10.28.2005

Prague

No, I did not visit Prague again. However, do not misunderstand this for, "I do not want to visit Prague again." I do, indeed! So many of you either thought I did not like Prague or you were disappointed that it was not as great as you had thought... I had to set the story straight!

Prague is fantastic!

Everything in my initial blog is true, but that was just the facts about my experience there. I also tried to get across that I thought it was a magical, storybook city. So... this blog is just for that...

Prague is a magical, storybook city! If you have never been there, you must go!

10.21.2005

Munich

Observation: Tall Starbucks coffee of the day 3.40 euros.

Jen wanted to go to Germany and although it was not on the top of my list to visit, the minute I stepped out of the train station I felt at home. The city was very easy to navigate and although beautiful, it did not seem touristy. It just felt like a big city, but yet not so big. We decided to make this trip about shopping! Maybe that is sad to hear for some of you… but it was a nice change of pace and a way to enjoy the city as a local would on the weekend.

This Innsbruck/Salzburg/Munich trip was the first time that I had ventured out without first having a reserved room. I was anxious about it, but it all worked out fine and we found great places to stay. At the 4 You hostel in Munich, we were in a 6 bed room and I had a woman on the bunk below me that had to be at least in her 70’s. I never saw her get out of bed except to go to the bathroom, but she had a pretty flowery duvet and pillow case. I’m not sure if she was traveling or if she lived there!

We went to visit the Olympic Village city that was built for the 1972 summer Olympic games. It is a beautiful site for the Olympics, but also sad because of the tragedy that occurred when terrorists took athletes as hostages.

You can’t miss Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), which is centered in the main town square in Munich. There are a few close-ups of the carillon figures that move as the clock strikes at 11, 12 and 17. There is also a very close-up shot (evidence that my camera can truly zoom in) of a few children waving from the tower. There was a big group of them singing and waving to the crowds below.

The train ride home was uneventful, yet eventful. We spent our time kidding about how the two guys next to us wouldn’t talk with us. Everyone else on the trains had been so friendly and during this long trip home, it was more lonely than usual with just the two of us. We went to the club car and ordered wine (more than once) and proceeded to chit-chat and giggle all the way home.

Photos at ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWGH

Innsbruck

Observations:

- All over Europe, we are already seeing the signs of Christmas. Stores are starting to string up the lights and sell decorations.

- Everything is still in bloom even though we are in a cooler climate and the leaves are beginning to turn. We see everything from roses to lantana! How can this be?
During most train trips and hostel stays, I meet both local and leisure travelers. This is one of the best parts of traveling as a “backpacker.” You gain insight to the country that you are visiting or tips about the “must see” sights or you just have a good chat. Often, you exchange emails to keep in touch.

On the trip to Innsbruck, Austria, we met Christian. During the trip, we watched the sunrise and as the sky brightened, the fog lifted and exposed Colorado-like mountains with trees just beginning to turn red and gold. Beautiful. Christian mentioned a few times that they energy outside was what energized him. He struggled a bit to explain himself in English, so I couldn’t tell if he just enjoyed nature or if there was something else going on there. Then, out of the blue, he asked what we thought about gene cloning. Jen had her eyes shut (and that this point made sure to keep them shut) and later told me that she could tell by my response and tone of voice that I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t sure what he thought or how he might react to my response. So, I merely said, “That’s a loaded question!” Long story… shortened… Christian practices alchemy - part chemistry, part mysticism, part religion, part medicine, part astrology. Christian was a really nice person, but we didn’t exchange emails.

Innsbruck was more charming than Salzburg. You really felt the warmth and comfort of being in this tiny valley tucked among mountains. The town is made for tourists with plenty of side streets to wander and shops lining every one of them! If you are not there to ski, Innsbruck is about soaking up the scenery and enjoying a beautiful autumn day rather than visiting museums, churches, and other attractions. The history and architecture is amazing and much was built by Emporer Maxiillian I and later changed by Maria Theresia. Is there anything that she didn't get her hands on!?

A 1925 rebuilt ski jump erected for the Olympic Winter Games in 1964 and 1976, the Bergiselstadion, could be seen from a distance. If we had more time, I would have liked to go to the Olympia Bobbahn (venue for bobsleigh, toboggan, and skeleton competitions) where you can take a passenger ride!

