Friday, May 4, 2012

Innsbruck - "the bridge over the Inn"

I used to say that I travel in between going to class, but now I feel like I go to class in between traveling. I still love being in Innsbruck. My life in Innsbruck flows like the Inn River through the's moving so fast. The river continues to gain speed as the snow continues to melt.

Everyday I stop to think about how lucky I am that I can call Innsbruck my home. Innsbruck is such a wonderful little beautiful to walk next to the bright colored buildings, to see snow capped mountains around every corner, and to have the Golden Roof as the meeting place before venturing anywhere in Innsbruck. I wish I had more time to just BE in Innsbruck. Every day I walk outside, I smile- I'm not letting one day slip by without appreciating my life abroad in Austria.

Familiar faces are everywhere- grocery shopping, at the mall, in the park... I run into my friend Johanna (Austria) so many times on the street. It gives us an opportunity to plan our next get together. When doing laundry at BubblePoint, I always see my friend Sanne (Netherlands) or Ray (Ireland). I first met Ray while doing laundry. He saw me struggling with the German instructions and taught me how to use a BubblePoint card. Ray is from Ireland, but working in Innsbruck. I told him about my cousin living in Ireland and my upcoming plans to visit her. Ray is also a bartender at my favorite bar in Innsbruck- Galway Bay...
Galway Bay is one of the best- every Thursday is open mic night downstairs. From songs in English by Mumford and Sons, Oasis, and so music sung in German. It's a great place to carry on conversation and catch up with friends. It's always fun when they have the whole crowd singing with their glasses in the air. PROST :)   (cheers)

There are so many wonderful cafes in Innsbruck. Cafe Central, Cafe Sacher, Cafe 360... just to name a few.
My favorite, hands down, is Cafe 360. Coffee or wine.. this bar offers the most beautiful 360 degree view from both inside and outside on the terrace. Dream-like drapes, storybook city-scape, picture perfect mountains, and great company. No matter where I sit, I have the constant reminder that I am in the middle of the Austrian Alps :) This is definitely the cafe that I will think about when I'm back in the states and close my eyes, wishing to be back in Innsbruck.

I usually don't go "out" often at home. I have to focus on school and work... I'm also not one for dressing up and fitting into that whole bar/club scene. However, in Innsbruck...everything is in walking distance, most places are extremely casual, and there's great live music. I also feel completely safe walking back to my dorm into the late hours...not exactly how I feel at home.
Sixty Twenty is a bar just below MCI. 6020 is Innsbruck's area code. We celebrated St. Patrick's Day here...and it's a convenient hang out after class...

In the old city, there's Mustache and La Copa Cabana. In Mustache, there are couches to lounge on and Süß Gespritzter (sweet spritzer). La Copa Cabana gives us the option of hanging out in either La Copa or Cabana, sing Karaoke- or just listen :)

I only went to this bar called Weekender once- and I LOVED it!.. A full live band performed songs in German...then the lights went out and the dancing began. So many laughs and memories from that night...

We had one last night at the Igloo Bar before the snow melted for the summer. Only EUR 7 to rise above the Innsbruck glow...Hot wine in hand and ready for some fun in an igloo!
The Erasmus/Exchange group enjoyed an afternoon of mini golfing... Not the most decorative mini golf course, compared to the themed courses in Orlando, FL... but then again it's not necessary when you have this kind of scenery :) 
It started to get really cold outside so a group of us decided to warm up over an Italian buffet in the Old City at Pizzeria Romantica. Unlimited pasta and pizza- needless to say, we frequent this place often.

I went to two Bad Taste parties at Stadtsale....I really did not want to go to the first one. I had class the next day... I was already in my pajamas.... and I was tired. Thomas (France) had his friend visiting from Reims. They came over before the party, demanded that I go out since I had not been in awhile. Then with both on one knee, they forced my sneakers(baskets) onto my could I say no now? Well, I'm glad I went.
The music was tacky, the clothes were horrendous, and the people were ridiculous....

A month or so later, I went back to Stadtsale with the girls, Sanne (Netherlands), Noora and Kaisa (Finland). We had so much fun dancing to the German music. Moments like these I realize I'm not in USA anymore- and I'm having a blast!

We celebrated Vappu (Finland's Labor Day) & Queen's Day at Lake Baggersee in Innsbruck. Still a bit chilly for me to jump into the lake...

