Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night

I’ve fallen in love.

When we first met, I really wasn’t sure how I felt. The newness, the intensity, it was all just so overwhelming. But with time the nerves subsided, and romance bloomed. The dinners at Naschmarkt, the gelato by the Steffl, the walks through the park… I want to shout from the alps: I’ve fallen in love with Vienna.

FINALLY! I mean, really now. It’s about time. But better late than never. It came to me when I was lying in the park with a visiting friend during my spring break. We were sleeping off the most unreasonably delicious picnic in the warm sunshine surrounded by an absolutely cinematic panorama. It also hits me every time I visit a new city in Europe (especially Milan) and I find myself wanting to be back in Vienna because it’s cleaner, cheaper, smells better, more green, softer bread, you name it: Vienna could beat up your city.

However, it’s just in time for me to leave. I have only one day left in the city before I head back to Canada. What?! It can’t be! Wasn’t it just March? In February, while fighting off some serious homesick blues, I was ready to catch the next flight back. Now, it feels weird to be heading for the airport and realize that, this time, I’m not coming back. But since I do have to start work and return to the real world at some point, I figure I’ll end off with some reflections. LAME.

While it’s cliché, I’ve learned a lot about myself while travelling. Similarly, I’ve also learned a lot about what the world thinks of my country. While, on the whole, the world seems to think Canada’s pretty tops (with a few American exceptions), I’m always disappointed to hear how little people know/care about Canada. I may not have a Canadian flag anywhere on me but my suitcases, but I’m a pretty patriotic Canuck, so that gets my back up. However, I turned it into a game to see how far-fetched I could get before they realized I’m pulling their leg. The answer: They clue in when I mention riding dragons to school. Really.

So far: I’m the Duchess of Alberta whose father was knighted after inventing an electrical fence meant to keep polar bears from our yards because they kept eating our dogs (which is especially important because dog sleds are our primary mode of transportation). In school, we learned how to build igloos and trap gophers because when we have to travel the massive distance between cities, we need to know how to survive for weeks on end in the wintery tundra. I had a pet beaver until a grizzly bear got it. I also know 92 different recipes that use maple syrup as the main ingredient, and I make killer moose jerky. I also had never heard of basketball* until Space Jam came out last year in theatres.

I. Got. Away. With. This. (I even managed to convince a Torontonian about the igloo bit. Seriously?!) Most people’s knowledge can be summed up by the Arrogant Worm’s song that goes:

“‘Cause we’ve got rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and…water”

While not entirely incorrect (…it’s pretty accurate), Canada has so much to offer that I’m actually pretty excited to come home. Don’t get me wrong, for the first six months back, any and every story I tell will start with something like: “Well, this one time, in Vienna…” And how could it not? I’ve spent five months across the world on my own and had an absolutely amazing time with some incredible people. A tiny list of things that I’ll miss are:

– the wonderful friends I’ve made here who are thoughtful, accommodating, and put up with my non-existant German
– the screaming hot summer sun
– the Gürtel
– spending whole days lounging in the massive gardens
– Sacher torte
– the complete mess that was Ride Club and the subsequent 4AM kebabs
– walking in awe through the first district’s historical buildings
– a great bottle of wine that only costs four Euros
– the strawberries that taste like real strawberries and tomatoes that taste like real tomatoes
– the laid back Austrian view of life
– never studying at any point ever
– the heurigers
– Sacher torte
– the homeless man who sleeps in my lobby
– napping beside a palace
– drinking in public (not so classy, but incredibly true)
– reading for hours with a cup of großer brauner and an apple strudel
– the fresh and cheap bakeries like Anker/Der Mann/Ströck
– Sacher torte
– late night BBQs on balconies, laughing at my absolutely pathetic attempt at saying the very Austrian “Oachkatzelschwoaf.” (I dare you to try it right now. This word is in the realm of ridiculousness such that there’s videos upon videos on Youtube of people twisting their tongues into yogi masters-esque positions to get it out.  It’s now my new party trick.)

I won’t deny that Canada has a lot of rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and water, but it also has my friends, my family, my oldest memories, and my future plans. Canada has my home. And I’m finally coming back.

To my Austrians, I’ll miss you too much.
To my Canadians, I’ll be seeing you soon.

XOXO, Gossip Jen, Duchess of Alberta, Heir to the Edmontonshire throne

*Fun fact: The inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was Canadian. So there.

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Red Whine

For the past two weeks, my sister and I have been taking over Europe. When she first arrived, I got to play guide as we blitzed through Vienna doing all the obligatory sight seeing and eating. Our next stop was Italy, and I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive taking my sister. Her friends had warned me that every time she was in Italy she fancied herself to be quite Italian, and would turn up the hand gesticulation and began talking witha Eetaliano accenta! However, given as on my adventures I managed to find myself extremely influenced by Australian, Irish, or French-Canadian accents, I figured that if she started, I probably would, too.

One of the most important things I learned during my wine tasting school in Tuscany was that everyone has different tastes. For one, a particular wine may taste like liquid gold, but for the person beside them, it might just taste like “pee-pee.” So, keep that in mind as I do the following taste test of the Italian cities I explored over the past week. What was an oasis to me may be a retirement village to you, or what is one of the fashion centres to the world is in my opinion, well, absolute “pee-pee.”

