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Posts from the ‘Misc.’ Category

November 10, 2012 – The Full Story (Part 3)

You read yesterday in parts 1 &2 about how after much running, scrambling, searching and decision making, we finally made it to our train that would take us back to Vienna. Or so we thought.

Part 3: Bad Luck

I don’t believe in bad luck. Not in the slightest. I do believe in bad coincidences, things that happen that you look back on later and go, “Funny how that worked out”. This bad coincidence started with – and I am not making this up – a black cat.

We were standing by this forsaken train station, recovering our breath after having just run uphill to catch a train that would come in 2 minutes and take us home, when Holly saw a black cat cross the train tracks. I point this out, again, not because I think it means anything, but only because what was about to happen made us think later of that black cat and go, “Really? A black cat? How cliche can you get?”

So the cat crossed the tracks, Holly made cat noises at it, and we waited for our train to come. Holly ate some Pringles, and I took some photos, satisfied that we were home free.

Lazily, a train worker came out of the station and smiled at us. We smiled back. She said something in Croatian. I said, “Train”, and pulled out our tickets to confirm to her that we were good to go. She smiled and shook her head, and repeated, “Train”. “Right,” I said, “Train. We have tickets. Wir haben Karten,” I repeated in German, just in case that would work. “Nein,” she said. “Ja,” I said. “Ne,” she said. “Da,” I said. “No,” she said. “No train.”

“Oh,” I said.

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Going Thermal

Note: None of these pictures are mine, because I tend to be too busy to take any pictures whenever I visit a Therme.

It’s somewhat surprising how much Austrians love water, being a land-locked country and all.

There’s no ocean, no sea in sight, with the closest major body of water – the Adriatic – about a 6 hour drive away. Nevertheless (or, perhaps, therefore), once the slightest sliver of warmth shines through after a long winter, Austrians flock to the nearest river, lake or pond, treating each one as if it were Waikiki beach. Sand is brought in and scattered along major and minor bodies of water from the Danube to the tiny pond down the street, and people lay out under umbrellas and on beach chairs, sipping wine and slathering on sunscreen. Maybe it’s a reaction to the four long months of constant snow, or the indignation at not having a coastline of their own, but during the summer, on a hot day, it’s hard to find an Austrian anywhere but near the water. The city shuts down. Entire families take off work. Austrians take summer – and water – seriously.

So what are they to do in the wintertime? Or what if the riverside is full, or what if they prefer chlorinated water to lake water? Austrians have a solution for that. They’re called Thermes.

Therme Wien

You’ve probably heard of a thermal bath – a pool or hot spring using natural thermal water piped from underground. You Okies have Hot Springs, Arkansas just a couple of hours away. This is the original concept of a Therme (“tear-ma”), and historically Austria and Germany have had a lot of them. Germany has Baden-Baden and Austria has Baden, two small towns renowned for their thermal baths. The Habsburgs were known to frequent thermal spas, as well as famous Viennese like Beethoven and Freud. Austria especially has a seemingly abundant supply of thermal water, with historic spa towns popping up frequently up and down the Alpine foothills, many of them even established by the Romans in their Roman bath style.

But the connotation of a Therma has morphed from this strictly thermal spa meaning to something even more ubiquitous. You or I might possibly call it a rec center, but the focus isn’t really on sports. It’s kind of like a community pool, except it’s mostly indoors and has an extremely relaxed feel. It’s a combination spa, sauna, relaxation place and kids fun area. It’s everywhere, and it’s a typical weekend getaway, and it’s amazing.

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Thoughts On America While Road Tripping

Over Christmas, Holly and I spent three weeks traversing the American South, from Oklahoma to Tennessee and Georgia, down to Florida, then through Alabama and Mississippi to Louisiana before heading home. The main purpose was to visit family for the holidays, but we purposely took extra time to relax and meander lazily through some areas one or both of us had never seen before.

During these three weeks and over 60 hours of driving, having just come back from 6 months in Europe, I couldn’t help but ponder my home country, and I tried to do this with as much of an outsider’s perspective as possible. Here are the results.

