A Melting Pot’s Pilgrimage

I’m what you would call a Heinz 57. When people ask me where I’m from, I ask them how much time they have. Often times, I pull out whichever nationality suits me best in the given scenario. When I’m travelling, I’m Canadian. When I’m guilting a friend into doing something, I’m Ukranian (I also use this one when I’m eating an entire plate of perogies to myself). When I get stuck on a train going the wrong direction, and am cursing loudly in English, I’m American. I can also be Austrian or Romanian or maybe even Polish, depending on when you feel like drawing borders. And when I drink, oh, I drink like I’m Irish.

I’ve got a three week break from school in April which means it’s high time to catch up on my travelling. As I’m more or less in the centre of Europe, my choices were limitless. Gelato on a terrace in Italy? A Communist tour in Berlin? Sailing in Croatia? Bungee jumping in Switzerland? Limitless quickly became overwhelming. With the addition of my horrendous luck, I was wary of coordinating all the necessary transportation, transfers, tours, and hostels. So, I let go of the wheel. I’ve decided to do two tours to relieve me of the stress/culpability.

There was a song from my childhood called “The Blood of Cu Chulainn” which always gave me a touch of nostalgia for a country I’d never seen. Visiting Oxford last week made me long for more time in the UK. Through my sister’s friend I heard of a weeklong tour through Ireland and I was completely sold. After spending a few days in Dublin, I’ll join the tour which takes me through Blarney Castle, Cliffs of Moher, Killarney, and Inis Mór. When it’s all finished, I’ll fly back home to Vienna to meet up with my friend Emily who’s visiting from her exchange in Sweden.

After Emily leaves, I still had a fair bit of time before school started up again, so I was back online trying to find another tour that fit with my budget, timing, and that didn’t visit Austria. I finally settled on a second week long tour, but this time through London and Paris. The tour takes us to all of the most notable and historic sites, leaving me to have guilt-free free time visiting the more delicious and fashionable ones. I’m definitely going to end up testing the limits of Ryanair’s luggage weight restrictions as well as my waistband.

My flights, tours, and busses are all booked, and I’m already starting to get excited even though I have another three weeks to go.

…But I think I may start Irishing my coffee now.

XOXO Jenny O’Ball

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BalLin Does Oxford Part II: You’re Welcome, Primark

70 Euros.

That’s how much my return flight to Vienna cost me.

As I watched the fog roll over the lush green hills along the M40 from Oxfordshire to London listening to The National’s “England“, I wrestled if I should actually go back to the airport. The past six days in Oxford had been the ultimate respite, and it wasn’t near long enough. It was a difficult walk to the bus station (but that have been mostly due to the fact my duffle bag was packed to near explosion).

My friend Amy and I are in many ways kindred spirits. The most apparent way is through our deep love for shopping. It’s how we celebrate, it’s how we relax, it’s how we mourn, it’s how we cope, and it’s how we soothe. Knowing this, Amy’s amazing mother sent me a shopping fund of £25. It was game time. During my time in Oxford, Amy and I single-handedly re-energized the economy and doubled Primark’s annual sales. My brand spanking new European debit card is already showing signs of wear and tear (as is my poor bank account). However, after nearly a year of (practically) abstaining from shopping in preparation for European stores, each day I clutched my bags of new clothes to my chest, like they were the most precious of jewels. The only problem is that now my appetite is whet.

My two favourite hobbies in the world are, unfortunately, two of the least compatible: shopping and eating. The fashion world tells us that never the twain shall meet, but my stomach frequently says only three words: Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

Falafel Burger: Handmade falafels with hummus, cucumber raita, sweet chilli sauce, salad and relish.
Veggie & Camembert: Mushroom, aubergine, red pepper, sweet potato, camembert, mayo, rocket and onion jam

All I needed was brown paper packages tied up with string, and that’s an exact list of my favourite things. Needless to say: we went there twice (probably could have eaten there for every meal). Alongside ginger cream cookies, apple crisp, lemon squares, crepes, Tesco tiramisu, high tea of clotted cream and scones, and more sharp cheddar than you can shake a stick at, I’m all together shocked that the clothes I bought on the first day still fit me by the end.

