Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dumpster Date

Could you travel across the globe with a stranger?  What about with no baggage or plans?

Professor Jeff "Dumpster" Wilson has been on my radar for a few days now.  He teaches Environmental Science at Huston Tillotston University and is probably best known for, well, living in a dumpster. The recently divorced Dean has moved in a 33-square foot home outside the school to make a point.  We don't really need all that much space, water, or energy, among other things, insinuates the professor.

His article on XOJane was enlightening, and proof of a crazy idea blossoming into a pretty neat experiment.  Personally, I wouldn't do anything like this, at least not without a big sum of money as an incentive, but I'm impressed, and interested in seeing how this pans out.  The plot thickens when he meets his new girlfriend, on OkCupid no less, and she not only accepts him, she agrees to go on a three week long first date with Eastern Europe.

She details her side of the story here, where things get really interesting.  They decide to bring nothing with them, except passports, credit cards, iPhones...and the clothes on their backs.  What in the world would compel someone in this day and age to do such an experiment, let alone with a stranger?  I think if I were to do this, I would start small.  Stay in the US.  Do an overnight trip, a weekend camping in the woods, anything but fly to a country where I don't speak the language or know anyone.  I just don't think I could be that brave.

The comments after the articles were the most surprising, however.  "Tramping" used to be all the rage in Kerouac's era, why are these people being denounced now, over 50 years later, for giving up luxuries that Gen Xers are constantly being berated for having?  Hipster is used as a derogatory term in the forum, but why?  Two people, eager to get to know one another and themselves, are doing something most people would never dare.  Is it jealousy that fuels the rage?  Not sure.  I feel like the majority of the reactions are based on these writers "doing it for attention."  But why should they be keeping it a secret?  This is their 15 minutes of fame, and they could have earned it by doing much, much more deplorable things, in my opinion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Big Huge Announcement

Hey everyone,
Today is May 14th, a year ago I was spending my first day in Munich, Germany.  And today is the day I got an email from xoJane saying they want to publish it and pay me for it.  I guess it's time to tell you all what happened in the end.

I'll let you know when the story is up.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Loïc's Visit

So if you're a friend of mine on Facebook, you might have noticed an influx of pictures featuring the one and only Loïc, my amazing French boyfriend.  Obviously we're long distance right now, so every time we visit one another it's a pretty big deal.  He arrived late on a Thursday evening and left Monday afternoon.  It was a very short "long" weekend so to speak.

For my birthday, the Lo got me a new laptop, especially for gaming since we're likely to be in an LDR for a bit longer.  Based on the sticker next to my keyboard, it's an MSi GE60, but I really don't know what that means, I let him take care of it since he's the expert.  Speaking of the keyboard, it's in  French layout.  That means, instead of the usual QWERTY setup, I'm looking at AZERTY and a multitude of other confusing mix-ups.  So, forgive me if there are typos in this post, I'm adapting to an entirely different system here! On the bright side, I finally can write umlauts!  It's such a pain in the ass to write things in German when you don't have shortcuts or umlauts on your keyboard.  I can also write all the French accents!  WOO! éèçà and this funny lookin guy § are all part of my daily use now.

Beyond Loïc's amazing gift, I of course cram-packed our weekend full of activities.

Friday was relaxing if I remember correctly; we picked up the kids and took the to the Technology Museum for a couple hours after enjoying an ice cream.  I think all of us were pretty worn out by the time we got back, but we were invited to dinner at our friend Paul's apartment with his girlfriend and fellow au pair Violet. They're a great couple to hang out with because Violet is also 23 and American and Paul is 24 and from Luxembourg.  They too are facing a potential long distance relationship and have been together for just two months less than Loïc and I.  They homemade turkey burgers and it was phenomenal.  We drank some champagne, radlers, and sampled liquor, so it was a good night overall.