GA trees

Georgia trees

1. One of the best things about the US is its nature

I was reading a forum one time where a British guy was asking other British people what he should see on his upcoming trip to America. One comment after another, the main thought was simply, “nature”. At first, that kind of surprised me. That’s your number one thing you want to see in the US? But after some thinking, it made sense. Europeans (generally) don’t have the wide open spaces we have. Nor do they have as much natural diversity. There’s beautiful nature in the UK, but it’s all very homogenous and compact, due to the high population density and size of the island itself. The same goes for the Continent. Europe has beautiful nature, for sure, from the Swiss alps to the Norwegian fjords to the Tuscan countryside. But it’s not as open. It’s not as diverse. And there’s really not that much of it, comparatively. Europeans have to live somewhere, right?

Everglades

Everglades

This is one of the major advantages of the US. Sure, we have a large population. But our country is that much larger. Our wide open spaces are more wide, and more open, and have so much more space. As I drove, I kept noticing the miles and miles of complete emptiness, from the Florida forests to the Georgia farmland to the Louisiana bayou. We have not even begun to scratch the surface of filling up America with Americans. Not that I’m not advocating we do. This is one of our great accomplishments, that we so far have been able to settle a continent from coast to coast yet (for the most part) have kept nature natural. We have kept civilization away from the wilds, and let wilderness flourish. With one of the lower population densities in the world (177th, behind countries like Madagascar, Afghanistan and Kenya), we can afford to do this, and it’s one of my favorite things about my country.

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Zagreb in Three Days

I have a similar post on our missions blog, however this post on my personal blog is more about the travel/culture of Croatia.

This weekend, we go the opportunity to travel to the beautiful Balkan country of Croatia.

Chapel with a pedestrian street running through it

Chapel with a pedestrian street running through it

Croatia is part of both the Balkan peninsula and the former Yugoslavia. Its language is Slavic and its people are heavily Catholic (one of the main reasons for continued tension with its Eastern Orthodox neighbor Serbia and the Muslim Bosnia, as well as the 90′s war). The south part of the country is renowned for its coasts, islands and Mediterranean feel in its cities, food and people. Many Northern Europeans (Germans, Scandinavians, Austrians) travel to the Croatian coast for holidays. The north part of the country seems more Eastern European than Mediterranean, but still has a more relaxed vibe than, say, Hungary or Slovakia.

Jelačić Square

Jelačić Square

Our trip was fast and consisted of only a short visit to the capital Zagreb and a quick jaunt down to Plitvice Lakes National Park (a must-see). Zagreb is a bustling and trendy city, without any sign of being in a major war less than 20 years ago. We started off with a walk through the Old Town: through the Times Square-like Jelačić Square, up a funicular to the medieval village of Gradec, in and out of the extremely entertaining Museum of Broken Relationships (it’s just like it sounds), down winding switchback streets through Gradec’s historical rival village Kaptol, and back to the main square. Zagreb is many eras rolled into one. Medieval and Renaissance buildings dominate Gradec, the old town still has a regal Hapsburg feel from being part of the Austrian Empire (with some signs still in German), and from the Gradec hill, you can see Communist-era block apartment buildings ringing the center. But venture down the busy Ilica shopping street and you’re confronted with the modern-era’s designer shops and luxury eateries. Zagreb seems to be in all times at once.

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German Is Hard

Because we are moving to Vienna, Austria, we are learning German, because that’s what they speak there, and not Viennese or Austrian. Got that?

German is hard.

I took two years of German in high school, but I’m quickly discovering that none of that mattered. None. Nicht. I remember numbers, the word for “chicken” and how to tell someone I don’t speak German, but that’s about it.

German has a million ways to trip you up. It has cases, which, if you are an English speaker like myself, probably means absolutely nothing to you. I’ve never knowingly distinguished between a nominative and accusative preposition in my life, nor very much cared to. You know which other modern languages use cases? Some Slavic languages, and Greek. That’s about it. German just has to be all individualistic that way.

This isn’t a problem with just German, but I will never understand the need to assign a gender to each and every noun. Why is the sky masculine but the sun feminine? Why is fork feminine but spoon masculine, and for that matter, why is knife neutral? That’s right: unlike French or Spanish, which have only two genders, German takes the liberty of adding on a third, you know, for those hermaphroditic words. And it’s all very random. For instance – man is masculine and woman is feminine, but girl is neutral. Yep, every time you talk about “the girl” in German, you don’t ascribe her (it) any feminine characteristics at all. Poor sexless Hilda. It’s enough to make anybody want to invade Poland.

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Ratio of My Stomach to My Body Over Time

Pretty self-explanatory. Click through the graph to view a larger version.

Ratio of My Stomach to My Body Over Time