Thursday, August 23, 2012

The End.

So I've been working on this post for one month to the day (the only one that I actually spent more than say 45 minutes writing.)  It's a hard one to write, because it means that it is all over.  Naturally that has both pros and cons, but mostly it involves change.

When I first got to Vienna, it was with apprehension.  I wasn't sure that I wanted to come anymore- as a matter of fact, you can ask some of my friends and family- I cried.  I knew it would suck to spend a semester by myself, away from everyone that I've ever known and loved.  I know Grogan wanted to hit me on probably half a dozen occasions right before I moved out because I didn't want to leave my friends.  They would have all of these good times, make new friends, and their lives would carry on without me, most likely not even realizing that anything had changed. 

Naive, yes- selfish, hell yes.

After the first few weeks all seemed to be going well.  I was finally getting started at the university, I had met a few people, and I had a general motivation to find out what was going on in Vienna.  About weeks 6/7 I had a relapse though.  I spent my nights crying, I Skyped my mom and told her that I wanted to come home.  I was dead set on it- I looked up flight prices, checked to see how it would affect my student status at W&J (turns out I would still have had more credits than your average first semester Junior- go me!) and that's when I had my first realization.  Leaving is a dumb idea. 

I'm in a foreign country- I don't know if I'll ever have a chance to come back.  I am in one of the music history centers of the world, this city was built for me to come and explore one day.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and no matter how much it felt like I was going to die of homesickness, I knew it wasn't going to happen.  That meant that this was a big time for growth as a person, to learn to be independent, to grow as a student, to mature.

There was absolutely nothing easy about my experience.  But I honestly wouldn't have had it any other way.  Easy is comfortable, and comfortable does little if anything to help you grow.  It's not until you push yourself to the edge, farther than you have ever been pushed before that you can start to realize what you are truly capable of.  If a bird never take the jump, it will never learn to fly- right? 

I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of during my trip.  I expected to go there, struggle a lot, learn some German, and come home- but it was so much more than that.  As cliche as it may been- the trip truly was a life changing experience.

Thanks:

There is a list of people who helped me through this trip in a vast variety of ways, whether they know it or not.  I just want to throw out a few names (and by a few I mean a lot.)  I'm going to try to get everyone, but I know that I was inevitably miss someone- generally speaking, you know who you are, so if you think you should be there, you're there- you just... missed your name.  Some people might fall into two groups (Josh, Grogan, and Chris) but there's a reason for everything here.

Starting with my (immediate) family- Mom, Danielle, Christine, Russ- and Dad too.  I've come to realize that I depend on you guys far more than I ever could have imagined.  Thank you for all of your support throughout the years, I love you guys.

More family- Buba and Nonno, Jeannie and Russ, Aunt Lisa, Uncle Chip, Brittney, and Josh-  From Birthday surprises to weekly phone calls, you may not know it, but you were a large force in pushing my motivation to make the most of what I have.  I always strive to make you proud of me, and I hope that I am living up to what you hope for me.  Thank you for all of your love and well wishes- I love you all.

The friends who know - Niki, Grogan, Kayla, Dickey, Leo -  You guys.  I love you all more than you could possibly imagine.  There wasn't one time that I wasn't sitting at my computer where one of you didn't message me, just to say hi, if nothing more.  Having a friend abroad is a lot like having a pet- they need constant love and attention, and you all will make great pet owners one day.  I really can't tell you all how much of an impact you had on my trip, and I can't thank you enough.

Those friends who might not know - Saad, Andy McKenna, Val, Ben Hampton, Evan, Zach Naser, Emma Killmeyer, Samantha Middlemiss - At some point during my trip all of you managed to do something extraordinary that helped me through a tough time.  You each know how important you are to me, and I just want to thank you for being you.  You're all brilliant.

The teachers/professors who made it happen- Chris Tobias, Dr. Shaughnessy, Dr. Moser, Dr. Medley, Dr. Swift, Dr. Woodard, Traci Fruehauf, Sara Joseph, and Daniel Teadt-  Although I doubt that any of you will ever see this, each one of you impacted my life in some way that inspired me to make this choice- to study abroad in Vienna.  Be it German, or music- I truly have been blessed to have such incredible professors, teachers, instructors, however you wish to be referred to as.

The friends who most likely have no clue- Lisa Warner, Jess Zack, Ricky Jacobson, Allyse Corbin, Ben Altomari, Ian Scully-Szejko, Sara Kissinger, Noah Salama, Gen VanVoorhis, Haley Roberts, Devon Verner, Josh Steeb, Chris Griffith-
Some of you will see this, some of you I'm sure won't- that makes no difference to me.  Some of you are probably wondering how you ended up here.  Ranging from laughter, to inspiration, to finally convincing me that it was ok to leave- that things won't completely suck when I get back, you've all certainly done something to help this trip become what it was.  Sometimes you need your comedian or a moral compass to get you through the day, others maybe an old friend, or one with such an inspiring story to tell.  There are certainly more people that belong on this list, I don't even know some of the people who have helped to make this what it ways.  I want to thank you all- for everything.  Keep being incredible- you'll go far.

The new friends- Hannah, Luke, Raphi, Abby, Susan, Bradley, Gilbert, Karin, Uli, Eva, and Nils- Some of you I hardly knew, others I spent ample time with.  Many of us know the feelings of being alone in a foreign country, others maybe not.  Each of you did help me- be it something such as playing risk on a Tuesday night or taking me to the hospital when I needed it, or just knowing that someone else was going through the same thing I was studying abroad.  You guys probably had a bigger hand in shaping my trip than I did- none of this would have been the same without you.  Thank you all for everything, we should do it again some time ;)

My brothers-  Wow.  I knew ATO meant a lot to me, but the day that I moved out and I had to say goodbye to all of the seniors- that was rough.  Whether you know it or not, some of you guys have pulled me through some rough days back at school.  I couldn't be more proud to call myself an ATO, and to call you all brothers.  You have all changed my life in unimaginable ways.  Maybe next time I decide to study abroad it can be Alpha Pi goes to Deutschland or something.

