Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Remember that Time We Walked to Liechtenstein?

As many of you know, I live in a remote corner of Austria that touches Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.  As a matter of fact, after one of the World Wars-I can't remember which one--the area of Vorarlberg, Austria wanted to become a part of Switzerland.  The dialect here is basically Swiss German, so I have to admit that I understand their desire to join the Swiss.  But the Swiss are elitists and told Vorarlbergers that they had to remain Austrians and therefore I live in Austria, and not in Switzerland.  (But we still get all of the delicious Swiss chocolate here so I'm somehow managing to survive.)

Anyway, a few short days ago, Sally, Lauren, and myself decided that we wanted to take a bus to Liechtenstein before we went out to Ladies Night at the K-Shake (a local club in the middle of nowhere...seriously...we always find it by looking for the turnaround that has the tractor in the middle of it.)  Getting to Liechtenstein by bus takes about 5 minutes.  And it takes about 20 minutes if we walk.  Sally did not have her passport on her, so we decided to get off the bus just before we crossed the border in case the authorities decided to check everyone's papers.  All we really wanted to do was take some pictures at the border to say that we had been there.

It turns out they don't really check papers at all at the border between Feldkirch and Liechtenstein.  So we just walked over the border.  Illegally.  Without papers.  And took photos.  And within about 40 minutes we made it in and out of the country and home in time to eat dinner and get ready for some dancing at Ladies Night!

Working with the PoPo.

Recently--out of the blue--I received an email from an English teacher at a neighboring school.  He was in desperate need of help and searching for a native English speaker to help him with his second job at the local police college.  All of these popos-in-training are required to learn traffic basics in English, like how to pull over the car of a tourist and tell them that they are not allowed to use their cell phone while driving.

The English teacher was having trouble with these future police officers goofing off when practicing routine traffic checks in English.  Apparently they were all making jokes to one another in the dialect and trying to give each other a hard time when they were taking their turns being the "police."  Or just being super big douche bags to one another, which is relatively unlikely to happen. They weren't really getting any good practice in, and heaven forbid that they pulled over a tourist--they would have been so lost and only known how to insult each other.  So the teacher wanted me to come in and pretend that I don't speak any German and be the traffic guinea pig.  I knew that the class would be mostly male (and mostly my age) so I gladly volunteered.

When I walked in the room, I was pleased to discover about 35 students all dressed in their cop uniform.  Mostly male.  Mostly age appropriate.  The English teacher then left me alone with them to ask them questions and to tell them a little bit about myself.  They turned out to be quite a lively bunch--they asked me if I had ever been arrested.  Or if I was married.  Or single.  Or looking for an Austrian boyfriend.  Jackpot.

After that, I proceeded to drive the English teachers car (which is a manual--I don't know how to drive a manual) around the parking lot of the police college so that the officers could pull me over and ask to see my papers and what not.  It was a total blast.  They all got so nervous to have to actually pull me over in the car and ask me questions.  And I would purposely try and make it slightly difficult for them by asking them directions or being unable to pay the ticket because I don't have any money on me.  Overall a really fun and interesting time.  They asked me to go out to the bar with them sometime soon, so we'll see how that goes!  Until then, I'll keep practicing getting pulled over by the Austrian police--by the end of December I'll have had enough practice sweet-talking my way out of tickets and know enough of the police force to get myself out of any kind of snaffoo.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Martinimarkt and Pay Day!

So the past week/weekend has been incredibly eventful.  Not only did I receive my first paycheck, I also got a good taste of authentic Austrian culture.

November the 11th was St. Martin's Day--a religious holiday which technically starts Advent and somewhat resembles American Thanksgiving.  St. Martin apparently is this dude who gave his half of his cloak to a beggar and then had a vision of Jesus Christ somewhere around 400 A.D.  And now his day of sainthood is celebrated widely across Western and Eastern Europe.  Starting at 11:11 on the 11th, the tiny little town I live in was filled with marching bands and people dressed in ridiculous costumes.  This is a big holiday here.  The Austrians don't mess around with St. Martin's day--they get dressed up and have a right ol' party.

