Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alive and Kicking in 2009

After surviving NaNoWriMo, I found myself thrown into December with the holidays quickly approaching. I had every intention to write about the Austrian Christmas traditions in fascinating and epic detail, but between school and everything else...well...yeah. It's the holidays.


Promptly after Christmas, I flew to Berlin for a week to visit a good friend from college who was back visiting her family for the holidays. Again, I intended to write copious logs of my travels, but when I arrived back in Graz on January 1, unfortunately somewhat sick, all I wanted to do was watch "The Office" for hours on end for the next few days until I had to go back to school again.


After my birthday, I thought that I would surely, surely come back to my blog and write...but then there just seemed to be so much to make up. So, in short, I've decided to give a brief photo summary of the last month, and then I'll come along later and post more highlights.

So without further ado, I bring you...

THE HOLIDAY SEASON



Advent in Graz:

The city of Graz comes alive in the Advent season with Christmas markets, decorations, and events. Every year there is an ice nativity in the inner courtyard of the Amory, and I happened to actually catch it this year before it melted!


Glühwein and the First Snow of the Season:

One of the most fabulous Christmas "traditions" I can think of is meeting up with your friends at the Glühwein (mulled wine) stands at the Christmas market. It may be cold, but that nice warm spicy wine makes standing outside super appealing. Here we are with the first Glühwein AND the first snow of the season! (And I love how the snowflake on the right makes my friend look like a pirate!)

The Prettiest Fire Hazard Ever:

Austrians light up their trees with real candles. Sounds scary at first, but it's a beautiful effect, and far less scary if you have a bucket of water nearby. Traditionally, trees don't go up until the 24th--the day Christmas is celebrated in Austria--and don't come down till January 6, or Three Kings Day (Epiphany). It's the Christkind--"Christ Child", or basically a little blond-haired baby angel with wings--who flies in through the window on the afternoon of the 24th when the children are suitable distracted and puts up the tree and leaves the presents. On the way out, the Christkind rings a bell, and the child knows that the Christkind has been there! Time to open presents!



An American Tradition:

I had the good fortune to celebrate Christmas twice this year--once on the 24th, Austrian-style with Austrians, and then again on the morning of the 25th, American-style, with an American friend and her husband. Later that day we again celebrated Austrian-style: going to lunch with family...or an Austrian family, anyway.


Berlin:

What can I say? Berlin was an awesome city. I arrived on the 26th, when it was still in all of its Christmas glory--here you can see just one of the many ferris wheels at the various Christmas markets around the city. I stayed mostly on the East side, but between the tours and museums and history, I was hooked. I've got to go back.

Remnants of the GDR:

The East German TV tower is just one of the many remants of East Germany's past. It was contructed to boast of East German engineering, but since Berlin makes a city out of swampland, the original tower designed by East German engineers kept sinking. Literally overnight, Swedish engineers were secretly flown in with the expertise necessary to fix the plans, but when they got back, they broke their secrecy agreement. East Germany was embarrassed in the eyes of the West, but thanks to the ever-convenient policy of media censorship, the East Germans were none the wiser and ended up admiring the tower as their own handiwork and beacon to the world. Berlin is chock full of interesting history like this, and I couldn't get enough of it.


The Berlin Wall:
No visit to Berlin would be complete without a visit to the Wall. The history of the wall is intriguing--it literally came up and fell down overnight! It was so fascinating that I bought a book on the subject...and then 4 more books having to do with Berlin as well!




New Year's Eve:
New Year's Eve in Berlin is CRAZY. It's like being in a war zone. The city is crazy wild, with firecrackers and fireworks going off in every street all night long. Everyone is outside partying, and in their festive spirit, sometimes they throw a firecracker on passersby or under cars--one bounced off my leg before exploding! The police watch all of this go down--it's normal. And then some poor city worker is left to clean the streets in the wee hours of the mourn from more debris than I've ever seen in my life.




My Birthday--The Last Holiday of the Holiday Season:
I celebrated my birthday on a Wednesday--a school night--with some close friends in Graz. First stop was Chi-Chi's, our local Austrian Tex-Mex, where I got the closest thing to an "authentic" margarita I could find...and then they brought out this flaming birthday surprise! Oh, and they also let me keep the sombrero. Then we went to my favorite Austrian restaurant where, amazingly, the give you a free 4-course meal on your birthday! Can't argue with that! Then on Friday I had a joint party with a friend who shares my birthday at her spacious apartment on the edge of town. The theme was CREME ACABRIA--an anagram of our names (Rebecca/Maria)--and we encouraged our guests to come in costume, dressed as whatever they interpreted CREME ACABRIA to be. ...There was certainly a lot of coffee represented though...
AND FINALLY......


Holly Golightly and Cotton Ball:
I decided I needed a pet. A pet that offered somewhat cuddly companionship with a short life span...so I got some birthday hamsters. Not just any hamsters though--Dschungarischen Zwerghamster, which, after an inordinate amount of online searching, I discovered are called Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamsters in English. They're the size of mice, but much more adorable and have amazing skills like using a litter box...yes, Austrian hamsters are THAT amazing. They'll probably be getting their own blog entry soon... :)

1 comment:

Joshua and Kimberly said...

You're crazy to have hamsters! :) But then, I had gerbils back in the day. Waaaaaaaay back in the day.

How was the Mexican food? I've been exploring the different styles of Mexican food - Pueblo Mexican is unique unto its own, tho a fair comparison can be made with Southwest-New Mexican Mexican food. Tex-Mex is startling different, and Seattle-lite Mexican is like Pace salsa with a pseudo-Mexican server. Pueblo has Green Chili, tho merely 35 miles north, it's all about the red salsa. In Cali, avocados and black olives were standard faire... which I miss.

So now I've written blog-length in your comment box...sorry.... :)