And you-  You are the reason why I kept writing these blogs.  You are the reason why I can look back through my entries and remember what happened to me during my trip- major and minor details.  I wrote to entertain, to inform, and to remember.  However, without an audience, there is no inspiration to write.  I thank you for following me along the way, keeping up as much, or as little as you did, and for reading this last entry (even though I've been home for nearly a month and a half.)  

So, with that everyone, I bring this blog to a close.  5 months in Vienna are now over, and I know for a fact that no one wants to read about my life in Pittsburgh- it's just not that exciting- but I will say that it is more special to me than I could have ever imagined.  This trip changed my entire perspective of what 'home' means, and why it is the one place in the world that I will always love more than anywhere else.

Keep dreaming, and dream big, my friend- for the world is your canvas.  Now go and paint that canvas with all the colors of the rainbow.

Over and Out-
Brandon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Berlin and München (Munich)

Wow- that was an incredibly fast 5 days.  I got to Berlin on Saturday, left for München on Tuesday morning (ca. 04.30) and left München to head back to Vienna on Wednesday night. 

Just like the last one, I'm not going to go through day by day, because I did far too much in far too little time to remember the play-by-play.

Berlin:

I got to the Hauptbahnhof about 10.00 on Saturday morning.  I had absolutely no idea where I was going, so I walk outside and head in a random direction.  After about 2 minutes I decide that is the wrong way.  I then proceeded to walk completely around the train station and head in the opposite direction of where I started.  After 5 minutes of walking that way, I find a map and realize that the first way I went was in fact the correct way.  After about 30 minutes of walking around helplessly, I finally headed off in the right direction. 

It took about 2 hours for me to find the hostel.   It was about 5km to the hostel from the starting point, but I also had my backpack and my suitcase, so it was a lot to carry around on a disgustingly muggy day.  Once I get there, I'm told that I can't check in until 3, which kind of sucked.  I had to carry all my stuff down about 3 dozen stairs to the luggage room just to haul it back up later.

Over the course of those three days, I walked across nearly the entirety of Berlin.  I was staying near Alexanderplatz, which I in a sort of convenient location, but at the same time, it's 2km from most of the big touristy things.  I walked from the hostel to right near the Kurfürstendamm, which is 10km away.  But, since the weather has just adored me for the past week, it started raining at about 8km out, so I headed back (in a roundabout sort of way.)

I get back to the hostel and sit in the room for about 10 minutes before I get bored, so I head out to find an umbrella (because being dry in my room just wasn't satisfying.)  I end up about 1.5 km away from the hostel when I finally find an umbrella, at which point I am thoroughly soaked and the umbrella is essentially useless.  Because it's me and my luck sucks, it stopped raining shortly after I bought the umbrella, but I kept walking around with it up as a protest against the lack of rain falling from the sky.

One night in Berlin I had a roommate with the coolest last name ever- Drachenberg- "Dragon Mountain."  I mean, it doesn't get much better than that as far as last names go. 

I mean, really all that happened in Berlin was me walking around and looking at stuff.  I saw things such as the Brandenburger Tor, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Siegesäule.  It is an incredible city filled with so much history- I wish I could have had a bit more than 3 days.   I barely got a chance to scratch the surface of everything that Berlin has to offer.

I did however have numerous encounters with Bosnian beggars, who all have the same sob story written on a card in English, so that ask you if you can speak English ("Please speak English,") and then if you respond in English, then keep getting in your way until you can finally push past them, or until you give them money.  It's kind of sad, because occasionally they have children with them, and you want to help out the children, but if you gave every single one of them just €0,50 then you would be broke by day's end. 

A final note about my time in Berlin- I saw my first police escort!  Apparently the Bundespräsident had just returned from somewhere and had a full on police escort with him.  It was a cool sight.  Kind of alarming at first to see that many police blocking off streets and not knowing what's going on, but once I found out- it was cool.

Yeah, so that's Berlin.

München:

I'm going to be completely honest- I didn't have time to see much of anything.  Again, I couldn't check into the hostel until 3, which meant that I had to walk around the city until I could get into a room. 

By this point in my journey my feet were killing me.  So much walking every day with shoes that weren't made for walking period.  That is, if you can still call them shoes.  They were kind of destroyed during the huge rainstorm that I mentioned in Berlin- they got too wet, I suppose and literally started falling apart. 

During my stay I walked around a lot, primarily in the large shopping streets by the hostel.  The hostel was located right next to the Hauptbahnhof, so that was convenient.  What wasn't convenient was trying to get food at an actual restaurant rather than just eating from a fast-food type place.  This area is busy from before opening until after they close, so if you want to eat somewhere good, you need to be very patient or you need to get lucky.  I am neither.  I had a lot of Bratwurst and schnitzel during those 2 days- I refused to eat another Döner, since I had probably had 5 in Berlin. 

I didn't really have time to get into too much trouble, so unfortunately I don't have too much to say.  I can talk about some of the incredible musicians around the shops playing various instruments for money.  One man was probably one of the most incredible pianists I have ever heard- every time I saw him, he must have had at least €50 in his little basket thing.  Then there was the ladies string quartet- again, they were fantastic.  2 Violins, a viola, and a cello.  Then there was the Jewish trio- Accordian, clarinet, and bass.  It was an interesting combination, but they sounded great.  Nearly everyone I saw had some sort of cd that they were selling, and some of them I may have even considered buying if I had the money to spare. 

Wednesday I just walked around a bunch until I headed to the train station around 21.00.  I finally caught my train at 23.40.  I was fortunate enough to be put on a train with a soccer team- right between the coaches and the players.  All of the aforementioned were incredibly drunk and felt it necessary to scream at the top of their lungs.  It was a LONG ride from München back to Wien.  Eventually around 04.00 I think they slowly started falling asleep, which was nice and all, but that was 4 hours into the trip and I was getting out at 05.30.  A relatively sleepless night, but I guess it's all in the spirit of trying to change my sleep habits for the return home tomorrow. 