Milano
Acetic – a sour, vinegary odour
Coarse – rough texture; little breed or elegance
Maderized – wines that have passed their prime and have acquired a brown tinge

Perhaps the days of this city I tasted were a bit…corked. So, I will try hard not to judge it too harshly. The day my sister and I flew into Milan was a hot, muggy one, making the metro ride to our airport more like a sauna… a sauna with a man staring at us with such unbridled intensity it was hard to shake off my typical I-am-woman-hear-me-roar reaction. As a girl travelling, you always get warnings from your friends about the level of respect to expect from the boys in Italy or Spain, but that had me bracing for cat calls and not to be stared with a look that made me feel like I was cornered prey. I began to dread walking in Milan, anticipating the next Hannibal-esque “Ciao, bella…”

When we finally made it to our hostel (which we overshot in both directions several times as the sign was nothing more than a small placard on the call-button list outside the building’s door), we were greeted by the most enthusiastic bed and breakfast owner I’ve ever met. However, after an early morning, a humid/hot day, and six floors worth of stairs, we had little energy to keep up with him socializing and just bee-lined for bed.

When we woke up a few hours later, we were jonesin’ for some pizza. Our hostel owner recommended going to the canals for one of the better cluster of restaurants, so again we boarded the sauna-metro and set off in search of some real Italian cuisine. Now, I suppose my expectations were a bit too high for Milan. And when I heard of the canals, I had imagined, well, what Hollywood told me to: lovers in gondolas being serenaded by a sweet mandolin. I had imagined it to be this city of haute couture filled with stilettos and tiny poodles. However, on our walk to the canals for dinner, it was dirty streets, “Imma eat you” looks from boys, and some of the trashier wear I’ve seen this side of Eastern Europe. But, given as I am an emotional eater, as my large pizza was slid before my eyes, it had already started to soothe my soul.

Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I am not a morning person. So much so that the very act of speaking in the morning pains me greatly. So, you can imagine the scene my sister saw when she walked into the kitchen to our host singing and dancing wildly to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” while I sat miserably in the corner, glaring death-rays into my coffee mug, flinching hard at every “Wimoweh.” He asked us where we were going after Milan, and we replied “Pesaro.” He looked shocked, “Why you want to go Pesaro? Nobody go to Pesaro. I never met anyone here who go to Pesaro.” (I kid you not, this was entirely accurate to how he spoke) This made us nervous. Admittedly, all my sister and I knew about the town was that a) we found it on a map on the coast of the Adriatic Sea b) it had great photos on Google Images. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but stubbornness runs in my family, so we set our jaws, and said we would have to find out for ourselves.

Pesaro
Baked – quality of red wine made in a very hot climate from very ripe grapes
Mellow – softened with proper age
Velvety – a smooth, silky texture that will leave no acidity on the palate

In Pesaro, we really looked like tourists. Not only were our giant backpacks a tell-tale sign, we were also the palest people there by at least ten shades. This, coupled with the lost expressions on our faces and the fact we were both pointing in opposite directions staring at the same map, is why an ambulance stopped in the middle (yes, the middle) of the road to ask us if we were lost. My sister went to his window and asked for directions to our hotel, saying (in the broken Italian/French/English/German combo we spoke the whole trip), “Dove Viale?” Turns out “viale” was not the address of our hotel, it just means “avenue.” So, a touch on the vague side. Fortunately, all the hotels in Pesaro were on the same avenue, so he just pointed and said, “Two kilometres.” So, we gritted our teeth and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked.

Apparently, Italians don’t care much for numerical order either. Whenever we thought we were headed in the right direction, the hotel numbers would suddenly switch from 42 to 108 to 96 to 2, and we were left scratching our heads at our bad map. We finally caved and walked into the nearest hotel to ask for more exact directions. The woman at the counter pointed to the complete opposite end of the avenue. My sister said, “Taxi?” and the lady said, “No, you walk.” I nearly handed her my bag and told her I’d be glad to have her walk it over while I rode beside her in an air-conditioned taxi. Instead, I manned up and figured that the walk would help me earn my pizza that night.

On the whole Pesaro gets three thumbs up, Google Images did not let us down. Pesaro was picturesque and had a Florida vibe where everyone was either an Italian tourist, three years old or an octogenarian. Our first full day, we decided to hit the beach despite the raging sea breeze. I ended up building a sand fortress that included my overturned beach chair to protect me from the wind which had made it seem deceptively cooler than it actually was. Despite my slightly olive-y complexion and the rarity with which I burn, I decided to forgo sun block in certain areas to help even out my tan. I grossly underestimated the intensity of the sun, as every single spot on my body that I missed with lotion, the sun found and cooked until a crispy well done.

The best (and definitely cheapest) food we found was in Pesaro. I ate one of the most delicious seafood pizzas the world has ever known with one of the best bottles of wine while watching the sun set over the sea. I was purring. We then set off to find a good place for some drinks to enjoy the cool night air. We came across a lounge/bar/gelateria (what?) that was also close to the water, and asked to see the drink menu. Our waiter said, “But I am also the drink menu.” So, we told him what things we liked in our drinks, and he brought us back our custom drinks with more fruit/umbrellas/straws than glass. We knew we’d be fast friends. Our newfound friendship actually paid off when, on our last night in town, my camera was left on the table and I’d tearfully written it off for lost. When we called them from Florence,  they confirmed our waiter had brought it back, and my fingers are currently crossed that it’s in the mail on its way back to Canada.

