Blog for March – Eighth Month in Austria!!

I have to write this blog a little early because I will be in Italy for my 8th month mark in Austria! This is all going by wayyyyy to fast. I just looked in my calendar and I only have four free weekends left in this country that has now become my home. I feel pressured to do everything that I want to get done. There are so many things that I want to see before I go. Mostly things that I have seen once before but wish I could go back and experience them again. The summer months in Austria allow for so many activities and last-minute bucket list travelling but right now I am enjoying spring. I think this is the first real spring I have ever had. No snow or mud, clean streets, above 20 weather, and gorgeous blooming trees everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Whenever I go walking, I can smell the flowers in the air and I wake up every morning to that same smell and the birds singing through my window. It is so beautiful here that I needed to document it somehow, so I finally convinced my parents to let me buy a camera to use while I am here. It has become my new hobby and I have spent the last week learning to use it. Photography can be very complicated! This week I joined another German class after school. I am now aiming for the B1 German test in May or June. I have been doing lots of activities with my host family including lots of walking and weekend day trips. I have also started swimming lanes with my host dad after school! I actually really love it and I have an hour with a trainer after school this Friday! It reminds me so much of going to the pool with my Dad back home when I was younger. Swimming is also a nice break from running every day, and makes exercising more interesting. Things with this host family could not be better, I am really going to miss them when I leave. I really feel like I have a life here in Austria now, despite how I feel about my school. I can feel everyday passing by like a ticking clock reminding me I only have limited time left here in this country. However, I am spending my time well! On Saturday I leave for Florence!! We also visit Viareggio, Pisa, and Siena as well as other fun day trips including a cooking course in an Italian school! After I get back from Italy, I spend a few days with my host family for my host brother’s 12thbirthday and then I head off to upper Austria to visit my friends they’re and the first families that hosted me here. After spending five days there visiting, I will take the train back to Graz and attend school for a week. Then, it’s Euro Tour and first stop, Belgium! So many exciting things coming up for me here, and I am trying to keep up and enjoy it because I know it is not long now before I am heading home.

 

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Ski Week in Schladming

Ski Week started off as a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Schladming, Austria. A small but very famous ski town in the middle of the Austrian Alps, nearby to where we had our hiking weekend back in Autumn. My host family walked me straight up to my train and waved me goodbye, it was the sweetest thing. Halfway through the train ride, my friends from Vienna joined us on our train. Once we arrived in Schladming, it took several taxis up the mountain to take us to Hotel Seiterhof where we would be staying for the next eight days. It was a nice surprise for me to find that I was in a room with three of my favorite exchange girls. We had the BEST room too, with a huge balcony to ourselves and a great view of the mountain peaks. Of course, this meant our room became the party room and designated movie room so there were always other people in our room, go room 205!!

Our first day of lessons began the day after our arrival. Before that morning, I had planned on Skiing the whole week but at the last second, I switched to snowboarding! I decided to take the chance of not being with my friends in order to learn something new that I have wanted to learn for so long now. There were definatly some downs and A LOT of frustrating moments and even some tears, but in the end, it was a really good decision and I am really proud that I stuck with learning something that didn’t come so easily. I wasn’t alone though! I had three awesome girls in my snowboarding class with me, and together we went from not being able to stand or stop on our boards to cruising down the slopes with our skiing friends.

On Monday night we had a small excursion. We were invited to a rotary meeting in the basement of the ski school. It was actually a lot of fun because we used the speakers and lights to have our own party. It was a really nice walk back to the hotel because it was almost a super moon that night and so the surrounding mountains were lit up with moonlight.

