+

Significant

I awoke early on Sunday, December 11, having accidentally fallen asleep reading The Hobbit the night before, feeling buoyant in the amount of rest imparted and energetic in the literary residue of Tolkien.

A 55-degree Sunday (12 degrees Celsius for my metric pals) in the middle of December. The washing machines completely occupied, the majority of the city closed anyways and the homework can wait until Monday. Pair that with an insane amount of energy, and we find Josie popping over to Hauptbahnhof for a 44-minute train to Leoben, clad in Sorell hiking boots and munching on cashews.

I had no inkling of an idea concerning how the day would play out; loosely googling “winter hiking spots in Styria, Austria” had somehow directed me to the good chance of trail heads spouting from Hafning near Trofaich, reachable by bus from the Leoben train station.

My arsenal housed half a wedge of brie, a pear, a few chocolate cookies and a package of unsalted cashews. My hiking gear was minimal, definitely not “winter worthy”; a light down jacket stuffed into my backpack alongside a pair of 1-euro black fleece gloves made up the backup gear to my Patagonia sweater I wore over a long sleeved shirt and black leggings combo.

Armed with a very vague notion of when the last Sunday bus departed from the station, I arrived in Hafning at noon and simply set off in the direction of the mountains.

Back in October, when my magical pal Katie and I were hiking through the Triglav forests in Northern Slovenia, we stumbled upon a contemplation of our perfect forest.

Both of us came to the conclusion that we had not yet found “our forest”; the one forest that we felt truly and deeply connected to on a soul-level. The one forest that had not been made for us, but that we had, somehow and in a sense, been made for it.

My friends, on Sunday December 11th, I found that forest.

Or rather, it found me.

I began my journey by rather aimlessly meandering down this one-lane country road, snaking around the base of looming mountains and trees and tucking in between Austrian cottages sporting ducks and hens clucking around the mossy gardens. The first somewhat-path-like trail I came up against, I took.

I’m fairly certain it was an old logging trail, the residue of tracks established by the tons and tons of weight of logging equipment chartering freshly de-rooted trees.

Minutes after my nearly vertical trek, I found myself speechless from more than physical exertion.

I was standing, small and yet somehow still significant, upon a soft mossy springboard encompassed by impossibly tall green-nettled pine trees, the scent of fresh cool air mingled with pine cones and dry forest floor wafting through my hair and into the pores of my very skin.

It was irrevocably silent.

Silence I have not felt perhaps in my entire existence.

Silence that was inclusive and welcoming.

Silence that invited me to join in the festivities of an empty and pure mind.

The air was cool and delicious and the breeze that caressed my hungry skin was warm and comforting. Every breath of this air was an honor, every intake was ambrosia.

For three delicious hours, my boots found their own way over white rocks and springy dirt on a raw yet well-loved trail which danced alongside playfully magnificent woods, beautifully and imperfectly spaced apart with the mossy green of life carpeting the undergrowth.

How can anyone say winter is a time of death, when this forest and this mountain exists?

The end of my hike featured an hour of vertically scrambling up snow-packed paths, clinging to the side of the cliff with my cheap fleece gloves. Just as my legs were beginning to wobble with the raw exertion of such a vertical ascent, I found myself perched on the top of the world.

No picture could ever do it justice.

The depth, the raw dimension of what I was witnessing…it made my head swim and my eyes dance with tears. The majesty of this view was something my brain could not even comprehend.

Finally coming to terms with dramatic oncoming of the early winter sunset, I eat my wedge of brie and slices of pear, blow the wind and the mountains a sturdy wet kiss, and begin the descent.

Exempting the direct descent of the first half hour off the peak of the mountain, the trail existed in such a beautiful decline as to offer me no choice but to let inertia take lead and give way to unfettered running.

So here I found myself, the sun setting on the most gloriously-temperatured December day, having had practically no human interaction, utterly having thought out of thoughts, wolfing down gulps of pure pine air and running down this mountain.

I have no concrete idea of how exactly I got up the mountain in the first place, no real notion of what time it was nor what time the last bus would leave.

Somehow–and I mean that in the most dramatic useage of the word–it all just worked.

My boots felt their way back to the old logging trails, dispatching me back on the beautiful one-lane country road a half hour before complete darkness. I meandered gaily back to the Hafning bei Trofaich bus station, the last bus to Leoben departing in three minutes.

Arriving warm and sleepy back in Graz, my body buzzing with the exertion of a seven hour hike, I duck into a long hot shower and warm up a pot of last night’s homemade vegetable soup. I prop my feet up on a wall and breathe into the glorious feeling of blood draining from my ankles as I listen to the majestic tones of opera music and treat myself to The Hobbit once more.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to find my forest again. Perhaps it only existed on December 11th in that Sunday, 55-degree state of mind. Perhaps it was only shown to me because I was completely alone and completely allowed to be completely mesmerized.

Perhaps because I had thought myself so utterly out of thoughts to let feeling and emotion have free reign.

Perhaps because I experienced the rawness and scathing beauty of being completely immersed in the moment.

Whatever it was, it is my absolute and dearest hope that whoever is reading this find it, too.

Peace and Blessings,
Josie

+

A Note on Prolonged Suffering

Happy Immaculate Conception Day! The magnificently observed holiday whereupon heels are clicked and all courses from Uni receive a firm and solid, “not today!”

Thursday, December 8th. 

Which then, by my calculations, would place the entire fermentation process of baby Jesus to be–by Western standards–around…17 days.

Whew. Yeasty.

*I’ve recently become enraptured with the art of baking sourdough bread and delving into fermentation sciences. Ergo fermentation as a metaphor will be making a indubitably frequent occurrence in my forthcoming posts. 

In honor of the glorious celebration, three pals and I popped on over to the smashing city of Vienna for the day to dance through the Christmas Markets before moseying on over to the Vienna Opera house for a fine viewing of Macbeth.