Saturday should have been relaxing in theory, but that's not really something I believe in.  Our morning activity was watching the kidshop around on the trampoline for a while while my host father did some mountain biking, then we headed to the Naschmarkt.  I love the Naschmarkt and it's one of my favorite parts of Vienna.  It was a lot of fun to treat Loïc to his first heap falafel (we had them in Paris for at least 3x the price) and Almdüdler.

We had tickets to the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) which is one of the best known groups of musicians in the world, and we scored 6th row tickets as a birthday present from my host parents.  This was the first "fancy" concert for both of us, and I don't know if we'll experience anything better in our lifetime.  We were probably the youngest people by 30 years in our tier of seating, and we seemed to also be underdressed.  We also got stares from said fancily-dressed old Austrian people because of our...non-mainstream piercings. We were just there to enjoy the music though, so it didn't matter to us what they thought.

And the music was...unbelievable.  We both remarked afterward that there were moments that almost moved us to tears, and watching the musicians feel the music was a special experience you can't have by buying a CD, or even sitting in the cheaper seats.  We heard Schubert, Schoenberg, and Saint-Saëns performed by three different sized groups.

Fun fact:  I have visited all the composers' gravesites, Schubert and Schoenberg on the Wednesday before Loïc arrived, and Saint-Saëns on a previous visit to Paris.

We ended the afternoon with a coffee at one of my favorite cafés, Phil, on Gumpendorferstrasse in Vienna.

Sunday was set aside for a visit to the Stift Kloster-Neuberg, just outside Vienna to the north.  It is a very old monastery/winery dating back to 1114.  It's a great place to spend an afternoon walking around, and we did two of four tours, the apartments and the wine tours respectively.  We had a tasting at the end of our wine tour, and bought my host parents a bottle of what we liked best.  Really a good day.

We arrived home and saw there would be a big family gathering at our house, but we were still enjoying our couple-time, so we skipped out and headed to one of Vienna's famous Heurigens instead, where we had more wine and a really lovely meal with lots of wild garlic, and we agreed it was one of our best meals together.

Monday was a lazy day of sitting around sleeping in (a whole weekend of staying up late and getting up early  takes a toll).  Then he flew away :(

But I'm flying to see him for eleven days on Saturday!!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Heathcare in Austria

Ok everyone, this is a gonna be a pretty short post, just because I need to express the huge difference I see in healthcare between my home, a suburb of DC, and Vienna, Austria.  Your results may vary, take what I'm saying with a grain of salt.

So I've been feeling under the weather pretty often lately, I'm concerned I have chronic sinusitis or something, but that's neither here nor there.  My host mother made an appointment for me at a specialist, and Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor.

Big Difference #1:  The appointment was set for Friday afternoon, and was made on Wednesday.  TWO DAYS.  Not many places in the US (that I'm aware of) can a new patient get an appointment that quickly.

I arrived at the appointment about five minutes early (BD2:  another no-no for a first time patient, usually you arrive early to a ton of forms) gave them my e-Card, which is my Austrian health insurance card that costs 50 Euros a month, and put my coat away.

BD3:  This doctor moves fast. While I was doing this, simply putting my coat away, I'm pretty sure the doctor saw two to three patients.  Then I sat down for probably two minutes, and my name was called.  I barely had any time to sit down before she sat me up on the examining chair to look at, yep, my ears, nose, and throat.  She spoke at a lightning fast pace (in German, natuerlich), and then said what I think was, "Ok. I don't see anything, but here's a prescription.  If things aren't better by Wednesday, come back."

Uh, ok.

So I went back out to reception, approximately 3.5 minutes after entering the exam room, and asked the receptionist if I needed to pay anything.  BD4: NOPE.  No copay, nothing.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  But what was I supposed to do, just walk out?!

Ok, that was easy.  Walk down to the pharmacy with my 100 euro bill in hand because god know's how much this will cost me.  I needed nose drops and pills.  Surely this would break the bank.  BD5:  NOPE.  Five euros sixty for the lot.

Jeez...European healthcare is nice.  It's almost like they want their population to be healthy.  Weird.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Things that make me happy (of the week)

Fun fact of the day:  When drinking a Weissbier, you clink glasses from the bottom to make a toast. This is so the beer doesn't foam up at the top if you're being a little too raucous.  

