!). Monika, one of the other Fulbrighters, happily came with me and gave me the necessary encouragement to actually approach Ms. Frischmuth after the event. Even though I was really nervous, I managed to talk to her and she responded very kindly by giving me her email address. Hands shaking, voice wobbling, I managed to record it in my little Moleskin and thanked her profusely. Now, after about three weeks of pondering and composing, I finally summoned up the courage to send out an email today, asking her to meet and discuss her work with me. Its really a unique opportunity to meet with an author, particularly one whose work you're interested in, and I would be thrilled if she would agree to talk to me! I'll keep you posted on the outcome!

That's what's going on in my work world--I have been trying to balance some 'play
time,' too, especially since Greg will be returning to the States over Christmas and not coming back with me in January.
We have been doing a very good job at exploring the Christkindlmärkte of Vienna together and both agree that we like Spittelberg the best. With its cozy little cobblestone streets, unique craft stands and lots of food and drink stands, it gives off a very intimate and romantic feel (see right!).
The one at the Karlsplatz comes in at a close second--they really
have fantastic food (We ate baked Fladenbrot with cheese and bacon and waffles covered in powder sugar and chocolate!) and drinks (my favorite is Glühwein--mulled wine--of course! Punsch is also very popular and so is hot chocolate!).
We have also been to Schönbrunn, the Habsburg Imperial Palace. Their market is nice, but more expensive and smaller than the others. Unlike Spittelberg, it is out in the open, more spread out and consequently much colder at night. I had some Jagatee to warm up!
The Christmas Market at the Rathaus--and all of the outrageously decorated trees surrounding it-- is the one most geared toward tourists. You won't find the cute little craft stands like the ones at Karlsplatz or Spittelberg here. No, its more flashy, with mass-produced bags, hats, ornaments and jewelry adorning all the stands. So, if you're ever in Vienna at Christmas, skip that one and head to the MQ or the AKH for some Glühwein instead. They have smaller Christmas villages, but they're a nice alternative to the Rathaus and not too far away from it either.

Since I spent the last weekend writing like mad while Greg was away on a ski trip, I decided to make Tuesday and Wednesday my weekend. One of the greatest things about academia is that it IS rather flexible in terms of schedules... :) Greg and I took full advantage of Tuesday--we went to brunch at a cute little cafe in our neighborhood called Cafe der Provinz, which is best known for its amazing crepes, then tackled most of our Christmas shopping in the First district, the Naschmarkt and the Christmas markets, and decided to go to the opera in the evening. We got standing tickets at the Staatsoper for only 4 Euros and saw Richard Strauss' "Daphne." It was quite impressive! Greg was quite right when he said its amazing how integrated the cultural scene is here in society and how accessible it is to everyone. I mean, heck, how many people just decide to go to the opera on a random Tuesday night? But the place was packed!
We ended the fantasticday with a visit to Cafe Sacher and each had a slice of the world famous Sachertorte. Delicious!

Yesterday we spent the day at the Prater--and despite the fact it was deserted and gray, we had a lot of fun! We drove go-carts, sipped Glühwein, had Schnitzel and rode the Riesenrad when it got dark (but seriously, for 8 Euros, I'd rather go to the opera two more times than have one spin in the ferris wheel--that was way over priced!).

That's all for now, friends. We have one more week left in Vienna before we head back to WV for Christmas. I will try to post again before I leave--or maybe on the airplane?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jelinek, Streeruwitz, Beckermann-oh, my!

On the eve of Thanksgiving, there is always lots of talk of what we're thankful for and which blessings we count this year. Needless to say, one of the things I am most thankful for is this opportunity to spend 9 months living in Vienna! And it occurred to me that, aside from my museum visits, I haven't posted all that much on my undertakings in the cultural arena during the past two months that continue to make this experience invaluable. One of the most awesome things about being a grad student whose focus is on contemporary Austrian Studies is that I can actually justify going to the theater, a reading, or a film as part of my "Bildung." :)
To start off: on Sunday I was at the Schauspielhaus for an event titled "Jelinek. Dialoge. Sätze und Gegensätze aus der Literatur und Wissenschaft." It was a fascinating program that brought together young authors, actors literary scholars to pay homage to the work of 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek in innovative and creative ways. The focus of the program was to discuss what meaning Jelinek's work had for Austrian authors today. I was fascinated to see the emotions Jelinek evoked for so many authors: for some, their admiration for her work and her persona were unquestionable, for others, you could observe acute frustration in trying to distance themselves from her (how does one find his/her own voice in a time and space in which HER voice permeates, destroys, and dominates--as one author emphatically put it. In a very open and honest way, he expressed his deliberate choice not to read her plays for fear that he would inevitably begin to imitate her style in a subtle way...). I don't want to bore non-Germanist readers too much--suffice to say it was a thought-provoking and head-spinning "Auseinandersetzung" with her works (that, might I add, lasted 5 hours!!!).
I had been to the Schauspielhaus once before, and that was to see a stage adaptation of Marlene Streeruwitz' novel Entfernung. It was my first outing to the theater in Vienna and I was not disappointed. Full of satire, self-irony, and black humor, it was what I imagined and expected theater here to be like. It could very well be classified as avant-garde, 'post-dramatic' theater lacking defined characters and a plot-driven narrative. As the novel, the performance was decidedly rooted in Austrian culture--not in the least shaped by the Viennese dialects of the performers and the abundance of cultural references. All in all, a very enjoyable experience that I got to share with Nico, a former German exchange student who spent a year in Georgetown and is now here in Vienna!
Vienna was also recently the host to the "Internationale Buchmesse Wien" (which, I suppose I should mention, is nothing really like Frankfurter Viennese newspaper said the Buchmesse was hard pressed to compete with the audience that the Viennale attracts...) Anyway, though I didn't make it to the exhibit hall, I did manage to attend a reading by the Egyptian author Mansura Eseddin. You might ask yourself, why would I pick that? Well, since my research focuses on travel literature by Austrian women who write about Egypt, I thought it would be interesting to see what an Egyptian woman author writes about and how it is received in Austria. The event was held at the "Republikanischer Club" and was moderated by Günter Kaindlstorfer and Doron Rabinovici. Because Ms. Eseddin did not speak German, she read excerpts from her book in Arabic and afterwards, a translator read excerpts from the German translation. During the conversation, however, a simultaneous translator facilitated the conversation between the Austrian moderators and Ms. Eseddin. I was incredibly impressed by this woman's ability to switch effortlessly between Arabic and German. It was amazing to watch her at work--for me, she was the true star of the show. The conversation following the reading, guided by Kaindlstorfer, was interesting and touched upon issues of politics, women's role in Egypt, the Arab Spring, the author's writing processes, etc.. The only disappointment was that there was no time left at the end for the audience to ask questions. It would have been intriguing to hear what some of the readers would have had to say about her novel. I bought a copy of Eseddin's book titled "Hinter den Paradies" in German and hope to start reading it at some point (other grad students can empathize that "reading for fun" sort of loses its calming effect after you've spend all day reading in the library...picking up a book is the last thing you want to do at night, but hopefully I can make an exception for this book).
Finally, one of the highlights of my stay thus far was getting to hear feminist filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha hold both a lecture and a reading at the Uni Wien. Her visit was arranged in part though my advisor here, Dr. Anna Babka, who wrote the introduction to the German translation (JUST now published!) of Minh-ha's seminal work "Woman, Native, Other" (1989). Both of Minh-ha's talks were truly inspiring and gave me some food for though with regard to my own work.