The physical day was itself peppered with juxtaposition; the morning featured a brisk-but-sunny 40 degree Graz with the promise of sunlight filtering through fresh puffy clouds. As we bussed to Vienna mid-afternoon, suddenly a descent of heavy, moisture-ridden fog blanketed the world and dropped the temperature down a couple of notches.

Oh, I’m so glad the weather is like this. It’ll just make everything more cozy!

You really can tell yourself anything these days.

Emerging from the Vienna underground system is like walking out of the mouth of a very materialistic and vain giant; every inch of her face is covering with sparkling piercings and pounds of beautiful makeup that one can’t help but be entirely mesmerized and transfixed regardless of the status of the temperature difference.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

It’s nothing you’ve seen before*.

*(Uhm, unless you’ve been to Vienna)

From the sky hang chandeliers of diamond lights, casting Christmas glows upon the myriads of shops and cafes lining the wide decorated streets. Warm, golden light giggles its way out of pubs and restaurants and Forever 21 stores and casts the illusion of warmth even in the cold, bitter December streets.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

We swung on light poles sporting tinsel and ornaments, ballroom danced in between the throngs of black-peacoat sporting businessmen. We discretely stroked the thick fur coats of million-year-old ladies as they pitter-pattered by in thick high heels.

Photo Credit: Lindsey Fisher

The Christmas Markets were capital. Absolutely smashing. The huts sang with warm light, handcrafted honey candles, hand-whittled wooden spoons, crafted journals, freshly made truffle oils.

We wove our way through the huts, chowing down on iron-oven baked potatoes and cinnamon-sugar waffles, sipping Heisseschokolade, holding onto the steaming mugs with the claws of death, fighting against the bitter December weather.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

 

After the Christmas Markets, we shimmied our way to the Opera, grabbing mini-bottles of Champagne from SPAR to make the dancing up and down in the line for standing tickets go by faster.

A whopping 3€ ticket purchase later, we found ourselves surrounded by the infinite beauty that is the Vienna State Opera.

Women with floor length, shimmering blue dresses delicately picked their way among us, clutching manicured hands around the chiseled arm of a black-tie success story.

Those million-year-old-women entirely clad in the bodies of at least 4 animals that we passed earlier? Present and accounted for, waving tickets to the theatre boxes that have been in their family for generations.

Everything shone with gold leaves and naked cherubim, floor-to-ceiling mirrors accentuating the glory of the interior.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

The opera itself–a World War Two context on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was breathtaking; the hard, sharp stage props created a magical world of coldness and depth that perfectly encapsulated the theme of Macbeth while leaving its audience nestled comfortably in the heated arena. The opera was performed in Italian, the glorious glottal voices of the Opera singers whispered its way around the entire room, the capital vibrato caressing the ears of even those in the cheap seats.

The entire day was magical. Truly capital.

However.

It did feature about 9 hours of pure standing, with a 10 minute interval of couch-to-glute interaction during the intermission.

I honestly can’t remember a time when my ankles have been more swollen.

As tends to happen with most relatively uncomfortable things in my life, I learned something from this.

Skirting around the Christmas Markets was tiring. But the knowledge that the tiredness wouldn’t be appeased for quite some time…a whole new level.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

Standing in line for standing tickets…standing sardined amongst other cheap-seat-ticket-purchasers for the 3 hour opera…killing the hour and a half before our bus departed for Graz by oscillating around downtown midnight Vienna…
I had two options.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

I could either, first, be entirely looking forward to that insatiably relieving moment when I can collapse my backside into the fuzzy synthetic seats of the Flixbus and wiggle my knees into my chest, rocking back and forth in my efforts to control the happiness that comes from the blood flow recirculating its way from my ankles.

Or.

I could accept that it’s a thing that I’m feeling, and then proceed with staying present in the moment. With being enraptured by the glow of the little children dancing in between me as they flirt from booth to booth; entranced by the high-ceilinged dome of the gold Opera, enthralled by the warmth of the pulsing Christmas lights hanging through the city streets.

Instead of viewing the day as just prolonged suffering–living through moments in order to reach the relieving glory of juxtaposition that would indubitably follow–accept the role of suffering in the moment and proceeded to cast it’s hold aside.

photo credit: Lindsey Fisher

I wish this perspective could stay with me forever. That it would be a one-and-learned kind of deal. But it’ll resurface and present itself once more, many many more times to follow. To which I shall be given opportunities to force myself to stay rooted in the present again and again; undoubtedly failing as often as succeeding.

These challenges are just what make life interesting, ja?

That and Vienna. May the Lord preserve Vienna.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

+

The Part Where Josie Realizes She Needs People

My illusions of living in Austria–one cannot refer to them as expectations–featured scenes of weekends spent carting off to little Eastern European villages snuggled amongst leafy trails with nothing but Ann The Trusty Trail Shoes, a solid Jules Verne read and a euro for a hearty cup of coffee.

I would power to the Hauptbahnhof train station, stroll up to the ticket booth and knowingly slide the myriads of 10 and 20 euro cent coins that would build up from the grocery budget. I would ask in a smooth and collective voice:

“Ticket to wherever this gets me, please.”

This to which the ticket booth lady–who would be an expressive example of Austrian female power, naturally–would look at me with pride at my boldness for traveling alone. She would compliment my savvy exploration budget, and perhaps teach her daughter to emulate this woman who asked for a ticket that cost €2,30.

Our entire conversation would take place in German, of course, as I fully expected to reach fluency with very little effort in the first couple of weeks. Maybe a month or so; I wanted to be realistic.

This €2,30 ticket would deposit me in the basin of the Austrian Alps; the trail head would naturally situtated directly across from the train station.

I would ease in my headphones, select the newest episode of the Rich Roll Podcast and be on my way up this mountain, dancing over the white-crested boulders, the chilling wind folding me in love and whispering through my hair while Rich Roll and I had an enlightening one-way conversation on the sustainability of the plant-based diet.

