Sunday, September 25, 2011

Discovering Klagenfurt

The entire weekend was positively gorgeous, so I spent most of it outdoors. Saturday, I went to the market in town, which takes place each Saturday and Thursday and hosts local farmers as well as those from Italy and Slovenia. I came home with fresh peppers to make stuffed peppers for dinner, hand-made Marillennudeln (sweet noodles with half and apricot inside, a typical Kärnter dessert) and mozarella and spinach noodles, fresh dill, freshly cut sauer kraut, slippers, and Kärntner honey. I asked the honey man if there was any where to practice or learn beekeeping, which I had begun learning in Germany, but he had such a hard time understanding my non-dialect German, that I decided it would be best to move on and ask someone else. Riannon says she found a honey store…perhaps I can go there and ask?

I wound my way to Neuer Platz, which was hosting the Bio Fest this Friday and Saturday. Wandering amidst homemade cheeses and breads, I noticed a booth of delicious looking olives and ended up with a little bag of Bio olives, which were, I must admit, delicious.

Dropping my market swag back at home, eating lunch, visiting two grocery stores and wishing Riannon and Nils happy trail riding with their bikes. I headed off to do a bit of hiking on the Kreuzbergl, which Irene says has beautiful walking paths. I walked in a circular path behind the red-onion-domed church that adorns the hill near the city and admired the view of the surrounding mountains.

I came back, exhausted and began to prepare dinner. Riannon whipped up her amazing homemade tomato sauce with chunks of garlic and basil. We all fell into food coma heaven after stuffed peppers with tomato sauce, sauer kraut, and Marillennudeln topped with ice cream.

Sunday, I went off to hike to Mario Lotto on Wörthersee via the Kreuzbergl before the other two were even awake. They had plans to take a picnic lunch and hike out to a castle also somewhere on the Kreuzbergl. After a good two hours of hiking, I somehow ended up on the wrong trail and found my way to St. Martin, a subsection on Klagenfurt, which has its own baby church. From there I hiked over a curly-cue bridge to the Lendkanal and followed it down to the See. On the way, I ran into Riannon and Nils, just beginning their journey. Nils advised me on how to get to trail Number 11 to hike back home along the scenic lake overlook.

I made it to Maria Lotto, which is a restaurant and old manor home sitting on a small peninsula that extends into the lake, snapped a few pictures and headed for trail 11, which I found exactly where Nils said it would be. I hiked up, looking out over the lake, filled with majestic sailboats bobbing along merrily.

Taking a break on a bench, I noticed a grisly looking man sitting on a bench not too far away. He called over to me, “I left that one open just for you!”
I laughed and nodded.

Then, he wheeled his bike over, which was loaded down with beer and leaned on the tree next to my bench. “You want to come sit next to me? Or should I sit next to you?” he leered, his breath reeking of alcohol.

“Ah, no. I have to keep going, now, sorry.”

I got up and continued hiking, praying he wouldn’t follow. He did. On this bike. Teetering along the stony path, as he called, “Ich bin verliebt!” (I’m in love!)
I followed a path upwards where he couldn’t follow with his bike and was soon back on dog-walking path central with plenty of normal looking Austrians about. I continued following number 11 in the direction I needed, when it magically turned into number 12 and I became unsure of my direction. The next hikers I saw, I asked and they assured me I was heading the right way.

I soon came to an intersection and was totally lost. An older man came up behind me and asked if I was looking for something in particular. I mentioned that I needed to head back to the Kreuzberglkirche and he offered to walk with me since he was heading that way. After my run in with the drunkard, I was a bit leery, but he seemed normal and didn’t reek of alcohol, so off we continued. After Grüß Gott-ing our way along the trail, we reached familiar territory and I relaxed. We began chatting and he told me he had lived in Klagenfurt his whole live, always coming to the Kreuzbergl trails on the weekend. He told me he never thought about how they could be confusing to a foreigner before. I waved goodbye to him at the church and he continued onwards, while I walked home. On the way, I stopped for ice cream at Tutti Frutti, home to handmade ice cream by Italians that come up for the summer and spend their winters in Italy.

