Today, I still feel at home in Vienna.

For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home.
– Simon van Booy

Last weekend, Megan and I met for a semi-spontaneous trip to Vienna! It’s about a 3 hour train ride from BP, and a slightly longer plane ride from Madrid. She doesn’t have class on Fridays or Mondays, and school’s about to start for me again, so it worked out really well!
My memories of the city are tinged by nostalgia and the summer heat: ice cream every day, walks in the park, strangers who took to me, the girl traveling without her parents. I was prepared for the possibility that the city wouldn’t have the charm and luster that lives in my memory, especially in the winter and with the changes that more than a decade inevitably bring to a person and a place.

Stefansdom then ...

Stefansdom then …

... and now.

… and now.

Anna and I arrived on Friday around noon, and took a subway straight to the hotel. One great thing about Vienna is that public transportation there is extremely accessible: every subway stop has an elevator, for example, which makes life there A LOT EASIER when trying to get around in a wheelchair.

Megan arrived shortly after, well-fed by the airline snacks on Air Italia 🙂 We walked around the city center, including a visit to Stefansdom and Peter’s Church. Afterwards, Megan and I saw more of the city by ourselves. We tried to go to one of the cafés that her father recommended, but all of those had a least a step precluding my entrance. Accessibility issues still abound! However, it worked out for the best because we stumbled across a delicious Italian restaurant called Ristorante Sole. The staff there was so considerate, even taking pity on our indecisiveness and portioning our two entrees so that we could each have half. For dessert, we split strawberries with creamy mascarpone.

Well-fed and ready to see the city by night!

Well-fed and ready to see the city by night!

That’s when the excitement really started, though, because as we walked around, we found ourselves on the outskirts of a riot protesting a ball in the Hofburg. Megan and I tend to gravitate towards home before the night owls even take flight. It so happened that the entrance to our hotel was RIGHT in the middle of a crowd of protestors. Fortunately, the policemen deemed us harmless and allowed us to pass through the barriers.

On Saturday, we took a subway to Schönbrunn, the Hapsburg’s summer residence, painted Maria Theresa’s favorite color, ochre yellow.

We toured 40 rooms on the first floor!

We toured 40 rooms on the first floor!

The palace itself is only half the fun of Schönbrunn; its vast grounds include a zoo (with pandas!), rose garden, and paths for meandering.  We walked to the top of a small hill to see this view:

I didn't realize we were so far up until we got there! It was worth the cold ascent.

I didn’t realize we were so far up until we got there! It was worth the cold ascent.

After warming up in our room, Megan and I ventured out again for dinner at Café Landtmann and explorations around the city hall. The city hall is a gorgeous building, reminiscent of the gothic style of Duke Chapel.IMG_0793

There were at least 3 ice skating rinks set up in front of the city hall, and people were out en masse to skate and enjoy mulled wine and hot food.

There were at least 3 ice skating rinks set up in front of the city hall, and people were out en masse to skate and enjoy mulled wine and hot food.

Temperatures were frigid at this point, so we called it an early night again and relaxed in our room.

On Sunday, we went to the Albertina to see the newly acquired collection of Impressionist, Expressionist, and Surrealist art, entitled “Monet to Picasso”.

This Chagall painting was one of my favorites

This Chagall painting was one of my favorites.

Per Anna’s request, we had to to have Wiener Schnitzel (when in Wien …), so that was our mission in the afternoon. That was when the snow started to fall! It was enough to be pretty without becoming an inconvenience like the Snowpocalypse and Polar Vortex of the East Coast.
In the evening, Megan and I went to visit Stephi, an old friend of mine, at her home. It was really nice to see her again and meet her family. I had not spoken to her in quite a while, though she sends me Advent calendars every December! Moreover, Megan and I had just become friends in middle school before I met Stephi, so it was sweetly bizarre to introduce these two people who have been in my life so long.

