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November 10, 2012 – The Full Story (Part 3)

You read yesterday in parts 1 &2 about how after much running, scrambling, searching and decision making, we finally made it to our train that would take us back to Vienna. Or so we thought.

Part 3: Bad Luck

I don’t believe in bad luck. Not in the slightest. I do believe in bad coincidences, things that happen that you look back on later and go, “Funny how that worked out”. This bad coincidence started with – and I am not making this up – a black cat.

We were standing by this forsaken train station, recovering our breath after having just run uphill to catch a train that would come in 2 minutes and take us home, when Holly saw a black cat cross the train tracks. I point this out, again, not because I think it means anything, but only because what was about to happen made us think later of that black cat and go, “Really? A black cat? How cliche can you get?”

So the cat crossed the tracks, Holly made cat noises at it, and we waited for our train to come. Holly ate some Pringles, and I took some photos, satisfied that we were home free.

Lazily, a train worker came out of the station and smiled at us. We smiled back. She said something in Croatian. I said, “Train”, and pulled out our tickets to confirm to her that we were good to go. She smiled and shook her head, and repeated, “Train”. “Right,” I said, “Train. We have tickets. Wir haben Karten,” I repeated in German, just in case that would work. “Nein,” she said. “Ja,” I said. “Ne,” she said. “Da,” I said. “No,” she said. “No train.”

“Oh,” I said.

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November 10, 2012 – The Full Story (Parts 1 &2)

By now you’ve probably heard about our misadventures in getting deported from Europe. If you haven’t, here’s the basic story:

Due to a misinterpretation of immigration laws (and to them being changed in the past several years), Holly and I had the misfortune of not being allowed back into the European Union after a weekend in Croatia, which we had taken because we thought we needed to, to get new stamps on our passports and essentially “reset” our visas. Unfortunately, our interpretation of the law was not correct, and after being stopped at the border crossing back into the EU, we were pulled off the train, put in a police car and driven back to Croatia to be left in the middle of the highway with nowhere to go and no way of getting there.

But believe it or not, getting pulled off a train and put in a police car and dropped off at a border was not everything that happened to us that day. That was just the bureaucratic icing on the cake. We haven’t even really told everyone about our full November 10th – just the climax that resulted in our 3 month, unintentional trip back to the US. But a story with all climax and no lead-up isn’t a good story. So here’s the lead-up.


Part 1: Hidden Gem

All travel is an adventure, and we like to travel purposefully with adventure in mind. But that philosophy is a gamble, and sometimes it turns out like November 9th, 2012 – a day spent in beautiful luxury, in a rarely-explored part of the world, in a hidden gem that we can call our own. That day, the gamble paid off.

But sometimes the gamble results in a day like November 10th.

Rovinj

Rovinj, Croatia, our hidden gem

We spent November 9th in our hidden gem, Rovinj, Croatia, a city so beautiful that it should be popular but so remote that it isn’t. Situated on the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia, the Italo-Croat village is another Venice, without the crowds but with all the atmosphere. The 18 hours we spent here were fantastical, romantic and bold, and we went to sleep November 9th with satisfaction and the exhilaration of new discoveries in our lungs.

November 10th, we woke up still in our own dreamland but in a rush. We had to leave town quickly to catch a bus, then a train, to take us to the neighboring country of Slovenia and then back home, to Austria. We walked through the Rovinj streets in the still, fresh morning, hating to say goodbye so soon to our discovery. But we were ready for more adventure.

Just not this kind.

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Vienna Video Blog 2

Here’s our newest video blog, detailing our lives here in Vienna from February until now.

Here is our joint Vienna blog as detailed in the video. And here is our first video blog, from last year.

11 Tips For Living In, Studying In Or Touring Vienna

So I seem to be writing at a pace of about one blog a month now. That works I guess.

I want everyone to come visit my adopted city. I love OKC, my hometown, but I love Vienna just as much, and I love to show it off (that’s an open invitation to visit, by the way). The cafes, the parks, the music, the food – all of it together makes me extremely proud of and in love with this city every day. Living in Europe – even getting to visit Europe – is definitely a privilege that I am constantly grateful for.

However, if you are going to visit – or live in – this lovely city, here’s a couple of tips you should know about first. They are not necessarily imperatives, but they do make being here an easier and more enriching experience.