It's always nice to look on the bright side of life, so here are some things that made me smile this week.

  • The US Will Have "Smart" Credit Cards by October 2015-  woo!  This is very exciting for someone who lives in Europe and can't use their credit card (despite having zero foreign transaction fees).  Basically, all European cards have a little chip in them that American cards don't.  This means, in short, a lot of Americans have a huge hassle when they want to pay for something by credit card in Europe, the machines simply can't read them.  Ever had the stress of buying a train ticket with hundreds of euros in cash because the machine won't accept your card? Yeah.  It sucks.

    EVEN BETTER:  This will make American cards way more secure.  "Half of the fraud occurs in the United States but only a quarter of the credit card use," Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.  We're clearly doing something wrong.  France has had this system since '92, and their fraud incidents went down 50% in '93, says the article.  Rad.
  • The US beat the Soviets Russians in Olympic Ice Hockey 3-2 on Saturday.  Enough said.
  • This gif is so good. 


  • THE END, have a great week :)

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014

    On Travel Tattoos

    Warning:  Potentially offensive towards people I actually know in real life.  Sorry.

    I'm pro-tattoos.  I'm pro-travel.  So why am I against travel themed-tattoos?  Well, to be fair, I'm only against a specific type.  The world map tattoo, colored in or otherwise marked, to indicate where the bearer has traveled.  At first, I thought this was a fantastic idea and I wanted it for myself, but now it has become a cliché (also, finally this awful French keyboard is coming in handy).

    Recently I read an article on Laughing Squid about the above man, and the story is pretty self evident.  It's a great idea for a world traveller, but just as the article mentions he got the idea from someone else.  It isn't the first time I've heard of this particular tattoo idea either, nor will it be the last.  I'm sure if I wandered into almost any hostel in the world, I could find someone with dreams (or real ink) of this, or a similar, idea.  This tattoo has unfortunately become the infinity symbol, dreamcatcher, or anchor of the travel world, by which I mean it's overly done, and the most common thing you'll find on someone's body, if tattooed.  And yes, I do realiwe this incriminates me as unoriginal as well, I have an anchor tattoo on my ankle.

    I'm interested to see how this trend plays out in my world travels.  I think it's very cool to show off where you've been and your life experiences through ink, but I also can't imagine how sad I would be if I started this tatto and then didn't get to fill it in as much as I would hope.  You'd have to be seriously committed to have the map you want, and I've only visited 8 countries.  The guy above has visited 40.

    I like other travel tattoos, but I prefer them to be uniquely tailored to the wearer's experience.  For example, I know someone who has the coordinates of a spot that changed her life, along with the constellation that often guided her wilderness experience group.  That I find to be remarkable.  It's something maybe only a few people in the whole world can relate to, and has special meaning.

    What are your views on travel tattoos? 

    Monday, February 3, 2014

    Bratislava for a Day

    NOTE:  This post was supposed to be posted about a month ago.  I tried to upload pictures, it didn't work, and I gave up on the post.  Sorry that it's late!

    Here's something you might not know about Vienna.  It's SUPER close to another European capital, Bratislava.  Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, (hey, not everyone knows this stuff!) and has a population of 460,000 according to Wikipedia.  Seriously, look how close these cities are:

    Literally, they are about an hour away from one another by train.  For just 15 euros you can travel from Vienna to Bratislava and back with included use of the Slovakian capital's public transportation system.  It's a great deal, especially because things in Bratislava can be so much cheaper than in Vienna.  An example:

    Ice skating in a public rink in Vienna (on a Saturday afternoon): 6 euros to skate, 6 euros to rent ice skates
    In Bratislava (any time of day, on an admittedly smaller rink but less crowded day): 1 euro to skate for an hour and a half, 3 euros to rent skates.

    I traveled with my good Au Pair friend Lucia, who is from East Slovakia.  Our ride was uneventful and the train was fairly empty in both directions.  I was lucky to have a native speaker, I don't know how I was going to get around the city otherwise!