Speaking of tomorrow.  Tomorrow my journey ends.  I fly back to Pittsburgh (via London and Chicago.)  Therefore, as I'm hoping you can deduce- I've got one blog entry left.  It's going to be incredibly long and full of tons of interesting stuffs, so you should probably read it.  I'm going to do my best to post it before I leave, but it may end up getting posted after I get home.  It's been a work in progress for a month now, trying to think of what I wanted to say exactly, but you'll get more of that when you read it.  Thanks for reading.  You are the reason why I kept writing- why I'll always have something to look back at and remember. 

Until next time-
Brandon

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Köln (or for you non-German speaking folk Cologne)


Yeah… It’s kind of hard to write blogs right now.  Not much time regardless of where I am, some hostels limit your usage, and others make you pay for it, so it’s difficult.  But here I am.  Right now.  Writing a blog. 
I’m officially in the second leg of my Germany trip- I left Köln at 04.29 this morning.  I would go back and give you the play-by-play of every day, but quite frankly, it all kind of blurred together and I can’t remember what I did when- so I’ll just give you highlights (and lowlights.)
My second day in Köln (if you read the last blog, then you already know about the first day…) I switched hostels.  The only reason I stayed in that first hostel was because the place where I was going to be staying didn’t have any available rooms when I booked for the first night.  The hostel that I wanted to stay at ended up being a great choice- it was perfectly located right next to the Hauptbahnhof right smack in the middle of everything. 

I got there about 3 hours before I was allowed to check-in, so I dropped off my baggage and went for a walk.  After a while I went back to check-in and then I did.  I went through the whole process in German.  I impressed myself.  The woman checking me in recognized the accent in my German and asked if I studied in Vienna.  I guess it is that noticeable after all.

I went up to the room and met the one person who would be my roommate for every night I was there, Michael.  He’s mid-30’s and a native to the Cologne area.  He’s just getting back from a 2 year work excursion in Buenos Aries, which is why he was in the hostel- looking for a permanent residence.
What exactly I did that day, I don’t remember, but it involved getting food from the train station, eating lunch on the bank of the Rhine, and overall cool Germany stuff. 
There is a very large homeless population in Cologne.  You see people laying there, looking as though they haven’t eaten in days, they don’t know what a shower is, and all sorts of terrible things.  What really caught my attention was the percentage of people with a major physical deformity.  There were all sorts of dreadful sights.  With bottles (and I think cans too- maybe?) there is often what they call a Pfand.  In other words, if you take that empty bottle back to a store, you get the “deposit” back that you paid for the bottle.  There are people who spend their entire day walking around town searching through public trash cans looking for bottles that they can take back to a store to get €0,25.  I want someone to see that and tell me that we have a serious problem in America.  At least we don’t have to go dumpster diving in hopes of finding enough bottles and cans that we can eat once a day. 

Obviously this is a very miniscule portion of the population, but no one should be doing that for a living.  
Off of that topic- There were numerous streets right by where I was staying that were lined from start to finish with stores.  So.  Many.  Stores.  I walked around the area every day and always found somewhere new.  However, despite how many stores there were, the number of tourist shops was somewhat underwhelming. 
Speaking of tourism- Cologne is a complete sell-out of a town.  In Vienna not once did I see a Subway, a Pizza Hut, or bunches of other American food chains.  It seems like they take the “best” of every country and stick it in one centralized location right by the Kölner Dom so that they attract ALL of the tourists.   But I am at least happy to report that the Germans seem to be very proud of the fact that they are German.   There is always an incredibly long at the bakery (from open until close) and food from other places doesn’t seem to be quite as in-demand. 
I really wasn’t sure what I thought of Cologne for the majority of my stay.  It is a nice city, but there wasn’t too terribly much to do.  Then, one night (ca. 22.30) I walked across the bridge to the other side of the Rhine.  Once I got over there I looked across to where I had just come from, and it was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.  A lot of the city lights up at night, but not in that flashy, come-get-me Las Vegas sort of way.  It’s majestic.  You look out over the city and you think, “Damn, I’m proud to be German,” even if you aren’t German in any way what so ever.  I probably went back there three more nights to just chill out.  That is what I’m going to miss about Cologne. 
Thursday I got an e-mail from Sara from the W&J Global Studies department.     I volunteered for a program called the “Good-will Ambassadors.”  In other words, I am paired with a student from abroad that is coming to W&J in the fall, and I am supposed to reach out to them and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible going into the semester.  My International friend’s name is Nils- he just so happens to be a student at the University of Cologne.  I sent him an email that same night, to which I got a pretty quick response.  We ended up planning to meet the next day.

Friday came and I did some last minute souvenir shopping.  Nils and I planned to meet by the University at 16.40.  Well, when we made these plans, we didn’t think to clarify which side of the station we would meet at, so I was standing on the platform for the train heading towards town (where he would normally go) and he was sitting at the platform for the train heading out of town (where he was expecting me to get out.)  About 10 minutes after we were supposed to meet, I look down at the other platform and see someone sitting there with an oversized red pen (which he told me that he would be carrying) that has been there for a while.  I go out on a limb and make my way over to the other side.  After a sort of awkward moment where we both thought that the other was the person we were supposed to be meeting, one of us said the other’s name (I think it was me, but I can’t remember for sure, and I don’t want to take credit for something I didn’t do.) 
At that point we went for a walk and talked about his studies, my studies, my experiences with studying abroad, and what he can expect from a semester at W&J.  We went and got some Bubble Tea (which if you don’t know what it is- It’s colored tea with a flavor syrup put in, and then tiny bubbles that have another flavor. ) I got Kiwi tea with strawberry bubbles.  It was pretty alright.  We walked and talked some more, taking a brief break at a park-area to sit down.  We then went to eat, and after my causing all kinds of issues- we went to a pretty typical restaurant.   I got schnitzel- it was massive.  Luckily I was hungry.  They say that we have big portions in Pittsburgh… I dunno.  I think that schnitzel puts to shame anything I’ve ever seen back home. 

It started getting late, so we walked back towards the Hauptbahnhof (he was taking a train back to his town.)  We sat there and talked for a while, and then he missed the train back.  Luckily one comes every hour, and with his student ticket, he doesn’t have to pay for it.  So we waited for the next one, said goodbye, and I headed back to the room to pack up.

