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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Navigating Through Da with a Ding

Its German class tonight and I am late. The navigation in my car keeps taking me to a location that is making me doubtful.

A few weeks ago I was treated to a traffic sign information session by some friends. There are round signs everywhere here. Some with X's through them, some with lines, and some with round circles. During this same discussion, they also gave me an abundance of information on everything Austrian. The result was the retention of a few facts, most of them not the slightest bit useful, but fascinating to me nonetheless. Facts such as learning that a reclusive man lives nearby in the mountains and makes boots so cool that he has had to outsource making them in order to keep up with demand.

Not at all helpful, and I am now filled with a nagging hesitation as I stare at a round sign with a line through the middle of it. My cars navigation is telling me to proceed on through and frankly I am not so sure. I find I am really wishing I had paid more attention to the traffic sign talk. The large planter in the middle of the road is also telling me in it’s of so subtle way that this way is likely forbidden. But damn it, the navigation says that in order to get to where I need to go, I must proceed.

Fifteen minutes late for German class. Surely they are already conjugating a whole new set of verbs and I will be clueless in the room full of keeners. Fun.

Slowly I inch towards the planter and consider driving on through the area and pleading ignorance if it is indeed a forbidden route. The problem is that although I believe that rules are meant to be challenged, Austrian society is incredibly respectful of them and this makes me a little bit nervous. I call my Swiss friend who in turn makes me annoyed because he has no idea about the sign I am trying to describe.

“Please proceed to the planned route,” says the navigation.

Twenty minutes late. I consider skipping it.

The problem here is that the road system makes no sense to me. In Canada, most cities with the exception of Vancouver, are built on a grid. Here everything twists and turns and feeds into places you never expect. Normally I love this, but twenty-two minutes late and I can find nothing positive about the situation.

I decide that I do not want to risk losing my license in rule filled Austria and will instead find the location on my own. It worked. And although I showed up 30 minutes late for class I was able to learn important words. Like “da” which means here, and “ding” which means thing. I love these words. I also learned that “nicht” or “not” is often the third word in a sentence. Now I can say things like “was is das ding?” (what is this thing) which is actually a whole of fun to say. Or better yet, “Das ding ist kaput!” which is exactly what I have to say about my navigation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Heading Home

This evening as I was packing up, I announced “I can't wait to get home.”

Truth was I was tired and happy that the day was coming to an end, but my comment was met with raised eyebrows. My co-worker had assumed that I was on the next plane back to Canada. In that moment it hit me, I was calling home a teeny tiny hotel room when I was in actual fact homeless.

Of course this caused me to ponder the facts. My home in Kelowna was about to become someone else’s and I was still in the process of securing a flat to call my own here in Austria. Since I had arrived here with only four bags of stuff, I would be faced still with making my new residence, home.

When I think back to my beautiful town back in British Columbia, I think of home. It’s where my friends and family live. However, as I made my way back to my hotel, I also had to admit that it too was home to me. If only just for the moment - and that when I made it into my new flat, it would also become my home.

So I got to thinking, what was “home” exactly? It was clearly a place of emotional attachment because no matter when I say “I am going home” it makes me feel warm inside. It could be back to my roots in small town Ontario, or where my loved ones reside or where I climb into bed each night – even if it is a teeny tiny hotel room.

But is home just a place? I started to think not. If it can be so many different places, then it must be a feeling. When I see my son or speak to him on the phone, I am filled with feelings of peace, warmth and love that resonate even stronger than the sense I get when I head to a place that I geographically define as home. And, when I am in the arms of a special someone I know that there is no place I’d rather be. That special moment is home to me.

I’ve decided that there is absolute truth to the old adage “home is where the heart is.” But it isn’t geographical. Sure it can be a place you seek solace in at the end of the day, or a place you consider during a tough time - but it can also be sound of your childs laugh and the arms of someone you love the most. And that to me is an even better kind of "home."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Naked Sauna

“This is a nudist area” says the battle axe in front of me. “Strip down.”

Well, one thing is for certain, I took a wrong turn in this fitness club. I can be a bit oblivious at times. Wandering around thinking about this and that, and unless something happens to startle me out of my internal daydream, then I can miss what’s happening around me. Right or wrong, it’s part of my “thing.”

So now I am startled. There are naked people everywhere, and am not only clothed, I have a big huge bathrobe on top too. But this woman is firm. And to be honest, I am a bit stressed about how to get out of the place. She hands me a towel, I strip as discretely as possible and duck into the nearest sauna with the towel wrapped around me. The sauna I selected was about 4000 degrees and had about six naked men sprawled out in it.

I am so far gone out of my comfort zone that I promise myself that I will never daydream a moment more in life. Carefully I make my way to the furthest, highest corner in the sweltering room. (Which also happens to be the hottest of course). Towel wrapped around I pretend that I am in my happy place and hope that no one notices me.

That was until the battle axe returned. She throws open the sauna door and says “English girl, towel is for your feet!”