As you can see, Vienna is providing a very rich, cultural environment for me to explore, think and work. I haven't really done any of the events justice in describing them--but hopefully it has given you some sense of what I've been up to the past couple of months (on top of applying for jobs, submitting an article to a journal for review, working on a book review... and, oh, yeah, working on my next dissertation chapter!!!!).

One last thing: a filmmaker, Ruth Beckermann, whom I am working on in my dissertation, just came out with a new film titled "American Passages". It was featured in the Viennale, but unfortunately I was unable to get tickets because it sold out on the very first day of the festival. However, it is finally hitting theaters this Friday and I plan on going to see it. Its a documentary filmed in the U.S. in 2008 during the presidential election/economic meltdown. I am intrigued to see what kind of image the film presents on the U.S. and what topics she has chosen to highlight. Here's the trailer, so you can see for yourself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cuing Up and Saving Spots

Let's get right down to it. We all know, by now, that I love Vienna (with the exception of the MA 35). But, like in any good "love affair", the honeymoon phase must come to an end and some of your "lover's" quirky qualities begin to surface.
The other night, after the Ambassador's Reception for us Fulbright grantees (which, by the way, was great!), some of us grantees went for a little post-reception celebration, where we got to talking about cultural differences...and things that drove us crazy about Austrian culture. By now, we have all had different experiences with our host culture, but there were some things we could all relate to.
So, this posting is dedicated to two, let's say.... 'habits', to put it neutrally, that I have been able to observe. And, if any Austrian is reading this, please take it all with a grain of salt--I am sure you could write a laundry list of things people find odd about the U.S..... :) And might I add, as a student of cultural studies, I am aware of how many culturally insensitive, objectifying, essentializing comments I am about to make about my immediate "Other." :)

I am pretty sure that Austrians hate standing in line. That's not to say that any other culture genuinely enjoys standing in line, but the Austrians make it very known that they find lines absurd--this is often signaled by sighing, clucking their tongue, rolling their eyes, crowding up against you from behind, making audible comments about the wait. You might think I am exaggerating here, but this has happened to me on numerous occasions. If I am standing in line for the U-Bahn, people will come up from behind and crowd in front of me as I'm getting on. Or as Greg's recent experience at "Potato Jim's" at the Weihnachtsmarkt (oops, sorry, Christkindlmarkt--there's the language thing again...) proves, its nearly impossible to push yourself to the front of a waiting "crowd"--which is the only way I can think to describe it. Getting a double stuffed potato with Käse und Schinken here is more difficult than getting a 3 ft. flat screen TV at Walmart on Black Friday in the U.S. And my friend Carolyn, who also lived in Vienna for a year, pointed out to me that successfully getting through the check-out line at the grocery store is a learned skill (she suspects Austrians have a special class somewhere along the way that makes them experts in simultaneously loading and unloading (no baggers here, folks! And bring your own, because every plastic bag costs 9 cents!) on the teeny tiny convey belt, while also managing to dig out exact change to pay with and juggling your wallet, bag and basket all at once.)
But nowhere else does this 'waiting crowd' seem more absurd than during mass. In any mass in the U.S., when it is time to go up for communion, you have ushers who graciously and kindly escort the pews, row by row, up front. You sit, calmly, wait your turn, and cue up in an orderly fashion. And if there are no ushers, somehow we manage to cue up, single file, without anyone getting left out. What? The little old lady next to you is having difficulty stumbling over the kneelers in the aisle? No worries, you let her take her time--maybe even offer her a helpful hand. After all, you are in church.
In Austria, when its time for communion, everyone essentially gets up at once and crowds into the middle aisle of the church. If you're too slow, you're out of luck because you'll be pressed hard to find someone to let you in. When I witnessed this the first time, I couldn't believe my eyes. I mean, come on people, you are headed up for a holy sacrament! The least you could do is let the person waiting next to you go ahead of you. Poor Greg--the first time he went up for communion he was one of the last people back to his seat, even though we were sitting pretty far up, because he was being too darn nice and letting everyone go in front of him (hence, also, his defeat in the epic battle at Potato Joe's).
Greg and I have incredulously marveled at this seeming incompetence on the Austrians' part to cue up. We have asked ourselves: Did we practice too many fire drills in school in the US ("single file, children!")? Are we just too nice? Aren't Austrians supposed to be orderly and efficient?
I personally have this theory that Austrians view lines as a sign of inefficiency and have found ways to get around them--think of all the places where you can pull a number and sit down in a group until your number is called? So, it might not be that they hate waiting... they just hate waiting in lines and seek more efficient ways around them.