The residence in which Amy was staying doesn’t allow alcohol (which was a difficult adjustment for someone who had gotten used to having a glass of wine every evening with dinner). It was a nice shift of pace from the party atmosphere at my own Haus Panorama to other forms entertainment usually accompanied instead with a mug of very English tea. Amy and I learned to play Snooker, and had several Super Smash Bro marathons against her friends Josh and David who were eager teachers and had the patience of saints (while I stared for hours to determine the best angle for the shot, only to end up missing the ball entirely).

The way back from Oxford to Vienna went relatively smoothly – until I got to security. As I mentioned before: my duffle was near bursting. Worried that I would have to ship some things home because of the ratio of clothes to bag volume, I had managed to incredibly skillfully packed my entire duffle bag so it fit every single piece of the fashionable fruits of my labour. It weighed about as much as a baby elephant, and the walk to the bus terminal took two sets of hands. When I arrived at security and they put my bag through the scanner, I sighed as they pulled my bag aside for an extra check. I often find myself in this position at airports (I’ve guessed it’s because I fit the bill to make security checks more “balanced”), so I wasn’t too worried. They’d pat me down, swab my bags, play with my electronics, and then before you could say, “racial profiling” I’d be off and eating overpriced airport food. But that’s where I was wrong. They asked if I had liquid, I told them no. Then they asked me to take everything out of my bag. My jaw dropped. “Everything?” It was everything. I pleaded with her, “Can you not at least tell me where the alleged liquid is so we can just remove it and leave the rest alone?” Apparently, I couldn’t. When I opened the bag, she clearly realized the magnitude of her request, as her eyes widened at the crammed contents. Yet, bit by excruciating bit,  I watched her pull out every item in my bag, unroll it completely, and then place it in a crumpled heap to the side. When she was done, it turned out the WMD was my deodorant. After watching her destroy my packing job and being frustrated at the idea of having to redo the entire masterpiece, I nearly chucked it at her head and said, “THERE! That was about as much damage as that was ever going to do!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that it was not her personal choice nor did she just want to check out the fierce pieces she had seen on the scanner first-hand. I understand that it is for my personal safety, blahblah. However, whenever a security officer gives me a request like that, I think of my time in Vancouver, when I arrived at the airport hungover after not sleeping the entire night previous. The man at security asked if I would take off my leather riding boots, and I sorrowfully looked back at him and said, “I would really prefer not.”  He must have seen the pain behind my eyes, as he nodded sympathetically and waved me through. Reasonable accommodation.  That’s all I ask for.

So, after giving her the stink eye (that my sister knows all too well) I placed my deodorant in the blast shield known as a plastic bag, and began the tedious task of putting a week’s worth of shopping into a day sized bag as the minutes were counting down to my impending departure.

Turns out our flight was then delayed by over an hour, so I sat with a bag of trail mix on the floor, reading my Kobo (but really staring at the girl with OCD beside me who was tapping various parts her body in prime numbers), and just relaxed (but really stared at her. I couldn’t look away. It stressed me out. I wanted to grab her hand and say, “JUST STOP IT!”).

As the plane took off I already felt a sense of longing to go back. I knew I’d miss high tea, Primark, Super Smash Bros, and, of course, GBK. But like after every trip, you have to head back to your normal life (as normal as it can be when you’re studying abroad) and sit beside a overly chatty, middle-aged gentleman who doesn’t understand that an iPod and a book is the international signal for “occupied.” Fortunately, I had Tom #1’s care package to look forward to.

I’ve already vowed to return to the land of the literary greats: CS Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Harry Potter.

XOXO BalLin

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BalLin Does Oxford Part I: Planes, Trains, and Immigration Woes

A short delve into my history shows I am, in fact, Austrian on my mother’s side. Yet, when it comes to nature versus nurture, I will always say, “Entschuldigung!” (Sorry/Excuse me!), whereas the Austrian with whom I collided with will sternly bark, “Achtung!” (Watch out!) It was this cultural divide that left me desperately reaming on the door handle of a train bound for the wrong direction.