Stephi suggested we go to Sunday Swing at the Leopold Museum Café, so that was our next destination, since the night was still young, even for us. At this point, there was an inch layer of snow coating the streets, making for a charming winter wonderland as we trudged out. The Sunday Swing was in full … swing… when we got there. I felt transported to the ’20s! The only downside was the thick smoke hanging in the air from all the cigarettes, but perhaps that contributed to the authenticity of the experience.

Monday was our last morning, so we went to see Karl’s church and a peak of Belvedere, but it was too cold and snowy, so we ended up getting hot chocolate and coffee in a bakery underground. 🙂 Warmth and a friend – not a bad way to end the trip, after all.

from a temporary exhibit by the Austrian artist Sonja Gangl. Adieu, Vienna! Auf Wiedersehen!

from a temporary exhibit by the Austrian artist Sonja Gangl at the Albertina. Adieu, Vienna! Auf Wiedersehen!

Vienna wasn’t quite as I remembered it, but that ended up being okay. After all, I’ve changed a lot, too. Time has worn down parts of us, circumstances have enriched us, but we are still recognizable.

Today, I am flying to Guatemala!

I am going to Guatemala!!!!!!!!! I got to this airport incredibly early. Dark o’clock, to be exact. I’m sitting here charging my phone right now with nothing to do but to peer out the windows into the dark abyss. So, I decided to download the wordpress app and at least engage in a productive activity 🙂

Yes, one of my best friends is getting married this weekend, and the wedding will be held in Guatemala! I can’t express my feels right now. A friend getting married, reuniting with friends, finally satisfying the traveler in me… So many things! But for now here I am in this cold and scary airport. I feel like this would make the perfect setting for a zombie movie. Maybe dearest Markie can help us with that 🙂

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Today, I eulogize Big Red.

Big Red aka John Redling, the all-American, candy apple red Dodge Caravan that has been a part of my life since 1997 is being donated to Kars4Kids. He’s rusted through, almost entirely on the bottom, and it’s finally time to say goodbye. I’m not one to name inanimate objects, but Markie christened this car some time around 2009. She was one of his frequent drivers; in fact, all of the -arkies and most of my other good friends have had a turn in him at one point or another. Big Red was also the car I used to make frequent trips to my grandparents in Toronto, a 10-hour drive that he tolerated very well several times a year. During the college era, we had road trips to DC, Charleston, Asheville, and Big Red came with me to Boston one summer. In all earnestness, this adapted van with automatic ramp opened up a lot of possibilities for me.

Farewell, Big Red! You were a great vehicle for freedom.

Big Red in his parking spot on West Campus, covered in freshly fallen snow.

Big Red in his parking spot on West Campus, covered in freshly fallen snow.

Today, is the BEST DAY!

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like that…I’m gonna use that from now on! It’s pretty accurate actually because I just finished up watching Juan Mata chat with people and answer questions on Google+, and live chatting with Charkie while it was happening. He’s wonderful.

Before and during hanging out with Juan, I was very productive with Hope For Haiti stuff…which I haven’t talked about much on this blog but maybe one day I’ll do a post about it. Long story short, I’m trying to start fundraising for a new video initiative so I was writing up some emails and other stirring, motivational text. Hopefully I’ll inspire people!

Ok, that’s it for today. YESTERDAY was also a great day! I took a not-so-spontaneous trip to the beach! I haven’t gone to the coast all summer (it’s been almost a year since I was there) so I took a friend with me who is new to eastern NC and we had a blast! On the way there, we stopped for gas in a little town and saw a sign for “WORLD’S LARGEST FRYING PAN.” Obviously, we had to see this thing so we drove a mile down the road and saw the site.

Frying pan

 

So if you haven’t gathered it yet, the picture on the right is of the frying pan. It took us a while to figure out that was it too (the board on the right clued us in). No offense to the town and people of Rose Hill, but imagine our disappointment when we see this thing and realize it’s not a typical frying pan but just a hot surface on which to fry! I mean, where is the pan? I was imagining being able to make the world’s largest omelet or the world’s largest pancake but noooooooo, we’ll just have a whole bunch of people standing around it and cooking their respective, normal sized foods. *Sigh*

Anyway, after getting over the frying pan scandal, we finally made it to the beach and caught a glimpse of beautiful sunshine…

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…before it rained on our picnic! I’d say less than 5 minutes after taking this photo, we were treated to a nice little drizzle! But nothing could ruin our “spontaneous” beach day! So, we quickly ran underneath a boardwalk and spread out our blankets there. We played dominoes and a card game that I’ve never heard of and then we walked through the water for a little bit before making our way to downtown Wilmington.