After a shower and a break, I began cooking up leftovers and the spinach-mozarella noodles. We ate through that round of food, then Riannon baked Salmon covered in dill and blue cheese, with corn-curry potatoes for round 2. For round 3, we finished off the plum cake with a bit of ice cream on top. Monday, we head off to a week-long orientation in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, a small town in the mountains somewhere near Salzburg-ish, so this was an attempt to empty our fridge as much as possible. The rest will be stuffed in our tiny freezer or brought with us for lunch.


Friday, at 10am I went outside my house to wait for the Bauer couple, Helli and Konrad. They quickly arrived at just past ten and soon Helli was kissing me warmly on either cheek, greeting me with a hearty “Servus!” This greeting tends to be used by Austrians among friends or family, rather than the more formal “Grüß Gott” and Helli was definitely using it with enthusiasm. She informed me that we were going to have small "Ausflug" (a small getaway) and visit some place special to my family.

Away we drove through the Loibl pass through pin-hair curves, passing dramatic mountain scenes to Bodental. This is where the mysterious Meerauge (eye of the sea) and Märchen Wiese (fairy tale meadow) are located, both of which I visited with my family when last in Austria. The Meerauge is a pool of glacial melt that is bright blue and, according to legend, connected to another one just like it in Slovenia where one day a cart fell through in Austria and ended up in Slovenia. The meadow is supposedly populated by tiny gnomes that eat the grass from below, keeping the meadow neatly cropped and short at all times. It was too windy to make it to the meadow or the Auge , but it was breathtakingly beautiful to walk among the mountains. We even met a man, who used to go to grade school with my grandfather and Helli’s brother.

Back at the car a while later, we drove to Rosenthal, which overlooks a beautiful valley filled with, as Konrad puts it, 4-legged lawn mowers-- aka. Sheep. We ate in a restaurant where my grandparents visited every trip and Helli introduced me to the owner, explaining I was the grandchild of Richard. After a lunch of Almdudler (my favorite Austrian drink, which is something akin to fizzy herb-flavored apple juice), chibab-chi-chi (which I am not at all spelling correctly), and warm apple strudel, we headed towards Ferlach, where my grandfather grew up. We drove through the town, passing his old house and the old mill where my great-grandfather worked, and would up at Hollenburg a giant white castle on a hill. We climbed up into the courtyard and looked out over Ferlach down bellow, admiring the sunshine.

Soon, the three of us headed back to where Helli and Konrad live.
Their son, Konrad Jr., and his family (which includes his Swedish wife) live three houses down from the apartment block the Bauers call home. We sat and chatted for an hour. Konrad Junior popped over about that time and he energetically began talking at rapid-fire speed in German, cheerfully relating details of his previous trip to America when he was a young man and stayed with my grandparents. He was surprised all this had happened before I was even born! He also told me that there are pre-paid SIM-cards one can buy from certain grocery stores, bu the phone has to be unlocked. Cards from “Yes!” are the best, but “Bob,” part of the A1 network is another option, as well as one from the French company “Orange.” He also offered the use of an old phone to put one of the SIM-cards in, saying he happened to have an extra. Before he left, he handed me his phone number and firmly stated, “Wenn irgendwas ist, ruf an” (If anything happens, call….meaning if I ever needed help or wanted to meet with any of them, just to call).