It all started with the printers.

I was getting ready to go to Oxford to meet my friend Amy Lin (Ball + Lin = BalLin. Yes?). I needed to print off several rather important documents for my trip like my plane ticket, and my pass for the Oxford Tube. I decided to leave my class early to get to the library and print out my tickets with tons of time to spare to get to the airport. As I stood by the printers, I was at a loss. All the instructions were in German, and I was surrounded by several gadgets asking for PINs and codes and various cards I had never heard of. Several days earlier when I was printing off my bus ticket to Prague, the printers had required little of me outside of entering in my student ID and password into the computer. I thought it had just deducted some money from my account. So, with little hunch as to what I was supposed to do, I just stuck my student card into a slot.

Clearly, that was a very incorrect card in a very incorrect slot as the machine began to SCREAM at me. “YOU! FOOL!” it beeped loudly, which was deafening in a library that absolutely forbids any noise. The librarian came to my aid and told me that I needed to get a different type of card, a print card that would cost only 10 Euros.

You know what? I lied. It didn’t start with the printers. It started with my International Financial Management professor. Being a true professor of business, he knew how to make money. Being a true businessman, he didn’t believe in ethics so he skimmed it from poor exchange students. I arrived in class to hear that it would cost me 14 Euros just to buy the Powerpoint slides and related materials (including several pages of his autobiography) that he would present in class. The surprise charge left me completely illiquid.

And so as the librarian explained this 10 Euro minimum charge, I prayed that my new European debit card would do the job, I had just put 10 Euros on it.

See Jen run. See Jen run to the machine that only accepts cash. See Jen run across campus to a Bankomat. See Jen withdrawal cash. See Jen run BACK across campus, through the library, and to the copy room to try it again. See Jen make resolutions to get in shape.

Panting, I stuck my printer card into the same slot, bracing myself for it to start wailing again. It worked like a charm, I printed out my documents, and checked my watch. I instantly wish I hadn’t. I was now running 45 minutes behind schedule.

I was standing on the train platform, squinting hard at the tiny screens to find the word “Flughafen” (airport). It’s moments like these that really make me wish I’d invested in contacts. I turned to an elderly woman and asked if the train that had just arrived was going to the airport. I managed to pick the one who couldn’t speak English. She began nodding and shaking her head in a simultaneous yes and no to my question. Then her rapid German trailed off and she walked onto the train. Not to be discouraged, I followed her into the car, asking, “Entshuldigung! S6 or S7 zum flughafen!” (Excuse me – there it is again- S6 or S7 to the airport?) She didn’t answer, but a teen picked up the baton to say, “No, you need the S7.” I had just climbed aboard the S6. I turned swiftly to watch the doors shut in my face. As I pushed and pulled hard on the handle, begging it to open, the teen spoke again, “Just get off at the next stop; you can transfer there.” Right! Of course. Not in the least bit embarrassing…

Everything else went relatively without a hitch after I rerouted, that is, until I landed at Gatwick.

I stood limply in front of the pompous English stereotype who refused my entry because I didn’t know my host’s address. “Next time, fill it out correctly,” he sneered over the counter. I narrowed my eyes and thought venomously, “You. I’m going to blog about you. Just wait.” If looks and blogs could kill, I’d be on every no-fly list. I didn’t have my cell phone, nor access to the Internet. I was stuck. I was Tom Hanks. This was The Terminal. I slumped into the hard blue chairs wondering how I would get the message out. I wondered if the airport staff would bring me food from the food court. I wondered if they might at least have a Subway. I was beginning to map out my life stranded there. That was until the arrival doors burst open with a plane full of people. People with smart phones. Smart phones with Internet. In no time, I was standing back in front of the counters of Immigration, with the address clutched in my hand…only to watch the entire EU-Citizen section file through by the hundreds while us Non-EU Citizens stood. And stood. And stood. We stood in our single file line for over 45 minutes waiting for someone to come to the desk while four or five attendants stood around chatting with one worker on the EU side. I was about to yell, “I’m like an EU citizen! I’m from your favourite colony!” when they finally opened up a desk. It was near 11:20PM when I finally got through and I still had two more legs left in my journey.