The second quirk I have recently witnessed was in the National Bibliothek. I went there on Tuesday to do some reading for my current dissertation chapter. Now speaking of efficiency, planning your day at the Bibliothek is, in and of itself, an ordeal--and I am sure I have some readers who can relate. You cannot check out books there, so if you have a specific book in mind, you need to order it ahead of time online so that it is ready to pick up when you arrive. You must leave your bag, coat and any food/drink in lockers located outside of the security checkpoint and then bring everything you might need with you in a little plastic, see-through bag. It takes a few trips, but eventually you get the hang of it...
Anyway, so when I arrived on Tuesday, the library was fuller than usual--and I found out later from a girl I was talking to during my very brief and well-timed lunch break (more to that later) that its midterms for the law and business students (explains all the popped collars, pearls and cable-knit sweaters I spotted...). Luckily, I managed to find a coveted spot at a large table that I shared with about 9 other students. At one point--I was totally engrossed and furiously taking notes so I didn't catch the beginning of this episode--I hear people giggling and see a guard walk by with a laptop and pile of books. I couldn't figure out why people were laughing, but just shrugged my shoulders and got back to work. Some time later, two guards approach the spots where two girls had been studying directly next to me. I had no idea how long they had been gone (engrossed as I was in my note-taking). Suddenly, the guards ask me whether any of that stuff belonged to me, and when I said no--they swiftly packed up all these girls' things and carried them off!!!
It turns out, you can't leave your spot vacant for more than 30 minutes at a time--if you do, you forfeit your spot and they carry off your things to a mysterious secret keeping. Now, I am not sure how you would feel, but I would be a bit outraged if someone carried off my stuff--and I think there is something intrinsic about American culture that your property is... well, your property. And its always seen as a pretty bold move to remove someone else's belonging (remember your mother's words: "Don't touch, that doesn't belong to you"?). I have to admit, I was enthralled by this whole drama unrolling in front of me and fascinated by the whole procedure.
So, you might ask yourself, are there any signs posted anywhere, any notices or warnings not to leave your stuff unattended for more than 30 minutes or else they will remove your things and you forfeit your right to, er, study? Nope. None. Nothing at all. How did I find out? I eavesdropped on a young guy who asked a guard about the policy, after watching, 3 laptops get carried away in the span of about an hour. Apparently I was not the only one clueless here.
When I started to watch more closely though, I noticed that the guards were slowing stalking the aisles, pacing back and forth every fifteen minutes or so, taking meticulous notes in the mini-notebooks, ready at any moment to pounce upon abandoned Macs, pencils, notes and books.

The real jaw-dropping moment was this though: of course the two girls returned, dismayed that their things had been taken. And me, the ever-helpful American, butted in, willing to help. Our conversation went like this:
Me: "The guards took your things..."
Girls: "But we were only gone for 15 minutes!"
Me: nodding in sympathy...
Girls, wide-eyed: "Where did they take our stuff?"
Me: "I have no idea..."
Girls: "Well can you save us this spot? We'll be right back after we find our stuff!"

So I put down one of my books and a girl across the table offers her another one for the second spot. I think the situation has been resolved when not 30 second laters, a third girl walks up and plunks down her things. I look up at her and stutter something about saving the spots--but she doesn't even let me finish. She must have witnessed the whole thing and stated, cooly, that these spots are now free. That she's sorry, but its just a fact and that they are vacant. Period. End of discussion. She tosses back her long blonde hair and shrugs her shoulders, while settling into her new spot.

I turned back to my laptop, hot-faced and sorry I had butted into the whole thing in the first place. When the two girls came back, they saw the cool, blonde in their spot--I caught their eyes and shrugged, indicating I did what I could. They nodded, and sighed, throwing one more slightly begrudging look at the cool blonde in their former spot. She remained focused on her work, ignoring the whole scene, likely gloating over a fact that she had successfully secured her spot--after all she had probably been waiting in line...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Typisch Wien: Musik, Kunst, Kaffee

