Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Travel Bug: My Post-Grad Trip (Part 2, Austria)

Sitting on the train heading from Kristina's little town in Bavaria to Munich was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. Not only was it the first time I'd taken a train by myself, but it was also the first time I'd ever had to navigate a train station without any help. I had roughly 15 minutes from the time I arrived in Munich until the time my train for Salzburg would be leaving, and after my and Kristina's escapade missing our train in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I felt sure I was going to fail. The train pulled in, I hopped off, and was instantly swept up into the crowd. The train station was enormous, and for an American who had never needed to navigate a Hauptbahnhof before, it was mildly overwhelming. 
I found someone near what I thought was my platform and asked in my very best German if he could help me. He responded without blinking an eye (also in German) and I was surprised to understand everything he said (so thankful for those three years of German in high school!). My train was the next platform over, and I was boarding in no time. It was a bit difficult to find a seat (apparently you can 'reserve' seats, which I had failed to do), but a young woman scooted over and let me sit with her for the duration. I sat down and got comfortable. Just a few hours until I'm in Austria!

After a nap, the train came to a stop and I was soon navigating the Salzburg Bahnhof to find Theresa. We had agreed to meet out front, and I made my way quickly through the station. There she was, standing by the doors, and we both smiled as we saw each other. I was overcome with the same rush of familiarity I'd had when I first saw Kristina at the airport: we were old friends, not separated by thousands of miles, and were going to have a great time together. We hugged, we started chatting, she helped me buy a bus ticket, and we headed out. 

That first evening in Salzburg was a blur. Theresa and I took the bus from the Bahnhof to her apartment, where we sat for awhile catching up (as old friends do), drinking tea, and discussing our plans for the week. It was already fairly late in the day, so we decided to do a quick walking tour of Salzburg and re-visit places of interest the next day. There was snow and slush on the ground as we powered through the streets, but my head was buzzing with excitement and my heart was warm. Salzburg was beautiful.
She pointed out certain castles and other historical buildings here and there, went into detail of their history, and even pointed out Mozart's Geburtshaus - that is, the place where Mozart was born. I was amazed with the amount of store fronts that were just dripping in Mozart-themed goods: chocolates, dolls, music boxes, ornaments, and even painted eggs. I knew he had come from Salzburg but I definitely was not aware of their pride in him!
Because it was already nearly two weeks after Christmas, the Christkindlmarkt was already packed up and finished for the year. However, as Theresa and I walked around there were still a few small stands selling the large cookies, Christmas knick-knacks, and homemade goods. We also found a Starbucks, so naturally I bought my 'Salzburg' You Are Here mug and was thrilled to have found it so easily. Then we continued walking, and came across a stall selling Gluhwein. As we were both chilled to the bone it sounded (and smelled) like a great idea.
I slept like a rock that night. It took awhile to register that I was actually in Austria and it wasn't just a dream. Yes, I had just graduated college. Yes, I had just spent an entire week in Germany with Kristina. Yes, I was actually in Theresa's apartment, and the next few days would be spent exploring Austria. It was such an amazing feeling, especially after working so much and so hard during the semester to get there. There's a quote, "Dreams don't work if you don't." and I couldn't have agreed more as I fell asleep that night.

The next day, we had a change of plans as we decided to visit Theresa's parents instead of exploring Salzburg. There was a huge Skispring event going on in Bischofshofen, and she wanted to take me to see what it was all about. We'd spend a few days there before coming back to Salzburg, and could explore the city then. I was excited to see yet another city!

A train took us south into the little mountain town of Goldegg, where we'd spend the next two or three days. We drank tea with her parents, I got to try homemade Gemüseschnitzel (basically battered and fried vegetables), I learned a great deal about Krampus, and we marveled at how cute Jon Bon Jovi was, and still is (she had a calendar of him in her bedroom). The night before the Skispring event, we met some of Theresa's friends to go to a giant celebration that was happening in Bischofshofen. It was a sort of 'amp up' to get everyone excited for the next day, when the Ski jumpers from every country would be sailing down the mountain. I found the sport extremely entertaining: basically people used the shape of their body and the skis to sail like flying squirrels down the slope, and where they landed determined their score. At the event the next day, they didn't even look human when we saw them in person. It was just incredible!
Admittedly, we didn't stay very long at the event because it was freezing (people were standing on cardboard boxes to keep their feet warm!), but I was so glad we got to experience it. We came home exhausted, frozen, and slightly buzzed, but it was well worth it.