Most of the week had a regular schedule. We were a group of 40 or 50 exchange students from all around the world, including exchange students living in Croatia and Bosnia. Our days started with breakfast together downstairs every morning. Then, we took a bus to the ski school which was only a 2-minute ride away. After arriving, we split up into multiple different groups for lessons depending on our skill level. They determined our skill level on the first day by making everyone ski or board down the bunny hill. Of course, me and some other girls had never been on a snowboard before so we couldn’t even stand. We ended up getting a special instructor just for us. Every morning we had lessons till lunch time. During the beginning of the week, the beginner ski group and snowboard group met up for lunch back at the hotel since we could not yet reach the lunch spot on the mountain by skiing. This was a downer for me because I felt like I was missing out and being separated from my friends. I even tried to go down the mountain with them even though I was not ready. That ended in a few tears and having to walk back to the hotel with them. But it only made me more determined to get better. After lunch we would take the bus back to the hill and practice on our own. For the first part of the week, I spent the majority of my time on the bunny hill with the other beginner snowboarders. Minus a few painful runs down the real slopes. But then, on Wednesday I felt myself getting better and I spent the whole afternoon pushing myself to get even better. I cannot even count all the times I fell, but every time I got back up even if it took me a while to recover from the trail bone bruises or the sore wrists or head. On Thursday, I had a huge learning curve because my friends took me up the mountain with them. It took a lot of pressuring from the boys to get me to man up and try the big slopes. But everyone was so supportive and helpful, they waited for me and gave me tips on how to get better. I learned so much that day and I am so PROUD that I stuck with it. It was very scary to go on a mountain after using a board for the first time four days before that. But I did it!

Thursday afternoon/evening was also really fun. Although not for all of the exchange students. We went Rodeln down a track on the mountain (Rodeln is basically tobogganing). It was so much fun for me because I was with Pedro who already knew how to steer and stop. But some of the other pairs did not know how and so there were some pretty bad crashes. One even resulted in a hospital trip, but nothing too serious.

By Friday I had passed my learning curve and now I think I can say I am a decent beginner snowboarder. On Friday I could keep up with my friends and I did not fall once that day! I was cruising down red runs with lifelong skiers by the end of the day. However, by the middle of the day we were all so tired from skiing or boarding all week long that we hiked to a nice spot on the very peak of the mountain and sat there for hours listening to music, making memories, getting sunburnt, and having a good time. The first few hours we spent up on that cliff probably have moments I will remember for a very long time. Later on, the evening back at the hotel was really weird for me because it was the last day of ski week and I think we were all so tired and sad to be going home the next day.

Saturday morning was full of goodbyes and post Rotary event sadness, but I was happy to be going home with such fond memories. I think when I get back to Canada, I will save up for a board and switch to snowboarding. It will also be a good pass time for the long winters! Speaking of long winters, it is well into spring here in Graz now. The birds are singing, the trees are blooming and the bugs are whizzing. It is weird being back at school and it is quite boring. After being with the exchange students all week, it is super obvious how hard it is to get along with the Austrians in my school. But luckily I only have this week and next week of classes and then I am off to Italy for a week! Florence here I come!

 

 

February (7th Month)

Sorry it is a little late, I have been super busy the past week or so with German and moving host families!

I spent the beginning of this month in the mountains with my host family. In Austria, all schools get a week off school in February. We spent our week in Bad Aussee skiing. My host parents signed me up for a week-long ski course at Loser (ski resort). Turns out all the other kids in the course were 12 and under and so it was honestly really boring. But, I got to see the mountains for the first time. Every time I had visited Bad Aussee before, it had been snowing so much that the mountains were not visible. But this time you could see the whole mountain range with perfect blue skies. It was so sunny that I even got sunburnt! Also, when we were skiing at the top, two fighter jets flew straight past us when we were standing on the edge of the cliff. They were so close to us it was really scary because they came out of nowhere. Apparently, Austria has their own air force but we only have 15 fighter jets and they are not permitted to fly at night.

I also spent some time during the week taking photos and hiking. One time I accidentally walked into the next town. I have really been getting into photography lately just for fun. Also, I’ve been getting pretty good at making travel videos. Get ready for a ski week video! We also went swimming at one of the thermal spas again. This time a different one with an outdoor salt water pool.

