Month: January 2017

Detained at a London Airport

My Life Travel Stories

Detained at a London Airport

What makes a criminal? Is it by the skin they have? The religion they believe in? The country they live in? Or by the actions they take? While this may seem like an easy answer with it being that criminals are the ones who have done wrong doings, certain people with privileged lives might see it differently. Those people can look at you and with nothing but past events by bad people who look like you or believe in the same thing, they can decide that you’re a bad person too.

I think back on this day often in my mind and I ponder on what went wrong. Did I leave the plane too fast after we landed? If I had just waited a few minutes to enjoy a view, would I still have the same outcome? Maybe there’s another universe with another version of me who lands from Vienna to London and catches the flight to Dublin she was supposed to take. She has an amazing week in Ireland, she heads back to England to be a bridesmaid for her best friend and then only when she is good and ready, she goes home. As much as I envy that version of myself, I am not that girl. I am, however, the girl who rushes to catch her flight from London to Ireland and gets to border control where she is then detained for sixteen hours in a room meant for criminals to then be kicked out of England for false accusations. I am this girl and this is my story.

I arrived to the airport two hours before my flight from Vienna to London, but it got delayed for forty-five minutes which was a little alarming because I still had a flight to catch from London to Dublin. But as I sat there at the gate waiting, I thought everything would be fine and I would arrive to Dublin with no problems.

The flight from Vienna to London was short and uneventful and I remember feeling anxious to get off the plane once we landed because the only thing going on in my mind was that I didn’t want to miss the next flight. I rushed to border control, that I’ve gone through many times, thinking it would be an easy process and I would quickly be on my way.

I got in line with the rest of the foreigners who were also not U.K residents and I waited, when the lady in front of me was nearly called she told me to go ahead because she had to finish writing her papers. I didn’t think anything of this precise moment, but that’s when everything changed. Maybe this was the universe’s way of saving me from something bigger but I’ll never know from what.

I was up next and I got called to walk over to where the U.K citizens go through because their line was short and one of the ladies working at the booth was free. I am no stranger to being nice to border control agents because I know how mean and aggressive they can sometimes be and I just kept on my happy attitude.

I walked up to the booth and said hello to the lady who ignored me and took my passport and papers. She was blonde around her early to mid-thirties, she looked sad and angry like she had had a bad day or this was the reaction to a bad life.

“Where are you coming from?” She asked uninterested.

“Vienna” I told her.

“What were you doing in Vienna?”

This is another one of those moments, I can see that shifted itself to what would become my reality. I panicked at the question because my mind suddenly ran back to when my boss from the summer camp I worked at took my passport along with everyone else’s to legally make sure we were able to work for the company. But I couldn’t remember if my boss had written something on the passport to say I had worked.

So I told her “Um, I was working throughout Italy and Austria teaching children English.”

“Do you have a work permit?” She asked suddenly.

“No, but we signed papers to make it all legal that I have in my suitcase but it’s checked in” I said.

She then asked when I arrived to Europe and I told her I had come on a cruise back in May but I had only stayed in London for three days.

“Do you have a ticket home?” She asked me.

“Yes, it’s for the twenty-eighth of this month out of this airport, but I’m going to Ireland now and I’ll be back to go to my friend’s wedding in Cornwall.” I told her, still thinking everything was fine despite the amount of questions. She told me that I was going to be England’s problem then if I was coming back.

She asked to see my ticket home which were in my emails and I didn’t think to print out. I told her I couldn’t pull it up on my phone because there was no Wi-Fi.

“Why do you have so many stamps?” This question struck me as odd because why would anyone have stamps in their passport. It meant they had traveled, gone places and lived. I got my passport a few months after my eighteenth birthday and even though it had only been two years, it had filled up quite a bit. So I just answered that I traveled a lot.

That was when, I guess, she had heard enough and she sent me to sit down in a small area in the middle of border control where people had to wait if they had forgotten or lost their passports or for one man who look middle eastern but carried an Irish accent, they were checking to make sure his Ireland passport was legit because he had seemed a bit too different.