Gaspare, Jen, and I wandered the streets to find a place to eat. We found a local bakery, but wanted something more substantial + coffee, so we kept looking. We finally stumbled on a café, but realized that they had only drinks. We took our coffee there and headed back to the Moschen Bäckerei. This was definitely off the tourist track – amazing! Then, we spent much of the morning in the Hofgarten playground and park. We played just like kids.

After that, we just strolled around town and enjoyed! We took the train back to Salzburg that night. Jen and I stayed on the platform to wave goodbye to Gaspare who was headed back to Vienna. We did not want Gaspare to feel slighted, so we gave him the same performance as we did the night before for Alberto and Gulni. Through gestures, yelling, and finally a hand written note pressed up to the window, we tried to get him to ask the gentleman in the next row about gene cloning. :-D

Photos at ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWF4

10.20.2005

Slight Homesick Admittance

Before I update my travels, I had to just pour out some thoughts. No photos, so if you perusing the text just to get to a hyperlink… forget about it!

Observations:
- Have I mentioned yet that recycling is important here? At home, we have four bins: 1) newspapers, cardboards, paper bags, prospectuses; 2) plastics, bottles, plastic bags, yogurt cups; 3) colored bottles; and 4) restmüll (rubbish), dirty paper, and leftovers.

- At the end of class, it is a university tradition for students to knock on the desks. This is how they say thank you and goodbye to the professor.

I have noticed that I miss real life in the U.S.… just a tad ;-)

Global Consumer Behavior was my first class this week and what I missed most was stopping at a Helios or Whole Foods to get a large to-go coffee. This confirms that what I like about coffee is not just the taste, but also the comfort! The class should be interesting, since I thrive on figuring out what makes people tick and why they make certain choices. I am in a group with two Austrian students and two Swedish students. We have to lead a class discussion, give a presentation, and write a paper as a group. There are also some individual projects, the first of which is to visit an electronics store, shadow two shoppers, and document what they do! Shall I wear a trench coat and dark glasses?

One activity that is semi-normal is that I have Desperate Housewives to watch! Patrick sent me the complete first season on DVD and so every night, I watch a little before I fall asleep. Maybe it’s not so normal to watch these shows over and over again and EVERY night, but it as close as it gets here. Donna, and the MBASA, also sent a few home recorded DVDs, which now give me alternatives. I already watched the Manchurian Candidate, for the first time. Definitely not Desperate Housewives! ;-)

I would like to publicly thank those who send cards, notes, and packages. They are a tremendous pick me up!

Andria’s parents are here and they took us out to dinner last night at an Italian restaurant. Even thought it’s not real life, I do miss Italy and want to go back there someday! For now, I will remember each time I have a glass from one of the readily available €3 bottles of 2003 Badiolo Chianti. This bottle in a Raleigh grocery store would be about $12 or so.

10.18.2005

Salzburg

FYI - we are sharing so many photos now, I just want to be sure to give thanks and credit to the others!

Gulni, Gaspare, Jen, Alberto, and I took the morning 3 hour train ride (long enough to dry clothes fresh from the washing machine) to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and as Americans know it, the home of the Von Trapp family. We were able to take decent photos of the landscape on during the train ride. That is, those of us who were not sleeping ;-)

We did not experience “The Sound of Music” in Salzburg, but instead spent one day roaming the streets, visiting museums, and climbing up to the castle.

This is when Gaspare and I realized that all it takes for us to have fun in any museum is to each have one beer at lunch. Mozart’s birthplace was under construction for his 250th birthday celebration next year, but the museum on the floor below was open. We also went to a museum that adjoined a church. You will see some photos of us lying on our backs taking photos of the ceiling, which we all found amazing. Silly us – we did not even consider the fact that there were guards, watching us on camera. We quickly left that museum!

You will see a photo of Alberto on a “bull” which represents “Bull-washer-Bull.” Here is the story:

Around 1525, Salzburg was besieged by an enemy army. There was a risk of starvation and there was only one ox left. If the enemy knew that the town would soon starve, they might believe it easier to take over. The town commander took the ox along the castle to show the enemy that the people were not suffering from a lack of food. The enemy assumed that Salzburg would have enough food to last a long time and withdrew. Salzburg rejoiced. The ox was washed a final time and the people of Salzburg still are known as the “Oxen washers.”

