Saturday, November 6, 2010

Visiting the Alps!

Eben: There are so many options of where to visit the Alps. Every Saturday and Sunday there is a free bus that leaves from Mirabellplatz that goes to a few locations in the Alps. We went to the Eben skiing resort and our bus left at 8am. Look into more times because you have to know what time the bus will come back to pick you up to bring you back to Mirabellplatz. There are multiple buses that leave the resorts so be sure to ask the driver if they are going back to Mirabellplatz.

For those of us who are not strong skiers and maybe not ready for that Alps - which I will reiterate that there is a big difference even from the Rockies! I have only been skiing once so I was not going to sign up for a day of skiing and frustration and very possible injury. So I decided to go with some girls tobogganing aka sledding. It is super fun but it is like ultimate sledding! We went down a street that was scary cause cars and tractors would drive up but it was ok we lived lol. The cars drive very carefully. You ride the lift up and then go into a cabin that is a restaurant and ask for a sled or toboggin. It costs 2 euros for each time but you can put two people on one toboggin. I would suggest doing two people the first time. Bring good boots because you will use them to steer the sled. Oh and ps the sleds are old school wood! :)

Buy the all day lift pass if you think you will go up more than 4 times. It is only 10 euros, that was the best deal for us.

You will ride for about 3 miles down and then leave the sled at the bottom of the hill and the resort will pick them up at the end of the day. Then you walk back for about 20 minutes to the resort on a trail that you will find across the street. It is labeled as a cross country skiing path - but just use it to get back. :)

It is super fun and will be an awesome memory!

Places you can't miss in Salzburg...

Salt Mines: They can be a bit pricey but the reviews are great. You get to ride down into a salt mine and explore and learn about one of Salzburg's (salz meaning salt) most important resources.

Eagle's Nest: This is one of Hitler's residential escapes. Although he did not go there often because it was high on the mountains and he was scared of heights (this home was given to him) there is an awesome and cheap documentation center about Austrian-German history. Eagle's Nest is actually in Germany but the Austrian German boarder is super super close in Salzburg, in fact you probably won't realize you have crossed the boarder! It has a great documentation center that has English, and a bunker. It is a must if you go near Munich or Salzburg.

Mozart Concert: Salzburg is the city of Mozart. He was born there and Salzburg is super proud of him (even though he hated Salzburg growing up!) Try to go to a Mozart concert, it will astound you. There is a Mozart festival the end of January that is amazing, and tickets are reasonably priced. Be sure to dress up tho and be on time. Austrians do not tolerate being late!

The Fortress: It is an icon of Salzburg and holds a lot of history. You can ride a cable car up for I think 7 euros or take the hiking trail up and explore the wilderness and fortress walls before coming to the fortress.

The Monastery: There is a beautiful yellow monastery on the other side of the Salzach (main river) across from the fortress that gives one one of the best views of Salzburg. It is a great little hike and very interesting. And free!

Mirabell Gardens: The beautiful Salzburg garden with fountains and beautiful flowers! It is wonderful in the crisp winter snow or when it is full of color in the summer. I always loved the old people sitting and chatting on the benches. :) Plus the fountain that Maria sings I have confidence around in the Sound of Music is in Mirabell garden. It has the horse in it.

The Sound of Music: Austria is known for the Sound of Music - but Austrians hate the movie. So do not bring it up with an Austrian and do not go down the streets singing to songs. Not the way to make friends. But you can definitely pay for a tour our hunt most of the sights down by yourself for free. They do appreciate the income the movie brings.

Haus de Nature: An awesome interactive nature museum that is right across the main bridge on your right hand side on the fortress side of the Salzach. I believe it is 7 euros to get in, but it is so fun, even for adults! 

Safety being abroad and being a USA citizen abroad

When you go abroad you should know where the closest US embassy is and write down their number and address. Especially when you travel within Europe you should write these things down. Every time we traveled outside of Austria we would write down the number, and address to the nearest US consulate.

When you get to Austria you need to register to live in the country with the register. You will go to the town hall and bring your passport and a registration paper that your host family or dorm director has signed saying that you live at "x" address. You will need to carry this notarized registration paper around with you once you live there. You should get it done as quick as possible once you arrive. You can get the form from the town hall. Once you fill it out and have your housing person sign it bring it in with your passport and they will sign it and give you a copy. :) When you leave you will also need deregister saying that you are leaving the country.