After an hour of wondering how much longer I’d be waiting, they called me up and walked me over to grab my luggage. We then walked into an area I would soon find out was the detainment area. At first I waited in a small room that looked like it was meant for criminal investigations, with a table and two chairs opposite of each other.

Two different women came in, one to check through my bag and the other to search me for anything that seemed suspicious. The one who looked though my bags was older and seemed nice. We chatted about life, the weather and she told me I would have an interview soon.

The second was closer to my age and I talked to her about Cornwall and my friend’s wedding that I was to attend. She got a surprised look on her face and asked me “Do you know what you’re here for? I told her I didn’t. She shook her head like she knew something I didn’t, not as too why I was there but that I wasn’t going to be leaving anytime soon.

They then sent me to the final detainment area where I heard they could keep you for twenty-four hours and that’s when reality hit me as I sat down and looked around. I was in a small white room with red chairs facing a wall and a hospital looking TV that was hanging overhead.

The gravity of the situation hit as this odd American women started talking to me and she told me her story on how she had arrived to England wanting to start a new life. There was another man who was big and bulky wearing a grey suit and he was sweating profusely but he kept his gaze on the ground as he sat there not moving.

With everything hitting me all at once, I kept thinking these people were criminals. That’s not me. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but maybe neither had they. Another man came in, this one was younger and he seemed as panicked as I felt about the whole thing. He was wearing a red sweater. I never got anyone’s name but I will always be upset that I never got his, so I call him Red.

I was there for less than thirty minutes when I got called for my interview where a very nice old man sat with me and interviewed me and wrote everything down. I told him exactly when I arrived, where I had been, when I was leaving and how much money I had. He was really cool, we chatted about interesting American cities and I thought the interview had gone well and this would all turn out to be a mistake.

When I walked back to the room it was empty, the lady and the sweating man had gone and I was relieved because they had both seemed a bit odd and I don’t know with everything if I could handle them.

Red walked back to the room shortly after me and he seemed as upset as I was but we didn’t speak. Because this was a detainment area, I wasn’t allowed anything but the clothes I had on and to stay in the room that was locked from the outside where we were watched by security. I was finally allowed my phone call after my interview and I called my parents, who I’m sure were worried because I would have landed in Ireland already. I told them what had happened to me but I was still optimistic about the situation and that I would arrive to Dublin that night.

I hung up the phone call with my parents and ate some disgusting microwave food they had available to hold me over until I could leave this jail cell I was in. I began talking to Red and he told me he was thirty-one from Miami, Florida out of all places in the world. He had been just finished studying in Madrid and he had wanted to travel after studying so thought he could go to England as a student and leave with a tourist visa. It didn’t work out and there he was with me in a holding cell. He was extremely nice, and not in the way guys were nice to girls in order to gain something but nice in the way that he was kind and felt like a friend. We spoke about our lives and I remember seeing movies in a container we could watch and because I didn’t know how long the decision for us to stay was going to take I thought we should watch Jurassic Park to distract our minds.

But the old man who interviewed me finally came in to deliver the new and handed me some papers and for a moment I thought this was it, I’m free.

But he told me that he had given his bosses everything and they made the decision to not allow me to enter the country. My heart froze. He handed me a piece of paper stating that because I had worked in Europe illegally (which was false), they said I had no care for immigration laws and they believed I wanted to work in England. But it was all lies and I was at a loss for words. That is when I finally broke down and cried.

It felt like all my fears hit me at once as I realize I wouldn’t visit Dublin, see my friends in London and the worst, not be a part of my best friend’s wedding that I had been so excited to attend. I sobbed big sloppy tears and my chest felt like it was aching. The man told me that I would be in the room until three in the afternoon the next day on a flight back to Vienna. I had entered to the room at five meaning I would have to wait in this hellhole for twenty-two hours. I just cried more and Red came by with tissues for me to wipe my tears.

When the man left, I told Red that I was innocent and they were making me out to be this criminal I wasn’t. I felt hopeless and lost.