Pesaro is definitely a small enough town that it really only takes about a day to explore its entirety if you’re feeling ambitious. Personally, I like that in a beach town, because then I feel less guilty to splay on the beach for hours instead. The competitive spirit in me would see a dark Italian sunning and go, “Oh yeah? Anything you can I do, I can do better!” Unfortunately, we only had two days to become bronze goddesses, so I fell significantly short (and much less cancer-y) compared to my leathery competitors, but I think I got enough to make my friends back home jealous. And if that’s not the point of the travelling game, I don’t know what is.

After a long goodbye, we set off for Florence.

Florence
Noble – superior and distinguished
Spritzig – pleasant, lively acidity and effervescence noticeable only to the tongue and not to the eye
Sound – healthy, well balanced, clean-tasting

I think in Florence I heard more English than I ever did Italian. This definitely made the hunt for our hostel significantly easier than in our other two cities as we just had to follow the 18 other backpackers on their way to the same place.

My sister and I decided to do a nighttime bike tour which we thought would be a great introduction to the city, not to mention the fact it would be significantly cooler and less crowded. This being my third bike tour while in Europe, I figured I was some kind of pro. However, I was not prepared to take on Florence’s ancient cobbled streets in a wobbly, no gear, 80-year-old cruiser. My grace on the bike was comparable to a baby deer’s first steps, and it never got any easier.  We were not mistaken as it was absolutely stunning to ride through the streets of the city I’ve only read about lit up at night (not to mention that our guide was pretty stunning, too). We ended our tour in the Piazzale Michelangelo, for a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.

The next day we had signed up for a market food and wine tour through our hostel, which ended up getting cancelled as we were the only two. However, we were given a map to the market and we set off on our own. It was an absolute overload for the culinary senses with truffles and pastas and meats and wines and pastries lining every aisle. We were given tasters of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, we ate ravioli and parmigiana, sipped wine, and sampled some nutella-y cookies. We wandered outside to the other half of the market that was filled with row upon row of leather wares, scarves, jewelry, and incredibly tacky postcards. The women in my family has a passion for pashminas, so my sister and I loaded up on some scarves. By the end, we were knee-deep in “souvenirs” (AKA gifts for ourselves). We then headed back to our hostel to meet our friend Eve who’d come to join us.

For our last full day in Florence we booked a wine tasting tour through Tuscany. So, early in the morning, we loaded ourselves onto the bus bound for the Chianti region. Our first stop was a wine tasting school, where they guided us through the finer (and more pretentious) points of wine tasting. As I’d become the de facto wine connoisseur at every meal (my tasting and subsequent approval was based on little more than me picking up the glass, taking a big swig, and stating whether or not it tasted like vinegar), I thought it’d give me some good tips. However, I don’t think you’ll catch me checking out the measurements of my wine glass or covering the opening while I swish my wine to “build the aroma.” All my friends would probably beat me up, heck, I’d beat me up. We then went to a second winery for a tour of the wine production (wine production tour > steel mill production tour) and a light, traditional Tuscan lunch. Our final stop was to the medieval city San Gimignano for some world famous gelato (…every gelateria in Italy was somehow world famous) and some photo ops with the picturesque rolling hillsides dotted with wineries.

As if we hadn’t “sampled” enough wine that day, we decided to go for a pub crawl that night. While it began optimistically enough (our pub guide was none other than our bike guide), photographic evidence and the jackhammer headache I had the next day evidenced that somewhere along the way, the night went horribly wrong. However, my sister and I were forced to drag ourselves out of bed to get to the train station to head back to Milan for our flight back to Vienna.

Milano Airport vs. the Ball Sisters 

As rational beings, one would assume that arriving forty minutes before his/her intended flight would be more than adequate time. This would be doubly true for an Italian airport as everywhere else in Italy seemed to function on a slow, rather non-linear schedule. Up until this point, my sister and I had made our train connections and flights by the skin of our teeth but had made it nonetheless. HOWEVER, the woman sitting behind the counter told us we were too late for our flight and would not be admitted. She informed us that we had to be there 45 minutes before the scheduled flight time, and currently it was only 40. My sister and I were completely incredulous. So, we dragged ourselves defeated to the ticket counter to try to get on the next flight. Turns out the next flight was a mere 13 hours later and 200 Euros more. We didn’t like the city so we sure as hell weren’t going to sit in the airport for the entirety of my sister’s last day in Europe. We ended up forking out over 400 Canadian to fly out in an hour, but that was within my budget to save myself 13 hours of sheer/horrific boredom.

We arrived home just in time to repack her bags, nap briefly, and head off to my friend’s residence to watch the Austria-Germany football (soccer) finals, where we suffered the ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS 2-1 defeat by Germany (the soccer player in me knows that Germany definitely deserved to win that one, but when surrounded by Austrians, you know better than to say so). Finally, only three hours after we had gotten home from the party (Europeans have a very different concept of late), I found myself wishing my sister a safe flight back home to Canada with a sinking feeling in my gut knowing that I’d be joining her much too soon.

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‘Twas Savage Craic, T’Be Sure

“Who here likes crack?”

