Here’s our newest video blog, detailing our lives here in Vienna from February until now.
Posts from the ‘Vienna’ Category
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
FYI I’ve been shooting all of this on my iPhone 4S. I still haven’t quite learned how to master it as my primary video camera, hence why shots are sometimes shaky and whatnot. Hopefully this will get better in the future. Also, I’m looking for suggestions for a good lapel mic that would work with iPhone. Anything?
Because we are moving to Vienna, Austria, we are learning German, because that’s what they speak there, and not Viennese or Austrian. Got that?
German is hard.
I took two years of German in high school, but I’m quickly discovering that none of that mattered. None. Nicht. I remember numbers, the word for “chicken” and how to tell someone I don’t speak German, but that’s about it.
German has a million ways to trip you up. It has cases, which, if you are an English speaker like myself, probably means absolutely nothing to you. I’ve never knowingly distinguished between a nominative and accusative preposition in my life, nor very much cared to. You know which other modern languages use cases? Some Slavic languages, and Greek. That’s about it. German just has to be all individualistic that way.
This isn’t a problem with just German, but I will never understand the need to assign a gender to each and every noun. Why is the sky masculine but the sun feminine? Why is fork feminine but spoon masculine, and for that matter, why is knife neutral? That’s right: unlike French or Spanish, which have only two genders, German takes the liberty of adding on a third, you know, for those hermaphroditic words. And it’s all very random. For instance – man is masculine and woman is feminine, but girl is neutral. Yep, every time you talk about “the girl” in German, you don’t ascribe her (it) any feminine characteristics at all. Poor sexless Hilda. It’s enough to make anybody want to invade Poland.