Exploration Galore

Today is day 14 in Vienna, and unfortunately, day 11 of me being sick.  It hasn’t been a great way to kick off my semester, but I’ve tried to let it affect me as little as possible from enjoying the city.

The past two weekends have been dedicated to, primarily, exploration of the city.  From my time earlier this summer in New York, I’ve found that the best way to get to know a new place is through spontaneous exploration, and so I’ve applied this principle to Vienna as well.  And it certainly has not let me down so far. 🙂

Whilst exploring last weekend, Ross and I started by venturing around the Burggarten.  I’ve mentioned it before, but green space is exceptionally well-placed around this city, and the Burggarten is one example of this.  The Burggarten is home to the famous Mozart statue, as well as the Austrian National Library, a popular butterfly house, several cafes, and an area that very much resembles a Quad on a college campus.


From there, we moved onto the rest of the Hofburg District, where we wandered into the ruins of some old Roman buildings, the Spanish Riding School- which has horse shows staring this month- and some really fascinating works of architecture.  One of the best parts of wandering around Vienna is that there are so many impressive fountains and statues scattered about that it’s impossible not to not wander upon something interesting!

In the afternoon we went to Shonbrunn Palace, one of Austria’s key landmarks. Built in the 1630s, it’s where the Hapsburg rulers resided, and the palace itself was modeled off of the Palace of Versailles in France.  The area around Shonbrunn is quite impressive in itself- the complex includes countless numbers of gardens, the oldest zoo in Europe, and a hedge maze, among other things.  Apparently when Maria Theresa lived here (and was getting old and senile) she made her servants wheel her up this hill (see below) for breakfast.  She would then ask for the animals of the zoo to be let out so that they could wander around the gardens and she could watch, haha.  True story.

Some other things I found this week while exploring: Zanoni & Zanoni (one of the top gelato shops in Vienna), several Austrian movie theaters, and 6 defunct (yet impressive-looking) towers built during WWII that served as one of the last layers of defense against the invading Russians.  One of these towers has since been changed into a sweet rock-climbing wall/aquarium though.  Pretty sweet.

This week also offers some nice things to look forward to.  This is the 3rd and final week of the intensive German portion of my program, so after this week I venture on a 10-day tour of 3 countries surrounding Vienna: Prague in the Czech Republic, Budapest in Hungary, and Krakow in Poland.  More on that later.  Also this week, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on tour in Vienna, meaning my trombone professor will be in town!  It is also the first week of Vienna’s Opera season, so I’ll most likely be checking out that scene.  Should make for an exciting week!


Getting Acquainted

After only 6 days here, I’ve decided that I am very much in love with this city.  On my first Saturday in Vienna, we took a free, 3 1/2 hour bus tour of the city!  I’m learning so much about the history of Vienna, and I’m finding that it’s a VERY fascinating city.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The heart of Vienna is surrounded by a street called the Ringstrasse, which, before 1857, consisted of an actual wall surrounding the entire city of Vienna in order to protect it from the Turks.  In 1857, Franz Joseph ordered the wall to be torn down and an enormous construction project was enacted, expanding Vienna’s borders.  For this reason, it seems like many of the greatest architectural achievements in Vienna lie on this one road (the Ringstrasse), encircling Vienna- the Opera House, several museums, the Austrian Parliament, the Burg Theater, the University of Vienna, etc.

The IES building, where I’m taking classes is in District 1 (Vienna has 23 districts) and is located within the Ringstrasse, meaning it’s super close to so many incredible, historical landmarks.  The other day I ventured into Stephandsdom, an enormous and breathtakingly gorgeous church 5 minutes down the street from the IES center.  (Expect pictures later after I take a formal tour of it).

Also today on the bus tour we stopped at the Belvedere Palace.  (Also expect pictures later).  Surrounded by gardens, the Belivdere Palace was built as a summer house/guest house, but it was enormous.  It actually reminded me a bit of the Taj Mahal.

