July 27, 2010


For writing class we were supposed to write a paper while sitting in a cafe.  This is what I came up with.
           They say the cafe is an extension of their living room.  A tradition from times long since past when apartments were too small for one to enjoy breakfast or a cup of coffee with a friend.  It is something that they do—we even learned about it as a hobby in German class, “Ins café gehen macht mir Spass.”  There are cafés on every corner, and when you purchase a pastry or a hot drink, you have your seat for as long as you want it.  No one bothers or glares at you or brings you your check in an attempt to accelerate your removal.  You can just be.
            Every time I sit to enjoy a cup of chocolate and a piece of apfel strudel here I think of what a lousy substitute we have for this in The States: Starbucks.  While there are as many Starbucks on a New York street as there are café’s in Vienna, they do not compare.  When you order a cup of coffee in Vienna you have two, possibly three, options: espresso, cappuccino, or a cup of chocolate.  There is only one size.  There are no syrups or flavorings.  There is no fat free option.   It is very simple, and very easy.  This is a stark contrast to the horror of ordering anything at Starbucks.  What is soy?  What does Venti even mean?  Do I look like an idiot not knowing exactly what I want?  I just want chocolate, is that even on the menu?  Any relaxation that accompanies drinking hot cocoa is lost as I sweat in front of the dark haired barista. 
            The Viennese know that they aren’t really ordering a cup of coffee.  They are ordering an afternoon.  The three Euros they spend aren’t for any exotic flavors or complicated combinations; it is for a moment to enjoy whatever stage of life they are in.  They may work on a crossword puzzle, smoke, or talk with a friend as they sit at a table.  Whatever they do, the coffee is the afterthought—a mere excuse to take life slowly and relax. 
At Starbucks it is all about the coffee, all about the flavor, and all about the caffeine.  There is no relaxing at Starbucks.  After the nightmare at the cashier, things don’t get easier.  After ordering what I hope is drinkable and stressing about where I can sit, I am supposed to sit back and enjoy hot cocoa from an environmentally friendly paper cup.  This is impossible.  Students work on homework frantically all around me, while others scribble out screenplays and various other life.  The coffee here is the lifeblood of all creativity.  Driven by triple espresso shots and refills, the caffeine surge limits anyone’s ability to sit and unwind. 
            There is a mutual understanding between a café owner and a café visitor.  One doesn’t bother the other.  Ever.  If the coffee is gross: kein problem.  If the visitor has stayed for four hours and only has one cup of coffee: no one says a thing.  No one expects too much from the other.  On the other hand, heaven help us if someone gets an order wrong at Starbucks.  And if the Starbucks employees aren’t bothered by your minimal purchase, the other patrons will be, telepathically forcing you out of your soft, brown chair.  After all, they paid $7 for their grande vanilla soy latte, don’t they deserve that seat more than you?  You finished your pittance of cocoa hours ago.  Leave.
            But we keep herding to Starbucks like mosquitoes to a scout camp.  As Americans we like being able to control every little calorie that goes into our morning pick me up.  If we don’t like the coffee we want to blame someone.  We like the madness and the anxiety.  It makes us feel important and competent.  We assert to ourselves and others that we get what we want.  But we want the wrong thing.  We want a drink that meets our every expectation of happiness and fulfillment.  Something so flavorful and exciting, that every sense is alerted.  But no cup of joe can meet this need, no matter how complicated it is.  The Austrians seem to know this.  The contentment and happiness they want comes from a slow afternoon.  Three hours with their thoughts, while sipping away at something warm is all they need.  Just an afternoon in the community living room. 

July 20, 2010


This happened on day 9 of our 10 day italy trip.  Honestly, I don't think this paper explains the pain, but it is the best I can do.