I thought about all the mistakes I could have done to have gotten me to the position I was in. Were they right? Was I a criminal? I stopped myself because how cruel could these people have been to make an innocent girl in love with the world think she was anything but amazing and make her question her own integrity. This tight space in the too brightly lit room with all its emptiness was filling my head with hateful words and lies. I could do nothing but listen to it and that was the worst pain of all. I could escape myself, the situation or my breaking heart.

I called my family and as they listen on the phone while I poured my heart out to them, felt my pain, agony and loneliness. What was worst they could do nothing but hear my sobs through the phone of my depression.

Red told me that he was surprised they didn’t let me go and that I had had a much better chance at leaving than he did. His interviewer then came in and told him the same news but that his flight back to Spain would be at seven in the morning. I felt more alone because I would have to endure this cold room and my thoughts for hours by myself and I didn’t know if I could do it.

Red told me that they were all assholes and asked if I wanted to watch Jurassic Park which he set up himself so we could watch because he knew it would make me happy. My parents called on and off all night desperately trying to get me a flight home instead of heading back to Austria where no one was waiting for me and I had no place to go.

Red and I watched the film while we stopped it occasionally to rant about the situation or for me to cry as he sat there and talked to me. Although we were strangers and had known each other less than a day, we were in this together and I will forever be grateful to have had him there.

We fell asleep around midnight out of exhaustion from stress and for me tears. I slept on three hard red chairs with a pillow for my head and a pillow on top of me for warmth. The room was so cold and bleak and I slept in order to escape the place I was in. I dreamt of seeing my family again and felt their unconditional love from thousands of miles away.

Around five in the morning, I woke up to my parents calling on the phone and they told me I would be leaving London at ten in the morning in order to arrive in Orlando, my home. Although the crush of not being able to finish my trip the way I wanted hurt, I was so happy that I would see my family soon.

Red woke me up again before he left for his own flight back to Madrid. We held hands for a moment and I thanked him for how kind he had been. We wished each other luck and he was gone.

Red had been my savior. Although I never got his name, I knew who he was, he knew me. In those seconds, minutes, and hours of insanity, he was there to remind me of life, love and how there was still kindness in the world when I thought there was none. In that low point, he had made me laugh and feel excited about seeing my family again. He had been my anchor to hope when I wanted to wallow in self-defeat. Although I’ll never see him again, I thank him for those hours of kindness and empathy for without them, I don’t know what I would’ve done.

I went back to bed to ignore the fact that I was utterly alone in the small room I had been in too long. I awoke at nine with another call from my parents saying everything was set for the flight.

When it was time to head over to my flight, I was escorted by not one but two security officers where I was then displayed for all to see that a criminal was going on board a flight. People looked at me with curious eyes and I felt myself slink further into despair. That feeling of being misunderstood and misrepresented as a criminal continued even though I had done nothing to deserve the situation.

I boarded the flight with my “friends” and I was put to sit at the very last row on the corner of the large plane. I later learned by my mom that she had paid extra for me to sit in the aisle with more leg room so I would be comfortable after my day of hell. But alas, as the criminal I was, it was not allowed and I would be treated as such until I reached my country.

The flight was long and I counted down to the last second until I saw my family again. Although the flight attendants were curious about me they didn’t ask me any questions until we landed. One of the flight attendants was so nice that he gave me a free water bottle and Kit Kat as he told me it was on the house and I cried when he walked away blown away by the kindness.

Time has passed since this fateful day but with the recent horrific events with the Muslim Ban, I go over what happened to me and feel their pain as I once did. It’s not right that because of circumstances they cannot control they were forced into their own small rooms of hell for hours to wait on a trial for things they didn’t do. Why? Because of where they come from and what they believe in? I wonder back to why they chose me. I often get asked if I’m from the Middle East and I wonder if that’s what that border control agent thought as well, I wonder if that’s why it all occurred because someone whose been privilege all their life saw someone different.

I plan to go back to this country that thought I was unworthy of entering their border and I want to forgive those I hated so much in those moments. The airport, those people and that women did not defeat me, in fact the whole situation made me stronger and did not make me fear traveling again. I plan to travel just as much, further and as fearlessly as I had before. Because this world is still be beautiful despite the pain and heartache we face today, I think it might make it all the more spectacular because it gives us a chance to stand together for the rights of all human beings.