I climbed to the second storey of the double-decker charter to Oxford into the very front row. The view of my mini-tour through London absolved the entire airport experience in my mind. It was beyond beautiful. It was midnight, and the city lights were glowing off the sandstone buildings and modern skyscrapers. It was the Europe I was expecting.

Almost two hours later, I arrived in Oxford. It was 3:30 AM Vienna time, I had begun my trip at 5 that day, and I was exhausted. I climbed out the bus, anxious to know if Amy had gotten my mental vibes to pick me up. No one was there. I had remembered she told me that she would be at a café near the bus station, but by that time everything was closed. As I wandered around Oxford, I asked several students staggering home from the bars if they had smart phones. Their unfocused eyes looked sympathetic when every single one told me no. Feeling hopeless and exhausted, I decided to head back to the bus station to reevaluate.

This time, like a miracle, I saw two blurry figures (really need those contacts). As I got closer, I could see a shock of pattern, a planet of hair, and fierce outfit especially for this hour. I knew it had to be my friend Amy. I ran into her arms and half-hugged/half-supported myself against her.

As she and her roommate Meg walked me home, they told me they’d been standing vigil since midnight, leaving their post only once for 15 minutes to warm up.  I had arrived during that tiny 15 minute window. If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any at all.

Though, when I was a dancer, we had a superstition that a terrible dress rehearsal meant a perfect show. As I closed my eyes on the dress rehearsal of that trip, I smiled at the promise of the following week.

XOXO Jennifer Navorski

P.S. The next time I go anywhere, I’m bringing a phone book and a carrier pigeon.

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Foreign Film Dub

I will never get used to the idea that you are allowed to openly carry and drink alcohol in public in Vienna (I stared in shock at a man drinking a tall boy in line for a bus ticket just the other day). But, there I was, sitting on the bus with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon bouncing in my lap like a baby. I was on my way to meet my tandem language buddy for a party.

In a gross overestimation of my language learning ability, I signed up to be a part of the tandem language program at WU my first week in Austria. It matches up two students who want to learn the language the other is a native speaker of.  However, nearing the end of my intensive German course, I realized that maybe I had been a bit presumptuous. I only had the vocabulary to carry a conversation about a class schedule, what I liked to eat, and how to get to the Volkstheatre from Stephansplatz…and even that was pretty dicey. I figured after several lines of “I like to eat [blank], but I don’t like to eat [blank],” “I have class Monday from 9 to 17:30”, or “Turn left at the Rathaus.” my novelty would wear very thin. Yet, despite my better judgement, I went anyways to meet my new partner at the tandem program’s welcome night, and, fortunately (maybe it was the prosecco they were serving), we hit it off. We went out the very next day to shop and have a delicious Italian dinner, all the while only speaking in English (tandem fail).

Quick Pause: My boyfriend’s name is Tom. My buddy’s name is Tom. And my tandem language partner’s name is Tom. This is getting ridiculous.  In an effort to keep track, they have since been given numerical values respective to their appearance in my life. Boyfriend Tom is overjoyed to be considered “Tom #1.”

He (Tom #3) invited me out tonight for a party with some friends, and naturally, I was wary. I was going to a party filled with people I didn’t know with someone I didn’t really know in a language I certainly didn’t know. For a homebody like me, that was a cocktail of disaster. However, when I was a big drama kid, one of my favourite improv games was called “Yes, Let’s.” It was a game that taught you the importance of accepting whatever your teammates gave you to keep a scene going. If they said they wanted to go to the zoo, you had to say, “Yes, let’s!” If they said they wanted to check out the tiger cage, you said, “Yes, let’s!” and if they said that they wanted to go inside, you had to say (however begrudgingly) “Yes, lets!” all in the name of a good scene. So, faced with the daunting task of surviving my first real Austrian party, I said, “Yes, lets!” and hopped into the tiger cage.

It turned out to be a petite private party of people playing poker (an alliteration I couldn’t refuse).  I asked that they keep speaking in German as that’s what I was here to learn, and they obliged. The best part about listening to a language you don’t understand is that you can create in your own meanings. I began to dub in my own internal dialogue. They complimented my hair a lot.