These were the first four words of spoken by my tour guide. Curled sleepily (but anxious) in the back seat, I swore I didn’t hear him correctly. I began to wonder just what kind of tour had I just signed up for when he explained: craic (pronounced ‘crack’) is what the Irish use to encompass everything about a good time: drink, conversation, fun, dancing, etc… It’s used like, “How’s the craic?” or “Was it good craic?” (basically, a typical conversation on East Hastings). Apparently, there are varying degrees of this craic from just regular type all the way up to savage craic. If it got turned all the way up to 11, well, chances are good you don’t remember most of it. He must have been foreshadowing.

He then announced we would be doing our tour in reverse: Dublin -> Galway -> Inis Mór -> Ennis -> Killarney -> Dublin.

Unfortunately, I have a train to catch in about 30 minutes, so this needs to be quick. In order to speed this process up, I’m going to give you my trip at a glance with some of the most memorable moments.

#1) Australia is home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world. The most dangerous of which being the Aussie’s themselves.   

They tell you it’s a dangerous combination to drink with antibiotics, so it was a cruel fate that my prescription wouldn’t be finished until the very last day of my trip to Ireland. It seemed sacrilege to go to the Emerald Isle and not have so much as just a half pint Bulmers.  So…I gambled a little. Unfortunately, my tour group was made almost entirely of Australians. My liver was doomed from the get-go.

#2) Work off those fish and chips with push-ups on the beach, in the kitchen, on the dance floor, at the pub, on the street…. 

Throughout our trip we ended up playing a few memorable games:

1 – Rate My Date
We had a saying, “Look for love on the bus, but elsewhere for lust.” and let’s face it, those Irish accents can be pretty charming (amiright, Colin Farrell?). The game was this: if you met a lady or gent at the club/bar/pub restaurant, and you hit it off, regardless of where the night ended up, what counted was the morning after: you had to get them to the bus. Before we would leave in the morning to our next destination, they were supposed to come stand before the bus and together we would rate them from 1-10 (I didn’t say it was a nice game). Harder said than done, it would seem. While I unfortunately didn’t find myself a date (turns out good looks are a zero-sum game in Ireland, and Colin Farrell took the lion’s share), some of my group members got a bit luckier. However, we never actually managed to convince anyone to wake up at seven in the morning to get to our bus in time.

2 – The Souvenir Game
In order to win, we had to get ourselves the best souvenir we could possibly find. The catch, however, was this: you couldn’t buy it, nor could you steal it. Otherwise, you could get it by any means possible. Every morning we’d do a triumphant show-and-tell of the items we’d gotten which ranged from a broken (and signed) drum stick from a band (that was mine, thank you), several student IDs, a photo of some man’s kids (creepy), beer glasses, banners, you name it. One of the two winners at the end of the trip were an INCREDIBLY nice soccer jersey which was given to one of my groupmates on our way back from a club by a man so drunk he walked into a wall. It was a Tuesday night. Gotta love Galway. The second winner was probably my favourite: the souvenir that she got was a ginormous goose-egg from smoking her forehead on the Blarney Stone.

3 – The Ban On Selfishness
This was a game brought to us by the Aussies. If someone ever asked some form of the question “Whose is this?” you could not say “Mine,” or “That’s mine,” or anything that involved the word “mine.” For if you did, you had to drop and give ten push ups no matter where you were. We had people doing push ups on the beach, on the bus, on a cliff, in a bar, in bathrooms, on city transit. By the end of the trip, I racked up about 6 sets of pushups.

#3) Maternal instinct or have I watched too many episodes of America’s Funniest Home Videos?

I’m not scared of heights, per se, I just have a rational uneasiness that’s been passed down by my ancestors who avoided cliff-related Darwin awards. Naturally, when I see people I know teetering on the edge of a 300 ft. cliff, I think it’s perfectly normal that I be doubled over with fear that they’re going to tumble into the Atlantic if they don’t PUT BOTH THEIR FEET ON THE GROUND AND COULD YOU JUST TIE YOURSELF TO SOMETHING, PLEASE?! IT’S WINDY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! I am in no other ways maternal, but I think that’s about as close to the “Soccer Mom Arm” that my parents’ generation learned as I’m going to get. Everyone in my group thought my agony was beyond hilarious and began prancing along the cliff edge or leaning as farrrrr over the side as they could. Look, guys, it only takes one slippery rock, okay?

#4) Fairies. They’ll getcha.

Ireland is an incredibly superstitious place from their leprechauns to their fairies. It’s to the point that there can be a major road that runs perfectly straight until there comes a completely random and unnecessary traffic circle. Why? Because they had to reroute around a fairy circle. I can’t fully explain to you what a fairy circle looks like, because I know if I didn’t have a guide I would trip right into one but that would be to my peril! Why? Because those fairies are feisty SOBs. According to our guide, in a previous group, some idiot decided to thumb his nose at the rule that no one is allowed inside a fairy circle, so he walks right down the centre. DUMB IDEA. Not only did three of their busses break down in only two days, but after a few amazing photo ops at a few landmarks, when they returned to the bus, their photos were missing. I’m not particularly superstitious myself, but I know better than to mess with things I don’t know.

