Wild World

14 May

Well, it’s been quite a transformation…. switching from the cooler temperatures and refined structures of Vienna to the infernal heat and wild, wild world of Chiang Mai.   The land of goulash and mass public transportation has given way to the world of fresh mangos and scooter rides for three. Scooters

I am slowly and happily assimilating here to my teaching job and tiny budding life in Chiang Mai. I am starting to grow accustomed to the wild nature of this city affectionately called by my new boss “a hot mess.” My new and developing cultural affinity did not come without a few bucks and snarls. But after a few days my mind, body and being started to settle down and began to be with that which I am coming to know… is Thailand.

In Thailand, I have a resident gecko in my room. I think he lives in my air conditioning. He mostly shows his face when I have just arrived home… startled by the unexpected visitor. Geckos are my friend I am told because they eat many of the other creatures that you really don’t want in your room. After just over a week I am starting to relax as they scamper the walls and hallways of the residence where I live.

I have heard stories of folks living in areas surrounding Chiang Mai encountering an 8 foot long snake and getting bit by a scorpion. I have been told of the village cobra catcher and couldn’t help but notice the snake repellant for sale at my local grocer. I have always considered myself a nature girl, but alas, I am reconsidering my claim.

RimpingGroceryAmidst the wildness of Chiang Mai, I am comforted by the civility of its “western” creature comforts like Rimping, a quality grocery store chain where I have found organic products, unsweetened peanut butter and familiar brands including Amy’s and Bragg’s. After a successful shop, I was innocently exhilarated by my ride home through the narrow back streets of the city courtesy of a local tuk tuk driver.

At work we are preparing for our students who will arrive next week. Our “modest” campus of 8,000 students will soon be flooded with new faces and energy. In Thailand the school year begins in May, and so as many teachers, parents and students around the world are coasting into summer we are just beginning.

So far I am content in my new “home” on campus, a mostly quiet haven so far aside from the symphony of squawking birds and assorted insects that crescendos at sunrise and sunset as well as the neighboring band (I think perhaps church related…) that likes to start their celebration at 8:30am on Sundays.CampusView

For tonight all is well. My eyes still grow sleepy a bit early as the adjustment, heat and work week are still making a claim on my energy. Friday has come with the blink of an eye and soon it will be the weekend and then the first day of school. While I feel good about being here and the job ahead, I must admit I still have the first day of school jitters.

As night comes fully here, the only sound I hear is the quiet purring of my air conditioner, a much appreciated companion as it whirrs in a gentle 28 degrees C (82 degrees F)… a notable break from the balmy 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) outside my window. Even so, my body has a natural bend for the heat and heaves a sigh of relief being greeted by its thick tropical ways.

Good night for now as I find myself amazingly and surprisingly beginning yet another international chapter… in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Just Arrived

5 May

Well, it all went quite quickly.  I got on a plane… left Vienna.  I spent an uneventful but somewhat eerie four-hour layover in Kiev, Ukraine.  Then got on another plane… and a mere 8 hours later I was here.  Well almost here.  I landed in Bangkok.  Then one more flight to my final destination, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I am in a Guest House for the evening reveling in some much appreciated air-conditioning.  While I arrived yesterday I am far from settled.  Wednesday I start my new job as an English Teacher at a local school, Dara Academy.

My new abode on the campus of Dara Academy

My new abode on the campus of Dara Academy

Chiang Mai is a smallish city in Northern Thailand known for its rich Thai culture as well as a noteworthy expat presence.  In my brief time in Chiang Mai I have been greeted by her gentle hills at the airport and captivated by the friendly spirit of the people.  Today I made my way to the Dara campus to be escorted to my new “home” where I will live on campus.  I am just beginning to experience the casual ways of Thailand.  In my 24 hours here I have already been on the back of a motorcycle pulling my roller suitcase in tow.  I also grabbed a ride to the local mall in a songtaew, a red pick-up truck taxi with an open back and two rows of seats for travelers.

