24 Hours in Austria

23 Oct

Or actually it was like 15, & I was asleep for most of them. Today/yesterday was the epitome of a mini vacation. In order to get a visa to work in the Czech Republic, the country makes you super conveniently travel to a separate country to apply & then later pick up the actual visa. The Czech Republic is nicely situated between several different nations, which makes it a draw between your visa destination.

I decided to use the company ‘Easy Visa’ who, for a price that is almost $200 over my monthly rent, promises to guide you through this super difficult process. They make the appointments, they make the phone calls & they make me send terrifying e-mails to Mama G begging for more money. But it all worked out. Most of the people I know who use Easy Visa had their appointments in Bratislava, Slovakia.  Now, I have no problem with Bratislava, but it wasn’t exactly on my dream destination list. That’s why I was over-joyed when Easy Visa sent me an e-mail telling me that I had a 9am appointment at the Czech embassy in Vienna, Austria!

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(Above: I ❤ Vienna!)

Upon hearing this wonderful news, I immediately began planning my mini-vacation to Mozart’s homeland. Thankfully my appointment fell on a Wednesday, which meant that I would have a day off from work. I love my job & everything, blah blah, but I needed a break & this trip was perfect. I consulted my favorite hostel website http://www.hostelworld.com & the trusty bus I once rode 10hrs from Paris to Amsterdam Eurolines, & realized that this mini-trip would cost me under $50. Welcome to the broke life of a post grad abroad. 

I had a class Tuesday 3:30-5pm, & my bus left at 6pm, so I packed everything & was on my way. The bus turned out to be a super nice double-decker with a ton of open seats. Too excited to sleep, I let my ipod & The Stranger by Albert Camus guide me across the border. My first pleasant surprise on this trip occurred when I realized that it was only a 4hr journey! (I had thought it would be 5) Walking around an unfamiliar city alone at 11pm made me (but mostly Mama G) nervous, so I was glad I would be walking around an unfamiliar city alone at 10pm instead :p 

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(Above: Oh Austria, you are so efficient with your transportation)

Whenever traveling somewhere unfamiliar, I always plan ahead where I’m going. I firmly believe that if you ever ‘wing it’ you are asking to be taken advantage of/get lost. Luckily my super awesome asst. boss Gillian saved me (noticing a theme in our relationship yet…?) & helped me map out how to get from the bus station to my hostel using the Austrian metro. 

Once I stepped in the metro I knew I would like this country.

The metro was clean, extremely quick & even had complimentary free magazines to read hanging in each seating section. I thought that was adorable, not to mention said something about the people. It meant they were honest & kind. I was pretty much blown away by how kind all the people in Vienna were to me. Or maybe I have just gotten too used to that natural Czech coldness. But while in Vienna, I feel like I definitely learned some life lessons.

Lesson # 1: Never under-estimate the kindness of strangers.

It’s a bizarre concept. We are brought up to fear strangers. Told not to talk to them, not to trust them, to ignore them. I mean, of course, some strangers are serial killers who just want to use candy to lure you into their vans. But most strangers are just normal people. When you travel you need to remember this. 

I asked THREE separate strangers how to get to my hostel. A good rule of thumb is to ask people who work in restaurants, etc. They are usually most familiar with the area. The first person I asked was a waitress who was closing up her restaurant. She pulled out her iPhone for me & mapped it out. The second person I asked was a waiter who barely spoke English. But he tried. He gestured enough for me to understand & head in the right direction. The third person I asked was to basically just re-confirm that the street I was on was in fact my hostel’s street. The restaurant owner smiled & knew exactly where I was going. He told me to have fun & enjoy Vienna. If I had never asked these strangers, if I had been too afraid or too proud I would have been lost for much longer. 

Image(Above: I saw Mozart on my trip to Austria!)

Life Lesson #2: A Good Attitude Goes A Long Way

I don’t know why, but I was so cheerful the whole time I was in Vienna. Not that I am not normally cheerful, I just felt super happy the whole time that I was there. & When I’m happy I do, what else, talkkkk. And talk. And talk. But on this trip all my cheerfulness was totally reciprocated. It started when I finally found my hostel & this adorable receptionist named Miko checked me in. He told me I got a free welcome drink & recommended I try a shot of their Austrian home-made blueberry vodka (sneaky, sneaky!). So I took it despite being exhausted & starving because hey, I was on vacation! After we started talking & I told him about Sutton & my adventures in Prague. He gave me a free city map & recommendations about the city.

