Monday, June 2, 2008

a class trip.

I attend BOKU, a university in Vienna that caters mostly to environmental science students, along with some forestry and landscape architecture and agriculture and all kinds of things like that. Because of this, most classes are very specified for these types of students, which is why I end up going on very interesting class trips.

I just got home from a three day class trip to Styria, which is a province of Austria that's right in the middle of the country. We started every day early with breakfast provided by our guesthaus, then drove up into the green tree-covered mountains of Styria and climbed up higher than we though we'd be able to without proper gear... the views were incredible!

We learned about how mountainous forests protect against avalanches, rock fall, and erosion -- and also learned that a plastic grocery bag from Hofer is not a good replacement for a backpack.

Here's photos!

a bike trip.

Going on exchange is always a wonderful experience, but once you get home, it's hard to express your experiences to the people who you left behind -- which is why it's so nice to have guests! And guests I have. Hester and David are officially in Austria! Well, actually, right now they're in Berlin, but yes. They came to visit!

We spent the first couple days biking around Vienna, then got all packed up at caught a train to Linz! From Monday to Friday we biked and biked and biked from Linz to Vienna along the Danube. We biked about 200 km, give or take a few for wrong turns and trips off the bike path. Our path was very nice, especially for a novice biker like myself -- smooth and paved. Unfortunately we spent most of our time battling the wind which made no sense at all -- the tour books told us that the prevailing winds traveled from Linz to Vienna! Not pleasant.

We spent 3 - 4 hours a day biking, and the other hours were spent taking numerous water/candy breaks (we had crazy hot weather!) We stayed in a variety of bed and breakfast type places, but Austrian-style... that plus the amazing views from our bikes around every corner made for a lovely trip.

The sunburns? Not so much.

Here's some photos:


Apologies all around. I have discovered that I am perhaps the worst blogger in the history of the world. However, I shall continue to try.

I took a lovely trip with 20 other people to Transylvania, Romania, from May 14 - 18, and it has probably been my favourite trip thus far. The country is exploding with beautiful landscapes and fascinating culture -- definitely an experience I'd repeat.

We drove there over 14 hours on a big bus with the team members from Project Centipede, which is a group of people from the Vienna Community Church who have been to Romania over 40 times to hand out supplies to kids in schools and orphanages. We spent much of our time loading and unloading boxes, handing out candy, and playing with the kids we worked with. We taught them how to line dance, and they taught us how to really sing! We set up Easter egg hunts for them, talked with them (as much as the language barrier would allow!) and took infinite amounts of photos of them. Cameras never get old!

Here's some photos:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

just another day in vienna...

Hey there!

Another post... and no, I haven't been traveling, but there have been so many things happening just here in Vienna that I figured a post might be necessary!

1. Our insanely long Easter break ended the first week of April and we headed back to class... we're still trying to organize classes and credits without going crazy. The university here is much too relaxed!

2. The Young Adults group I'm a part of at the Vienna Community Church is taking part in Project Centipede, which is a program within the church that sends supplies to Romanian orphanages and schools a couple times per year. Us college kids have spent a couple hours packing boxes in order to prepare for the trip this May, which I'll be going on!

3. Two or three weeks ago at church my friend Jill and I got to talking to a woman at our church who was interested to find out that we were Landscape Architect students. She said she was working on a project that had a need for some LAs. She said she'd be in touch. Jill and I often get offers for work, though -- translation: mow their lawn or plant their miserable backyard garden with annuals. Things were a little different this time, though. She got us in touch with the project manager and it turns out that the project is somewhat major. It involves the redesigning and revamping of the landscaping of a Shopping Centre in Wiener Neustadt, a town about 45 minutes south of Vienna. The lady from church owns the real estate company that just acquired this shopping centre, and so Jill and I are now trying to organize ourselves and figure out what to do with this major opportunity that's just been dropped into our laps. We've been to an info meeting and have gone on a site visit with the project manager, but don't necessarily have the job yet -- we've got to work out a proposal and we'll see what happens from there. Even if we don't end up getting the job, the experience alone will be worth all the work! Plus... it will count for some credits back at home, excellent!

4. The weather is lovely. Except for the last three days. I do believe it was warmer at home than it was here! We dropped back down to about 5 degrees again... it was HORRIBLE. But things are looking up, and tomorrow is supposed to hit 20 degrees.

5. We had our first European kino experience last week -- a kino is a movie theatre. Theaters are much different here as you'd expect -- when going inside I felt more like I was going into a bar than a theater. Tickets were much cheaper, the actual theater was much smaller, only about 30 seats, and Jill, myself, and a friend Lauren were the only people in it. Lovely.

