Hiking in the Alps

I’ve spent the past few days staying with friends in the city of Innsbruck, Austria.  It’s a stunning city, located in a wide valley in the middle of the Tirol Provence.  Unfortunately… my first couple of days were rainy.  Most of yesterday was spent enjoying the city center–sitting in cafes and wandering into beautiful Baroque churches.  I knew there were mountains (after all, I’ve been here before!), but couldn’t actually see anything.  That is… until today.

This morning, I had the opportunity to go hiking with my friend Anna and her mother.  Thankfully, I’ve been traveling in a pair of heavy-duty boots and was well prepared for the climb. Continue reading

Couch Surfing in Konstanz

Staying with strangers is odd.  You spend a couple of weeks emailing back and forth with a person you’ve never met, making arrangements.  But, the whole time, you’re never really sure if it will work out… will it be a total disaster?  Will we get along?  Will I be in the way?

I’ve spent the past few days in Konstanz, Germany staying with a friend of a friend.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it’s been a really positive experience.  My hosts have been incredibly kind and accommodating, giving me a room of my own to sleep in, a bike to use, and a spare key so I can come and go as I please.  They even invited me out with their friends for an all-you-can-eat and drink meal of what they called “German pizza”.  (I don’t know what the real name is, but it looks like pizza, only with no sauce and different toppings.)

After a few weeks of exploring big cities and cultural centers, it feels good to be off the beaten path.  Konstanz is a tourist town, but most of the tourists are either German or Swiss.  It’s located on the shores of Lake Constance (the largest lake in Germany) at the intersection of three countries: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  On a clear day, you can see the Alps from across the lake.

On my first full day, I biked out into the countryside.  I spent the morning among rolling hills, vineyards, and blooming fruit trees.  In many ways, it reminded me of being home. I visited a nearby island filled with small, independent farms and old churches.  My afternoon was spent wandering around Konstanz, exploring the old town and harbor. Compared to some of the grand old cities I’ve explored, it wasn’t anything to write home about, but still nice.

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One of the old churches on Reichenau Island (near Konstanz) that I biked past.

On day two, I took a day trip.  I pulled myself out of bed bright and early, found my way to the bus stop, and an hour later, I was in Zurich, Switzerland.  Most of my day was spent wandering around, exploring whichever narrow, cobbled streets caught my fancy.  Sadly, I didn’t do any traditional Swiss things.  No new watches or fancy chocolates for me… Switzerland is expensive and I’m on a tight budget.  I did spent a couple of hours in the city’s art museum, delighting in their national collection.  I lingered on the shores of Lake Zurich for a long, long time, soaking in the Alps and enjoying the fresh air.

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View of the Alps from across Lake Zurich

On day three, I did absolutely nothing. I mean that literally.  I stayed in bed almost the entire day, reading and binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.  Travel is exhausting!  It sounds weird, but it’s sometimes good to take a vacation from vacation.  I did venture out to the supermarket in the morning, along with a short walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon.  Besides that… the day was all rest and relaxation.

It was a bit awkward because my main contact was away from home during half my visit.  She returned to her hometown to help a friend shop for wedding dresses, leaving me alone with her male roommates.  I felt a bit out of place, but they were nice, and I mostly kept to myself.

Now, I’m on to the next chapter of my adventure.  After a great week in Germany, it’s time to turn to it’s neighbor: Austria.

Stay tuned.

An afternoon in Austria

There are days that go by and, in three more, you can barely remember what happened.  Then there are days where, even years later, they remain permanently cemented in your brain.

A year ago, I was living in a tiny room at a university in London, England.  Many of my London days blur together, but last October 24 is one of those cemented-in-my-brain days.

It began at five o’clock in the morning.  My bag was mostly packed, but I threw in last minute essentials, took a quick shower, and was out of my flat by six.  Carrying nothing but a tiny duffel and a backpack, I took the 72 bus to Hammersmith, where I caught the Picadilly Line to Heathrow International Airport.  Several hours later, I was on an airplane bound for Germany.  After a couple hours, the rolling fields surrounding Frankfurt came into view as the airplane prepared to land.

That, friends, is when things got tense.  You see, the Frankfurt airport is enormous.  It takes hours to get from one end to the other.  And I had less than an hour to catch my next flight.  Stress was high as I pushed through passport check and security.  “What if I don’t make it?” I pushed the thought to the back of my mind where all the dark thoughts go.  People miss flights all the time, and they also get new ones all the time.  Thankfully, when I was spewed out of security, my gate just-so-happened to be the closest one.  I made it with fifteen minutes to spare!

The next flight was tiny–one of those little airplanes made to hold only twenty or so people.  I remember being crammed in next to a young man in a green athletic jacket.  It didn’t take long to realize I was the only non-German speaker on the flight, so I kept to myself.  Within an hour of takeoff, I could see the Alps coming into view.  Gorgeous mountains soon sprawled as far as my eye could see.  It was incredible.

The Austrian Alps sprawling beneath me.
The Austrian Alps sprawling beneath the airplane.  Photo taken by me.

We came into a large valley and began to descend.  The plane shook and banged about.  For a minute, I thought we were going down.  And then we landed in Innsbruck, Austria.

I exited the plane onto the runway and followed my fellow passengers into the terminal.  A few doors later, I exited the terminal completely.  There, sitting in a chair, was my friend Anna.  She took one look at me and, imedietly, we were hugging.  I looked over her shoulder and there was her mother, smiling kindly.  They were the first familiar faces I had seen in almost two months.

We then went to Anna’s house.  Exhausted after a full morning of travel, I sat on their patio basking in the warm sun.  All I remember is laughing so hard my stomach hurt.  And then, when we were done laughing, Anna’s mother came out of the house with a plate of homemade schnitzel.

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I had a GORGEOUS view of the mountains from Anna’s patio.

Later on, I got to see my other friends, Anna-Laura and Sebastian.  I also met Anna’s sister, Emma.  We wandered around Innsbruck the rest of the afternoon, through narrow streets, grand cathedrals, and along the winding river Inn.  Eventually, we found a bench to park at.  We sat there for what felt like hours, talking and sharing stories.

After two months living with strangers in London, it felt like coming home.