    Soon after getting off the bus that brought us more or less to the town center, we climbed to the top of the city to the Bratislava Castle (pictured below).  From there we could see the whole town- admittedly small.  Bratislava is cute in that the streets are narrow and seemingly very old, the architecture is interesting, and most of all, quiet.  I was surprised to arrive in a city that purportedly has a "gypsy problem" to only see one crazy homeless-looking guy at the train station.  My interest in gypsies is quite extensive, but I'll write about that another time.

    We also saw St. Martin's Cathedral, which was nowhere near as impressive as those in Vienna.  I'm so spoiled by living here.

    What I was most excited for in Bratislava was to try Halušky (Ha-loosh-key).  It's a traditional Slovakian Dish, similar to Gnocci (Wikipedia calls them potato dough lumps, mmm), with a soft sheep's cheese.  My friend thought I would hate it and I was out of my mind to want to try it.  But I liked it!  It tasted like cream cheese that had been left out on the counter a little too long, but warm like the sun had been beating down on it.  I could've probably eaten quite a bit, but I don't think my stomach would've liked it.  It also has bacon cubes to top it off.  What could be better?

    Another typical Slovakian tradition, I'm told, is to drink tea with rum at lunch, or a shot of very strong liquor.  I don't necessarily believe that, as the waiter seem perplexed by our order, and I think we ended up having Jasmine tea with rum.  Mmm.  Not.

    Written February 3rd:  Well...that's what I've got for Bratislava.  Not a bad place to go and get out of Vienna for a day, especially since the shops are 1. cheaper and 2. open on Sundays.  I'd like to see the city in the spring because it would certainly be more beautiful and fun to explore.

    Saturday, January 4, 2014

    Happy New Year! 2013 in Review and a look ahead at 2014...

    Happy New Year everyone!  Bonne Annee!  Froehliches Silvester! et cetera!

    Clearly, the first thing I intend to do in 2014 is update my blog more often.  Good thing I have lots of content to write about!  I'm back in Vienna for those who knew I was away, and for those who didn't, a two week vacation in France for Christmas and New Year's with the love of my life was just what I needed.  I woke in Paris this morning at 5:45 and went by plane, train and automobile to be in my room in Vienna by 1pm.  Woo!

    So, seeing as I love lists, you know what's about to happen
    2013 IN REVIEW!!  YAY!

    In 2013 I...

    • Graduated James Madison University with a BA in International Affairs and Political Science with a minor in economics
    • Studied Arabic, French, and German
    • Celebrated my one year anniversary with Loic at the place where we had our first real date (ok that was in December but shh)
    • Saw a ton of movies
    • Traveled a little in Europe...Paris, Vienna, Munich, Budapest, Salzburg, French Alps, Bretagne (also France)

    This is how the year went..
    January - April:  USA
    May and June: Munich
    July: Paris
    August: USA
    September - December: Vienna
    If you're keeping track, I spent five months in the US, approximately two months in Paris, six weeks in Munich (don't remind me...) and almost four months in Vienna.  I spent all major holidays in Europe.

    This year will shape up to be quite similar I think.  Major news for those who skip the rest of this post:  I am extending my Vienna contract until late June.  Originally I was supposed to stay until March 1st, but it just makes more sense to stay.  

    My personal goals for this year:
    • Improve my French, German, and Arabic (I really hope the last one will work out- I miss Arabic so much and wasn't half bad at it)
    • Continue my education...a European master's program seems to be in my future...more later
    • Travel more
    • Save more (yes, I realize this and the last point are conflicting)
    • Cook more
    • Spend more time outside
    • Read more.  This one is super easy since Loic bought me a Kindle for Christmas!
    • Meet more people and communicate better with old friends
    Big decisions are in the future regarding me, Loic, education, and where I'll be living.  I don't know what will happen in 6ish months, but I'll try to keep my blog updated better.

    Liebe Gruessen!
    Bekka (or as the kids now call me...Becky)