Hallo aus Österreich! Hello from Austria! I’m finally all settled in and have been spending the last week getting to know Vienna. Before we moved to the city our first three days were spent in Mariazell, a small town in Styria surrounded by the Austrian Alps. Masking the green mountains, beautiful snow fell on our first day, covering the rolling hills for two days straight. Large flakes consistently drifted from the gray-blue sky and covered the hills, trees, and roofs in a soft, fluffy white blanket. We stayed in a youth hostel until Sunday, at which point we travelled about three hours back to Vienna and finally moved into our apartments.
Arriving in Vienna at 3pm on January 10 the first bus of students spent time getting to know one another and exploring the small town. Some of us went on a mini hike to a small chapel above our hostel. It was a steep climb, but well worth it; the view from the chapel walls was inconceivably beautiful. The hills became shadow-like as they blended with the hazy fog of the darkening evening-probably a bit influenced by my horrific jet-lag and partly influenced by my gratitude for this experience.
Most of the three-day weekend was filled with information sessions about Austria, the culture, what the program entails, and other necessary things. We took tests and had an interview in German to gauge our language skills for our class placement. After all the necessary lectures, we had opportunities to take hikes and travel into town. However, the snow hindered our visibility and accessibility options. The snow came down so fast and there was so much of it that our busses could not safely descend the steep hill upon which our hostel stood. The option of walking 45 minutes up and down hills to the town was presented and, of course, we all took advantage. A scary and careful 45 minute walk stood between us and Mariazell’s small-town charm. In the end was it worth it? of course! Did we regret it during the walk? You bet. The sight of 120 students trekking down a steep, snowy, and icy hill, slipping without warning, prompted most of us to walk with our knees bent and our heads down…some unexpected muscles were very sore the next morning, but we made it!
We visited the Basilika Mariazell, built around the beginning of the 13th century. Inspired by a Christian monk and his miraculous wood carving of the Virgin Mary, the basilica was erected to house the magical object that helped to save the monk from an attack in the alps. The wooden idol is honored in the main altar surrounded by gold and intricate marble carvings.
My favorite evening activity was a surprise. As we all sat awkwardly in a circle about the room the sound of a distant accordion drifted through the doors and suddenly appeared, dressed in Lederhosen, an all-male Austrian folk dancing group. Their footwork was amazing and we realized how difficult it was when they attempted to teach us a polka. All the hopping and slapping and clapping was a little too much for most of us to handle at once. We’ll keep practicing. On the other hand, our waltzing skills are a bit more important as we are attending a ball at the end of January.
Our weekend in Mariazell ended on Sunday the 13th of January. We packed onto the busses and made our way through the hills to Vienna. Although sad to leave the beautiful Alps, our excitement was great to finally move into our permanent homes. Photos to come!