The new semester has begun, and the Kartause has come to life with the arrival of new students. We all got here jetlagged but excited for our new adventure in Europe. I lost a full night of sleep with the seven-hour time difference from my home in Chicago, but adrenaline, coffee and anticipation for my arrival in Gaming kept me going during my journey, which lasted two days. The feeling of a new change of pace, a different schedule and an entirely different culture is what we were immersed in upon our arrival to Gaming.
I love the Kartause, our home here in Gaming. The community here is beautiful; we live together, study together and, best of all, grow together. My class schedule, sleep schedule, work schedule and social agenda are all different from those of main campus. I do homework all day — in between Ministry to Moms and my chapel cleaning job — so that I am free on the weekends. This new schedule is teaching me more about time management and study skills, which is a real blessing.
Just when I felt adjusted to the schedule and routine here, the first free weekend came. This was a much different experience than the school trips we went on for the first few weekends here. We were on our own and planned our own travel arrangements, accommodations and itineraries. It started out as an overwhelming process of finding cheap flights and hostels followed by decision-making about what I wanted to do once I reached my destination.
For this first free weekend, I went to Paris. It was my 20th birthday, and my good friends were going too. Then I realized my flight was at a different time than theirs, meaning that I needed to get myself to Vienna on my own.
I have traveled alone many times before, but I was a little intimidated by the train transfers on the Austrian train system. Regardless, I needed to get to Vienna for my flight, so I embarked on my journey. Lucky for me, I met some other “frannies” at the bus stop, and we traveled and worked together to get to the airport on time.
After all of my group made it to Charles de Gaulle Airport in France, we began to make our way to the hostel. One of the biggest difficulties so far has been traveling and not being able to read the signs everywhere I go. While many will have the words below in English, I always seemed to stumble into something important I needed to read when there was no English. This pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I had to find someone who spoke French to point me in the right direction.
While I did not enjoy having to ask for help so frequently, these were humbling moments for me each time, reminding me that I do not know as much as I feel I do. Plus, it is all part of the “Austria experience” to go out of my comfort zone on these excursions.
Paris, as I learned the next day, is beautiful. I was anticipating Paris to be less amazing than it was talked up to be, just because the whole romantic city vibe sounded dramatic to me.
It surpassed my expectations.
Hearing the organ play while you stand in Notre Dame Cathedral is a spectacular experience that you cannot even justify with words. The Louvre was huge and had amazing artwork in it, including the famous Mona Lisa, which I found simple yet fascinating.
Versailles Palace and its gardens were my favorite part, with beautiful paintings in the palace followed by gorgeous fountains and flowers spread throughout the huge garden. The Eiffel Tower was tall, majestic and classy. We had the opportunity on my birthday to go on a night boat tour by the Eiffel Tower and see it light up and dazzle as we passed it. I don’t think I will ever forget that evening.
The metro system took a few rides to adjust to. Like any public transportation system, it was intricate and had many different lines that took you around the city. But eventually we figured it out, and I felt very comfortable and confident as we rode around to get to as many sites as we could. Again, it took some questions from locals and a lot of Google Maps assistance, but we never got lost while we were there.
Traveling this weekend was exhausting. I slept very little, walked until my feet ached constantly and ate many sandwiches on the go. But this opportunity to travel was worth all of the exhaustion and craziness. I feel more confident about traveling after this weekend, and I made some memories I will never forget. The Austria semester is in full swing, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next!