Buses and St Louis

I love trains. Trains are my favorite mode of transportation. I love that you have leg room and a big window through which to watch the world go by. I love that they’re fast and that they’re anchored to the ground so you can’t get too crazy.

But mostly, I love that they aren’t buses or airplanes because buses and airplanes are social torture experiments designed to see how people interact when shoved into a small space where their knees touch the seat in front of them. They are designed to see how you will respond when someone leans their seat back to decrease your personal bubble to the bare minimum. Buses in particular, since seats are not usually assigned, test your courage to ask a stranger if “this seat [is] taken?” and to see what you will do with your elbows when there is no space for them to thrive.

You’ve probably guessed it by now, but I spent some time on a bus last night. I was on a train first, and that’s what my ticket was for, but because they’re upgrading the rails, I had to take a bus for the second half of my trip. Which would have been fine. Not all buses are created equal, however, and when driving through rural Illinois then Missouri, it would be helpful to have leg room.

I digress from my main point.

I’m having a lovely weekend away from school, which is the point of fall break. Of course, at North Park, fall break is a pittance, Here, have one Friday off. You just had 8 weeks of school, and you deserve it. No, really, take a day off. Thanks. One day. I suppose we’ll take it. North Parkers are pretty good at making the most of it.

So, I’m in St. Louis. I’m visiting Dawn and Eric, seeing and tasting all the city has to offer, and enjoying being away from Chicago.

I’ve had a day full of sightseeing, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves since words aren’t really coming much anymore.


These are the capsules that we would have gone up in at the arch if three million other people hadn’t already bought out all the tickets for today and tomorrow. Talk about claustrophobia… especially for tall people.IMG_20141017_140307

Dawn is an incredible woman… and hostess. and entrepreneur. and humorist. and driver. and I could go on. friend. that, too.IMG_20141017_162333Yellow curry at one of three Thai restaurants on the Loop (different than the Chicago loop). And Dawn introduced me to Thai tea. So now I’m a huge fan.

All in all, we’ve made the most out of what is a very short trip!


Running out.

Around finals time of year, I start running out of words. It’s like between my classes and studying and reading and writing and note-taking and question-asking, I use up my quota for the day and just stare at the empty blog post form like, what is this for? what do I put in here?

It’s not even the really crunchy crunch time yet. I’m trying to abide by the tortoise motto, “Slow and steady wins the race” so that I won’t have to take a nap in the middle.

In other news, I’ve got pairs of everything left. 2 more of each day of the week. 2 more of each class. 2 more papers. 2 more weekends. 2 more weeks. I’m just a great big jumble of everything when it comes to how to feel about that. Part of my yearns for my family and the comfort of my room with its green walls and purple curtains and the bed that is mine and has never been anyone else’s. I miss my church community so much, too. That’s been one of the biggest gaps in my time here.

Then I have to remember, home isn’t perfect either. There’s a lot of responsibility and bills and work.

But it’s home.

But it’s not Graz. And I love Graz. And my friends I’ve met here won’t be there.

But my family will. And my high school friends. And work and church friends. And there’ll be good ol’ Minnesota.

But there won’t be 400-1000 year old buildings or cobblestone streets or German-speakers everywhere.

Right, there will be English! Oh, that blessed language.

But there won’t be bakeries everywhere. And cars won’t be required by law to stop once you enter the crosswalk. Heck, I won’t even be using the crosswalks.

But I’ll have Audrey again.

And gas bills. and no tram.

Do you see the dilemma? Going home is great… and horrible… and wonderful… and tragic… and heartwarming…. and heartbreaking.

I don’t know when I’ll be back here or when I’ll see these people again.

The best cure for this is to just live fully here for my last 14 days, to be all in Graz and all with the people here.

Sewing difficulties.

Photo on 6-5-14 at 11.44 AM #3When Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, I think he could have just said it’s easier for thread to go through the eye of a needle.

I remember my mom teaching me how to sew, and it didn’t look that hard to thread the needle when she did it. (I sewed tons and tons and tons of little pillows out of scrap fabric and gave them to my sister. I don’t actually know what she did with them, but I do remember that her enthusiasm waned slightly after like the tenth pillow.) I think I’ve already spent thirty minutes of my day trying to thread this needle. Also, tying the knot in the bottom of the thread is harder than she made it look, too.