Seriously? Who ever heard of such a thing! My towel was needed more for my feet than the rest of body. My invisible cloak had entirely crumbled as now people were asking me where I was from and so on. A part inside my mind is pushed so far beyond my comfort zone that I nearly convince myself that this is not happening. It’s all likely a dream that was probably brought on by some nightmare inducing kaesspaetzle eaten the night before. Now I am explaining to what can only be described as nakedness, that I am from Vancouver. Another mistake, they want to talk Olympics now.

I notice with envy everyone is drinking water. Not me. I am not supposed to be here so I am totally unprepared. One moment wandering aimlessly, and the next I am living my worst nightmare. A glance out the sauna window tells me that this is rush hour in nudist town. I vow to stay in my corner. Slowly the men leave, for that sauna was brutally hot. I want to leave too, but I am now filled with fear of getting stuck out in the naked sea of bodies out the window. I’d rather die in the sauna than go out there. Everyone is chatting away like this is normal everyday behaviour. By this time I am so parched I don’t even think I could talk if I wanted.

In the end, I stayed in that 4000 degree sauna until virtually every person had departed and was delirious from the heat and dehydration. But like I said, I was prepared to die in that corner. I’ve never been so happy to see a bathrobe in my life.

That’s one big cultural difference. Nudity. It’s not really a big deal here. I think it’s pretty cool that they can be so open and relaxed about the whole thing. However, at the end of the day, I am a Canadian. We feel really uncomfortable when some guy goes running down the beach in a banana hammock, never mind nudist saunas. Maybe it’s because of our long cold winters and our love of bundling up, I don’t know. What I do know, is that I won’t be venturing into that area again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The First Ten Minutes

If you ask me within the first 10 minutes of an intense cardio workout if I am going to manage my 40 minutes I would not be able to tell you that answer.

The first 10 minutes kills me. My body resists and I feel sluggish and tired. Everything in me wants to quit. But it’s a mind game. I promise myself if I go really hard for one more minute then I can quit. This goes on minute by minute until I reach the ten minute point when my body wakes up and off we go. I love that moment. It’s a rush that continues on through for as long as I want to make it last.

My first month here in Austria has been similar to that first 10 minutes. The whole thing got off to a rocky start. It began with a friend ambushing me with some pretty difficult news the moment I got off the plane. The hotel I was temporarily calling home became a party zone for a number of nights. I couldn’t find the food I wanted. My hair stylist made me a mousy brunette. You get the picture anyway.

Whine. Whine. Whine.

I was a bit cranky. Some days were worse than others, and if I were to be really honest, I was fairly unpleasant to be around. And, there were moments where I was feeling pretty close to throwing the towel in. Though, if you had asked me why I wanted to give up I would not have been able to give you a solid answer other than it was just too difficult.

Tonight at the gym, as I made it beyond that brutal first 10 minutes, I began to reflect on things. I made a decision to do exactly what I am doing for many reasons; including the fact that I knew it was not going to be easy. It’s like every time I head out for a run, or step on a stair machine, I know that I am going to have to struggle through those first 10 minutes. But it’s a struggle that is well worth every moment thereafter.

I like to think of my first month here like the first 10 minutes of cardio. It was just something that I had to fight through and now I am ready to do exactly what I came here to do.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Who Knew?

I am missing cooking. I swear hell must have frozen over, because I don’t think I ever expected to feel this way. If I said this to one of my friends, I am sure they would have assumed this lament was the result of a couple of well enjoyed glasses of wine.

But it is the truth.

I love going out for dinner. In fact, if eating out was an Olympic sport, I’d be a serious contender.

Maybe it is because I cannot. The place I call home at the moment is the size of a postage stamp. I sit up in bed and I am either instantly in the closet, or what they call the kitchen. It simply depends on which way I happen to be looking at the moment. My refrigerator is the size of a large shoebox. Actually a small shoebox. And the living quarters being what they are, I know that whatever I happened to cook, both my room and I would carry the aroma for days on end. So I don’t do it. I go out.

Now I have things I would never dream of for snacking. Baguettes, cheese. Chocolate. It’s a waistlines worst nightmare. However, it was a heck of a lot of fun at first. I could justify my guilty pleasures with the fact that I had no other real option. Going out to eat, two to three times a day is a time consuming endeavour, not to mention all that sitting.

Born in the land of drivethru’s , and having grown up in the age of Starbucks, I am used to having whatever I want, when I want it. I’m used to a refrigerator that can accommodate a Costco run.

Not having a kitchen or a sushi place on my speed dial is a new experience for me. As is a kitchen laden with all my guilty pleasures. Now, as I search for a place to call home, it is the kitchen that means the most to me. I can’t wait to cook. To have my new friends over, and my long-time friends to come and visit. As frustrating as this is at the moment, I am glad for the experience, because without it, I would not have known that I actually enjoyed my own cooking!