#5) The Irish are lovely, I just wish I could understand them 

As previously mentioned an Irish accent can be quite attractive. Sometimes, however, it’s such a garble I stare at them as blankly as I do here in Austria. I really do know they’re speaking English, but…come on, there’s just no way. Before we entered the city of Killarney (where the guy to girl ratio is about 3:1), our tour guide pre-translated for us a conversation he knew we’d be having at the bar that night and it went a little like this:

Killarney gent’: Mmmmsdsmsmdmhrgfhdbdhgdgd
*translation: How’s it going?
Appropriate response: Great, t’anks and yerself?
Killarney gent’: mmmmAHjdfmsdfmsf. Mmsdmdsm?
*translation: Jus’ fine. Where’re ya from?
Appropriate response: Canada. (although not necessarily the correct one, let’s face it, it is ALWAYS the appropriate response)

Now at this moment, our newfound friend is going to sit and think. And he’s going to think about it some more. He’s going to sip from his pint several times, deep in thought. Then finally, after much consideration he will say:

Killarney gent’: MMmasdjadmddsfhhsd.
*translation: ’tis far… 

And I kid you not, I had just about that exact conversation with some guy at the bar.

#6) I kissed the Blarney Stone…that was completely unnecessary 

The last the thing I need is more “gab.” This blog is a testament to that.

And now I gotta run, as my train leaves in 15 minutes and it takes me 20 to get there. Too bad there’s nothing to kiss to give the gift of timing.

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“Eat Everything.”

I’ve been out travelling the world for the past three weeks.  As such, I’ve had zero time to keep up with my blog. It also means that it’s been so long since the first week in Ireland, that I’m less inspired to write about it right now. So, this means that my blog’s timeline will be all jumbled as I feel like writing about Paris first, which happened to be my last stop on my trip. It probably won’t mess with the story-telling too much (fingers crossed). Also: I’m going to try to pack in a lot of info in, but I’m still going to missing a lot of stuff. I apologize in advance if it seems disjointed.

When my sister announced on Facebook that she had booked her flight to Vienna to come visit me, my wise aunt offered this advice: “Eat everything.” I don’t know if I could ever sum up the European experience any better than that. And so, with that mindset, I took on Paris. (I encourage you to press ‘Play’ on your Amélie soundtrack now.) Allons-y!

For 60 Euros you can explore Paris Euro-Disney, hop on any ride that will twirl, spin, flip, delight, and terrify you. Or, for free, you can just drive around the Arc de Triomphe instead.

My experience in Paris started with the Illuminations Tour, our coach drove us around city as the sun set and the buildings lit up. We drove down the Champs D’Elysée (or the road of rubies and diamonds), past Napoleon’s tomb, the Louvre, and around and around and around the Arc de Triomphe. From our seats at the front of our coach, we had a full view of how horrifying driving there really is. First, there are no lanes. Second, there are no rules. Third, there is even less mercy. We were braced to our seats for every near miss with a taxi, squealed at every motorcyclist that cut dangerously between two cars, and stared agog at every suit clad gentleman calmly riding his bike through the twisted rodeo of automobiles.

Our final stop was the Eiffel Tower. As it glittered above me against the night sky, I was hit with a wave of realization: I’m in Europe. Mind you, there was a few more expletives involved. It was as if the past three months had been a dream that I’ve just been floating through. But it was here it finally hit me. I felt exactly how you should in Europe, full of vitality, possibilities, and excitement. The feeling was bubbling inside of me like a bottle of champagne, and I was ready to pop. I wanted to jump, dance, scream. Instead, I found myself clutching the railing of the elevator with sweaty palms, eyes fixated on the ever-retreating ground as I headed to the top of the Eiffel Tower to take photos of the Parisienne night. Once the vertigo subsided, I could have stayed up there forever looking out over the glowing city below me. Hollywood painted Paris for me in the most glamorous shades, and here it was staring me back in the face. I was in the City of Love, but completely in love with the city.

The next morning we had the option of joining a bike tour, and after how much I enjoyed the one in Innis Mor (sorry, time jumble. Basically, had a really great bike tour in Ireland.), I was all for it. Our Kiwi tour guide led us around the sites, taking “safe” routes around the city (and by safe, we mean just relatively speaking in comparison to the Arc). He taught us the importance of STREET DOMINATION (it had to be yelled), that essentially meant we had to ride in a swarm, presumably because it’d be harder for cars to pick us off like animals in the sahara (I half expected David Attenborough to begin narrating). We also learned the Palm of Power, which was just extending your palm to oncoming traffic to slow them down. Now, if that didn’t work, you were to wag your finger at them disapprovingly. Right. As I had experienced first hand the wrath of Paris drivers the night previous, I was less assured that this would really work. We did make it out alive, so I guess there’s something to be said for it.

We also went for a very brief tour of the high end French perfumery Fragonard. It was more like a sales pitch so we would buy all of their goods at the end. Unfortunately, the French tend toward floral scents, which more often than not make me gag (it took me several rounds through the entire perfume section of the Bay to find the non-florally perfume that I wear). Although, I apparently smell like flowers anyways, as I got stung twice while in Paris. The first time, it flew right down the top of my dress (which, in its defence, did have embroidered flowers on it). The second time, I was walking down the street, trying to look as chic and Parisienne as possible, when a bee flew headlong inside my shoe. I flailed wildly, throwing both my parcel and suitcase across the sidewalk. All in front of a packed cafe. So much for chic. But I swore a few times in French, hoping in vain to at least maintain my Parisienne air.

