Friday, January 20, 2012

Of Super Bowls and bits of snow

As January continued, "advertisement" and "media" became the topic of discussion in many a class. Naturally, this resulted in discussions of the Superbowl and the Superbowl commercials. For the first time, I noticed many of the boys in class sit up a little bit straighter and their eyes shine with interest in this strange sport called football. Americans, peh, so strange.

In the 5th class (Freshmen) they debated the purpose of the Superbowl...was all of the money spent on it by advertisers really worth it? Honestly, it was rather shocking to read about the millions of dollar it costs just for 2minutes of commercial air time. That's not to mention the amount spent on the half-time show each year.

In the 6th class (Sophomores) we focused mainly on advertising techniques, which meant watching a series of former Superbowl commercials in order to analyze them. This is the class that particularly enjoys the blank stare of death, but for this lesson they were perched on the edges of their chairs, laughing at the antics of the actors, or frowning in confusion at Budweiser horses and dogs. But what do horses have to do with beer? Americans!

Another week came to an end, and I found myself rushing off to a conference at the Pädagogische Hochschule (the college for future educators) after teaching first period.

Sally, the woman in charge of us at orientation, had come down from Salzburg to give us additional teaching ideas and have us discuss our successes and our failures thus far.

So, fighting my way across Klagenfurt through the wall of wind, thinking about the minutes that continued to tick by, I arrived a bit blustery at the conference room, only to be the first one to arrive.

Cheerful Sally and I waited and, finally, a few people trickled in. As Sally opened the conference, I was in the hall trying to direct the rest of the gang to the hard-to-find building and essentially hidden entrance. Eventually, everyone made it, with the exception of Robert, who once again, mysteriously disappeared and Riannon, who had to sort out paperwork at her school.
The conference continued with discussions of our various school placements. Interestingly enough, one girl was placed part of the week in the specialty gun school in Ferlach (the town where my grandfather grew up, just outside of Klagenfurt). She plied us with stories of walking in to school and boys excitingly showing her various guns, which they are allowed to carry around for the entirety of the school day.

As we continued, suddenly the someone in the room gasped and all heads turned towards the window, where snow was falling steadily, in great, big, fluffy clumps.

By the time we took our lunch break, we found ourselves waddling through the snow towards Benediktinerplatz to a restaurant on the corner. We all squished in around the table, as the snow continued to gently fall from the sea of gray clouds. Riannon called and I ran out into the fresh snow to find her, leading her back to the Restaurant. All together at last, we made our orders in the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd and settled into various conversations.

Returning to the conference room for the remainder of the afternoon, we covered various English speaking games, as well as videos with British Humor or other educational benefits.
Before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to Sally and one group peeled off to have coffee, while another group headed back to the house with me. We snacked and re-grouped, before dragging suitcases of bedding and a pie off to Wolfsberg for the evening.

Once there, we had a Chili dinner with everyone that came
me, Catherine, Emil, Nicole, Elisabeth, Matt, and Chris (and Jade was hiding in the next room)

And for dessert the pecan pie I made

And we all got a little silly as we wished Jade goodbye and good luck in Spain. Chris and Emil even serenaded her with Kärntner Landeshymn and Jade placed the Kärnter Flag over them.

The next morning the boys headed off to Graz, while the girls bummed around Wolfsberg, taking long walks, making pancakes, and cooking Schnitzel for dinner...

Everyone else left in the afternoon, except for me and Lora. Catherine went off to her school's ball.
That left three of us to make our way through the night to listen to Gugga music. Unfortunately, at the last minute, Lora wasn't feeling well, so Chris and I headed off to town. Running a bit late we slid along the icy streets, following the sounds of drums. We approached the town center and discovered rows of torches burning in old tin pie plates, pointing the way towards the continuation of the parade of fanciful characters from various European countries. It was something akin to a war between several different marching bands, except everyone was dressed in crazy colors and costumes instead of uniforms. One group was even decked out in jungle-outfits with snakes, trees, and monkeys hanging from their clothing. All of the bands converged on the town square and proceeded to play at the same time, each one trying to out play the other in a cacophony of sounds erupting from small pods of color in the crowd. Each band then slowly split off and moved throughout the town, luring parts of the crowd towards them, before moving onwards and being replaced by another band. As onlookers jumped in excitement to the music, I found my self hopping around just to keep from freezing.