Thankfully, I eventually succeeded and hemmed my pants.

Who makes travel sewing kits? I’d like to know that. Because they obviously have never needed to use one when traveling.

These, friends, are not scissors.

Photo on 6-5-14 at 11.57 AM

They barely open and close, much less cut thread. Thread, like the thinnest visible substance in the world. I could cut that with my teeth if I was feeling barbaric, but my dentist told me that teeth are not tools, so I tried to use the scissors and eventually made them work.

Anyways, I succeeded, as I mentioned before. And now my Creabelis aren’t too long anymore and can be worn! *claps*

The enthusiasm I feel is partly because I’m getting rather sick of all of my clothing I brought here and mostly because these pants are so comfortable, fun, and stylish. Check out their website (linked above!) to see what they look like, as I have no one to take my picture in them right now. Also, I’ve got a bag of frozen peas on my foot, which makes it slightly more difficult to photograph them.

I’ve got the green/yellow pair, just in case you want to see what they look like.

Today’s going to be a productive day, hence the short blog post. I’ve already hemmed a pair of pants, so that’s a good start. Now, on to reading about the East German secret police and trying to narrow down final paper topics. It’s crunch time, or nearly crunch time. I’m trying to avoid as much crunching as possible by pretending it’s crunch time before it is.

Enough delay, on to my studies.


The ultimate guide to packing for study abroad: Part 2, APPAREL

So, you want to study abroad, eh? You will need to bring clothes.

*Trumpet fanfare* Wasn’t that profound?

This post will be slightly female-oriented, but I think that’s okay because that’s what I know [as a female]. And let’s be honest, we’re really the ones who struggle with this department, for the most part.

My main struggle when deciding what to pack was the length of my stay. I arrived in Graz in February (read: winter) and will be departing in July (summer), so… what do you pack?