Before you leave you should register with the US government to let them  know that you are abroad and where you are. This way if there is an emergency they know that they have an American Citizen that they need to help, plus you get warnings about if there are crisis' or hazards in the countries you register for updates with. It will make mom and dad a little more willing to let you out of the country. ;)

You can register here

It is good idea to update the registry every time you travel somewhere. 

Also good country information is found here about traveling abroad as an American.

Statistical Facts about Austria

Austria is slightly smaller than Maine if you compare it to an America state.

There are 9 provinces of Austria, and they work like miniature states with different regional values and ideas.

Burgenland, St. Polen, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Tyrol, Salzburg, Carinthia, Styria, Vorarlberg, Vienna

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was based out of Austria. Austria was a part of Nazi Germany at one time. Making jokes about Nazi's or Nazi Germany are completely inappropriate and if you draw a swastika you can go to jail.

Austria is a very strong Catholic country - yet Catholicism is seen in a different perspective. Most Austrians are Catholic but they do not have to per say go to church every Sunday to be considered practicing.

The word for Austria in German is Oesterreich. 

The capital of Austria is Vienna (Wein).

You will find some people that completely reject the facts that the Holocaust existed, but most people are very aware about it. 

Austrians LOVE the outdoors. No seriously the live to be outside. You will find grandpas and grandmas walking super fast past you and you will find 3 year olds skiing down the Alps! Be prepared to go outside!

Since they love the outdoors so much it is essential that you recycle things. They would never imagine it any other way!

Before you leave...

*If you like peanut butter, bring some because it can be hard to find and expensive if you want that home craving.

*Bring a photo or a few that remind you of home, and that you can share with people if they want to know about America more.

*Download something like ooVoo, msn messenger or Skype before you leave and show your family how to use it so you can talk for free when abroad computer to computer.

*Bring some Euros before you land in Austria just to get you by in case something unplanned happens.

*Call your bank to let them know that you will be abroad and the length of time you will be gone.

*Make copies of all of your cards and your passport before you leave, leave a copy at home and hide one in your suitcase.

*Tampons with applicators - they do not carry ones with applicators

*Buy a map of the city before you leave to get an idea where things are, but once you are there see if you can do without the map all of the time - make a rule that you do not stand on the streets to look at the map. You make yourself a tourist target.

*Bring airmail thin envelopes if you plan on mailing any letters back to the United States. It helps with the weight cost of the letter - but they can be hard to find so it is not a deal breaker if you can't find them. :) It costs 1.40 euro to send a standard letter or postcard to the USA.

*Bring things like decongestants, ibuprofen etc. because sometimes it can be hard to get these in Austria. Sometimes you might even have to go to the doctor to get a prescription!

*Also know that the German spoke in most of Austria has a very heavy accent to it, so if you know high German it might still be a bit of a challenge, especially in Salzburg. 

Pharmacy and Doctor Offices

In Austria it is Socialist medicine so I was a little worried about the structure of going into a doctor's office or hospital - which in my time in Austria I got to visit both unfortunately! I had the advantage that my Austrian college had two doctors that they had an agreement with to take American students and speak English with them - even though I think that you most likely will be ok finding a doctor that speaks enough English as many Austrians speak English as well as German.

I had to get weekly allergy shots and so I got to visit the doctors often. It cost me between 20 and 30 euros every time. Doctors in Austria hold crazy inconvenient hours and it can be very hard to make an appointment. My doctors sometimes decided they were not going to work on a Thursday or that they would work from 8am to 11am. Be sure to look at their hours. It is certainly best to call ahead if you can with the language barrier - or get a friend to do so. If you have an appointment you do not have to wait in the sometimes very long lines at the doctors office.

When you go into the doctor's office be sure to bring your passport (sometimes they want it because you will not have a health card issued to everyone in Austria) and your name written down, and if you can look up what you want to get done in German for example the word allergy shot that helps too.You will meet a receptionist just like America and she will fill out paper work and you may have to fill some out on a German form - so the first time it might be helpful to bring a German speaking friend otherwise a hand held dictionary. You will wait until they call your name. For allergy shots I had to bring my serum every time, they did not just hold it at the doctors office.