From yours truly and still loving life,

Melody x

Travel Tips and Tricks

5 Tips for Traveling on an Airplane

I have flown on so many flights now that I have lost count, but each time I arrive at the airport and get on a plane I learn new ways to make my time at the airport and on board the plane easier. I won’t bore you by bringing all the tips a million bloggers have already said, like making sure you wear things (like boots instead of sneakers) to go through security quicker or being aware of airport prices in the stores. I will, however, give you five of my favorite tips on making sure you have a great experience so you can love airports and flying as much as I do.

  1. Your Ticket in Advance and Be Flexible

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this one before, but it’s always good to throw this tip out there. If you want to save some money, be sure to look at flight prices far enough ahead to see all the different and cheapest options you can take. Check Google flights to see when the cheapest day to go is and to see if there is more than one airport nearby that can get you to your destination.

 

2. Picking Seats

This one may not always be possible, but if it is make sure you choose the best seat for you. For example, if I am traveling alone I like to have an aisle seat so I can get to the restroom without bothering anyone. But if it’s a short flight and you don’t think that will be a problem for you, grab the window seat to see some amazing views.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

I have taken many flights on my own and being that I’m a short girl who carries around heavy luggage, it can be tough. While I can carry my own bags around cities and airports, I always need help putting my bag in the overhead compartment so I make sure to ask around for help so I don’t take thirty minutes trying to do it myself. So, don’t be afraid to do the same because I have asked a number of people and they are always super polite and happy to help.

4. Bring Snacks and Entertainment

For the flights that aren’t quite long enough to show a film or have snacks, make sure that you bring your own entertainment and food. The snacks have always been a lifesaver, especially when I am running late and don’t have time to grab some food. I make sure to pack a small snack in my bag that will hold me over until I get to my destination. I also always make sure to bring some headphones, a fully charged phone, books and magazines to keep me entertained, because it can get boring being up in the skies.

5. Bring a Neck Pillow

I learned this the hard way after leaving it at home for four months thinking it would take too much space, but honestly it would have been worth it with the amount times I got a neck cramp from traveling on cars, planes and trains. When I was on many of my flights I found myself sleeping a lot, because it was my only downtime in between the chaos. So investing in a good neck pillow is a great idea!

So there are five of my tips and tricks for traveling on an airplane! While traveling on planes can sometimes get scary, make sure to see the beauty of being thousands of feet in the air and enjoy yourself. Comment below some of your favorite tips!

Pub Crawls in Vienna

Travel Stories

Pub Crawls in Vienna

When I decided to head off to Vienna for a few days after working, I thought it would be a nice and relaxing time spent sightseeing and sleeping. I thought Vienna would be a sleepy city, a place where Mozart had spent many years and where other musicians came from all over the world to fulfill their passion of music. I had no idea Vienna would end up being filled with so many sleepless nights watching sunrises in the middle of the city.

This all began in the middle of my time in St. Andrae, I messaged the blonde Michelle from Texas, who I had spent time with in San Marino. I told her I was going to be headed to Vienna for a few days and she told me she had wanted to plan a trip there too. Spontaneously we planned the trip and met up heading into the unknown city together.

I spent exactly four nights in this mysterious new city and I had so many experiences which helped me learn so much about myself.

Saturday

 

I met up with Michelle at our hostel that was about half an hour away by their version of a subway from the main center of the city. We both arrived at about the same time in the afternoon; I was exhausted, but ready for the new adventure that awaited me. The hostel, which was the first hostel I had ever stayed at, was clean but felt more like a bed and breakfast because it really was a house that had been converted into a hostel. As far as I could tell there were only two rooms for guests to stay in and the rest of the house was for the volunteers who worked at the house and for the owners of the place.

While we were paying for our stay downstairs, the volunteers in the house informed us that there would be a pub crawl that night and asked if we wanted to join. Since this was my first hostel and I had never heard had the words “pub crawl” before I didn’t know what to say. Thank god Michelle was a pro-traveler and had just arrived from a week at another hostel in Germany and she told them that sounded great and we would love to.

