I can’t remember what I ate.
And for some reason that’s kind of what haunts me the most about my study abroad trip to Vienna.
I went in the fall of 2002 and I made friends with people I’m still in contact with. It was an amazing, life-changing experience and all the other clichés that people who have been on trips like this say. In some ways I can’t believe it’s been almost 10 years since I was there. In some ways I can’t believe it feels like a lifetime ago, like I was a different person.
I learned how to bake bread from the Norwegians and Finns while I was over there, got addicted to hot tea with no sweetening, drank a ton of sangria made by the Spanish girls (or as we call it – hooch), and ate far too many chocolate bars.
But what did I eat every day?
I remember that hunk of cheese I bought on that excursion to some little town I can’t remember. But I remember the cheese and how I finished a whole quarter pound of it all by myself.
I remember the day I accidentally ate calf brains. I’d ordered something from a restaurant not knowing exactly what it was but trying to be adventurous. I am not nearly adventurous enough for calf brains, but I did eat at least a few bites of it before I pushed my plate away.
I remember Henrik, from Denmark, bringing back a corn pizza to the studentenheim, and how everyone laughed and said corn wouldn’t make for a very good pizza, and how much of the vegetable was actually piled up on it. He finally agreed. It was just too much corn.
I remember the Thanksgiving dinner the Americans fixed for the rest of the international students staying in the same building, and how we didn’t have anything to mash the potatoes with and so used a fork. And they didn’t have turkeys in the store so we had to buy small chickens.
I remember having Ramadan dinner with Faraj, from Jordan, and some of his friends.
I remember coffee, lots and lots of coffee.
And copious amounts of beer. By the crate.
I remember freedom and adventure and laughing. I remember staying up until morning every weekend, then sleeping all afternoon.
I remember stopping by McDonalds after talking with my boyfriend, (now husband), because I just missed home so much and unfortunately that was the only thing familiar.
I remember the apple yogurt that I haven’t been able to find anywhere since, that was the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted.
I remember making pizza with Riitta, from Finland, and going on our own excursions together because we both missed our boyfriends.
I remember Zanoni & Zanoni, an ice cream parlor where we went over and over, but where I mainly ordered vanilla because it was so creamy and smooth and tasted like cake.
I know I ate, and I remember some things pretty well, like all the salads I made with balsamic vinegar for dressing since I couldn’t find ranch anywhere, or the chocolate and pretzels.
But it doesn’t add up. All the breakfasts and lunches and dinners.
I was just reading through the journal I kept while I was over there, and I’m amazed at who I was, and what I did. And I have a strong urge to tell that 21-year-old of all the things she should do while she’s over there, of all the stuff she’ll miss out on if she worries too much about what other people think.
It was my first time on my own, really on my own, even if only for a semester. It was so crazy, and so normal and so vast. I so much want to go back, to be there all over again, to experience everything I did, but with the maturity and knowledge I’ve gained since.
In a way I’m still searching for that time. I’ve lived so much since, but a part of me is still sitting in the studentenheim, drinking sangria or red wine late into the night with the international students, planning our next adventure.
* When I told people I was going to Austria, far too many mentioned kangaroos. Turns out it was A THING where people got Austria and Australia mixed up. I actually bought a t-shirt that had that saying on it. And I didn’t see one kangaroo while I was there.