Salzburg

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.

 

Getreidegasse

Salzach River

Old Town Salzburg

FortressHohensalzburg

 

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

InsideFortress

 

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…

 

SalzburgWinter

 

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.

sunnycourtyard

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.

Eintraumpaths

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.

Humbling

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.

German Learnin’ and Gross National Happiness

25 Jan

It’s a sleepy Sunday morning in Vienna.  I woke up to the early morning sound of snow shoveling.  I peeked out my window and there it was.  A fresh blanket of snow.  It is a rare sight this winter in Vienna. It is funny how a little snow still evokes a child-like happiness in me.  While is it a quiet, gray day…the snow covered streets brought a bit of brightness into the morning.

I have been tucked in bed sorting through some of my German lessons for the week.  Our new trimester started a few weeks ago.  Beginning the new term, it was as if our German course went through a metamorphosis over the Christmas holiday.  The course, content and speed of learning has all increased.  With the new term comes a fresh new array of faces. Students from Italy, Vietnam, South Korea among other places.  All of us swimming together in the often foggy waters of learning German.

WebsterUnivVienna

As part of my New Years enthusiasm, I joined a few expat groups to get my year started.  The AWA (American Women’s Organization), Inter Nations, as well as a group on meet-up.com called Internationals in Wien.  These groups have given a jump-start to my new year with a fresh array of faces and activities.

Earlier this week I joined the AWA on a tour of Webster University, an American University with a satellite campus in Vienna, among other locations. As a native of St. Louis, MO, I knew Webster University well. It’s main campus is based in a tree-lined neighborhood of St. Louis called Webster Groves. I went to high school just down the street. Months ago when I discovered Webster had a campus here it peaked my interest.  So when the opportunity to take a tour came about, I jumped at the chance.

WebsterCourtyardIt was great to be at the tour, see the beautiful building and reconnect a bit with the lively energy and intellect of Universities and all that comes with that.  Also great was to meet many of the women who attended.  I had the pleasure of connecting with American women who’s travels were rich and unexpected.  One lived four years in Cambodia.  Another was moving to Tokyo in a few weeks.  While in some ways I do long for a life and place that feels more like “home”, I can’t deny the stories of life in foreign lands still inspires me to the core.

While visiting Webster I learned they had a guest speaker that night.  It was Dr. Tho Ha Vinh, Program Director at the Center for Gross National Happiness in the small Asian country of Bhutan.  It turns out the Dr. Vinh grew up in part in Vienna and has ties with Austria.  His topic caught my attention, a theme in general of interest to me, and nicely in line with the book I am reading, What Happy People Know.  This was an opportunity not to be missed, so I returned later that evening to attend.

vinh_thoI first heard of Bhutan and their Gross National Happiness project while watching a documentary called Happy. It explores
human happiness through interviews with people from all walks of life in 14 different countries, weaving in the newest findings of positive psychology.  Bhutan and their GNH initiative was featured and it peaked my interest.

The general idea of Gross National Happiness is to take into consideration a wider, yet still specific and measurable, range of values and use this as a guide and tool for decision-making for the country. Bhutan is indeed a tiny little country with a total population of about 750,000 people.  As mentioned by Dr. Vinh, up until the 1970s they still had primarily a bartering economy. And while since then it has developed in more modern ways, the aim and priority is still to serve the people in a more balanced and complete way rather than being completely driven by financial gain and the GNP or GDP.

Dr. Vinh shared there are specific and measurable way that they define happiness.  Here are their qualifications:

  • Happiness cannot exist while others suffer.
  • It can come only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realization of our own inner wisdom.

Not the typical driving forces of a country!  He went on to describe their Four Guiding Pillars.

  1. Good Governance
  2. Preservation of the Environment
  3. Preservation of Culture
  4. Fair and Sustainable Socio-economic Development

It was a breath of fresh air to hear Dr. Vinh share Bhutan’s exploration.  Admittedly, he acknowledged this country is not without challenges.  He shared that as Bhutan continues to develop in modern ways, their challenges grow and increase.  But as a nation they are committed to decision-making based on a different set of values. Listening to his talk was a good reminder to consider a wider set of guiding pillars in my own life and decision making.