For the better part of the night they taught us three newcomers the ins and outs of poker. However, all the instructions were given in German, so I think I’m even worse off now than I was before, which – given how bad I am at poker – isn’t saying a lot. Once the game and the chips ran out, we began discussing everything from politics to shoes to university scholarships in a swamp water mix of German, English, Spanish, and a hint of French. They were excited to teach me German, but mostly just to laugh at my garbled pronunciation.  I was given a journal by the tandem language program to track my experience from personal goals to vocabulary learned with my partner. Tonight, surrounded by new Austrian drinking buddies, I certainly did get to learn several words in German…but I don’t think they should get put in my journal.

I was nervous to follow through with my obligation to the tandem language program, and I was even more nervous to go out tonight. But after a night on the town, making of new friends, and actually being invited to the zoo, there’s a reason why “Yes, Let’s” is still my favourite game.

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A Dire Prognosis

I’m warning you now, this will be the lamest blog ever written.

It seems that since I arrived in the petri dish that is an international dorm, I have picked up every foreign disease this side of malaria. Currently, I have absolutely no voice except for the occasional squeak along with a whole host of cold symptoms including a bark like a seal with a bad cold. I’m checking Amazon right now to see if I can find a sterilized bubble.

But by far, the worst disease that I’ve come down with so far has been homesickness. Although I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, this past week several things (both medical and social) came to a head  that had me one confirmation button away from booking a flight back to Calgary. I’ve said before how SFU International warned me about culture shock. My outbound exchange manual lists some of the symptoms as:
• constant strain
• boredom
• withdrawal
• feeling isolated or helpless
• sleeping a lot, tiring easily or not sleeping
• suffering from various body pains and aches
• longing to be back home

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.

I thought that since I had moved before by myself to Vancouver at the age of 17 for school, that I would have already been inoculated. Between having no school, no OK Program, an immense language barrier, dull weather, and the fact I’m still searching to find “my group” here, it’s been a bit of a rough go. To help keep my head above water, I’ve been listening to music obsessively. Music is hands down some of the best medicine, but never as good as great friends. There’s a song by Hey Rosetta called “Young Glass” that has a line in it saying,

“Even though I thought I was all alone, I was wrong.
Even though I thought I was all alone, I am not.”

While I may not have discovered my Austrian BFF yet, my friends/family in Canada and abroad have been a stronger crutch than I could have ever imagined. Despite the eight hour time difference, every Facebook chat or email of encouragement/calming words/a well timed laugh or commiseration has kept me from packing my things. I’m only a month in and so, of course, I expect things to still be more awkward and uncomfortable than a junior high dance. But it doesn’t make things easier. Exchange is this massive melting pot of good and bad, breathtaking and frustrating, and you don’t get the option to pick around all the gristle. Hearing that how I’m feeling is not only normal but that it will get better has given me a second wind.

That Hey Rosetta! song ends with:

“And even if you’re scared stiff, you can trust in this, you can trust in this.”

Even though I’m here on my own, I’m hardly alone. I’ve got some of the best friends and family that I can trust to be behind me.

So, to everyone: thanks.

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Much Ado About Prague

It’s said that nothing beats learning through experience. A day into my weekend trip to Prague, however, I realized it would have been just as well if my knowledge of Prague began and ended only on the pages of WikiTravel.

I never wanted to be on the Amazing Race. But after a few missed alarm clocks, I found myself running at top speed through Vienna’s transit system to the other side of the city. Running on about 3 hours of sleep (combined), our troop of eight girls, armed with large backpacks and full winter gear, sped across each train platform, up and down stairs, and crossed streets without looking both ways. It was like an episode of Benny Hill. We arrived at 7:56, our bus was at 8. Exhausted and sleep deprived, I was asleep before my butt hit my bus seat.