I went to the emergency room once in Austria and it was a lot less scary than I expected it to be. At a hospital there will be doctors that speak English - in fact I think that the doctor I got was from Great Britain. I had hurt my back falling down marble stairs and had fainted and had needed to go to the doctor to get xrays. I went with an Austrian which helped the process but they had a form that was in English too. You have to remember that health care is socialist so there will be a long line most likely for the Emergency Room (but I don't know how different that is from America.) :) The only thing was that you definitely want to purchase health insurance when you go abroad because it reduced my bill from 2,700 euros... and I had to pay that in full when I was at the hospital! You cannot just hand them some plastic - it needs to have real money on it!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ways to fill your tummy in Salzburg!

Taj Mahal has great Indian food, and an awesome environment! It is just a few blocks away from downtown. Delicious food!

Grab a Steigl beer and sit on the banks of the Salzach river, the main river in Salzburg. You can buy a normal Steigl in the Billa across the street from the bridge side that is not the side of Mirabellplatz. Be sure to grab a few flavors, Steigl makes a Lemon Radler and a Rasberry Radler (the Rasberry Radler is to die for!) Or you can go to the Steigl Brewery and see the whole production and drink some beer at the end!

Mozart Balls are a trademark of Salzburg, so make sure you grab one before you leave! Save up your money for a real one from the stores that sell the blue and silver wrappers (not the red and gold ones sold in the grocery stores/some of the tourist shops). You find the real ones down by the Gatriedegasse they will have shops fully dedicated to real Mozart Balls. They have marzipan inside! :) (I accidently smooshed mine before I could eat it by the banks of the Salzach).

Want some delicious salads or tea? You have to check out the Afro Cafe! This place is so fun with it's bright colors, outside seating, awesome fresh tea leaves tea with fun timers, and yum yum salads! It is just one of those places you have to go to just try it out! :)

My favorite cafe? Hands down the Modern Art Museum that is on top of the hill behind downtown Salzburg. You can see it from far away up by the fortress, and if you don't want to hike up (which it is a beautiful hike!) you can take the lift up the mountain for 2 Euros. :) Once you get into the museum head up another floor and go to the cafe. Head for a window seat or one of the couches. It is especially priceless during the winter looking over Salzburg outside the full size windows! The beautiful reds and crisp flowers with delicious apfel strudel (apple strudel) and famous Austrian Sachetorte (you better try both!) and a cafe latte or cappuccino plus good company makes for a perfect day! I remember sneaking up there whenever I could. :)

Last but not least make sure you get some Schnitzel with a berry jam that is like cranberries on top or a fresh squeezed lemon. You find the best one at Salzburg College's cook's table where Brigita works her magic, but other than that you can find a good one pretty much anywhere in town. :) 

Hellbrunn Water Palace

Hellbrunn is another must before you leave Salzburg! Hellbrunn use to be a palace for an Arch Bishop in Salzburg. He was a trickster and decided to turn his palace into a water park! There are hidden water spouts and wonders created from wonder all throughout the park. I can't tell you what they are otherwise you won't get wet! But rest assured the tour guide makes sure that every last one of you will get wet.

Hellbrunn is super fun no matter if it is a rainy day or the heat of the summer! There is also a beautiful palace, and garden. If you keep walking once you get out of the tour keeping to the right side you will wander upon the gazebo that was in the film "Sound of Music"! There is also a beautiful park - so if you bring a lunch and a blanket you are sure to have an awesome day!

Adult 9.50 Euro
Student 7.50 Euro (16-26)
Children 4.50 Euro (4-18)
Family (2 adults 2 children) 24 Euros

You can get to Hellbrunn by leaving Mirabellplatz and taking bus 5.

But it is SO worth the money. Everyone in the family or group will enjoy!

Salzkammergut ... don't you dare leave Salzburg without going here@

At the end of the semester my college took us on a pilgrimage hike around the St. Wolfgang / St. Gilgen area of the Salzkammergut lake district. We knew that it would be an intense hike (because Austrians live and are built for hiking - nothing like Americans). We arrived fairly early in the morning and were astounded by the views of the crisp mountains right next to the lakes with the little villages scattered about. I have grown up in Colorado and have seen some pretty beautiful mountains, but these were right up there!

