Monthly Archives: September 2012

Exploring the High Tatras

So, as I mentioned earlier, my philosophy is the higher the better. I like hills, I love mountains, and I appreciate both exponentially more when I’ve reached the top. So when heading to Eastern Slovakia this past weekend, I had no choice but to stop by the Northern Slovakian mountain range, the High Tatras, for some hiking along the way.

Prior to my own excursion to Eastern-Central Europe, I had never even heard of this mountain range. More than likely, this is far more due to my own ignorance rather than their lack of reputation. However, if as few people outside of Slovakia realize what they are missing as I suspect, the High Tatras and the towns that lie in their shadow are being shorted of the reputation they deserve. I could go on for hours describing the undisrupted natural beauty, but the pictures tell a far better story than I ever could, so enjoy!

As far as mountain homes go, this is pretty near perfection.

View from the start of the trail

Interesting whirly weed. Not sure what it is, but I enjoy it.

Nearing the top of Siroke Sedlo

More than half way up Siroke Sedlo

We had to bundle as near the top the mountain became snowy…

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Out From Behind the Lens in Vienna

Karlskirche – a.k.a. St. Charles’s Church

As a photographer (and by that I mean someone who always has her camera, not necessarily a great visual artist), I sometimes get caught up in how the world looks through a frame.  There’s a lot of self-imposed pressure when presented with the task of documenting new places.  I feel a need  to capture every single sight and moment in order to share it, and also to look back on it in the future.

The truth is, there is no pressure.  My friends and family probably will get the gist after five or six pictures from the same location, and I will need a despicable amount of time in my future to ever skim the surface of all of the shots I have taken for self-preservation.  But never-the-less, I continue to feel a sense of paranoia that the one shot I miss will be the one shot I wish I had.

Vienna is a city where anyone, paranoid paparazzi or not, could get caught up in snapping away until they develop carpal tunnel syndrome via the shutter release.  It’s not just that the architecture is breathtaking. There are so many cities that boast dramatic buildings and monuments. It is that there are literally stunning structures around every single corner.  Apartment buildings, schools, restaurants, anything.  Everywhere you look there are intricately decorated buildings that would demand a gate and entrance fee, or at least a really big plaque, if they were to exist in an American city. But in Vienna, it’s just part of your normal street scene.

So anyways, long story short, when Chris offered to take the camera for our main day of sightseeing, I was excited, although a little skeptical, to get to see the city without worrying about what shutter speed would be best for a certain lighting.  To be honest, it was liberating walking around and just looking to appreciate, rather than to scope out the next shot. And if there’s any city  that deserves full appreciation, it’s Vienna.  An added bonus is, that now that Chris has taken on a role as part-time photographer, and done very well I might add, I will start to appear in some pictures.

So here they are: Chris’ ingenious photographic interpretations of Vienna, while I just watched, enjoyed and took it all in. Except of course, when everything was just perfect and I just couldn’t help myself 🙂

Dramatic sculptures in the Belvedere Palace gardens

Dramatic interpretations of statues in the Belvedere Palace Gardens

Cheesy couple picture in front of tourist attractions. Sometimes you just have to.

The cameraman gets artsy.

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Finding the High Ground in Vienna

The best view of Vienna. (My students later informed me this is a park originally reserved for imperial hunting grounds…pretty cool.)

It is my most trusted theory that if you head to the highest ground in any place (or if that fails, the highest building), you will always find something amazing.  Last Sunday, I tested this philosophy once again as Chris and I trekked up the winding residential roads on the outskirts of Vienna, pursuing a speck of pasture I thought I spotted from below.

I was encouraged as each level of houses we advanced brought wider and longer views of the Vienna cityscape.  When we finally paced the highest road, I found myself more than satisfied with our hike’s supposedly final outcome.  That is, until I saw a woman and her dog slip up a dirt path into the woods above.  Upon further inspection, the trail seemed public enough, and even if it wasn’t, the intrigue was worth any slap on the hand we might have received for trespassing.

Our curiosity was duly rewarded.  The speck of pasture turned out to be much more than a speck.  Instead there was a sprawling field of long green grass dotted with tiny white flowers, which I can only hope to be edelweiss in order to fulfill all of my Sound of Music-esque fantasies.  To further indulge my whimsical ideals of Austrian pastures, I may or may not have taken a few moments to demonstrate my finest yodeling abilities.  This very liberating experience continued for a few perfect moments until interrupted by the chuckles of the (probably actually quite disturbed) hikers who had snuck up behind us.  Embarrassing as that was, the immensity of the culture-drenched city before us, combined with the friendly September sun warming our bare feet above us, made for just about the most quintessentially Austrian moment I could have wanted.

And so, my theory has been proven true once again.  Just stay tuned for my post on Slovakia’s High Tatras for further evidence.

To read more about Christopher and his “yawping” (pictured above) check out wayfarersmurmurings.wordpress.com

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Vienna and High Tatras Tease

So my first two weeks of teaching have flown by. Time has been limited and so has good internet access, but I have thoughts bubbling over and pictures I’m extremely eager to post.  After Volkersdorf I had a full week in the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria, followed by a weekend in the Zdiar, located in the High Tatras of Slovakia. Both were stunning and perfect in their respective ways.  Here’s a photo from each with more to come soon, I promise.

