A Travellerspoint blog

Mauthausen and St. Florian

November 16th

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It's easy to get caught up in the petty stuff when you're lacking context.

Spend an afternoon in one of Austria's largest concentration camps and you get perspective, fast. The bump on your nose that looks huge in pictures, that person who didn't text you back, the class you're stessing about - it's all small in comparison. And you know what they say about the small stuff...don't sweat it.

The day at Mauthausen was surreal. Even the weather was gloomy - overcast and frigid. It is located on top of a steep hill, built from granite that the prisoners quarried and carried up this giant "stairway of death."
Walking through the camp buildings, now preserved as a museum, gave me such mixed feelings. Looking at the horrible photos, hearing the intense stories. Over one-hundred thousand people died in the various places that I was standing. I felt a great deal of inner silence, overwhelmed by my inability to comprehend how all of this was possible.

It was important for me to go there, to see that. It's a part of history, and it really puts things into perspective for me. There I was, in my jeans and jacket, looking forward to the warmth of the bus, of my bed. It's insane how people lasted 2, 3, 4 winters there with such minimal food and clothing. So astonishing to me, the evil that humans are capable of. Even more astonishing, is the human will to stay alive.

After the camp, we visited a nearby monastery - St. Florian. It was founded in the middle ages and is a beautiful property. The inside of the church had magnificent paintings (like most churches here) and a beautiful gold and white organ. Anton Bruckner spent most of his life here as an organist and is now buried beneath the organ today.

I think this quote from Henry Grunwald, on the last page of his book One Man's America sums up my thoughts best.

"Maybe America has nothing like St. Florian, but surely - and blessedly - it had nothing like Mauthausen either."

Posted by Chelsolivas 11:12 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

They Gave Us a Thanksgiving Break

...and so I must give thanks.

I've been gone for about 3 months now, living this European dream and loving every experience I come across.

But, someone asked me a question the other day that really made me think. He asked me what I would do if I only had a month left to live. I thought about the typical answers: travel the world, go skydiving, etc. I laughed because, well, I'm already traveling the world. And it's funny because the only thing I would want to do is book the soonest flight home and be with all of my family. Being here has made me realize how much I love home, and how much I took for granted there.

And, upon reflecting on my time here, it's made me realize how much people tend to take for granted in general.

So, here's my two cents on life, for Thanksgiving this year:

Don't you dare, ever, take the taste of a homecooked meal for granted. Absence has certainly made my heart grow fonder, and I can't explain what I would give for a simple plate of chicken and rice, some banana bread in the morning, or some muffin-tin brownies. Don't take Taco Bell for granted. You never know when you'll have zero access to it for the next 8 or 9 months. I'm still coping with that one.

Don't take your hometown or home country for granted. Leave nothing untouched. I've met people here who have lived in Europe all their lives, and they know more about America than I do. Shame on me. I feel like I spent a lot of time romanticizing this continent (which, don't get me wrong, is phenomenal) that I never took the time to think about how great the U.S. is. I've never been to Mount Rushmore or Niagra Falls, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. Realize that wherever you live has some pretty amazing things to offer - even if you're in Eastern Washington. Go out and take advantage!

Don't take for granted that feeling you get when your hard work and ambitions have been rewarded, when you finally succeed where it matters most. Never take the electricity of achievement for granted; you're lucky to experience that in the first place. Hard work pays off.

Don't take your freedom for granted. The freedom to create, the freedom of thought, the freedom to imagine. These are freedoms that nobody can take away. And be thankful for the people who protect the freedoms that can be taken away, the ones we take advantage of most, the ones that didn't exist 20, 50, 100 years ago. Realize you're entitled to speak, to vote, to assemble because someone long before you put in the grunt work. Realize that others might never see a day when they can express themselves in public. Understand that not everyone is as lucky as we are, and be thankful for what you have.

People should not be taken for granted - not the ones who raised you, not the ones who ground you, not the ones who love you. They have shaped and/or are shaping you into the best version of yourself. The stranger who chased you for a half-block to tell you you've dropped something, or the one who holds the door for you, or the one who asks you if you're feeling okay, or the one who asks you to dance, or the one who gives you directions with genuine concern that you find your way - don't take them for granted. Their actions are not expected of them, so be thankful for the nice people in the world.

Don't take your family for granted. Remember them always, think of how bland and unsatisfactory and meaningless life would be without them. Tell them you love them, every opportunity you get. I miss my family every single day. I'm going home in the summer, and I cannot wait to actually hug them and tell them how much I love them. Because I do. I love them very much.

Don't take the small things for granted: the sun, the rain, having a pair of eyes to look into, hands to hold. A warm bed to collapse into at the end of a long day, a pretty sky on a clear night. Embrace the people you can sit in silence with and the ones who make you laugh for hours with little effort. Someone once told me, "The small things add up to big things, the big things add up to everything."

Just, don't take anything for granted, okay?

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Posted by Chelsolivas 13:41 Comments (0)

Prost!

(cheers)

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If you know me well enough, you know that you wouldn't typically find me spending my weekend at the most famous and largest beer fest in the world. Yet, it proved to be quite an unforgettable weekend. I can very easily say that Oktoberfest 2012 goes in the books as one of the top 5 best days of my life.

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Waking up at 4:30 in the morning isn't always ideal, but having no choice...we took a 5 o'clock train from Salzburg to Munich. We were told that it's important to get there early, so that we get into a beer tent and get a table. Sure enough, the beer tent we got into was full within 10 minutes of being opened.

