Two weeks of German
10 days later it was time to leave the mountains. My bag was full of delicious jam, pickles and bread that I had helped make. I left on Sunday night, with a lift through carpooling.co.uk. A man called Viktor was driving from Villach to Bratislava, and I managed to get a lift to Vienna for only 10 Euros! (the train was 50 Euros). I was feeling pretty tired, as I had had a late night and a few drinks the night before. I was looking forward to listening to my music, staring out the window and perhaps having a little nap. Not if Viktor had anything to do about it. Viktor was a very inquisitive man, he could speak 7 languages and was thirsty for knowledge. He made it his mission to get out all the information I had on Australia. This involved 1000’s of questions ranging from what were some famous Australian icons/celebrities/brands/foods; the metric system; the Australian dollar; house prices; Australians’ average annual income; the distance between capital cities; the population and demographics; the weather… and the list continues. I had to make up a few things, but I’m sure he checked everything I said when he got home anyway. He had little interest for the 3 other Austrian passengers sitting squashed up in the back of the car. I guess there was probably nothing about Austria that he didn’t already know.
A small kite festival I stumbled upon on a Sunday walk
I got back to my miniature flat in the student residence where I was staying. The hospital-like interior and grey atmosphere didn’t bother me at all, I was just happy to be away from the endless Australia-related questions. However the contrast between the mountains and city was felt straight away, and I immediately missed the fresh air and happy little routine that I had had. The next day I started my 2 week intensive German class. I found out why it was called intensive. 4 hours of German a day, for 10 days. Intense.
A lot of the other students in the class where European, and had experience at learning other languages, at least by learning English and in some cases other languages too. It makes me angry that Australian schooling is so lax at teaching foreign languages. There is a certain arrogance at thinking that because English is a dominant language that no others are useful. I understand that because Australia is so far away from everywhere it is difficult for students to practice the languages that they are learning, but I still think that it is a skill that every brain should have to concur. And they say that it’s much easier for children to pick up new languages. I struggled initially in the German class, and felt that I was behind the students in picking up the language. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t have any experience at learning a language, or that I had other things on my mind at the time, or simply if languages were not my strong point. However, it did get a little easier. The class became a lot more enjoyable as everyone got to know each other. We even went out for drinks a few times, and would chat in the breaks about our troubles and successes in our new homes.
We learnt a lot in the two weeks. Everyday I could understand more and more German words written on advertisements; in the metro; on street signs; or spoken in the street. It was really useful learning the numbers, as I began to know how much my shopping cost at the vegetable market; which meant that I didn’t have to guess or always hand over way too money just to be on the safe side.
Me at the fruit and veggie market outside the metro station near my house. Much cheaper and fresher and friendlier than the supermarket.
During my first two weeks in Vienna I wasn’t so happy. After my busy and fun time in the mountains the realisation that I was all alone in a big foreign city hit me. I have traveled a lot in the past, but always with friends. This makes the difficulties that you come across not such big dilemmas, as they are shared with others and solved together. Now I was the one solely in charge of the map (not my strong point) and getting lost was a frequent occurrence. I was really missing my friends, family and lover back home, and was wondering why I had chosen to come and live on the other side of the world from them. Small things, like washing my clothes or getting my film developed, became difficult tasks. I knew it would get easier as it all became more familiar, but I still felt lost and frustrated a lot of the time.
Airport and Mountains
Lets start at the beginning – the always enjoyable flight from Perth to Europe. The best part of the journey was probably wondering around Dubai Airport in a sleep-deprived haze taking photos. Mirrors, lights and green plastic-looking plants. Lets not forgot the compelling shopping experience that Dubai offers. All the alcohol, cigarettes and perfume a human could possibly want, in a clean and brightly lit environment. Nothing like a 12 hour plane ride to leave passengers brain-dead and in perfect consuming form. Or perhaps it’s the 10% discount that you can only find at an airport.