We had finally thawed by the next morning, but it was time to bundle up and head out again. Theresa wanted to take me to a ski lodge in the Alps that she had visited several times throughout her childhood. From what she described, it sounded beautiful. And I was willing to go check it out, given we dressed a bit warmer than the day before. Fortunately, Austrians keep plenty of warm 'snow clothes' on hand, so we were soon bundled up and ready to enjoy our day in the mountains.
 Much, much better and ready for the Alps!
 We found a little restaurant at the top of the ski lift
 This was a trip full of carbs & coffee
The view was absolutely incredible. I was taken back to New Year's Eve when I was on top of the mountain with Kristina, feeling like I was on cloud 9 and on top of the world. There was nothing remotely close to that view in my home state of Michigan, and it just gave me a new appreciation for how big the world is and how small we truly are. The mountains seemed to go down forever, and off in every direction as far as the eye could see. I had no desire to go down on skis of course, but soaking it all in from the top was breathtaking.
The rest of the day was spent preparing to head back to Salzburg. I was so thankful we'd had a change of plans and came to Goldegg: it was a much more culturally intense (and far less touristy) way to experience Austria. I also felt like I got to know Theresa better, meeting her family, her friends, and her boyfriend, which might not have happened had we stayed in Salzburg. And of course the Skispring party and event in Bischofshofen were pretty fun, too.

Over the next few days, we thoroughly enjoyed our time together in Salzburg. We walked over the "love lock bridge" (similar to the one in Paris), went to a Kid's Museum (because you're never too old!), and on the last evening, we met a good friend of hers to go wine tasting. Matthias, Theresa, and I walked to three or four wine bars, trying whites and reds and all kinds of bread, olives, and charcuterie. It was such a lovely evening, and the best way I could have thought to end my trip to Austria.
 This was just one part of an entire room of trains!
The next morning, Theresa drove me to the airport in Munich. The week in Austria had gone by far too quickly, and we were both tearing up when it came time to say good-bye. It had been such a wonderful, enjoyable, and yes - freezing - week, but I was so glad it had worked out to see her. Coming back to the United States, I had no idea when I might see her again. I had no idea when I might see Kristina again. Or Matthias. Or anyone else that I had met during my time in Europe. But I still consider them to be close friends, no matter how far apart we are or how much time passes between visits.

Having friends around the world isn't easy. But I think they can be some of the closest friends you'll ever make. When you meet someone in another country, your friendship becomes more than just the standard "we have xyz in common, and we live somewhat close and can hang out often." Its a finding of common ground of course, plus a cultural exchange. And then there's a commitment that transcends thousands of miles. Of course letters and social media make it somewhat easier, but there's still a bond that's hard to explain, and is hard to find anywhere else.

I'm so thankful I had the chance to take this post-grad trip. All of the hours at Target, at my computer finishing my internship, working on homework between customers or all paid off in the end. This trip added a new appreciation for travel, and the friendships that can be made along the way. I had only spent time in the office with Kristina and Theresa in Dublin, and here we were a year later exploring their hometowns and feeling like old friends. And once again, I had a feeling I'd be back. I just knew it. And I couldn't wait for whenever and wherever that might be.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Travel Bug: My Post-Grad Trip (Part 1, Bavaria)

I graduated from Minnesota State University in December of 2015. That final semester was by far the busiest and most stressful of my entire college career, but everything was well-worth the post-grad trip it allowed me to take. As I mentioned in my Ireland post, I made great friends with Kristina and Theresa, two other interns at my office in Dublin. That had been the summer of 2014, and we managed to keep in touch since returning home. So the following summer, when I started another internship in Portland, Oregon, I decided to start saving heavily for a trip back to Europe. I wanted to go back and see my friends, and nothing was going to change my mind. I saved as much as I could during my internship, and was thrilled when my manager asked me to continue working for her remotely from my dorm in Minnesota. I set up my laptop and logged in daily to help the sales and marketing team I'd been on during the summer. I worked for her nearly 20 hours/wk, in addition to a full load of classes and my part-time job at Target. (I say part-time, but I worked 30-40 hours/wk, taking early shifts before work or doubles on the weekend). I didn't mind the packed schedule: it was only a few months, and I'd get to see Kristina and Theresa again. The day I finally purchased my flight was the most exciting day of the semester, possibly even more exciting than walking across the stage on graduation. I was officially going back to Europe!