I would be constantly surprised at the state of my own fitness; but then I would think to myself, Oh, this makes sense. You walk everywhere all the time, Graz is rather spread out. Of course you are able to average steady 7:30 miles up this mountain. 

————————————————————————————

Four months later and we find Josie, situated at a mediocre proficiency of German language knowledge, definitely not averaging 7:00-miles even on the roads, realizing that a €2,20 ticket will get her about 8km from Graz.

I’m not disappointed with the way that things turned out; I adore my beautiful lively, primarily-Bosnian flatmates, I am constantly overwhelmed at the amount of adventuring I’ve gotten to do over the weekends with decidedly the greatest humans of our generation. I’ve fallen in love with the primarily-road-based routes I’ve created for my sunrise running, now looking forward to flashing the peace sign at ensuing runners and remembering previous moments of running in that spot.

The German proficiency could be better, but it can’t all be peachy.

The most important difference between the current state of life in Austria and what I drew up in my mind entirely revolves around the importance of good people.

I completely forgot about them.

I spontaneously decided to meander down to the southern part of Bosnia solo for a few days, badly in need of an influx of Vitamin D and a change of vibe. Because of the nature of planning for it–that being entirely null–I didn’t have any preconceptions of what I would do once I got to Bosnia.

I brought along with me Ann the Trusty Trail Shoes and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, figuring that I would live out my days quite happily running, reading and writing in the full force of the southern oriental-inspired sun.

If that would have been how the entire weekend played out, my friends, I tell you that I would not have experienced the waterfall of introspection and personal development that I did.

Mostar, Bosnia during the end of November is off-season; the hoards of sun-craving tourists flashing oversized cameras at the photogenic architecture was at it’s blessed minimum.

The hostel that I stayed at was this eclectically narrow four-story alcove 10 minutes on foot from the bus station, nestled in an alley and featuring breathtaking mountain scenes on all sides, called Hostel Balkanarama.

Being off-season, I was the only guest; the other members residing in the hostel being semi-full time residents who maintained the hostel.

I have never, ever, ever met such a wonderful, magical troupe of inclusive individuals. They immediately brought me into the sanctity of their fellowship, exuding vibes of love, sustainable living, fascinations with culture and with appreciating life.

They brought me along to a documentary film festival on feminist Bosnians working in non-traditional careers (empowering to say the absolute least), took me out for Turkish coffee with the filmmakers (the funniest people I have ever, ever met), gave lessons on the art of fermentation and sourdough baking, made ample amounts of Turkish coffee for me.

We shared omelettes together, late ravaged lunches of roasted potatoes, ice cream; we spent a few hours together preparing authentic Argentinian empanadas on the last night.

The owner of the hostel was this insane Bosnian rocker who exudes the most extravagantly good-vibes, and his band was playing a gig at a local Bosnian club. The hostel residents invited me to be groupies with them, and we went and jammed to the greatest rock, none of which I understood.

The dance party commenced once we got back to the hostel, screaming at the top of our lungs to Shakira and Salt n’ Peppa and the Spice Girls with our microphones of ice-cream spoons until the middle of the night.

I still got the time to hike and to move, the time to rejuvenate in the sun and read inspiring enlightenment texts, to write and to rejoice in solitary moments with just my thoughts and the mountains.

But the people. The influx, the waterfall, the cascade of beautiful good people.

Everything will always boil down to love.

I need these people. My soul craves this connection, this inclusion, this blanket. This fellowship.

I love traveling solo, I love getting to make snap decisions and having to rely upon my own instinct and have to face challenges unsupported when they arise. There’s a lot of growth that has come from this.

But traveling solo for me has suddenly featured a different kind of end-goal: it’s no longer to recuperate from being around people all the time, to get a significant amount of alone time for me to do whatever I want to do.

It’s become a chance to learn how to understand other people better. To become like a local, to experience the culture through the people that have created this culture.

Suprisingly, life is not all about me.

Peace and Blessings,
Josie

+

A Hitchhiking Love Affair

This is a story from the archives, way back to the end of September ‘16 when four Americans (Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas) danced with mimosa’s and brick-oven pizzas through Northern Italy for a week.

Ahh, September seems like ages ago.

This moment of my life was recently recollected during a chat I had with a German over hitchhiking experiences. Nostalgia grew wings and burrowed itself back into my mind, twisting and manipulating the lessons I learned from the original experience and putting a slight twist on them in order to suit any present needs. Any present needs for an explanation of life.

Fate is a funny animal.

Every time a recollection of something momentous is hurtled full force against the thought processing zones of my brain, the net result and the remembered lessons that comes from it don’t entirely match the original experience.

In this way are we able to learn from ourselves, from our own histories.

Fate is a powerful animal.

September 29th, 2016.
Three friends and I had made it to Salò, a village nestled in the Province of Brescia, Italy, overlooking the breathtaking Lake Garda. We had booked an Airbnb–an entire apartment to ourselves for three days overlooking the Lake and the anticipated sunrises–without realizing that the 4km distance from the bus stop was almost directly up a mountain.

With determinantely positive distaste, we became friendly with the taxi man into whose cab meter we watched our dinner euros trickle as he transported us up this literal mountain, symbolic of unmatched expectation.

September 30th, 2016. 
The day presented itself to us; a big Saturday with nothing but Adventure stamped on its otherwise empty pages. We woke to a Brescian sunrise, blood red rays ripping through Lake Garda, passing through the forests of olive trees and grapes on its way to our peak of the mountain.

Full of spirit (which looks like coffee and a breakfast of peanut butter and muesli), we ambitiously decided to oscillate ourselves down this mountain back into town in search of a hiking trail, taxis be damned!

15 minutes or so into our journey, we started batting around the idea of trying to hitch a ride to the bottom of the hill; not out of necessity but of curiosity. A few cars had passed us putting up the mountain, and not a single car had passed us going down. We were four girls on this quiet, village-like road.