Chris and I made our way back to the dorm, where he and Catherine live and hung around with Lora watching movies until all three of us were too tired to keep our eyes open any more.

The following day, the four of us spent hiking around the Koralpe, the famous mountain of the Lavantal, before Lora and I headed back to Klagenfurt.

The week had finally come...the week with the last day of German class. Part of me felt sad to leave my fellow German students, but another part of me was relieved not to have to take the long trek out to the University in the evening.
Our last class was spent simply eating and talking to each other. Evikka, a student from the Czech Republic, and I spent the entire time trading stories and it turns out she once lived in Park Ridge (which happens to be where my grandmother lives) for several years and attended the Oakton Community College at one point. Now, she's moving to Innsbruck with her Austrian boyfriend and hopes to complete her degree in translation...she just has to learn French.

Deutsch als Fremdsprache class, Goodbye to my German class at the Klagenfurt University

In honor of the Superbowl, we hosted a small Superbowl party and played board games, while eating all kinds of snacks and the roast goose I had made. Vicky, who had been living in Vienna, moved to Klagenfurt and we fed her and helped her learn her way around Klagenfurt.
This is Emil making everyone sing to 7 Brides for 7 Brothers songs...

Soon, it was the day before Feb. break and I found myself walking through the bitter cold to Bachmanngymnasium, where the 8th class and I were about to watch Pitch Black, a play written and performed by the Vienna English Theater. Essentially, it is a re-interpretation of Othello set in modern day and centered around English football.

Back at school, I warmed my fingers by the heater, as one of my colleagues approached me about correcting a Fachbereicharbeit, a special 40-60page paper written by students who hope to graduate at the end of the year. The only catch...I'd have to do it over break. I agreed, thinking of the long return journey to Ilmenau and hurried home back through the ultra chilly air and arrived only a few minutes ahead of the Hilberts.
We ate my beef stew for lunch, packed my things in the car, and headed off for Ramsau, a town famous for skiing in the state of Steiermark in Austria.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hit the ground running