A New Roommate

Tuesday morning I headed back to the Bezirkshauptmannschaft, as instructed. This time, I knocked on door 205 instead of 206 and was admitted to a room identical to the one from yesterday. There, the woman behind the counter, too, seemed confused that I wanted to pick up an Aufenthaltstitle. As I began spelling my last name, she slid a file out from beneath her keyboard and nodded towards a chair. I sat down and she said she had to make a call before she began my case. She made the call, another person’s case file spread out on her desk in front of me, and then informed me that she required my finger prints to finish the application process. I placed my fingers in various formations on a screen and they were automatically scanned into the computer and saved with my file. In 2 weeks, on Oct. 3rd, I will have to go back to actually pick up the Aufenthaltstitle.
I headed off to the old town to take a wander through the main sights of the historic town.
Then, I did some more grocery shopping, walking between 3 different stores to gather the materials to make Chili, so that there would be something hearty and warm ready when Riannon arrived.
I was in the process of searching for ground meat…beef or pork, I would take what I could find for the cheaper price, when I realized that asking for “Gehacktes” (the German word for ground and the word I had used while in Germany) was getting me nowhere. Stock boys would stare at me in confusion when the word appeared on my lips. I’d explain further what I wanted and they’d wave in confusion at the meat area. Wandering amidst the rows of meat, I discovered exactly what I was looking for, except under the name of “Faschiert” instead of “Gehacktes.” Austria strikes again!
After cleaning and airing out of the house, I wanted to take a quick shower, but discovered mine was stuck in the bathtub position and not budging. I hopped in Riannon’s instead and noticed a serious lack of hot water. It wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t anything close to warm either. Our kitchen faucet was also on the fritz, spurting water at random times, dripping for hours after it was turned on, and all sorts of other wonderful things.
After I showered, I texted Irene on my German phone because I was still having issues with my Austrian one. She called me back right away and I described exactly what was going on. She said she would tell her daughter and son-in-law and when they came home, they could see to the hot water. The rest, she would take care of once she came back on Thursday.
As per Irene’s instructions, I left our door slightly ajar for when her daughter came home and headed off to meet Riannon at the train station. I ended up arriving bit early at the station, so I took a seat, watching the tracks her, when two pre-teen blonde girls ran up to me giggling and asked me “Who is the toilet?” between fits of giggles. I answered them in German and they ran away.
I saw Riannon’s train pull in and headed to our pre-appointed spot to wait. As I was searching the departing crowds for my new roommate, the girls approached me a second time, giggling, “I’m sorry. Who is the toilet?” I answered them again in German, not sure if they were actually looking for a toilet and trying to ask “where” as opposed to “who,” or if they were just being silly. They began to approach others with their question, and, it was then that I spied my new roommate, half buried behind her boyfriend in an array of luggage.
We hugged and after Nils and Riannon both had their obligatory smoke break, during which Nils ran into a fellow Hollander and they had a riveting conversation in Dutch, all three of us were finally on our way back to the house.
Panting, sweating and overheating because of all the baggage, we arrived at the house, dropped Riannon’s things in her room and I proceeded to re-warm dinner. Nils and Riannon gratefully devoured slices of plum cake that I had made along with giant bowls of chilly and almost an entire loaf of bread.
We chatted over dinner and I discovered how they met in Bremen, Germany through a conference both had attended. Through Google Docs they had continued their friendship after visits back and forth—Nils to North Carolina and Riannon to Holland they had begun to date and have been for about a year. They already have plans to hike a mountain in the middle of Morocco over Christmas break, as well as visit Nils’ family.
Irene called again and informed us that neither her son-in-law nor her daughter would be home until late that night and both had an early start the following morning, so off I headed to the basement with Irene on the phone to guide me through the steps of activating the hot water heater. Hot water normally comes from water heated via solar panels on the roof, but because of all the rain and cloudy-ness there hadn’t been any water heated through this method.
I told Nils and Riannon that we should have hot water in about 3 hours and left them to unpack and re-arrange Riannon’s new room.

We were all up early to head out to the Meldeamt and arrive before 8am, but we soon realized that Irene’s daughter had not signed the Meldezettel that Riannon had taped to her door with a note. Without a signature from the landlord, we wouldn’t be able to go to the Meldeamt, or get a bank account, or see about getting Riannon a cell phone. Since we were all already up, I took the two on a bit of a tour of the old town and we headed to McDonald’s to make use of the free internet, as well.
I also managed get my phone in working order and attempted to call a family friend of my grandparents, the Bauer family. At first, the phone refused to accept the numbers, but at Riannon’s urging, I added a zero to the front and the call went through, but no answer. I tried both the cell phone and home phone numbers that I had…no answer. I decided to try again in the evening.
Still at McDonald's my phone rang, it was the "Techniker" aka. the Internet installation people. The earliest they could come would be, you guessed it, Oct. 3rd. I made the appointment and, now, at some point between noon and 6pm a Techniker will appear at our door and set up our internet. I just hope I can make it home from my first day of school before he comes. With any luck, he will come closer to 4-6pm.