Four hours of the bumpiest highway ever later, we arrived in Prague. Unfolding ourselves from our cramped bus sleeping positions, we set off to find a bathroom. Bathrooms in Prague are apparently a hot commodity as they all come with a fee. After my friend handed the bathroom attendant one Euro to cover the 0,50 Euro charge, the attendant began yelling at us in Czech. I won’t lie: my German is horrific, but my Czech is even worse. She gesticulated wildly in an attempt to cross the language barrier, grabbing our shoulders and holding up one or two fingers. We were completely at a loss. Turns out she was actually saying that for the one Euro, two of us could go.  Later, my friend admitted that she thought that she was asking what exactly it was we needed to do: one or two.

After recovering from that experience, we went to exchange our Euros for Czech crowns. Fun fact: €1 ≈ 23 Kč. For the entire trip, I never quite got used to seeing a bill come to 400 Kč or shoes for 1650 Kč. After that, nothing went smoothly.

We decided to buy a bus pass for the weekend as we are upstanding citizens. We approached the counter and asked for a 72 hour transit pass. The woman behind the counter just said, “No.” “NO?” “All out.” How on earth could you be entirely out of 72 hour passes? After a short fuss, we coughed up the money for one day, which was actually incredibly lucky as little did we know that after that day we would never again take public transit.

I lied, our hostel was also amazing, so this was also a big plus. We were put in an all girls dorm, and since there were eight beds and eight of us, we had the entire place to ourselves. With high ceilings, a “nice” (by hostel standards) shower, a full kitchen complete with wine opener, a TV room, eight luxuriously comfortable beds, and next to the centre of Prague, €7 a night was a ridiculous steal. It felt like one big sleepover party. After a quick settling in, we set off to find some food as we were all starving. Eventually we came to a restaurant serving traditional Czech food (our only requirement) and were sat at a large round table by a man in a knight costume (who we originally thought was a mannequin standing by the door. That was quite a surprise). Why not, I guess. Eastern Europe isn’t exactly known for it’s delicate and light vegetarian fare, so I settled for potato soup served in a large bread bowl. Everyone else got variations on big lumps of red meat served in cauldrons or cast iron skillets. And albeit quite good, I felt like I should have had a goblet of mead accompanying me. I really wouldn’t have been out of place because as it turns out the water is actually more expensive there than the beer. It’s apparently not uncommon to see people drinking beer with their breakfast. I think I’ll stick to my coffee and orange juice, but I can respect that.

After a brief but beautiful tour of the city from a friend’s friend who was doing his exchange there, we all went right to bed to sleep in preparation for going out that night. When we woke up, we prepared a wine/cheese/tapas menu that came from the Minimart down the street. It’s amazing what kind of meal you can put together from a Czech convenience store. Thank goodness for pictures because otherwise we wouldn’t have had any idea what we were buying. After we licked the bowls clean and put on our faces, we set off into the night.

And now here comes the good (near death) part:

We were told by our friend’s friend about a pub called, well, PUB, where you serve your own beer as each table has its own tap. The amount of beer poured gets tracked on a large screen, and it ends up being a big drunken competition between all the tables. As I LOVE beer (NOT. Can’t even smell it without feeling a little green), it was the perfect place to go. We just had to take the subway a few stations, and we’d be right there. As we descended to the train station, something did not feel right. The air was stiff with tension. As we rounded the corner, we came upon 30 police in full riot gear including snarling German Shepards (that were actually probably part horse) standing right at the top of the escalators we needed to go down to get to our platform. They looked at our blood drained faces from over their masks, and waved us on through. Halfway down the escalator, a police officer at the bottom gestured that we needed to go back up, and we readily complied. He told us we could go down another way to get to the right train line so we scurried off in that direction, whispering excitedly about what was going on. We rationalized that it couldn’t have been anything too bad if they had originally let us go down, but the horse-dogs said otherwise. We started to go down yet another set of escalators in another location when up from the bottom came the noise of chanting, screaming, yelling, and drums. It felt like a conveyor belt into Hell. When we came to the bottom of the escalator, we scrambled to turn back around.

There was no up escalator.

So, we did the only thing we could think of: we ran up the down escalator. It was the longest run of my life as the stairs kept pulling me downwards and several Czech men leaned over the railing to yell insults at me.  When we all finally made it to the top, we watched the riot police run past us and down the stairs. We only stuck around long enough to hear women start screaming.