Answer: a little bit of everything but mostly, layers and layers


  • as we talked about last time, either Space Bag your clothes or roll them up really tightly so that you are being space efficient. If you end up rolling them, one way to stay organized and keep track of what you’ve already packed (just in case you need to take something out before you zip your luggage closed) is to categorize your clothing into types: based on sleeve length, whether its a top or a bottom, or perhaps, season. Do whatever makes sense to you, because then you’ll understand the system! DUH.
  • When I was packing, I categorized all the clothes that I found in my closet and drawers into three piles: MUST BRING, MIGHT NEED, and WOULD LIKE IF I CAN FIND SPACE. This way, I could pack my essentials first, then move on to lower priority clothing as I had space. You’ll probably want a large floor space to lay this all out.
      • layers – check your average monthly temperatures before you start packing to make sure that you at least know how warm and how cold it’ll be, then pack cardigans, sweaters, pullover, tees, and tanks. Granted, don’t bring all of them, just pack one or two of each. (For example: I brought four tanks with me, three-four tees, four three-quarter length sleeves, a few blouses that are lighter-weight, a few sweaters, two three-quarter sleeve cardigans (gray and black because they go with everything!), and a couple camisoles.) Prioritize based on what you usually wear.
      • 2 pairs of jeans – Bring two different styles and re-wear them til you can’t possibly wear them again! Study abroad is about wearing the same thing over and over again. It’s not in the brochures, but trust me: you will wear everything again and again. I brought a pair of skinnies that can also be cuffed to serve as capri jeans and a darker wash of boot cut for less casual wear.
      • 1 other pair of everyday pants – I brought gray jeans to serve as this. You won’t want to wear jeans everyday, but you won’t need lots of dress pants or anything like that. Keep it simple.
      • As much underwear as you can possibly cram into your suitcase, but only the comfy ones. When you’re on the go, you don’t want to be wearing uncomfortable underwear, and you won’t wear it if it’s uncomfortable. So then it’d just be taking up precious suitcase space.
      • Rock the socks! because you’re going to be wearing good walking shoes so much, you’ll need lots of socks so that you don’t have to do laundry every week. (we’ll talk about shoes in the accessories post, coming soon!)
      • 2 pairs of pajamas – depending on how much the weather will change, you might want pajamas for two seasons, but I brought long pants and a t-shirt as mine. It typically gets cool at night, so this was good for me. Again, you won’t want to have to wait for your pajamas to get dry after you launder them before you can sleep. Have a spare pair.
      • skirts, dresses – This is a style preference. I love skirts and dresses, so I brought quite a few. The pluses to bringing a dress is that it’s a complete outfit, so it makes for efficient packing. Maxi skirts are nice for effortless style since they look chic but are really comfy as well.
      • Workout clothes – Again, this depends on you. I brought one set of workout clothes, which has served me well. You can always re-wear your workout clothes if necessary, and you will probably find yourself quite busy and that you walk a lot (thus not needing to work out intentionally as much).
      • That’s TOTALLY up to you. We’ve covered just about everything you’ll need, so this category is for all the extras in those categories. You know, that extra tank or shirt that you might like but aren’t sure if you’ll wear it or have room for it.
  • Bring your favorite clothes! This is really important. Don’t bring something that you never wear at home. In fact, go through your closet, find the things you never wear, and get rid of them (donate, consign) before you even start packing. If you don’t wear it at home, you certainly won’t wear it when you’re trying to make friends in a new place. Bring your favorites, because you’ll get sick of your clothes no matter what.
  • Bring a travel clothesline if you can. There are no guarantees that your dryer will work (ours just heats stuff up, basically… mmmm, wet, hot sheets. that’s helpful), that you’ll even have a dryer, or that you’ll have a drying rack in the absence of a working dryer. The Container Store has a great one that I’ve found helpful. Actually… The Container Store has a lot of helpful travel things. Just make sure you’re willing to spend a bit if you head over there for more than just a couple things.
  • Also, don’t buy everything new! I know it’s tempting to say Oh, I’m going abroad, I need a whole new wardrobe, but really, you’ll feel much more comfortable and more like yourself if you wear your tried and true favorites. Sure, get a few new things if you need them, but take what you have. Save your cash for adventures, like trips to Budapest!

So, now that we’ve established that you will need clothes and have covered the basics, you are ready to begin packing! Comment if you have any further questions about the process! I’m happy to share my experience.

Until the next installment, HAPPY PACKING!

Hungry in Hungary.

Some weekends are more eventful than others. Like this weekend, when we took carpools to go to Budapest on a spur of the moment trip. My friend, Hannah, and I just had the travel bug and wanted to get out of town for a weekend. On Thursday we finalized our plans and left Friday morning. That’s part of the beauty of Europe.
We filled our two days to the fullest. Friday night we ate dinner then wandered around the city, buying souvenirs and getting some of the tastiest ice cream I’ve ever had.


Consequently, it was also scooped into the shape of a rose.
We weren’t sure what made a Turkish bath so special, but since we didn’t have other plans and knew they were popular, we bought tickets and went on Saturday morning.


What we had thought might be a two or three hour visit turned into a little over four. I wasn’t expecting it to be so relaxing and enjoyable.
We got to Szechnyi (the biggest bath house in all of Europe!) around 10:15 and immediately got into our ill-fitting swimsuits we’d purchased en route, just looking for something cheap that we could use. Mine is pink with sequins on it, completely not my style. However, it did the trick. And I have to say, as badly as our swimsuits fit, they still looked better than all the older gentlemen  in speedos we saw. That’s one part of the experience that I’m not as ready to repeat.
The first pool we swam in was outside. There was a cool breeze, but the sun was warm, so it made the experience of rushing through a circular pool with a strong current even more enjoyable. We immediately agreed that we didn’t have to leave as soon as we’d planned.
The thermal baths, saunas, and pools each had a different temperature, ranging from 18 C to 70 C. My favorite was around 36-38 C. I sat with my arms floating in front of me and my head back in the side of the pool with nearly every muscle in my body relaxed. We hopped from pool to pool since there were around 17, spending very little time in the cold ones and almost half an hour in some.
After we’d made a thorough inspection of each pool and sauna (or nearly every one) and eaten lunch on the outside deck by the lap pool, we sat in the sun, drying off and talking.
The rest of our day consisted of finding our next hostel and exploring the Buda city. The woman who drove our carpool from Vienna to Budapest explained that Budapest is actually two cities: Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube. We were staying in Pest aide, so we took a little trek across the Danube (no big deal, right?) to see the sights on the other side.