Unfortunately it was already midnight, so I felt kind of bad when I got into the room and the two people that I had never met were already asleep.  Oh well.   They don’t know me, I don’t know them, they’ll get over it.  I finished getting everything together by 00.45 and took a quick nap.  I woke up at 03.30 and went down to check-out.  That took all of 20 seconds.  I then headed to the train station and did absolutely nothing for about 30 minutes.  I hopped on the train, and went to Berlin (sleeping most of the way.) 

I’ll tell you about that later though.

Until next time-
Brandon

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Th Trip to Köln

Let's take a quick step back to Thursday.

Thursday:

Thursday morning I woke up and decided to go for a walk around town.  I took the Ubahn to Schloss Schönbrunn and then walked from there all the way to Volkstheater (that's near half of the city.)  All in all it was between 4 and 5 hours, but it was nice and relaxing. 

That night I met up with Luke, Abby, and Hannah.  This was the last time that we would all be together- Luke was leaving Friday to go to Oxford.  Abby is leaving Monday (or possibly Tuesday, I can't remember) to go home.  And then obviously, as you know, I left on Saturday to go to Germany.  We met at Votiv, a little cafe by the uni.  We sat and talked and had a grand old time.  That's when Luke mentioned something of a fire shot at a bar a few stops away that he had to try before he left Wien.  So- we went.



Two of Luke's friends from home were in Vienna, so they met us on our way to the bar. 

I had been told multiple times to go to the Travel Shack, but I never mad it- that is, until Thursday night.  We get there and we all decide we are taking one of these fire shots, and it was quite an experience.  Take a shot of vodka, keep it in your mouth, they pour some cinnamon in and then light it on fire.  After a second or so of letting it burn, they have you close your mouth, and that is that.


Since Luke was celebrating his last night, he decided we were going to take another shot- this time a "Chuck Norris."  I'm not 100% sure what it is, but it burned unlike anything I have ever tasted before.  It was quite the experience, I'll give it that.

It got to be about midnight, so Hannah and I had to leave, since neither one of us had the desire to walk clear across town.  I got back to my room, chatted to a few people for a while, started getting some things together for my trip, and went to bed.

Friday:

Friday was 95% trip oriented.  I went to the first district to do a little bit of souvenir shopping, and then I came back and it was pretty much just cleaning up my room, getting all my stuff together, and other fun stuff like that all day.  Once I get back from Germany I'll have about 18 hours until I leave for home, so I figured what I could take of before I left for Germany would only help me later.  I left my place at around 23.30.  Just before walking out of the building, I realized that I left all of my tickets and hostel information inside of my room on the television.  I figured it might be a good idea to go back and get that, so I did.

Saturday:

My train left Wien Westbahnhof at 00.38 this morning.  I then had a 14 hour journey, which included a 3 hour layover at faux-train station.  I say faux-station, as it was partially enclosed, didn't have any little shops, and there were only 4 tracks running through it.  I get out of the train and head down the stairs to see what's going on at 01.30.  (I can't remember what the station is called, and my ticket is in my bookbag, which is on the ground on the other side of the room- I'm on the top bunk.)  There I find a girl, about my age, and a woman, probably about her late 40's.  We all realize that we are waiting for the same train and talk for a bit- then the older woman walks off. 

I'm going to take this opportunity to say that I actually never found out what her name was.  I know she was born in Russia and now lives in Germany.  She was in Vienna applying to study psychology at Uni Wien.  We talked about a lot of random things- problems in America, cultural differences, and bunches more.  We had 3 hours to kill.  I was made fun of a lot- told that I look German, but I am far too timid to be European.  Oh- and she thought I was 25.  I laughed.  One of these days someone will get within... say... 3 years...

After that there was a lot more train time.  I got on that train at 04.57 and arrived  in Köln at 14.14.  I then hopped on the S-bahn, took that for a grand total of one stop and ended up at the main train station in Cologne.  Right across from the Kölner Dom (Sorry, you'll either have to google or wait until I get home to see pictures.)  This cathedral makes Stephansdom in Wien look like child's fodder.  It's massive. 

Anyway, I found a map, saw that I needed to head west, so I embarked on my endeavor.  After about an hour or so of walking, I questioned why I hadn't seen any sign of anything that I needed.  I found another map.  Funny story- these maps aren't positioned in any specific direction... So that means that the direction that I thought was West was actually South.  Initially I actually needed to go NW, so now I really needed to go NNW.  After a long walk I found an Ubahn station.  I notice that one has a stop right where I need to be, so I go to pay for a ticket, but as I am in the process (it's a lot more confusing here than in Wien) the Ubahn pulls up.  I did a bad, bad thing.  I got on the Ubahn without a ticket.  I didn't want to wait the extra 5-8 minutes for the next one, so I just got on.  I spent the whole two stops freaking out that every I was around was actually security and I was going to have to pay a fine.  I didn't though.  I got through alright.  I mean- in Wien I was only asked for my ticket 5 times this semester (3 of which were in 1 day..) so I was hoping that I could pull off once in Köln without needing a ticket. 

I got to the hostel and it was kind of weird.  I started speaking to her in German, to which she replied in English.  About halfway through the process she realized that I was speaking German before and said, oh- would you rather do this in German, so we continued in German.  I guess she is just so used to people who don't speak German that it caught her kind of off guard? 

After I checked in and took my stuff up to my room, I went out for a walk.  I ended up walking all the way back to the Kölner Dom (about 3km.)  Once there I walked around the area for a while, then decided that I was getting tired, so I headed back to the hostel.  All in all I probably walked close to 10km (a bit more than 6 miles) today- far more than my average day.  Oh well, it's good for your health.  I've never heard of anyone walking themselves to death.... right?

Until next time-
Brandon

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Well Then...

Sorry for the lack of updates the past few days, there hasn't been too much exciting going on. 

We'll start with Friday.

Friday (22.06):

All that I had to do on Friday was go to my German course and find out what grade I got for the semester (and technically I didn't even have to go.)  It ended up that I got a 16 in speaking, 17 in listening, 18 in writing, and 19 in reading (all out of 20) which gave me an average of 18 for the course, meaning that my final grade is a 1.  Truth be told, I am a little bit disappointed in the results, I should have done better- I went through the reading and writing too quickly, and as far as the speaking goes... I'm not quite sure what happened...  Anyway, I still ended up with one of the best marks in the class, which I guess I should be proud of. 