January, 16 As soon as my family left, I found myself pounding the pavement, so to speak, trying to keep up with a variety of tasks. My final German exam came on Wednesday and I took every second, attempting to study the passive voice and the Konjunktiv 2. Battling confusion, I fought my way through the exam, putting all of my study hours to good use. Meanwhile, I was also teaching adult English classes for the Austro-American Society, which I had started in November, but we'd been on hiatus in honor of the the Christmas break. On of my students just so happened to be the mother of one of my Europagymnasium students, which made things quite interesting to say the least. Sometimes the daughter would come with to class and do her homework in the corner. During the school day, I found myself battling the blank stare of death from many of my students. I would ask a question and silence would fill the room, stretching out for eternity. All eyes staring straight ahead into the distance. Did they not understand me? Are they just bored by the topic? Who knows! At the request of multiple colleagues, I began preparing epic lesson on the primary elections, which meant first explaining what a primary election was. This led to an explanation of the race for president. And that explanation just so happened to lead to one about the three branches of government. With the 8th class (so think grade 12), we watched a few helpful School House Rock videos and played my invented game show "Who will be the next Republican presidential candidate?" Each group had a different candidate ranging from Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich. Each member of the group then took over a different part of the candidate. Someone gave the background information about his life, someone talked about his stance on the economy, on education, and on the war in Iraq. Each group member sat in a row in front of the class and answered the questions of the "press" (aka. the rest of the class), as if they were the candidate. In the end, the class had to decide who would become the next candidate. Naturally, staged clapping and impromptu stage music followed each performance. The 7th class (think juniors in high school), on the other hand, were deep in their "Teenage Angst" unit, which meant, of course, a deep discussion of the book Catcher in the Rye. With no extra copies available for me to re-read (It's been awhile, ok, I don't remember every detail!), I found myself scanning Sparknotes and feeling like a naughty school child who didn't have the desire to read the whole book. After two lessons of faking my way through on half-remembered plot details and drudged up information from Sparknotes, I managed to find an old, battered copy in the English Closet and began re-reading. It would take us up until February break to finish the book. In the 5th class (think high school Freshmen), meanwhile, we were hard at work on Relative Clauses and pronouns. I had them write New Year's Resolutions using appropriate comma placement in the clauses and the correct pronoun. Austrian students love to confuse words like "that," "who," and "which." They like to say, "the person, that..." I actually hear this a lot in America, as well, in spoken English. However, Austrian teachers love to pick on this little piece of language...remember "that/which" is used for non-living things or non-human things, while "who" is used only for people...and I was told over and over again to be super picky. In the 6th class (so the sophomores) I prepared to teach about the Amish, but ended up discussing Richard III, which I had also never read. The Amish lesson, which was originally planned for December, was again shoved into some unknown time in the future. Instead, I was once again frantically scanning Sparknotes to read the play and skimming the DVD to show the highlighted scenes in action. We watched the opening scenes, as performed by 3 different actors in 3 different movie versions and did some comparing and contrasting. Thursday was installment number one of my Christmas present: 5 Classical Music Concerts that would be playing throughout the year. So, off I went to the Konzerthaus for a magical evening in the company of Mozart and Bach. On Friday, I found myself designing a Jeopardy Review game, which my computer promptly destroyed, so that by the time it got to school all of the slide transitions were completely wonky. We still had quite a fun time playing and the students were super excited to review comma rules and practice vocabulary for their upcoming exam...mainly because there were some candy prizes. I finally found the one thing that motivates this class: candy. This was also the week where I finally got into contact with my, I guess you would call him a second cousin, Torsten Matuschkowitz. He's the son of my grandfather's favorite aunt and he is currently the head doctor at the Klagenfurt hospital. The following week, we met for the first time. He picked me up outside my house and off we drove to his home in the town outside of Klagenfurt, Moosburg. As we drove, I felt my stomach churning with overflowing nervous butterflies. I don't know why I was so nervous, we were family after all, technically. It's just there's something about driving off with someone you've never, ever met before and you are about to meet their family, and yet they know all sorts of random things about you. Torsten, however, as a centered sense of calm, that can make anyone feel at ease. We arrived at his home and as soon as we reached the door, the handle began to jiggle, as if by magic. Torsten just smiled, "Oh, by the way, I have to warn you, We have a very active 2-year-old son. Here he comes." The door opened and there was a red-headed, blue-shirted little boy with a giant smile on his face. His father scooped him up, with a hearty,"Hallo, Daniel!" And the hugely pregnant mother emerged from behind the door, shutting it softly behind us. Daniel turned big, blue eyes on me in astonishment and his mother instructed him to offer his hand. Here was this tiny little two-year-old in blue-stripped stockings, a massive diaper, and a red fire engine smiling on his blue shirt, gravely holding up his hand for me to shake. I took his hand and he excitedly giggled and then zipped away to show his father something. Meanwhile, his mother ushered me in to the kitchen and gave me something to drink, while we chatted and she cooked fish and french fries in the oven and prepared a salad with Kerbiskernöl. She was surprised to learn that my grandmother spoke German. All this time, she had thought that my grandfather had married an American woman, who only spoke English, which is why she had sent several cards written in poorly constructed English to my grandmother. With a shriek, Daniel entered the room, running from his father into a small tent constructed in the center of the room and giggling excitedly as Torsten rocked the little tent back and forth, pretending to be a bear. Daniel popped out of the tent and grabbed his small guitar and began playing for Papa bear, which resulted in applause from both parents. Daniel then attempted to eat the entire, giant bowl loaded with salad. His dad smuggled him into his high chair and wrapped his bib around his neck, just as the staining oil of the salad hit the white bib fabric. Daniel began happily using his tiny fork to chase bits of salad around his plate and make ample use of the word "salat, salat!" The three of us ate our fish, salad, and fries, while laughing at Daniel's antics, and prost-ing (clinking glasses) with him multiple times. After dinner, Daniel made "soup" by placing water in a pot and happily brining it to each of his parents to try. Sadly, I was just too full to try any, but I'm sure was delicious. Next, he proudly helped his mom carry all of the plates to the dishwasher. "He's my biggest helper, " she beamed, "Got to start them young!And, " she whispered, "he's also the one who causes most of the messes in the first place." She smiled and shook her head ruefully. I brought over my presents for them, and Daniel happily ripped away the paper, clinging to his new sweatshirt and pants with a giant lion on it for dear life. He rubbed his face on the sleeve, chattering away. Then, in a flash he was gone again, being chased by his dad. His mom simply laughed and shook her head, picking up the pieces of paper on the floor and thanking me for the presents from my grandmother. Wishing Daniel "bis bald," Torsten drove me home and still smiling from the antics of 2-year-old Daniel, I got ready for another day of school with my much more sluggish students, before falling asleep.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ringing in the New Year