In the Finnish spirit, Anssi, Juuso, and Kaisa pressured me into trying Salmiakki Fazer. It's a popular "candy." Candy is the last word that I would use to describe it- it's a small, black licorice flavored, salty, hard gummy... but speaking of gummy- I am addicted to Haribo. Haribo has always been one of my favorite gummy brands, but in Austria- there are so many different types of gummies. I eat them in between classes and they are also great travel snacks for me on the trains. My favorite Haribo products are the Star Mix and the Fried Eggs... yes, gummies that look like little fried eggs...Unfortunately, the Haribo Gummy Factory in Germany does not offer tours to the public. On every bag of gummies it says...
"Macht Kinder Froh Und Erwachsene Ebenso"...meaning, makes children and also adults happy :)

My classes are going really well. I am continuing to enjoy the various projects and opportunities to work with my friends and instructors from around the globe. My friend Serena(Italy) and I noticed the similarities between Sicily and Florida... We discussed this when we met months ago and later found it funny that it was a topic in one of our classes. This video talks about time; how people and cultures use it...past, present, future... for example- the closer you are to the equator, the more relaxed and inclined you are to focus on the present... it's interesting to think about...
These are some of the little things in class that make me smile and that I just don't want to forget- contributing to the "Marissa" dictionary in class and teaching my friends new words in English, laughing over the little mix ups like 'juice fruit' instead of 'fruit juice,' properly saying the word 'crisis', ('crisieeee' crisss',crisissisis'), comparing slices of sacher torte in the cafes and at the local mall with the girls (by the way, we enjoyed the less expensive, moist torte for only EUR 2.80 at Silpark :) and trying my best to exercise my German and Italian vocabulary...

Stay tuned for so much more... Sorrento, Pompeii, Ercolano, Capri, Amalfi, Positano, Roma, Salzburg and Dachau, Ireland, Vienna, Family visit, a Mediterranean cruise, an unforgettable week in Savona, and last days in Innsbruck :D

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun (2)

"Go with the flow..."
That was the theme of this trip. I traveled to the beautiful little Tuscan town of Siena and San  Gimignano, with a stop in Florence on the way back. My friend Kaisa (Finland) was touring Italy on holiday. I finished classes on Wednesday and decided to take a night train from Innsbruck, to have a full day in Siena on Thursday. My train was scheduled to leave Innsbruck at 11:05 PM Wednesday night and arrive in Florence at 6:18 AM Thursday morning. Packed and ready for an uncomfortable night's sleep on an overnight train, I arrived at the train station...unaware that this would be one heck of a trip...

The train arrived. I found my car and opened the dark compartment to my assigned seat. There was one old man and 2 younger guys sleeping. Before closing my eyes, I waited for the train to leave Innsbruck. I waited... and waited.... 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time, the train began moving...but in the WRONG DIRECTION! From experience, I know the direction of the trains heading towards Italy and Germany. We were going back towards Germany... past my dorm window...I heard a woman in the corridor yell "4 hour delay!?" Some of the passengers woke up and were panicking. The conductor wasn't sure of the problem. 

The train was already was too late to get off in Innsbruck. I could have walked 10 minutes to my dorm from the train station and had a good night's sleep... But, it was too late. I was on this train for what I thought would only be an extra 4-5 hour delay...later to find out the delay would only get worse.
There was a track problem in Bologna, Italy, which rerouted our train north into Germany, then southeast through Austria and Italy...this new route delayed the train 9 hours...making this adventure a grand total of 16 HOURS on the SAME train!!! (not to mention another 2 hours to go from Florence to Siena)....I could only go with the flow...

I was fortunate to have met 2 brothers in my compartment from the states, Brady & Jeremy. They began their journey in Munich and were on their way to Rome. We stayed awake 'til 5:30 AM talking about our families, travels, life in Innsbruck, and shared pictures. Took a nap and woke up to beautiful views of the mountains.

Österreich to Italia scenery from the train

About 8 hours had passed... I should have arrived in Florence an hour ago. For breakfast we shared my Haribo gummies and water... brushed teeth to refresh, and still had no update from the conductors about how we were doing on time and where we were in the world. We finally heard that we were reaching Venice! Venice is still hours away from my destination, but it was nice to know the train made it into Italy. We heard from another passenger who heard from a different passenger that the train was dividing into two... one part was continuing west to our original destination and another part of the train was staying in Venice...At that very moment, the train began to move.. our hearts stopped, hoping we were the train car going towards Rome.... what was the middle of the train was now the back... and the train was headed towards Rome. 
Too good to be true- the train stopped in the middle of the tracks, for at least an hour, with no explanation from anyone as to why....we were then given a bottle of water, wafer cookies, ham sandwich (which didn't help a fellow vegetarian!), and peach juice. 
It was getting really hot on the train... all the windows were open, white cotton like particles were floating in and out of the train windows.... 