See?  I'm not kidding.
Two days later there was a big festival in Dornbirn, which is the largest town in Vorarlberg and the home of the Dornbirner Martinimarkt.  Now, before you all go thinking that I was sipping on Martinis all day, I ask you to refer to my earlier comments.  The Martinimarkt is actually a big market/bazaar held in order to celebrate St. Martin's Day.  At the Martinimarkt, local vendors have all sorts of goods you can buy, like sheepswool slippers--which may have been made from my sheepies that live outside my window--and regional foods.  And pretty much everyone in our corner of Austria stops by.

I don't think I've ever seen so much cheese and smoked sausage in once place ever.  You could smell the cheese everywhere and everytime I turned around I saw another sausage vendor.  Which means all of the assistants who were in town for the festival were getting some good eats.  For example:

Landjaeger--it translates to country hunter, which I think is kind of funny.  But when you tell your Austrian friends that you have a sausage in your bag, they think you mean an uncooked sausage and you're crazy.  Until you show them the Landjaeger (smoked sausage) you have wrapped up inside your tote.  Then they just think you're funny and American.  But it is delicious and meaty.   Mmmmm.
Then you have Raclett Brot.  Raclett Brot is basically a big piece of bread which a hot, melted, swiss-like cheese spread on it and topped with onions and peppers.  It looks kind of gross.  And smells kind of gross.  But it tastes delicious.

And then finally we have Gluehmost, which is like a hot spiced hard cider.  It's unbelievably tasty and shockingly alcoholic.  And it's warm.  Which on a cold rainy day--like the day of Martinimarkt--it really just warms you up and hits the spot.

We spent most of the evening at the Martinmarkt and I was fortunate enough to run into some of my students, who ended up (more or less) joining us and taking part in the festivities.  They made sure that we were fully experience the culture and drinking plenty of Gluehmost and eating plenty of food.  All in all, it was a wonderful evening.

After my adventure at the Martinimarkt I only had two more days until I received my first paycheck!  Due to the Austrian paperwork and the time it takes to process it, none of the assistants received any moolah until November 15th.  Living without any money is awful.  I scavenged food and was living on a diet of rice and lentils.  And pretty much holed myself up in my room doing a whole lot of nothing.  Getting paid this past Monday was pretty much the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me in my life short of being born.  I got paid for October and November at the same time, which is more money than I've ever been given at one time ever in my life.  Which means I spend Monday and Tuesday with the other female assistants buying clothes and shoes and food and books and just enjoying not being broke.  As a matter of fact, we're all so excited to finally have money and be able to do things, we're heading to Munich tomorrow to shop, sightsee, eat, drink, and do all sorts of things you can do with an income! 

So, bis spaeter!  I should be back soon when I return from the city of beer and pretzels!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Back to the Blog!

Sorry, I know it's been forever since I last posted, but i've been running around getting settled into my job and into my new home!

About two (three?) weeks ago I finally started my job.  I'm working as an English assistant at two different schools.  The first school is a school for future teachers, and I've been working with the English teachers.  This is incredibly awesome because I just finished doing the exact same thing in the USA.  Essentially, the students are like my friends back home and they are all around my age or older than me.  It's awesome.  The other school that I work at is attached to the teacher school and is basically a middle school.  All of the students there are totally fascinated by the fact that I'm a "real American"!  They're super adorable and I can finally understand why someone might want to teach kids these age.  They like to come up to me and show me their English quizzes and tell me random things about themselves in German.  It's seriously the cutest thing EVER.

Other than school, I've pretty much been chilling around and exploring the area.  Vorarlberg really is super beautiful, albeit a little removed from pretty much every other place in the world.  But I really like it and am working hard to learn the regional dialect and meet people while I'm here.  Anyway, I have to be off, but expect a longer (and more detailed) update soon!


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Beer and Pretzels and Mountains, Oh My!