During the typical class time, since we didn't actually have a class to attend, we all went to a local cafe and got some coffee.  It was a nice opportunity to get to know the people that I spent all semester with (even if it did come after the course was over.) 

Aside from that, I didn't do much of anything on Friday.  I was exhausted both mentally and physically since it was such a long week, so I called it an early night on Friday with intentions of doing something productive on Saturday.

Saturday:

The aforementioned plan to do something productive completely fell through.  I did absolutely nothing all day.  It was both relaxing and miserable.

Sunday:

Most of the day I spent just kind of chilling, but around 15.00 I got a message from Bradley asking if I wanted to go somewhere to watch the Italy-England game.  I said sure (while I may not particularly be a football fan, I can at least enjoy the game if it's on.) and so we met at Kagran later that evening.  Well, we sort of met.  I got there and called Bradley to find out where he was at(I had never been in that area before- the U1 has always seemed like a portal to another world or something to me.) Well, apparently he was somewhere around me, but we spent the next 10 minutes or so looking for each other.  It was quite the riveting game of hide and seek- one where all of the people around you think you are just incredibly drunk and aren't quite sure where you are anymore. 

                                                      The ridiculously *not* photogenic guy.

Anyway, we met up finally and headed into Donau Zentrum (a large shopping mall/complex thing.)  We looked around a bit for somewhere to eat, but we ended up at Köö.  We got a pizza, some beer, and then watched the game.  A recap of the game for those who didn't watch- 90 minutes of Italy dominating, but they just couldn't get the ball in the net.  They went through both extra time periods, and Italy ended up winning in the penalty kicks 4:3 (I think..?)

At one point that evening there was an Austrian couple sitting next to me.  The dude taps me on the shoulder and then asks if I speak German... I say, yeah- pretty much.  He then asks me if I think his girlfriend (wife?) is beautiful.  Umm- is there a correct answer there?  He's bigger than me by a fair bit, so if I say yes, then he could say, oh- you're trying to get all up on my woman and what not.  If I say no, then he'd be all- He dude, that ain't chill, I'ma keel you now.  I weighed my options, and said that of course she looks beautiful.  I suppose I said the right thing.  She was embarrassed that he even asked the question.  He said something after that, but it was in dialect and I couldn't quite make out what he was going for, so I nodded, smiled, and then resumed my conversation.

                                                                        Bradley

The game ended and I started my (incredibly long) commute back to my room.  I hopped on the U1 and headed back to Stephansplatz to switch to the U3.  There was one small obstacle standing in my way.  Donauinselfest. I get maybe two stations past where I originally got on and then a horde of teenagers gets on- they are far more drunk than anyone should ever be when out in public and trying to find their way home.  Well, they all had their individual drinks and then they had a mini-keg with them (they're small and plastic, you can buy them at the grocery stores.)  Not 30 seconds after they get on, I feel a wall of wet hit the back of my head.  Now I'm mad.  One of them thought it would be funny to throw their drink halfway across the Ubahn and it *conveniently* landed right behind me, so now I have beer all over my back.  I did everything in my power not to kill them, taking into consideration that they are probably under 18 and that would just make matters worse.  Eventually I get off at Stephansplatz and switch to the U3, when I realize that two of the girls who were in that group of misfits are heading in the same direction  *great.*  They actually didn't cause a problem in the least, it was just when the full group was together. 

Monday:

Not much to report.  I had my FINAL class in Wien- Behind Morality. It was a pretty chill class, we just reviewed what we did throughout the course and I realized how little I actually remember.  To be fair though, this class isn't an entry level philosophy course, I was talking with a few others and they were wondering why I would even think to take a metaethics course as my first philosophy course. 

I then went back to my room and didn't even want to get back up to go to the store for things I actually needed (i.e. dinner.)  You know how the end of the semester is.

Tuesday:

*The next part is medical in nature, and some people may find it disgusting- read at your own risk ( until I say read again)*

I fell asleep last night around 04.00, but woke up around 06.30.  For a few days now I've had an unbearable itch on my legs, and last night it just got the best of me.  I couldn't sleep.  I opted to just get up and get ready for the day. 

The to-do list wasn't very long, but it was important.  I was going to see the doctor so that she could give me something to stop this itching.  Well, like my mom thought, the doctor thought it might be scabies, so she sent me to a dermatologist.

I went directly to the dermatologist and they said that I have to have an appointment, at which point I told them that I am leaving Wien on Saturday, and this is pretty much an emergency, so they'll find time to squeeze me in.  They did.  It took about 30 minutes, but I got in to see the dermatologist. 

She asked to see what was going on, so I showed her my legs and she said that it could just be dry skin.  I laughed and then showed her my right hand and asked if those lumps were dried skin too.  She laughed and said no, that's probably scabies. 

She gave me two scripts and sent me on my way.

*It's safe to read again*


Then I made my way to the Apotheke to get my scripts filled, but they told me that one of them is a cream that has to be made, so it's going to take about 45 minutes.  So I decide to walk around.  I'm in the first district, where I have spent a plethora of time already, so there wasn't much new to see, but I could at least walk around, grab something to eat, and stuff of that nature.  So I did. 

I head back to the Apotheke and the woman tells me that it's being problematic, so they need another 10-15 minutes.  So I go walk around a bit more.

I head back one more time.  They still need about 5 minutes.  They're really sorry for this.  It's been about 90 minutes since I originally dropped it off at this point. 

So I go and walk around a little bit more- trying to find something to do for about 20 minutes, since I know it won't be ready in 5.  As I'm walking, I see a woman who looks incredibly familiar.  I laugh, and tell myself that I should tell Brett that I saw his mom in Austria.  Then- I hear my name.  It's Brett.  In a city of 1.7 million that isn't small in the least, I just happen to be in the same place at the same time as someone that I didn't even know was going to be in Wien.  I walk with them and their tour group for about 5-10 minutes, and then they were (I believe) going into Stephansdom and I was headed in the opposite direction, so we said goodbye and went our separate ways. 