Then we smelled something amazing, something that smelled suspiciously like cinnamon cake. We followed our noses (and bought some more souvenirs along the way) and found the above pictured stand. And bought cake.


It tasted even better than it smelled.
We decided to go find a burger for dinner since we’d heard that Budapest had amazing burgers.
I know what you’re thinking. Ashley, you don’t eat burgers.
Touché, dear reader touché. Hannah wanted a burger. I wanted falafel. So we compromised by getting her a burger to go and heading to a Hummus Bar. (doesn’t that sound like a dream come true?) It was just about a perfect compromise.


They put pickles on my falafel sandwich, which I questioned at first, but it ended up being pretty good.
Then we headed back to the bridge to take pictures of the city by night. Unfortunately, my phone camera is a poor substitute for my currently non functional point and shoot, but I got a couple good ones.


Then we walked back to our hostel,


bought baklava on the way, and went to bed in Hungary without feeling a bit hungry.
We ate well this weekend and feasted on laughter and time to relax in the Turkish baths. We walked our feet off (almost literally), got to know each other better, and enjoyed cultural misunderstandings. They’re around every corner, so you just have to enjoy them.
Now we’re on the last leg of our trip  about to board a train to Graz, to homework, to our “real life”. We’ll miss Budapest!

The ultimate guide to packing for study abroad: Part 1, BAGS

So I may or may not have used the superlative “ultimate” to get as many google hits as possible. I’m a sucker for high numbers of views. Something about actually wanting people to read what a post…

ANYWAYS. I’ve discovered that I’m actually a pretty decent packer over the past couple years. I used to be the girl who had a filing system, 7 kinds of lip gloss, a whole bottle of ibuprofen, lotion, hand sanitizer, and all the normal stuff like a wallet  – in her purse…. in 8th GRADE. This was a bit overkill. I wanted to be Mary Poppins, to be prepared for everything.

But then I realized that Mary Poppins had a magic carpet bag. I just had an enormous purse that made it difficult to get through crowded hallways.

I’ve also decided that packing for a study abroad trip is like no other trip. You need a backpack. You need clothing. You need to have something to pack in for spur of the moment weekend trips to Budapest/Germany/Italy/wherever is close to your university. You also need a purse and good shoes and lip balms and pictures and your laptop…

Basically, you need to know what you actually need and what is superfluous.

My name is Ashley, and I brought a backpack, a purse, and one (1!) suitcase to Europe with me for 20 weeks of living. I’m here to offer my wisdom. I googled this very thing so many times before I left that I know people are wondering: what will I need? How will I get all the stuff I need into my suitcase?

We’ll get to apparel, toiletries, and all that other stuff, but today, let’s talk about bags.

Bags I brought:

  • small, cross-body purse – why is this important? When traveling through airports, you want to be able to get to the few things that you’ll need over and over again easily: passport, wallet (containing IDs, money, credit and debit cards, insurance cards, and other things you don’t want people to be able to steal easily, thus you keep them in front), lip balm, hand sanitizer, your phone, a photocopy of your passport, small bar of chocolate, your camera, and a pen. Then, once you reach your destination, you’ll still need a small bag to take with you when you go out, so make this something you won’t tire of using and won’t wear out.
  • backpack – why is this important? If you really need to ask that, then we may have a problem. You’re going to want a backpack to take to university, because you’ll have books, and a laptop, and… are you saying “duh?!” by now? Also, when you’re walking through airports, train stations, and the like, it’s nice to have the weight of whatever wouldn’t fit in your suitcase that you’ve crammed into your backpack evenly distributed across two shoulders rather than one. Let’s face it. Your shoulders will be sore the next day, inevitably.
  • expandable suitcase – why is this important? Well, you won’t be able to fit everything into your backpack and purse… I prefer the type of suitcase with four wheels, because when I’m walking through airports, even if it’s just before I check the bag, I want to be as compact as possible, not having to pull something behind me that I’m going to make other people trip over. I also try to pack the bag in un-expanded form so that I have room to bring back souvenirs. This is optional. Pick a bag with good zippers and sturdy wheels. Also, get one of those TSA-approved locks that have a combination to open them. And don’t forget your combination.
  • Pack a bag that will be good for weekend trips in your suitcase. I have a Liz Claiborne bag that has proved itself wonderful through excursions to India, France, and Germany. It’s padded, so I don’t have to worry about the contents of the bag, and it has multiple pockets and is light, also has a cross-body strap. It has more space than my backpack and looks slightly classier.
  • SPACE BAGS. I love the travel space bags. Grab your 20% off coupon fro Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and they’ll only cost you $8 (approximately). Make sure to get the travel kind. You can fit quite a lot of stuff in there with these bags, Plus, they’ll protect your clothing against liquids and stuff. I make sure to pack a small bottle of Downy wrinkle resistant spray so that when I take my clothes out of the bags they won’t look frumpy.
  • 2 gallon Ziploc bags. But please, get the cheap store brand. Save your cash for airport snacks or something else. Pack any liquids (other than your under 3 oz carryon liquids) in here a) to keep them organized and b) to keep any spillage that happens with the pressure changes contained.
  • Also, this is an obvious tip, but make sure to keep your 3 oz carryon liquids (the specific ones to have with you we’ll talk about in another post) in the front pocket or right on top in the large compartment of your backpack so you don’t have to root around at security. International flights with connections through multiple countries means going through security multiple times. You don’t want to have to dig through your bag over and over again.

That’s all for bags. Stay tuned for guides on apparel, toiletries, and those little homey necessities!


More training.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of a train journey. I know that 10 hours on a train is a long time, but I’ve got audiobooks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep me company.

And if that fails me, I’ll just stare out the window. My fascination with the landscape out the car window that has grown over the years. I remember road trips when I was younger being much harder to get through than they are now. My mom had special activity boxes for my sister and me, and every road trip we took she’d put something special and new in there to keep us occupied during the long hours (usually driving through Nebraska or similarly boring terrain). We’d have to wait until we’d been on the road a bit to open them, but then we’d try to keep ourselves occupied with the mini Scrabble and Sorry games and the barrel of monkeys. We’d play the alphabet game… over and over again. Our destination was usually Colorado, and when we’d hit the mountains, John Denver went in the CD player, and we all sang along (some of us with a better understanding of the lyrics than others).

Now on car trips I usually listen to music or my favorite history podcast and stare out the window. We always start our trip with interesting conversation, but after a while, a family of introverts needs to just have some space. Space, ha. As though you can get that when you’re in an 8×8 metal box cruising down the highway.

This is the same on trains now that I’m in Europe. I listened to Love Does by Bob Goff on my last few train trips, and now I’m going to work on some books for my American lit class. I’m looking forward to staring at the Alps while pouring great literature into my ears.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life. It’s amazing to be here. Then there are also days like today where I do very little, even though I tried to go to ballet (apparently the class was cancelled… of course the sole foreigner is the only one to show up).

I’m excited to ride the train through western Austria and through Switzerland tomorrow. Then my friend, Ellen, will meet me, and we’ll spend about 36 hours catching up in Germany together. Then I’ll hop back on the train on Sunday and see it all in reverse.

I bet I could write a novel in 20 hours of travel. Maybe I should try.


Tonight I needed peppers in order to make an imitation burrito bowl for dinner, so I went to Spar with the sole intention of buying a pepper. Well, three peppers was a better deal, so I got three peppers.

I can’t just go to Spar and get what’s on my list, but that’s nothing new. I can’t do that at Cub or Jewel or Andy’s Fruit Ranch, either. Some things never change. (I originally typo-ed “some things need change” Freudian slip?)

Anyways, so then I remember that I sort of needed bread. Need as in, I might want to eat it in the next few days and don’t have much left of the loaf I bought last week, which is actually getting stale come to think of it. I didn’t end up getting bread, but that changed my route to the cash register by adding a detour down the drink aisle. So I passed pear-flavored sparkling water and thought huh.