Meanwhile, we walked around the mall, which is named City Arkaden, looking for various items.

The three of us split two giant pizza slices for lunch at a Döner place inside.
Finally, we walked back home, rested, dropped our heavy bags, and then went back out to grocery shop in Süd Park, another mall-like structure near us with a much larger grocery store than the store just around the corner from us.
Before buying anything, Riannon wanted to finish off something from our list of things to do, so we headed back to the nearby train station to look for a passport photo place, where Riannon could get a photo for her Vorteilskarte. Finding nothing, Nils and Riannon returned to the grocery store to acquire massive amounts of food and returned home.

I called the Bauer family again, this time reaching the woman of the house. She was extactic to hear from me, but said she would have to call me back because she needed to talk to her husband about when exactly to meet with me. She called me back that evening and we made plans for Friday.


Irene came by first thing to check on our issues. In fact, Irene stopped by three times before Riannon or Nils were even awake. I informed Irene that the water was still not hot, she tried a few things and then called a repair man.
I survived my first round of laundry, letting it dry on our rack on the patio.
For breakfast, well lunch for me by this time, it was noon after all, Nils whipped up a pile of Dutch pancakes. This meant some had cheese or bacon melted directly into the batter. During this feast, the repair man arrived and a short while later we had functioning hot water. Hurrah!

After breakfast, Irene showed Riannon the two bikes left behind by previous tenants, one in need of repair. Nils fixed one in a jiffy, setting the tire and steering column to rights and pumping air into both bikes.

Then, the Meldezettel finally signed by Irene, the three of us headed to the Meldeamt with me riding on the back of one of the bikes. We were in luck that there was no one in the Meldeamt and Riannon was in and out in record speed. We rode away to the bank next, where we asked to meet with the same banker I had met with on Monday and set up an account for Riannon. During the visit the banker had me call the office phone with my new Austrian cell phone, so we could enter the number into the system. I dialed the number, but the office phone didn’t ring. Then, we heard “Hallo? Haaallllooo?!” Quickly, I ended the connection and passed the phone to the banker. He had given me the wrong number, so he entered the correct one himself this time, read the number off of the office phone display screen and typed it into the system. Laughing, Riannon and I walked out to meet Nils guarding the bikes.
As we re-grouped, Riannon noted, “Weph! I’m so glad you were there! I definitely did not understand most of what he was saying.”

Right next door, was the A1 store where I had ordered the internet and been given the phone, so off Riannon and I headed to ask if we could add an extra line to our phone for her. The answer was, quell surprise, we have to wait until Oct. 3rd when the internet is installed before we can do anything.

So, off we headed once again, after picking up Nils to get a Passphoto for Riannon. We ended up in this small store stuffed with photos of naked babies, children dressed in Lederhosen, and weddings, all of which seemed to be set in the 1980s. Riannon got her photo, several in fact, and we got directions to a bike store to investigate a method to actually lock up the bikes. Nils was bent on buying a long metal chain with a pad lock, saying it was the only thing not easily cut.
First, we dropped by City Arkaden , and Nils and Riannon picked up a few items, while I watched the bikes and observed the chicly dressed teens meeting in droves in the vicinity of the mall.

Second, we made our way to said bike shop, but found only cloth covered chains with combination locks. A young man in the store told us to try the store across the street. Off we went and there the man pointed to the exact same thing, but when we described what we wanted, he told us to try the hardware store (Bauhaus), the German word of which had, until this point, escaped us. We asked where to find one, explaining we had just moved to Klagenfurt and he gave us directions. Nils wanted to bike off right away to buy the chains on his own, but we convinced him to ride with use to the train station, so we could buy out tickets and order the Vorteilskarte for Riannon. Then, Riannon and Nils biked off to the Bauhaus together and I walked the rest of the way home.