Everytime I return to my blog, I always find myself thinking, where to start?! I really want to post about Budapset, and I will have to before too much time passes, but for right now, let me tell you about this weekend, because this evening is what inspired me to post again. There are moments, like I described in my first blog, where I just feel giddy and in love with the city. Tonight, and throughout the weekend, I experienced several of these moments.
Let me work my way backward, starting from tonight...My friend Ann, Greg and I had gone to the Studentenmesse at the Stephansdom together. The mass tonight was accompanied by a violinist and at the end of mass, he played Ave Maria. It was so incredibly beautiful to sit in such a gorgeous cathedral, on a normal Sunday evening, listening to a single violinist (along with the organist) play such a moving piece. I closed my eyes and just let the music carry me along. I have been particularly stressed out and feeling pressured about submitting my first job applications for the academic job market, but the music put me at so much peace and filled me with joy. I left with goosebumps and a huge smile on my face.
It was a nice fall night, so we decided to stroll down Kärntner Straße and came dow
n to the Opernring to catch the Straßenbahn 2 home. Tonight was one of those nights that they were projecting the opera performance onto a large screen outside the building. People, including the
three of us, strolling by paused for a few minutes to watch, while others were huddled up in parkas and blankets, sipping on Glühwein or hot chocolate on the benches set up in front of the screen. We had a notion it was Wagner, and when I got home later and looked it up, sure enough, Die Walküre is being staged tonight. Vienna, the city of music, how I love you! Anyone who knows anything about music has probably realized I do not know much about it, but I still appreciate it and am constantly in awe of the talent in this city--and how readily available it is to anyone. (You can, by the way, get standing spots at the opera for 3 Euros!)

Tonight was a perfect closing to a wonderful weekend with Anna and Andrew in Vienna. We had a lovely time exploring the city together and it gave Greg and me a good excuse to get out and see more of things we have not yet gotten to do. Friday night we took them to this little Italian restaurant in our neighborhood called Oliva Verde. We have been there once before and its quickly becoming one of my favorite local places. The restaurant is really cozy and the food is amazing--especially the pizzas. Its all very affordable and the owner is this friendly little Turkish man who is super sweet (I saw him helping a little 5 year old girl into her coat). He always serves a little "digestif" (we had the choice of Grappa or Amaretto) on the house to all of his guests before the leave.

After a nice leisurely brunch on Saturday morning, we headed over to the Leopold Museum,
where we spent most of the afternoon. The museum, which opened in 1994, is a non-profit organization and showcases the consolidation of Rudolf and Elisabeth Leopold's private collection, which was acquired over five decades. It houses around 5,000 works and, since the Leopold's had a particular penchant for Egon Schiele, features the most substantial collection of the artist's works. Anyone interested in "Wiener Moderne" and Expressionism will gush over the other paintings in this museum by Klimt (his "Death and Life" is here, see first picture to the right), Kokoschka, Mosel and Gerstl. We also had t
ime to stop by "Melacholy and Provocation: The Egon Schiele Project"
which displayed many of Schiele's famous (and scandalous) sketches and self-portraits, as seen right. There is also a neat section on the Wiener Werkstätte design.
From there we meandered over to the Secession and Naschmarkt, where we stopped to refuel with some fresh pasta and Glühwein. Later on that night we went to see Lars von Trier's new film "Melancholia" which showed at the Viennale last month and w
on Kirsten Dunst a silver palm at Cannes. (Andrew pointed out we had a theme of Melancholy going for the day...) The film was unlike anything I had ever seen and is certainly a gorgeous, aesthetically brilliant work. But beyond that, it is really hard to describe. It would be difficult to take this film literally, and there's so much room for interpretation that, to echo Anna, its best to let it soak in a bit longer. So I'll refrain from saying anything else about that right now! Plus this posting is getting long enough already!
"Schlendern" would be a good word to describe the rest of today, as we moved from the Rathaus, to the Hofburg, over to Herrengasse, where we made a stop at Cafe Central.

Hands down, my favorite cafe in Vienna so far--from the architecture design, Peter Alterberg's statue at the entrance, the huge paintings of Sisi and Franz Josef at the back, the decadent display of pastries, to the bustling waiters, and racks with extensive newspaper selections, you walk in mesmerized. It is truly the epitome of a Viennese Cafe. Or, as the website puts it, "a Viennese institution."

Anna and I had an apple strudel topped with vanilla sauce and a melange--so delicious!

Andrew opted for the Central coffee, while Greg tried his first melange and a slice of Sachertorte (yes, you can get that
elsewhere besides Cafe Sacher!).

From Cafe Central, we made our way toward the Stephansdom and on toward the Stadtpark. It was a beautiful day for a stroll through the park!

Now THAT is Vienna: good company, music, art and coffee.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

MA 35

Ok, so before I move on to more exciting things like my first theater experience in Vienna, Greg's arrival, our upcoming trip to Budapest and Anna and Andrew's visit in November... I had promised a posting on the MA 35.
What, you might ask, is the MA35?! Well, put simply, it is the place you go to get your residence permit ("Aufenthaltstitel"). There are several magistrates around the city, however, all the Fulbrighters were asked to go to the MA 35 to streamline our process a bit more. And I am sure that each of us has had a *unique* and *interesting* experience. Ha.
So, you don't just "show up" or "go" to the MA 35. The process starts much, much further in advance--I'm talking months in advance. Luckily for us, the Fulbright Commission in Austria did an AMAZING job getting us prepared and telling us exactly what all we needed to bring with us (and what to do here in Vienna before we could go to the MA 35). So, before I even came to Vienna, I had to make sure I had all of my documents collected (including birth certificate and a police clearance letter certified with apostilles--and if you don't know what that is, Google it--I had to, too), my passport copied, my application filled out...

