Borders

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One thing that sold me on studying abroad this summer is how close Austria is to so many countries. UGA’s travel writing professor, who is teaching the class this summer – and hopefully I’ll get in during drop/add – calls Austria the “hub of Europe.” I don’t really like the word “hub,” so I’m going to try to avoid that term. (It’s just not a very euphonic word, you know? It’s boring.)
I’ve always been good with maps. When I was little, my parents and I would play a game where someone would name a country and I had to say which continent it was in, and I was damn good at that game. At 5, I knew things my 17-year-old sister still doesn’t know. The schools I went to before high school really pushed geography. I’ve labeled maps, pasted countries made out of construction paper together, and put puzzles where every piece was a different country together. And even though my high school curriculum covered very little geography (which wasn’t exactly a huge issue for me since geography has always made sense to me),  I have had to make a few in high school for my AP history classes. Well, I didn’t physically draw the map of Europe for my European history class. That one I filled in while riding an Amtrak from Boston to New York.
Anyway, back to the point I was discussing in the first paragraph. Here’s a map of Central Europe, just so you (and I, since I definitely don’t have it memorized) can get a clearer picture of it.
 Look at how many countries Austria brushes up against! I knew I’d be close to Germany (Innsbruck, where I’m staying, is an hour away from Germany) and some hours away from the Czech Republic, Italy (which isn’t in this map but borders Austria), and Slovenia, my latest obsession. I didn’t realize that so many countries are packed into Central Europe. (Actually that’s a lie. I’m fully aware that Central Europe’s demography has changed drastically since World War I. An easier way of explaining this? The pre-WWI map was way easier to fill in than the post-WWII one because I didn’t have to worry about all the names overlapping. So let’s just say that I forgot that so many countries are packed into this area. Literature and journalism are taking over my life, after all.) I’ve always wanted to go to Hungary – the name amused me when I was little, I’ll be honest, and I can just pull so many puns out of that one – and Croatia caught my attention a few years ago. The March issue of Conde Nast Traveler actually has a short story on Croatia, and oh good god that place is beautiful and so green. And Slovakia? I forgot that borders Austria.
So what’s the point? Well, I’d like to completely exploit the fact that I’ll be living somewhere so close to all these countries for six weeks. I can see places, watch people, eat different kinds of food, and get lots of stamps on my passport, which will make me feel really awesome about myself – I have this thing about passport stamps, okay?  My passport is completely naked! Oh yeah, and I want to get shot classes from each country I visit. Central Europe would be a nice start to the collection. I’m in college, okay? It’ll be awesome.
So here’s to chaotic long weekends in other countries, new passport stamps to fawn over, and yes, new shot glasses.

 

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The Pilgrimage

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I think it’s fair to say a fair bit of my taste in music is inspired by classical composers. I’ve been playing piano since I was 5, and when I got old enough to make more conscious decisions on what pieces I wanted to learn, I always begged for classical music – Debussy, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Field, you name it (but those are my favorites.) Fantasia was one of my favorite movies as a child – okay, it still is, and especially now since I appreciate the music so much more. My taste in other genres of music reflects my history and growth with classical music: I can’t stand anything that sounds dissonant, I’m a sucker for musicians who use the piano heavily, like Ben Folds and Elton John, and most of what I listen to sounds, well, pretty.
It only makes sense that I make a classical musicians pilgrimage to Vienna while I’m in Austria. Vienna used to be the place to be for classical musicians. Mozart and Haydn, Austria’s most famous classical musicians, worked and lived there, and even Beethoven lived in Vienna for a while. And he left Paris to do this, so that must mean Vienna was an important city for classical musicians. I have to go to Vienna.
I really need to research Vienna more, because it’s become a city of my imagination. In my mind, Vienna is a myriad of domes rising from brick roads that were built to string quartets and symposiums, and a wave of arias that flows as smoothly as the Danube. Apparently Austria is not covered very often in books or magazines. My local Barnes & Noble didn’t have a single travel guide on Austria. I searched through my dad’s collection of the past several years’ issues of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure and found one issue containing a story on Austria – a feature on Vienna. I didn’t get around to reading it, though, because I made the mistake of taking a sleeping pill and ended up in another universe.
If anybody has any recommendations or pointers for the pilgrimage,  I would appreciate it more than an Adventure Time marathon, and that’s not because I’ve probably already seen every episode. I’d really like to go to Vienna without getting tragically lost or missing out on something incredible. I imagine I’ll stay in a hostel, since I’m planning on going with a group, but that’s all I’ve got right now. I still don’t know the best way to finish these things either. I just hope someone is reading this.