I have been having a wondeful semester abroad! I have spent it learning the beautiful culture and city of Vienna. I have been largely traveling Europe in my spare time. Although my experience here has (definitely!) been more good than bad, there have definitely been some mishaps. Written here are a taste of some of the losses I have taken this semester.
It is not surprising that different holidays are celebrated nationally in Austria. That being said, I definitely did not expect so many things to be affected by them! Unlike the US where primarily only federal buildings close on national holidays, in Vienna most everything is closed down. I discovered this a couple weeks ago on Nationalfeiertag. I was preparing to leave for Berlin and found that I was missing some essential items. I ended up having to search all over the city in order to find the toiletries and snacks I desperately needed for my overnight bus to Berlin. (Pro tip: Shops inside Westbahnhof have different hours than in the rest of the city—they are even open on Sundays!)
Stranded in the Czech Republic
Yes, another road-to-Berlin mishap! Look closely whenever you are booking bus tickets—they are certainly not all direct and not all stops are at actual bus stations. I spontaneously booked a ticket to Berlin during my midterm exam period. It was an overnight bus and very budget friendly. I was startled when, after about thirty minutes into the trip, I discovered that everyone on it was headed to Warsaw, Poland. Shortly after I came to terms with this unexpected destination, the bus stopped. I was forced to get off in the middle of the night in a nearly empty “bus station” in small town Czech Republic. It was an open air station AKA a few benches underneath a pavilion. There were no information desks (or vendors of any kind), no one seemed to speak English, and I had no idea what to do. Defeated, I gave up and sat next to a friendly looking woman. She was also headed to Berlin! We waited together in the cold for two hours for our bus to arrive.
Lavender in Paris
A little known fact about me: I am allergic to lavender. I am not deathly allergic (as far as I know). I can tell when I am around the essence of lavender because I get headaches, it becomes difficult for me breathe, and my skin turns red and itchy. I have certainly encountered lavender in Vienna but it was most problematic when I took a weekend trip to Paris. I found myself having to hold my breath anytime I took the metro there because it seemed like every other Parisian had bathed in lavender! Paris was undeniably beautiful and undeniably headache inducing.
Haggling in Prague
When in Prague, my tour guide told us of Czechian garnets. I have always loved wearing and owning jewelry and I have always loved garnets. Naturally, I set myself on a task to buy a piece of Czech garnet jewelry. I went to the store recommended by the tour guide and quickly purchased myself a traditional garnet Czech ring. Included in the price was the resizing of the ring. She sized me and asked me to return in two hours to collect the resized ring. Exactly two hours later, I returned. She quickly apologized and asked me to come back in another two hours (at the latest!) because the jeweler had been very busy that day. After having her promise that it would be ready, I left and returned two hours later. Still not ready, she asked I return in a day or two or take the ring to get sized in a local shop in Vienna. After a small pep talk from a friend outside the store, I went back and argued with the shopkeeper—saying that I had purchased the ring and same-day sizing and did not fully receive my product. Therefore, I had to either get my money back or have the ring that day. My argument worked! The ring was ready within the next thirty minutes. Morale of the story: Do not let shops take advantage of you because they know you are a tourist!
Left in London
Last weekend, I embarked on my very first solo trip! After my Thursday class, I left to London, United Kingdom. My weekend was amazing. I fully submerged myself in English culture the entire weekend. I attempted to fit every neighborhood, museum, and landmark into the two days I had there. It was not until late the night before my early-morning flight back to Vienna that I looked up my transit possibilities to the airport. Much to my surprise, I discovered that there were no trains to the airport (Southend London Airport) early enough for me to get there in time. I had easily boarded a train from Southend London Airport to the center of London upon my Thursday arrival. I had never foreseen not being able to find a train back to the airport. The starting price for a taxi to the airport was £70! (Over $90!) That was almost the price of my entire roundtrip ticket to London. I looked for other options, including even booking a second ticket for later in the day but nothing was feasible. Eventually, I had to bite the metaphorical bullet and Uber to the airport. When traveling in the future, it’s advisable to look up the transportation to/from the airport! For the amount I paid in airport transportation, I could have booked a more convenient ticket to an airport that was more accessible.
The Bankruptcy of AirBerlin
I saved the best (really worst!!) for last. A week ago I received an email from the airline that I used to book my ticket back to the United States. The email stated that my ticket with them in December was void because none of their flights would be active, that I would not get a refund, and that I can not email or call because there is no customer service. Although I have been loving my time in Vienna, it was always comforting that I had a ticket booked to get back home. International flights become increasingly expensive as the flight date gets closer, which is why I booked my ticket roundtrip in the summer. In this case, there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent this accident from happening. I am grateful that I have the support of my family and was able to re-purchase a ticket home.
These experiences have not ruined my semester. Instead of deterring future travels, they have been learning experiences. Sometimes all one can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Life will happen regardless! Especially when traveling, it is realistic to expect that not everything will go smoothly all the time. Positivity and perseverance are what turn bad experiences into good ones.