          So, the past week has been ridiculously eventful.  I arrived in Feldkirch on Thursday, September 24th after an eternity on planes, trains, and automobiles.  I flew out of Detroit Metro at noon and arrived in Zurich the next day around 8AM Zurich time (aka 2 AM Detroit time).  From Zurich, my town is only an hour and a half away if you take the fast train, which is not really a big deal.  The fast trains, however, only leave once every few hours.  Of course, my flight came in just after the previous train left, so I ended up hanging around the main train station with my 90 lbs of luggage for approximately two hours in relatively chilly weather.  I was fortunate enough to have an entire row of seats to myself on the plane and had gotten some sleep, but DAMN was I tired.
           After I finally made it to Feldkirch, I had to wait around another couple of hours for the office of my new home to open.  Since school hadn't quite started yet, the boarding school aspect of the catholic school was only open from 2PM to 5PM Monday through Friday, which means I had some time wait.  Instead of being super lame and moping around with my luggage while waiting for the office to open, I decided to put my luggage into the lockers at the train station and pick up some important things.  I stopped to pick up the basic necessities (shampoo, batteries :), toothpaste) and then headed to the Austrian version of IKEA.

       Now, the Austrian IKEA has quite possibly the worst name EVER.  I've noticed that sometimes when languages borrow from one another, certain things really do get "lost in translation".  For example, the Austrian IKEA is called "XXXLutz".  What the hell is that supposed to mean?  It sounds more like a nudey bar or an erotic shop than an IKEA.  Does Lutz--whoever he is--have an extra extra large...Lutz?  Silly Austrians.  But despite the name, the store itself is great.  They pretty much have every sort of household need and a random selection of hot foods.  Thanks to XXXLutz, I am now the proud owner of a XXX towel and a XXX set of sheets.  They make me feel dxxxxrty living with the nuns.

      I finally was able to get into my room, and the woman running the front desk (Sabine) is super fabulous.  She pretty much told me I could use anything at all in the entire building and gave me the rundown on how to register in the city.  Germans and Austrians have a really strange obsession with paperwork.  In order to get anything done, you have to fill out a multitude of tedious and repetitive forms and then take those forms to other places where you have to fill out more tedious and repetive forms.  And then when you leave the country for good, you have to go and do the same thing to un-register yourself.  As of right now, I am only halfway registered with the city.  Because apparently I have to do it twice.  And it's in the same building.  Just a different entrance.  You really think that they would combine these things to make it easier for themselves.

      My room is really simple, but totally adequate.  And for some reason I have two beds in my room.  Which I will probably push together to make a super-bed that I can sprawl across and dream about the nuns.  I don't get an internet connection in my room, but if I go just down the hall to the common room I can get to the interwebs, which is not ideal, but it could be far worse.  There are other places in the building I can connect to as well, but I haven't quite figured them out yet. One of the...uhhhh....coolest things about my place of residency is that I have to climb the stairway to heaven to get there.  No joke.  I live with nuns in a private catholic boarding school, I have XXX bedding, and take the stairway to heaven to get to my front door.  My life clearly has taken a turn for the worse.

       My town, being in the Alps, is quite mountainous.  (Duh.)  The main center of the town where all the shops, roads, and schools are is in the valley.  Everything else is in the mountains.  In order to get to my room, I climb what has been appropriately nicknamed the "Himmelstiege", which in English roughly translates to "Heaven's Stairs".  They are two sets of stairs, consisting of about 300 stairs each, that I have to take each time I want to go back to the center of town and to the place where I live.  It sucks now, but I keep telling myself that the buns of steel it will give me will totally be worth it in the end.

  They just totally blow my mind.  And my calf muscles.

       The day after I arrived in Feldkirch, I made the trek out to Augsburg, Germany to meet up with my lovely friend Michelle.  From there, we headed out to Munich to savor the Tracht, beer, and pretzel glories of Oktoberfest.  When we arrived in Munich, the weather was looking great (and so were we) and we took the U-Bahn over to the Wiese where the festival is held.

       And I don't think I've ever seen so many people ever in my entire life in one place. Oktoberfest is kind of a weird event.  It's basically a giant beer celebration, but there's also a giant carnival going on, with rides and all sorts of delicious carnival foods and little kids who probably don't need to be exposed to all the wasted-face-ness. It was like a Michigan football game on crack.  And everyone there was drinking like a recovered alcholic who had fallen off the sober train.  It was a hot mess.  We managed to walk around the festival for a bit and eat some nom noms before it started raining.  Now, remember earlier when I mentioned that sometimes the German-English phrases get lost in translation?  I'd just like to provide this picture as proof.