Anyway, after collecting all of these very important documents, I made my first groggy, jet-lagged trip to the MA 35 the day right after I arrived in Vienna. I was able to hand in all of my documents and they gave me a sheet of paper saying to come back on or any time after October 4 (except Wednesdays and Fridays). So, around rolls Thursday, October 6, and I prepare for my second trip to the MA 35. I am under the impression I am going there to pay my second fee and to hand in a copy of my Meldezettel.
Sidenote: Your "Meldezettel" is another form that proves you have an address of residence here in Vienna. It has to be signed by your landlord and must be turned in at the district magistrate office within three days of arrival... Are you noticing a trend?! ...By the way, we have discovered that the "Meldezettel" is your key to life in Austria. Everything from opening a bank account to getting a university library card requires proof that you do, in fact, live here (because, you know, otherwise I might skip town with that Bachmann book in my bag and they would have no way to track me down).
Anyway, I hop on the 2 tram, and head across town. Its 10 am and I am hoping to be out of there by noon at the very latest. Thursday is their long day, meaning its the one day of the week the office is open in the afternoons, so its also normally their busiest day of the week. Sure enough, I arrive there and there's a line to get in line. Literally. The way it works it that after standing in line, you are assigned a number, are told to ride the elevator up to the fifth floor, and are supposed to wait in a crowded room full of everyone else and their mother (quite literally) until your number blinks up on a screen with the room number next to it. Its all very Kafka-esque because you have no idea how long you will be waiting-- the numbers appear completely arbitrarily....367, 251, 588... so you sit, you wait, and you just watch the numbers change. I struck up a little conversation with a woman next to me from India... and I saw people with passports from Mexico, Iran, Turkey....I couldn't help but wonder what everyone's stories were and why they were here...
After waiting for about 2 hours (the Indian woman was long gone), my number was finally called. I was in the office for about 2 minutes and was told to take a "form" and go pay my second fee up on the sixth floor and to come back. Easy, just like last time. I was sure I'd be out of there within a few minutes, at long last.

So this is where it goes downhill.

I walk up to the teller and whip out my nice new Austrian debit card, ready to pay. This was the first time I had used it, but I thought to myself, how hard can it be, right? Wrong. Because as an American, I swipe the card (I'll explain that little detail later). And each time I do, an error signal keeps popping up. I start to sweat. There's a line of people impatiently waiting behind me... and a very rude and very unfriendly man staring at me from behind the glass teller window. I look at him helplessly and tell him its not working. Now at this point, if we were in the U.S. (I hate to make this comparison, but I have to!) usually the person behind the counter would lean over and see what's wrong. Or someone in line would maybe offer some kind advice. But no one budges. They all just stare. The sweat is pouring down my back at this point.
The teller doesn't bother to offer and help and tells me I have to pay in cash. I answer I don't have cash, and that the card should work because its brand new and I know I have money in the bank (but I am starting to panic because maybe I missed some activation step or something and that is why its not working). Someone from behind me in line tells me to try my pin, so I swipe and try entering my pin, but no luck. The teller, probably one of the most apathetic, rude men I have met in my life, orders me to get out of the line and go get cash. I mean, seriously, I wish I could replicate his tone and look of disdain. I seriously felt like I was in a Kafka novel, being accursed of committing a crime I had no idea I had committed. Beyond despair at this point, I ask him where the nearest ATM is and he mumbles at the post office before the next customer pushes me aside.

So I go dashing down 5 flights of stairs, rush out the door and luckily (or so I think) spot the P.O. just across the street. I run across, very aware I am committing a crime of jay-walking (this, at least, I knew--but thankfully was not caught) and up to the bright, shiny, yellow ATM, about to insert my card (I had at least used it at ATMs before and knew it worked that way!) when all of a sudden I see the notice that the ATM is out of order. That's when I really start to lose it because there are no banks in sight and we are nearing 12:30 and the offices close for lunch, so I was seeing myself stuck there until they re-open at 3:30, possibly locked out of the office and having to stand in line all over again. As my last chance, I ask at the P.O. where the next closest ATM was, and am told its about a half mile up the road at the U-Bahn station. So, off I go again ("Tessa rennt":.... die Uhr tickt... instead of "die Tasche, die Tasche" its "das Bankomat, das Bankomat!").

I am literally in tears at this point--at hot mess, as we would say back in college--mainly because I am so irritated and upset that the teller back at the MA 35 was so rude, mean and unhelpful to me. Completely out of breath and profusely sweating, I rush into the bank at the U-Bahn, withdrawal 50 Euros (my card worked!!) and then sprint back to the MA 35. By now, the main entrance had closed for the lunch break, meaning the elevators were closed, too, and I decide to give the stairwell a shot, hoping the doors were still unlocked. They were and I run all the way up to the 6th floor, slam my cash down in front of the man (who pretended to have never seen me before in his life, pure apathy). It took all I had to hold myself back from making a snide remark. I left as quick as possible, took my receipt down to the original office I started in, arriving panting, with blotchy, red eyes and a sweat-stained t-shirt.
But it all paid off, because, quite unexpectedly, the lady handed me my residence permit, meaning there will (God willing) not be any more trips to the MA 35 in the near future.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I learned my lesson with the debit card later that week at the grocery store, as I watched another person use his at the check-out. The trick is that instead of swiping, you keep the card in the machine, type in your pin, press enter and THEN remove the card from the debit machine. I must have looked like a fool to everyone else standing in line at the MA35, but then I thought, you know, how hard would it have been for SOMEONE to tell me I was doing it wrong, especially after watching me repeatedly swipe the card. Sigh. I guess the golden rule does not apply to the MA 35. I am tempted to think that Hunger Games rules are more applicable here... I mean, you know, there are districts and everything...

Ah, the little cultural lessons you learn in a new place. Quite humbling, indeed. And the next time I see some a confused tourist fumbling with his ticket in the D.C. metro, I sure as hell am going to be the first one to help that poor soul.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Die gemeinsame Sprache?!

