First day of classes in a city means actually finding the classes. My host mother sat down with me the night before and we scoped out the path I would need to take, but sure enough looking at a map and actually walking on the street are two completely different things.

As soon as I stepped off the stairway of the apartment building I turned the wrong way. It took me until the next big street to realize I was going in the wrong direction, but on my way back I found a small grocery store, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to get lost sometimes. One difference between the streets in Vienna and the streets in most American cities is that the signs are in different spots. Here, most of the signs are placed on the buildings on the corner of the street, which can make them hard to find. However, I understand that having a lot of posts with signs out on the sidewalk could make the street too crowded and obscure the view of the beautiful buildings.

My next big challenge was the Straßenbahn or the street cars. Vienna has great transportation, but for someone who is used to very square streets, the curving erratic streets of Vienna are a lot more confusing. I knew I had to get on the streetcar that had the number 1, but should I get on the one that’s heading right or left? Unfortunantly, I chose the latter and as the car arrived and everyone got off, I stepped on. The driver of the streetcar looked at me strangely. It was only when the streetcar made a U-turn and came to a stop at the same spot I’d just gotten on, that I realized the streetcar wasn’t going anywhere.

The driver was nice about telling me where to go though and after I stumbled over a question in German he politely pointed me in the right direction.

Finally, on the correct streetcar I made it safely to the Institute, which is easy to find because it’s right across from the Opera House.

View from outside the Institute

The entrance to the building the Institute is in. The actual Institute is on the second floor.

Steps up to the Institute. I’m going to be very fit by the end of the program.

That day we started our first class. All in German. Although I didn’t understand everything, I was happy to find that I could at least catch the general point of the lecture as long as I concentrated very hard.

In the class we learned a little about the history of Vienna and how the city was built.

The area where Vienna is located is known for its mines of salt (Salzburg is also a big place for salt). The Celts were the first people to have mines in the area, but the Romans knew about the advantage of salt mines and eventually removed the Celts from the area. While under Rome’s control the area was colonized.

The Danube was where the Romans placed their fortifications and all along the river sat the Limes, which were outposts for the protection of the Empire. One such outpost was called Vindobona. Vindobona was the perfect post because it was surrounded by water barriers on three sides and on the third side they built a ditch. Later this ditch would become a main road in Vienna, Graben. Graben translates to english means the ditch or trench.

Although it would take a very long time and the help of the Babenburgs to build the little outpost up, Vindobona eventually became Vienna.

After class, we were all introduced to the main shopping district around St. Stephens Dom and the following day we were shown the many different tricks we would need to get into the Opera for a good price. We were also shown where the Vienna Philharmonic is and a number of different museums on music, art and history.

On the way back to the apartment I cross over the Donaukanal. All along the lower walking paths of the Donaukanal the walls are covered in graffiti. It’s both beautiful and ugly. Beautiful, because of the amazing artwork and bright colors, but ugly, because it was so out of place. In fact, the graffiti was the first thing I noticed when arriving in Vienna and it took me by surprise. However, it’s started to grow on me and I think it brings a little bit of a darker side to the city. It’s interesting to see how much our culture has changed. From impressive figures carved out of marble reaching towards the sky to simple 2D images of strange creatures and bright colors plastered on a wall. Art never ceases to amaze me.