New Year's Day we headed off to Millstaetterseee, a lake about an hour to an hour and a half away by car, to see the famous floating Christmas market, which was advertised as being open until Three Kings Day.

We arrived to an almost entirely empty town and a completely empty floating market, but the evidence of the previous night's celebrations were strewn across the dock that held the tents afloat.

The floating market from a far...

The view from the floating market...

We wandered in search of food, but nothing was open, so we drove to the next town and managed to find an open Italian Restaurant to eat lunch.

Then, we were off to our final destination of the day, Spittal an der Drau. The sun was already setting, as we arrived, setting the town and resident castle aglow and casting a warm light on the pond upon which ice skaters merrily danced in circles.


The mighty Drau River...

Karl and the sword of truth and justice outside the palace...

Monday we spent with Helli and Konrad, eating in a Gasthaus near Ferlach, which we declared had the best Kaiserschmarrn. It was made with whole-grain flower und filled with a rich, nutty flavor. We also met Helli's other son and one of his daughters, as they came down to visit. In the evening, we enjoyed a show at the local Planetarium, just down the street. We were the only ones in the entire show.

The rest of the week was a blur, jumping from one activity to the next.

We spent a day in nearby Villach, walking the old cobblestone streets, enjoying the mountain view, and poking our head into shops, including the second hand Caritas shop. Shop and Cafe owners alike continued to think we were Italians. Naturally, we weren't speaking German to each other and we were dark haired...that must mean we were Italain. Villach does have a lot of visitors from over the border. 30 minutes, and you are in Italy or Slovenia, your choice.

Me and my dad with the Drau River in Villach

Christmas decorations were still up along the river

Lunch in Villach

One evening, we went to see My Fair Lady, which was performed in German. The Cockney accent became Wienerisch (the Viennese dialect) and the proper English became Hochdeutsch. The costumes were beautiful, the singing was brilliant, who could ask for a better performance. We were lucky to get tickets at the last minute and the performance was almost canceled at the last minute because the singer had a cold. Luckily, the show did go on...

Daddy and me in Alterplatz before My Fair Lady

Another day, we did a bit of a tour of the area by dropping by the famous abbey and Cathedral in Gurk, visiting the oldest town in Kärnten--Friesach, and stopping by Hüttenberg, a mining town being turned into a Tibetan mining village.

Gurk. with the Cathedral built in 1140

This Harry Potter like house, houses the old and holy well only open to the public in the summer months.


Friesach, the oldest town in Kärnten and once upon a time the key point between the major trade route of Venice and Vienna. as well as home to the first silver minted penny used in the area.


Friesach from above. Notice the moat and the stone walls...the only Austrian town with both intact.

Hüttenberg, the birthplace of Heinrich Harrer, who spent 7 years in Tibet...his story became a book and then a movie, featuring Brad Pitt as the main character


Another day, we took a day trip to Venice, using the direct bus line from Klagenfurt.

The bus dumped us off on Tronchetto, which is an island a little outside of Venice. With no direction, we ended up on the bus-boats (vaporetto) to st. Marks Square, but we should have taken the People Mover to Piazza de Roma instead for 1 euro a person, rather than the more expensive Vaporetto ride.