These, my friends, are not the greatest circumstances in which to hitchhike.

Nevertheless spirits were high. With the confidence that only comes from raw ignorance, we shot out our thumbs.
I kid you not, four minutes later the most beautiful Italian man I have ever seen–actually, one might be able to drop that Italian adjective there–pulls to the side of the road in his 4-door Jeep, freshly marked with adventure.

It’s like the only car to pass us the entire time, and it happens to be this beautiful human in the perfect-sized jeep.

With a bout of broken English and even-more-broken Italian, he deposited us at the city center, where we promptly ran into a huge Saturday morning Salò outdoor market.

Fast forward 9 hours, 10+ miles of hiking later:

So. Tired. Hills. Mountains. Shall we try our luck again, pals?

We stick out our thumbs with the same confidence, this time with more expectation as the road we were meandering back on was relatively populated with Italian countrysiders jaunting back into town for dinner.

2. Hours. Later.

Nothing, not a single car stopped.

This is entirely typical. It’s usually this way, especially with four people sporting fresh hiking-sweat and slight animalistic hungered looks. It wasn’t frustrating, we stuck out our thumbs both times with curiosity and hope only.

So what was this lesson?

I can’t recall what I got out of this experience when it actually happened, or what I thought about it on the bus ride home, only that now it means this:

Sometimes life is going to help you when you don’t need it. 

We didn’t have that great of need to hitch a ride when we did. But it happened, and it helped.

At the same time, sometimes life is not going to let you off the hook. 

It would have been much more appreciate to hitch a ride after we had been walking up and down mountains all day, ferociously hungry and a bit ragged.

All too often we let the second lesson stick in our minds.

We think to ourselves, Life has never let me off the hook, I never get a break.

But the first lesson is there, too. Instead of undervaluing its presence, try and make the most out of it.

Fate is a funny, powerful animal.

Peace & Blessings,
Josie

+

It’s Okay To Be a Tourist in Prague

This fine November weekend was spent traipsing around the Bohemian city of Prague, Czech Republic, with my Swedish and Alaskan pals.

Prague is well-known amongst the student circles in particular as a capital time for an excess of well-made, unfathomably cheap alcohol; the Amsterdam of Eastern Europe.

Or maybe Amsterdam is the Prague of Western Europe.

No matter.

Prague greets the young and old alike with a plethora of jazz bars, nightclubs, street life, late-night food, and 24-hour mini markets featuring enough alcohol to sanitize every public bathroom that has ever existed in the middle of city parks.

The Green Fairy prowls the streets, tempting stragglers with the allure of beautiful green bottles priced well below a Subway footlong.

Every hour of the day will feature a hoard of international partiers gesturing you to join in the carefree attitudes of Prague, to forget your essays and your German past-participles and to be as frivolous as possible.

As one might imagine a weekend spent with top-notch buddies escaping the stress of student life together by traversing to Prague might go, we had an absolutely smashing time.

But it wasn’t because of parties.

As much as we could in the time we were allotted, we tried to get to know Prague. To understand it for more than its party appeal. To honor its past and it’s foundation. To honor the history of the city that was gifting us the pleasure of its company.

We spent a breathtaking two hours in the Franz Kafka museum, allured by the Bohemian realism and sensationalism that Kafka embodied and that Prague portrayed.

We trekked through old bookstores which played host to basements full of well-loved books, chess sets, and overstuffed leather armchairs.

We climbed 17th century spiral staircases leading to the astronomy towers used by Kepler and Brahe to determine the Laws of Planetary Motion. We breathed in the air of the Jesuit libraries, diligently protected from Nazi destruction and communist injection.

We ducked in and out of catacombs now hosting wine bars, running our palms against the smooth 16th century stone.

We spent most of Sunday in awe of the Prague Castle, Cathedral, Basilica, and Golden Lane, scouring the information signs, breathing in the long winding history of Prague.

photo cred: Sofia Erlandsson

While we did go jazz-bar-hopping and strolled through the midnight city toting mini-market Czech beers in hand, the idea of Prague being just the party city has been completely lost upon me.

It’s so much more than a cheap place to get trashed.

It’s a city of struggle and of religious battle.

It’s a city with a tradition of intellect; a city that fosters dramatic discovery of life, whether that would be external or discovery of the nature of humanity.

photo cred: Katie Fraciosi

It’s a city that has bred heroes from corruption.

It’s a city that encourages you to think for yourself. To ask yourself,

“Is that what I actually believe?”

I am often open with admitting my more-than-occasional disgust of tourists. Of absent-minded, oblivious people maneuvering massive cameras with more buttons than they know what to do with, clomping on 11th century stairs in order to snap a selfie with a 21st century statue.

The way we spent our weekend in Prague could, indeed, be classified as touristy.

photo cred: Sofia Erlandsson

And because of the way we spent our time, I can’t even articulate how much I learned this weekend. Not just facts about the city I was in, but perspective on the culture that has inhabited and currently inhabits this city.

Three days in Prague has taught me the following:

Question your beliefs. Constantly. It’s the only way that you’re going to learn.

There are multiple ways to “do” Prague, just as there are multiple ways to “do” any city. Don’t cage yourself in just one. 


photo cred: Sofia Erlandsson


Peace & Blessings,
Josie

+

An Amendment To The Previous Post

If I were to dive into a discussion of how America is currently viewed from an international perspective, this post would never end, and you and I would both grow old together as the words would stretch into novels.

Instead–if I could be so bold–I’m going to treat you to a little bit of perspective.

I wrote a post before the election, on Monday night the 7th of November. It was originally titled, “My Favorite Thing About Trump”, but those words flush my mouth with sourness when reading them together. So I’ll just label it a blanket….”Perspective”. Maybe a more aptly titled post of, “Denial” or “Compensation”:

It’s Monday night, the 7th of November. I write this at approximately 18:00, sipping Earl Grey from my London mug as I am whisked alongside the Austrian Alps on a train from Salzburg back to Graz. 