I then went to my room which turned out to be one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in. It had 5 bunk beds & a ton of potential new friends, so I got to work. I met this group of students from India who were in Europe for an exchange program. They had been traveling together for a while & were going to, you guessed it, Prague next! I immediately jumped on the opportunity to brag about my new home & invited them to the pub crawl. Facebooks were exchanged & now hopefully I will see them Friday night to lead them from bar to bar or the best way to get accomodated to Praha nightlife 😉

But my new friends didn’t stop there. 

I was nervous about my visa meeting. The woman at Easy Visa had warned us that there were two women who worked in the Czech embassy visa office in Vienna & one wasn’t so nice. However, by some stroke of rare luck I got the nice woman! & She was really, really nice! She had to interview me about my intentions in Prague & my working situation, but of course we got side-tracked talking about her kids & her vacations in Paris (could I be turning into my mother anymore?!) She ended the interview by writing directions for me to Schonnbrunn Palace, which I don’t know how many country official workers you have experienced, but this is mind-blowingly uncharacteristically friendly. I thanked her & was on my way.

My final spurt of new friends occurred on the ride home when I talked to this couple from Toronto sitting behind me about how awesome Prague was. I also helped them with some basic Czech words & then, when we arrived, helped them buy metro tickets & lead them to their hotel. The woman actually hugged me afterwards. I wasn’t even going out of my way, I like to help people. It makes me think of all the people who have helped me during my time living over here.

Dear readers, if you put good karma into the world, you will certainly also receive some luck yourself, trust me! 🙂 

ImageLife Lesson #3: Appreciate The Beauty in Simplicity 

I never ever thought I would say it, but I missed nature. I missed grass & trees & beauty that is untainted by human hands. Maybe I just miss my hometown, Sutton, Massachusetts aka: a place where sidewalks are rarities & tractors cause traffic jams. Either way, the nature in Vienna struck a chord. I was so in awe of it. How beautiful all the autumn leaves looked. The colors were magnificent & just so vibrant. Growing up in New England all my life, I have really grown to love fall. I love the brisk days & sweatshirt weather. It brings back great memories of running with my high school cross country team down Connecticut backroads painted with breath-taking foliage. It brings back memories of spooky nights leading up to Halloween when we would go trick-or-treating at my grandparents house. Autumn is the best season in New England. & I didn’t even realize how much I missed it.

For some reason, it doesn’t really feel like fall in Prague. Maybe it’s because there’s not that many trees near my neighborhood or it’s been uncharacteristically warm these days. I can’t feel the metamorphosis. But then, I came to Vienna. I went to the Schonnbrunn Palace & its gardens & was amazed. I seriously just walked aimlessly for 2 whole hours. I was in a trace. It was nostalgia. I could feel the briskness & smell the leaves wet with mist. I could hear the crows cawing overhead. I must have taken over 20 pictures of just the long paths in the garden, but no picture can accurately sum up those colors. It was nice to spend a day getting re-connected to my roots in a new place. That’s another interesting thing I’ve discovered the more that I travel: while no two destinations are the same, they can feel surprisingly similar, even the most unlikely. 

Vienna, or more specifically, the gardens behind Schonnbrunn Palace, you were my New England of Europe today 🙂

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So, I did it. I took a bus by myself, to a new country by myself, spent the night in a hostel by myself, went to a visa meeting & interview at the Czech embassy by myself & spent a day sightseeing by myself. It doesn’t sound that impressive but this is a huge step for someone who is so extroverted. I can remember traveling to Amsterdam & Barcelona with friends & meeting backpackers who had been traveling for months all alone. I always thought to myself “I could NEVER do this” who would I talk to? Who would I hang out with? Who would I share these moments with? 

But my solo trip to Vienna answered all those questions for me: I don’t need anyone else. Sometimes it’s just better to have some alone time, to process everything yourself, to branch out & reach out to others. To hear their stories & experiences. It’s just a recurring motif I keep learning more & more while I’m abroad: we are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

So go out & explore the world, whether you have a companion or not! In my opinion, all that matters is that you have a destination 🙂

-JG

 

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2 Responses to “24 Hours in Austria”

  1. Justin May 27, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Hey JG…I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now and wanted to let you know I think your a great writer and I love reading your posts!! I’m looking to move to Prague later this year to teach English and pretty much follow a similar path you did. I just wanted to ask you one quick question, Did you just get a regular work permit for the year you were in Prague or did you get a Zivno?

    • jgravesss June 4, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

      Hey thank you very much! I appreciate that! And I got the Zivno. It’s better. With the work permit you are committed to just one employer and must sign a contract and follow their rules, but with the zivno you’re your own employer and can be more flexible. Of course it means you need to do your taxes and stuff yourself, but everyone recommends the zivno just in case something goes wrong and you want to/have to quit your job for some reason! good luck!

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