Towards the end of the week I ended up having to change host families and it ended up being the best decision I have made for myself here. Having an unplanned change was definitely the most stressful situation I have had to deal with on exchange but it ended up being the best decision. Since the minute I moved, I have been so happy. Happier than I have been in Austria ever. I really cannot help myself from smiling all the time because this really is turning out to be the best year. This Saturday is the start of ski week and I could not be more excited. Apparently not all the exchange students will be there but I am still so pumped. I still have not learned to snowboard so I guess that will have to wait for next year:(

For the past couple weeks, I was staying with my first host family. It was really like coming home. The next best thing to coming home to Canada. The Bauer family really is like my second family and I realized how much I missed living with them. The minute I arrived back with them I felt more relaxed and happier than I had been in months. This weekend we hiked a small mountain together and had lunch at the top. It was just like hiking with my mom back home because Rudi is a biologist and he would point out stuff that my mom would have pointed out. I think I will go back hiking to that spot because there were some old ruins that you can explore on the hill opposite. After hiking, I went to another Oper with Christene to watch “Kiss me Kate.” It was actually good and I loved the dances and the costumes. Some of the songs were even in English but I still ended up falling asleep for the last 20 minutes or so. I don’t think I have been to one Oper so far without falling asleep.

But staying with the Bauer’s again was only a temporary situation and now I have changed host families again. I was so worried I would be in a stressful situation again with this new family. But yesterday I arrived and they are the most amazing and loving family ever. I really think I will be as close with them as I am with the Bauer family. They have three younger kids, two boys and a girl. The oldest is 11 so again they speak no English but that is perfect for me. The two youngest kids go to my school and so now I get a ride every morning, bonus! My host sister also rides horses and they have a pregnant cousin who cannot currently ride and so they are seeing if they need me to exercise the horses for them. I also am going to ride with my host sister on Friday if I have time. I am going to the Fridays for Future world-wide protest on that day. My new host parents even like country music, it is like a host family match made in heaven! Turned out I had nothing to worry about with this family, they are by far the most amazing and loving family and I could not be happier with them.

That’s all for now, next week is Ski week so my next blog will be about that:)

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Es ist Frühling!
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Bad Aussee
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Graz Main Street
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Graz Main Street
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Skiing!!
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Bad Aussee
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Bad Aussee
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Graz
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Graz
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Salzburg
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HALFWAY POINT!! Six months in Austria

Crazy to thing that I have been in Austria for half a year now! Everyone was right when they said things start to pick up after Christmas. I feel like I hardly have time left here at all! I still have lots of things to look forward to though, including Euro Tour, Ski Week and school trips to Italy as well as Prague.

The most important part of this month was my Grandma visiting me here in Austria:) It was so nice to see her and it was the best feeling to be able to relax and be comfortable around a real family member. I missed being that comfortable around someone and not having to worry about impressing them. My Grandma arrived on the 23rd of January and we spent two weeks together.

For the first week we spent our time in Vienna and even though I have been there many times before, I saw so many places I had never been inside of! We went to every art museum we saw(we even tried one modern art museum..blah never again!) Other than the Mak(modern art), I loved all of the art museums we went to including the Albertina, Leopold, and Belvedere. We saw pieces by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Marie Egner, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh. It was also my first time seeing “The Kiss!”

Other than art museums, we visited the National Library and State Hall, Stephans Platz and The Hofburg of course, and the Schmetterling Haus(Butterfly House). The State Hall was a little confusing to find. Turns out that the State Hall is actually the building with the painted ceiling and books, while the National Library is a whole different building. But we visited both! We also watched a morning training at the Spanish Riding School. We even visited the National History Museum but we didn’t spend too much time there as both me and my Grandma are more interested in paintings than stuffed animals and rocks:/ The building was still really pretty inside though! Of course I also had to take my Grandma to Schloss Schönbrunn, but we decided not to pay to go inside. Side note to anyone visiting Vienna, make sure you see the Rathaus lit up at night!:)

After Vienna, we headed back to Graz so that I could attend a few days of school while my Grandma explored my city. Then on the weekend, we took the train to Hallstatt. This was really cool for me to see the town in the winter since I had only seen it in summer. We really lucked out with the weather, I had taken the train past Hallstatt many times before and not once had I seen it with such clear skies in the winter! We ran into a bit of trouble when we first arrived because I didn’t realize that the train station was on the other side of the lake and the only way to get to the town was by boat. Of course we had no cash to pay for the boat tickets so we had to swim. Jokes! The very nice captain let us pay him back on the way home after going to an ATM:) Once we arrived, we walked around taking photos and went for a schnitzel lunch before taking another train to Salzburg in the evening. We stayed for two nights in Salzburg. The first day was cloudy so we decided to risk it and see if the  next day was better to visit the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Instead we walked around town visiting and exploring. The next day was so sunny and warm, it was without a doubt worth waiting to visit the fortress. You could even see the mountains!(I have only seen the mountains 2/3 times I’ve visited Salzburg because it is always cloudy or raining).