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I decided that in order to celebrate Oktoberfest the proper way, I had to wear the traditional dress, a dirndle. Best decision ever. And I definitely won't complain about all those lederhosen walking around either.

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This is the Lowenbrau tent. Such a magical place. Home to some wonderful memories. I find it funny that there are people there from all over the world, but we ended up spending a large chunk of our time with a friendly group of fellow Americans. I've come to accept the fact that we sort of always find each other and flock together. I won't complain. It's pretty cool to swap stories with American students who are also studying abroad.

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As you can see, everything was super-sized. I will shamelessly admit that everyone in attendance was feeling pretty great by about 11 o'clock a.m. The thing about Oktoberfest is that it encourages — nay, almost makes mandatory — the act of day drinking. Such a glorious day.
I really don't have much to say, because there are really no words to describe the experience.
A lot of dancing, a lot of friendly people, and I was beaming all day long.

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This is undoubtedly my new favorite holiday. Goodbye Oktoberfest! See you next year...

Posted by Chelsolivas 02:09 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

"If you start to take Vienna - take Vienna."

Precisely

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Honestly, I've been dreading this post because I have absolutely no idea where to start. I apologize before-hand, if I'm all over the place. Because well, in Vienna, we were all over the place.

Here we go.

Thursday morning. No class. On the bus by 8 and en route to Vienna, Austria!

First stop, Schonbrunn Palace.

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So much history and splendor. The backyard of the palace had beautiful gardens, fountains, a zoo, a labyrinth, and so much more. It was fun to just venture around and take it all in.

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This was our hotel room. Notice the convenient location of our shower. We could easily carry on a conversation, even while showering. Good thing Erin and I are best friends.

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Everything in the room was quite minimalistic and simple. But then, surprise, the shower head lit up when we turned it on! Greatest feature ever. I gotta get me one of those for home.

Next stop, Belvedere Palace. This is now an art museum, and we went specifically for the Gustav Klimt exhibit. Such a talented man. If you don't know who he is, look him up or something. The collection was amazing. One piece in particular, "The Kiss," is probably the most famous. I was really excited to have seen that. No pictures allowed inside, but the outside of the building was pretty!

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After the Belvedere, we were free for the rest of the evening. Vienna is such a great city to explore and get lost in.

Day 2. We went to the State Opera House and embarked on a guided tour. It was so beautiful inside, and I was definitely feeling a little artsy with my camera. We also got to see backstage, as well as all the extravagant intermission rooms. Ah, the life.

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Then we went to the Museum of Fine Arts and were given an amazing tour through the gallery, by our very own Dr. Loos. That woman knows so much, it's insane.

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Then we were on our own to do whatever. So what did we do?
Coffee of course. We heard that nobody does coffee and cake quite like Vienna, so we had to see for ourselves. Needless to say..it is, in fact, all it's cracked up to be.

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Then we went for a little nap in the park, before getting back to the hotel and preparing to find out what Vienna's night life had to offer.

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Day 3. We visited St. Stephen's, the beautiful cathedral in the heart of Vienna's downtown.

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Later that day, Erin, the Brenman, and I decided to climb all 340 steps to the top. The view was incredible. It was definitely worth it.

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It was definitely a "Woah. This place is pretty cool" moment.

Then we saw some more buildings and churches. The architecture was absolutely gorgeous. It became a recurring theme: I see a building, I take a picture of it.

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Same with statues.

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Then we went to the Hundertwasserhaus, which are basically the coolest flats ever. An artist, Hundertwasser, designed all kinds of houses and buildings that are all so unique and, well quite frankly, the coolest things ever. Learning about him and his philosophy on life was pretty interesting too. Definitely someone I'd want to hang out with on a regular basis.

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Then, the opera!

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The story was a little interesting, and a challenge to follow at times - it was all in German. But the voices were beautiful, the people were beautiful, and I was at an opera in Vienna. Such a spectacular night.

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Day 4. Heading home.

But we made a stop at Stift Melk, an unbelievable monastery with the most magnificent library I have ever seen. The cathedral was amazing as well.

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Now I'm back in Salzy, back to classes.

Oktoberfest in Munich next weekend. Pray for me.

Posted by Chelsolivas 26.09.2012 11:47 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Weekend in Salzy

..and it was a good one.

This weekend, I decided to stay in Salzburg since I'll be gone most weekends for a long while.

Thursday night. Karaoke. O'Malley's. Such a good time.

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Friday. Erin and I woke up and decided we wanted to take a train to Werfen. We grabbed our friend Brenman and hopped on the train. We went and saw the largest ice caves in the world. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any pictures once we were inside the caves, but I got some sweet shots on the way up!

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When we looked at the view, the mountains straight ahead were Germany, the ones to the left were Italy, and we were in Austria of course. Three countries at once. Such a cool thought.

Here's some pictures I got off the web, just to give you an idea of what the caves looked like.

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Alexander Von Mork was the man who explored these caves. He served in the military as well. He died when he was 27 years old. It really made me think..."Chels, what are you doing with your life?" He had time to brave the Alps, hang out in a giant ice cave, and also serve. I can't even do my laundry.

So, Saturday was a chill day in the city. During the evening, I was given an interesting tour by some of the local friends I've made. They help me with German, I help them with English. Perfect deal. And, I never thought I would have to explain who the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers were. I just kind of said...he's my husband.

Good times, good conversations, good people. I love Salzburg.

I'm off to Vienna on Thursday. Expect more soon!

Posted by Chelsolivas 13:45 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

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