We were very sad to see Alberto and Gulni return home that evening, so Gaspare, Jen, and I stayed on the train platform and waived and blew kisses to them and to every other stranger sitting around them. Of course, they were embarrassed and had to remain on the train with these folks, so we continued to act up and even ran with the train as it pulled out of the station.

Photos (NO CAPTIONS THIS TIME ;-) at ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWFp

Still to come... Innsbruck and Munich...

Vienna Nights


Oberservation: Almost every night now, there is someone practicing voice, piano, or violin in Haus Erasmus. I just wish that the student who sings opera was living here!

My next visitor was Jen. Of course, I knew that I'd have to go out at least once with her! It just so happened that it was the beginning of the semester and WU put on a party for all new students. I dont even know what the place was called, but it was an old building, maybe even a home, converted into a dance club. There were portraits on the walls of people who I am sure were turning over in there graves while they watched everyone party! There are a few photos of some of us on the dance floor.

Observation: The clubs here play a lot of music from the U.S. and all music in English. It is quite an eclectic mix and mostly old songs. For example, one sone is from the musical Grease and the next is Duran Duran.

Another evening, all the museums were open for one flat price. So, a group of us went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Modern Art), the Belevedere, and the Hofburg Palace. The best part with without fail, a very popular paiting by Gustav Klimt, "The Kiss." We must have sat there for at least 1/2 hour staring at this painting. My illegal photo, a print, or a reproduction can not do it justice. It was breathtaking.

Photos at ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWFa

Bratislava

Bratislava, Slovakia is an easy and inexpensive trip just about one hour from Wien (Vienna). Patti and I first ventured there so that she could get one more stamp in her passport before leaving. The next visit was a group with me, Jen, Gaspare, Carla, and Ilaria. Bratislava is a small city along the Danube River and it was strikingly different from Prague and Budapest in terms of the cityscape, businesses, and people.

There were many office buildings near or in Bratislava and many had recognizable company names. This is not to say that these companies do not exist in the other countries, but they are either not downtown or not as visible in Prague and Budapest.

The people were more outwardly demonstrative – smiling, laughing, and making gestures which is different from not only Prague and Budapest but also the Austrian cities. Patti noticed that even the dogs seemed to be more outwardly “friendly” than in Austria. My observation has been that the people here in Austria are very nice, but they just do not regularly or publicly fuss about things, make gestures, moan and groan, or smile and laugh.

There is a wonderful chocolate shop where they serve hot chocolate that seemed to basically be a melted chocolate bar! It was scrumptious with a side of whipped cream and thin biscuits for dipping!

I will go back to visit again!

Photos at share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AZuWrFo4auXSw

The Italian Dinner

On Patti's last night here, we had a wonderful dinner hosted by our Italian friends. Carla, Alberto, Gaspare, and Ilaria wanted to give a "thank you" to Patti. Also, we had been promised a real tiramisu! It still amazes me that I never, ever liked tiramisu in the U.S. but now it is right up there with ginger creme brulee, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and Foster's cheesecake (all my favorite non-chocolate desserts).

In Haus Erasmus, there is always "the kitchen tour." When a large group of people want to cook, they have to tour each floor to find an open kitchen. This night we found the 7th floor available, because mostly there are Austrian students on this floor and they were all studying for exams. We took over the entire kitchen! The cooks had something on every burner and served two types of pasta, both versions from Rome. Then, the surprise of the evening was that Martina had made Tiramisu... simply amAzing!

Photos at ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWE8

Budapest

Patti and I swore we were catapulted back to 1940’s Eastern Europe when we took the overnight train from Prague to Budapest. Gaspere would have summed it up in one word - squalid. Needless to say, I was knitting all night, not sleeping! As we approached Budapest, the Hungarian landscape looked a lot like the Midwest U.S. - a flat, farm landscape dotted with tree groves that surrounded a single home.

Aside: At the train station, there is a woman sitting just before you enter the WC and it appeared that her only job was to separate the squares of toilet paper and give exactly four to each woman entering the WC.

Andria met us at the train station and off we went to the Backpackers Guesthouse. In the midst of a nondescript and quiet neighborhood stands a little bohemian hostel with a jungle theme. If the weather were warmer, we would have enjoyed the back yard, patios, and hammocks. There was also a TV room, where I found myself awe-struck by a soccer game. When I finally snapped into reality and closed my jaw, I realized how long it had been since I had watched TV!