As my room on campus is not quite ready to go (no electricity or water just yet) I am staying again tonight in a near-by guesthouse, grateful for the ac and shower.  Did I mention it’s really hot here?  While not hot enough to scare me away, it is a balmy shift from the still “post winter weather” of Vienna.

The mall was a recommended air-conditioned escape for the afternoon to pass some time until my room is ready and I can begin to settle in.  Arriving at the mall, I have to admit it brings some comfort having access to some Western conveniences.  As I have begun to make my way around a little, I find my brain is a bit confused as to where exactly I am.  While I am aware that I don’t speak the local language, when searching for possible words my brain keeps trying to string together basic ideas in German.

I am excited and optimistic about my new job, city and abode.  But for now still a little… tired and jet lagged.  Good night as I take in some air con and a good night of slumber!


26 Apr SpringVienna

Time is passing quickly in Vienna as we have finally fallen into spring.  I can’t believe it, but my time here is almost up.  In less than a week’s time I will be leaving Vienna and beginning a new adventure.

In the meantime, I have been doing my best to soak up Vienna and take in the sights and sounds I don’t want to miss.  Life has been full with preparation for my impending departure as well as exploring Vienna and beyond. Here are some of the highlights!


Donauturm (Danube Tower)DanubeTower

We visited the Donauturm as part of the celebration of the fair Anne Marie’s 7th birthday. In addition to a meal in a slowly rotating tower with panoramic views of the city, we got an unexpected bonus.  It turns out they have bungee jumping from the tower.  No… we didn’t go bungee jumping.  Just watching people lean backwards and fall off the tower was enough excitement for me.  Unbelievable.  If you look closely at the photo on the right you can see a faint black line to the left of the tower.  That is a bungee jumper dangling in mid-air after their descent.  After completing their jump they were slowly lowered down to the ground.


Wiener-Symphoniker Konzert

Upon the advice of my hostess, I headed to the Musikverein to see a classical Vienna concert, something not to be missed in Vienna.  As tickets sold out quickly, I was only able to purchase a general admission ticket.  I arrived a bit early to see if I could buy a better ticket informally outside of the concert house.  Lucky for me a kind older man had an extra ticket as his wife couldn’t attend.  He was an Austrian man who was generous with introducing me to the culture and tradition of the Musikverein.  Our seats were quite good even though we were a bit clumsily arranged in a tiny space, shuffling our seats this way and that way to fit comfortably.  My “ticket salesman” and host for the evening said, “Austrians may not be the most organized but we have a lot of heart.”  And indeed they do.  We continued to watch the passionate concert featuring the music of Richard Strauss and Franz Schubert.




Art of Silence Course, Bad Antogast, GermanyArtofLivingEU

It was almost ten years ago that I discovered the Art of Living.  An international spiritual and humanitarian organization, they made their way to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina.  Their intent, led by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is to teach practical techniques to assist with managing stress and emotion.  Over the years I have found their techniques helpful and the organization and leader filled with nothing but integrity.  I simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to attend one of their pillar courses, the Art of Silence, held at their European Center in Bad Antogast, Germany.retreattrees

Getting there (and back) was a windy tour through many of Germany’s train stations. The lengthy but leisurely train journey was certainly worth the while.  Nestled in the hills of the Black Forest, the Art of Living Ashram was the perfect location for my 5 day dive into the Art of Silence Retreat which included a 2.5 day period of silence.  With 25 other participants from an international array of countries, it was indeed a juicy journey.  The experience has left me altered in a deep way and connected with something within me that is unexpected and cannot be replaced.  It was one of the most profound, insightful and healing experiences I have ever had.  I have a renewed spirit for my daily spiritual practices and a new set of tools to assist me on this continued journey of being human.

The founder of the Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, made a one day appearance at the Ashram during the course.  An internationally respected spiritual leader who attracts audiences of 1000s, it was quite an opportunity to connect in a more private and intimate setting.  Just being in his presence felt like a gift and celebrating in a community with him was nothing less than pure joy.