After a shower in our finally warm water, I ate a dinner of leftovers with the returning and triumphant chain-lock possessors.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My New Home

This yellow house, on the first floor at least, is now my home. Above me, lives Irene's daughter and her husband and, above them, lives Irene. Go through the giant door between the house and the garage, and you'll enter the house.

After you are inside the first door, you can turn to the right, and see our second door, which leads to an entry way to remove shoes and short hallway, which then leads to our actual door.

If, however, you look straight ahead, you'll end up in the garden.

Next to the door, Irene has piled some of the produce...

Inside the house:

My room

My giant bed...

Turn and you enter the "study," which essentially becomes more like a closet than anything else.

Attached to the "study" is my bathroom, which has no toilet, but 2 sinks and a bathtub/shower.

Exit my room and turn right immediately and you come to this random nook, which is home to a variety of English, Italian, and German books from Irene, a desk and a vacuum.

The wall that makes up the nook is also part of the the second bathroom, which is the one with a toilet. This will be Riannon's bathroom.

Turn around and you can see our entry way with bench and coat rack. To the left of this is our door.

Looking straight ahead, with the bathroom to your right you will reach this stained glass door, head through it and you have 2 choices...

1. you can go through another door into Riannon's room (this is before she moved in)

Or, 2. you can decide to go into the kitchen

And either take a seat in our nook

or out through the kitchen door to the patio and look out at the garden. Go down a few stone steps and you will be back where you started.

The Early Days

That first night, I slept well for a solid 4 hours, but after those few hours of sleep, I couldn’t go back to the world of dreams for several hours. After an eternity, I finally fell asleep and woke up around 8am. In a panic, because I had been hoping to wake up extra early and get a start visiting all the various official offices before the start of the weekend, I ate breakfast and got my things together, hoping to accomplish my giant list before office closing time.
First, I went to the university to register for a German as a Foreign Language course and the placement test on October 4th. This way, I would be able to get a free bank account.
In order to save time, I caught a bus back to Heiligengeistplatz, which is the main bus terminal and the square of the Holy Ghost. I quickly entered the Rathaus, where I stared in confusion at the array of choices plastered on the wall inside. I asked a woman standing on the other side of a little window where the Meldeamt was and she promptly told me, “Kumpfgasse 20.” She told me to hurry because they closed in 15 minutes. I asked her for directions and set off, but I couldn’t find any street with a “K” other than the one that led away to the Alter Platz in the opposite direction she had sent me. I went to the tourist information office and the bored looking girl behind the desk, who circled the street for me on the map. I headed back out, got lost for an entire hour off of the map and somehow managed to find my way to the Meldeamt. I worked my way up the stairs and was staring at the sign hosting the hours of operation, attempting to figure out when the office would be open again. A kind-hearted middle aged man, who worked for the Amt explained the process and how I would have to come back, push a button, wait for a number and then be called to a certain room. He also told me where to go for the Bezirkshauptmannschaft, where I could pick up the residency visa.
I decided to waltz by that office, but I only saw darkened doors and signs pointing the way for Fluchtlinge (refugees).
Feeling exhausted and down-hearted, I headed back home to go grocery shopping and ran into Irene gathering apples in the garden. She waved me over and was shocked to hear that the offices were already closed for the weekend.
I continued organizing and unpacking, Irene let me use her internet again, and I went to sleep feeling better.
Saturday, right away at 8am, I went to the phone and internet stores to ask about getting a SIM-card for my Handy and wireless internet for our floor of the house. They stared at me like I was crazy to only want a new SIM-card and not a 2-year package deal contract and that I had no idea if my Handy was “freigeschalten” (unlocked) or not. I discovered that my German phone was locked for Vodaphone (a cheap, load by the euro/minute phone) use only.
Frustrated, I found myself in an A1 store, which is the main provider of all things Austrian-technology. There, the man was able to offer me a package: internet for my home and a phone number rolled into one, so that the phone was free per month and I only paid 24 Euros a month for internet. I signed all the papers and walked away with a phone and phone number, but would be unable to use it until it was activated on Monday. First, it would have to be charged for 15 hours and then I would have to enter a series of pins to unlock the phone. Finally, hopefully, if I could figure out how to use it, I would have a functioning Austrian phone number. Internet, I wouldn't have until someone called me on that Austrian phone in 1-2 weeks and made an appointment to come install the internet. We could be 3-4 weeks totally internet-less.