       And I always thought it meant "two in the pink, one in the stink."  Apparently I was wrong.

      We attempted to get into a tent when the rain started coming, but we eventually decided that we preferred to NOT be groped by Spanish men, so we headed back to the hostel, swearing that we would be awake at 7AM to make it to the tents early enough to get in and get a seat.

       This proved to be much more difficult than we had anticipated.  We pulled into Oktoberfest around 8:30 AM and got in the line for the Paulaner tent, which was already swarming with people.  We ended up waiting to get inside the tent for about 2-2.5 hours outside in the pouring rain.  When we eventually got in, it took us forever and a day to find a seat.  The trick with Oktoberfest is that the waiters won't serve anyone who doesn't have a seat. So in order to get a beer, you have to actually find a spot at a table, which is much easier said than done.  Michelle and I floated around the beer tent for a good solid hour before we established a permanent place with a very friendly bunch of Italians.

    These Italians were under the impression that Michelle and I were actually German.  And we didn't exactly ever give them any reason to think otherwise.  So we ended up drinking with them for a few hours, and then headed back into the city center to eat some delicious German food at Andechs.

 The next day I spent in Augsburg visiting Molly and then I headed off to orienation on Monday.  And that's pretty much all the news for the time being! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Adventure Begins!

        Those nuns better get ready 'cuz imma coming at 'em!  And in less than twenty four hours!  And ohmygodicantbelieveimleavingthecountryforayear.  I'm definitely feeling a little stressed about the move, since I feel like I've been running around nonstop this week trying to get everything in order. And I still don't feel 100% ready, but I don't think I'm supposed to feel 100% ready.  I'd actually probably be a little bit more worried if I did, so I'm comfortable with my 90%.  It's just slightly nerve-wracking to leave everything and everyone behind and pack my entire life in two suitcases and a tote.  There's just so much that can happen here at home while I'm away.

         Anyway, despite being slightly stressed out and nervous, I'm still super (!) excited.  The town I'll be living in is fabulously beautiful and I've heard nothing but awesome things from all of the Fulbright Teaching Assistants who have lived and worked there previously.  For those of you who aren't in the know, I'm stationed in the town of Feldkirch, which is in Vorarlberg, Austria over on the left side of the country.
        The location is awesome.  Seriously.  I can walk to Liechtenstein from my apartment.  Switzerland is 20 minutes away by bus and I can get to Zurich in less than two hours.  Munich is only three hours away and Italy isn't all that far either.  Oh, and did I mention that I'm living in the ALPS?  I didn't?  Well, I am.  And it is awesome. 

        From my understanding, when I'm there I will be working with some middle school kids and some older college-age students.  The college-age students are "technically" my assigned students, but I've heard that the middle school likes to borrow the English Teaching Assistants from time to time.  During my stay I'll be living in a boarding school that belongs to the private Catholic school in the area.  AKA I am living with NUNS!  For those of  you that know me well, the idea of me living in a Catholic school with nuns and other religious personnel is, well, quite blasphemous.  I am not of a saintly nature by any means (hence the humor behind the blog title) and am both slightly enticed and terrified by the idea.  Who knows what nuns really do in their free time, right?  Do they pray?  Do they eat?  Do they eat, pray, and love?  (<=bad pun)  It is my duty as an ambassador to find this out!

        In the end, between actually getting to Feldkirch and filling out my paperwork and all that jazz, it looks like I'll be up and running for 24+ hours, which I'm not looking forward to since I don't really like sleeping on planes and dealing with residency paperwork and nuns...But there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  The day after I land, I'll be meeting up with my lovely friend Michelle in Augsburg (just outside of Munich) to enjoy three days of all the debacle and debauchery of Oktoberfest!
The last time I lived in Munich I missed out on the full Oktoberfest experience, so I'm anxious to be there during all the excitement and wear some traditional Bavarian duds.  Expect many pictures.

         And on that note, I bid you all adieu and hope to see you  in ten months!