After Salzburg we took a train to Vienna so that my Grandma wouldn’t miss her flight the next morning. After saying our goodbyes, I stayed the week with my friends in Vienna because I had no school this week. It was a nice break!

This week I have school and then next week I have another week off, yay!!:) Then the week after that is Ski Week with Rotary!! So excited to meet all the newbies and see our new exchange group all together. I already met one of my newbies because she is in my class at school, she is from Australia and she is super sweet!

I am so happy that I made it this far on exchange and that I stuck with it. I really see what everyone means when they say I won’t want to come home! I cannot even imagine life back in St. Albert or remember what it is like. But I still cannot wait to see everyone when I go back home! My parents have booked their flights to visit me at the end of the year and I could not be more excited to see them♡.

Also happy birthday to my Dad if he is reading this right now:)

Thats all! Tschüss!

Christmas Holidays and Fifth Month

It’s officially been five months!!

First thing that happened this month was Salzburg weekend with Rotary. It was the last weekend with everyone together since the Oldies, including a lot of my friends are going home this month. Even so, it was still a really great weekend! My favourite memory was skating for the first time in Austria. My friend Caitlin and I joined the other Newbies downtown and skated most of the day away. The Christmas music they were playing on the speakers was the perfect playlist and everyone was so happy! With the sleigh rides going past, the Christmas markets on either side of us and the castle in the background, it was like a travel advertisement! We also had a farewell dinner and awards night for the Oldies(exchange students who came here last January). It was really sad but also fun because everyone dressed up in traditional Austrian clothing. Lederhosen for the boys and Dirndls for the girls! It gave me sound of music vibes walking through the streets of Salzburg(where the movie was filmed) in a Dirndl. After Salzburg weekend we all went back to our host families for the holidays.

Christmas away from home was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. It was sort of weird because on the day of, I knew it was Christmas but it just didn’t feel like it. Probably just because I wasn’t at home with my family. In a way Christmas was just another day for me here which I will gladly take over being homesick any day. However, the weeks leading up to Christmas Day definitely felt very festive and I would absolutely love to come back to Austria for another Christmas. Christmas is such a magical time in Europe with the markets and lights and old streets. There is honestly nothing like it in Canada.

Austrians celebrate Christmas a little differently here. To start off, they have a whole separate day a couple weeks before Christmas dedicated to Saint Nicholas. On this day, the children in the families hear a bell ringing in the morning and run downstairs to find a sack of gifts, sweets and a letter from Nikolo, and maybe even a surprise in their shoes.

A couple days before Christmas my host dad, my host brother and I went to get the Christmas tree we had picked out on the tree farm a few weeks before! It was my first time having a real Christmas tree in the house that I can remember! It smelt so good that I will have to buy tree scented candles now that it is gone.

Austrians celebrate Christmas on the 24th so on this day my host family and I spent hours and hours cooking and wrapping presents. We prepared the food so fancy it was like a restaurant. By the time everything was finished, it was time to eat dinner. My three host brothers and my host sister and I all got dressed up for the yearly photo in front of the Christmas Tree. Then, we sang German Christmas carols and my host mom played the flute. We were really rusty, especially me because I did not know the songs by heart. I found out Silent Night is actually originally from Austria! After the carolling, we opened presents and then ate dinner. Dinner was a meat and veggie fondue with different homemade sauces as well as eggplant and peppers for an appetizer.

The next morning on Christmas Day, we went to mass. My host family is Christian so it was almost the exact same procedure as Church back home except in German of course. The rest of the day was really laid back, I FaceTimed my family back home and then spent some time with my host family as well.

