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Published: March 28th 2013
Something strange happens when people uproot themselves and move away from everything familiar. It creates an innate vulnerability in us. We become vulnerable to cultural differences, struggles of adapting to a new environment filled with new surroundings, faces, smells, language, schedules, foods, forms of transports, norms. Nothing is the same, yet everything is familiar. We end up taking comfort in the tiniest of things - like some good cheese, having a friend or family member email you, finding a goat in a park that makes you smile, or exploring an antique shop.
This vulnerability sometimes brings on the worst of days. Something that would ordinarily be manageable can ruin a day - like that it’s uncomfortably windy, or a bus schedule is wrong, or we get horribly lost. Sometimes the vulnerability makes me fall apart over something trivial.
But sometimes vulnerability isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it creates openings that wouldn’t exist without feeling totally out of our element. It leaves us open and accepting of everything new, because we really have nothing to lose.
I attribute this vulnerability to one of the most rewarding parts of living this semi-nomadic life we seem to be living - the
reward of friendships all over the world; friendships that grow exponentially faster than average because we have nothing to lose. The vulnerability of nothing familiar leaves us willing to rely heavily on something we might be wary of ordinarily. So we take a chance. It takes a unique quirk of personality to be willing to take on so much vulnerability, but when we meet others who are accepting of this, amazing friendships develop.
I’ll be curt here - the transition to life in Leiden hasn’t been easy for me. Culture shock in Asia was tough but it was always rewarding. Culture shock here has been less rewarding. Until we hit spring break, and then my attitude toward Europe in general changed drastically. Bob and I spent three days in Munich, a beautiful city that we loved. At midnight on the third night three friends from school came to pick us up and off we drove into the Tirol area of Austria where we spend an amazing four days skiing, sledding, hiking, eating, drinking Austrian schnapps and laughing. But I’ll start at the beginning.
Munich was beautiful and a perfect city to explore on foot - our favorite way
to see a city. We spent our time exploring the amazing churches, gardens, markets and shopping streets. We spent hours in awe of the architecture and design of the city. I came to the conclusion that Bavaria really likes beer and chocolate due to abundance of beer and chocolate shops and the massive selection of both at every grocery store.
It was in Munich, however, that I ate the grossest pickle I’ve ever eaten in my life. I didn’t think it was possible for me to dislike a pickle, but I was wrong. It tasted like how a bad farm smells, so it tasted like manure.
Our friends arrived from Leiden, retrieved us from the hostel and off we drove to Saalfelden, Austria. Only a two hour drive and we arrived at Fabian’s grandmother’s house at 2:30am. We were greeted by Fabian’s father who had prepared an amazing meal of goulash for us, staying up to greet us at 2:30am. We were blown away by the hospitality and the amazing food the entire time in Austria.
The following day consisted of saying over and over to Fabian, “I can’t believe you grew up here!” The area surrounding
his parents and grandparents house is stunningly beautiful and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was either snowing or clear with bright sun.
That evening his parents took us out for an incredible dinner of hut essen which consisted of the best salad I’ve ever had, baked potatoes followed by a cooking beef and chicken on what I can only describe as an iron dome resembling a pointy hat. All of it was delicious.
The next day was a big one for me. We were going skiing. Bob grew up skiing, as did everyone else we were with (now we totalled 8 with more of Fabian’s friends arriving before last night’s dinner on the train from Vienna). So I was with experts and I was terrified. Before then I had only skied one time prior for maybe 15 minutes before a friend required an airlift to the hospital and remained mysteriously unconscious for hours. It was a frightening experience, but I don’t really equate it to never having skied since. If someone else in the group hadn’t been skiing I would have stayed home, but everyone went so I did too. In hindsight I couldn't be
more glad I went. Bob and Fabian stayed back with me on a smaller hill where I got down some basics - enough to get me half way down the mountain to meet up with the other five more-advanced-than-myself skiers.
After lunch some of stayed at the lodge while others went on more advanced slopes. At the end of the day I was incredibly happy to have experienced Austrian skiing, and am forever thankful for Fabian’s ski-instructor lessons that made me feel like I was capable of surviving the mountain. I can’t wait to get back again!
That evening was what we now refer to as Austrian Thanksgiving. One of the now 10 of us (more arrived after skiing) works as a chef in Vienna. Before we took off for skiing he put two massive pork shoulders into the oven, and once we got home he made dumplings, salad and some other Thanksgiving-like dishes with an Austrian twist. Us American’s had to explain to the Austrians why we felt it was like Thanksgiving. It was mostly that we were all starving from skiing with too many of us smooshed around a small table, but all happy to be
The bottom of the rodelbahn
Rent the sled at the top, leave it at the bottom
there, laughing and sharing stories about the day.
After I accidentally nominated the girls to clean up from Austrian Thanksgiving we bundled up and headed out into the snow. After a 10-minute walk we ended up at the base of the rodlbahn - or sledding hill. It’s a 1.5km hike up the hill which we broke up by having spontaneous dance parties and jumping off the track as other sledders came screaming and giggling past. At the top, we enjoyed Austrian schnapps at the lodge and then slid our way down with only one of us hitting a pole and one sled breaking. All in all, the 1.5km hike, plus the lodge and sledding down took us four hours - apparently we stopped often!
The rest of the trip was just as wonderful. The following day we went sledding at the rodlbahn again in daylight to see the magnificent views, we had coffee and cakes at Fabian’s parents house, drove back to Munich for St. Patricks day which we spent in our private hostel room with a patio enjoying the stark bier available in Munich during Lent - the monks drank heavy, dark beer during Lent to keep
full while fasting. We also walked down the street from the hostel to the Augustiner Brau - a traditional beer house so we could get an authentic St. Patrick’s Day experience at a German beer hall. Not exactly a traditional St. Patrick’s Day but the Irish bars were full by the time we arrived in Munich, but the German beer hall more than sufficed.
All in all it was a great spring break - one that we needed to lift our European experience, and to do it with great friends was what made it so special.
Now back in Leiden we have a mere seven weeks left of school until we head off to.....? That’s still to be determined.
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