We were past the 12 hour mark on the same train and everyone started acting loopy...I was so thankful to have made friends on this trip. On our 1 hour stop mid track we decided to have some fun and make  a flip book :) 

We spoke with the Italian man, Antonio, in our compartment. He is a taxi driver and was returning home because he was on holiday. Not the best way to start a vacation.... we spoke about similarities between the Italian and Spanish languages....then about gelato
Around 2 PM (now 15 hours on the same train), everyone fell asleep. I woke and the train was slowly approaching Florence!!! Hooray...
I woke my friends and they then decided to get off the train in Florence because the thought of continuing another few hours to Rome seemed unbearable. We arrived in Florence at 3:00 PM... 16 hours after departure. I definitely missed my connection to Siena. I quickly checked the timetable and saw that I had 5 minutes to run past 10 platforms to a train headed for Siena. We said our goodbyes. It's always refreshing to meet nice people who have similar values and thoughts about things. Ciao friends...

I arrived in Siena and Kaisa was waiting for me at the train station. We were both exhausted...she's been backpacking and I just experienced the longest train ride of my life. We took a bus to our accommodation. After getting off the bus too soon, we had a long walk ahead of us...just go with the flow- finally we arrived and the camp looked beautiful.
Camping Siena Colleverde "green hills" & bottle o' wine : )
Ah..the rolling hills of Tuscany. The fresh smells of the countryside were of spices and herbs. 

We took a bus into town to ask about booking wine tours for the next day in San Gimignano-unfortunately there were no wine tours offered on that specific day....we went with the flow and made alternative plans. Before dinner we saw city hall & the city tower in Siena.
Il Campo, Palio horse races....and the color of "burnt sienna" Crayola Crayon

Dinner time- formaggio, Tuscan wine, and fresh Pici & Pomodoro. After dinner, we waited at a bus stop for over an hour... all of the signs said the bus would arrive. We saw it stop across the street... hoping it would loop around the city and pick us up. The bus never came.... after walking quite a bit, Kaisa and I gave in and waved down a taxi. Although many things did not go as planned, we reminisced about our travel issues and had a good laugh together. The next morning we took a bus for 6 EUR from Siena to San Gimignano. 
Beautiful medieval town... PASTA, PASTA..... 

 Gelateria di Piazza :D

Siena by night.....

We had such a great night roaming the streets in Siena that we wanted to call and cancel our booking in Florence for the following night. We had to do so before the 24 hour mark so that we wouldn't be charged,, but we had trouble finding a phone. Luckily, a nice man in a hotel let us use his phone and internet to search for the number of our Florence hostel. He was thrilled that we were enjoying his city so much and wanted to stay another night. He felt bad for us after hearing our stories and even offered us the hotel's toilet, which you usually would have to pay for. We successfully cancelled our night's stay in Florence and were ready to extend our stay in Siena. 
We experienced similar bus problems again. Laughing and running to the bus stop just to wait for the bus that never came. We had to take another taxi back... We arrived at the camp and were ready to book another night's stay when the man told us that the camp was sold out..... disappointed...and frustrated... we had just cancelled our other night's stay before asking about availability at the camp. Now what were we going to do?! 

We looked at each other, sighed, and went next door to the pizza place to eat our worries away! There was a nice guy working there from Romania. He thought our stories were funny....cancelling bookings, missing buses, no wine tours, etc. We talked about our travels and enjoyed our pizza. 
The next morning we checked out of the campsite. The guy at front desk laughed at us because he knew about our travel troubles from the previous night. We were then able to rebook our accomodation in Florence.... phew! We took our luggage into the city for lunch in the main piazza before going to the train station.
Mangia, mangia!!

After lunch, decided to brave the tower and climb to the top for a view of the Tuscan town and hills. She-wolf & Romulus & Remus ....

We made it- now only 400 something more steps down...

Piazza del Campo

After gelato, we boarded the train to Florence- Arrived in Florence... Dropped our bags off in our hostel. Met a girl from Idaho and saw we were sharing the room with another 6 people. We went to the grocery store on our way to my favorite spot, Piazzale Michelangelo, for my 2nd Firenze sunset.  
Beautiful colors, cheese, wine, strawberries, fresh bread, live music, and hanging with a great friend....a wonderful way to watch the city change from day to night

Ponte Vecchio reflection

The trip didn't end yet- after showering down the hall from my room, I went to open the door and my key disappeared. I checked all of my bags, pockets -everything I took with me to the shower, and the key was not there.... I know how hostels/hotels can charge a crazy amount of EUR for lost keys so I searched everywhere in the dark. Everyone in the room was sleeping- I carried all of my bags out to the hallway to look for this missing key. It was nowhere to be found. I went to sleep- explained my story to the front desk in the morning, and luckily he only charged me 3 EUR.... phew!!
Kaisa and I took the train from Florence to Bologna...then Bologna to Brenner... Brenner is the border city between Austria and Italy.  Ah, nice, new, modern trains that run from the border to Innsbruck. So close to IBK...

2 countries at once.....
Not your typical weekend getaway. This trip definitely taught me to go with the flow and not to stress over the little things... most importantly, remember the people you meet along the way... and enjoy the ride !