The pub crawl started at nine at the house, so we had time to grab a late lunch and walk around the city before we headed off for our nighttime adventures. Our little pub crawl group consisted of a girl in her early twenties from Ireland, a man from Brazil and three of the volunteers who were all from Spain. Pub crawls; I quickly learned was when hostels took groups of people out at night and everyone pays a rate to get into different clubs and for some free drinks.

The first bar was a dark, nearly underground bar where a man played guitar, sang, and set the ambiance of the night. We played drinking games while we drank beers and cocktails. The next place was another bar, where we talked and played a game of foosball and where all the girls decided to take a shot of Absinthe, which was a killer.

While waiting to hear what club to head to next, we were all chatting outside Bar #2 and Michelle had her phone in her back pocket when a tall man wearing dark clothing who didn’t even glance her way, reached out and grabbed her phone. She realized right away and yanked her phone back and the guys we were with were quick to help out and the guy, knowing he was fighting a lost cause, quickly walked away. So, beware of your surroundings and make sure your valuables are not within reach of people who could grab them.

The next place we went to was a club where you could dance, but unlike other clubs, the music they played wasn’t the usual top hits, but rather rock music. It was such a cool experience to dance around to some really great rock songs including one of my absolute favorite songs “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”.

The last place we headed to, was a typical club, but it was larger than the place before and the music was great because they didn’t stick to new music that you heard everywhere but they played some great old dance hits we’d all forgotten about. Night one ended with some great Mediterranean kabobs and I had high hopes for the rest of the week.

Sunday

Because this was my first time, after two months of waking up at seven, to truly be able to sleep in; I slept until two in the afternoon and had no regrets about it. Michelle and I headed out for lunch and to see the center of Vienna. Although we were in the middle of where the action should be, the city felt like it had been put under a spell and everyone was in their houses after their own wild night. We headed to different areas of the city and saw lots of spectacular places.

At one point, we found Karlskirche (St. Charles Church), a baroque church where people dipped their feet into the large and gorgeous pond in front of the church and relaxed. Michelle and I chatted about our lives as we watched clouds pass by behind the building.

When night came, Michelle and I were both craving a glass of wine, but because it was Sunday in Austria, barely anything was open. We had to travel about twenty minutes to find a supermarket that was open twenty-four hours to buy some wine. When we arrived at the house, we realized we had new housemates including a group of three New Zealanders. They were really nice and we spent the night drinking wine and chatting about American politics with them while we sat on the porch outside until the early hours of the morning.

 

Monday

Michelle and I woke up with a plan to head off and see one of Vienna’s top tourist hits and one of the most beautiful palaces, Schloss Schonbrunn, where the Empress Elisabeth of Austria spent many of her days. We took a tour of the palace and in each room was a different theme with intricate details in every part of the room. The gardens outside were vastly astounding and would leave any person breathless. Michelle and I spent a few hours there discovering all the elegant things the palace had to offer.

The day came and went and suddenly it was time for yet another pub crawl, this time with our new New Zealand housemates. When we arrived to where the pub crawl gathered for the first bar, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of people that were there for the event. Compared to the last pub crawl, which had consisted of roughly eight people, there were more than fifty people on that Monday night. Michelle and I met lots of Americans which gave me some comfort, because it had been a long time since I had been with a group of people from home. We went to different bars, clubs and danced till the dawn’s twilight.

Warning for those traveling alone! Don’t drink too much when you’re with strangers and make sure you’re with people you trust. Even though I had my friend with me, we had a couple guys try to buy us drinks that just wouldn’t leave us alone.

At the end of the night, we headed to the underground station to get back home. But it was 4:20 and the station wouldn’t be open for another forty minutes so Michelle tried to call us an Uber to pick us up but the Uber somehow got lost and never got us. By the time we sorted all that out, the station had opened back up and we hopped the Austrian subway. It was five in the morning and while everyone was heading to work on a Tuesday morning, we were heading to bed on a Monday night.