Guess what tomorrow is?

For those Americans reading this, yeah. You’re hyper aware.

Election day

Hillary. Trump. Not quite sure why we don’t refer to them both by surnames.

2016 is a momentous year. 

I was talking with one of my international buddies from Spain about my feelings over the impending American doom when he asked, “Ahh, mein Gott. I don’t understand this American dilemma. It appears to me quite obvious; is there any good that comes from Trump?!”. 

Fair question.

My reply threw him off guard: “Well, there is one thing”. 

As Europeans recognize my American accent when I’m traveling, many flock to ask my opinion on the masochistic Trump. He’s such an unbelievable deliverer of hatred, such an international joke to pin on such a global power, on such a worldwide-influential United States of America; non-Americans are just as baffled as we are.**

**”just as baffled as we are” when it comes to the actual results of the election is a bit of an understatement.

It takes two hands to count the amount of late-night pub discussions I’ve had with my international buddies on the topic of Trump and politics. I’ve discussed American politics with locals while hiking up mountains in Slovenia. I’ve given my opinion while hitchhiking around Lake Garda in Italy. Trump and politics were the forefront of a conversation I had in a pub-hostel in rainy London with a Scot and a Brit. An Aussie chick I met in a hostel and I pillow-talked over American politics late one night in Salzburg. I’ve met many-an-Austrian on the bus to Uni with this topic.

Don’t get me wrong; if I wanted to only talk about American politics I would go back to America, it’s not my all-time favorite subject. But it’s such a great launchpad for other conversations. Talking about politics–and especially this…Trump–has launched into stories of “one time I was involved in a Madrid city protest over government reform that ended in the militia getting called” and “my grandfather was one of the troops who liberated Auschwitz” and “in my country, it is legal to burn effigies of political leaders as long as those effigies are wearing capes”. 

My Austrian classes this week have centered on the topic of American politics, as most conversations seem to be doing lately. There were some suggestions of, “I don’t think my country would have even considered electing such a masochist”, which drove me to a level of cultural unappreciation, but more often than not were the comments centered on…love. And peace. And charity. And compassion.

If I say that I love the way that America has elected its leader, I could easily convince non-Americans that that’s the typical American view. The girl who made the claim that of the superiority of her country’s politics (which is just as messed up as the rest of the world’s politics, I would have you know) does not actually represent the that entire country’s view. She’s just one person.

That’s what happens when you go abroad: suddenly, you become your country. Your opinions are applied to the masses of where you come from. You think that puppies should be allowed to go to University? Suddenly Austrians or Slovakians will think, “Whoa. Americans are so obsessed with dogs that they want them to be educated”. But it’s actually just one person’s opinion.

Back to the comments of love and peace and charity and compassion.

Reading through Facebook and seeing what my American pals have posted has been good, but primarily it has been centered on hate. It has been re-tweets of instances of minority-abuse or sexism. It has been professions of disbelief on the screwed up system that is the American electoral college. It has been utterances of losing faith in America. In humanity in general.

These discussions with Austrians, Italians, Brits, Slovenians, Turks, Aussies, Bosnians, Germans…yeah, there’s been disbelief. And denial. And some anger, because this doesn’t just affect America. But there’s been a whole lot of compassion.

How are you doing? Are you okay?

I bet people are going to start voting from the ground up, voting for better representatives and better senators. 

I wonder how people are going to exercise their right for a voice. I wonder if people are going to be bonded together like never before in this unified outrage. 


Will this mean other countries are going to do a better at offering humanitarian aid to make up for the withdrawal of American federal empathy? 

We know peace, joy, love, compassion because we know chaos, depression, hatred, apathy. Beauty exists in this juxtaposition. In our furious grappling of individualism, we have forgotten how much we need each other.

I think that this is going to remind us.

There are going to be some massive changes. Environmental progress is going to disintegrate. People who have worked for years to install changes against how blindly we are raping the Earth we live on are now placed in a corner and forced to watch their long-awaited progress be ripped to shreds by capitalist instant gratification.

But.

I think the influx of so much…negativity, to put it lightly…is going to incite compassion. Not from everyone, but from people who are going to matter.

This is going to allot for opportunities to support each other. To love each other. To stand up for each other.

So; within my first post, I expressed my gratitude for how Trump has allowed me to meet so many people easily. But to add a second thought; I welcome the opportunities to extend compassion and extend empathy. To love. To give peace. To be a juxtaposition against hatred and against sexism and against racism.

The international students that I have met view the condition of America with great amounts of sadness; but none of them think that’s the embodiment of American. Just because Donald Trump has been elected leader of America, doesn’t mean that I am Trump’s America. Perhaps the greatest gift my international friends could bestow upon me is the acceptance and reinforcement of this.

Peace & Blessings,
Josie

+

My Favorite Thing About Trump

It’s Monday night, the 7th of November. I write this at approximately 18:00, sipping Earl Grey from my London mug as I am whisked alongside the Austrian Alps on a train from Salzburg back to Graz.

Guess what tomorrow is?

For those Americans reading this, yeah. You’re hyperaware.

Election day.

Hillary. Trump. Not quite sure why we don’t refer to them both by surnames.

2016 is a big year.

I was talking with one of my international buddies from Spain about my feelings over the impending American doom when he asked, “Ahh, mein Gott. I don’t understand this American dilemma. Is there anything to like about Trump?!”.

Fair question.

My reply threw him off guard: “Well, there is one thing”.

When Europeans recognize my American accent as I’m traveling, many flock to ask my opinion on the masochistic Trump. He’s such an unbelievable airhead, such an international joke to pin on such an internationally influential United States of America; non-Americans are just as baffled as we are.

