"Down here at Cape Spartel is the celebrated cave of Hercules, where the hero took refuge when he was vanquished and driven out of the Tangier country. It is full of inscriptions in the dead languages, which fact makes me think Hercules could not have traveled much, else he would not have kept a journal."

-"The Innocents Abroad," Mark Twain

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Bit of Exploring

Good morning, Sunday! I am taking advantage of a little bit of time at home to FINALLY write again. It's been a long time since I last posted, I know, etc. etc. etc. Let's just get on with it.

Two weeks ago, we went to go see manger scenes. However, these are  no ordinary manger scenes. People here make them by hand and they are handed down from generation to generation, with everyone adding more figures as time goes on. The setups are typically displayed in peoples' homes, and of course, end up being huge. Many of the figures have names (other than just the Biblical people) and are modeled after people in the town at the time that the figures are made. Likewise, homes and buildings are added that are miniature replicas of those in the area. In this way, not only is an important Biblical message on display, but also the town's history and character. (By the way, the German word for these are "Krippe.")

I did my best to take pictures of them, but it was hard to fit everything in!

Later that week, we had some absolutely stunning weather, and I was able to take advantage of a block of two free periods to do a bit more exploring of the city. Here are some of my tourist moments:

I also took the time to visit the city's science museum, but unfortunately, barely started on it! It is quite extensive, and I hope to be able to return soon to see more.

My weight on the sun (and you were worried about your weight!)

Not the best quality, but I had never seen a snake drink before!

BEAUTIFUL, don't you think?
This past week has been a rather different one. I had my first orchestra concert here, which was short but went well enough. One day after school, I was the first one home, so I decided to go on a walk to one of the neighboring towns which I had previously not seen much of. I put the Grease album in my ears, and luckily, did not meet more than three people while out... The path goes through the woods by the lake; naturally, this means that I took pictures of the scenery and barely any of the town itself! Again, it was one of the few nicer days we have had lately :)

Yes, this is a hotel! I passed this on the outskirts of town - it looks like it should be in a fairy tale!
This turned out to be a rather picture-heavy post; I suppose I am making up for the last one! The rest of my weekend is going to be a bit busy, so I will leave that until next time.

Love to All,
mary beth

P.S. I have passed the halfway mark of my year here! It seems impossible to think that I will be returning after all of this...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

This deserves a good title.

Today, I have no pictures for you. No out-of-this-world new experiences to speak of. I am currently on the bus in the dark, while a few women chatter next to me, writing by the light of my modern-day version music box. (By the time you read this, of course, it will no longer be so.)

Simply put, I had the best day I have had in a while. You could attribute it to the weather - in the city, there is no snow, the ground, for once, is dry, and the bright blue sky was barely interrupted by clouds. The sun shone brightly, adding to the abnormally warm (as I have repeatedly been told) weather. It felt to be the perfect fall day.

As it is a weekday, I went to school - but that in itself did not really contribute. Actually, I had thought today would be a rather awful one, as right before first period began, the knee of the right leg of my jeans inexplicably ripped. (Well, not inexplicably. They were fairly worn.) And I don't mean a little hole, I mean the entire stretch of fabric between the two side seams split. You can understand my dread to see what the rest of the day would hold. I went to German (with the 11 year olds), History (taught in English), French (with the twelve year olds), and German (again, but with the normal people). Then - school was finished for the day! Shortest day of the week, thankfully. I headed to my locker, put on my shoes and coat, picked up my viola, and was out the door. In a little over two hours, I would be having a lesson. In the meantime, I had a library book to return. How exciting!

However, as I walked to the bus stop, I decided to do something I had been wanting to try for several months now. If you have ever been to Salzburg, you know the general lay of the land. For simplicity's sake, I will assume that you have not. On the hills around the edges of the river, there are old paths that appear to be outlined with short stone walls, assumedly ensuring that the walker will not accidentally trip on a tree root and fall to his or her death. Periodically along these little stone paths are little stone towers. It was my wish to find a way to enter these paths - after all, there are houses built in some places around them. Today was going to be the day.