After that I go back to the Apotheke and they finally have my stuff ready.  I get it and then head back to Simmering.  At that point I was dead tired, so I laid down and took an hour (and a half) nap. I finally decided to get up at 14.30 and went to the store to buy some drinks because I was out of everything (save water.)

I was going to go on a tirade about something tonight, but I can't remember what it was, and it's already 03.00, so I'm thinking that it's about time for bed.  Provided tomorrow goes through as planned, I'll probably update again then.

Until next time-
Brandon

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Time That Bleh.

Sorry that it's been a while, I've been incredibly busy.  I suppose we'll start with Friday.

Friday:

It was the last official day of my German course, after that it's all exams and random stuff.  We did some reviewing for the exams, since this is the big one.  Once you pass B2/2, you are able to study in German at University in a German speaking country.  It's considered to be the point where you know enough, can understand enough, and speak enough to get by in day to day life.  There are still four more classes C1/1, C1/2, C2/1 and C2/2.  Once you finish those you are officially said to be fluent in the language (but who needs formality.)

Anyway, yeah, so that happened.  Earlier that morning I tried to made a phone call (I can't remember who I tried to call) but it told me that I didn't have enough credits, so I had to go and reload my phone.  That was fun.  Over the course of my stay here, the guy who works there went from not understanding my because my German sucked- to not understanding me because his German isn't very good.  The first time I went in there, his German was far better.  The second time we were on equal terms.  The third time mine was better.  I'm alright with that.  Comparative improvement over 4 months.  Then I pretty much spent the rest of the day with one book or another (or an internet text relevant to a class) open in front of me. 

Saturday:

Wow.  Umm.  Alright.  I woke up to a phone call from Eva, one of the girls who is going to be studying at W&J next semester.  She had invited me to go to Veganmania, and although I'm not a vegan, I figured it would be an opportunity to get to know her a bit better as well as to get away from studying for a bit.  She said to meet up pretty much all the way across town in an hour, so I hurried to get ready and headed out the door.  It was about 90 degrees that day (as it has been just about every day since then) so it was rather uncomfortable.  In Vienna it's not so much the heat that gets to you, it's the humidity.  It's treacherous. 

Anyway, I get to Museumsquartier and find her right away along with one of her friends (I'm not going to throw names out there because I don't remember a lot of them, and those that I do remember were foreign names that I have no clue how to spell.)

We looked around at the different booths, got some food, and then more importantly, got some deserts.  Even sitting under the tents that they had didn't help, as it was really the humidity getting to you, not the actual temperature. 




 
Then something most intriguing happened.  Unbeknownst to me, Saturday also happened to be the gay pride parade in Wien.  Well, at one point in the day a group of people from Veganmania paraded around the city to try and gather a larger crowd to come and check it out- the two managed to collide to some degree.  I think that this may have been the inaugural gay vegan pride festival?  I dunno.  Probably not. 

One of Eva's friends said that the only reason that the gay pride parade still exists is to give people (whether gay or not) a chance to  walk around the city naked.  I really can't argue that one.  I saw more people wearing nothing more than a little bit of paint that day than I would care to share. 

A group of us sat there and talked for a while, but about 3 we all decided that Prüfungsstress was taking over, and it was time to get back to the books.  I said goodbye to all of the people that I had just met, but in all likelihood will never see again, and then to Eva- who I may not see again any time soon, but I'll certainly see her in August.

The great thing about being a tourist is that you can be somewhere 500 times and still find something that you haven't noticed before (I still find new little things along my street all the time.)  I was walking back to the Ubahn and I noticed this sign:


I thought it was cool.  I literally must have passed it about 50 times without noticing it. 

Continuing- the rest of the day... I read and studied.

Sunday:

 I read, studied, wrote some of my Austrian Legal Systems paper, and did some more of my Contemporary Austrian Music presentation.

Monday:

Finals day #1.  I was supposed to only have my oral exam for German, but I asked if I could switch my written portion from Wednesday to Monday because I also had the aforementioned paper and presentation on Wednesday- she let me.  So, that means that I got to go first for the oral exam and then sit there taking my writing/reading portion while everyone else was doing their speaking portion.  I was distracted half of the time, but finished in about 80 minutes. 

I then went to Behind Morality.  We didn't do anything exciting.  There's still another week of that class, but there isn't an actual final exam, just the three essays that I've already written.  Then instead of going to the opera like I was hoping to, I came back and did a lot more work with my paper and my presentation.

Tuesday:

Finals day #2.  All that I had was the German listening portion.  I think I missed two points, but that's still enough for a 1, so I don't really care (especially given that I just need a 3 for transfer credit.)  After the test was over (it was only about 30 minutes) we reviewed for the final that everyone was taking on Wednesday that I had already taken.  She asked me what I thought of the test (in front of the whole class) and I said I thought that it was relatively easy- she responded by saying something to the extent of she expected that given my scores.  I mean, was that really necessary?  Everyone in that class knows that I know my stuff- I've even been approached by people a few times when they don't understand something and they need clarification... There was no need to say "Look everyone, Brandon did great- you should probably not suck."  (That's not nearly what she said, but that's kinda what it felt like to me- I don't know what the others felt.)

After class, I pretty much went straight to my paper and presentation since they were due the next day.  The paper was about Lay judges and jury trials- how effective they are, how they're used in Austria, in America, and then giving my opinion of what could be used if not those.  It really wasn't that bad, I just had a momentary stutter-step when I couldn't remember exactly what power juries in the US had.  Well, I should say that I questioned if I knew.  Mr. Vic would had been ashamed.  But, with the help of numerous people- especially Niki, I got it all figured out.

The presentation though, that was a different beast altogether.  I had been working on it for nearly two weeks, but had still made next to no progress.  Information on Christian Ofenbauer is about as easy to track down as a schematic telling you the whereabouts of every secret service member in the white house.  Niki played another major role here in helping me track down sources (she's pretty much a pro at that, even if they aren't in a language that she can read.)