I would visit Kristina first in Bavaria (Germany). We would spend a week together after Christmas, ringing in the New Year together, and then I would take a train to see Theresa in Austria. I would spend a week there as well, explore Salzburg and Bischofshofen before finally flying home. When the time finally came to receive my diploma, I could barely concentrate on the fact that I was done with college. Europe was only 10 days away!

I spent Christmas with my family, moving back to my parents' house until I could find a job and an apartment, and took off for Germany on December 27. It was such an exhilarating feeling, and when my mom dropped me off at the airport I could hardly process what was actually happening. I had been planning, saving, preparing for this trip for months and here it was. I checked in, went through security, and found my gate. And before I knew it, I was on the plane and on my way back to Germany. When I finally got to the airport, Kristina was waiting for me and I nearly tackled her, we hugged so much. Was this real? Was I actually back in Europe? 
Every conversation Kristina and I had since our summer in Dublin had felt like old friends just talking. So meeting her at the airport, where we stopped at a little cafe for coffee before heading to her town, felt so incredibly natural. It was as if I was going to visit a friend I'd known for ages. We quickly transitioned from "Oh my gosh, it's so good to see you, how was your trip? How are you?" to typical girl chat like, "So how is the man in your life?" It was so nice to be together again, and we knew it was going to be a very fun week.