6. For the past three days one of our classmates from Guelph came to visit us -- she's currently studying in Copenhagen -- and brought two friends with her, so we had a full house! It was nice having visitors, I was able to test my skills as a tour guide and got to visit several of my favourite spots again. I think they got a pretty thorough experience of Viennese life -- we took them to the Staatsoper, Vienna's biggest opera house, and saw Swan Lake performed. That's another plus about Vienna -- there's always several shows going on in all the theaters and opera houses, and ultra cheap tickets are always available. However, cheap tickets also mean that views may be somewhat constricted... but we were able to go into the opera house which made the whole thing worth it even if we could only see half of the stage. We also took the girls to a Heuriger, which is a traditional Austrian wine tavern. These cottage-like taverns are everywhere in the rural outskirts of Vienna, and they serve all types of Austrian cuisine but are mainly known for selling their own house wine straight from their vineyards for fairly cheap. It's just a nice, very Europey thing to do.

And tomorrow we're gathering in the park to play frisbee... just another weekend in Vienna!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Italian Adventures

As some of you may know, I recently spent 10 days traveling through Italy during my Easter holidays. Though we didn't experience the most ideal weather, it was still definitely a trip to remember!

Jill, Jill's boyfriend Matt (who came to visit!), John and myself caught a plane to Milan on a Wednesday afternoon in March, and landed in sunny and warm Milan just over one hour later. From this point on we became extremely skilled at navigating through foreign routes of transit in very limited time spans -- definitely a little stressful, especially when you don't know where train stations are and when you're not exactly sure where the bus you are on is going to take you.

In Milan we caught a bus to the train station, then took a train for three hours to a town south of Milan: Levanto. We had not had a decent lunch, and had not had any dinner at this point so were very cold and hungry and tired. We found a vending machine at the train station which refused to give us food OR change -- not a nice start! We did, however, manage to get directional help from a nice Italian family who was picking up family members from the train station. They told us to catch the next regional train, and showed us where to buy tickets. Italians seem to be much friendlier than Austrians!

We were on the regional train for about 45 minutes before reaching our final destination at about 11pm: Riomaggiore, the southernmost village in the area of Cinque Terre, which translates into Five Lands. Cinque Terre is a beautiful place on the coast of the Mediterranean which consists of five towns that are connected by a beautiful trail system. While navigating the small steep streets of Riomaggiore, we feared that the room we had booked for ourselves wouldn't be open because of the late hour. However, upon reaching the hostel, it was discovered that a key and note had been left for us hanging on a nail by the door. Thank goodness!

We spent the next two days in Cinque Terre -- the first was spent hiking along the trail between the five towns, and I have no proper words to describe what we all saw that day -- such a beautiful place! You'll just have to look at the pictures.

On Friday we left Riomaggiore and caught a train to Firenze -- Florence! I had heard many wonderful things about Florence, but arriving there in the dark and the pouring rain made the city not quite meet my expectations. Saturday, however, dawned sunny and cool, and we spent the day exploring the city and wandering San Lorenzo Market.

Easter Sunday wasn't as pleasant. Usually Easters in Florence are busy and filled with outdoor events and parades, but we woke to pouring rain and thunder and cold winds. Completely miserable! Our Easter dinner consisted of bananas and nutella sandwiches -- didn't quite meet up to the big dinner that normally happens at home! Being stuck inside our hostel room didn't quite help either... we all got a very bad case of cabin fever and finally braved the torrential rain in order to get some new atmosphere!

Needless to say, we were glad to leave Florence on Monday morning -- the city is beautiful, but with the rain and insane amounts of Easter weekend tourists, it sort of left a bad taste in all of our mouths. Our train from Florence took us to Siena, which is south of Florence and in the heart of Tuscany. Our hostel was 20 minutes outside of the city so we had to hire a taxi to take us there. The day had started out sunny, but while driving through the twisting roads of Tuscany, it began to rain... then snow... then hail. The driver was in complete disbelief, as were we -- Italy is not supposed to get snow in the Spring!

Our hostel ended up not even being a hostel: it was a place called "Castello di Selvole", and was a huge farm that produced wine and olive oil (of course!). It has been a working farm since around 1000 A.D. and has been in the hands of the same family that whole time! The main manor house was destroyed by soldiers from Florence in 1500, but it was rebuilt soon after and the family still continues to live there! We stayed in a little villa on a hillside surrounded by rows and rows of grape vines.... incredible! Our little house was lovely, however it was clearly built for hot Tuscan summers and not freak snowstorms in March, so we were bitterly cold. There was pretty much zero insulation. BUT we did have a fireplace, and managed to get a roaring fire going right off the bat!

We really enjoyed our stay -- not only were we staying in an amazing location, but we were blessed with better weather for our next day that was spent in downtown Siena, checking out PIazza del Campo and all those other pretty places! Plus -- the place where we stayed offered free drives from the train station in Siena to the actual Castello -- great news for a group of 4 Dutch kids!

On Wednesday morning we left for our final destination: Rome! We caught a bus from Siena that took us through some of the most beautiful places in Tuscany, I think -- it was incredible! Endless green hills, huge villas sitting atop high slopes... it felt like we were in a movie or something!

We caught a train in Chiusi-Cianciano (Italian towns are so fun to say!) and arrived in Rome in the late afternoon. What a big, busy city! And not as clean as I'd imagined it... very dirty and smelly, actually!

