Europe Tour

This blog will be about my last couple weeks spent touring Europe! I went on Euro Tour with other exchange students living in Austria, Bosnia, and Croatia. It was an 18-day long trip around Belgium, France and Italy and it had been anticipated by every one of us since the beginning of the year. Although we were all told countless times that Euro Tour is not the point of exchange, these past three weeks now hold many of my favorite memories from this year.

It was the last Rotary trip we were all together as a group, therefore drawing a close to many of our exchanges. The last few days of Euro Tour were full of goodbyes and tears. After it was all over, I felt a little off for a few days but now I feel back to normal. It helped me to make plans for my last few weeks in Austria. This weekend I will go to Salzburg to visit some exchange students. Knowing that I would be doing this really pulled me out of my slump this week. Of course, all of this is only the side effects of Euro Tour. The only reason why I miss it all so much is because it was so blissfully perfect travelling with my best friends across Europe.

Day 1: Our tour started out in Linz, Austria. Linz was so far away from Graz and the bus was due to leave at 8 am, so many of us had to stay in a youth hostel the night before the tour started. On the morning of May 1, the ‘Krautgartner’ bus departed from Linz on its way to Köln, Germany. We drove the whole day until we arrived in the evening. When we first arrived, we had dinner and then a short walk to visit the cathedral.

Day 2: The next morning we drove to Bruges, Belgium. It was such a cute little town but it ended up raining for the majority of our time there. We had a lot of free time so we explored the old city centre by foot and of course ate some Belgium waffles along the way. That night we stayed in a hotel on a lake. Some people went swimming but for me, no way. It was so cold! It would have been such a perfect night if it was warmer!

Day 3: We were on our way to Paris, France! When we arrived, we had a short bus tour of all the major tourist spots. We only got out of the bus twice to take photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides. After the tour, the bus first stopped in front of an Ibis hotel and we all thought, “hey nice, an actual hotel!” But then we climbed some stinky steps (they aren’t kidding when they say Paris is smelly) and found ourselves at an Ibis Budget. We had a good laugh because of course in Paris we cannot afford a real hotel. Throughout the trip, we chose our roommates and at each stop the rooms changed somewhat; sometimes 2 people sometimes 5. In Paris it was three to a room and there was barely enough room for our suitcases, let alone enough to fully open the bathroom door. Paris is expensive! After checking into the hotel, we had dinner and then walked across the most beautiful bridge in Paris.

Day 4: We started the day with a trip to the Eiffel Tower… in the pouring rain and freezing cold! None of us dressed or packed properly for this kind of weather. It was surprisingly very cold for the majority of the trip. Only when we arrived in southern Italy did it start to feel like May. Anyways, Rotary got us tickets to climb the Eiffel tower! It was a bit freaky because the steps were so slippery from the rain and it was very windy climbing up. A bunch of us made the mistake of holding onto the rusty metal railing for support. Many hands and sleeves came away stained red and brown with rust. When we arrived at the top, it had started to snow! Thank god I was loaned a hoodie!

After coming down from the tower, we were told we had free time for the rest of the day. I planned a lot of things I wanted to see in Paris. However, one day is not enough to even begin to visit everything. Me and some close friends decided to start by visiting the Louvre. When we arrived, our first impression was that the line was too long. It winded all the way down the hall and around the corner. But we decided to wait, and thank god we did. The boys played some Brazilian music and the wait time was passed easily with laughs and a little dancing. When we arrived inside the museum, we headed straight to the Denon Wing to see the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The Louvre is so huge it was impossible to even complete this one wing in one day. Even so, I loved every minute of it. I even saw some Canadian Art in the North American section! After exiting the museum, Pedro, Manuela and I somehow separated from our other friends. We ended up taking a nice stroll down from the Louvre to the Arch de Triomphe. Along the way, we stopped for some crepes and took pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We had quite the leisurely walk down Champs Elysee Avenue. By the time we reached the Arch, we had about 5 minutes to take photos and then it was time to meet Rotary for dinner! Luckily the restaurant was a few minutes from the Arch! I honestly don’t know how we always made it to the meeting places during this trip. Most of us never had data and just had to rely on maps and sense of direction. Dinner that evening depended on what you took from the buffet but mine consisted of fish and veggies. Very nice considering the only thing we had eaten that day was a croissant with fruit and crepes. We had no time to stop exploring and eat something! Often while on tour, it was a choice between eating in a restaurant or spending more time exploring. After dinner, we had a boat tour planned for us. We walked down the hillside during golden hour towards the River Seine. Watching as the tower was bathed in soft golden light, our boat took us past all the main landmarks. Even though it was unbearably cold, we stuck it out to sit on the top of the boat. We sat there watching the sun set over each bridge we passed. We passed the Notre Dame being restored. The cathedral had burned a few weeks before and had black smoke stains spreading outwards from some of the window frames, the stained glass already gone. As the boat ride came to an end, it was almost dark out. As we stepped off the boat, the tower was lit up a beautiful soft orange. To our surprise, it started to famously twinkle with white lights. We all stopped and gazed at it until it returned to its normal orange again. I feel like this boat trip really kicked things off during Euro Tour and it was my favorite things we did in Paris.