Madame Butterfly, Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)

Opera1I didn’t want to leave Vienna without going to the Opera.  I have never been before and it was an experience in Vienna I didn’t want to miss.  And now I have seen an Opera… well, mostly seen one.  It was the Friday night performance of Madame Butterfly and all tickets were sold out.  I went to the Opera House on the chance that I could buy a ticket on the street before the performance.  I found an eager if not slightly crafty group of gentlemen selling tickets outside the entrance. I took a leap and bought a ticket from them and found my way in.  I was relieved at least the ticket got me in the door without anyone batting an eye.  I was disappointed in part when I was led to my seat.  The location was great, the second level not far from the stage.  The problem lie in the position of my seat.  I was in one of the small rooms that encircled the opera house.  It was filled with 6 seats, all quiet good except, unfortunately… my seat.  From sitting relaxed in my chair I could only see 3/4 of the stage at best.  How frustrating!  But in truth I took a risk in buying the ticket and the costs was not that expensive.  So, all in all, I was happy to be inside watching instead of not.

Vienna State Opera

Throughout the performance, if I leaned to the left… and on occasion stood up and leaned far to the right I could catch most of what was going on.  Not quite the relaxing trip to the opera I was hoping for.  But still the beauty of the opera, the music and the opera house itself were well worth the visit.  Unforgettable.


What’s Next?

And so, for now, I remain in Vienna grateful for a few more days here, but earnestly preparing for my next stop.  And while I am not yet going to share my next destination, it won’t be long before you will be hearing from me from my new location.

Bye for now from the warm spring days in Vienna as I prepare for a new adventure.





3 Apr Makartsteg Bridge

It was a quick trip to Salzburg.  I left Vienna on the Westbahn, the local train with regular trips to Salzburg.  I enjoyed the easy two-plus hour ride with roomy trains, leather seats, and wifi and in no time I arrived.  I was greeted by the cold and rain. With my umbrella in hand and luggage in tow, I steadfastly made my way to my meeting point.

I was connecting with my generous host for my stay in Salzburg, the cousin of my friend and host in Vienna.  We met at the Cafe Wernbacher, a local establishment on the “new” side of town.  I arrived soggy but in no time I was warmed with friendly company and peppermint tea.  We had a great lunch including a soup made from a local root similar to garlic (I forget the name! What is that called?…) that grows fervently in the area, traditional Austrian prepared pork, risotto, and fresh kraut salad.  It was a yummy and hearty beginning to my interlude.

My purpose for going to Salzburg was part “business” as I was taking care of my visa needs for my new and upcoming adventure.  It was also a good reason to go to Salzburg and see a little bit more of Austria.  In fact, it turns out I also got to see just a bit of Germany as I went with my host on Monday just a hop, skip and a jump into Germany.  We spent an easy afternoon there doing a little shopping and drinking tea.

When I was reading up a bit on Salzburg, one of the recommended places to visit is the mountain Untersberg.  There is a lift that takes you all the way to the top of the mountain.  I had to laugh when I arrived at my host’s flat that she literally lived right next to that mountain.  The tram that takes you to the top you could see out her back window.

Untersberg, Salzberg

The next morning the first business of the day was getting my visa.  Luckily my host did a “pre-run” the day before in her car showing me the way to the office neatly tucked away down a tiny street.  She looked at the directions on the map and casually said, “Oh, you’ll walk through the mountain…”  Walk through the mountain?  And indeed it was true, en route I had to pass through the mountain Monchsberg.  A quick tunnel easily leading me through to the other side.

Mönchsberg Mountain Tunnel

Mönchsberg Mountain Tunnel


Afterwards, I meandered around the old town of Salzburg.  I shopped along the famous Getreidegasse.  I took a peek in the Salzburg Cathedral (Salzburger Dom).  Soon I made my way to my next destination, the Fortress Hohensalzburg.