We ran out of the train station and gasped for air, adrenaline pumping and legs aching. Some girls said they wanted to stand to the side to watch what was going to happen. I said that we didn’t even know what was happening and, as such, wouldn’t know if the “side” could become the potential middle of the action. So, we scurried off into the night.

We decided we would walk the rest of the way to The PUB even though we didn’t really know where it was. Every street begins to the look the same in the middle of the night in a foreign city, especially after a quick brush with death. We were about to give up, when through pure chance, we ran into a group of boys from our school. We almost jumped into their arms, we were so happy to see a) friendly faces b) bodies to protect us from stray bullets. Our story came out in one jumbled mess, and it was clear they had showed up at just the right time. They decided to come with us, and as we had sworn off the subway, we restarted our efforts to find the pub with slightly less shaky legs.

TWO HOURS LATER, when hope was all but lost, and we were running out of taxi drivers to ask where the Charles Bridge was, we finally found our exchange friend who lead us the rest of the way. But after everything that had happened that day, we decided to call it an early night, anyways.

We slept in the next morning with plans to have a lazy breakfast and then go for a free tour of Prague. We went to a nice breakfast joint near our hostel, and were overjoyed to see a big menu of familiar breakfasts. While I do love the European style of breakfast with muesli and yogurt or bread and cheese, sometimes you just crave a big Canadian breakfast complete with omelettes, hash browns, and a mile of maple syrup. After ordering, we waited about 40 minutes for our food to come out. There were two other tables in the entire place, so we couldn’t figure out what the hold up was.  Oh, and by “our food”, I mean only 4 out of the 8 meals were brought out. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Another 30 minutes later, two more plates arrived.  Eventually there was only one plate left that needed to be served. When we asked the waiter about it, he replied it would only be 15 more minutes, then added, “No rush.” Wait a second…isn’t that what we’re supposed to say to him, not the other way around?

There actually was a rush as it was getting dangerously close to when we needed to get to our tour (we ended up missing it).We decided to give ourselves our own guided tour around. The tour consisted mostly of bakeries, cafes, and an embarrassing number of photo ops. The best part of the entire trip was the sun. While the weather might have been a little nippy, seeing blue skies felt like an instant bandaid for everything that had happened.

Since we had arrived, the girls wanted to check out the street vendors selling giant sausages. Oddly, there were no veggie dogs, so I settled for a liquid meal of delicious, delicious mulled wine. As I watched the grease drip from the sausages with every bite and then heard all the complaints from the girls about the pain in their stomachs for the next two days, I had never been more pleased to be a vegetarian. The word sausage became so offensive, it was banned and became only known as the “s-word.”

When night time came around, we were invited to go to Karlovy Lázně, the largest club in Central Europe. I was a bit leery about going to it as most of Prague gave me an unsettled/unsafe feeling. It could have just been a bias created by our first night, but my suspicions were confirmed when a friend text us to tell us to steer clear of all the Eastern European gangsters who frequented the bar. Deciding resolutely I didn’t feel like having my night end up with some form of trafficking, we decided to find another local bar. Local eventually became a British pub. Not quite the same thing, but after wandering aimlessly for an hour, it was either that or TGIFriday’s. Prague’s supposed to be renown for its nightlife, but I’ve yet to see the riot-free proof.

The next day, we had to wake up early for check out despite our best doe-eyed, pearly white attempts to make it later. Since we were up and ready with no plans for the day, we decided to go again for breakfast. Another poor choice.

One of the girls on our trip is a manager of a clothing store in the States. She admitted to us that if she ever screwed up with a client, she’d always lie and say it was her first day. We made that excuse several times on behalf of our server, but eventually it didn’t even suffice for the absolutely embarrassing service. We ordered what looked like fantastic food in what was actually a very beautiful cafe. Our waiter began bringing out the food in bits and pieces: some muesli for her, some fruit for her, a cup of espresso for her, but no one had even close to a complete meal in front of them. Then a second server came around to see check our table, and we explained the laundry list of items we were all still missing. After about three or four tries, we finally received our entire meal. When the bill came, he had clearly had covered his eyes and starting tapping any and all buttons on the screen. We were overcharged for this, there was extra of that, it was a complete gong show. It was even more difficult to sort out because of the thick language barrier on both sides. We’re all lucky we’re patient people, otherwise it could have gotten ugly. When I come back to Canada, I am going to hug every server I meet. We decided then and there that despite it making us very poor global citizens, our dinner would be Subway.