We dumped our belongings at our hostel and after a stop at the grocery store we made some dinner, then went for a walk downtown to check out some of Rome's finer features by night. We were very impressed by everything -- the whole character of the city seemed to change once we arrived in the central downtown area. A lot cleaner, classier, and refined -- but still kind of touristy! That night we found a gelato factory down the road from our hostel which was apparently the oldest gelato factory in Italy -- and not only were there millions of flavours, but it just happened to be half price day! So we all got very very large amounts of gelato for 1.50... that pretty much made my day!

More good news... on Thursday we went to get a Roma Pass which lets you into all the main attractions in Rome for a cheaper price, but discovered that the week we were there was "Culture Week" and all museums and attractions were free... this plus the gelato made up for our miserable stay in Florence! So that day was spent going through the Coliseum (amazing!) and the Roman Forum area. It then rained which put a damper (haha!) on the rest of our day... but we waited out the rain in a cafe which was also very enjoyable!

On Friday we went to Vatican City! We went into the museum to look at the endless frescoes and the Sistine Chapel -- it all seemed very surreal to be standing on the spot where Raphael or Michelangelo would have been painting! We also wandered around St. Peter's Square and into the Basilica -- incredible! We unfortunately, however, did not see the Pope.

After dropping in on a couple other famous places like Trevi Fountain and the Borghese Gardens, we dragged ourselves home, ate, and slept soundly...

Saturday morning we packed up and headed for home -- it only took every form of transportation known to man! Train to airplane to bus to subway to streetcar.... to home!

A lovely trip -- but I was very glad to get home to Vienna again! And despite the charm of Italian cities, Vienna is still my favourite!

Enjoy the pictures!

Cinque Terre:




Monday, March 17, 2008

Budapest: The Tired City

First of all, apologies for being particularly bad at updating this blog. Apparently keeping a blog is not one of my stronger skills. But I shall try to keep you all somewhat informed!

Last weekend (March 6 - 8) eight of us students in Vienna (6 Canadians and 2 Australians) caught a train to Budapest and spent two days exploring the city. Despite cloudy skies and windy days, the weather mostly cooperated with us. We went on all the major tourist routes -- we took a look at the Opera House, at St. Stephan's Basilica, Heroes Square, City Park, and crossed the mighty Duna River to take a look at Buda Royal Palace. On Friday we spent the afternoon at Szechenzyi Baths, which is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. The water is supplied by two thermal springs, and the lovely temperature of the water plus the ridiculously amazing architecture of the baths made it a very nice place to spend our afternoon!

We also spent some time in the Terror House, which is a museum dedicated to the victims of Communism and the Soviets -- quite a scary place, especially when you realize that all of those terrible things actually happened.

Budapest is extremely close to Vienna in the grand scheme of things, but the difference between them is phenomenal. It's incredible to see how much a communist country differs from one that remained free of those horrors -- like my title for this post says, Budapest seemed very tired compared to Vienna. The architecture, the state of the buildings, the atmosphere, etc. It was very strange! It was nice to see such a different city, though, and to get a chance to experience eastern Europe.

And now I can really fully understand and appreciate all your pictures, Eric!

Stay tuned to see where our travels take us next...

P.S. For Budapest pictures, follow this link!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy February 29th!

Although I've only been in Vienna for half of a month, it feels like so much longer. It's strange how quickly one can become familiar with a huge, complicated city, and how easy it is to feel that the days of unfamiliarity and confusion were eons ago. So yes, you'll all be happy to hear that I'm adjusting and fitting into the city well and am starting to think of my little fifth floor apartment as home. It's so nice to know that I've got a home base to come to every night. I'm not sure how people who backpack through Europe do it -- I'd get so sick and tired of never knowing where I would be spending my next night!

As for our adventures of late...

Last weekend John, Jillian and myself decided that we'd like to hit the slopes before skiing season died away, so made last minute reservations at a Pension in Innsbruck, and left on Friday for the city nestled in the Alps! We took a train, which was about a 5 hour ride. Beautiful, though -- there's no better way to see the country you're living in than by traveling through it by train! We arrived on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend exploring and enjoying the amazing city that Innsbruck is.

On Saturday we left for a little hike through the foothills of the Alps, but somehow became more adventurous and decided to keep going until the point that it would be faster to get to the top of the mountain and take the cable car down than to hike all the way back down. It was a long trek, but six hours later we reached the top -- special thanks to Monika, a wonderful lady who showed us the easiest way to climb up the ski hill! Never will I ever climb up a ski hill in the Alps again... that was a one time deal!

On Sunday we took a bus to Stubaier Glacier, about 45 minutes from Innsbruck, and spent the afternoon skiing! It was worth going just for the views -- behind every hill and corner was a new vista! Needless to say, excessive amounts of pictures were taken. The skiing was fun as well, but I won't pretend that I took it all in stride -- forcing yourself to ski down a mountain after being off skis for six years is no easy feat. But I managed, and don't worry mom -- I didn't break anything!

Also -- Italian food here is super cheap.

Here's links for pictures!