So, first we made it to the famous St. Marks Square in the cold and fog.

bridge of of advertisements, unlike last year's trip

For lunch, after we twisted here and there through the streets of Veince, I ate cuddle fish pasta
which includes the ink from the cuddle fish, making the dish black.

With little time left, we then began twisting our way back to the bus pick-up location. Stopping to admire the canals and the Frari Church.
This little side canal was also one I had found on my previous trip. This time the little scene on the side was set to "winter."

After a full day, wandering the streets of Venice, and waltzing past shops boasting up to 50 percent off sales, we returned to Klagenfurt.

Yet another day we spent in Heilgenblut (literally holy blood). The story goes that three brothers traveled to Constantinople from Denmark to prove to the King that Christianity was real. They made it, but failed to convince the King until someone stabbed a picture of the Jesus and it bled. The blood was saved in holy phials. The time came for the brothers to return home and
Briccius, the youngest brother, asked for a holy phial of blood to take back with him. The King granted his wish, if he were able to choose the right phial of blood from a line-up. Briccius made the right decision, selecting the phial without flies buzzing around it. He hid the tiny container of blood within his leg to keep it safe. Eventually, the three brothers made it as far as Austria. Two of the brothers decided to found congregations in little Austrian valleys, but Briccius continued onwards on his own. He died and was trapped in the snow of the mountain pass. In the spring some of the villagers discovered 3 ears of corn growing from the ground. They dug and uncovered the body of Briccius with 3 ears of corn growing from his heart. Deciding it was a miracle, the villagers set a team of oxen free and where they stopped, the locals buried Bricciu's body. Only days later, they discovered his leg protruding from the grave and uncovered the miraculous phial. Sending it to Salzburg with his ring and documents, the villagers were informed of the blood's holy origin and built a church on the stop of the hill to honor the blood.

Thus today, in front of Austria's tallest mountain, stands the town of Heilgenblut...still home to the holy blood.

Briccius' grave in the basement of the church...depicted with 3 ears of corn and the phial of blood on display above his head.

With a snow storm on the way we hurried to Lienz, located in Osttirol, for lunch and spent the day wandering and enjoying the fairy tale like town.

Riannon returned on the Friday before school restarted after almost 3 weeks in the Netherlands and my family moved to a hotel, so we wouldn't be overcrowded.

The last day my parents were visiting arrived before I even knew it.
I spent the morning back at school and then met my mom outside. We ran home to pick up Riannon and headed to lunch at Lausegger in the Bodental.

Me and Riannon with our lamb stew

view from the restaurant

the group of us overlooking the Bodental valley

After lunch and admiring the beautiful scenery, we dropped Riannon back home and I gathered my things for my German class.

First, we drove to Magdalensberg, a nearby mountain, where we watched the sun set over the mountains and looked down on the tiny towns in the valley below...

almost at the top of Magdalensberg

the "flitterwoche" (honeymoon) cabin with the mountains in the background

Me with my tree stump throne of power

All of us with the sunset from Magdalensberg

Second, we dropped my dad off at the hotel and my mom and Karl drove me to the university for class and picked me up again later that night. I bid farewell to everyone before they dropped me at class, as the next morning they would be on their way to the airport at 4am.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Living without a functioning computer since the day after our Thanksgiving celebration and with Riannon already gone for Christmas in the Netherlands, I found myself spending an enormous amount of time baking and listening to the radio. All week I baked cookies for my students: sugar cookies and snickerdoodles, two kinds of cookies that are non-existent in Austria and Thursday night I held a bake-a-thon making 5 different kinds of cookies for the my colleagues, while watching Christmas movies with Lora.

And so the week was filled with lessons on Christmas in America, word games, explanations of fruit cake, and debating the Coca Cola Santa Claus' role in advertising.

Winter break began and still there was no snow. To get in the spirit and celebrate the end of school for the year with those still remaining, we decided to build our own Gingerbread House.
Lora and Christine arrived with candy in hand, while Nicole supplied the powdered sugar and was accompanied by her French Erasmus student friend, Jeremy.

hmmm, what have we gotten ourselves in to?

