Ups and Downs All Around

by NAA

Living in a new country challenges expectations, and like most things in life this process is at times exhilarating and at others, like banging your head against a brick wall.

SporgasseExhilarating: Walking at dusk up a narrow, cobblestone street lined with ornate 16th century buildings, hearing six different languages afloat on the air as you unlock a towering, carved oak door with enormous, ornate brass handles and walk into the quiet, cobble-stoned courtyard of your first European apartment. It’s pure magic every single time.

Head on a brick wall: Standing in line for the grocery store and having the (grown) woman behind you actually push you forward with her shopping cart by repeatedly shoving her cart into your rear end until you stick your foot out to stop said cart only to find that she keeps pushing as though pushing you into the person ahead of you in line will actually make the line go faster. Good luck with that. Then watching as the pushy lady who has mistaken her cart for a cattle prod sprints ahead of you to get into line first at the cash register that has just opened and calmly returns your incredulous stare without sign of remorse. I will never take the Express Lane at Safeway for granted again.

Exhilarating: Exploring new roads and training routes by bicycle and finding yourself climbing through forests, rolling through vineyards and farmland punctuated with farm houses, hay stacks, barns and romantic church spires; coasting through small villages of cobblestones and flowerboxes and stopping for handmade coffee and Apfelstrudel at a Buschenschank where they sell Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil) made fresh on the farm.

Head on a brick wall: Weeks of snow and freezing weather requiring a) consecutive trainer sessions, or b) hours of ice cream headaches, frozen extremities and intervals in freezing fog, snow or rain.

Exhilarating: Speaking in German to a native speaker who both understands you perfectly and whose German response you understand perfectly.

Head on a brick wall: Speaking in German to a native speaker who promptly responds in English.

Exhilarating: Experimenting with local cuisine and traditional Styrian and Austrian cuisine.Graz Dom

Head on a brick wall: Forgetting that there are NO STORES open on Sundays, so you’re SOL if you run out of coffee over the weekend.

Exhilarating: Checking out the local pub and brewery scene; finding cozy little neighborhood Brauerei’s tucked in the arched brick Kellers (cellars) of the city or framed with built-in pine furniture and intricate carpentry in the traditional Austrian style; trying some excellent and eclectic local Bier with hearty local dishes.

Head on a brick wall: Everyone smokes everywhere – restaurants, coffee shops, departments stores, grocery stores, on bikes . . . it is inescapable. There are vending machines from which anyone can purchase cigarettes, apparently including children between the ages of 8 and 15. No matter how good you smell when you leave the house, you’ll reek of smoke when you get home.

Exhilarating: Walking to the top of the Schlossberg in the quiet glow of the street lamps in the first snowfall of the year, first noting the star-like snowflakes floating down through the courtyard of our building onto the cobbles, then finding ourselves surrounded in the silent magic of a snowy night, walking through the romantically lit ruins of the old fortress on the mountain overlooking the city.

Head on a brick wall: Getting within five minutes of home after bonking and freezing on a four hour ride in the rain, then crossing some Strassenbahn (tram) tracks only have your wheel slip and catch in the track hurtling you off the bike and into a parked car. Yes, it was as stupid as it sounds, and a good reminder that helmets are very, very cool.