Salzach River

Old Town Salzburg



I bought a ticket on the U-bahn tram that goes up the mountain to the Fortress Hohensalzburg (you can see the tram in the photo above at the top center right). It was an easy breezy trip up, but when I arrived at the top I was in for a big surprise.  When they opened the doors to the tram, the wind was whipping and people were blowing by like tumbleweeds. It took me a moment or two to get off the tram.  I was a little less than enthused.  I cautiously explored a bit, but the gusts were so strong that I and other guests periodically had to lean our bodies flat on the sides of the building for shelter. The wind lifted a table off the ground and nearly flung it over the rail.  I went to the scenic lookout points, but I stayed far away from the edge for fear I would be blown away.  I made my way around, took some pictures, visited the museum, but in truth I didn’t want to stick around for long in the crazy wind and mostly wanted return to ground level.


Fortress Hohensalzburg

Windy Fortress



Thankfully the descent down was smooth.  I was grateful to be on the ground and made my way to get some lunch. While happily taking refuge in a local Bio Burger with avocado and zucchini, I couldn’t help but notice… it was a little windy down here too.  Is Salzburg always this windy? It looked like a storm was moving in.  So I escaped the weather to the local Europark mall and then made my way home in the evening.

After a restful night sleep, I woke up the next morning to this….


Salzburg Winter?


Wait, wasn’t there a great big mountain outside her back door?  Um, where did it go?  A few hours later… there it is…




Hmmm… I thought… perhaps not the best day to do sightseeing in Salzburg. Later I connected with my host and we made the best of the day.  We did a little shopping.  The weather extravaganza continued with hail storms and a surprising peek of sun and blue skies. I learned that the wicked winds the day before and continued crazy weather were not typical Salzburg but in fact a real storm with an actual name, Storm Niklas. It even had hurricane strength winds! Not the best time to be on top of a mountain!

We finished the crazy weather day with a late lunch at a local cafe called Cult, an eatery nestled in the Künstlerhaus (artist house) in Salzburg.  I savoured my simple fish and salad lunch as its fresh taste and quality preparation melted in my mouth. A satisfying completion to a quick and quirky visit.

I left, visa in hand, content to return to Vienna, but grateful for the diversion.

Impossible Thoughts

29 Mar Stadt Park

I began my day today with a brief stroll to a nearby hotel in Vienna.  A package was left for me and friends via a connection traveling to Vienna from New Orleans.  It’s a grey dismal morning.  As I walked through the drizzle to get my package, my thoughts began to wander.11088093_10206605264910259_504198258_n

I thought back to a conversation I had last night with friend and Reiki teacher, Elizabeth, and had to chuckle in remembering.  Her advice to me was “remember what the queen said to Alice.”  “What?” I asked.  She reminded me, in Alice in Wonderland, that Alice said “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

As I exited the U-Bahn in search of my destination, I couldn’t help but consider these words… and take note of my own tendency towards fixed thinking. Although I have thought many impossible thoughts that have led me on journeys that seemed impossible indeed, I still have to be careful not to get lost in fixed thinking.  That is, when I come to what seems like a dead end and feel stuck there… to be careful not to allow myself to indeed believe that is true. Enter… impossible thoughts.

So today I am going to lighten the load of my heavy thinking and allow for some impossible thoughts to come in.  Experience tells me, that doesn’t mean they will happen.  But indeed it doesn’t mean that they won’t.  Impossible thinking can create a window for action that allows things that seem impossible… to indeed come to be.

Earlier this week I took a brief escape to the near-bye Stadtpark.  I have found recently with the lingering cold and demands on my time that I haven’t taken the time to just be in nature.  While I love the city of Vienna, without time in nature I feel starved for something and indeed disconnected from myself.  So I took a little break in my day and just wandered around the trees and communed with the pigeons.  It was a relief to me just to have some time to be, taking it in and snapping photos.