Nothing beats Viennese architecture

Except maybe mountain goats taking in views on a peak in the High Tatras

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Views From the Wonderous Wolkersdorf Wanderpuzzle

I’ve liked Wolkersdorf from the start. From the moment Chris and I stepped off the train, people have been extremely friendly and have gone out of their way to be kind and polite. (A free ride from the train station is especially appreciated after nearly 24 hours of travel with 50-plus pounds of luggage.)  The quaint town is impeccably clean with the perfect combination of preservation of the historic and introduction of the modern.  The scenery, both in the village and on the countryside is stunning, and you can’t help but notice that none of the bicycles contributing to the high cycling-to-driving ratio in this town are ever locked up.

As though I wasn’t already contemplating ways to make a semi-permanent move here, we came across Wolkersdorf Wanderpuzzle, a network of biking and walking trails throughout the Wolkersdorf village and countryside. The trails led us through charming neighborhoods and up hillside vineyards to a view of Wolkersdorf’s pride and joy: their windmills.  Although I’m not normally a fan of the rotating steal monsters, in this setting I see them for the majestic, powerful, looming giants others claim them to be. It may be partially because clean energy they provide fits in so organically with this pedestrian heavy, environmentally conscious and seemingly pollution-free town.  While I know this first location is setting the bar high for things to come, it is always nice to start out on a good foot.

View of Wolkersdorf and its windmills.

Victoriously biking up the giant hill

Chris becoming one with the willow tree.

Apparently what Austrians keep in their garages?

Practically an Austrian Hobbit Hole 🙂

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Four Seasons in Four Countries in Under 50 Pounds

Since returning from my TEFL Certification course in Costa Rica in mid-July, searching for teaching opportunities abroad had become my new full-time job. However, within one week I have gone from frustrated and unemployed to frantically preparing for my new position as a traveling English teacher in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.

ImagePacking strategy, which is not my strong suit, will be key for this position, requiring weekly travel to countless cities within four countries over four seasons. Fitting 10 months of professional, casual and active clothes, not to mention shoes, into one checked bag and a carry on proved to be a daunting task. But, a few painful elimination rounds later, my bags are packed and en route to Budapest, Hungary (along with me, of course).

This may have been my greatest packing challenge so far, but it’s not my first. Between a semester abroad and a few other lengthy trips, I’ve made note of some items that I shouldn’t have left behind.  It didn’t help much with dilemmas like only having room for two pairs of jeans, but it was helpful to remind myself of items I longed for last time I lived out of a suitcase.

1. Watch – Carrying my iphone with me at all times and all places just for the sake of telling time proved to be stressful and just plain annoying. I was constantly afraid of it being stolen or lost, and I had to dig to the bottom of my bag whenever I wanted to check the time. This resulted in me constantly pestering the wise watch-wearers, whose ranks I have now joined.

2. Quick-Dry Backpacking or Camping Towel – Nothing is grosser than a mildewy towel, except for a mildewy towel that then needs to be put back in a suitcase with your clean clothes. My biggest mistake on my last trip to Costa Rica was packing just one regular towel.  Anytime I traveled anywhere for the weekend or went to the beach, I had to use a t-shirt to dry off until I could laundry again because packing my damp towel for my return left it smelling like a dead animal.  My new backpacking towel may not be as fluffy, but it’s much more practical.

3. Band-Aids and Antiseptic – Every trip I convince myself I won’t need them.  Then the largest sightseeing-imposed blisters of all time pop up on my heels, or I become a gruesome casualty of the treacherous San Jose sidewalks.  I like to be optimistic, however I feel it’s wise to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst in order to avoid bloody and embarrassing trips to the pharmacy.

4. Rain Boots – The only thing worse than wet towels may be wet feet on a cold day.  I found out the hard way that rain boots aren’t always easy to find or cheap to buy, and certainly not cheap to ship.  Two separate packages and two weeks after my first near-frostbite experience in Switzerland’s rainy February (thanks Mom!), my feet were finally dry.  Unfortunately, my rain boots didn’t make the cut this time, and I am already feeling regret in the pit of my stomach and damp numbness in the end of my toes.

5. Budget Notebook – I’m all for living on the edge (that’s part of the reason I love to travel), but wondering whether or not I am about to overdraw my dwindling bank account at each ATM visit is not the thrill I’m looking for.  When access of your balance is not always accessibly, it’s reassuring to have record of exactly how much cash you have to work with. An added bonus is that $6 impulse gelato purchase will be harder to make when you know you have to write it down later.

6. Deck of Cards – It is crazy how much transit and wait time you can pass with these 52 little pieces of paper. Also, I feel like the possessor of a deck of cards has a built in way to meet people.  Because, really, who doesn’t love a good game of Euchre, War, or even Go Fish on a three hour train ride?

Even now, as I sit in the airport awaiting my transatlantic flight, I already have a mental list of all of the things I regret leaving at home. But really, if I wanted the comfort of having everything I’d ever need with me all of the time, I should have just stayed home. So here’s to learning to live with a little less for while, and also to Swiss Air letting me sneak on the plane with my quite oversized carry on…

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