We took a 4 hour hike (we all gasped when our teacher told us this) and we took the pilgrimage hike. We started off and some Austrian grandpas were just finishing their hike and asked our teacher if she really thought that all of these American teenagers could really make it through the hike. lol. That was a bit intimidating coming from grandpas!

It was a very interesting experience as I had never been on a pilgrimage. As we walked we saw the different scenes from the Bible, but near half way through the hike we were calculating how many more scenes of the Bible we had to find because it was such an intense hike! The hike is full of intense inclines so be warned. But it was worth every minute of it! The views that we got to soak in were worth every second I thought I could not go further!

There is also a stop where "Holy water" comes from a natural spout and people often stop to pour it on their eyes for them to be healed, or if you are just thirsty you can stop for a drink! (Bring water anyways!) Right before the water spout there is a bell tower where there is a saying that if you can get the bell to ring three times you will have your wishes granted. So of course you will have to try!

If you hop on the bus to different parts of the Salzkammergut area you will continue to be in awe of the natural beauty in this part of Salzburg! We went and saw a beautiful grave site, walked through quaint towns and ate yummy ice cream. :)

We were lucky enough to go on May Day (May 1st) which is a national holiday in Austria (there is no public transportation on this day ps!) We got to see a May Day parade with the band and an old car show, and of course the May Day Pole. It is a great way to see traditional Austrian attire if you get a chance! :)

Sidenote: I had been to Mondsee earlier in the year with a friend which is in another area of the Salzkammergut. It is a beautiful - slightly more touristy area - where it has the most impressive mountain into lake section. There are little ferry boat rides that go in the lake, or you can just enjoy a drink on the edge or snap some photos. The Basilica of Mondsee is where the church where Maria is married. Also if you walk long enough you will see a bobsledding ramp that was used for the Olympics at some point!

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Salzkammergut 1 by Courtney Tracy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Augustiner Brewery

Want to find a great place to find a beer where not only tourists travel? Well at Augustiner's Brewery (Augustiner Bier) you definitely will find some locals. :) If you come in from the cobblestone path, the only indicator that there is a beer hall is the little sign. Open the door and you walk down a long hallway, turn and go through a door and then you come to a statue of St. Augustine! Turn again and you walk down beautiful old steps down to the pretzels, and bratwurst snack area. On your walk to the beer stand you will see some of the rooms where in the winter especially people will gather to chat, snack and drink!

There are different rooms most are smoking, one has a music band most nights, and another is a nonsmoking room (this one is in the back). There are even conference rooms in the very back for special parties! You can grab two different size of mug a .5 liter for about 3 euros or a full liter for a little over 5 euros.

It is delicious beer, great people watching and the beer hall experience you are looking forward to! In the summer the garden outside is just stunning with the trees! There is a parking lot on the other side of the building if you decide to drive or cannot do so many stairs, but the side street is a fun entrance if you can find it. :)

Where did all of the smiles go?

The biggest thing hands down that my classmates and I experienced as a culture shock was the coldness of attitude of Austrians. We all noticed that as we walked to school (our 30-45 minute walks) that nobody looked us in the face or smiled. Sometimes they would look to observe that we were Americans. This was hard because from most of the communities that we came from in America it was standard to look people, even if they are strangers in the face and acknowledge their presence on the street. Also a lot of us came from communities where you smile at someone to acknowledge them.

We noticed that over the first few weeks that as we smiled at people on the streets we got dirty looks back like we were crazy. It is not a part of the culture of Austrians to smile or look each other in the face when they are on the streets.

Austrians often think of us as the Smiley Americans and that our smiles are fake. They do not understand why we smile so much. This was probably the hardest culture shock for most of us to get over because it was as if nobody acknowledged your existence, or they were being rude coming from the American perspective.