Oh, dear little blog, I have neglected you! I just realized its been almost two weeks since my last posting!
Where to start off? Well, first off, I have internet and a residency permit!! Woo hoo!
I hate to admit it, but life without internet was getting kind of old. And I really hate admitting how much I rely on the internet--granted, its nice to be without it on vacation when you're traveling and can 'unplug' for a few days. But when you're trying to apply for jobs, work on your dissertation and find your way around a new city--not to mention stay in touch with your loved ones back home--you start to realize how much you do, in fact, use and rely on the internet.
So, when this past Monday rolled around and the A1 tech guy (A1 is just a server, like Verizon) showed up on my doorstep, I had to hold myself back from hugging him or jumping for joy. I think he could sense my excitement as I hovered over him while he installed my modem, because he asked me how long I had been without internet...heheh.
So we start to chit chat and he asked me where I was from, which brings me to an interesting topic. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that no matter how I hard I try, people immediately can tell that I am 'not from here'. Now, see, this whole process is taking a bit of humility on my part because I am one of those people who like to try to 'fit in' and appear as inconspicuous as possible when abroad. I hate being that foreigner who sticks out like a sore thumb. (I can hear Greg right now telling me to get over myself and own up to it...) But here's the thing--when I have traveled or lived in Germany in the past, it might have taken a little while, but gradually I start to settle in and feel as if I belong. I re-adapt to the way of living, the habits, the styles and fully immerse myself again in the language. Especially the language--I've always felt confident that even if I do screw up my articles or endings once in a while, I can at least manage to speak German sounding like a German. And that is what always made me most feel like I fit in. In a way, speaking German in Germany always takes on a little feeling of "coming back home" or at least to a place that was once home.
Not so much in Austria! That's where the catch is to all this. I am settling, adapting to habits, checking out styles... but try as I might, the moment I open my mouth, I 'out' myself as "someone not from here." And then it gets kind of comical, like with the A1 internet guy. So he asks me where I am from and I answer the U.S. He then blankly stares at me. That was apparently not the answer he was expecting. So he asks me where I learned German and I said in Germany, where I lived for five years growing up. Ah, that explains it, he answers, and proceeds to tell me that I do, indeed, sound very German. That's not to say I speak flawless German, but that I speak it with a German accent, not an Austrian. Very similar, I guess, when we Americans hear English spoken by the British, Irish or Australians. I suppose, too, that I should take that as a compliment in its own right and get over the fact that I probably won't end up sounding Viennese (as my friends Jason and Wendy have managed to do!) anytime soon...But then I wonder, do people regard me more as an American speaking German or a German from America?! And even more interesting---what, in the eyes of the Austrians, would be more favorable?!
Anyway in the long run, this is definitely a much more rewarding experience in the sense that I truly do feel like I am in a foreign culture all over again, despite all the similarities to Germany that do actually exist! There is something exciting, exhilarating and incredibly humbling about encountering new cultures and feeling very foreign. But here, the things I am coming across are much more subtle, and perhaps ever more so intriguing and surprising (for fellow Germanist grad dorks--unheimlich heimlich?!).

So anyway, there is a saying here that goes the biggest difference between the Austrians and the Germans is their common language, and I think that pretty much sums up this whole scenario.

I am thinking about starting a vocab notebook including these words:
Never say "Tüte." Its always "Sackerl." (Tüte is supposedly THE word that is a dead give-away. Unfortunately for me, I haven't really mastered pronouncing the "erl" ending.)
Kartoffeln are "Erdäpfel," which some how makes more sense and speaks to the part of me that also enjoys the German words "Fingerhut" and "Stinktier"
Ba-Ba is not baby talk... it means good-bye in an informal setting
Grüß Gott is a standard greeting, regardless of your religious faith
Those searching for "Sahne" in the grocery store are outta luck...after a process of elimination, I determined that "Schlagobers" had to be what I was looking for instead
And to simplify things, my friend Verena, a German also perplexed by some of these cultural differences, told me that a "Sessel" is pretty much used as a blanket term for anything you can set your tush on.

My favorite Austrian word so far though is "Schmäh" which I am still trying to figure out. I am not exactly sure I have seen "Schmäh" being performed or not, but I hope I get to experience it at some point. It might help with dealing with bureaucrats... which I will really have to post about in my next entry. The MA 35 experience will then be fully disclosed--with all the sweat and tears it involved. Quite literally. Enough of a cliff-hanger?

with love from Vienna,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What not to wear: The Dirndl Edition

Dear friends and family,
I am sitting in Jens' cute little apartment in Munich, sipping my morning coffee and decided to take a moment to give ya'll a crash course in dirndl shopping (based on my own experience, of course!). Thanks to one of Jens' female friends, I was well-equipped with a very extensive list of do's and don'ts when I embarked upon my shopping excision with a certain Miss P. and her friend Erin.
Dirndls basically consist of three separate pieces: there is the blouse (which is really only a half-blouse that comes only down past your chest), the actual dress and then the apron. Some are sold in sets of dress & apron combo with the blouse sold separately, and others are sold entirely separate.

So, here are the rules, as told to me by Jens' friend:
1. The skirt MUST extend beyond your knee. A short, mini-Dirndl is unacceptable by 'natives' and just looks trashy (esp. considering all the skin exposed, ahem, at the top of the dress).
2. Absolutely no zipper (again, this is what she told me, but I saw plenty of zippers on the Wiesn yesterday...). Zippers, according to my informant, are the biggest fashion sin you could commit when buying a dirndl. Supposedly buttons and hooks are the way to go.
3. Cotton dirndl are the most practical (you can actually wash them and they're more comfy), but we did see a lot of other variety--some of the more expensive dirndls are made of silk! Glitter and polyester are also frowned upon.
4. Traditional color combos are red/blue, light blue/dark blue, blue/white, green/pink, brown/pink and brown/light blue. Purple and bright pink are very "in" this season.
5. Accessories: it became evident that the alpine beauties love their bling. Most women wear huge, sparkly, colorful necklaces (think Tiffany's with added jewels) plunging into their cleavage (as if you need to draw attention to THAT), in the shape of hearts, Edelweiss or even a pretzel! You see a lot of short chokers or more understated strands of pearls, too. Also, we realized it is necessary to carry a small purse and you should wear comfy shoes! Black, small heels are the best, but we just stuck to ballerina flats. A lot of women braid or twist their hair up--but we saw some with their hair flowing around their shoulders.