By the time we got to the house at six, we realized that we had never asked for the key to get back into the house if we were going to stay out past eleven. The house was guarded by a mid-high brick fence with a gate and after that we would have to find a way to enter the actual house without waking anyone up. Talk about a mission impossible!

But I came up with a plan to sneak in. With our night out clothes and half asleep minds, we managed to somehow climb the brick fence. After that I remembered how the night before, the sliding door in the back had been left opened and hadn’t seem to have a lock on it so we snuck into the backyard and breathed a sigh of relief when we found the door out back opened. We rushed upstairs to get some rest when we found one of our housemates passed out nearly outside our door. We were so tired that we ignored him and went to bed after that crazy night/morning.

 

 

Tuesday

Michelle and I both woke up craving take out Chinese food, which is an uncommon food choice in the area of Vienna and required us to run in the rain and travel by subway for thirty minutes to get some of that delicious food that we desired.

The rest of the day, we explored and felt that sad gloom of leaving each other after a few great days together. I would miss Michelle’s spunky attitude and her fearless ability to go after her dreams in living abroad and traveling like the free spirit she was.

At night, we ate some great Italian food in the center of town and we headed off and found a bar that overlooked a river and Vienna’s city lights. We had martinis and wine while we chatted with some locals at the bar who invited us to go out later, but Michelle and I both had transportation to catch in the morning with her heading back to Cologne, Germany and me to Dublin, Ireland.

As we sat and drank our drinks and enjoyed the view I thought about my last few days in this wonderful city. Vienna hadn’t been what I had expected; it had surprised me and left me feeling adventurous and no longer afraid to travel on my own. This city will definitely be a place I will visit again, to hopefully have just as many exciting days as I did.

I wish I could have enjoyed this little swell of happiness a few moments longer, before the threat of tomorrow would hit and I would experience what would become one of the hardest days of my life.

Until next time…

Melody

My Life

10 Things I Want to See and Do in 2017!

Most people see January has always been a time of renewal, trying new things, becoming an overall good person for the New Year, and I am no different. This time of year is when I make way for things I want to see and do for the rest of the year. I check my vision board and swap out pictures of what I’ve done for pictures of things that what I want to do in the future.

This new year is a little different though. I don’t just have the vision board I keep on the side of my dresser but I also have this blog. A place where I can share; sharing things I have already done but also things that I hope will soon be done. I’m putting my dreams, for the new year, in this post, so they are released into the universe and will reach me with great positivity.

So here are 10 things I would love to see and do in 2017!

1. Santorini, Greece

Last summer, when I traveled abroad, some of the friends I had made took advantage of our location and ventured off into Greece. They experienced things that can only be experienced in such an ancient country. I couldn’t help but glance at their Instagram feeds and wish.

2. Grand Canyon, Arizona USA

One of the most wondrous landscapes in the world is right here in the United States and has always been on my bucket list. I recently saw the movie How to Be Single and it inspired me to see the beautiful sun rise over the intricate canyon (or at least see the sunset, because I’m not a morning person.)

3. Ireland

The old and classic land of astounding views and sprawling green fields. I’ve been trying to find a way to visit this country for years and this year might be the one!

4. Cliff Diving

If you ask anyone I know this one do is a bit crazy even for me. I don’t really like doing anything an adrenalin junkie would consider “fun”. However, this year I want to go outside my comfort zone and try things that truly scare me to better define myself as the human I want to be.

5. Pacific Coast Highway

I’ve heard this is one of the most beautiful highways in the entire United States. To drive along this highway would be an elating experience and something I look forward to greatly.

6. Take a Contiki Tour!

This one may seem a bit strange for someone like me, who has traveled on my own abroad. Why would I want to go by a schedule somebody else put together instead of wandering on my own? Well, I heard about this company as a young teenager and I have had the thought in my head ever since, because I think it would be great way to see some sights and meet new friends.

7. CRUISES

As usual, I want to travel on the cruise lines that I am so familiar with, but this time try new things at ports like hiking, jet skiing or snorkeling!

