This last week has been, by a considerable distance, the most batshit crazy, intense and productive week of my life. I’ve done so much, learned so much, met so many people and experienced so much that it honestly feels like I’ve lived in Salzburg for much longer than two weeks. Naturally, the intensity of this week has taken its toll somewhat on my ability to think coherently, but as I said last week, this might be a good thing: just doing and not thinking has got me far this week.
It all began at 10am on Monday with the start of my language course. There were 26 of us in that room, from more countries than I could point to on a map. The two and a half hour lesson went by fairly slowly as it soon became clear that the class was too easy for Adele and I, but nonetheless, I’m still glad I’m doing it as, in the manic rush after class ended when everyone is trying to quickly form friendships, I found myself in a coffee shop with a small group of Europeans and an Australian. A few of us bonded especially well and went together to the introductory lecture (long), lunch buffet (fun) and city tour (wet). The faint outlines of a friendship group emerged, consisting of me, Adele, Bo (Belgian), Iris (Dutch) and Toni (German) and after bonding with another group (Irish x2, English, Spanish, Portuguese) over a shared affinity for European beers, we all trouped off to Murphy’s Irish Pub.
The next day began (once again) with the language course and it was nice to smile at familiar faces (everyone was so friendly, it felt almost like Freshers’ Week but without the VKs and STDs). Afterwards, a few of us had a wander round the Unipark Nonntal building; a huge glass monolith completely at odds with the architecture of the neighbouring Festungs Hohensalzburg and Altstadt, but still somehow in keeping with the character of the city. It was then that we found the university’s rooftop terrace and cafe which offered far better views than you’d expected when you’re only paying 3,00 Euros for a panini. Next we had the utter delight of a three hour lecture dedicated entirely to telling us how to work the university’s various online systems, forgetting that we’d already had to navigate these in the application process. I like to think that bonds were further strengthened over the collective boredom experienced here. Afterwards, I finally headed out to the Alpenstrasse university gym and signed up. It’s not quite the Russell Seal at Exeter and I can imagine it’ll get pretty busy once term starts, but it’s not too bad at all. Later was one of my highlights of the week: the Mayor’s reception at the Marble Hall of the Schloss Mirabell. The palace is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen and whilst classical music isn’t exactly my scene, the mini performance we got from students of the Mozarteum felt pretty fitting. Bo, Adele, Iris, Toni and I stayed together for this and then headed off to another Irish pub with, as it turns out, at least 80 other Erasmus students, many of whom I recognised from the language course and from earlier in the day which was lovely! In a very uncharacteristic way, I became a sort of leader of a group of about 20; people wanted to talk to be and actually followed my directions. I guess being in a new city, nobody has any preconceptions of you; I can leave the fucked-up me of the past behind and start afresh as I want to be perceived – confident, but not overly so, self-assured and relaxed. Maybe even the way I dress helps – everyone loves a leather trouser!! It felt strange being the person who was introducing others to each other, starting conversations and widening our group. Strange, but pleasantly so. I’m never going to be comfortable being centre-stage, but I quite like this new, Salzburg Ellie, I hope she hangs around.
On to Wednesday which began, again, with the language course, after which the fearsome fivesome went to get a celebratory lunch for Adele’s 21st birthday. We then had a tour of the German faculty and library before the first big Erasmus event of the year – the Erasmus Welcome Pub Crawl, an event which we weren’t quite sure was legit, but figured that if enough people went, it would be fine. And fuck me did enough people go! More than 80 of us piled into various clubs and bars, getting increasingly intoxicated. By this time I felt like I’d made friends with so many people (outside of our group of 5) so it was nice to hang out and drink with them. The night went the only way these nights ever go, with various regrettable hook ups emerging, but our group stayed together until Bo gave me a backie home on her bike at 3am! I’m never usually a fan of nights out – and I was so tired I didn’t think I’d make it to midnight – but something about the group of people I was with made me want to stay, I’m so lucky and so glad to have found a good group of friends so early on.
Thursday was, understandably, a bit slower with a mid afternoon wake up, followed by a lecture from the ESN, a coffee at Kaffee Alchemie (my new favourite) and, later that evening, a huge Stammtisch at the Augustiner Brauerlei in Muelln. I’ve never been a beer connoisseur, but I’m pretty sure that the beer here was top draw.
Friday was once again language course time, after which Adele and I had a venture out to one of the out of town shopping centres and I paid my second (of many) visits to the gym (surreptitiously located above a supermarket!?). That evening Bo, Adele, Iris, Toni and I also had a little bonding experience at Iris’ flat, watching Dutch adverts, drinking wine and eating Liebekuchen. By this point I was knackered, and didn’t much fancy the cycle home in the dark and up the Muellner hill without lights, but fortunately I could spend literally all of Saturday in bed (which was much needed).
The next day, whilst Adele was at Oktoberfest in Munich, the remaining four of us took a trip out to Salzachsee as the weather, whilst not exactly Mediterranean, could have been described as balmy. Not quite balmy enough to swim in the lake however, which remained Arctic to the point at which I’m surprised there weren’t any penguins swimming amongst the terrifyingly huge fish. Sunday was also the final day of the Rupertikirtag celebrations in Salzburg – a five day festival to celebrate the patron saint of Salzburg, Rupert. Wikipedia tells me its the largest event of its kind in the Salzburg region and what it lacks in subtlety (Ferris wheels, ghost trains, more accordions than any city ever needs) it certainly makes up for in beauty. The city centre was filled with quaint market stalls and almost everyone wore dirndls or lederhosen (I felt very out of place). Complete with a beautiful pink sunset and lights dangling in the trees by the river, Salzburg looked more like a fairy tale than I’ve ever seen it before. After a curry and a Schoko-Brezen, we finished the night by climbing part way up the Kapuzinerberg for a perfect view of the fireworks being let off from the fortress across the river, illuminating the domes and spires of the old town. I don’t often sink into public sentimentality, but that was one of those moments where I genuinely thought “this is it, I’ll never be happier than I am now”. Surrounded by friends who it felt like I’d known for much longer than a week, gazing at the sky above the most beautiful city in the world and not feeling worried or anxious, I truly appreciated the beauty of the place. I feel truly comfortable here now. Whilst I’m not quite fluent in the language, I feel like this is a place where, at least for the moment, I feel I belong. Even though I’m almost painfully tired, I wouldn’t change a thing about this last week. Maybe not being quite with it is helping me get by here – if someone told me this was all a dream, I’d doubtless believe them.