It takes two hands to count the amount of late-night pub discussions I’ve had with my international buddies on the topic of Trump and politics. I’ve discussed American politics with locals while hiking up mountains in Slovenia. I’ve given my opinion while hitchhiking around Lake Garda in Italy. Trump and politics were the forefront of a conversation I had in a pub-hostel in rainy London with a Scot and a Brit. An Aussie chick I met in a hostel and I pillow-talked over American politics late one night in Salzburg. I’ve met many-an-Austrian on the bus to Uni with this topic.

Don’t get me wrong; if I wanted to only talk about American politics I would go back to America, it’s not my all-time favorite subject. But it’s such a great launchpad for other conversations. Talking about politics–and especially the fanatical Trump–has launched into stories of “one time I was involved in a Madrid city protest over government reform that ended in the militia getting called” and “my grandfather was one of the troops who liberated Auschwitz” and “in my country, it is legal to burn effigies of political leaders as long as those effigies are wearing capes”.

I will be truly truly sorry if Trump is elected our leader come tomorrow. He would undoubtedly lead our country into some kind of international chaos, I see no benefit whatsoever to electing him President.

But I am thankful for the conversations he has inspired and sparked.



Peace & Blessings

Josie

+

I Already Know English

A more descriptive title for this post would have read along the lines of: “I Came to Austria as a Native English Speaker and Everyone Here Speaks English; Why Do I Need to Learn German?” but I received a firm too lengthy from the publishers.

It’s hard to find someone here in Austria that doesn’t speak conversational English. Especially in Graz, an international city featuring thousands of international students.

I came to Austria because for three reasons: I wanted to learn a different language, I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture and I wanted to be nestled amongst mountains. But upon arrival, upon finding copious amounts of pals who speak flawless English, the first reason unraveled. The unraveling of the second reason followed quickly, as I lost interest in pretending to not be American as I had to pick my way around Austrian bureaucracy in order to not get banished from Europe.

I underestimated how difficult German is to learn as a language: I’d heard stories of immigrants who learned German in 5 months, of students studying abroad in rural parts of Germany who became fluent after a year. Everyone told me stories of how easy it is to learn a language when you’re in the country and surrounded by it.

Pretty much just thought I’d show up and then be fluent shortly after, but..

Languages don’t work that way. Not even a smidge.

Fundamentally it takes motivation. Intrinsic motivation. Motivation beyond I could impress other people with this talent. I realized that I lacked a good reason to learn German, and reinforced by the fact that everyone speaks my native tongue. Those people that learned German in 5 months? It was because they had to.

First step: find actual, good motivation to learn German. Process: YouTube.

Benny Lewis’ Ted Talk Hacking Language Learning is what I attribute my change in perspective. He proclaims that you cannot experience a culture if you force that culture to speak your native language over theirs.

Imagine if someone who only spoke Spanish came into, say, the bookstore where you work; you happen to know Spanish after four years of studying it in University, so you engage the speaker in a Spanish conversation. Yeah, you’re perhaps “fluent” in Spanish: but you can’t tell that person about the one time you read this book and how it made you feel, because you don’t know the exact phrases and metaphors to convey the exact emotion. You can’t fully express yourself because you have to compensate with the language.

I can imagine how frustrating it is to be linguistically limited in that manner.

Do you want to actually immerse yourself in culture? Do you want to be part of a different world? Do you want to be exposed to things and people you’ve never experienced before?

You have to learn the language.

Lewis talks about the things stopping people from a pursuit of language learning; lacking a “language talent” gene, fear of frustrating native speakers, not being in a country where the language is spoken. Then he goes on to explain how shallow these excuses are, that there is no  one “language talent gene” only people who are more motivated than others (or perhaps have a talent for memory), that native speakers love speaking in native tongues because they can actually express themselves fully, that we have so many tools for language learning thanks to the internet.

I’m out of excuses. I’ve already applied for a residence permit, already set up my Austrian bank account. I’ve already chosen my classes and figured out Uni. It’s time to stop saying ein bisschen and “I’m learning” when people speak to me in German. It’s time to start watching How I Met Your Mother in German. To engage shopkeepers in broken German sentences.

Let Austria be fully Austria.
Peace & Blessings
Josie

+

An Ode to Running Free

The very air is sleepy; homework lies teetering off the edge of the desk in a manner so unmotivating that I want to give it a good satisfying push and watch the papers and ink pens scatter amongst the dust of the floor.

Dirty clothes threaten to cave the hook from which the overstuffed laundry bag dangles, dead weight.

An unacceptable amount of mugs are strewn across my paper-filled desk, echoes of the past days teatimes after Uni; thumbprints of black coffee stain the plates on which they recline, crumbs from hurried cheese-and-cracker lunches lay nestled in their folds.

O Austria National Day, you beautiful piece of a Wednesday-off-from-Uni.

I wake later than usual, stretching away a late night with friends. I dance my way to the bathroom, feeling my toes flex and bend against the hardwood floor after the disuse during sleep. Splashing water on my face and rubbing away all last signs of sleep, I give myself a stern glance in the mirror:

What shall we do today, dear Josie?

First of all, let’s clear the air: yes, I do talk to myself in third person. Yes I do call myself “dear” and “sweet stuff” and “rocketgirl”. I like to pretend it’s speaks to self-love, but we might as well just admit that I’m a smidge off my rocker.

Hmm, well. Laundry needs to be done, dishes could get a rinse, homework should be tackled, sheets could be washed. Plans for the upcoming London trip could be revisited, emails might be answered. We could get ahead on some online coursework, maybe write a few extra blog posts for when the upcoming weeks get a bit busy.

I towel off my fresh face and spurt back to the room, feeling elements of motivation for tackling lists of to-dos.

I look around at the visual urgencies of my to-dos strewn around the room.

I do a double-take.

I realize that I have no desire whatsoever to accomplish anything.

I give a metaphorical middle-finger to my mental list of tasks and hop to the closet, shimmying into my running clothes and moseying into Ann the Trusty Trail Shoes. I download the most recent Rich Roll Podcast episode, snag a banana, and charge to the bus stop half a kilometer from my flat.