8. Route 66

I want to drive on this famous road. I want to make my way through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas while seeing pieces of American culture in my rear-view mirror and maybe take a picture with a cactus or two!

9. Brazil

My grandfather lives in this country filled with soccer and samba dancing. Visiting him would be lovely, not only would I get to spend time with my family in their home, but I would also have the chance to be introduced to a culture that is so alive in its people. I want to see Christ The Redeemer statue in all its glory and taste the food from the people with so much spirit.

10. Move to New York City!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably won’t find this one as a surprise. I want to move to the city I love so much! This has been a dream since I was quite young. I would love nothing more than living in the city that never sleeps. I can’t wait for all the exciting moments I know I will have in the Big Apple.

So, there you have it! I am putting it all out there into the Universe in hopes that all of it will come true. I want this year to be full of love and happiness. Whether I’m out traveling or just chilling at home, those are choices I make and this year I choose to be happy. I choose to put myself first and do what makes me the happiest, whether these things happen or not. I want to make the most of the year I have and I encourage you guys to do the same. See what makes you happy and go towards that! I saw an anonymous quote on Instagram that said, “This is beginning of everything you want” and it begins with you!

Leave a comment telling me where you want to travel to or what you want to do this year!

Travel Stories

An Austrian Summer

Living in Austria after two months in Italy felt different. It was as if I had stepped off the train on a different planet, rather than a new country. Everything in the town, called St. Andrae, was quiet and calm with cool weather; colder than the previous months had been. This Austrian country shares a border with Germany and spoke the same German language, so there was a sense of familiarity in the architecture, culture and landscape, specifically, because of the Alps. The Alps, grand and beautiful, against the distant horizon made me feel safe and secure in an unfamiliar place.

My new host family was a tall family of four, a little intimidating at first (I’m 4’11), but ended up being some of the nicest people I met on my trip. My host sisters were twelve and six years old. I loved every minute I got to spend with them and I felt blessed to have them as my host family for two weeks. I only had one problem while I was there, my phone wasn’t working and my mom got sick back at home. Compared to most of the issues I encountered on my trip, this one turned out to be relatively minor. My host mom graciously allowed me to use her phone to check in on my family back home. This family made me feel like I was a part of theirs and I wouldn’t have traded moments spent with them for anything else.

Working here was, like everything else, different than working in Italy. The kids spoke a higher level of English, making it easier for them to follow the rules. I worked with only one person I had worked with before, and most of the tutors I had met previously during orientation week in Assisi. The people I had worked with in my last camp were in Wolfsberg, a town less than twenty minutes away, which was comforting to know we could see each other often.

McDonalds and Outside Bars

With the new group, I would be working with, and the Wolfsberg group, we made up a larger group of thirteen people. At this point, we had all been away from home for over two months, so we were all getting that little nudge of homesickness, one of which was being able to eat fast food. Hardly any of us had been able to eat fast food, because we had lived with families who believed in eating fresh made food every day. That was great for the most part, but every once in a while, we all craved familiar food we could eat at home, that unhealthy burger and fries. So, we made a plan, after less than a week of working in Austria, to meet up with the Wolfsberg group and get some good ol’ greasy McDonalds.

We got together late in a rainy afternoon and chatted over Big Macs and beer about how work was going and the differences we found in this new country compared to our old locations. After we finished our luxurious meals, we walked over to grab some drinks at a nearby bar, that we were told would only be ten minutes away, but in the midst of rain felt longer.

Through the bar’s glass walls we could see the grey of the night haze fall throughout the old streets, but while sitting in that bar the futuristic blue lighting along the floor and ceiling made it feel like we weren’t in the middle of an old village but a future world. They had long wooden benches and high stools to sit around a blue glowing table for people to chat with friends. Although outside had felt cold and uncomfortable, inside the bar was warm and oddly cozy. It was one of the coolest bars I had ever been to. As I sat there and played two truths and one lie, I couldn’t help think how lucky I was to be there in that moment with some new friends.