Anyway, 30 hours after leaving home I made it to Vienna. Naturally I got a little lost trying finding my flat. After a train, a few metros and a fair amount of walking I found it. Unfortunately the pin for a safe that I was instructed to use to retrieve my room key didn’t work. Even after 50 tries. On the 51st attempt I decided to accept the fact that I wasn’t getting into my room and I should probably find a hostel. I walked for about half hour in a direction where I thought I might find some internet and beer (I was pretty thirsty by now). I found a nice beer garden and managed to find a hostel easily enough. It was a very enjoyable beer. Got the last bed at the hostel and had a very satisfying slumber.
OFF TO THE MOUNTAINS
One day later I was sitting in a train heading to Villach in the Southern Austrian Alps. I had organised to work on a small organic farmstead there, through a program called helpX (www.helpx.net). HelpX is network where people can do various kinds of work for food and accommodation, and hopefully have an interesting cultural experience. I liked the sound of working on this farm in the mountains as it involved cooking with the mother, working in a large vegetable garden, and doing odd jobs around the house and on the farm. One of the sisters met me at the train station and drove me to the farm. We drove up and up and up the very narrow and windy mountain roads. The scenery and view became more and more beautiful. I was very impressed with how fast this 18 year old could drive on these roads. I tried not to think about what would happen if there was a car driving down equally as fast.
View from my window
The family was very lovely, and made me feel very comfortable and at home. The mother and father had 11 children, ranging from 18 – 30-something years old. Some of the children worked on the farm, some worked nearby, some were working on the farm for their holidays, and others lived elsewhere and often visited. So people where constantly coming and going. My German is very limited, as was their English. However we found it easy enough to communicate with the few words we knew, hand gestures, and a lot of guess work. There were two girls from New Zealand also working there, Jess and Darrienne. As they had been working there for a week they showed me a lot of what I had to do, and taught me the names of the family and friends and what they had learned about them.
Here is a list of some of the jobs that I did:
- Cleaning up after breakfast and lunch.
- Feeding the chickens (chickens are my favourite animal).
- Hanging out the washing.
- Collecting plums off the ground while Elizabeth (the mother) hit the tree with a stick like a madman. Tried not to get stung by the millions of wasps. Pitting, and slicing big pots of plums in the sunshine. Then turning them into jam.
- Making other preserves like pickles; and cutting and freezing herbs and vegetables for the winter.
- Helping make bread in the wooden bread oven.
- Cleaning the cellars, and emptying all the ash from the wood ovens.
- Collecting vegetables and weeding the veggie garden
- Helping with the potato harvest.
- Cooking lunch. I cooked lunch for everyone a few times, and other times I helped the mother. It was so fun being able to go to the veggie garden to pick all the things I needed – pumpkin, silver-beet, carrots, leeks, onion, zucchini, peas, raspberries, basil, parsley..
- Baking cakes. That was more for fun.
- Helping Heinz (the father) move wood from one part of the farm to another.
- Helping make silage bails. That involved using long wooden rakes to collect the cut grass from the steep slopes and around trees so a tractor could collect it. Then another tractor was used to compact it. Then another machine was used to wrap the bails in plastic. I got to ride in the tractor the whole time. And I even got to try and drive the tractor.
Grass Mounds for Silage Bails
Weeding in the Veggie Garden
The ‘work’ on the farm was very enjoyable and only occupied a few hours of my day. That left lots of time to go on mountain walks, lake swims, lying in the sun, reading.. We would often get taken along to random places, we would hop into a car and find out where we were going once we got there. Once it was a massive European annual Harley Davidson Festival. Random. Another time it was a journey through the mountains, across the boarder to Slovenia, to buy cheap capsicums. During the process we went in and out of 3 different cars. We were in Slovenia for about 20 minutes. Some nights we went out drinking with the boys to bars in nearby villages. Other nights we had bonfires and bbqs, and would sit around the fire drinking beers, waiting for the moon to pop up over the mountains. Life was sweet in the mountains.
Afritz am See for an afternoon swim