Being off-season, cold, and rainy, put a little damper on our view of Budapest. Like always, though, things seem to turn around for the best.

The Terror Museum. I had no idea of the post-world war II situation in Hungary. This museum was put together in a way that gave you enough, but not too much information. The displays and layout set the right tone and atmosphere. This has been so far, my best museum experience in Europe. Each room had detailed descriptions in English and I read most. This was also a turning point for me - no longer was Budapest dull, but a place that I wanted to visit again someday.

We roamed along the main street of Andrassy ut and found the Menza. A menza was a state-run canteen and my travel guide says that Hungarians used to take their out-of-town guests here to see what much of the 1970s Budapest looked like. Now, it’s a “parody of communist style.” We considered our meal a 4 or 5 star meal and like Prague, the price tag was probably less than most people spend at McDonalds!

Photos at http://ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWEt

10.07.2005

Prague

To put it simply, the train station was scary, which made us almost want to turn around and head home. It was not kept up very well, we couldn’t find a cash machine, the ticket agents did not speak much English and was easily irritated by us, and we felt like we were getting ripped off before we ever stepped one foot into the streets of this enchanted city. There were panhandlers and graffiti everywhere. Then, we get out of the train station...

A beautiful town of towers, Prague looks like a picture book drawing. Then, you walk along the streets, there is a 1) t-shirt shop, 2) a nested-doll shop, 3) a jewelry shop, and 4) a marionette shop. Start at one and repeat… again and again and again. Still, if you roam on the side streets you find wonderful cafes and restaurants. One restaurant did try to rip us off by telling us the wrong exchange for their menu prices. At another restaurant we had a wonderful lunch for very little. A wonderful lunch for 6 in Prague = a decent lunch for 1 or 2 in a city of the same size (~ 1.9 mil) in the US . Then, think that most people who live here probably can not afford that wonderful lunch for 6. We are fortunate.

I somehow feel that we have to give this city a break. It has only been since 1989 that this country has been without communist rule. I have only met one student, Lucy, from the Czech. The younger generation seems friendly and interested in other cultures. The older generation, I believe, is still transitioning and trying to grasp the opportunities of capitalism. Although they are part of the EU, it has only been since last year and they do not yet use the same currency. It was difficult to figure this out! Prices are, for example, 940 czech crowns for an expensive dinner and the ATM (or, Bankomat... as it's called here) gives denominations like 1000 or 2000.

A few of the Italians joined Patti and I on this trip. It was SO much fun to have a group share the experience. Carla, Gaspare, Ilaria, and Alberto are amazing! They are a fun, warm, and inviting crew who are from a university in Rome.

The only down side? My "must see" in Prague - the 15th century Astronomical Clock is under construction :-(

Photos at ljkinas.shutterfly.com/action/?a=8AZuWrFo4auWEP (you shouldn't need a password anymore, but just in case.. bentley)

10.05.2005

Catching up

General observations:

- There are church bells ringing, sometimes all day and night, in each town where I have visited. The sound is beautiful.

- Hearing others talk, I get a glimpse of the European view of Americans. It varies, but there is a concensus that Americans get crazy and boisterous when we drink. That is the one resounding opinion among the students. A few seem to think that we only have fun and laughs when we drink. Others believe that the rules, restrictions, and the “all business” conservative attitude make us want to let loose when we get to Europe. Some say it’s not just the students who act this way, but tourists in general. Hmmm...

The past two weeks:

Patti Gilbride is a wonderful friend and travel companion! The past two weeks have been full of fun and laughter. Also worth mentioning is the fear of the unknown (esp. the language) in the ex-communist Eastern European countries. Together, we traveled to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. Although I can only scratch the surface of the places that I visit, I try to look beyond the buildings and tourist attractions. I know that it is not possible to get to know a place in just four months and definitely not during a 2-3 day visit, but I’m going to try!

Patti also toured Vienna and Salzburg while I registered for classes at WU, an experience that I only want to stand in line for once in my life. I finally have 4 classes on the schedule: Global Consumer Behavior; Negotiation Management; Global Strategic Management; and Intercultural Business Communications. I also hope to add Export Marketing Management. Right now, I am on a wait list.