I headed back home, stopping to pick up such essential items as soap, toilet paper, and paper towels.

As I came back, Irene caught me during her mad-packing to travel to the Weissen See, where she has another house and vegetable garden. She asked if she could come to check on the drapes, which had not yet hung and then finished a few clean-ups in my bathroom, which is when she noticed one of my two sinks was not working. She also pointed out that a painter would have to come for our second bathroom where her daughter had accidentally flooded the ceiling. I’m just curious as to why all of this couldn’t have been done before we arrived? I guess things must have been busy around the house.

She headed off and I headed off to explore the Wörthersee, near which Klagenfurt sits. I walked past the University to the Lake and sat on a bench watching the sailboats and people playing with their dogs in the cool waters, then headed home. On the way, I got stuck in a massive rain storm with rain and wind buffeting me from all sides. I made it to a bus stop, huddled in the corner of the enclosed bench, until the bus arrived. I worked my way home, soaking wet, on a series of buses.
As I sat in my new kitchen in warm clothes, sipping tea, I began to think about all the little differences between Austria and Germany—even though they share a common language. I was so used to walking into a shop and greeting everyone with a hearty “Hallo,” that it was slightly jarring to have to switch to the Austrian traditional greeting of “Grüß Gott” (Greet God). After many a strange look or an awkward feeling on my part after being greeted with the proper form of address, my greetings seemed to come out like a mix between the two…more a “haaggrüß ggtt.” Upon leaving a store, official office, or anyone for that matter, Austrians typically say “Wiederschauen,” as opposed to the German polite form of address “Aufwiedersehen.” I, of course, was used to the “Tschüss” that most people used where I lived in Germany last year.

Sunday was raining the entire day, so I stuck around the house, organizing the kitchen, which was a jumbled mess of pots, pans, and everything in between, and researching travel options in Austria and Kärnten.
Monday I went back for round 2 with the official offices…
I had no problems at the Meldeamt where a young lady with long blonde hair efficiently typed in my information, as I tossed my number slip into her heart-shaped box.
I thanked her and asked about where exactly to pick up an Auftenthaltstitle. I wanted to double check the man’s information from Friday. She only knew it was somewhere in the Bezirkshauptsmannschaft, but didn’t know a room number.
I walked around the corner and went in the first possible door where I stared at an imposing wall of possibilities listing every possible office from driver’s licensing to the main health office. I had no idea what the office I was looking for would be called, so I scanned the entire list twice. I saw “Bezirkhauptmann” and since that was where we were told to pick up the visa, I headed off to the 4th floor. Upon reaching the door, I knocked and was greeted by a friendly secretary. She laughed when I said what I was looking for and informed me I was 2 floors too high. (I was essentially in the head-honcho’s office. Ooops!) She told me the room numbers I should look for and headed off for the second floor. Both doors looked dark, but I picked one that had more light and knocked. A woman called out “Bitteschoen!” and I opened the door, greeting her and telling her what I was looking for. I was hanging halfway in and halfway out of the door. She smiled and said, “ja, ja.” I moved further in, closing the door and she asked for my past Aufenthaltstitle. I said I didn’t have one, but I had already applied for one. She began searching her computer database using my passport, while simultaneously fielding a call. In the end, she told me I would have to come back tomorrow or call because her colleague had only half-entered the information and she didn’t know why. I would have to see her colleague. I must have looked confused because she began speaking in eloquent English, “You com. Tomorrow. 8 O’clock. Next door.”
I asked if she knew if I would be allowed to open a bank account without the Aufenthaltstitle. She threw up her hand and said I would have to ask the bank that question.
I headed to the bank, feeling rather downtrodden and hoping they would let me open an account minus a certain something official in my passport. I walked in and asked a woman sitting at a little kiosk where I would be able to open a bank account. She asked for an ID and I handed over my passport. She disappeared in search of someone. Soon, I was shaking hands with a rather suavely dressed young man, who led me to a room. He slowly and kindly helped me set up an account and even told me if I came back with an enrollment number from the University, I could have the account for free instead of the 20 euros pro 3 month term. He told me to contact him at any time with questions and he would help me close the account in May.
I left smiling and feeling better about the world, saying a proper “Wiederschauen” to the clerk who mans the door on the way out.
I headed up to the Bahnhof next to apply for the Vorteilskarte and received my temporary slip in exchange. My official plastic card will come in 4-6 weeks.
I exited, walking home in the in gusting wind and rain. Let me tell you, this is not just any rain, this is rain that comes in gails and attacks from all directions at once, leaving you breathless and freezing, attempting to fend off the next gust.
After warming up, I began preparing for Riannon, my future roommate to come Tuesday night. The last time I had used Irene’s internet I had discovered exactly when and where Riannon would be arriving and arranged to meet her at the train station.