Over the next several days, Kristina and I grew closer than ever. I met her sister and parents, who quickly made me feel like I was another daughter. We talked (them in broken English, me in broken German, and somehow it worked), enjoyed delicious bread and pretzels from the bakery her mother worked at, and had the most amazing coffee in little German coffee mugs. Kristina and I stayed up late that first evening, drinking tea and watching Nicholas Sparks movies while catching up on everything going on in each others' lives. (We share a common appreciation for his stories and of course the actors in his movies...) Kristina had put together a little guest room for me, and when I went to bed that first night I found a little pair of warm, Bavarian wool socks waiting on my bed. It was the end of December, after all, and I truly appreciated their thickness and warmth.
The next few days were a blur. Kristina and I went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich to do some shopping and to see the city, walking around the busy city centers with the smells of roasted nuts and bakery goods wafting through the air. In G-P we found little shops selling homemade wares, clothing stores, and a little cafe for lunch. Then in Munich there was a giant ice skating rink in one area, and street vendors selling Christmas goods in another. On the way home, we had to switch trains and missed our connection, so we bought wine at the convenience store there and spent nearly two hours waiting, drinking, and talking until the next train came. It was not an ideal situation at the time, but without a doubt is a memory we both look back on fondly and laugh about. Two girls stranded in a train station with nothing but time and wine... 
We shopped at Aldi. We met some of Kristina's friends. We accidentally spiralized cucumber instead of zucchini for dinner one night (it was much lighter and incredibly watery, but still delicious). She introduced me to interesting aspects of German culture that I wasn't taught in school, such as their recycling system (3 bins in most German kitchens), using a Thermomix, and shared her photos from Carnival. On one shopping trip, I bought my favorite tea (Apfeltee, from TeeKanne for anyone wondering....) and we bought cheap wine for a relaxing evening in. One afternoon, we saw a band playing outside, going door to door not for money but for alcohol (it was hilarious). A few of her girl friends came over and we drank an entire bottle of Bailey's-like alcohol while getting ready for a night out. The four of us went out to a club where we met a larger group of her friends, and a truly magnificent night unfolded. We drank far too much Weinschorle (wine mixed with sparkling lemon water or soda) and some sweet jam-like shots while dancing to Backstreet Boys and N*Sync. I was surprised at how much 'American Music' they listened to! There was so much dancing, so much laughing, and there may have even been poles involved at some point. We were there for what felt like hours, having a blast with her group of friends (I got to know several of them), and finally got a ride home when the lights started to come on. Once we were home, we sat at her kitchen table and split a jar of sauerkraut (it was the only thing we could find at the time that sounded remotely tasty). To this day, we'll break out the sauerkraut on a drinksy night, and may or may not have done so at our B&B on a trip to Mackinac Island together. It's weird but it's fantastic.
The next day she took me on a walking tour of her town, a very small village nestled in the mountains of Bavaria. The weather wasn't wonderful, but we bundled up and headed out. She pointed out her mother's bakery, the post office, and a few of her friends' houses. We saw dogs, horses, and even chickens. It was so enjoyable to walk around in the fresh air after our night of Weinschorle and dancing. I am definitely a fan of Bavaria.
When New Years Eve finally arrived, we met her group of friends at the train station and we all huddled together in the freezing cold to wait. By this point, I felt like I knew many of them quite well, and the stories Kristina told me about each of them helped provide some background as well. One loved soccer, one loved American football (I tried to talk sports, but couldn't get very far as my knowledge is limited...), a few were childhood friends, and one was of particular interest. We piled into the train together and were soon on our way to Innsbruck. The plan was to go out for dinner, buy alcohol to take with us up the mountain, and ring in the new year in the mountains near Tirol. Once we arrived, we quickly found an Italian restaurant before heading to the lift that would take us to the mountains. Everything was passing in such a blur, and while we were freezing already before the night had even begun, we were having an amazing time. Laughing, running through the streets, laughing at the language barrier between us. Or maybe they were laughing at me because I was trying to overcome the language barrier with only 3 years of German under my belt. Regardless, I was having a blast.
Once we were on top of the mountain, time disappeared. There was a tent with loud music, flashing lights, Gluhwein, Punsch, and beer. There were a few chairs outside and a restaurant nearby where people wearing fancy clothes were also enjoying the evening. And then, at the base of the mountain, was the beautiful city of Innsbruck lit up beautifully. We were so high up, the fireworks were beneath us, and we could see them exploding as we enjoyed warm mugs of Gluhwein, huddled together as we waited for midnight. It was the most magical evening of my entire life to that point, and despite my feet and face being completely numb, I was on cloud 9.
The rest of my time with Kristina flew by. The following day was rather slow as we were both nursing headaches and sore muscles from all of the dancing and shivering the night before. We had a leisurely day, including a brunch of Brötchen (bread rolls) with Himbeermarmelade (raspberry jam), Frischkäse (cream cheese), and Zimt (cinnamon). We stopped at the post office. We watched more Nicholas Sparks movies and just soaked up every minute we had together. When the time finally came for me to continue on to Austria, we cried. It was such a sad moment at the train station, hugging good-bye without really knowing when the next time was we could see each other. She felt like a sister, living an ocean away and leaving her was tough. We didn't know when we'd see each other again, but we knew it would happen one day. 
She helped me buy a ticket, and when the train arrived we hugged one last time. I was off to Munich, where I had a connecting train to Salzburg, and she was off, back to her world in Bavaria. Everything that had led up to that first week in Germany was worth it: the early hours at Target, the picked-up shifts, the late nights fine-tuning PowerPoints for my internship, the 'saying no' to going out with friends to save money. I had just had the best week of my life, and there was only more to come. The German countryside flew by outside my window, and it was only a matter of time before I'd be arriving in Austria.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Before You Hit Publish...

I have been blogging for roughly four years. I started back in 2014 with Samsam Cherie, a blog that began as a lifestyle/beauty blog, transitioned to a travel blog, quickly switched to a blog focused on veganism (specifically life as a vegan college student), and eventually dissolved out of uncertainty. I worked with companies such as Vega and Celestial Seasonings, sharing both sponsored and unsponsored posts. I connected to a community of other bloggers and took part in "tags", challenges, and little contests we held on different social media platforms. I enjoyed every minute of it, and I learned so many lessons as I wrote. I took several months off when the original blog dissolved a second time, and re-started this summer when my life was about to go through another huge time of change. It just felt right. And so, one day in July, She Goes Simply was born.
In the course of four years, I have learned not only how to write cohesive posts, but I've also learned how to edit, link to other posts/websites, upload photos, format layouts, create labels, write disclosures, and share content that I'm passionate about. I've learned what types of posts capture your attention and which ones don't (thank you, statistics) and how to interact with you across different social media platforms. It has been something of a part-time job for me over the past four years: 10-15 hours per week and unpaid, but completely educational. And I continue to enjoy every minute of it.

