Welcome back, everyone! This past May, Marvin (one of our fellow bloggers!!!) and I had the chance to go to Vienna to study abroad. It was such a great experience overall and since we were both planning on writing about our time there, we thought we would share this post and break up our experiences!
Where do I even begin? The whole time on the flight (all 10 hours of it) I still could not grasp that I was heading to Europe! Once everybody met up at the airport and got on their respective buses the trip truly started and it began to feel like we were in a different country. The first day was quite the blur because the time change was so different that we arrived around 8 AM a day ahead of the US, so attempting to stay awake the whole day was going to be a huge challenge. However, the bus ride from the airport to Morbisch proved to be a true test of our ability to stay awake.
The reason we headed first to Morbisch instead of Vienna was to get us all accustomed to a different country and gradually immerse ourselves in a different culture before being thrown into Vienna. I personally appreciated this approach because it allowed for people to get to know one another without the stresses of public transportation and classes yet.
Once everybody got off the bus and put their bags in their hotel rooms, the majority of people rode bikes or walked to… Hungary!!! Just a typical afternoon, right? That was really fun seeing the different and beautiful landscape and being exposed to a different culture and language just passing through towns. That whole day was pretty mellow because we had our first dinner as a group and realized that ice was not offered in water, which proved to be a disappointment down the road, but we managed to cope without the luxury of cold beverages. After that first evening, the only other main activity we did was going on our first dinner cruise. I had such a great time and I’m sure Marvin would say the same because we all got to have authentic, European food while having an acordian player serenading us while we enjoyed the boat ride. It was absolutely beautiful and overall, very relaxing after our hectic day beforehand.
After Morbisch, we went directly to Vienna and went to our respective host-family homes. I was lucky enough to be living with three other girls: Tara, Sara, and Sam. I had such a blast with these girls and grew so close to them! I only knew Sara out of the three girls but I’m so happy to say that I gained two other close friends from this trip because our experiences of getting lost, figuring out public transportation, struggling to exchange money into Euros, getting to class on time and various other daily activities that soon became routine that we had trouble with initially.
The first day in Vienna Tara, Sara, Sam and I went to an honorary ceremony for our host father who was a well-known organ player and got lost (we weren’t even on the map anymore) and struggled to find our way. Surprisingly we were only twenty minutes late, but we definitely got some stares when we made our way into the pews. That was probably one of my favorite memories because we were so completely lost and we knew it was going to happen eventually but finding our way around at night was such an adventure. Everybody was so exhausted from the first two days in Europe that when we went to the symphony the night of our third day, nearly everybody fell asleep. Keeping my eyes open and trying not to be rude was one of the most difficult things of that trip because the music was so soothing and we were so tired! Even some of the professors dozed off for a minute or two!
What was really cool about where our school was it’s location across the street from the Opera House. Occasionally we could hear singers practicing from our classrooms for their performance later that day. Crazy, right? At times it was hard to remember that the point of this study abroad May Term was that we actually had to take classes. I always had to remind myself that I was here for more than leisure and experience, but to learn. I took Modern European History while most other people took German, Music, Religion, Art and Architecture or Senior Seminar. From what I gathered from everyone was that each of their classes was interesting and fun in their own way, and although it was a bummer we had class, it was something we definitely did not dread because we were surrounded by what we were learning. We would go on tours of the Treasure Chamber, tours of Vienna, and just take adventures that benefited our learning in a more hands-on sort of way that we couldn’t grasp through reading a textbook.
What proved to be really interesting and challenging every day was figuring out where to eat. We were each given a certain amount of Euros to spend on food each week but it typically didn’t cover all of the costs, so budgeting the money while also being aware of tips that needed to be given was frustrating. I think our group as a whole went to nearly every restaurant in a 3-mile radius just to see what was out there. Typically we would go to food stands because they were relatively cheap but we would also go to Billa (their main grocery store) and buy food there and eat in the local park that was around the corner from the university. That was probably one of my favorite memories because word got around that people were in the park so my roommates and I as well as others all joined us and we had a relaxing picnic in an area that looked like an oversized Pine Grove.
Following each meal, we had to figure out what kinds of places and events we wanted to attend. Some days we would just explore the city, take the Eubahn (subway) to different districts in Vienna and explore or go to more popular sites. These included Schonbruun Palace, the Schonbruun Zoo, the Danube beach, Top of the Hill, and others. These were all amazing locations and the ease in which we were able to get there was astonishing. It was so easy to say, “Hey, I’m going to head to Schonbruun Palace in a few minutes. Anyone want to join?” It would take only about 20 minutes to get there or anywhere for that matter because public transportation was so nice.