After taking a walk down the riverfront, we settled into a quiet bar for dinner and then got some froyo before making the drive back home. BONUS: the froyo place was closing down (for reasons still undetermined after talking to an employee) and they had a deal for 10 cents per ounce so for the both of us, we paid $1.08! What a great way to end a great trip!

froyo

 

Ok, ’tis all for now! I hope you have the best day today, friends!

 

Today, I consider the Takeaway: 5 Things I Learned this Summer

1. “I’m not psychotic, it’s the side effects of my medications” takes on new meaning inside a psychiatric ward.
Although the summer months were filled with food, family, friends, and general fun frenzy, my main goal in July was the completion of my nursing practice, a required summer clinical rotation to expose us to patient care.  The speciality and location were up to us, as long as it took place in a teaching hospital, and I was fortunate to find a spot in a psychiatry department in Frankfurt. I hoped to get a better feel for the field of psychiatry, as well as glimpse what the health care system in Germany is like.

I learned the names of medications and how to take a psychiatric history, but what I will remember most are the interactions I had with patients, one of whom said the above quote to me. I didn’t know whether to believe her at that stage of her treatment because she seemed so … normal, and yet, the psychiatrists said otherwise. Discussions with the doctors and nurses gave me new appreciation for the subtlety of diagnosing and treating psychiatric diseases.  Sometimes, the patients were clearly and acutely ill; more often, their mental illness was made manifest by social dysfunction. I’m interested in exploring other branches of medicine, but psychiatry is such a rich field that I can’t wait to be part of in some professional capacity.

(Arkie recently pointed me to this article about the stigma of mental illness)

2. No Internet = no problem
Well, that’s not exactly true, since I did have some limited Internet and it was a bit of a problem. Still, since my apartment in Frankfurt didn’t include wifi (something I hadn’t considered asking about first, lesson 2b), Gail and I made due with a computer internet USB stick that had us frugally counting megabytes. I checked my email “only” twice a day and didn’t video chat with anyone for the entirety of my stay. Having gotten so used to Google hangouts/Skype/FaceTime over the past year, it was nice to realize that they weren’t the sine qua non of my long-distance relationships. By the end of the five weeks, we weren’t itching for the Internet at all!

I think I’ve lapsed, but at least I know it can be done?!

3. Watch your wallet!
I was pick pocketed for the first (hopefully last!) time this summer. Very luckily, I ended up getting everything back because I noticed the theft right after it happened (strange circumstances). In that initial moment of shock and panic, the loss felt like such a violation. Since then, I’ve been more attentive!

4. Fan mail exposes the illusion of separateness
Simon van Booy is one of my absolute favorite contemporary writers, as the -arkies and other friends can tell you. His literary style is ideal for poetry lovers who prefer prose, with incisive metaphors and characters that make me stop in awe of life formulated with such insight.

His novel The Illusion of Separateness was one of my most anticipated reads of the summer, and in preparation, I reread his previous novel (that deserves a whole blog post. Note to self) and a collection of his short stories. I’m a fan, ok?!?!
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In June, I e-mailed SvB about how much I appreciated one of his characters in particular, generally fulfilling all stereotypes of zealous fan mail. Less than a week later, HE WROTE BACK!! It was short, but personalized and kind, and definitely a highlight of my summer.

I’d say that the primary lesson from this was to read SvB’s works. 🙂
Secondly — even more so than countless cold emails or statistics about the rise of social media — I realized how powerfully connected we are these days. Whom to reach out to next…?