That being said, there are some things that I hadn't known about blogging prior to starting my own. There are things that go on "behind the scenes" that might not be realized by readers or family or friends: things that are inconvenient, frustrating, or stressful. So today I wanted to take some time to give you a snapshot of what goes on before a blogger shares a post with the world. Here are the things that happen before we hit 'Publish'...

1) What am I going to publish?
Any person in the creative field will confirm that inspiration comes in ebbs and flows. Some days I have a million and one ideas for future posts, and I have to write them down for the days when I can't think of a single thing to write about. Sometimes there's a post I have in mind, but don't know if its going to be accepted by my family and friends (basically anything on being vegan, some posts on minimalism, etc.). And then there are posts that I have sitting in my drafts box for weeks because as passionate as I am about the topic, I wonder if it will affect my professional/day-to-day career. Simply deciding what to publish is one of the biggest struggles facing bloggers, especially when they don't have one simple focus. My blog is a combination of topics, from travel to recipes to chit chat. Some people write only about food, fashion, beauty products, travel, or life in a foreign country. I have friends who write blogs on motherhood, and others who only write about minimalism. But of course there are others like me who do write about a handful of topics, and I think they'd agree that it can be a challenge sometimes. It is the first, and in my opinion biggest, hurdle to overcome as a blogger.

2) How can I get a photo for my post?
Once I have the idea for a post, the words tend to just flow. I'm very thankful that I have that ability, and I'm glad to have found a way to share that with the world. However, a blog post can't consist only of words (or rather, it can, but its much more interesting when photos are included). Finding the perfect photos can be a challenge. I recently wrote a post on my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. I would have loved to include a snapshot of my class attentively listening to our teacher or a photo of my teacher sharing a Kundalini meditation method. But would that have been appropriate to take? Absolutely not. I once read a quote, "Would you still visit that country if you couldn't take a camera?" and it hit a chord with me. Of course I would still go. But as a blogger, when you share bits of your life with the internet, of course you want photos to go along with your content. On more than one occasion, I've  been stared at when I've gone to take a picture of food at a restaurant, a random street shot downtown, or a candid photo at a family gathering. I've definitely used the phrase, "It's for the blog" and that seems to lessen the awkwardness. The photos that bloggers share just aren't as easy or convenient to take as they are to upload. As they say, the struggle is real.
Pictures of food at restaurants...guilty!
(Not pictured: all 6 of our yoga mats, my classmates, or really anything other than the teachers' chairs.)
(When I was moving out of my apartment, I literally rearranged the painting equipment just for this picture)
3) Will there be collateral damage?
When you hit 'publish', there's no taking it back. Of course you can go back in time and delete a post, but heavens knows how many times its been linked to another website, screenshot, downloaded, or even printed. (I'm not trying to be narcissistic here, I've actually found posts of mine shared on downright bizarre websites!) Literally anyone can see something once you hit 'publish'. When I first shared my Yoga Teacher Training post, I actually called my mother as soon as I published it because I hadn't told her about it yet. I was nervous of what she and my dad would think, but knew once I posted about it that they might eventually see it. When I was still writing Samsam Cherie, I posted about going vegan. I shared the post on Facebook and the comments absolutely exploded. My brothers were ruthless, and it caused quite a stir between the two of them and other members of my family. There have been other instances when something I've posted has hit certain individuals the wrong way, times when they've really resonated with someone, and times when they've surprised people enough to warrant a message. No one will ever know exactly who is going to read a post: its just impossible. And because of that, its critical to ensure that anything you post online is something you're ready and willing to share (and that goes for any platform, and any person!)

4) When am I going to share this?
Going along with collateral damage, timing is everything when publishing on social media. If I were to publish a post at 2:00am on a Sunday for example, obviously it isn't going to get many views. Statistics show that posts on social media are viewed most between about 1:00pm and 3:00pm during the middle of the week. (Though I would argue Saturday mornings around 10:00am tend to drive a lot of traffic, too.) However, I have many friends and family members in Europe, meaning their 1:00pm is only 7:00am in the United States. Frankly I tend to ignore these "optimal publishing times" because I find it varies based on what platform you're using. Instagram seems to be best after 8:30pm. Blogs are best earlier (in my experience), around 4:00pm or 4:30pm. But then I have coworkers who see me publish a post at that time, when everyone is still in their cube at the office, working away, and ask me if I've actually been working or if I've been writing. That's the beauty of the draft. I will write a full post the night before, save it in my drafts, and publish it during working hours. So any coworkers who are reading, I do not blog at work!