Everyone says the Parisiennes are rude, but with the exception of one hotel worker (who I will get to later), I only had the best experiences with them. It may have been because I was a) always in a group of pretty girls from my tour and b) speaking to them in French instead of just slow and loud English. Although, at times my French was a bit like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial: “You got your German in my French!” “No, you got your French in my German!” My “oú” (where) became “wo”, my “desolé” (sorry) became “entschuldigung“, and my “cinquante-six” (fifty six) became “sixundcinquante,” the last one being a REALLY an odd blend of German and French. It was like flipping through translation radios at the UN, and it even got confusing for me. Even still, it was just plain cool to be able to use my French to ask directions, to read signs, or to simply converse with a taxi driver. But mainly, I used it just to order food.

I’ve never really been one for museums. If you set two plates before me, one containing a French baguette and the other tickets to an amazing museum exhibition, I would ask through a full mouth, brushing crumbs from my lips, “…Can I eat the tickets, too?” Boo hiss! I know! How dare I go to Paris and not be first in line to elbow my way through an elderly asian tour group to get to the Mona Lisa?! Quite easily actually. I did end up seeing it, of course, but compared to the bottles of wine, crème brûlée, and escargot I consumed, it was far from the highlight of my trip. I guess my travel style is less about being cultured and more about being a part of the culture. I’d rather walk around the streets or find a cafe to sit, read, and drink a cafe allongée. I’d much rather eat the local cuisine, than wait in huge lines to walk around the 8 billionth church I’ve seen since I came to Europe. Especially given the beautiful weather we had in Paris, the last thing I wanted to do was be inside, pretending to understand a piece of Italian art. Maybe if I went with an art history major who could explain to me what it all meant, I’d be a lot more keen. However, my experience in the Louvre can be summed up as: baby Jesus, dying Jesus, Jesus and Mary combo, sometimes BOTH baby and dying Jesus, and the Mona Lisa.  Because I paid my dues and saw the Louvre, I figured it was high time for me to explore Paris the way I wanted to: shopping.

Our Paris tour was supposed to last only 3 days, but I decided that I would spend another two on my own. I booked one of the only hostels available at that time, but was wary from the very beginning as it wasn’t in the safest of areas. When I looked up the address it said, “Rue de crim’e” (which, if you ask me, is just a really conveniently placed apostrophe).  Two other Canadian girls who had joined the Paris extension part of our tour had a hotel room for the next two nights, so they invited me to save my time and money (and potentially my life), and I made a nest of blankets of their floor. On our last day all together, they decided to oblige my urge to shop, and after a delicious French lunch complete with two bottles of wine, we hit the streets.

Turns out Paris is expensive. Who knew! Despite the urge to throw budgeting to the wind just for the chance to have something from Paris, it always came down to that ring/skirt/shirt/dress or another bottle of wine. The latter always won. I only bought one souvenir from Paris, but in a completely myopic lapse, it’s liquid and I only have carry-on luggage. Well, its state could really be up for debate as I’d argue it was a solid, but debates don’t get you far with airport security. So, I decided to mail it to myself in Vienna, but surprise! All post offices are closed on Sundays and they don’t believe in drop boxes. I went to the hotel and asked them, in English, if they would be able to put it in the mail for me tomorrow. The man at the counter asked another who called me all kinds of French synonyms with idiots and saying that it was my problem, too bad so sad. I turned to him and said, “M’excusez, je suis canadienne, alors, je comprends tout que tu viens de dire.” (Excuse me, I’m Canadian, and so I can understand everything that you just said) He stopped short and his face changed to match his maroon uniform, but his position didn’t change. I was SOL. I was just going to have to hope there was some way I could mail it from the airport, seduce a security guard, or just hope for some stroke of luck.

Luck came in the form of a Slovakian girl. I was using Ryanair to fly around Europe (which at times isn’t even worth the low price). However, Ryanair only uses the cheapest airports to fly in and out of. Since they don’t land in Vienna, they fly instead in and out of Bratislava (a 70 minute bus ride away). To fly from Paris, I had to go to Paris Beauvais, which was also a 70 minute bus ride outside of the city. While I was waiting for the bus to take me to the airport, this girl approached me to ask where she could buy tickets for the bus. She told me she was headed to Bratislava and I said that I was, too, so she could just stick with me. After a brief chat we went our separate ways, that was, until we got to the airport. I was getting desperate with my bottle of liquid, so in a final Hail Mary, I approached her tentatively. “Are you….checking your bag?” I said, innocently. “Yes, I am,” she replied. “…Would you possibly…put this in your bag?” I blinked my doe eyes. “Sure.” NOW for one, I’m pretty sure that goes again Airport Safety 101, but my God, I could have hugged her until she died.

Speaking of airport safety, while we were lining up to check in at Beauvais, security suddenly appeared from nowhere, and began to quickly usher us outside and to the parking lot across the street. Without telling us what was going on, we watched them evacuate all the stores, and close metal blinds across the windows. We sat, murmuring nervously for 20 or 30 minutes, until we received the all clear to head back inside. Safe? I have no idea what happened, but perhaps that’s for the best. A few friends from exchange found themselves in Marrakesh last Thursday, the 28th. They’d eaten earlier that day at the restaurant where the bomb was set off and arrived back there just 15 minutes after it happened. Fortunately, they’re all okay. In comparison to that, a brief airport evacuation seems like nothing.