5. Sometimes, there’s no going back
I visited Hong Kong for the first time this summer, the place where my mother was raised. She hadn’t been back since she emigrated 40 years ago; her HK was the one before the massive boom in Asia, prior to the Handover of HK to China from Britain for that matter. Even as she cited those changes as reasons for staying away, it was hard for me to understand why she wouldn’t want to return to her former home. Now, I’m not sure we really saw her home anyway, or if that’s even possible anymore. The HK I got to know was a packed modern city with impressive skyscrapers packed like tetris shapes, bustling with people constantly on their electronic devices. It’s hard to imagine that almost none of that was present when she lived there. It was unsettling to put myself in her position: my hometown still looks pretty much like it did when I was growing up; Budapest, like much of Europe, has me accustomed to ubiquitous centuries-old buildings and structures, even if they house modern operations. The past is inherent and recognizable in my environments. However, her apartment building no longer exists; we went to her school and university, but they look totally different now, too.

The places I have left might not see such drastic change in the coming decades (or maybe they will, who knows?!), but if/when I do go back, maybe all I can hope to recognize is a memory.

My mom instantly recognized the hibiscus near the HKU campus, but not those newly erected high-rises in the background.

My mom instantly recognized the hibiscus near the HKU campus, but not those newly erected high-rises in the background.

Today, I have returned from my trip

This weekend, I took a trip…down memory lane! Two of my bridesmaids (what I call my closest friends…don’t judge me) were in Durham this weekend! One of them lives there and her birthday is coming up and the other came from NYC to visit and celebrate. We went to the Nasher museum, the Durham farmer’s market, we baked together, went to a movie night, went to a brewery tour/class and visited a friend at Duke! Such a packed but wonderful weekend.

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One highlight was the brewery class. I really don’t like beer but it was fascinating learning about craft beer making and the amount of knowledge and skill involved. It almost made me want to have my own brewery…but then I would feel like a fraud because I really really don’t like beer–so much so that during the sampling, I asked my friend to drink mine too, after I took a courtesy sip. We did get to try like 7 or 8 different types of ales and lager (I learned the difference!) which, for an enthusiast, would be awesome.

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Another highlight was going back to campus. Over the past year and a half, I haven’t enjoyed being on campus. I’ve just had this emotional rejection to it for some reason! Maybe because they changed it so much and it’s not mine anymore. I know other graduates who feel the same way…it’s just awkward. But the last 2 times I’ve been on have been great! Maybe it’s because I’ve gone with people I loved while I was a student so it just brings me back in a good way 🙂

OH let me not forget to say that we learned to make Kombucha this weekend and I finally tasted a Tea egg and a real fig. When the three of us get together, I’m always trying something new. The egg was pretty good and the fig was good (it made yummy ice cream). The kombucha…honestly now that I’ve seen how it’s made, I’m less inclined to try it. But I respect the process!

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Even though we did a lot of fun things this weekend, I think the great talks we had were probably my favorite part. It’s wonderful to have people that you can joke around with, be weird with, but also have deep convos with! I’m glad I have my bridesmaids for all that!

Ok, tis all for now friends, hope y’all had a great Labor Day (for the American readers) and a great weekend (for everyone else)!

Today, I’m leaving on a jet plane

… not sure when I’ll be back again, but I hope it will be soon. All my bags are not packed and I’m not ready to go either, but there we have it.

I’ve prepared some music and reading to distract me from the cramped quarters and stale cabin air.  What do you like to do during flights? Sometimes, I watch the in-flight shows and movies provided, but I prefer to come with entertainment of my own. Here’s what I have ready for today:


Garrison Starr’s appropriately titled album, The Girl That Killed September (2007) from Noisetrade, a site with music from tons of great independent artists. Starr’s 2012 album Amateur was one of my favorites from last year. Check her out if you like Brandi Carlile with a little more pop.

 

 

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This classic detective mystery only came to my attention when Robert Galbraith was revealed to be a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  Obviously, you’ve all read the Harry Potter series, otherwise we wouldn’t be friends (kidding, mostly).  The Casual Vacancy was great, too. I wish I could have stumbled upon it with less bias to have been part of the experiment.

If you’re in the U.S., have a happy Labor Day!