Ok, the house is stable, the decorating can begin.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Ta-da, a finished Gingerbread house

Lora and I headed out to explore the last night of the Christmas markets, as they would officially close the following afternoon on Christmas Eve...

I spent the day listening to Christmas songs on the radio and illustrating the Night Before Christmas poem as a present for my landlady, who had invited me to celebrate with her family. We were supposed to spend the day hiking Ulrichsberg, but she'd come down with a terrible cold. That evening, I joined her family for the Christmas Eve celebration. I listened to her daughters chat, with one visiting from Graz and the other from Germany, they were in fine form. Christina, who lives above us showed me pictures of her wedding. We sang songs, while Christina played guitar and the candles on the tree were set aglow. Irene happily stuffed me full of her delicious foods: sauerkraut with fresh horseradish, 2 kinds of sausage (smoked and boiled), Bratapfel (roasted, stuffed apple), and a variety of cookies. After we each read a poem aloud (a dramatic reading of the Night Before Christmas, was presented on my part), or shared a song, the opening of presents began. I was pleasantly surprised by a book from Irene and chocolate Mozart liquor and chocolate-covered, jellied fruits from Christina. Around 1am, I sleepily crawled into bed.

The next morning I was off to the Bauer Family to share a late Christmas lunch, complete with roast Turkey and Reindling, a traditional cake stuffed with raisins and cinnamon.

The following day, known as St. Stephanitag in Austria is another important holiday. Not only is it the name day for anyone named Stephanie or Stephan, it is a day to spend with family and continue the Christmas celebration. At 9am I was in church in the little chapel-sized building at the end of the Lendkanal with Ingrid Bauer, the daughter-in-law of the woman who grew up in the same house as my grandfather. For lunch, I joined Helli and Konrad and followed by watching fairy tales on TV with the two of them. We enjoyed Sterntaler and, my personal favorite, Die Zertanzten Schuhe (literally, the danced out shoes, or as we know it, The Twelve Dancing Princesses).

The following day my parents should have arrived. BUT...
They were slightly delayed. I was sitting at home, expecting them to arrive any minute, when Helli called. My Omama had just called her to say that my family had to land in the middle of the night and would hopefully arrive the following day. No sooner did I hang up the phone, then it rang again, this time with my Omama on the line. The plane had lost electrical power, just before it was about to begin crossing the ocean, so they had to land on emergency power, after being re-routed to an east coast airport. After spending the night, the same plane finally took off...just with the ovens removed. Apparently they were wreaking electrical havoc. This meant no hot meals on the flight over, but hey, at least they were on their way. At long last they made it to Munich, only to begin the several hour long wait for the flight to Klagenfurt. They were circling Klagenfurt, looking for a way to land through the dense fog. Unfortunately, the fog prevailed, and the plane was redirected to Graz. From Graz everyone was sent on a bus to the Klagenfurt airport. From there, they were finally able to rent a car and show up on my doorstep.

Meanwhile, before they arrived, the Hilberts came to visit. They had driven down from Germany for a few days just to come visit me. We chatted up a storm, trading stories, and eating lunch together before biding them farewell.

It finally snowed in Klagenfurt!

My parents and brother arrived after their epic journey and after a dinner of my homemade pumpkin soup and apple cake, as well as a visit from Ingrid, were off to bed quite early.

The next morning, we drove to the Bodental, which is the next valley over, to visit the Hilberts where they were staying.

We began with lunch, where I finally had the specialty of the region Käsnudeln (aka. giant ravioli-type noodles stuffed with cheese and covered in butter)...

Then we went for a walk to the fairytale meadow...
little stream and cabin in the Bodental

At last we came to the Märchen Wiese (fairy tale meadow), known for its impressively short grass, which always remains the same height due to the gnomes who live beneath the earth and eat the grass from below ground.

After a dinner of Kaiserschmarrn, we were on our way back to Klagenfurt.

The next morning, we were on our way with Ingrid and Konrad Jr.'s family to the mountains for a day of skiing.