One of the definite highlights (and I think nearly everyone will agree with me) was the Manner cookies. Man, those were chocolate wafer pieces of heaven! YUMMM!
We went to Salzburg on the weekend of May 16-18. Our weekend trips were all a blast, and we learned so much in each city and what it has to offer! Here are some highlights of our Salzburg adventure! On a side note, one not so great thing about Salzburg weekend was the weather and the rain. On our way to Salzburg, we made a pit stop at Melk Abbey, the oldest in Europe. Pretty neat right? There we learned so much about Austrian history and what makes it Austria today.
After our stop at Melk, we kept truckin’ to just outside of Salzburg to our hotel. Before getting to our hotel, we also passed by some important sites where they filmed the movie, The Sound of Music. To be honest, we both thought it was let down because we couldn’t stop and take pictures, and the weather was just not ideal. Anyways, we stayed in Hallein, Austria, which is a small town outside of the city. There, we ate dinner, walked around the quaint village. After, we just went to bed.
Saturday was a long day! It started with an awesome breakfast with the group, then it was to Salzburg to get a historic tour of the city, as well as its landmarks. Although it was wet, we all had a great time. I mean, why complain? It was EUROPE, for crying out loud.
One awesome thing about Salzburg was the chocolate. There was this particular kind, we all called “Mozart Balls,” that was just amazing. It was dark Austrian chocolate with a pistachio filling on the inside. My goodness, each one was about 1 euro, so $1.37. It was definitely worth it because you simply can’t get that in the United States. After touring all of what Salzburg had to offer, we went back to our hotel to unwind and hang out with the group!
Sunday was another packed day. We all had to get up early because the first agenda on our list was the Hallein Salt Mines. What a cool experience! We went inside a mountain through a train, and we were both in Austria and Germany in a span of only a few hours! Inside the mountain, we learned about how essential the mining industry was in Austria, and we also went on a boat because there was a large lake inside the mountain! But, my favorite part of the salt mines were the slides. In order to get through the mountain from the inside, we all had to slide down long slides. It was a blast!
After the salt mine, we headed to Hitler’s Nest which was just outside of Austria in Germany. We thought we were so cool because one minute, you’d be in one country, then a few minutes later, we were in another! It was such a cool experience at the museum. We learned more about WWII, toured the bunkers were Nazi soldiers stayed, and it was hands on. After experiencing the museum located near Hitler’s Nest, we visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp. It was an amazing, but eerie experience. Just to think that not even 75 years ago, people suffered here. To just be present and reflect was great. If you have the chance, visit a concentration camp. History will definitely come to life. Once we finished, we finally headed back to basecamp, Vienna!
Prague by far was one of our favorite cities. There is just so much culture and history behind it! As nerdy it sounds, it was neat to see the communist remnants of the city. When we arrived in Prague, we had a dinner at an old monastery. After, we had an AMAZING tour of Prague and its historic monuments with our tour guide, Donna. She was a sweetheart. She loves Hope College students and it was just a great time to be with her. One thing we did every time we saw her was say, “Dobry den, Donna!” which simply means hello. After our tour, we headed back to our hotel and relaxed.
On Saturday, we had one heck of a packed day! Firstly, we headed to downtown Prague to experience its culture and get another tour. One of our favorite places in Prague was St. Charles Bridge! There were so many vendors and talented musicians on the bridge performing. It was just a great time! In our slideshow, you’ll find our classic picture. After more touring and shopping in the city, we went on a dinner boat cruise on the Vltava River. It was so much fun to eat dinner and take pictures with friends. Another funny part of the dinner was that our tour guide, Donna, made seagull noises. Everyone on the trip LOST IT. It was one of the Prague highlights for sure.
On our last day in Prague, we had more opportunities to learn about history and culture. We visited the old Jewish Ghetto, now a memorial to commemorate those who died in WWII. We also visited the Spanish Synagogue which was just beautiful! After, we had chances to do more shopping and meandering around before heading home. We could seriously go into so much detail about our weekends, but then it wouldn’t be a blog post, it would be an essay!
The Vienna Summer School was one heck of an experience for the both of us!. Our lives, as cliché as it sounds were changed and we now have new perspectives on life. If you are interested in going, make sure you email Dr. Hemenway at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is your man and go to for anything Vienna. Trust me, you won’t regret it. If you have any questions about the trip and experience, don’t hesitate to ask either Leslie or Marvin! Make sure to read our upcoming blogs and follow us on twitter!