Mhmmm. Gösting.

A little suburb of little Graz, situated alongside rolling tree-covered mountains, quiet and peaceful with miniature horses grazing on hills and hens clucking around gardens.

I’ve never been to Gösting; I have no map, no agenda. I have nothing to see, nobody to please, no one to impress. All I have is time and Josie.

I take myself out for a jaunt, passing bemused through woods and mountains, powering up grassy hills and side-stepping trickling streams. I make it through the Rich Roll Podcast and turn my phone off, letting the cool air tickle into my ears where the buds had been.

I run for hours, exploring sights that people wouldn’t go out of their way to see. It feels so much more personal; as if my presence in this place is welcomed and rare, as if where I am is accepting me not as a tourist, but as a local.

“They are simple activities, common as grass. And they’re sacred. Pilgrims seeking bliss carry water and chop wood, and they’re simple things, too, but if they’re approached with mindfulness and care, with attention to the present and humility, they can provide a portal to transcendence. They can illuminate the path leading to something larger than ourselves.” (Scott Jurek, Eat and Run)

Finally I find myself nestled back on the city bus, powering back to Graz, a bit sticky from running in the humidity from the morning rain and pleasantly buzzing from the exertion of the hills.

I get back to my flat; homework still sits on the desk alongside dishes, dust is still visible on the windows and the floor, my laundry bag hasn’t broken the hook yet but it might at any moment.

Hmm.

Time for a shower and nap, I’d say.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

+

Marry Me, Hallstatt? 

Yesterday was such a grand day.

A group of pals–a Frenchie, Slovakian, Slovenian, Turk, American, Aussie, two Fins and I–danced amongst the magical village of Hallstatt yesterday, taking a break from the slightly toxic air of city life to meander amongst the mountains and lakes of the Austrian Alps.

photo credit: Aimee Brien


photo credit: Emma Cretin



We could have relied on public transport, but that would have meant an early 2 hour bus to Vienna followed by a 5 hour train ride to the village directly opposite Hallstatt on the lake, followed by a final ferry transport to the village itself. The process in reverse at the end of the day would have concluded the actual Hallstatt pursuing to last roughly 30 minutes. Not to mention the added costs of so many transport changes.


So we threw public transport to the wind and decided to rent two of the cheapest cars we could–which ended up being beautifully spacious–making it to Halstatt in 2 ½ hours on a grand total of 18€ per person.


The drive there was as much fun as being in Halstatt itself. Once you get a half hour out of Graz you are amongst mountains. Rocky mountains, snow-capped mountains, tree-covered mountains. Mountains with little Austrian huts nestled amongst the trees, mountains with cows lazily munching the soft mossy greens. And it was Autumn. Every tree was a phenomenon of fall colors, exploding from the inside out, dazzling in the saturday sun and shining through the morning mist.

photo credit: Emma Cretin



The drive was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of my wonderful buddy Aimee from Australia. She’d seen snow a grand total of 3 times prior to the day, and every snow-capped mountain we passed ignited a rocket of “Oooooooh!”s and “Ahhhh!”s and not-a-few tears of excitement. Such a bout of passion for a beauty that I’ve completely taken for granted made me see with new perspective the bedazzlement of snow.





What a blessing to have friends who have international driving licenses, high-quality cameras and an eye for the beauty of nature. We reached Halstatt around 11 just as the sky was peeling back the morning clouds to let the sun warm Austria. We meandered up and down the main street along the lake, ducking into Lebkucken (gingerbread) stores and snapping glorious pictures of the sun hitting the lake.

photo credit: Emma Cretin



Lunch was spent on cushions at an outdoor cafe and featured dishes of Hungarian goulash, fresh oven baked pizzas and Apfelstrudel. Feeling warmed from the inside and nutritionally refreshed from a full morning of travel, the nine of us hiked up Salzkammergut; a beautiful mountain with a breathtaking viewing platform at the summit.


We took our time at the summit, sipping beers and water (thank you Austria for the practice of putting pubs and restaurants at the top of most mountains) and basking in the fact that we were in such nature. The entire day was made 100% more enjoyable by the past week featuring 5 days in a row of cold, drizzling city rain and Graz tourists with huge cameras oscillating suuuper slow in front of you as you try to walk to Uni.

photo credit: Emma Cretin




Photo credit: Emma Cretin



We had a car which we had to get back to Graz by midnight. That was our only obligation for the entire day; nowhere to be, no pressure to do anything but reap enjoyment out of the countryside, simple like-minded international buddies adventuring together.

photo credit: Emma Cretin



The drive back was perfection. We were in a state of contended bliss, sleepy and comfortable from a full day and refreshed from not having to be students in a rainy city for a day. The four of us in our car cruised into Graz around 7, and after the painstaking debacle of filling up the car with petrol–the full tale of which unfortunately has been sworn to secrecy–Emma, Robert, Aimee and I dropped the car off and headed to the city square for some well-deserved dinner.


It was quite brisk and chilly when we got back to Graz, and not having eaten much since lunch before our mountain jaunt, the four of us were positively ravished by the time our soups, sushi, rice and noodles hit the table at 8:40.


I got back to my flat around 10, jumped in a hot shower and shimmied into my warm pjs. It had been my roommate’s birthday the day previous, and out of the kindness of her soul she had left me a generous slice of hazelnut cake which I warmed in the oven. I whipped up an orange-zest honey syrup which I added to a fresh mug of chamomille tea and snuggled down amongst blankets for a few episodes of Scrubs.


Happiness doesn’t have to stem from feeling put together. From feeling confident. From feeling smart. It exudes from the peace one feels when one is exposed to the beauty of both nature and friendship.


Peace & Blessings,

Josie

photo credit: Emma Cretin

+

Lessons from Oranges

The day was a crisp, sunny day with soft white clouds juxtaposed against the sharp edge of the early winter breeze that tickled the nose until it ran. My neck was bundled in a new fluffy scarf, my hands were protected from the wind by my sturdy black gloves.

