Wednesday, June 3, 2015

March: Working towards Spain

January was slow; February was quick; but March was the blink of an eye. With flights and hostels in Spain booked for Easter break, I was already planning ahead to the other upcoming breaks in May. My weekends were more local in Linz with hikes and I continued with the usual week's activities: tandem, Swedish, sleep, Facebook, work etc. 

Two highlights in March were the Upper Austrian and Austrian National Language Competitions and the AFS pre-departure camp. For the language competitions, I served as an English Juror. These Austrian high school students were the cream of the crop! It was uplifting to observe students with a genuine passion for language. Some students even participated the switch competition, in which they had to go back and forth between English and a second foreign language, either French, Spanish, Italian, or Russian. For the AFS camp, I'm happy to volunteer with the organization that got me started on my international path when I can. This group of people is more like a family than a network, so the fun, jokes, and discussions were endless. After this weekend, I could say with confidence that I understand the Upper Austrian "Mundårt" dialect pretty well.

My advancing German would prove helpful as I got to Spain. Although I was traveling solo, it's almost always possible to meet people along the way. I met a Bavarian by the name, Andrea, with whom I explored a fair amount of Barcelona, my first stop in this multi-city tour. The whim of Gaudí sprinkled throughout the city was refreshing. And I was happy not to fall victim to Barcelona's high petty theft rates. The tapas were heavenly, the Sagrada Familia was surreal, and the tours and information were mind-blowing. One "alternative" tour in particular shifted my perspective on the infrastructure of virtually every city I can think of. Under the guide's motto, "Same shit, different toilet," he brought to light the not-so-bright side of cities where the poor are undermined. With that, I suggest that we try to understand another person's situation before jumping to conclusions. Think about it: can you really ever see the whole picture?

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Explorations around Linz and Salzburg

Spring in Spain (Easter break)

Monday, June 1, 2015

February: In Love with Turkey and Operation Thanksgiving

For those who know me, I'm sure you were quite concerned that it took me this long to add another country to my list (the most recent one prior to Turkey was Belgium in July 2013). I felt it was essential to get to know Austria better...it's is after all where I've called home for the past year. My trips around Austria also served another purpose: to figure out whether I'd rather spend a second year in Linz or try a new part. With my application for extension as a U.S. Teaching Assistant complete, my travels shifted towards an international focus. (Spoiler alert: I received word in April that I was placed in Vienna, my top choice!)

I traveled to Turkey with my friend and fellow teaching assistant, MaryBeth. We booked our flights before Christmas at the unbelievable price of €95 ($102). Turkey proved to be a very affordable and exotic destination...a trip we named "Operation Thanksgiving." We spent 11 days touring Istanbul, Pamukkale, and Antalya. Istanbul was certainly a beautifully chaotic city - I had never been in a place with so many (loud) people. The mosques were incredible; the restaurants hosts and salesmen were ever so pushy to try and convince you to check out what they were selling; and the daily call to prayer around 6 am always came as a surprise.

Pamukkale was an interesting segment of the trip because it snowed in all of Turkey. It started in Istanbul when we left for Pamukkale and joined us for our 9-hour bus ride...the entire way which extended this already long bus ride by three hours. Fortunately, the madness calmed down once we got to Pamukkale. The tour was spectacular, and Pamukkale was unlike any other place I had ever seen in my life. The meaning of "Pamukkale" in Turkish describes it best: cotton castle. 

Antalya was our final stop before returning to Austria from Istanbul. This beach resort town (of over 1 million people) was sunny and a tad too windy. February was not the month to forget your winter jacket. The views were epic as the Taurus mountains stretched along the Mediterranean Sea. Albeit brisk, I did not waste any time and finally "reached" the Mediterranean...which meant putting my hand in the water for a hot second. From Antalya, I enjoyed a tour of Ancient Greek and Roman ruins in Perge, Aspendos, and Side. Turkey was certainly an unforgettable trip, especially with my co-traveler, MaryBeth. 

It was amazing that after almost two weeks in Turkey, it felt like the early sunsets of Linz were pushed back an hour or so. Finally, I could enjoy some more vitamin D! After Turkey, it took a week to get back to the normality of Austria with their quiet streets, organized transportation, and the concept of queueing. I also planned my travels for Easter break. You can either look back to my postponed from March to see where my next flight brought me, or I'll let you know in the next post. 

In the meantime, I hope you have been enjoying the photos. I'd like to remind you that a Facebook account is not necessary to view the FB albums. Enjoy!

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