Beautiful Dog Walks

 

My host family owned a little black cocker spaniel, that made me miss my own dog. This dog needed to be taken for walks every day. My host sisters were usually the ones who took the dog out and they always invited me to join them which I always gladly agreed to. Each walk gave me a chance to marvel at the spectacular landscape that was just outside the house. The fields were constantly green and full of life with the grand mountains surrounding us. On our walks, we would often pass by a church in the middle of the small village and the Austrian architecture of the church was picturesque. Each element was incredibly unique but somehow they all came together to make a stunning scene.

The weather was perfect whenever we ventured out away from the house and into the Austrian views. The air felt clean and earthly, like it hadn’t been damaged by humans yet, but rather had been taken care of by those who loved it. With every walk, the sun gave us its last glance of day as it faded away to shine elsewhere and the twilight cast a blue tint against the clouds and mountains to make way for a beautiful night.

 

Austrian Hike

When I used to think about Austria, I would immediately think of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music singing away about how these hills filled her heart. I would also think of men wearing their Lederhosen and the Tyrolean hat while yodeling as they hiked up big mountains. I soon found out that my idea of a typical Sunday morning in Austria was not far off.

My host family took me hiking twice on the weekend in the middle of the two weeks that I was there. While I do not recall my host father wearing lederhosen while we hiked, I do remember him wearing the traditional hat and singing as we climbed the mountains.

The first time we went hiking, we only hiked for a small time that mostly consisted of us searching the fields for these yellow mushrooms that my host mom and her friend were planning on making a meal out of for dinner. The meal we had at dinner was delicious and I sometimes dream about eating even now back home in the states.

The hike we took on Sunday was long and exhausting but one hundred percent worth it. We hiked for hours upon hours, which for the families I was with didn’t think much of it, but when I reached the top of the mountain where there laid a giant cross signifying the highest point, I was so proud of myself to have made it that far.

We ate a typical “snack” that they eat in Austria for meals which consisted of bread, cheese and salami. We ate our lunch while I overlooked the great mountains before us. After we continued to hike, I found myself consistently trying to convince myself that everything I saw was real as I passed masses of gorgeous views.

 

 

 

 

Partying Like the Locals

I have come to find that summer in Europe consist of many festivals. These festivals come in all shapes and sizes, each different than the one before and fun in their own way. While I was staying in St. Andrae, there was one festival in Wolfsberg and then another festival right in the town I was in.

The first festival was tons of fun and involved lots of wine spritzers, a common drink that they have in the area, and of course, loads of beer. The drinks were inexpensive compared to any place I had been before which was great for those of us on a budget. There was a lot of different bars to check out that were diverse with the music they played and the kind of drinks they sold. I got to meet up with the people from work like Maddie, a Canadian who had done this job last year, who was lots of fun and always full of energy and Emma, a girl from England who spoke fluent Italian and French and always had me laughing. We also met up with the group from Wolfsberg and together we definitely knew how to have a good time. We spent the night laughing while we drank and danced.

The next weekend was the perfect timing for the second festival of the season to arrive. This time our whole group decided to dress in Dirndls and Lederhosen so we could look like traditional Austrians. Some of our clothing came from our host families who were kind enough to have let us borrow their clothes and some of the group bought their own so they would have nice souvenirs to bring home.

This festival was a chicken festival that had different stations to sit down on wooden stools surrounded by wooden tables to eat and drink some chicken and beer. It was another great night filled with beer, schnapps and meeting new people while trying out all the different ways chicken could be cooked. We took tons of pictures in our fabulous outfits, laughed till we cried and try and failed to be one with the locals.

I recently showed someone back home the photos from these Austrian nights and they commented on how happy I looked and I was truly irrevocably happy. I remember those nights and how I felt so carefree like nothing was too out of my reach. I was happy to be surrounded by new friends, good music and great beer. That’s how life should feel. I’m happy that my life consists of so many amazing moments that make my heart feel happy and limitless.

As my last two weeks working abroad ended, I was so happy with the all the amazing things I had done and all the great people I had met. Although I was sad, to be leaving a job I had really enjoyed and host families I would never forget, I was ready to take on the world and discover more.