Austrians are a just a much more reserved group of people. It does not mean that Austrians are mean it just means that they express things in different ways. Once you go to a bar or beer garden and hit up a conversation most of the time they will be willing to talk to you. It was hard for me to just start up conversations with Austrians, because I did not know enough German to hold a long conversation and it was hard to break that awkward barrier when starting a random conversation. I found much more luck talking to Austrians that went to Salzburg University and when I joined a Salsa aerobics class that had Austrians in it.

Be careful who you smile at because before I knew about smiles not being common to strangers in Austria I got myself into a bit of an awkward position. I was dressed up at night waiting at a bus stop to go to a Mozart concert when a elderly man came up to the bus stop. I smiled at him to acknowledge him and from that moment on he kept watching me and smiling at me. I finally got on the bus and he sat across from me and kept smiling creepily at me! I finally got off the bus at my stop and he kept riding. But he had gotten the wrong idea that I was suggesting something when I smiled at him! Beware! lol

Vorteils Card - Train Transportation Option

One of the biggest decision you might come across is deciding if you should buy a Eurorail, and then deciding which one to buy!

Well before you jump to buying a Eurorail you have to know that there is this thing called a Vorteils Card that you can buy at the Salzburg Hauptbanhof or at any train station in Austria, be sure to ask for the English form (they have one!) It is a great discount train card. What you get with the Vorteils Card:

*50% off of ticket costs for all tickets within in Austria
*Special discounted tickets within Austria (special offers only)
*25% off of ticket costs for all bordering country train tickets

There are different types of Vorteils Cards, some are for families and some are for students etc. So make sure to get the one that is best for you.

You will get a paper one the day you leave, but you will receive a real card later in the mail. If you are living with a host family be sure to put their name on the mailing form too, otherwise if you are like me who only put my name they will not deliver your card, because my name was not on the house.

You will need to bring a passport picture for them when you submit the application so you can stop by the photo shop that is right outside of the train station and pay 10 euros for a set 4 passport images or you can bring one from America if you have any extras.

Also, if you decide that you want to go with a group of people to say Innsbruck, Austria sometimes you can get a group discount by buying all of your tickets at the same time. Sometimes especially for non-fluent German speakers it can be better to just go inside the ticket building and ask if anyone speaks English to explain your options to you. Also, if you have already looked up what trains you want on (the online train schedule for Austrian trains) when you go to the train station to get your tickets it is always great to have exactly what you want written down!

Also there is something called a Bavarian ticket or Bohemian ticket where it is $25 euros for an all day train pass that can include up to 5 people. So you can travel from Salzburg to Munich say for only 5 euros if you go with 5 people and go to the Hofbrauhaus for dinner and drinks and then head home - or go to their clubs! 

Buying a bus ticket or walking in Salzburg?

The bus in Salzburg costs 5 euros for a one day ride if you just hop on the bus. It is outrageous but that is to catch the tourists.

Here are some options of cheaper tickets if you go and buy your tickets at a Tabak Traffik instead of on the bus:

One Day:
Tabak Traffik 4.20 Euros
On the bus: 5 Euros

Single Way Ticket:
Tabak Traffik 1.80 Euro
On the bus: 2 Euros

But it can be cheaper if you buy a 5 packet of single one way tickets. I can't remember how much cheaper but it is a better deal than to buy them individually.

I only bought a few day tickets and some one way tickets as I walked almost every day to class. But for those of my classmates that lived on the outskirts of the town and had to take a bus they would buy weekly or month passes. The one catch with a week or month pass is that if you lose your ticket you are out of luck, but the up is that you can ride for as much as you want on that ticket within the time allotment. You can buy them at the Tabak Traffiks also.

You want to BUY a ticket! It can be pretty tempting and easy to just hop on the bus but the Austrian bus patrol people are serious. They are not always wearing a uniform and could just start checking for tickets. It is a 60 euro fine if you are caught in Salzburg and if you don't have the money on you the cops will walk you to an ATM.

What to bring for a Spring semester in Salzburg...

Salzburg is real real cold in the months of January and February and March. When I was there in the Spring of 2010 it was a colder winter than usual but I think that with the way the environment it may be becoming a trend. Downtown Salzburg is in a valley so all of the foggy, cold, rainy, snowy weather gets stuck or settles sometimes over Salzburg, so it is important to bring the right things!

The MUSTS that I think you need to bring:
* A long pea coat, they are fashionable there and they keep you warm! ( I got one with a hood and I was super glad!)