How about you, any impossible thoughts or ideas brimming in your world?  It’s always great to hear from you!

It is a quiet Sunday morning here.  There seems to be a hush in the city as if it has not yet woken up.  A solitary bird sings outside despite the gloomy skies. Good-bye for now from Vienna!

Making Friends with Uncertainty

15 Mar Viennacorridor

It’s a beautiful Monday morning in Vienna.  There is still a chill in the air, but the sun has come out for a peak after a cold, wintry weekend.  It is my first Monday since the completion of my German course last week.  While I have much on my mind and much to do, I find myself shuffling about.

Sunny St. Ulrich Church.  A familiar sight just outside my front door.

Sunny St. Ulrich Church, just outside my front door.

I began my day running a few simple errands. I have come to enjoy meandering the streets and the comfy stores and markets of Vienna.  As I am walking around getting this and that, my brain is flooded with thoughts. With my unstructured Monday morning and no more German class, I find myself unsettled with what to do first with my time and energy.

I am doing a little shoe shopping and considering this… my relationship with uncertainty.  It’s that place that we all face in one way or another.  That space and time of not knowing.  It may be something small, or something large, or a combination of all of the above.  But no matter who we are, it is there to greet us.

I am currently exploring and orchestrating some new things in my life and I can’t help but notice my tendency with uncertainty.  I try to “nip it in the bud” or try to eliminate it as soon as possible. And if I can’t eliminate it, I sometimes find myself on a feverish journey to eradicate it as soon as possible.  As I am perusing the summer sandals I consider… there must be another way.

It dawns on me that I could make friends with uncertainty.  Give it a little room to breathe and be instead of seeing it as the enemy to be resolved and transformed to certainty at the soonest possible moment.  I have a few new areas of uncertainty cropping in my life lately, and I can’t help but notice how in that space I have filled my life and my mind with fervent action and constant thoughts.  It occurred to me today that instead, I could practice just letting uncertainty be.  And consider (once again), that it is okay to not know.  It is okay to be uncertain… about whatever it is, large or small.  And, that given a little time and air and chance to breathe, some great things can be birthed out of uncertainty.

A few days ago a picture caught my eye on Facebook.  It was a painting by a woman who calls herself an energy artist. For some reason it pulled me in so I clicked through to see what was there.  It turns out connected to this image was a message that I have to admit was well suited for me.  It said… “If you feel full of worry or apprehension, remember that 99% of what you worry about never happens, and the 1% never is as bad as you thought…. So that you will never return to dark places, it is very important that you teach your mind to gravitate to the good that can happen, and already exists around you, not the bad that might happen.  Once you are able to do this, your world will change forever for the better.”

Wow, what a message.  I can’t deny that lately I have been watching my thoughts furiously gravitate towards what might go wrong or what bad could happen.  It seems they do that automatically, like water running through grooves in the cement.  I notice this especially when I am in the space of uncertainty… enter uncertainty and there my thoughts go like wildfire.

But today I am considering making friends with uncertainty… to just be with it and not run away with it or furiously trying to fill it with something more certain.  And I am paying attention to my thoughts and choosing new ones like, “everything will go fine” and “it will be okay.”

As I was having my epiphany amidst the brown leather flats, I couldn’t help but laugh as I heard the music overhead… it went, “You don’t have to be scared baby… you don’t need a plan of what you want to do…” And there we have it.


The courtyard where I live taking a much needed drink of sun.

Here’s a little update on life in Vienna.  For those of you who have been cheering me on, I passed my German final exams!  And not only passed, but did quite well.  Hooray!  I was earnestly more than nervous about taking this exam. There is something about facing a test in a language that is still unfamiliar (i.e. uncertainty…) that rattles my bones a bit. But after a solid weekend of studying, pouring German words, rules and information into my brain until I thought it might break, I am happy to report all went well. What a relief and a true feeling of accomplishment.