I’m definitely glad to be back in Vienna. I think I told “Well, in Vienna…” stories way more than was welcome over the past three weeks. However, the travel bug has definitely bitten and I’m already getting ready for Melissa to come as Italy awaits.

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I’d Like to Phone a Friend, Regis

I am the world’s most stubborn person when it comes to the doctor. It’s not that I’m scared of doctors or hospitals, I’m not even scared of needles (except when they’re trying to draw blood from my tiny veins, and just stabbing haphazardly going, “Whoops!”). I just have something within me that doesn’t want to bother anyone with something dumb like road rash, a bruised tail bone, or a nasty flu (all self-diagnosed). Unfortunately, that means that there have been times when my diagnosis was entirely incorrect, and I’ve needed to be literally carried to the hospital. Oops?! Five seasons of House does not a doctor make.

I’ve been told I have an incredibly high pain tolerance by several doctors, had a few shake their heads at me like I’m an idiot for going so long without medical attention, and I have only made one doctor speechless because of my state. And as of today, I’ve now made one go, “….Oh no, no, no, no, no….”

I seem to have left my immune system back in Canada. Perhaps it was to reduce luggage weight or make more room for Austrian desserts, either way, I’ve been sick more often than not since I’ve arrived.  This most recent battle presented like the flu, and, like the seasoned vet I am, I was ready and waiting with a battalion of fluids, kleenex, and several Disney movies. But for some reason, this war has been raging for over two weeks now. I’ve been told time and time again to go see a doctor by friends when they hear I’m sick again. I refused outright each time. For one, I wasn’t willing to waste a doctor’s (or my) time with the flu. They’d just prescribe fluids, rest, and The Little Mermaid. Secondly, without Austrian facsimiles of my campus health clinic, my family doctor, or any of Canada’s overcrowded cesspools (AKA walk-in clinics), I just didn’t have the energy or the means to track down some doctor in a foreign land in a foreign language.

…That was until yesterday. I hit my breaking point. There is only so long you can go feeling like you swallowed a chainsaw covered in steel wool on top of a gross plethora of flu-like symptoms. So, Google and I joined forces to track down someone who might at the very least understand, “It feels like I swallowed a chainsaw covered in steel wool.” I pulled out several potentials and called them all. I got fax machines, someone who hung up on me, and a few incomplete numbers. Utterly frustrated, I found myself on the phone with a nurse from Alberta Health Link, spilling out my symptoms. She told me to find a doctor. And so we’ve come full circle. Great.

So, down to my last chip, I phoned a friend.
Actually, I phoned a friend of my mother’s friend who told me about her friend who happened to be a doctor.
And the very next day, I phoned this doctor, but was bombarded with a recording in rapid German. Nervous that they were giving me instructions or important details, I asked yet another friend who was significantly more fluent in German to call and find out what the recording was saying. Apparently, it just meant I’d have to call back during their office hours to make an appointment. And as luck would have it, when I tried to call back, my phone kept disconnecting. So, I went back to the German-speaking friend and she offered to make the call for me.

That afternoon, I found myself sitting anxiously in the doctor’s waiting room without even a ’67 McLean’s issue to keep myself occupied (and I’d already ready that issue of Lederhosen Weekly). Eventually, my name was called over the loud speaker, and I weaved my way through the matrix of doors to find the doctor (an incredibly charming Austrian named Helmut). I gave him my pathetic list of symptoms, and he poked and prodded me accordingly. As he was giving me my prescriptions, I reminded him about my sore throat, and he pulled out his flashlight. I said, “Ahhhhhh” and he said, “….Oh no, no, no, no, no….” He was lost for the English words for a few moments before he spouted off the german medical term: somethingsomethingstreptococcalsomethingsomething (that’s definitely verbatim). “Strep throat?” I offered. He poked my swollen lymph nodes, “Yes, madame, you have bad…strep throat?”

Awe. some.

But honestly, I’m relieved. You can actually do something for strep, and, unlike I previously foretold, my leg didn’t get amputated in the process. I walked from the Apotheke with a cocktail of German pharmaceuticals in my hand. And as I tossed back my first battery of pills, I cheers’d Alexander Fleming and orange juice.

Here’s to hoping I’m well before Ireland.

XOXO Gossip (But-Never-Going-To-Be-A-Doctor-Or-Fortune-Teller) Girl

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La Victoire!

This week has been nothing short of remarkable for me. Let’s do a recount:

For one, the weather has been beyond amazing. I had forgotten a) what the sun looked like and b) what double digit temperatures felt like (except for those below zero). It was a completely foreign concept to me to stand in front of my wardrobe and not piece together an outfit made for the North Pole. Foreign, but incredibly nice. Keep it up, Vienna, I could certainly get used to this. But if you could turn down the wind machine a touch, it would be much appreciated. It feels especially nice to send my photos of budding trees and flowers to my friends/family back in Calgary, who are still wading through snow drifts. Suckas.