There was nothing openly gloomy about this day; that didn’t stop my mood from souring. Today was an off-day. I felt…disconnected and internally shaky and tired and anxious. I felt out of control and out of luck and out of time and out of mental capacity.

It takes me 37 minutes to walk to the Uni. It didn’t matter that I gave myself plenty of time, I still felt really rushed. I felt like I was late. I felt like I had to hurry myself on up.

I stopped by the market on my way home from Uni to get groceries for the next two days. I’m usually quite the fan of grocery shopping and meal planning, but for some reason it took me ages today to think about what I wanted to create. And again, anxiety oozed into my grocery shopping experience. I started to think about all the other things I could be doing with those 6 euros I was going to spend. I started thinking about all the other things I could be doing with the time I was wasting staring at rows of seasonal veggies.

I couldn’t plan very well and I couldn’t deal with my own lack of indecision, so I grabbed what was on sale. I found myself shuffling home with a net of six oranges, a jar of local honey and a bag of frozen vegetables.

After stumbling around with the key in the lock, I threw open the door to our flat and hobbled to the kitchen table, plopping down on the squeaky chairs feeling rather defeated for no understandable reason.

My stomach started growling so I grabbed the oranges. As soon as I started digging my fingers into the thick orange peel something changed. The citrus tang began to laze its way up into my nostrils, dancing with my sinuses and trickling down my throat. The first orange wedge was almost miraculous; my teeth aligning perfectly with the natural edge of the slice, the juice flooding my mouth and going to join the scent of the orange down in my throat.

Suddenly my posture became straighter. My shoulders relaxed. I sighed deeply and tucked my knees into my chest, feeling the weight of the day lift off as I finished my orange.

I know what you might be thinking; what a dramatic rendition of a moment eating this orange, you diva. But this is almost exactly how it happened.

I love nutrition. I love macronutrients. I love planning a day around obtaining as much nutritional balance as optimally possible. Moving to a new country hasn’t left much opportunity to prioritize nutrition. I didn’t expect it to but I shouldn’t have forgotten about it.

My meals haven’t necessarily plummeted in nutritional value; however, they have become much more processed. I definitely have spent a fair number of dinners feasting on cereal or on plain cooked pasta or on crackers and peanut butter.

I’ve oscillated between plant based vegetarian and vegan for a time now. It comes down to the simple fact that my body really likes whole foods. My body responds really well when I chalk it full of veggies and fruit and nuts and green tea. I got distracted and negligent and I forgot to listen to what my body was trying to tell me.

Maybe for you too eating something with a lot of nutritional value could have the power to transform a day. What it comes down to is more than that, though. You have to know thyself. You have to listen to thyself. You are the one who meets your needs.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

+

Let’s Stop Underrating Grandmothers

I listened to the NPR podcast TED Radio Hour on a run a few months ago on the topic of Disruptive Leadership. Bunker Roy, an Indian social activist and educator, gave a talk titled Learning from a Barefoot Movement; I highly, highly suggest popping over to YouTube for a look.

As Roy was tackling the problem of launching a credible education system fit for those with little financial means, he discovered the almost immeasurable benefit of employing grandmothers; an often overlooked demographic.

“One lesson we learned in India was men are untrainable. Men are restless, men are ambitious, men are compulsively mobile, and they all want a certificate. (Laughter) All across the globe, you have this tendency of men wanting a certificate. Why? Because they want to leave the village and go to a city, looking for a job. So we came up with a great solution: train grandmothers. What’s the best way of communicating in the world today? Television? No. Telegraph? No. Telephone? No. Tell a woman.”

Roy goes on to describe the wisdom of the grandmother demographic. They have the experience with selflessly devoting a significant portion of their lives to investing in the life of their child; that ability to be so selflessly devoted still exists in the grandmother but without the commitment of a child at home. Women after becoming mothers develop an intense sense of protection. Who are the animals to avoid? The mother bear. The mother hen. The mother duck. If a mother believes in something, you better believe that she is going to do beyond her power to protect it.

Furthermore it is almost poetry to watch some women in the grandmother category interact with their husbands. The husband tends to be a bit older, a bit rougher, a bit more distracted by life; the grandmother takes all of the energy that previously went into her share of raising their child and inputs it with warmth and delicacy into the care and upkeep of her husband.

Obviously this is not in every case, and this is also not meant to be a feminist or anti feminist critique. It is mere blanket observation. I find that as a society we tend to place grandmothers in the unidimensional box of “jolly grand baker”. This is a serious under representation of the kick-ass-ability of some grandmothers out there.

Down with putting people in boxes!

This TED talk has stuck in my mind since I first listened to it. It’s true, grandmothers have an incredible amount of potential to fix our broken, angsty society and should be utilized for more than flakey apple pie or good hugs.

Bunker Roy’s wisdom came back to my mind today as I was walking home from a hiking day with my buddies. I ended up walking behind this elderly couple for quite a ways; the woman had a deep hunch and a significant limp and used a gnarly cane to swat the ground in front of her. Clearly she had pain in her joints and an aching body. The man on her arm fared slightly better; his limp was smaller and he carried no cane or hunch. While he protected her outwardly from the cascading people swarming around the city square, she was the one who would swat the legs of the pesky oblivious teenagers who would mindlessly get to close to her or her husband. It was a very subtle and private action that carried more weight than the protections of her husband.

Why do we think older women like this can’t protect themselves? It was clear to me that had she a husband at her side or not, she would not have been bothered by the hoards of people.

Down with putting people in boxes!

Bunker Roy puts societal problems in such a beautiful conclusion when he says:

“I’ll just wind up by saying that I think you don’t have to look for solutions outside. Look for solutions within. And listen to people. They have the solutions in front of you. They’re all over the world.”

Peace and Blessings,

Josie