How is my German out in the world you might ask?  Well, that… is a different story.  In my world of A1-2 German I still live in the land of basics, still don’t understand more than I do.  But I have noticed some changes. Sometimes, I think a little bit in German.  A few times I have caught myself considering how to say something in German BEFORE I think of it in English.  At lunch yesterday with a group of mostly German speakers, I was pleased to find that I understood the exchange of simple requests and conversation.  It felt almost easy to make my request of the waitress in German.  And as for the rest of the conversation and content that I don’t understand (which is still quite extensive)… now some of it sounds… familiar.  Words are beginning to form in my listening that were once just sounds, although I still don’t know what most of them mean.  And so it goes.

How is life in your world?  Surfing through any uncertainty of your own?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Good-bye for now from the hope of spring in Vienna.  As we speak the sun is leaking into the courtyard where I live.  A foreign sight lately.  But ah, so good to see!

Spring Flight Fever

1 Mar
Signs of Spring

A sign of spring – outdoor tables at a local cafe.

I just took a stroll around my familiar but still impressive Vienna neighborhood. While there is still a chill in the air, there is a new fresh feeling and it seems possible… just possible… that spring is not far away. The cafés are putting their tables back outside and there is a new feeling of vitality as the heaviness of winter begins to lift.

The possibility of spring has me dreaming of new explorations… both here in Vienna and beyond. It’s always a pleasure for me to do a little flight treasure hunting, excavating flight possibilities with affordable potential.

While I have my “goto” search engines to easily give me a glimpse of what might be possible, sometimes, you have to dig deeper. Flight search engines are not created equal, and while there are many good ones out there, they each have their own unique set of benefits and characteristics.

skyscanner logoRecently I have come to appreciate the breadth and flexibility of the search engine Skyscanner.com. Typically, you can count on them for finding some of the lowest fairs on flights all around the world. But they also have a few distinct search options that have me singing their praises. Here they are:

Broad Departure and Destination Location Options.  With Skyscanner, you don’t have to choose just one city for your arrival or departure when digging for buried flight treasure. Perhaps you are looking for the cheapest flight to a region and are flexible about where you land. Or maybe you’re ready to have an adventure, but are open to where you go. Skyscanner is a great tool for you.

With Skyscanner you can select the country of your possible departure and/or destination rather than just a city. The gives way to a great deal of flight-searching ease and opens up a whole new world of affordable flight options.

Wide Flexible Date Search Options.  Looking for the best price on your flight but don’t have a specific date? No problem with Skyscanner! You can search for best prices on flights for a specific week, month, even year. With a little date flexibility, flight costs don’t have to be a limitation or deal breaker. There are some AMAZING prices out there that can easily light a fire under your next adventure.

Here are a few examples to wet your traveling appetite. All of these great priced flights were quickly found using the flexible departure and return date option on Skyscanner:

  • USA to London, roundtrip, $485
  • London to Tokyo, roundtrip, $451
  • USA (San Jose) to Costa Rica, roundtrip, $248

While some of these cheapest flights may not exactly fit your date or travel preferences, they can also be a good clue for budget airlines where you can investigate further. Also, when looking for amazing flight deals, don’t forget to check neighboring airports and locations that are just a quick cheap fight away.

Looking for more flight finding tips? Check out my earlier blog Save Money on Flights with a bit more on some of my “goto” flight search engines.

Well, do you have a little pre-spring flight fever? Once you see how affordable flights can be, it can open up a whole new door of travel possibility.

My easy Sunday afternoon continues here in Vienna. My hostess has just returned from her most recent work journey in the States. She and her family are happily reunited. Things are pretty quiet at the house as she wades through the deep sea of her jet lag. Never a fun process.

Good-bye for now from Vienna where I am hopeful for spring and enjoying my (not quite yet…) spring flight fever.