                  I was starving and huddled under a sheet watching six other girls all colder and hungrier than I trying to sleep against cold metal armrests.  It was 1 a.m. in the Campo Marte, Florence train station, and a bed wasn’t a possibility for another five hours.  This definitely hadn’t been in our 10 day Italy trip plans.
                  We were supposed to be sleeping in our hotel in Venice already.  We were supposed to have arrived there at 10:30, three hours earlier.  But one confusing schedule, one late train, one grouchy customer service woman, one broken train, one frantic train change, one slow train, and one misread ticket had led to a seven hours of frantic rescheduling, two urgent half English-half charade conversations, five different trains, seven girls surrounded by four homeless and intoxicated Italians, and at one point—one crying me.  I was exhausted, but relieved that finally we had a train coming to take us to our final destination.  After we got on this 2 a.m. train, it would be over.  We could just sleep in our own car on the train, run and eat breakfast at our hotel (that we had to pay for anyway), and then go out to enjoy the floating city.  I casually talked with another midnight traveler as I shivered under my thin cover.  Things would be fine.  The girls would be comfortable and warm soon.  We just needed the train to come on time. 
It did come on time.  I was confident the ordeal was over as I walked up the stairs to the platform, my overstuffed backpack slung over my halter tankini.  Things were going to be fine.  I was relaxed.  I was relieved
                  Then the train door opened.
                  The second the two panels slid to opposite sides I was hit with a wave of heat and human odor.  My mind flashed to horrible memories of campground bathrooms, circus tents, and state fairs.  I could taste the sweat and human waste in the air as I hurried to shut my mouth.  This was our train.  This was our train for the next four hours. 
                  “I saw a compartment in this car.”  Krystle said as we all shuffled through the doors, up the steps, and into the disease infested steel trap.  I wanted a compartment so desperately.  If we could just all get a room together, then we could lie down and sleep off this disaster.  We marched slowly down the 2-foot wide hallway in single file.  There were no empty rooms.
                  “We are going to have to split up.”  I whispered over my shoulder to the group, trying not to wake the sleeping passengers.  I started looking frantically through curtains and dirty windows.  I didn’t want to stomach what I had started to fear as we boarded:  there was not a single empty compartment, nor was there a single empty seat.  Gypsies and immigrants sprawled over all square footage of the compartments and even onto the floor.  Families were crammed into boxes, babies screaming over the noise and rough carpet seating.  I saw young couples spooning, trying to utlize what small space they were allotted in a compartment of six.  “Let’s head the other way,” I suggested.  We all held our elbows to our sides and tried to turn 180 with mountains on our backs.  After the maneuver we were only greeted with more sweaty, tired and dirty passengers looking through compartment windows.  We couldn’t move back, and there wasn’t room to move forward.  We weren’t going anywhere.  We were stuck in this hall for the next four hours.
                  Trenitalia doesn’t really bother making sure they sell the same number of tickets as there are seats on a train.  If you really want a seat you pay for a reservation.  We had paid for a reservation: paid for a reservation on the train that would get us to Venice at 10:30.  But on this train we were all on our own.  We all pulled out the plastic squares from the train wall (designed specifically for the morons that don’t pay for train reservations) and plopped down on the one-foot by one-foot boards.  We were all silent.                   
Maria sat in front of me, still in her one-piece polka dot bathing suit.  She had to pee.  She’d been holding it since Vernazza eight hours earlier, but no way was she going to strip down to use a toilet in this brothel.  She sat holding her backpack just waiting out the disaster.  Every so often her knees would bob—a sign of her ever-expanding bladder. 
                  Behind me was Krystle.  Wrapped in a pashmina she had intended to give her mother as a souvenir and wearing socks with her Chaco’s, she sat leaning against the train wall.  She’d been quite optimistic the entire evening, but I could see waning stamina in her face.  Beyond Krystle sat Jana.  Her knees came up to her chin as she sat shaking in her purple sundress.  Those seats weren’t really made for humans, especially tall ones like Jana.  She sat in pain as she perched on her allotted square footage of train space.  She was avoiding eye contact with me. 
                  Behind them was Ambree, Whitney and Kayla.  All squatting on tiny squares.  All struggling, unsuccessfully to find any kind of position that would let them shut their eyes.  Whitney had tears coming out of hers, Kayla’s looked terrified at all of the strangers walking in and out of compartments, and Ambrees looked questioningly into every compartment looking for a seat we might have missed.
                  Seven girls, seven squares.  Lined up like prisoners, refugees, salem witches, or hostages.  We all sat helpless—unable  to sleep, but unable to face the situation awake.  Our vacation was not supposed to include this.  We were supposed to be in Venice soaking up sun and flirting with gondoliers.  Instead we were smashed in a dirty forgotten Italian train with the armpit of European travelers.
                  Around five in the morning a seat opened up in a compartment.  Through the night the other girls had eventually migrated to the emptying seats and drifted off to tortured sleep.  I got a few precious moments of unconsciousness before the conductor shouted our arrival at the Venizia Maestre station.  I grabbed my bag and tiptoed around other pitiful passengers.
                  I counted all the girls as we lined up to leave.  Seven tired girls.  We were all there, all there ready to head into the now light morning.  Visions of gondoliers and romantic canals gone, all we could hope for was a bed—and a bathroom. 
                  The train doors slid open, and this time we were greeted with clean morning air.  I stumbled out the door onto the platform.  Now we just needed to find the bus.

93. Hallstatt

July 12, 2010

92. Venice

Venice was our last stop on our Italy tour.  We were all pretty tired from a train disaster the night before (more about that later), but we managed to find some energy to enjoy the floating city (complete with gelato and gondola ride).

Ambree realized, after we left the hotel, that she kinda looked like a gondolier.  Funny.

This was our train home.  We were SOOOO excited to have bunks.  

I know I've left out a lot of details and explanations, but I just need to get these pictures up.  It really was an amazing trip, and gave me enough stories to be talking about Italy for the rest of my life.  Maybe some day I'll tell some of them to you.