We also drove across the Danube River today, which cuts through Vienna.  It’s actually REALLY interesting how the construction within Vienna is laid out.  The core of the city remains free from truly modern architecture- it upholds its historical and cultural worth by not allowing skyscrapers to take away from its older, architecturally-astounding landmarks.  Once you cross the Danube river to the north, however, modern Vienna can be found.  It is much smaller, but resembles what one would expect from a normal city- a lot of corporate buildings, some skyscrapers, and a very urbanized feel.  This is also where the U.N. is located in Vienna.  I, personally, like this separation very much because it allows Vienna to expand as a city, but to uphold what makes it an interesting and unique city to live in.

On a more personal note, auditions finished today and we should be hearing about what type of ensembles we will be playing in early next week.  I also had my first German test, and am continuing to scrape by with my minimal ability to speak the language… although…throughout the last week the way I order food has gone from pointing and grunting in pitiful German to actually being able to form coherent sentences.  So…success?

Haha, well it currently raining in Vienna (for the first time since I’ve been here) which is a nice change of pace from the relentless heat wave that’s been reigning over Vienna so far.  So…at that, I’m going to go enjoy my Saturday night in Vienna!

Exploring Vienna

So I’ve now been in Vienna for 3 full days!  For some reason, it feels like I’ve been in Europe for longer, but it’s only been a week since I left the states!  Right now I’m still in the orientation part of my program, where I’m taking an intensive German course.  I’m actually very surprised at how quickly we’re moving through things, as well as how quickly I’m picking up this language.  Some say that learning your third language is much easier than learning your second one (Spanish being my second one), but I also feel that me being thrown into this Austrian atmosphere where I’m constantly forced to use German is causing me to learn infinitely more quickly.  It also feels pretty exhilarating to be ordering my own food from restaurants and such for only having taking 3 days of German.  😀

I also had my first chance to hang out with real Austrians last night.  My RA Rosa, who is a native of Austria, invited us over to her apartment to hang out with her friends from Vienna, and let me tell you- Austrians are mighty impressive with their multilingual abilities.  Not only were her friends talking with us in fluent English, but a lot of them also knew French, Spanish, Italian, and even some Russian and Ancient Greek.  Evidently, from what I learned last night, Austrian students begin their second language at 3rd grade, and their 3rd language at 5th grade.  And many of them also begin learning English outside of school starting in 1st grade.  Crazy!!  My friends and I agreed that it makes our 4 years of high school Spanish look pitiful.

Some other thoughts on Austria so far: There’s no AC here!!!  That’s probably been the biggest setback so far.  It is ALWAYS hot here, and no buildings (save a few random shops) have air conditioning.  Austrians take conserving the Earth very seriously…  Also, Vienna has quiet hours starting at 10pm every night.  When hanging out at Rosa’s apartment last night, our group actually got complained about for being too loud- when we were MUCH quieter than groups hanging out late at night in America typically are.  People here who want their sleep are apparently not afraid to stand up for themselves.

Also, bratwurst here is incredible.  I am now on my 3rd straight day of eating Austrian sausage.  Also, gelato here is so fantastic.  I don’t understand why ice cream here is so superior to American ice cream.  The fact that I can go to any gelato stand on the street and know that the quality will be excellent trumps America’s ice cream chains. And it’s friggen cheap as dirt.

So today I also went on a free tour of one of Vienna’s most famous art museums, the “Kunsthistoriches” Museum, or National Gallery of Art.  I don’t consider myself at all educated or knowledgeable about paintings or visual art, but for whatever reason I found myself loving this museum’s collection of art possibly more than any art museum I’ve been to! Which is saying a lot since I’ve been to the Chicago Art institute, the Met in New York, and the Louvre.  There were some really, unbelievably impressive paintings there.  Expect pictures of them later.  Lots of Rafael and Rembrandt!

Well, that’s probably enough for now.  I’m sure I’ll have lots of crazy stories to tell after the next few days and my first weekend here in Vienna.  Guten nacht!


A Weekend in Mariazell

Greetings from Vienna!  I have officially moved into my apartment in Margaretenstrasse, the 5th district of Vienna, after a weekend in a beautiful town called Mariazell, located in the foothills of the Alps.