We arrived just in time for our family-group lesson with the ski instructor. After a stressful beginning of trying on ski boots, filling in our height and weight on the automated computer system (and looking for the little American flag to fill in as our nationality, but not being given the choice), and stashing our shoes in the car.

Our instructor put us through our paces; hopping over innertubes, balancing on one ski, and "skiing" down the barely inclined hill.

Skiing in Turracher Höhe, which sits on the border between Steiermark and Kärnten

After an hour, he bid us farewell. We asked where we would be able to ski after the lesson and the instructor informed us that we were not ready. "Fist you go down this hill. Then, you go to the mountain. You are not ready. Maybe 3-4 more hours of a lesson. Then you ski."

With those encouraging words he set us free. We did a few practice runs on the slightly larger hill nearby, swerving around orange cones.

After a break for lunch, during which we realized that we had forgotten our carefully prepared sandwiches and Ingrid lost her car key somewhere in the snow. This led to a frantic search, but did not turn up the key. Konrad and Helli drove up with the spare key, so all turned out well in the end.

Ingrid ate lunch with her family and my mom, while my dad, Karl, and I went to investigate our options. We ended up buying a point-pass, which allows you to buy a certain number of points on a card, which are then deducted as you pass through turnstile to the ski lift. The three of us went up in search of the beginners slope. At the top, with the wind fiercely blowing we were left with a variety of different trails and no markers. We shuffled one way and then the other, picking a direction at last, until we reached a sharp drop-off.

Quickly, we backtracked, avoiding in-coming skiers and discovered a trail that looked a bit simpler. We headed off in the that direction, crossing back over underneath the ski lift. We reached the final hill before the bottom and I lost control of my speed. Attempting to slow down, I felt myself slide backwards and suddenly, I was careening down the hill on my back. My dad and Karl stopped, helping me to my feet and with Karl's guidance and jelly for legs, I made it down to the bottom of the hill.

My heart racing and every muscle in my body quivering with fear, I found myself breathing heavily at the bottom of the hill. I sat out a round to catch my breath while my dad and Karl braved the hill again.

The next time Karl and I rode to the top on the "teller-lift" ( a plate that you stick behind your butt and it pulls you up the hill. and at the top it became tangled around my leg, causing the entire line to shut down, while I slid away in embarrassment. With that accomplished, I followed Karl down each step of the hill and this time made it down with out falling, but almost crashing into a tree.

At the bottom of the what we would call a mountain, but the Austrians refer to as the beginners hill, we ran into our mom. She and Karl headed to the top, while I returned to the car to join my dad. we carefully removed our gear and returned it to the shop, one after the other. Then, all of us exhausted, we headed back to Klagenfurt.

New Years Eve we spent wandering around Klagenfurt. By 2pm, everthing was closing, including the mall, which was the one source of warmth while we were out and about. So, after touring around and enjoying some cake at the one open Cafe, we went back to my place to warm up. We promised ourselves to head back out later to enjoy the festivities...waltzing in the street, bands, music, fireworks etc.

However, we were just too cold and stayed inside to celebrate in our own way. Each person was awarded a special "Glücksbringer" (bringer of luck for the new year), which took the shape of a pig (there's even a phrase called "schweine Glück" in German), a red mushroom, a chimney sweep with a ladder, or a horse shoe.

Happy New Year!!

Reutte in Tirol

Right after an exciting lesson on commas and when to use them, I headed off for Reutte in Tirol. Why Reutte, you may be wondering? Reutte is a tiny, tiny town in the middle of the mountains, just over the border from Germany's Neuschwanstein castle. And, actually, I wasn't going to Reutte, I was going to Wängle. Population: 300. Kathryn, one of my roommates from orientation was placed there and we had gotten along so well, kept in touch, and now I was going to visit her.

The only problem: Reutte is a bit hard to get to. You see, I had 2 choices: 1. Go to Munich by train and from Munich take the train to Garmisch and from Garmisch take the train to Reutte and from Reutte take the bus to Wängle. 2. Go to Slazburg, transfer in the direction of Innsbruck, once in Innsbruck take the train to Germany to Garmisch, switch to the train to Ruette and from there take the bus. I chose option number 2 because it was cheaper. Only I didn't know I would have quite so many problems.