The Journey over

This is all being posted from McDonald's, thanks to free wireless internet, as I still have no functioning internet.

I have arrived in Klagenfurt. The blue marks the section of Austria, where I now live and the name of Klagenfurt is printed below in white.

After dinner with my Omama Wednesday night, my mom dropped me off at the airport.
I waddled up to the Lufthansa check-in desk, and proceeded to follow the process, lifting my bags on the appropriate scales. I had to pay 70 dollars for my second bag, but the credit card machine was broken at the desk where I was waiting. My backpack and I were sent to another counter down the hall to pay.
Phase One complete, I headed to security, finding myself standing exactly at the same point in the security line where I had been at this time last year. I even had the exact same passport/ticket checker, or at least his identical twin.
Two phases completed, I found myself sitting, waiting to board the plane. Throughout the course of my two hour wait, Lufthansa workers came around, grabbing cases away from people then weighing them or sticking them in the suitcase measurer. Nobody so much as glanced twice at my backpack.
I boarded the plane and couldn’t fit my backpack underneath the seat because a fixed-in-place box took up half the space, so I slid it as much as could underneath, then covered it with my big blue coat and our provided blanket, so it appeared that only a blanket was covering my feet and nothing was out of the ordinary
I watched Fast and the Furious 5 and then proceeded to watch Pirates 4, at which point I fell asleep
I woke up feel grainy and my legs feeling cramped and I finished watching the movie during breakfast
The last 5 minutes played on the screen with me attempting to interpret the ending minus my headphones, which had since been collected by the stewardess. We landed early in Munich, despite a slight delay during our take-off.
I then made my way down a never-ending corridor to passport control, where they stared for several minutes at both of my Visas from Germany and both looked completely confused. The young man called over his supervisor, who told me I would need an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residency permit) once I got to Klagenfurt. I told him that I knew that and had already applied in June for it, but I wouldn’t be able to pick it up until I made it to Klagenfurt. He nodded and young man finished entering my information and waved me through. Relieved, I made it to my gate after another impossibly long walk down a series of hallways, where I commenced waiting for my next flight…the one that would actually take me to Klagenfurt. After about 3 hours of funny looks from travelers waiting for other flights as I stretched and walked back and forth in front of my backpack, behind it, and around it, I boarded a bus which brought what felt like all of 6 people to the plane. Most of them appeared to be businessmen, carrying brief cases and sporting spiffy suits. There were only two other women besides me.
Soon, we were on our way into Austrian territory, quickly leaving Germany behind. Through the propeller on the wing, I watched snake-like paths wind back and forth between mountains and green forests surrounding shining blue lakes. The stewardesses brought out Toblerone and drinks at lightning fast speed, parading up and down the aisles, address guests in both German and English. After the snack, I closed my eyes for what felt like 5 minutes, enjoying the warm sunshine pooling on my lap and before I knew it, I felt a slight jerk. I opened my eyes and realized we were landing.
We walked directly from the tarmac into a building, where we awaited our luggage. In no time, it appeared and I was the last one left with my two bags. I emerged into the sun and watched as everyone on my plane met someone, hugged and then headed away from the airport. I perched myself on the curb, searching for Irene, my future landlady and my ride to my new home. Glancing at my watch, I wondered if I should call or continue waiting. I agreed with myself to wait until 4:30pm before calling. Suddenly, a car appeared and a woman’s head poked out of the window. She smiled and drove onwards to park. I wheeled my things over and she wrapped me in a hug before leaning backwards and checking I really was the person she was supposed to pick up. I wrestled both cases into the trunk and we headed off to Klagenfurt to have coffee with two of her friends.