My journey began with a 6:25pm flight from Washington D.C. Dulles International Airport, where I took a six hour flight to London.  The flight was actually quite enjoyable as British Airways accommodated passengers with a great selection of movies (including Thor which I still hadn’t seen yet) as well as complimentary wine with dinner.  I met Jamie Leff in London, where we had a 3 hour layover before taking our second flight- only two hours this time- to Vienna!  On the plane I sat next to a really nice old couple who was acquainted with Austria, and they gave me some good tips on what to check out in Vienna and some nice cities surrounding Vienna that are easy to travel to!

Jamie and I landed in London just before 1:00pm, where we quickly made it though customs, security, etc. and met up with our IES people for the very first time!  People were super friendly from the very beginning, and as we took a bus to Mariazell for our 4-day orientation outside of Vienna, we continued to meet new people and make new friends!  Also, as we made our way on the 3 hour bus drive to Mariazell the hills slowly became more and more mountainy, which only helped to build the overall excitement level of our bus!

In Mariazell, we finally met up with Ross, who we were supposed to have met up with in London (Ross’ transfer flight got changed to Brussels instead of London)!  In Mariazell we stayed in a youth hostel, which was comprised of nearly all IES people during our stay, and had a chance to meet the students we’ll be spending the next 4 months with!  There are about 130 IES students I would say (approximately), which is split into about 2/3 music students and 1/3 European studies students.

Throughout the weekend, we took part in many orientation sessions, from topics about how to adjust to the culture of Austria, info about Vienna as a city, what Austrians are like (apparently they like to stare a lot), and a “basic survival sessions” on speaking German.  As I speak absolutely no German, I gladly enrolled in Elementary German I, which starts tomorrow morning!

Also to top off the weekend, we were treated to absolutely delicious meals- with plenty of Wiener Schnitzel and new soups to try with every meal!  The meat there was particularly exceptional, and I’m really looking forward to trying actual Vienna food!!

Mariazell also presented us with a “traditional Austrian evening” one night, where we watched and took part in traditional Austrian dances, which actually did turn out to be a lot of fun. Especially watching the people who were more than a little intoxicated fail miserably at dancing…! heh.

Other than that, the weekend was full of meeting new people, going on hikes, swimming, avoiding the saunas (where full nudity is not only encouraged but required), going Kegelbahnning (Austrian form of bowling that apparently even Mozart used to do!), and making a trip to the downtown area of Mariazell where we had DELICIOUS gelato (for really cheap too!) and saw a magnificent church with stunning ornamentations.

After lunch today we packed up our stuff, said a fond farewell to Mariazell, and made our way to Vienna!  We met with our landlord just a couple of hours ago, and I’m very excited to be finally settled into my actual apartment in the city! On that note, it’s time that I go and explore the actual city of Vienna!  Vienna here I come!


Vienna Bound

Hello everyone!  Welcome to my study abroad blog!  So if you’ve reached this site then I’m sure you’re already aware that I will be studying abroad in Vienna, Austria this fall semester!  I’m unbelievably excited, and it’s really hard to believe that in…5 days(!) my plane will land on Austrian soil.

I’ve been slowly preparing for this trip for much of the summer. I’ve bought the necessary essentials for a trip-of-a-lifetime like this one: a new camera (a Canon Powershot, of course!), a midi keyboard so I can keep my composition chops up while I’m over in Vienna, and some resources to help me learn German (although the success of this endeavor is debatable, whoops!)  Hopefully there will be enough English speaking going on in Vienna for me to get by, haha.

I’ve also been preparing audition material for my musical studies once I reach Vienna!  Since there won’t be enough music students to form large ensembles, our major ensemble focus for the semester is in chamber ensemble work.  Although I’ll miss playing in large ensembles, it will definitely be nice to be able to focus on playing with a smaller group, which I haven’t been able to do much at IU so far!

So…I’d like to wish everyone a fond farewell for the next four months!  There are a lot of people I’m going to miss a ton while abroad, but thankfully that’s what the internet is for!  Unfortunately, my phone will be shut off while abroad, so I encourage everyone to follow my blog/keep in touch via facebook/skype!  And for those of you who continue to follow my blog, you can be sure to expect a bounty of epic photos and stories in the coming months!  🙂  Auf Wiedersehen!