First of all, I missed the train I intended to take...watched it leave right in front of my face, and had to wait 2 hours for the next train. Riannon did make the train I happened to miss and called me about an hour in to the ride with bad news. The train's engine had stalled. Once I was on my train, she called again...there were 4 giant trees down on the tracks in the middle of the mountain pass and they had to wait for buses to take them to the next train station, where they would be able to get on a train heading in the right direction.

We reached Spittal, so about an hour and a half out of Klagenfurt and our engine stalled for a good half hour. Then, we reached the mountain pass and the trees were still there on the tracks...probably wouldn't be moved until the next day.

So we all made our way through the snowy-slush to the buses and were bumped from bus to bus, as each driver told us he was not the "ersatz" (extra/fill-in) bus. At last we all found the right bus and boarded, but there wasn't enough room for the whole train, luckily I had made it on the bus, as the rest were left to wait in the cold.

We zoomed up and down and over snowy, twisting roads through the mountains until we had cleared the damaged track. Then, we were told to board the waiting train. Only, there was no waiting train. And one conductor told me to take the regional train to a small town outside of Innsbruck, while the other told me to stick with the train to Salzburg and then transfer to Innsbruck. After switching back and forth between trains, missing the regional train and almost missing the train the Salzburg. A conductor literally pulled the door open for me and shoved me inside. It was all chaos and confusion on the platform.

I made it to Salzburg, just in time to wait 2 hours for the next train to Innsbruck. Finally, arriving in Innsbruck, I had just missed the train to Garmisch and had to wait 2 hours for the next one. At last I was on that train, which was the last one of the evening and the conductor told me my ticket was no longer valid. Kathryn had mailed me her unused ticket and since it was a Reutte to Innsbruck and then Innsbruck to Reutte, the conductor was telling me I couldn't use it. He let me pass and the nearly empty, ghostly train continued onwards along snow-filled tracks. At the border, the Austrian conductor left and the German one boarded. He had no problems with my ticket and merrily informed us that there were seven trees down on the line between Garmisch and Reutte, so we would have to take the bus the train company would provide.

As I was exiting the train in Garmisch I met a university student, who was on her way home to Reutte for Christmas. We stuck together and chatted. She was shocked to learn that I was an American. Ha, so maybe my German isn't that bad...take that Christmas market lady, who started speaking to me in English.

Anyway, we waited a good hour to hour and a half for the bus, which finally came. Then it was an hour of fast driving, stopping at all the tiny towns along the way and the bus attempting to drive down narrow alleys to the snowed in train stations.

We at last reached Reutte and Kathryn and the two of us stomped our way back to Wängle, where we ate pumpkin soup and defrosted.

The next morning, our great explorations began...

Wängle in the snow

and the sun comes out at last

the dramatic looking mountains

We marched through ankle deep and in some places knee-deep snow. Soon, we found ourselves at Kathryn's favorite restaurant.

Naturally, we just had to share Kaiserschmarrn for dessert. Best so far in Austria!

We headed back to Kathryn's after our epic hike and a visit to the Green House Museum, which was filled with the history of Reutte and olympics in the area, as well as skiing.

We stopped to admire the river on our way.

Once back at Kathryn's we baked 2 different kinds of cookies, which I brought back for my students the following week. Kathryn and I both love to bake and Kathryn hopes to open a bakery in the future, but first to finish her masters thesis in German.

The next morning, we took a walk before I headed to the train. The trees had still not been cleared, so once again I was on a bus. The bus was slower than the train, apparently, so we didn't make the connecting train to Innsbruck, even though our conductor argued on the phone for the entire journey with the head train people. So, with another 2 hour wait in store, I headed off the explore the two adorable towns of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Nothing was open, as it was a Sunday, but the architecture just screamed Germany and the mountains in the background were just breathtaking. It made my wait much more pleasant.

At long last I was on my way to Innsbruck, then Salzburg and finally Klagenfurt. The rest of the trip went well...not more downed trees or stalled engines, thank goodness.