I’ve been really busy since Christmas. I changed host families on the 29th after driving to a small town where my new host family stayed for the holidays. The town is called Bad Aussee and they own two apartments there for skiing and winter holidays. I have a whole apartment to myself for now but it is great because I am right beside the families apartment if I need them. I settled in really easily with this family, I think because I am getting used to living in other people’s homes. My host mom is the absolute sweetest. I can tell she likes hugs so I’m going to steal one whenever I can because I miss my own mom’s hugs so much that I am going crazy. I also have a host sister named Stephie who I get along with super well. Spending time with her lately has made me realize how much I missed being an older sister and how much of a huge part of me it is. She only speaks German and this has been so helpful for me! Even after a week with her I am already dreaming in German a little bit and speaking it more than I ever did in my last host family. I am really noticing how much my German has improved lately so YAYYY!! I also have two host brothers. Max is ten and the other one is older and moved out so I have not met him yet. I only just met the younger brother a few days ago since he was in Florida with his Aunt! Lucky guy! We also have three dogs. Two small dogs and one big one which is very hard to control. It makes me so grateful for how well behaved my Rocco back home is. I also met my host dad and host Grandmother in Bad Aussee, they are both super nice as well!

I stayed for two nights in Bad Aussee with my new host family and then I was off to Vienna for Silvester with some exchange friends! It was for sure a New Years to remember. We spent the countdown in Stephansplatz with thousands of other people. As we were all walking home, people were setting fireworks off in the streets. I was on FaceTime with my parents at the time to wish them a happy New Year and my mom said it sounded like I was in a war zone ahahah. Since I was in Vienna for a few days, me and a friend visited the Albertina while there was an exhibition on Monet, Picasso and Munch! It was soooo worth the hour long wait outside in the wind(Vienna is always so windy). We got into the museum for free because we are under 18 but even so, there were still so many people outside waiting! I am definitely adding more art museums to my bucket list:) On my last night in Vienna I had to say goodbye to my very best friend Caitlin from New Zealand since she is an Oldie and going home. Broke my heart completely but I know that I will see her again.

After two nights in Vienna I headed back to Bad Aussee. I spent the week Skiing with my host sister. First time skiing in Austria!! Okay, so I know I am Canadian and all but I swear I have never seen so much snow in my life! It was crazy! We were skiing in three meters of snow and the powder was so much fun but very tiring to ski through. My host sister made me look like such an ametur, I could not believe how much energy she had even after we finished each day.

Next weekend we go back to Bad Aussee and I might be trying snowboarding!! But for now we are back in Graz at my host families apartment downtown. I am living right in the city centre now! It is like a movie and I walked home from school today just because I love walking through the streets so much! I even made a happy music playlist for how happy walking downtown makes me.

And that brings us to today! All caught up! Tomorrow I say goodbye to my really close friends Ethan and Jemma from Australia:( Then I just have to wait for my Newbie from Australia to come! She is here in two weeks I believe and she will be going to my school!

Thats all! Here are some photos:)

 

Fourth Month

Saturday marked my fourth month in Austria. This month has been pretty quiet and the weather has been really nice. It is still above zero during the day here most of the time and yesterday I noticed that there is still green grass in a lot of places. My favourite part about winter so far here is the view of the mountains. I’ve been running a lot after school lately and the view of the snow on the mountains on a sunny day is gorgeous. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually live here because the landscape is so spectacular compared to the flat prairies of Alberta ahah. This month hasn’t been too eventful but really nice nonetheless. I have been helping my host mom bake lots of Christmas cookies(she has an infinite amount of recipes and I love the almond paste ones) as well as meeting up with some friends.

Last weekend I was in Vienna visiting some exchange students and saying goodbye to a friend from Alaska. I stayed overnight with my friend Manuela and she took me to one of the Christmas Markets in front of Schloss Schönbrunn as well as one in front of the Rathaus. It ended up being so expensive but definitely worth the money because everything was handmade. Austria is the absolute best place to be for Christmas. I have been in the holiday spirit for weeks and weeks now because they start to celebrate so early here. The Christmas Markets are like a fairytale and my city is decorated completely with mini markets of our own scattered throughout the streets. The lights are really cool too! They hung tree branches upside-down above the streets and wrapped them in lights. During the day it looks a little odd but at night it is very Christmasy:) We also have two Ferris wheels in the city at the moment for the markets! When I was sick a couple weeks ago, I went into the city one night just to see the lights to make me feel better. This Saturday I went downtown to get a gift for a friend and I was caught off guard by how many people were on the streets visiting Graz. It was crazy and as busy as a festival!

