25 April 2011

The Land of Oil, Wine, and Delayed Trains

View from a monastery in Monterosso -
Italians love the Lord almost as much as
they love smoking cigarettes while riding
I've just returned from two full weeks in Italy and, although I enjoyed myself thorougly, I think that I'll be taking a long break from pizza, gelato, and Catholicism.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that I really recommend visiting urban Italy.  I thought that Rome and Florence, though full of sites, lacked the charm and culinary delights that they are known for internationally (Pisa, which thankfully I visited for just one afternoon, has roughly zero redeeming qualities).  Rome, where I spent the most time, is certainly the place for grandiose fountains, archaeological treasures, and very wide steps.  However, outside of the city's many UNESCO sites and other tourist hellholes, it looks and feels a lot like New Jersey, but with fewer Italians.  I actually prefered Genoa, a city I visited right before Christmas, perhaps because it is relatively removed from the tourism radar, perhaps because I was staying with a real-live Italian at the time.  
The rocks were no match for me in Riomaggiore
I'd say that the best thing about my trip to Rome actually had nothing to do with Italy at all.  The highlight of the trip was really practicing German and celebrating my birthday with my students and teachers from Austria.

After a jam-packed week in Rome, I destressed for four days in the Cinque Terre, an increasingly-popular-but-not-quite-yet-dominated-by-tourists slice of the Ligurian Coast with my friends Katie, Taylor, and Jenni, as well as a New Zealander named Simon.

We hiked between the five small villages that compose the Cinque Terre, relaxed on the beach, rented bicycles, sampled every different combination of gelato flavors, and religiously followed the Rick Steves guided tour of each town (whose passionately-written guide is often held responsible for the increasing prominence of tourism here).  We stayed at an atypically clean and uncharming hostel in Corniglia, the smallest of the five towns.  The village was a good place to stay because of its strategic location and the 382 steps between the town center and the train station, which helped us in the daily struggle to burn off the oily and over-priced focaccia bread that sustained us.  Leaving our village behind was a real tragedy, although it's good to be back in Austria for the tail end of my travels.
Taylor and I searching for the train station

A anecdote and fun fact about the Italian work ethic: One time I needed to wait 19 minutes (I clocked it) to buy two stamps at an Italian post office even though I was the only customer in line and there were approximately five employees behind the counter.  It's really no surprise that Italy has the world's sixth largest gov't budget for the world's twenty-third largest population.   

24 April 2011

Sample Dialogue #8

Patriotic Austrian Easter Eggs
are much easier to dye than American
In class, during a lesson on holidays.

Scott: Can anybody explain why we celebrate Easter?
Student: Easter is the day when Jesus stood up and drove to heaven.
Scott: With the bus or with the car?

Aufstehen -  "to arise/to stand up"
die Himmelfahrt - "the Ascension," more literally, "heaven drive"

12 April 2011

Easter Itinerary

Since Italy and work/productivity are more or less incompatible concepts, I may not be able to update the old blog very frequently in the next two weeks, however anyone who's curious parties can always consult the following travel schedule.
At least eleven trains will be ridden in the
next two weeks.  Time will tell what
percentage of the Italian ones will be on time.

April 12 - Overnight train to Italy
April 13 - Rome (Colosseum, Circus Maximus)
April 14 - Rome (Vatican, St. Peter's)
April 15 - Pompeii/Subiaco
April 16 - Rome (Catacombs, Spanish Steps)
April 17 - Rome (Pantheon)
April 18-21 - Corniglia/hiking in the Cinque Terre
April 21 - Pisa
April 22 - Florence
April 23 - Florence
April 24 - Klagenfurt
April 25 - Vienna
April 26-May 4 - Waidhofen
April 29 - Innsbruck
April 30 - Bregenz
May 1-4 - Waidhofen
May 5-May 8 - London
Then just 17 days and I'll be back in America!

09 April 2011

A Challenge for Bored Blog Readers

I've hidden a link somewhere on blog that will direct you to a secret blog post.  See if you can find it - unless you have something better to do with your time, you know like painting, exercising, or being employed.

Things that I collect

Living in Europe and having too much free time has inspired me to pick up two not-so-glamorous hobbies: keeping a blog and collecting things.  To combine my two passions, a list:

-Austrian beer coasters.  Anyone that can find me a Schwechater, Zwettler, or a Puntigamer would complete my collection and be my hero!  Although most all Austrian beers taste the same, their coasters have cool designs and slogans.  My favorites are "das bierige Bier" ("the beery beer") and "Ein Glas heller Freude" ("a glass of delightful joy").  Also, anyone with a suggestion for a lovely coaster art project please speak up!

-Currencies.  The euro really ruined my opportunity to collect currencies.  I've only got four so far, not counting the ten-dollar bill I've been carrying uselessly since September.

-Metro tickets.  So far I've got Vienna, Prague, Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, Budapest, Athens, and Zagreb.

One of the only German hairdresser
puns I've ever seen.  It's a play on the
words for "progress" and "cut."
-Animal stickers from Billa, initially intended for children to stick in a sticker book.  If anyone has the bottom-third of the giraffe sticker, I'm willing to trade.

-Postcards.  I guess that one's not that weird.  Send me some more.

-Photos of hairdressers with punny names like "Curl Up & Dye," "British Hairways," or "Hair Force One."

An unrelated word-of-the-day, but one which I find amusing, if a little morbid, is das Leichenschauhaus.  It means "morgue," but in little German chunks it means something more like "dead body looking-at house."

05 April 2011


 Saturday was the 27th International Waidhofner Stadtlauf Footrace and, despite a fairly steep registration fee to pay just for the right to run in a big circle four times, it was a real blast.

The weather was fantastic and I'd never seen so many people out on the streets.  What's more, all of the runners earned free sausage and rolls at the finish line, which I thought was much cooler than the bananas and Kool-Aid you get at the end of an American race.*  We also got a sweet bag full of snacks, toothpaste, and a lighter (not sure what message that combination of goodies was trying to communicate).
Me, castle door in background

The course itself was 6.1km and consisted of four laps around the city, during which you cross the Ybbs River twice and climb the so-called Badberg once (the "Berg" does not live up to its name and reputation and, in fact, barely qualifies as a hill).

The children featured on the event's
poster do not reflect the actual
ferocity of the competition.

Despite the multicultural sounding title of the event, I'm pretty sure that my friend Luke and I were the only foreigners in attendance.  In fact, we were disappointed that "Fastest Foreigners" wasn't a category, since we certainly would have taken first and second.  I also thought that special prizes should have been given out to anyone brave enough to hit up the castle/nightclub event the night before and still race despite the hangover. Massive shiny trophies would have made a nice, if difficult to bring home, souvenirs. 

After the run and the sausages came the Siegerehrung, or awards ceremony, which you had to sit through to reach the Tombola, or raffle, which was clearly rigged to favor the Austrians in attendance.

*Interestingly, I also found out recently that Austrians get red wine instead of cranberry juice after giving blood.  Typisch.