Day 5: Most of the day was spent on the bus driving. When we arrived in Strasbourg, we walked to the old city. The old city is actually only on an island that is separated from the rest of the city by the river. When we first arrived in the inner city, we turned a corner to find the cathedral looming over us. The cathedral is mostly made of red sandstone and so it seemed to glow a soft sienna when the sun was setting. This was for sure my favorite cathedral throughout the whole of Euro Tour. We had dinner at a restaurant just beside the cathedral and ate quiches and chicken in a mushroom sauce. Most of the food on this trip was not so good unless we bought it ourselves, but this meal was surprisingly tasty. After dinner we had a tiny bit of free time and visited the river.

Day 6: In the morning we had a tour of Strasbourg. There was always one English tour and one German tour. This was the only day I went in the English group during the euro tour. I ended up learning a lot! During our free time after the tour, a bunch of us bought baguettes and sat in the sun by the river to eat. A swan kept coming to try to steal our food. They are really big and brave up close!

Day 7: We drove to Colmar for a quick stop and a small street train tour. This was one of my favorite little towns, along with Bruges and Vernazza. All the houses were painted different colourful pastels and not one is the same colour as the next. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore but we managed to take a 30 minute boat ride down the main canal and back. After Colmar, we drove to Lyon to stay the night. We spent the evening sitting by the river listening to music, talking, watching the caste on the hill and all the lights reflecting off the water.

Day 8: We drove to Avignon during the day and had a few hours of free time in the city before dinner. We didn’t manage to go to the castle (I am sure not sure how we missed it) but we explored the city walls and inner streets, as well as the gardens atop the hill. It was also chilly and cloudy this day, but the surrounding Italian countryside was still gorgeous. There was a castle or fortress atop every rolling hillside after another. On the way back from dinner that night it absolutely poured and we all got soaked. Everyone ended up staying in the hotel that night.

Day 9: We were meant to travel straight to Eze Village this day but once we arrived we couldn’t find a place for the bus to park. We headed to Monaco first for some free time. Monaco was full of so many wealthy people and luxurious lifestyles. After some wandering, we finally made it to the beach. We climbed the fence and walked along the shoreline only to find the other exchange students had used another path and were already sitting on the sand. Many of us thought that we wouldn’t be swimming this day so we did not have our bathing suits with us. But the water was irresistible and warm. So, a bunch of us ended up going swimming in whatever we had. The water was so blue and the mountain ridge rose up behind the beach. By the time we got back to the bus, we were mostly dry. After Monaco, we backtracked a little bit to Eze Village to learn about perfume. Next stop after that was Lavagna for the night. This was my favorite place that we slept in. The neighbors of the hotel greeted each of us as we pasted. In Italy we all got a lot more questions and had many more conversations with the locals than any of the other countries we visited. The hotel in Lavagna had a great view of the ocean and the shoreline.

Day 10: The next morning the cliffs and beach we bathed in a soft morning light as we ate our meager breakfast (It seems Italians have mainly coffee for breakfast). This day was reserved for hiking in Cinque Terre. It was so stunning! We planned to take a boat to Vernazza but the tide was too high. We ended up taking the train. We spent our free time in Vernazza (the most beautiful and colorful costal Italian town I have ever seen) eating some cheap but tasty pesto pizza bread by the water. The water and cliffs in the distance were again so breathtaking. We then began our hike across the hills towards the neighboring town, Monterosso. Once we finished the hike, we all ran down to the water and swam in the ocean for a good 2 hours. Then sat in what sun we managed to find before it began to set. This was such a beautiful and memorable day. I went home with sand between my toes, salt in my hair, and skin kissed from the sun. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon, in Viareggio. All the exchange students were very surprised when the bus pulled up to a fancy beach-side resort. Rotary really spoiled us this time. After checking into our rooms, almost everyone headed to the ocean for a swim. I got thrown in with all my clothes in so I had no choice but to swim after that. It was such a nice beach to swim on because there were many sand bars. So, even when we were a ways away from the shore, I could still touch the bottom. The sun was setting as we left the beach for dinner and the water had a pastel yellow glow.

Day 11: Unfortunately, we only spent one night in this nice hotel and the next morning we were on our way to Pisa and Lucca! Pisa was only a short visit, very touristy and we spend most of the time taking photos around the tower. I am really glad I got the chance to see Pisa beforehand with my school. I got to see more of the city and the river then. There is a lot more to Pisa than only the famous tower and buildings. After Pisa, Lucca was our next stop. We had some free time so I went with some friends to climb the tower in the centre of the city. It was for sure worth the climb and four euros. The view of the city and the hills in the distance was so beautiful. They even had trees growing at the top of the tower (which made things a little crowded). After coming down from the tower, we were all starving. We headed to one of the main squares, a yellow circular centre surrounded by restaurants and apartments with their green shutters flung open. After sitting down for some pasta, we headed back to the bus. Pisa and Lucca were only short stops because after Lucca, we were on our way to Rome! Upon arrival, we settled into our hotel rooms and had dinner at a restaurant down the street. Almost all the meals we had in this restaurant and in Italy in general, consisted of a serving of pasta followed by a main meat dish of some sort. I think I ate more pizza and pasta during our days in Italy than I have this whole year. Which is how it should be when visiting Italy, naturally.