Secondly, after an incredibly successful trip to Vienna’s main shopping street Mariahilfer Straße, I returned home to see a stranger standing in front of my door. I couldn’t tell if she was waiting for my roommate, but as I approached her, she turned to me and asked in an elegant French accent, “Do you leeve ‘ere?” I only got out, “Yes, but wh-” when my eyes were drawn to a red, orange, and black lanyard dangling from her hand, “MY KEYS!” I squealed. MY. FREAKING. KEYS! I almost tackled her to the ground in a hug, but then I turned suspicious, “…how did you get them?” She explained that she found them outside her window on the first floor. Apparently, their captor had decided to throw them out the window (perhaps after realizing I had changed my locks). She aptly summed up the expression on my face, saying, “What kind of eediot steals keeys den trows dem out deh window?” I replied with, “What kind of idiot steals keys period.” I thanked her profusely for returning them to me and hugged them close to my chest.  Not only was I excited just to have my keys returned to me, it also meant that I could get back my money from the office. It cost me 90 Euro to get new keys and have my “lock changed.” It was because of this that my friend Jarda (who also had his keys stolen) and I suspected that perhaps it was the Panorama staff who were stealing keys to turn a profit. As I begrudgingly forked over the wad of cash, the girl from the office told me that if my keys were returned, I would get my money back…but only 65 Euros of it. While it does suck they charge 25 Euros for something I could have done had they handed me the lock and a screw driver (hell, even a bobby pin, I’ve done it before), as a university student, I’ve learned to become grateful for even a penny I find on the street.

Thirdly, I have now met my fourth Tom (this is getting ridiculous). However, I’m conflicted about calling him Tom #4 as he made me cheesecake. Personally, I feel that merits a move up the list, maybe to #2 (as Tom #1 is greatly offended that cheesecake could trump the care package he sent me last week. Tough call, Tom #1, tough call). I feel from here on in I’m just going to call everyone I meet Tom, and chances are I’ll be right about 80% of the time. Although, I would imagine the odds of me receiving cheesecake each time would be significantly smaller.  Tom #(pending) also introduced me to what could be considered the Austrian ginger ale. It’s called Tiroler Alm, which upon further research is actually herbal lemonade (although I’m skeptical to say anything definitively given the earlier translation of “bread gypsies upstroke”). I have a deep love for ginger ale, and given as I seem to be sick more often than not out here, finding a ginger ale facsimile (along with the Premium Plus crackers sent in Tom #1’s care package) is a great relief.

In the interest of attention spans (and the fact I’m actually supposed to be studying Corporate Finance), I’ll (attempt to, I really am a gas bag) speed through the last two:

Fourth, I was invited to a party at my friend’s studentheim on Thursday, and had an absolutely amazing time. I learned the magic (/danger) of Kleiner Klopfer, which is a small but mighty shot. But it’s not like your regular shot as it comes with an elaborate and bizarre routine (as they explained it to me, I seriously thought they were trying to pull one over on the stupid foreigner, but, apparently, this is legit). Klopfer means “knocker,” which is precisely what you do. I was instructed to flip the bottle over and knock it several times against a table (this isn’t carbonated, so I’ve yet to figure out the purpose), then you remove the cap and place it on your nose, put the bottle in your mouth and throw your head back to take the shot hands free. WHAT? When in Rome, I suppose. I’ve managed to, yet again, completely lose my voice after that night. I’ve deduced that it must be in part due to the amount of cigarette smoke I’m subjected to at every party/club that I go to as I’m never this bad after a night out in Canada. And as you can’t escape it except by not going out or standing by yourself in the non-smoking section, it looks as though I’ve really got no options other than to load up on Halls.

Lastly, I’m currently at Starbucks “studying”. Now, I hate Starbucks, let’s get that straight. As a coffee aficionado (read: snob), I can’t stand their coffee which tastes, at best, burnt and, at worst, like an ashtray. However, with the exception of my weak instant coffee, I haven’t had a cup of straight, black coffee in way too long, so I caved. I once described to a friend who accused me of coffee addiction that my morning coffee felt like tiny hugs running through my veins (as a med student, he reduced it to simply “vaso-constriction,” he just doesn’t understand). So even though I feel like I’m daintily sipping on bitter battery acid that Starbuck’s calls “Coffee of the Week,” I can feel caffeine’s teeny arms wrap around my soul, uplifting it. Hey, it’s not an addiction, it’s as a lifelong romantic partnership, and we shall never, ever part (except maybe in favour of cheesecake).

XOXO, Starball

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In Soviet Russia, Police Rob You!

People have often said the events of my life could be in a tv show, unfortunately, it’s often a “soap opera” or “greek tragedy.” And some days, I’m definitely inclined to agree:

I had offered a new friend to take him for a tour of Vienna while he was visiting (blind leading the blind), so I was flying along in the train to meet him.

A clean cut, 20-30 something year old man came and stood beside me. Immediately, three plain clothes officers cornered us. Now, this is a massive assumption on my part that they were, in fact, plain clothes officers because I only saw one of them flash an unfamiliar badge quickly from under his jacket. The man quickly fumbled around in his pockets looking for his wallet, and when he found it, he pulled out his residence registration. After scrutinizing the form, the police snatched the shopping bag that was in his hand, and threw the form and his entire wallet into the bag. I was worried if they would then turn to me, asking for my papers, too, but as I searched their eyes, they seemed completely oblivious to the fact I was standing there. They then demanded his backpack and began rifling through all of this things. I realized then it was my cue to leave. I squeezed through the wall of officers to move to the other side of the train just as we pulled up to our stop. I rushed off the train, but not before I watched the officers roughly escorting the man off the train with a very gruff, “Links” (left).

When I brought it up with my local friends that night, none of them had ever heard of anything like it before.

Well. If that’s not disconcerting…

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