Once I really got started, it wasn't too overly terrible, but it was still difficult.  Presentations in foreign languages just aren't easy for some reason.  I finally finished both around 04.00, sent my paper to my Austrian Legal professor, and went to bed.

Doomsday (Wednesday):

I knew since the first week of the semester that this day was going to suck. 

I woke up, got ready, then went to the NIG to print out my handout.  I looked at it again and made a few revisions in both that and the script that I typed up.  The time drew near, and I headed to class.

Prior to Dr. Ender's arrivial I was nervously pacing back and forth reading over my script, trying to make sure that there were no "stupid words" as I call them- or in real people terms, a word that looks like another, so you accidentally say the wrong one, and sound like a moron. 

I had the privilege of being the first referat for the day, so at least I got it over with quickly.  I walked up in front of the room, and just started.  I opened with saying that I am an exchange student, so if they don't understand something to ask me, and I'll try to better explain it if I can.  Once I got into the substance of my presentation- the only thought that I had was freshman year of high school at my first congress for forensics. 

It was a political congress at Fox Chapel- Jason Altmire was in the room.  I got up to give a speech and absolutely nothing came out.  I was shaking so nervously, someone actually thought that I might be having a legitimate medical issue.  (Luckily that isn't the forensics legacy that I left.)

That's not nearly how the story went on Wednesday though.  I caught myself reading incredibly fast, so I slowed myself down to a near-human pace, and kept going.  I did do a lot of unnecessary hand gesturing, but I think that was the least of my worries. 

I finally ended my presentation and the question period started... oh boy.  First question- Dr. Ender- He wanted to know where the quote came from that had his name attached to it.  (He's just written so many books/ articles that he didn't remember this insignificant one.  I assure, it was actually him.)  Then he asks the class for more questions- at which point I assure them that if they don't have any questions, that it is perfectly fine by me- they laughed.  (I'll come back to that later.)

So that was pretty much the end of that.  The other three presentations that day didn't show up or dropped the class, or something of the sort, so I was the only one to present that day.  We spent the rest of the time taking about the course, and giving feedback for improvement. 

Wednesday night- I crashed.  Much needed sleep.

Thursday:  I really didn't HAVE to do anything today, but my German class (or at least those of us who wanted to) were meeting to do a little scavenger hunt/ culture quiz about the city.  It was actually pretty cool.  I got to see some of the town that typically goes unnoticed.  Only four of us were there- one left early because her 15 month year old son was not having a good day. 

After that, I came back, and started reading more.  I have so much reading to do for my Goethe class, but I feel like I have made absolutely no progress.  I can read it quickly, but when I do that, I miss a lot of what is going on, so it is quite counter-productive.  And I suppose that brings us to where we are now.

Ok a topic that I mentioned that I would like to go back to- making the class laugh.  No, they didn't laugh because I messed up, or anything negative- they laughed because I made a joke.  Joking.  That was kind of when it hit me that I have taken huge leaps in my German speaking ability.  To be able to speak a language is one thing, but to be able to formulate a joke in a foreign language that actually makes people laugh- I personally that is a sign of being comfortable with a language.  I dunno- maybe it's just me trying to toot my own horn, but I thought that right there was a big moment.

Final topic for this evening.  As I said probably about two weeks ago, I've been doing a lot of thinking recently.  This was the derivative of one of those thinking sessions.  I briefly mentioned it early on I think, but I honestly can't remember.  This topic, is you.  You, and everyone else that I have ever met, anyone that has ever meant something to me, or been special to me for any reason.

While I have been in Vienna I have spent time thinking about every stage of my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some of you have been there since the very beginning, some have just joined the party, but all of you are a part of this wonderful thing that I call my life.  I've probably never taken the time to thank you for coming into my life (something that I know you had complete control over...)  but it is lost past over due. 

It's amazing the people that come into mind when you don't really have many people at all that you know around you.  Friends from elementary school, middle school, and high school that I haven't talked to in years... or even people from college, with whom I seemed to be friends with for but the blink of an eye- chances are at some point during my trip you've wandered into my thoughts- and I just wanted to let you know.  Obviously this isn't just limited to people that I've met thorough school, it was just an easy example. 

I guess what I'm really trying to say, is that I haven't appreciated how much you mean to me since I met you.  This is me saying that I'm sorry for neglecting you, thanking you for being incredible, and telling you that your being a part of my life means more to me than you could ever imagine.  The next time that we see each other remind me to give you a hug- and none of that one handed pat of the back crap.  A genuine hug.  Just to say "Hey, thanks for being awesome."

Until next time-
Brandon

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One Month.

Wow.  So for those of you who don't know exactly one month from today I'll be on my way home.  I'm filled with so many different feelings about going home, but overall, I'm pretty excited to see all of my friends and family again.

Avoiding that topic- Today happened.  I woke up about 2 hours early for German, couldn't fall back asleep, so I just kind of started my day.

Nothing overly special happened in German.  Then I got to Austrian Music.  We had a guest today, Eva Reiter.  She's a composer and she plays a few instruments, so it was kind of cool to hear what she had to say about everything.  Also, for never having studied composition- she was probably my favorite composer that came to visit.  She did make one point glaringly obvious though-people don't become composers because of their people skills.  She seemed incredibly nervous, and it was taking her a while to string her thoughts together (she is a native German speaker.)  Oh well- it as beneficial nonetheless.

After that I headed to the opera.  And then I realized that I was an hour and a half early, so I went back to my place to drop my stuff off, and then quickly made my way back.  I make my way back to the opera because I'm already later than I would like to be, but I really didn't want to take my bookbag with me.  I finally make it back to the opera house and get into the line for standing tickets.  Some punk tourist cuts me in line, but I dismiss it- he's one person, it's not going to make a big deal.  About 5 minutes later an elderly sir walks by and says that he just bought his ticket but has to attend to an emergency at home and offers the ticket to the punk who cut me in line.  My luck.  I wait in line and get the ticket I was planning to get anyway- oh well.  I guess it was wait in line, or wait... not in line. 