And so now my snowy Vienna morning continues.  My fabulous host family busily prepares today for their impending departure. The whole family will have an adventure together for a few weeks in the fine city of New Orleans, my former home. I will remain here and enjoy the progression of my life and German Learning in Vienna.

Bye for now from wintry Vienna!

Unleashing Happiness in the New Year

17 Jan

UNLEASHING-HAPPINESSIt’s a New Year, and like many I am doing the checks and balances of my life — tending to new things and seeking to sustain, grow and develop myself and my life.  Recently on Facebook a friend posted a book that inspired him, What Happy People Know. Impressed by his testimony, I took a leap and ordered the book for myself. A friend and mentor suggested to him that he write his own book on happiness.  I thought that was good advice and I spent some time considering the lessons I have learned in the world of happiness.

I have had my share of blessings and challenges on the sometimes rocky road of happiness.  As I step back and take a moment to consider, these are the lessons and ideas foremost on my mind in the New Year as I continue to forge my way.

1.  The Happiness Exercise.  Recently I reviewed a course that I initially took several years ago offered by the organization The Art of Living. They had us do a simple exercise… write down the answer to this statement: I would be happy if only________. You fill in the blank. Of course I had my own list of answers. Then they invited us to consider, what was on this list 3 months ago? 6 months ago?  And once/if you got those things, were you then happy or was there something ELSE to put on the list as a condition for your happiness?

I couldn’t help but take note of some specific things that I was wanting in order to be happy in my life.  Some of these things have been fulfilled in the past couple of years.  And the truth is, without much thought or effort, a new set of criteria has sneakily made its way on the list.

The lesson for me is to continue to explore having access to happiness without a set of criteria.  That happiness is our nature. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals and dreams and pursue and develop them… but I am exploring the well of happiness that is available independent of all that.

2.  Life has times that are enduring and times to be endured.  This again is wisdom from the Art of Living organization.  It was a quote read recently at a regular gathering I attend.  We had just completed the Sudarshan Kriya, their cornerstone spiritual practice.  I thought it was wise advice and have kept the notion with me to usher in a greater flow of happiness.  Rather than being frustrated with hard times or expecting it should be different, I am practicing simply noticing it… and letting it be what it is… not expecting all times to be enduring, and allowing for times that are to be endured.  And also practicing detaching a bit from it all, bringing a little more grace to the whole ride.

3.  Everyone is doing the best they can.  And everyone makes mistakes.  This is one of my key lessons for the New Year.  I became clear recently just how little space I had for other people (and myself) to make mistakes and that I was carrying a big pile of shoulds around with me (he should do this, she should know that…).  I got clear how these shoulds are not serving me at all and it serves me much better to consider instead that everyone is doing the best they can and that everyone makes mistakes.  I am practicing in the face of this lesson responding with something like, “Oh, a mistake…” instead of anger.  I am getting clear that the shoulds and the anger are hurting me most of all and don’t do anything to foster relationships in my life.  In truth this is a big lesson for me and definitely a solid block in the foundation of my happiness.

4.  What sustains you when all falls away?  This question was asked of me during a particularly challenging time.  For me, the answer was simple — taking walks and feeling the sun on my face. I was encouraged to lean on this whenever I needed it… and truly to allow the simple good of it to be enough.  I have walked myself through the most challenging of times from losing all my personal belongings and my city being destroyed by hurricane Katrina, to dealing with at times unescapable anxiety. Discovering the answer to this for me gave me a place to gently lean.  And in leaning on that, it actually provided a space for all that I no longer needed to continue to fall away.

5.  The Gifts of Spiritual Practice.  I love spiritual practice.  For me, it is like having a home here on earth that allows me connect with myself and who I fully am… and to visit that on a regular business. There are many spiritual practices that are a regular part of my life.  Chanting with the Soka Gakkai International, practicing Sudharsan Kriya with The Art of Living, Reiki, Yoga. How wonderful that I can take these practices with me no matter where I am in the world and feel at home. When visited regularly, spiritual practice feels to me like building a foundation of unshakable strength.

Just the other day after chanting for a bit, I felt a distinct feeling in my gut, in my belly.  I checked in to see what that feeling was … and there it was, it was happiness.  I was there in my simple room with not much happening.  That feeling was the fruit of spiritual practice, independent of what was or wasn’t happening in my life.