There are certain upscale stores in the middle of Munich that sell designer dirndls, but being poor graduate students, our group opted to shop in the cheaper stores along the Tal (right off the Marienplatz). Surprisingly, I ended up buying the very first dirndl I tried on, and I am happy to say mine fulfills all the criteria: it goes past my knee (one advantage to being very short, I didn't have to worry about length!), its in traditional colors, is cotton and has no zipper! :)

We got Erin outfitted at the second store and finally, after our lunch break at the Virtualienmarkt, Miss P. found her dirndl at the third store. All in all, a great success!

I know people have been asking for photos--Miss P.'s birthday extravaganza at the Ochsenbraterei was well-documented on her camera and today I will be bringing my camera along to the Wiesn when Jens, Reneta and I go. So pictures will be posted soon, I promise! (perhaps I can take some today of fashion faux-pas, as well!)

with love from Munich,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stiftung Melk, Dürnstein and the Naschmarkt

Wow, as I sat down to write, I had to ask myself, how is it that a whole week has already flown by?! And where do I even start?

Hm, let’s see, I left off during orientation. On Friday our group took a ‘field trip’ to an area called the Wachau, where we toured the “Stift Melk” a Benedictine monastery,

took a boat trip down the Donau,or in English, the Danube, (by the way, did you know that one of the longest German word is Donaudampfschiffahrkartenkontrolleur?!), and then arrived in Dürnstein.

Dürnstein is mainly famous for being where King Richard I Lionheart was held captive in 1192. We took a hike up to the castle ruins, which you can see to the left.

They also have incredibly tasty apricot liqueurs! We capped the evening off with a wine tasting at a local vineyard. All in all a lovely day and enjoyable finish to the orientation!

After the incredibly busy and packed week, I was looking forward to a calm and relaxing weekend wandering around Vienna. On Saturday I made my way over to the Naschmarkt, a huge market I have been eager to visit ever since I got here. Some of you unfamiliar with Vienna might be wondering what exactly this place is… I would say its an epicurean’s paradise. Picture about a half-mile of jam-packed stands, shops and stalls filled with herbs and spices, baked goods, vegetables, fruits, nuts, candies, teas, cheeses, meats—you name the food, they probably have it! I wandered through the entire market drooling all over myself, taking in the smells, feasting my eyes on all the displays and taking a few snapshots. Since the weather was gorgeous (around 70 degrees F and not a cloud in the sky), the place was packed, so I had to weave around masses of people to get to some stands. I also made an interesting discovery after having purchased my first item (a bag of curry spice): the prices decrease the further along you go in one certain direction. Whereas I paid almost 3 Euros at the entrance of the market for a bag of curry, I found the same kind for about half the price at a later point. Ah, lesson learned. Haggling or bargaining is not a common practice—unlike other open-air markets I have visited in Central and South America—so you pay what they tell you. Now I know which end to keep to if I want to find the deals!

My most exciting discovery was Käseland, which translates to “cheese land” and anyone whoknows me wellcan probably imagine my reaction when I stumbled across this find!J

The popular seasonal item at the moment is this drink called “Sturm” which is… (I am told the name is ) While I was wandering through the Naschmarkt I bumped into two other Fulbrighters, Thomas and Eric, and joined them for a glass of Sturm.

The Naschmarkt is definitely a place I am going to frequent—and I have decided I want to buy a little wicker basket to take along with me for my goodies! Since I was still trying to get the feel of the place, I didn’t end up buying too much, but did come away with some basic spices (oregano, basil, garlic and curry), as well as some couscous and fresh Dinkelbrot. (for more pictures--also from the field trip, see my Facebook album!)

While I am on the topic of food, I guess there is something worth mentioning about the way Austrians (and I assume many other European cultures) approach grocery shopping, food storage, etc. The biggest distinction I would make is based on size. Unlike us Americans with our Sam’s Club/Costco memberships that we use to stock huge deep freezers and double-door fridges, the Austrians have very small fridges and freezers, which consume far less energy. Because the fridges are so small, you obviously can’t stock them for a long period of time—this means you go shopping more frequently, but with smaller loads. Often times you see people walking on their way home from work with a few items in their little wicker basket or cloth shopping bag (oh, yeah, plastic bags cost 5 cents a piece at the grocery store, so there’s definitely incentive to bring your own or recycle!). Also, food here has far less preservatives and therefore has a much earlier expiration date than our food in the U.S. (another reason to shop in smaller trips and doses—you can’t buy too much food or it will spoil!). All in all I find this method to be really practical and easy, especially since I am just cooking for one at the moment. There are tiny grocery stores placed all over the city, and several right here in my district.

And finally, a littler observation about ingredients. On my yoghurt container the ingredients listed are: yoghurt, strawberries, sugar, the stabilizer pectin and carrot juice concentrate. Period. That’s it. There’s a little sign on it saying “without artificial ingredients, 100% natural,” and sure enough, that’s the truth. I’ve been told that since the 70s and 80s, when the Green Party was on the rise, there was a huge shift toward organic foods. From what I can tell, the food regulations are upheld at a national level and there is a very concerted effort to produce and sell locally. I wish I knew more about the details on all of this, but maybe that will come with some time. To any extent, I find it fascinating.