91. Vernazza

I love Italy.  I love the ocean...well technically it is a sea.  It's beautiful.  My life is awesome.

90. Pisa

We went to Pisa.  For 9 minutes.  We would have stayed longer but it was POURING rain, and I was the only one with an umbrella.  The tower is cool.  It's leaning.  

We had to take a few of these:

The thing is, only Jana's worked out really well.  We were all huddled together (under the single umbrella) and I would shout for someone to go stand by the tower.  Everyone put up their hands, but they were always way off, and I couldn't move that much with the camera....so we just got a lot of dorky shots.

This is what everyone looked like after our short (though exciting) excursion out of the Pisa train station:

Soaking wet and freezing cold we continued on to Vernazza, one of the five cities known as the Cinque Terre.  THIS PLACE IS GORGEOUS.  Oh, I would love to live here.

89. Florence

We spent one full day in Florence, and we really got the most out of it.  The Duomo is SOOOO sweet, I couldn't stop staring at it.

This is the fake David.  We also saw the real one.

We all had sunburns from the day before.

July 6, 2010

88. Sunny

While we did a lot of cultural and educational things in Rome, we also did a lot of perfectly relaxing and vacation appropriate activities: like eating and going to the beach.  Swimming in the Mediterrainean is just better than the Pacific or Atlantic.  The water is clear and a perfect temperature, the sand is dark and fine, and there are naked sunbathing italians everywhere--it's fantastic!!  Just kidding about the naked Italians.  I'm kidding about them being great, they really do exist...it is annoying.

Here are all my gorgeous friends at the beach.






87. Vatican

Wednesday in Rome is Pope day, and we were in Rome on a Wednesday!!  We sat out on the hard, sunburnt chairs set out in St. Peter's square and waited for our "audience" with Pope Benedict XVI.  I took a few photos as we sat out in the square with the sun beating on our backs.

Above is St. Peter's--this cathedral is SOOOOOOOO HUGE.  We went inside it later in the day.  You walk inside, and it takes you a minute to register just HOW big it is, but then you start thinking about it, and you realize it is one monster church.  Gorgeous though.  Below is the view behind me, lots of people want to see the pope on pope day.

So then eventually the Pope came out and rode around, on all the paths between sets of chairs.  It was really neat!  There was music playing, everyone was clapping, and the Pope was waving.  We were all standing on our chairs to get a good look.  I got terrible photos, but Krystle got a great one:

Isn't his sunhat so cute?!  I'm not Catholic (obviously) but I still thought it was really cool to see the Pope in real life.  After he drove around he went up to the front of the cathedral and sat down to give his blessing.  Before the blessing a bunch of other people said stuff....and repeated it in five languages...so we decided to go meet back with our group to tour the Vatican Museum (and see the Sistine Chapel).

Our tour was really neat.  We focused on the works of Michaelangelo and what inspired him (you have to focus on something in the museum, otherwise it is just madness).

This statue was one of Michelangelo's fave's.  Or so they say.

The Vatican Museum is just HUGE.  It goes on and on, and has all sorts of amazing things.  I was really glad we had a tour guide though, because I would have gotten lost (and bored) if I hadn't had someone pointing out all the cool stuff.  Oh PS our tour guide was THE CUTEST thing.  We never figured out where she was from, but she was adorable.  She always referred to us as the seven girls.

On our tour of the Vatican Museum we saw Raphael's School of Athens.  I've seen this painting in countless books (including American Heritage), and it was very neat to see the original.  This guy here is my man Euclid.  Love that guy.

You aren't allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, so I didn't take any of it, but it was incredible.  I cannot believe that it was done by a person laying down getting paint in his eyes.  I recommend seeing it if you ever find yourself in Rome.

86. Pantheon

Our second day in Rome we decided to go to the Pantheon.  We also had our suits on to go to the beach, but then it started raining...story of my summer.

The Pantheon is beautiful.  It was built by the Romans as a temple to their many Gods, but has since been obtained by the Catholic Church (ironic). 

Isn't it gorgeous?

Except for the scaffolding?  ALSO the story of my summer...scaffolding.  It's like Europe thinks it is a good way to decorate the outside of buildings or something.  

The neat thing about Rome is that you can just wander a few blocks (if that) and find something gorgeous and thousands of years old.  Seriously, no matter where you are, you will find something.  You can be driving down the road and you will just see columns left over from a temple or old roman marketplace.  It is crazy.  Below is a church we discovered after wandering around the Pantheon area.

The sun eventually came out and we decided we would try to figure out how to get to the beaches of Rome.  It wasn't TOO complicated, but it was cloudy :(.  That volcano in Iceland has GOT to stop disrupting the weather (that is our hypothesis to why it just keeps raining and raining and raining).