Huh is just about all I have to say after that. It just tasted like pear-flavored sparkling water. It wasn’t anything exciting, but I still drank the entire half liter.

It was a new experience, and I’m a more intensely Austrian-cultured person because of it.

In other news, the sun shown today, and I thought of so many reasons why I’m happy to be here. Though I still miss everything I listed off yesterday, I’m still convinced that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. For so many reasons (most of them things that I could not have foreseen), Graz is the perfect place for me and being abroad is perfect for me right now.

I’ll get that list going and get back to you.


Today I’d like to be rolling around in a giant hamster ball with an air filter, but that kind of hampers social interaction. The pollen levels are high, and my sinuses don’t like it. I suppose I was made for a land where everything remains frozen forever…

Yesterday, I went to a beautiful place called Hallstatt, which looked like it came straight off my travel Pinterest board. (Out of curiosity, I just checked, and it wasn’t. Oddly enough, only one place in Austria was there, out of the whole pinboard. I guess Austria wasn’t really on my radar before I decided to come here… and now I realize it’s the perfect place for me to be right now. But that’s a different post for another day.)


Yeah. It’s just about perfect. The pictures are breathtaking, but they don’t do the whole experience justice. It was the quintessential Austria experience: taking the train through mountainous villages and towns, arriving at the edge of a lake that we had to cross by ferry to get to the town, then spending the day wandering through charming streets, churches, and shops.

We finished our day by sitting on the dock of a restaurant, eating, drinking coffee, talking, and laughing. I would have enjoyed a few more hours there, perhaps a few to just sit on the edge of the water and write. Or maybe just stare.

I find water to be so mesmerizing, such an enigma. This lake is so glassy that in pictures you can often see the whole town reflected in it. Everything around was still. Still mountains, still water, and still town (since the high tourist season hasn’t begun yet).

I need this stillness. In quiet and stillness, I’m so aware of my beating heart and the air in my lungs, of the calm that hangs over everything, only disturbed by chirping birds or the rare hum of an automobile. I’m clinging to that still feeling back in Graz today, though in the city of over 250,000 dust flies and cars zoom and trams charge by. People honk and talk loudly, and you can’t hear your heart beat. You might feel it beating faster though. Walk fast, think fast, move fast, try to form a German phrase fast (I’m doing better at that).

I have this image in my head of standing in the middle of a swirling storm of cars and planes and trains and pollen and books and voices and cell phones and food, standing still and breathing deeply. Maybe closing my eyes every few inhales and picturing the silence and stillness where I hear my heart beat and feel my humanity and know that God is God and I am not.

Omelets, walking, and powdered sugar.

I ate an omelet this morning.


Before today I was the girl who – when asked if she was the kind of vegetarian that ate eggs – said that I only ate them in cake.

But this morning, I cracked an egg into a bowl-shaped plate thing, added milk, then put it in a pan with butter, cheddar cheese, onion, red pepper, and tomato. Then I put it on a plate and ate it with a fork. The whole thing, without making faces or hesitating.

I’m not kidding. Who am I?

Really, though, it’s a good question. Because when you arrive in a foreign place, you feel foreign and sort of forget what makes you, you. You walk around speaking bits of a new language and trying new foods and grocery stores and restaurants and transport systems and friends and classes, and then you forget what you usually do with your life.

So then you try an omelet and find out you might actually like protein (but never red meat. don’t hold out hope, Mom and Dad) in that form.

At least you find yourself again when you walk the 20 minutes to campus without the form you needed to pick up your ID, so you have to walk the twenty minutes home again to get the form, then walk to campus again to get that darn ID.

And you find yourself again when you buy yourself a krapfen (which happen to be covered in powdered sugar) and a cappuccino on the way home (the first time). You’re so busy walking and eating and trying to make sure you don’t have powdered sugar on your face that you don’t realize that all the while your shirt is being polka-dotted with sugar. You walk multiple blocks before realizing this, then hurriedly cram the rest of the krapfen into your mouth and brush yourself off.

Boy do I feel human sometimes.