But of course, that’s not to say there are no equivalents to Sam’s Club and Costco’s here, or that every product in Austria is organic and natural, but I do find it interesting that I can recognize most ingredients on the labels of most products here, but that that is not the case when I look at the ingredient facts on U.S. food labels. It makes you wonder what exactly what all those other ingredients are and why we need them….

Stepping down from my soap box now…I am sure that won’t be my last posting on food, anyway!

The rest of the weekend was really nice and relaxing—highlights include relaxing in the Stadtpark in the afternoon sunshine with Eric and Thomas after our “Sturm”, watching the Notre Dame/Pitt football game (!) with fellow Fulbrighters, going on an easy run through the Josefstadt and evening mass at the Stephansdom with Ann.

Upcoming blog entries on Austrian bureaucracy as promised, and hopefully on the Viennese coffeehouse culture. And I will be sure to post about my long weekend in Munich which will include a long-overdue reunion with Jens and Reneta, birthday celebrations and, yes, a visit to Oktoberfest!

With love from Vienna,


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arrival in Vienna


Certainly there are other adjectives that would describe the emotions I am having right now, but the other day,
as I was strolling through the Volksgarten
at dusk (see picture), taking in the scenery, watching the last rays of sunshine set behind the Rathaus... I started to giggle to myself. Vienna is an intoxicating city--everywhere you turn, there is something to take in, savor, marvel at, stare at, and as in my case, giggle over. The reason I giggled is that I can't believe I am actually here and I am absolutely, incredibly happy. A year and a half after I attended my first
Fulbright information session at Georgetown, I am now finally walking along the Ringstrasse, passing through the Nationalbibliothek, and sipping Melange at coffeehouses.

I arrived last Sunday, after an excruciating journey from Pittsburgh-Newark-Stockholm-Munich-Vienna. By the time I reached Munich, I was too tired to get all too excited about the fact that the Lufthansa flight attendant checking us in was wearing a yellow and blue Dirndl, in honor of Oktoberfest. When I return to Munich next week to visit Jens and Reneta, I am sure I will see plenty more of that!

I finally arrived in Vienna after about 24 hours of straight travel, only to realize that my main suitcase wasn't popping up on the conveyor belt at baggage claim. Exhausted at this point, I really didn't have enough energy to get upset or fret about it, and just turned in my information in hopes it would be delivered later that evening as promised. I then hopped a train into the middle of the city to find my apartment and meet my landlord and landlady.

My apartment is located in the 8th district of Vienna, otherwise named the Josefstadt (hence the name of my blog). A few of you have already looked this up online, but in case you haven't, here's the link. Vienna is structured in a circle, with the main center being the 1st district (the former imperial fortress), and the other districts fanning out from it like sun rays. I am about a 15- 20 min. walk from the middle of the city, which is where the university is located.

My landlord and landlady (Wolfgang and Riccarda) are both retired as a lawyer and doctor, respectively. They are both incredible sweet and charming, and very endearingly bicker and

banter back and forth with each other, in a fashion perfected over what I would assume to be decades of marriage. Riccarda was even so kind to stock my fridge with necessary food items, since all stores remain closed on Sundays. (I was delighted to find cheese-filled tortellini in there among the goodies!). My suitcase was also delivered later that night--and I realized that this was a perfect example of looking on the bright side of situations. The 50 lb. suitcase, which I would have otherwise had to 'schlepp' through the entire city on the tram and subway, was delivered right to my doorstep on the very same evening of my arrival! (It also taught me that it always pays off to pack extra clothes in your carry-on in case this kind of thing DOES happen--that way I was at least able to shower and change, which I desperately needed to do at that point!)

This past week has consisted of extensive orientation sessions with the Austrian Fulbright Commission. We have had a wide array of speakers, e.g. a diplomat from the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ombudsman of the University of Vienna, a journalist/media consultant from one of Austria's leading weekly journals and a professor emeritus. Several of the speakers had been Fulbright scholars themselves in the past. The sessions consisted of 'crash courses' in
Austrian education system, politics, media landscape and history. In addition, we have also had a few 'how-to' sessions, attempting to guide us through the impenetrable Austrian bureaucratic system we have to navigate to register at the university and to get a visa (I think this whole process might warrant its own blogpost at later point when I have more energy to be witty--the phenomenon of the infamous "Meldezettel" needs to be explained!). All of the sessions have been incredibly interesting and only further affirms my assertion that Austrian culture is, indeed, very different from German. We have also had a few tours through the first district and one guided tour of the Nationalbibliothek. Here you can see the "Prunk Saal" in the library.

Part of our role, as a Fulbrighter, is to act as a sort of layman ambassador, increasing mutual understanding between the U.S. culture and our host culture. I hope that this blog can be the venue through which I can contribute to these efforts. I'd like to try to come back to some of these things I learned during the orientation, once I have had time to process some of the aspects that make Austria distinctly Austrian. I'd also like to discuss some topics I personally feel very passionate about at the moment--such as food practices in Austria as compared to the U.S. (I can't wait to post about that one!). But then again, I am there there will be times where I will also just post about my struggles with the "Wiener Dialekt" or my favorite cheese/beer/coffee varieties!

Ultimately, I want to try to give you, my friends and family, a better sense of this tiny country (the size of North Carolina!) which will be my home over the next nine months. Also, if there is something specific you want to hear about, let me know! :)

with love from Vienna,

*Note: None of the views or opinions expressed here in any way reflect that of the US State Department or the Fulbright Commission.