*Tall water proof boots, but NOT Uggs, or Rainboots if you are looking to try and fit in. Uggs are a hands down American identifier. Make sure they are well insulated and comfortable cause you will do a ton of walking.

*A pair of gloves

*A hat or pair of ear muffs

*A thick scarf (Austria has a bunch of really cute ones, so you might want to wait to buy one there, but they are usually over priced at about 10 Euros or more). Guys in Europe men wear scarves so invest.

*If you bring jeans only bring skinny jeans and usually the darker jeans. Jean leggings are fairly popular once Spring hits.

*Bring leggings even if you only wear them under your pants... Leggings were my best discovery in Austria! But skirts with leggings are seen a lot during the winter too.

They keep you warm, and if you travel to countries that are a little less safe than Austria you can keep your passport in your leggings and now have to worry about getting it stolen, or having to wear a holder.

*Pack like you expect it to be colder longer than warmer. It is always cheaper to buy a few t-shirts and shorts from H & M than pay for jackets, sweaters, and long sleeve shirts.

*Once further Spring comes definitely make sure that you have a good umbrella! When it rains it rains hard and often. Be sure you have a pair of shoes that can be water proof.

*Bring more than one pair of shoes - I walked out 3 pairs of shoes while I was abroad so I would at least bring a few good walking shoes!

*If you like tampons bring them with you - because Austria does not really have tampons with applicators! So if you like the applicator make sure you bring it with you! Plus these supplies are significantly pricy.

Where to go shopping for cheap items...

One of the biggest shockers for me was how much I spent the first month on just basic life things like shampoo and school supplies because I did not bring those to Europe as it would have made my bags weigh more. 

In Salzburg especially some college student budget stores are EuroSpar, Billa (for beauty supplies), Lidl, and InterSpar. Try to stay away from the touristy street, Getreidegasse where things are crazy overpriced. Definitely head over to EuroPark the mall where all of the Austrians shop, prices will be cheapest, but most of the time it takes a bus to get there so be ready to pay. 

Something to note is that you will not be able to buy anything in Austria on a Sunday. Nothing is open. Literally nothing is open. Most stores close by 7pm so make sure you get your groceries in the morning or during the day! Also, you have to pay for a grocery bag in most of Europe and especially in Austria. So unless you want to pay, you need to bring your own bags. Be sure to be speedy in putting your items in your bag even if you have someone check you out because it is unacceptable to be holding up the line. (This is very Austrian!) Nobody will bag anything for you. 

You will have to "rent" a grocery cart also, usually costing a 50 cent Euro coin to get the cart out and then when you return it you get it back. Also you will learn that very few places take our American plastic whether it is credit or debit, they want cash. 

Getting a cell phone and phone credit!

A group of us went to buy Austrian pay as you go cell phones since we had decided not to pay for international services. After asking around we found out that the T-Mobile pay as you go phones were the best idea if you were planning on traveling as they would work internationally, other options were A1 and Telecom, but they sometimes were less reliable internationally. Just a heads up that in Austria a cell phone is called a Handy.

Our group went to the miniature mall that is at the Salzburg Hauptbanhof (main train station). You can take pretty much any bus to the Hauptbanhof but bus 4 (if it is still the same route schedule) is the main bus to take. Once we got the the mall we found the T-Mobile store and got our cell phones easily as the people there spoke very good English. Make sure you bring your passport with you otherwise you cannot get a phone. Ask them to set it up for you because otherwise it might be confusing to validate your phone. We were surprised at how much the phones cost. Just for a pay as you go phone it was about 30 euros and then you had to add on phone credit!

Be sure to keep the little plastic card that the SIM card comes in with you because it has your PIN number on it. Unless you are great at memorizing it is good to have around because you have to have it to get into your phone if you turn it off or it falls and you have to restart it.

To get more phone credit without having to go to the Hauptbanhof, you can go to any Austria Tabak or Tabak Traffik on the streets and ask the cashier for some Handy Credit. They will ask what provider and make sure you say for the company you have, for example T-Mobile. You can only buy it increments, and you will get a receipt that has a directions and a code on it to put into your phone to gain the credit.