After getting my ticket I realize that it starts a half hour earlier than I thought and I DON'T have time to go grab dinner like I thought I did.  No big- just standing through a 3.5 hour opera without eating all day.  Anyway- I get in line to head up to the balcony to grab a standing spot.  They're having a technical problem so we aren't allowed in until 6:10- the show starts at 6:30.  I finally grab my spot and then I hear it.  There's group of Emery prima donnas standing behind me.  One is talking about how he was classical trained and can tell what key anything is in by... I couldn't make out what he was trying to say through all of the garbage coming out of his mouth.  Another was complaining that they had to stand the entire time.  And last, but certainly not least, you had the one complaining that the show wasn't in English. 

This was the last that I heard of them.  Actually, the didn't shut up.  They talked throughout the first two acts.  Luckily, they were ignorant of the fact that it is customary for the principle actors to take a bow at intermission, and they somehow thought the opera was over (even thought the plot would have made no sense for being one of the most successful operas of all time) so they left. 

Intermission is kind of nice because it give you a few minutes to sit down and rest your legs from standing still for such a long time.  However I saw something that made me pretty mad.  There were two young ladies who hand just come in- saw an unmarked spot, and they took it.  It's made very clear that if you leave an unmarked spot, it's up for grabs.  Then a French woman comes and tells them that that this is her spot- says nothing further, but stands in front of them, and pushes their bags out of the way.  The girls tried speaking to the woman, but she was just being out right rude to them.  Some people deserve to just be wiped off the planet for having absolutely no manners what so ever. 

Oh- I forgot to mention.  Tonight had a theme at the opera (not really, it just seemed like it) it was an InvASIAN.  For the first half of the show I had (either Chinese or Japanese) people on either side of me, and behind me.  It was all I could hear, and it was literally driving me crazy.  They don't speak words- at best I'll give them onomatopoeias.  Most of them too left during intermission.

During intermission, however a new family did come join the party.  There was a Turkish family, mother, father, son, and daughter.  The come over, take spots, and then start asking me all about what they missed in the first half.  I'm sorry... I missed the part in my job description where I am supposed to inform people of what happened in the half that they opted out of coming to see.  Anyway, I was nice and started telling them, but I was reading the German subtitles, and some times I didn't know the English word, or it took me a minute, so I accidentally convinced the family that I wasn't a native English speaker.  There was a nice older woman who came over and explained it to them though.  The young boy (he looked to be about 10, maybe 12) drew the relation between this and a Midsummer Night's Dream.  I was astounded that someone that young would even know who Shakespeare was, much less know the content of his works.

So Act 3 starts.  It was lovely.  It finishes, and there's a short pause while they change around the stage.  the lights go back down, the curtain goes up, the set flies in- and a cable snaps.  They flew it in too far- I don't think that was the cause of the snap, but nonetheless, one of the cables holding up one of the backdrop pieces snapped.  It was pretty scary for a minute- not knowing what was going to happen, but they just kept on going.  You could see the actors kind of eye it up as they approached it, but quite frankly, I don't blame them.  You've got a massive piece of fabric covered wood that could come crashing down at any second, and you are walking right next to it... I'd probably make sure it wasn't going to crush me too. 

About halfway through Act 4 the Turkish family left.  That kinda bothered me too.  Show up at intermission, leave before the show is over... why bother coming? 

Despite the people around me, the show was pretty incredible.  One of the top 2 that I have seen here.  There was one performer that I wasn't so fond of, which rather surprised me, but I'm thinking it was probably just an off night- I'm fairly certain that they don't have bad performers at the Wiener Staats Oper. 

After the show was over I finally got dinner.  It was a Döner type of night.  So I ate that and then hopped on the Ubahn.  That's when the problem started.  The Americans.

Americans always say that if someone is going to come to our country, they should speak our language, they should behave like we do, etc.  Well, for most people it's hypocritical to say the least.  There were about a dozen American (what I'm guessing were early college students [freshmen]) on the U4.  They were absolutely obnoxious.  Screaming, running around, banging on the windows... And to make matters worse, they were drunk as can be.  I saw four separate 2L bottles, and at least half a dozen personal sized bottles of this, that, and the other thing- almost entirely gone.  They were at Karlsplatz- looking for Stephansplatz (which are really close to each other, you don't even actually need the Ubahn.)  But anyway, they took the U4 from Karlsplatz, which doesn't connect at Stephansplatz.  I was thinking of helping them out, but given their demeanor, I figured they deserved to suffer, and I hope that one of them needs to use the bathroom or something.  Good luck- jerks.

So this blog has been rather short an spiteful.  Let's fill it with something positive.  In yesterday's blog I talked about all of the thinking that I have been doing in the months past, and how I have had some major realizations.  We'll start now with something that has been troubling me for I can't even remember how long.

I don't know how many of you know, I entered college with an intended double major in German and International Business.  In the very first semester I realized how miserable I would be as a business major- it just isn't for me.  For those of you who really know me, try to imagine it-  can you? 

Continuing on- part of me always wanted to do something with music, but at the same time part of me always accepted what society believes- that it is a stupid idea, and that I'll live in a box.  I formally declared my music major in the spring of Freshman year, but I was never really set on the idea.  I was still having that internal conflict of why I wanted to do what, or if I could really pull whatever off, or how much what meant to me... every imaginable question. 

Probably the most discouraging moment was this past fall semester- my first semester of piano.  I spent countless hours practicing, but regardless of that, it seemed as though I made absolutely no progress.  It was rough- it really made me question how much I wanted it. 

This semester has been quite an interesting one though.  I have two music classes- Music Theory (which is now over) and Contemporary Austrian Music.  Music Theory reminded me exactly what it is I love about music, while Contemporary Music shed an entirely new light on it.  It showed me the trials and tribulations of being a musician- but also the incredible benefits that you can reap from it. 

Combine those two classes with the ability to go to the Vienna State Opera 2-3 times a week and see a different show each time, if nothing else, this trip sure was at least a nice reassurance that this is what I want to do, come hell or high water.  Am I expecting to be successful?  No, not exactly- I'm just your average Joe.  But then again, Mozart had to start somewhere- right.

This life is mine to live, and to not do what I want would be to damn myself to a life of misery.  I've got my canvas, I've readied the paint, now it's time to see what sort of masterpiece I can come up with.

Until next time-
Brandon