This coming weekend I will be in Salzburg with the other Rotary exchange students celebrating Christmas and saying goodbye to some of the Australian and NewZealand students. Hopefully with my close friends it won’t be goodbye because I am planning on spending New Years with them before they go back home. Even so, I am really excited to see everyone again. I also have a test in German which I am crossing my fingers for. I think I will be ok as I am already on level A2 in German and taking one class at level B1. However, it is difficult for us exchange students to study for a test without knowing what will be covered. So wish me luck!

Today also marked an important day in my exchange! I bought a Dirndl! This is the traditional Austrian dress. I got a really good deal and it was surprisingly easy, I ended up getting the first one I tried on. I do not have a photo of me wearing it yet but I will include one in my next blog post so keep and eye out!

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Friends in Vienna!
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My friend Jemma visiting the markets in our city with me

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Rathaus, Vienna

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Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna
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Climbing Stephan’s Turm in Vienna
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The view overlooking Graz from Schlossberg

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Main Street in Graz
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Christmas Shop in Graz
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Sidestreet in Graz

 

Three Months Today!

The past few months have been so amazing and I am so grateful to have been able to experience so many cool things not only in Austria but in Germany and Czech Republic. The highlights were definitely all the Rotary Events including language camp, Hiking weekend, Vienna weekend and City Tour. Outside of Rotary I enjoyed exploring with my host family. We visited a sculpture park, wineries, the Piber Lipizzaner Stud Farm, and an open air museum full of traditional Austrian farms. I also loved visiting the Graz Oper with my host family and I hope to go again soon! Another highlight was Aufsteirern where I really got my first sense of true, traditional Austrian Culture. That also reminds me of when we visited Vienna and me and some exchange students went to the Wiener Riesenrad. That was such a fun and spontaneous night!

I am definitely sad to see the warm weather disappear, today was very foggy and chilly and left me reminiscing about the hot summer days I spent at Attersee. I also thought about all the fun times at language camp and how fortunate us exchange students were to be able to walk down to a lake surrounded by gorgeous mountains and just jump in. I also remember visiting Hallstatt and how beautiful that city was.

So far in Austria I have visited Vienna, Ried im Innkreis, Altmünster, Hallstatt, and Salzburg as well as many other small towns and sightseeing spots. My favourite spot in my city is Schlossberg. This is where atop the hill, the famous clocktower is looking over Graz. The view of the mountains from up there is amazing but I am not sure how much of a view there is now that winter is rolling in. It was really nice during the warmer months were you could see in all directions and especially in Herbst(Autumn) when the leaves started to turn colours. Schloss Eggenberg is also very pretty and they have peacocks roaming the palace grounds.

Recently it has been dark when I wake up every morning, which is very Canadian. But, when I am taking the bus to school every morning the surrounding hill tops disappear into the fog. Halloween was very fun, I got to carve pumpkins with my host sister which turned out to be very good bonding. As well, my inbound councillor took me and her two daughters out horseback riding with her two Icelandic Ponies. It was my first time riding an Icelander and it was really weird but cool! Her two little girls are so cute and they remind me so much of my sister when she was younger. It was also really good German practice since they do not speak English. My German is coming along nicely, I am not at a conversational level yet but I understand all my work from my German classes and I understand almost everything my host mom says to me(she speaks to me in only German). School is still very boring but I have my Matura Ball on Saturday which is basically Austrian Prom. I am very excited since we have nothing like this in Canada. All the girls dress in gorgeous white dress and dance around just like a real ball. But, since I am not in the graduating class, I am only there to watch and enjoy. Today I had my German class at the bilingual school and it was great because I get along really well with the girls in that class. However, most of them will be leaving soon as they were only here for three or five months. It’s unfortunate that I am only just getting to know them so well. The next Rotary trip is in the beginning of December and this is when I will also have to say goodbye to all the Australian and New Zealand exchange students. Although it will be so heartbreaking to see them all back to their countries, I am so grateful for all the fun times I have had with my Oldies.

So there is a little summary of the past three months in Austria and a little update:)

To note, the photos I will include are only recent ones. I have plenty of photos of the past three months on other blog posts.

-Jasmine