Our group then split up between the Jewish ghetto and another self-guided tour (for monetary reasons, I chose the latter). We wandered the streets and crossed bridges, discovered a Communism memorial, and a church museum dedicated to the Baby Jesus complete with little baby gold robes and little baby crowns (it was a little eerie). We then picked up the aforementioned Subway (so. outrageously. delicious!) and collapsed in a heap at our hostel, waiting to meet up with the other half of our group. We left two hours early to get to the bus station to avoid a repeat of that first morning. As we lay around the bus, finally relaxing after a surprisingly eventful/tiring weekend in Prague, we came to one conclusion:

The best thing about Prague: The Subway.
The worst thing about Prague: The subway.

XOXO, Riot Grrl

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Days Eighteen – Twenty-Three: Naschtmarkt Doesn’t Sell Rotisserie Moose

Since orientation has ended and I pulled myself back out of the grave, my week has been nothing but banal. I’ve been on holidays since December 14th, and I’m starting to get antsy for real classes to begin. My German course has just been getting harder and just plain ridiculous. Actual conversation with our professor:

Student: “What is the longest German word?”
Prof: “There is no limit.”

I had to clean my brain off the back wall because it exploded. He explained that in German, they just combine words together to make new words. He then showed us one of his favourite words: “Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän.” No, that wasn’t a typo, there are actually three f’s in that word. Do you know what it means (roughly speaking)? The captain of the steam boat on the Danube. 8 words in English = 1 word in German. That’sjustlikesayingawholesentenceasoneword.  They say English is one of the hardest languages to learn, but after dealing with the sticky mess that is the different German grammatical cases and their Frankenwords, I certainly beg to differ.

BUT, while I was at a bar the other night, someone approached me to say, “Wie heißt du?” (What is your name?) and I nearly yelled “JENNIFER!” back as I was so excited to actually understand what someone was saying to me. My attempts to practice the language must make some Austrians wonder if something’s really wrong with me as I’m a bit too excited to do things like counting out my change aloud and am much too proud to announce, “DREI EURO FÜNFUNDZWANZIG!” (€3,25).

If I were to ask you to think of a Canadian food (that is not poutine), what would it be?  Go ahead, take a moment.

…Yeah, I didn’t get anything either.  When someone asked me what we typically ate for dinners in Canada, I replied, “Oh the usual stuff, you know: spaghetti, sushi, stir fry, curry…Wait no! Agh! Those are all foreign!” I’m all about diversity, especially in the realm of food, but our cultural/culinary mosaic is making it impossible to think of a traditional meal from home to serve at our international dinner. I considered ginger beef and maybe a Caesar, but I’d get sick of me and my pretentiousness saying, “ACTUALLY, they were invented in Calgary, so…” I think right now I’m pretty much going to serving maple syrup in a cup as roast beaver’s pretty difficult to come by here.

I’m leaving for my first official weekend trip to Prague this weekend. No. Big. Deal. While I don’t really feel like traveling because of the cold, grey weather, I put on my big girl boots and a large group of girls and I are heading to the Czech Republic to see what all the fuss is about.  From the sounds of it, it’ll be a great time. I hope the sun comes out, so not all my photos are of us with only our noses poking out from our winter clothes. My mittened fingers are crossed.

XOXO Snowball

P.S. Never tell a Vancouverite she’s going on a party boat if it is NOT, in fact, even going to be leaving the dock/isn’t on the ocean/the boat is made for geriatric cruises/it will not fit the number of people you have invited. For if you do, you will get an endless assault of stories beginning with “Well, when I was on a boat cruise in Vancouver…” and it will make you wish that the next time you just planned the official Buddy Network International Kick-Off Party on very, very dry land.

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