tour around Austria and we were all in.
First, I should explain the way one goes about planning a trip when they are studying abroad. One doesn't. We knew that we were taking an Austrian tour but we actually didn't know where we were staying or even which
cities we were visiting until the night before. We were frantically searching for hostels at 9pm and our train to somewhere (we hadn't planned this out yet) left at 7am. Our city choices were decided solely on hostel availability and the lucky city winners were Innsbruck and Neukirche.
Innsbruck is a ski town. It hosted the Winter Olympics a couple of times and it is surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately, it rained both days we were there so the pictures don't quite capture the splendor of the city. We visited some of the guide book's "Must See's" and went to bed before 11pm.
On Friday, the guide book gave us the brilliant idea to visit a little town called Wattens, which houses the Swarovski Crystal factory. "A unique and exhilarating experience, this factory is," the guide book boasted, so we jumped on the "Crystal World" bus and set on our way. We were less
than amazed by the industrial view we encountered as the bus pulled up. There were cranes and construction sites everywhere and the beautiful lake featured in the guide book was actually a little 20 foot pond. We couldn't help but giggle when a plaque at the entrance compared this factory to the 7 wonders of the world.
Our "Crystal World" journey began with a look at the largest crystal in the world, 300,000 carats, and
progressively got weirder and weirder. The text guides explained that the "Crystal World" was from the imagination of an artist and was ruled by the giant mythical creature of Austria. The rest of the exhibit included the "giant's belongings" (a giant crystal walking stick, a giant crystal according, and giant crystal gloves) and other bizarre crystal creations. I felt like I was walking through Tim Burton's imagination and I couldn't escape. Each room tested the limits of my bewilderment and I left feeling mystified and confused. I thought I was going to learn about the
process of crystal making, but I ended up walking into a Giant Mythical creature's peculiar dream world.
Our time in Innsbruck was coming to a close so we boarded the train to our next destination, Neukirchen. Neukirchen is a small town in the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, the largest national park in Europe. We had grand visions
of hiking up the Alps, viewing waterfalls, and enjoying the scenery. These plans, of course, required that we arrive in Neukirchen first, which turned out to be rather difficult. The trip included a 2 hour train trip followed by a 1 hour bus ride. We found out that this transfer had to be done in less than 3 minutes since that was the last bus leaving for the day. Even though we exited the train while it was in motion, we still had to chase after the bus. The driver reluctantly let us in and we anxiously awaited our next stop.
When our bus approached the completely deserted stop, the driver curiously asked where we were headed. We told him the name of our hostel and he said that it was about 5 km up the mountain. Our eyes bulged as we envisioned our premature hike, with luggage in tow, up a mountain,
in complete darkness. The bus driver offered to take us a little closer to our final destination and fifteen minutes later, he let us off at another completely deserted stop, gave us directions up the mountain and wished up good luck as we embarked upon our journey. Unfortunately, some of the directions were lost in translation as my roommates and I each ended up with a different way to get to the hostel. After several minutes of walking, we decided to call the owner. They generously offered to pick us up on the side of the road and we were safe and sound after 20 minutes.
The owner's wife offered us dinner since we had overlooked incorporating that small detail into our night. We graciously accepted and stumbled through a German dinner conversation in their home, adjacent to the hostel.
After breakfast the next morning, the owner offered to take us into town, since no public transportation stopped in the mountains. We visited the Krimmler Waterfall and took the lift up to a ski resort on one of the highest mountains
in the Alps. The view was beautiful and all 3 of us were reluctant to leave the peak. The owner demanded that we call him to pick us up because he did not want us walking up the mountain so, my roommates volunteered me to make this awkward call. Since he didn't know our names, I stated our identity the only way I knew how, "Wir sind die Damen!" (We are the Females!) This prompted a good laugh from my more proficient roommates and the owner, but he knew exactly who we were and picked us up 20 minutes later.
His wife made us a wonderful traditional Austrian dinner and sent us to bed at about 7:30pm (What else do you do in the mountains at night?) The owner took us into town the next morning to catch another bus into the city. Our peaceful mountain weekend had come to an end.
Our train ride home
did not lack entertainment either. We had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting next to drunken college age boys that were coming back from a soccer game. They were unruly and paid no attention to the "Quiet Please" sign. Twice, the train conductor told them to keep their noise level down. After they disobeyed his second warning, the train stopped at the very next station where 2 policemen were patiently waiting to escort the men off the train.
Everyone in the train breathed a sign of relief as we continued on our journey back to Vienna.
My study abroad program generously granted us a 4 day break after Mid Term. I can't explain how excited we were. We had grand intentions of hopping over to France for the break but that idea became less appealing as our bank accounts dwindled. The cheapest trip we could take was a