5) Where am I going to share this?
I don't share every post to Facebook. I don't always share that I have a new post on my  Instagram story. I could use every platform to share a blog post, but I find that an onslaught of activity (publishing every post on every platform) tends to cause a slow-down of views. It's a huge stretch of the 'distance makes the heart grow fonder' mentality: if people constantly see post after post being shared, they're less likely to give it the time of day. If I have something big and new and exciting to share (have I mentioned my YTT post enough here?) I'll cover all my bases. But if I'm sharing a Creative Clarity post or something simple, I won't post on every single platform (though I do update the link on my Instagram for every new post). It just creates too much noise. Now, I have had a few (and I mean a very select few) posts that I've shared on LinkedIn. For example, I shared how a summer of sleeping on the floor in a big, empty apartment actually made my internship incredibly more effective and memorable than I could have expected. But overall, given that LinkedIn tends to focus more on my professional career, I'm much less likely to publish blog posts there since it isn't in line with my full-time job. (People don't seem to care if their recruiter shares a recipe for tofu fried rice haha). But the plethora of social media platforms has made growing a blog so much easier than it used to be. I've just had to learn where and when, and whether its the appropriate audience or not.

(Check out Why Sleeping on the Floor.... - an article I published on LinkedIn!)
(Whereas this Creative Clarity post was published on Facebook)
6) What am I hoping to gain by sharing this post?
This is not (yet) a for-profit blog. I don't even have ads (yet) and I haven't established any brand partnerships for She Goes Simply (yet). Am I hoping to eventually? Of course. But every time I publish a post, my goal is just to connect with my readers. I mentioned earlier that I have friends and family in Europe. I once lived in Portland. I once lived in Dublin. I went to school in Minnesota. I have friends who have moved out of state. There are so many people in my life that I want to keep in touch with, but only a very, very small portion of them are close enough to see in person on a regular basis. Blogging allows me to share what's new and what's going on with the friends and family I'm connected with on Facebook, Instagram, etc. and its made 'staying close' so much easier. I've also grown a bit of a following on Instagram - mostly yogis, vegans, and other travelers - and blogging is an amazing way to share more with them as well. These are people I may have only met once. Or maybe I've never even met them and our relationship is purely social media based. This is not a bad thing! The entire point of social media is to close gaps and bring people around the world closer together. I now have social media friends in Austin, TX who I had the chance to go visit for the first time this summer. I have a friend in France who's also going through a Yoga Teacher Training. And of course you've heard about my good friend Miriam who's from Germany, lives in Canada, and wrote this amazing book. My point is, I blog for a reason - for many reasons - and its been hugely rewarding in building and maintaining relationships all over the world. Whether a company eventually sponsors me or sends me samples or not, I plan to continue blogging for a very long time. 

7) What can I incorporate into this post to make it even better?
Blog posts can be so much more than words and pictures. The hyperlink is a magical thing. It's how you can click on this link right here to see my Instagram. It's how I can send you to another corner of the Internet, another page I want to share with you, or a page where you can buy something I'm loving or promoting. And then there are videos. (I've never included a video in my posts because I'm not photogenic enough as it is, but you can include videos in a post if you are so inclined.) There are polls you can create for your readers. There are giveaways. There are so many things to learn as a blogger to make posts more engaging and interesting. I love that there's always more to learn as a blogger: more things to learn from other bloggers, Youtube, or how-to tutorials. 

Blogging is not just sitting down, writing, and hitting 'publish'. It's a lot of work that can be at the same time both stressful and incredibly rewarding. Its a way to reflect, connect, and learn simply by sharing news or ideas. And while there is a lot to do both before and after publishing a post (as I mentioned, it really can be a part-time or even full-time job!), it is 100% worth it. 

Fellow bloggers out there, wouldn't you agree?

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