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Next Stop - Fribourg

Sitting on the plane I was full of restless energy, productive anxiety that had me buzzing for nearly the entire nine-hour flight from Chicago to Vienna. I have traveled by myself before, but the purpose behind this trip gave the experience a significance that made me feel alive with excitement. However, this did not prepare me for the experience of being on my own in a country where I don't speak the native language. My French has always been sufficient. I have done most of my European traveling in countries that speak either French, Spanish, or Italian which are similar enough that I can usually get by. This is not the case in Austria, where they speak German. Beyond what I can understand from my sister and dad speaking around the house, and the one month I spent trying to teach myself back in high-school, I am completely useless. Not to mention that Austrian German is not the same as traditional German... it's safe to say I was way out of my league.


After de-planing I was immediately overwhelmed. The airport itself was not complicated but the process of explaining that:


Yes, I am an Austrian, but no, I can only speak german at the level of a small infant.


To the customs officials who kept trying to speak to me in German, was more than enough to stress me out. Add the fact that I have three roller bags, a giant hiking backpack, zero change to get a trolley, and somehow need to make my way to the COVID testing center beside the airport (without being able to read any of the signs), it is a miracle that I didn't curl up into a ball on the floor.


Needless to say, I powered through and found my way to the testing center. For me to be able to walk around Vienna and eventually travel onto Switzerland, I had to get tested for COVID which cost me 120 euros. Doing the paperwork and getting my mouth swabbed took around 20 minutes and I could expect my results in 4-6 hours. Which seemed kind of amazing because it takes at least 3 days in the U.S... Is everything just more efficient in Europe? After I was finished, I got a taxi and went to my hotel to wait for my results.


Once I got to the hotel the lack of sleep on the flight hit me in full force and I did the worst possible thing that you can do when dealing with a time change: I took a nap. This wasn't a light nap either, this was an I don't remember where I am and I have sleep lines on my face type of nap. By the time I woke up, my test results were back with the beautiful word "negative" sprawled across the top, meaning it was time to go exploring. During my 3 days in Vienna, I probably walked close to 20 miles. Before I dove into seeing the city, I made sure to get a workout in. Some of you who know me can testify, from personal experience, that I will bring a basketball any and everywhere. Luckily, Vienna has a basketball court on every block making it a literal paradise for someone like me. After doing my obligatory workouts, I spent the rest of my time in Vienna walking through cathedrals, palaces, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum. All of which, are beautiful beyond words. However, the most memorable moment was the evening when I decided to eat at a traditional German restaurant. I was beginning to get used to German, just for my waitress to explain that not only does she not speak English, but she also doesn't speak German. She only speaks Romanian... Talk about the blind leading the blind. Thank god for Google Translate, right?! I ended up telling her that I wanted whatever was her favorite and a glass of wine. Let's just say, my meal was not vegan, but it was delicious nonetheless.


After Vienna, I took the train to Graz to visit my second cousin and her family. Five minutes before the train was supposed to depart, a transit employee approached me and my ridiculous amount of luggage. He then informed me that the train was going to be departing from a different platform. In fact, it would be departing from the farthest platform from where I was now. Cue the mad dash down the escalator, through the halls, and up the elevator. I made it just in time, but I can't promise that I didn't run a few people over on the way.


Two and a half hours later, I arrived in Graz, and I was met by my cousin on the platform. Though I was extremely excited to meet her for the first time, I was equally relieved that someone could help me with my bags, I was exhausted. Kerstin is easily the most bubbly and loving person I've ever met and I instantly felt at home with her and her husband. They took me around Graz, which has some of the most interesting architecture that I've ever seen, all while telling me stories about the Konig family members that used to call this city home at one point or another. I have never felt more connected to the Austrian part of my heritage and quickly realized that I would, without a doubt, be back to visit many times. We spent two days together, and Kerstin and Thomas made sure to show me all of the best parts of being an Austrian. We enjoyed traditional Austrian meals, drank a diverse arrangement of spritzers (usually a mix of white wine and sparkling water), and explored the Styrian countryside. Kerstin and I even went shopping in a very mother/daughter-esque afternoon that left my bank account painfully weary. When it came time for me to leave, I boarded my overnight train to Zurich, leaving behind a teary-eyed Kerstin with a promise to come back and visit as soon as possible.


The eleven-hour overnight train ride to Zurich sent my geeky Harry Potter loving mind into overdrive. It looked the exact same as the Hogwarts Express except that the seats pulled out to form a bed. Don't judge, but I was ridiculously excited by the similarities. The train ride itself went really well, I had a compartment to myself so, I was able to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Sleeping on the train, however, proved to be a little bit more difficult. When I finally fell asleep, I woke in the morning to find two men in uniforms standing over me... a completely TERRIFYING way to wake up! They were trying to check my ticket and passport but I was caught off guard and confused by the fact that they were speaking a different language. I'm sure it would have been pretty comical to witness the seriously awkward exchange of me trying to figure out where the heck I was and what these scary men wanted. To my relief, they turned out to be very patient and even apologized for waking me up. Though it did little to calm down my now racing heart, I definitely appreciated the effort. However, I didn't fall back asleep before arriving in Zurich as might be expected after nearly having a heart attack.


Now, if I thought the experience at the train station in Vienna on the way to Graz was stressful, Zurich central station was gonna break me. Zurich has over 30 platforms on three different floors, all of the signs are in German, I have no wifi or service, and Fribourg is nowhere to be found on the departure screens. Oh, and guess what! I only have 10 mins to get to my train if I could find it! By the time I get to the information desk to figure out that Fribourg is just a stop on the way to Geneva airport, it is too late, I've missed my train. Before I start to have a full-blown freakout, the slightly worried attendant tells me that I had an open ticket so I could get on the next train without any issue. I would arrive in Fribourg only 45 mins later than expected.


I finally was on the last part of my trek to the Swiss city that I would be living in for the next eight months. I settled into my seat, started my music, and took a deep breath for what felt like the first time in forever. All while eagerly looking out the window to watch the dreamy Swiss scenery pass as I awaited the first sight of my new home.

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