1. Stand on the Right

This should really be covered in Europe 101, or Intro To Major Cities. Yet it’s amazing how many people come to an escalator and plant themselves directly in front of an oncoming hoard of rushed commuters, oblivious to the fact that everyone going their speed – AKA the speed of the escalator – is standing on the right to allow others with more important things to do pass by. There’s even signs, in case you can’t comprehend context clues.

griensteidl

2. Learn to Like Coffee

It would be a tragedy to come to Vienna, the city most known for its coffeehouse culture out of all other European cities, and not be able to properly appreciate the experience of sipping a Melange in a 100-year old cafe frequented by Freud, or cooling down with a properly-made Viennese Eiskaffee on a warm, sunny patio. It’s quintessential Vienna, and I know very few Viennese who will say no to morning coffee, an afternoon Kaffeepause or a cup to go down with dessert after dinner. If you don’t like it black, that’s fine, as even the most famous Viennese drink – the Melange – is an espresso with milk foam. No one will judge you – start with an espresso with whipped cream (Schlagobers) and milk until you can manage the Kleiner Brauner (literally, “Small Brown One”, just a shot of espresso).

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Going Thermal

Note: None of these pictures are mine, because I tend to be too busy to take any pictures whenever I visit a Therme.

It’s somewhat surprising how much Austrians love water, being a land-locked country and all.

There’s no ocean, no sea in sight, with the closest major body of water – the Adriatic – about a 6 hour drive away. Nevertheless (or, perhaps, therefore), once the slightest sliver of warmth shines through after a long winter, Austrians flock to the nearest river, lake or pond, treating each one as if it were Waikiki beach. Sand is brought in and scattered along major and minor bodies of water from the Danube to the tiny pond down the street, and people lay out under umbrellas and on beach chairs, sipping wine and slathering on sunscreen. Maybe it’s a reaction to the four long months of constant snow, or the indignation at not having a coastline of their own, but during the summer, on a hot day, it’s hard to find an Austrian anywhere but near the water. The city shuts down. Entire families take off work. Austrians take summer – and water – seriously.

So what are they to do in the wintertime? Or what if the riverside is full, or what if they prefer chlorinated water to lake water? Austrians have a solution for that. They’re called Thermes.

Therme Wien

You’ve probably heard of a thermal bath – a pool or hot spring using natural thermal water piped from underground. You Okies have Hot Springs, Arkansas just a couple of hours away. This is the original concept of a Therme (“tear-ma”), and historically Austria and Germany have had a lot of them. Germany has Baden-Baden and Austria has Baden, two small towns renowned for their thermal baths. The Habsburgs were known to frequent thermal spas, as well as famous Viennese like Beethoven and Freud. Austria especially has a seemingly abundant supply of thermal water, with historic spa towns popping up frequently up and down the Alpine foothills, many of them even established by the Romans in their Roman bath style.

But the connotation of a Therma has morphed from this strictly thermal spa meaning to something even more ubiquitous. You or I might possibly call it a rec center, but the focus isn’t really on sports. It’s kind of like a community pool, except it’s mostly indoors and has an extremely relaxed feel. It’s a combination spa, sauna, relaxation place and kids fun area. It’s everywhere, and it’s a typical weekend getaway, and it’s amazing.

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Food of Austria – Kebabs

Full disclosure: kebabs actually didn’t originate in Austria, or even in Europe. However, I would not be doing justice to myself if I didn’t start this new series off without my favorite food common in Vienna. And common it is – kebab joints and stands seem to be more popular than hamburgers or even traditional Austrian Würstel (sausage) stands. If you’ve never tried a kebab, you may think that’s strange. How can a Turkish delicacy become more common in Europe than a lot of European food?

Because it’s amazing, that’s why.

Below is what’s technically called a Döner Kebab. The Döner part specifies that the meat (most commonly lamb) is roasted on a vertical, rotating spit. This process has other names, like the Arabic shawarma or the Greek gyro, but the Turkish/Austrian hybrid is its own special masterpiece. The lamb is shaved off the spit, packed into a warm pita roll or other flatbread, and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, yoghurt sauce and chili.

Döner Kebab

Döner Kebab

Other versions exist, with maybe extra vegetables like cabbage or a different sauce, but what I just described is the classic. It’s the one you’ll find at every kebab stand in Vienna, of which you find a ton. You never need to walk more than five minutes before you come across another, and at some subway or tram stops, 2-4 stands are sometimes grouped all together, all competing to serve the best combination of meat, vegetables and bread.

How does it taste? I find it best on a cold day, when the warm bread and meat are accented by the spiciness of the chili, but cooled down by the tomatoes and yoghurt sauce. You may think I should be ashamed that my favorite Viennese food is actually Turkish, but Turkish culture and cuisine – most notably the kebab – have become so ingrained in Viennese culture the past 50-100 years that buying a kebab is just as normal for an Austrian as buying a Schnitzel or a Käsekrainer (I’ll get to those later).

Dürüm Kebab

Dürüm Kebab

There is one other common version, in case you want all the insides without the sometimes ungainly pita flatbread. A Dürüm kebab is the same meat and vegetables but instead wrapped inside a Lavash, a very soft, thin bread that is basically a tortilla. Also good, with an advantage of sometimes being able to hold a bit more meat and vegetables.

I’m very strategic about my kebabs. I’m going to go eat one now.