Vienna Winter

23 Feb

It’s a grey Monday in Vienna.  The common sentiment I seem to hear lately is, “Is winter over yet?”  In truth, winter here has not been that cold…. but still winter, nonetheless.  Recently the cold has diminished enough to rain instead of snow.  But the sentiment and mood of a long grey winter remains. The early birds are starting to arrive which gives me hope that perhaps spring is not far around the corner.

I took my German test today.  If was our first of two tests in the trimester.  This past weekend I did my best to fill my brain with the words and grammatic understanding from the course so far.  I tried to polish up some very rusty studying skills and diligently wrote note cards trying to understand and remember everything.  And the test?  Well, in truth I found it hard. It began with a listening and reading test which were both quite easy.  But when it came time for the grammer I was unsure about many of my answers.  After the test I was glad to learn I wasn’t alone as other classmates left the room wiping the sweat off their brow.  The good news is, it’s over.

After class I needed some post-test unwind time… to shake off some of my nervous and studying energy.  I took a walk around not far from where I live, near the Rathaus or City Hall.

Even though winter is grey and long, Vienna does it pretty well.  For the most part, people embrace winter here as well as the many possible winter activities. This is a bit contradictory to my nature as when it is cold I like to hibernate and stay warm. But I can’t deny my slight enchantment with winter Vienna.Skating at Eintraum, Vienna

Today on my post-test stroll I wandered by the Eistraum (translation is ice dream) an impressive skating and winter play area in front of the Rathaus.  It’s a maze of ice skating paths and arenas for young and old alike.  I stopped and caught a glimpse of some of the afternoon skaters, some whizzing by and others relying on the wall for stability.


While it was fun to watch, I can’t say that I wanted to grab my skates and glide along. Perhaps too many memories of adolescent Friday nights and bad 80s music.

So for now, I am warm and cumfy back at home.  Life has been somewhat quiet lately as I’ve settled into my modest caretaking role while my hostess is away in the US.  And the grey winter continues.

How is life for you wherever you may be?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Valentine’s Diversion

15 Feb Lightcorridor

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.  A day in truth I typically forget and don’t pay much attention to.  When I exited the underground into the heart of the city, I was greeted by the always impressive Saint Stephen’s Cathedral and a feisty (in a laid back Viennese sort of way) assortment of costumed workers selling tours in a wide selection of languages.  I turned the corner and noticed a few men selling brightly colored roses.  I paid them no mind and continued on my way, enjoying the sunshine and focused on navigating to my tourist destination for the day.

Ever the bad navigator, I walked in the wrong direction.  But perhaps not wrong after all.  I passed by an impressive building, doors open with a red carpet welcoming a steady collection of people.  I paused and looked hesitatantly, curious what was happening.  A kind man offered me a red envelope and then said something to me in German (which mostly I still don’t understand…)  “Ich spreche Englisch…” I offered.  Like many Viennese, he easily flipped the switch and changed his conversation to English.  “I have a Valentine letter for you from God” he said as he offered the red envelope in a friendly and gentle manner.  The building as it turns out is the home of the Archbishop and once a year he opens the doors… on Valentine’s day.  I was invited in for a spell to have some tea and rest a bit in the chapel if I like.  “Sure” I said.  Who am I to turn down a Valentine’s invitation from God.  So, gratefully, I accepted the letter and made my way inside.

I followed the red carpet elegantly escorting me into the courtyard with friendly yet reserved folks there to welcome me and others guests.  There were lit torches along the pathway that eventually led to the chapel.  At the entrance I was offered a sheet of paper to write down my prayers or intentions as well as some candles to light.  I made my way into the intimate space filled with gentle music being played and sung live from the first few rows.  I took a moment to pray and made and effort to hold back the tears and sobs that often want to come rolling out when I enter a place of prayer.  I did my best to lay down my burdens for the day and took a moment to reflect surrounded by the quiet energy of the other visitors who seemed somewhat like me, a bit unsure but also enchanted by this unexpected diversion.