Thus far, I had been understanding everything she had said, even if the accent was distinctly Austrian. As soon as she sat with her friends, I was completely lost. They were speaking a completely foreign language from the one I had just spent a year speaking. They must have noticed me trying to understand because Irene turned to me and smiled off-handedly, saying, “Don’t worry, with you we will speak Hochdeutsch, so you can understand.”
At this point I was so tired, all I wanted was go straight to bed. I didn’t care two figs about understanding their conversation.
By 5pm, we were on our way to the house and Irene was showing me around her garden, where apples were in ample supply. She was in the middle of completing the harvest for the year. Then, she whisked me inside and began showing me around. My bathroom still had a few items that were under repair, but luckily, one of my two sinks was still usable. At first we couldn’t find sheets for my giant bed and ones we did find had holes in them. At last, found decent sheet and she quickly showed me around the kitchen. How to turn on the hot water for the sink, how to use the oven or the stove and, most importantly, how to turn on the lights…
One of her daughters, Joanna, who now goes to school in Graz, came home to visit and Irene left me alone to unpack, as she chatted with her daughter and worked in the garden. Around 7pm, she came to my window and called my name. I, however, thought she was calling “Claudia” and at first didn’t answer. I met her at the door and she told me to follow her up to her apartment, saying I should eat something. She gave me an ample dinner of pumpkin mixed with vegetables, Rettich (shredded beets), lentils, some sort of meat in a sauce, peapods, cabbage, and apple cake with a giant heaping side of apple sauce. I couldn’t eat the dessert, so I brought it down to my floor of the house and left it for the next day. I quickly checked my e-mail using Irene’s computer and then I headed off for bed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Off to Klagenfurt

It is hard to believe my time at home is already at an end. After a year living in Germany, I am off to Austria for another school year. This time, I will be in a Gymnasium (grades 5-12) at the, so the locals brag, best school in Klagenfurt. Different ages, more English, and a different dialect of German.

Klagenfurt, by the way is the capital of the southern-most province of Austria known as Kärnten, which also happens to be from where my grandfather hails. Family roots are just waiting to be discovered.

Tomorrow I will fly from Chicago to Munich and then change planes to Klagenfurt. Hopefully, once I reach the Klagenfurt airport my new landlady will meet me take me to my new home away from home. This time around I will be living on the ground floor of a house. The landlady lives on the top floor, her daughter and new husband live directly under her and on the very bottom, there's me along with my future roommate.

I've already been drowning in a sea of paperwork. Here's hoping this time around all goes well with the series of official hoops I'll have to jump through.

Trying to figure out exactly where the orientation is has already been a mess. Contact one person, they refer me to another, or back to the original website. I can already imagine myself roaming the Austrian countryside in search of the orientation location. I will have to take a train from Klagenfurt to Salzburg then to Zell am See and then a bus to the town of Hinterglemm, where the actual orientation will be held. The best advice I was given by one of the officials: "Once you reach the town, just ask, I'm sure someone can point you in the right direction."

Goodbye America, Hello Austria!