Day 12: In the morning, there was a guided tour of Ancient Rome. We spent the morning walking past the Colosseum and other ruins. After the tour, we ate lunch with Rotary and then some free time. This was spent exploring the streets and taking a second look at ruins we hadn’t had enough time at with the tour guide. We also climbed to a lookout point on the balcony of the Vittoriano. By the time we backtracked all the way to the Colosseum, it was time to take the Metro to the hotel for dinner.

Day 13: The day started with a trip to the Vatican. We climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica and after the 551 stairs, received a fantastic view of Rome. After climbing back down, we spent the remainder of our free time in the Vatican museum. Although most of our time was spent waiting in line and shuffling slowly through the crowds, we did get to see the Sistine Chapel! We also ate some 10 Euro pasta and had gelato nearby:)

Day 14: This day was mostly a travel day and ended up being nice. I think we were all so tired at this point in the tour. Having to pack up all our things almost every night and move to the next city was becoming a hassle. We left Rome fairly early in the morning and began our trip to Florence. On the way, we made one stop in Montepulciano. This is a small medieval town in Tuscany. Even though we only spent a couple hours here, it had one of the best views of the Italian countryside. We ate pizza in a small restaurant and ended up having not enough time to make it up the hill to the city centre. But, we did meet a nice man who owns a soap shop and makes all the soaps himself at home. On the way back to the bus, we got one last look at the hilltop town and the surrounding vineyards. After driving some more, we finally arrived in Florence. Upon arrival, we made a quick stop at a lookout point viewing the whole city. It was gorgeous and the weather was perfect for some perfect pictures. After getting back on the bus, we drove to our hotel, and later walked into the city again for dinner at a restaurant near the famous dome. Our free time after dinner was really nice. Since we were so close to the dome, we took a walk through all the main spots that I remembered from my last time in Florence. We started with the dome, then walked to the carousel and then to Palazzo Vecchio. After visiting the statues on display in the square and listening to some street music, we moved on to sit by the river. We sat on a wall overlooking the water, not far from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. We spent the next hour or so listening to a street artist, talking and watching the water. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped again for some street music near the carousel.

Day 15: Our first full day in Florence started with a guided tour in the morning. After, we had some free time that was spent getting smoothie bowls and walking around the city again. Many of us bought matching leather bracelets or bags from the vendors. Soon, our free time was used up and it was time to leave Florence. We met Rotary at the bus and began the drive to our final hotel in Jesolo. Our last few days in Jesolo were probably the most memorable and we spent every night on the beach. Our hotel was only two minutes’ walk to the water!

Day 16: We made a day trip to Verona. We visited all the main tourist spots with our tour guide, starting with the Arena and ending with Juliet’s balcony. After the tour ended, Pedro, Quin, Sarah and I spent our free time sharing pizza and pasta at a restaurant nearby Juliet’s Balcony. After we were finished, we started back towards the bus, stopping along the way to buy souvenirs from the markets or to take photos. We met up with some other students along the way and got a little lost together. Somehow, we made it back to the bus just in time. That night was “Oldie Awards.” Every year, when a group of exchange students go home, they come up with funny and personalised awards for everyone in their group. This year, I was in charge of presenting and coming up with the awards, along with my friends Emir and Quin. Our awards were perfect. Everyone sat on the beach and we presented just before the sun began to set. My award from Quin was “smallest person, loudest mouth, biggest heart.” After awards were done, we partied on the beach for the remainder of the night.

Day 17: Our last full day of Euro Tour was spent in Venice. It was bittersweet. We had the whole day free to ourselves to do or see what we wanted. I ended up spending the day with Ciro, Quin and Sarah. It was great because Sarah lived in Venice for three weeks at the beginning of her exchange year so she could show us around. After a 30 minute drive on the bus, we travelled the rest of the way to Venice by boat. When we arrived, the boat dropped us off near the Bridge of Sighs. We made our way to San Marco Basilica and then on through the narrow streets and bridges, finally arriving at Sarah’s old apartment. She showed us her favorite pizza place and we ate our pizza on the way to the main canal. We didn’t manage to take a gondola ride, but we took a water bus along the main canal, to another island. There, we climbed a tower for a view of the whole city. After making it back down again, we spent some time sitting on the docks nearby before taking the water bus back. The boat and bus ride home were quiet. Everyone realized that Euro Tour would now be soon over. Back in Jesolo, we spent that night on the beach again. While watching the sun set from the dock, we began to say our goodbyes.

Day 18: Euro Tour was now over. The whole morning was spent driving from Jesolo back to Linz, Austria. I left early in Villach so I could get to Graz faster. It was rushed goodbyes to some people I might never see again. This was a very tearful day but I know when I look back on Euro Tour I won’t remember this, I will remember all the good times we had together traveling Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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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