I brought my written intentions to the front of the chapel and dropped them into the bowl collecting them, lit my candles and selected a bible verse printed on strips of paper in a bowl to the right.  I took a glimpse at the verse thinking perhaps my A-2 level German had prepared me to understand just a bit…. but that was not the case.  Shortly after, I left with my bible verse and Valentine’s letter from God, both in German to be understood or translated at a later time I suppose.  But still, a gift nonetheless.

After that, I continued on my way.  I reworked my navigation, became clear I went (sort of) in the wrong direction, and shortly after arrived at my planned destination.  But still, appreciative of my unexpected Valentine’s diversion and grateful for the gentle reminder of love and the simple but generous act of a small collection of volunteers in the heart of Vienna.

Featured image, a burst of light through a narrow corridor in the heart of Vienna.


4 Feb ViennaSunset

I just came home from German class and running a few errands.  When I walked in the woman who cleans the home where I stay was already here and at work. She doesn’t speak any English, so often we smile and don’t have much to say. Today I braved a few German words… “You are a bit early” I said in what I hope was proper German. It seems I am more likely to try to communicate in German immediately after class. It is like I am more tuned into the language and less in my American brain. A few minutes later we had a brief dialog about some vegetables in the refrigerator and that I like to drink warm water.  Her face lit up and smiled as I did my best to express some simple thoughts in German.  Basic. Not much.  But still, it is more than when I arrived here four months ago.

I can’t help but notice how humbling it is to learn and speak another language. Going from feeling like a “master” in my domain to feeling somewhat like a child. German class today was pretty good but it was also a bit par for the course… sailing along understanding about 30 – 40 % of what the teacher is saying. Doing my best to ask questions in class in German…. my simples questions often misinterpreted by our teacher.

It is quite a new experience for me, being in “midlife” learning and meandering through the beginnings of learning a new language. It is different from when I studied French in high school, tolerating the lessons, then forgetting them when I walked out the door. I was like many of the kids who I taught in Korea… not understanding the value of learning a second language and no real practical place to speak or practice it.

Being surrounded by the language I am learning is quite a different things. Here as a student I am no longer in the comfort of my familiar territory. I am the lone American and native English speaker in my German class. I am also lumped in the with sea of other Americans, some of whom are unwilling or uninterested in learning another language. From my time here in Vienna studying German I have come to more fully understand that as an English speaker from the large country of the United States and the international acceptance of the English language, it is perhaps more challenging for me to let go of my native tongue a bit and make room for play with a new one.

Lately a few people have contacted me for English tutoring. I can’t help but notice my restored ease returning to my comfort zone and place of confidence. But as I consider tutoring, I also try to keep in mind and remember my own vulnerability in the German classroom. This experience alone is an education.

As I am surrounded by mostly my European classmates, many of them speaking two or more languages, I am indeed in good company but in some ways a world apart when it comes to language. They live on a continent where neighboring countries are like the next state, each with its own culture and language. The need as well as the access to the a multi-language world is quite different from the wide English-speaking canvas of the United States.

But I suppose we don’t travel to stay the same. Don’t explore new territories to not be challenged and learn new things about ourselves.

It is truly possible in Vienna to stay in a mostly English-speaking world. Often when I go to shops and am feeling unconfident or shy, I ask first “Sprechen Sie Englisch” before continuing the conversation. Most places someone will speak at least a little English, but I have encountered some with limited to no English-speaking. Sometimes when I try to fumble my way through a bit of German I am responded to in English.  And so it goes.

It is a grey wintry day here in Vienna. My hosts have been on their own adventure in the States. In just a few more days one of my hosts and their daughter return to Vienna while the mom remains in the States for a bit to continue her own work and adventure. It’s been nice to have a bit of time and space with the house to myself tending to the few basic things that need care while they are away.

All is well here as I continue to make my way with German class and a few local connections and commitments. Good-bye for now and thanks for reading!

Featured image at top:  A glowing Vienna sunset strolling home in the late afternoon.


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