I found an area where it appeared there would possibly be an entrance and began to walk through what seemed to be a neighborhood of some sort, but it didn't take me long to realize two things. A) There were entrances to the paths through the side/backyards and B) there was not way I would be gaining entrance to them considering the huge gates around each home with quite expensive-looking intercom systems attached to them. Needless to say, I just kept walking as if I walk through this area every day on my way home with my book bag and viola.

I found my way back to the sidewalk by the main road soon enough and continued on my way. After about five minutes, I looked to my right in amazement - a path! Sure, it looked different than the others, but it might lead up to them, right? I went up, up, up, reaching the top rather quickly - sadly, this would not lead to my original destination, but the view! From where I was, I could see out over the river, the castle, and much of the old city. But that is all I will write to you of this little bit of outside in the middle of the city. The rest you have to see yourself.

Alright, so I was lying there. I have one more thing to say regarding this - on my way down, a neon yellow helicopter took off from the top of a building nearby! I have never seen one take off in real life before, so I guess that makes two lies. I'm doing really well today.

Once again on my way, I managed to return my library book and bought a new monthly bus pass to get me home from school. (Who knew so small a piece of paper could have so much value?) I went and played music. The day's beauty continued. After playing, I took a bus, as it was too far to walk, and finally bought a DVD player for my laptop! Now I am able to watch the European-formatted DVDs I have. (So, whoever gave me money for Christmas, feel free to call dibs for this - and thank you!) I ended my errand with bread - what else, in Austria? Last step of the day: orchestra rehearsal! Always a good ending :) The only bad thing was that by the time it was over, the sun had set.

If it was so lovely, why no pictures? I left my camera at home, one of the few times I have been without it since my arrival. Maybe I should leave it more often.

Wishing you sunshine,
Mary Beth

P.S. Deciphering bus-handwriting is always a good time...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Before It's Over...

Today, I regret to say (or in this case, write), is the last day I have before I go back to school. Don't get me wrong; I am one of Those People who like going to school. Still. Before I return, I thought it would be a good idea to (finally) summarize what I have been doing over the holidays.

Christmas... was so long ago. Really. We celebrated on the evening of the 24th by eating, going walking,  visiting with people, eating, opening gifts at my grandparents' home, opening gifts in our home, going to church, and eating, more or less in that order. (The Christkind, an angel-like child that delivers the gifts, puts up & decorates the tree, and enters through the window, visited us twice.) The Christmas tree was lit with real candles, which was absolutely gorgeous. I enjoyed everything, but as I have said before, it was still odd for me. On the 25th, we all went downstairs in our pajamas and looked terrible while we ate breakfast (and I opened the gifts from my blood-related family - thank you!) as I said was required for an American Christmas morning.

For New Year's, we made lucky pigs & mushrooms out of marzipan! (What, you didn't know they were lucky?) Here is a sample of a few of them:

I have also begun learning to ski! It is harder than it looks at the beginning, but, of course, becomes progressively better. I have now been 4 times, and have had excellent teachers!

My first time - looking much more professional than  it actually was!

3rd time, at the bottom of the hill we were on, with my aunt, who is one of my teachers :)
Confused my the tipi/tepee/however-you-spell-it? Yeah, me, too.

Tried this afterwards - and. it. is. good. I'm not really sure how to describe it, other than to say it was cake-y with a blueberry filling and the sauce you see is vanilla.
On the 6th of the New Year (normally held on the 5th), we went and saw the Glöcklerlauf, which translates as "bell run." For this, older boys/teenagers/young men work to make HUGE hats that are lanterns lit from within. They are made from thin beams of wood, and black paper is attached around this framework, with colored patterns allowing the light to shine through. Bells are worn around the waist and ring as the people run throughout the town. This is done in the old pagan tradition of chasing out the bad spirits, but today, the lanterns also include Christian-related images to appease the Church. As it was dark, it was a bit difficult to get good pictures:

Some of the lanterns...

A car's headlights here allow you to get a better idea of the proportions of the hats...

It had really snowed while we were out!
Hope you are managing to stay warm and enjoy the last bit of the weekend!
Happy New Year!
Mary Beth