6.  It’s important to feel good emotionally/physically and to take the time to tend to those things.  With traveling and frequent change in my life, it is easy to disregard or let important things go a little to the way side.  In the New Year, I am renewing my effort to care for myself in ways that support my physical and emotional happiness.  It doesn’t take much effort, but it does take my intention and action.  For me, this can include taking hot baths, getting a massage, regularly going to a yoga class, finding and connecting with friends.  These things are important… but also require my attention in order to happen.  They are not things to be disregarded or put on that back burner.  What are they for you?  How do you tend to your health and well-being?

Those are my top 6 thoughts on happiness for the New Year, a tiny dent in my book of happiness.  I am sure there is an infinite list, but those are the ideas that most have my attention at this time.

What about you?  What is in your book of happiness?  Please share, it’s always great to hear from you!

5 Affordable Ways to Take the Travel Leap

11 Jan

TRAVEL LEAPFour years ago I took the travel leap with very little money in my bank account relying mostly on a work exchange arrangement in Germany to make my way. As my initial 6 week journey expanded and grew, I began to discover new and useful resources that make it possible to continue to travel on a modest budget.

The point here is simple.  If you want to travel, internationally or even within your own country or continent, it is truly possible.  Money doesn’t have to be the thing the keeps you saddled at home.  Here are some viable travel resources that can help set free your travel dreams and make them a reality.

Helpx.net
This is my favorite travel resource and the one I have relied on most heavily in my travels.  The concept here is simple:  connecting hosts offering room and board in exchange for work with travelers. For a modest yearly subscription (20 Euros, about $24 USD, for 2 years) you literally get access to the world.

The membership gives you access to hundreds of hosts supplying detailed information and photos about their exchange opportunity. There is also a rating system allowing travelers to rate and offer input about hosts they have visited. This is very helpful and increases your confidence about a decision to stay with a host. There are even family friendly destinations so you can pack up the kids and go!

I have written in more detail about helpx on an earlier post, Travel the World with Helpx.

Workaway
This site is similar to helpx, offering work opportunities in exchange for room and board.  I have found many listings are the same on Workaway and Helpx… however there are still some differences and distinctions.  You can check out the listings for free.  If you find an opportunity that is calling you, membership and access to contact information is just 23 Euros (about $25 USD) for a two-year subscription.

Servas
Servas International is an international, non-profit encompassing an international network of hosts and travelers. They are founded on the premise that hospitality and cultural interaction are the essential tools for achieving conditions for people to live in peace and unity.  Members around the world offer homestay opportunities to member travelers.  If you’d like to learn more visit servas.org.

Couchsurfing
I am not an expert couchsurfer, but I am glad the option exists.  If you are not familiar with couchsurfing, it is similar in its mission of servas seeking to build connections and foster understanding across cultures.  Many members offer a “free couch” or bed for a few nights.  Profiles are quite descriptive and there is again the opportunity for feedback from other members allowing you to travel and make plans with greater confidence.

I look to couchsurfing when I want to take a quick getaway, perhaps for just a few nights, and would like to stay with someone local and also keep my budget low.  It is definitely an option to consider when navigating the globe, or just looking for some new scenery for a few days.

Trusted Housesitters
Have you considered house sitting?  I have… and while I don’t have much experience with it on the international scene, I just became a member at trustedhousesitters.com.  This is the largest site on the web and the fastest growing with the best functionality.  With a New Years deal, I received an annual membership for about 60 Euros ($70 USD).

I imagine this site, much like other online opportunities, begins with a well completed profile.  They provide the opportunity to file a police check as well as external personal and professional references.  It might be the ticket to your next international adventure.

What are you waiting for?
Whether you are seeking to change your life and travel full-time or simply for a way to temporarily launch beyond the boundaries of your current location, these are some great ways to do so.  With some common sense, a bit of preparation, and attention to details — these are all safe, viable and accessible ways to take the travel leap. Why not check them out?

And if hitting the road (or the airways) is not your destiny at the moment, remember with many of these organizations you can also be a host.  Helpx and Workaway may be a great way to get that gardening project underway or whatever it is you have been putting off around the house… and be of service to a traveler and bring a little international flavor into your life.

Do you have any travel plans on the horizon?  Or experience to share with any of these organizations?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

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