In honour of the fact that this is my 28th post, on the week of my 28th birthday I feel its appropriate to celebrate that number with a short guide to the hilarious/awesome/crazy things i’ve noticed from my first year living in Austria. These are the little things you need to embrace to truly uncover your inner Austrian!
1.Be on time. They really, really like being on time. The Germans and the Swiss have the more famous reputation but God help you if you’re not on time to meet an Austrian. For an Austrian, to be 5 minutes early is to be on time. You have been warned!
2. Speak Austrian Deutsch. The language spoken here is technically German, but an Austrian variety. So a Potato is an Kartoffeln in Deutsch, but Erdäpfel in Austrian. German apricots are Aprikose, Austrian ones are Marillen, German tomatoes are Tomaten, and the Austrian (specifically Viennese) tomatoes are Paradeiser….you get the idea. These tricksy little differences seperate the Deutsch from the Österreicher!
3. Get used to Smoking. Austria is one of the few countries that has been sloooowww to take up any kind of smoking laws, because Austrians adore smoking. For a country that’s so modern in so many ways the smoking habits here make me feel like its still 1960. Bars, restaurants and streetside you can buy super cheap packs of smokes. Its legal at 16 meaning half the population is addicted by 17. Its gross.
Even their healthiest export is into it!
4. Get nude! This is so normal here as to barely* rate a mention. Topless sunbaking is the norm at all public swimming spots, be it beside the Danube, at a public pool or with your kids at the local swim spot. Nuding up is par for the course, particularly beside lakes, and while some areas are specifically reserved for this, people don’t tend to look twice at folk of all ages nuding up. Stay tuned for a later post about this and how it positively affects body confidence throughout the country – I reckon us English speaking folk have a lot to learn!
*sorry (not sorry) for this terrible pun!
5. Eat Dairy. There is dairy everywhere. Austrians love any kind of Dairy product – cheese, milk, butter, buttermilk, cream, creamy spreads, creamy sauces on meals, mayonaise in every salad…. it’s endless. I reckon its from their rural tradition of farming and loving their cows so much. So versatile is their love of Dairy that they literally invented a drink made from ‘cheese juice’ – as in leftover juice from the cheese making process. Its called Latella. S loves it. The thought of it makes me wanna vomit in my mouth
Milk & Fruit and CHEESE JUICE!! Belurgh!
6. Embrace Pork ‘n Potatoes. The diet of Austria is built on the back of a Pig – always served with generous helpings of Potatoes. More often than not, the potatoes are in salad, the famous Kartöffel Salad . Natürlich, the best Kartoffel salad is always made by Austrian Grannies. Pork cannot be avoided – they sneak it in Schnitzel, in Salad, in Cordon Bleu, even in breakfast as a spread ( the fat of the pig is made spreadable). Basically for Austrians, Pork = life.
7. Be Neat & Tidy. The enitre country is an OCD dream of cleanliness. Crossing the border into Austria I swear the fields get more organised, the streets are neater and everything is more orderly. There’s a woman on our street who has been spotted sweeping leaves from the footpath at midnight. No joke – cleanliness is imperative. If cleaning your house isn’t enough, they have city wide initiatives in Spring to help clean the city for incomiung tourists…very serious business!
8. Holiday Often. Most Austrian work contracts have 5 weeks annual leave built in. Add to that the many many public holidays throughout the year (at least 14) and the ‘swing days’ ( if a public holiday falls on a Thursday you get the Friday off too) and you have one very relaxed country. Being smack in the centre of Europe means you can holiday in Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic or just enjoy some of the stunning lakes of Austria. Tough life!
Viennese Day off – very tough!
9. Be Polite. Normally, in any English speaking country when I get in an elevator, I avoid eye contact, clutch my phone and pretend i’m not surrounded by 20 other people in an enclosed space. Entering and exiting buildings I look busy, stride quickly and leave everyone the hell alone to do the same. Standard human interaction, no? Not so here. Every office I walk into someone greets you with a cheery ‘Gruß Gott’, you step out of a lift and a hail of ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ sends you merrily on your way. I think this is part of Austrias very strong formal culture. In the villages of Tirol, if you walk past someone on the street its extremely rude to not say ‘Servus’ or ‘Gruß Gott’ in greeting. I personally love this – it gives your day to day interactions a little more cheer!
10. Get a Dirndl/Lederhosen, This is not mandatory, but super fun! I got my first Dirndl last weekend for a local ‘mini-Oktoberfest’ in Tirol and I loooovve it. Dirndl’s & Lederhosen are the traditional clothes of Austria, known as Trachten. They’ll lend you the air of authenticity while holding a beer and speaking broken Deutsch in a beer hall. Apparently Trachten are making a comeback in the fashion stakes so you can get yourself ahead of the game, like so….
Advising others on the benefits of a Dirndl…
11. ‘Where are you from?’ is a mandatory conversational topic. I don’t just mean asking which continent, or country. The first 15 minutes upon meeting anyone new is generally spent dissecting which particular reigon a person hails from. Points are gained if this can be picked from a speakers accent, double points if a specific village can be named. Maybe this is a European habit, but for Austrians its seems to be a particularly rewarding game – where if you guess correctly, friendly jibes and stereotypes are exchanged about each respective persons village.
12. Get Fit. Austrians love a good walk, or hike, or mountain bike, or rock climbing or going for a ‘Wandern’ – which is a hike that can go for hours. All this incredible countryside encourages outdoor fitness freaks. Then in winter there’s skiing, snow boarding, ice skating, or ‘touring’ which is hiking (again), but this time in snow, up a mountain. Yep. They’re bonkers about getting up those mountains.
No idea why they’d want to get all the way up here!
13. Love Winter Sports. They are waaayy more important here than any other sporting codes. It may seem obvious when you think of the climate, but still surprises me. I’m slowly getting used to the idea of watching ski races on a Saturday afternoon instead of the footy. Because Austria kind of sucks (on a national level) in popular European sports like soccer, they tend to embrace the stuff they’re good at, like skiing. Just don’t tell them they suck, you may be kicked out 🙂
Superflous shot of Austria’s best soccer player, Alaba, looking dreamy.
14. Daily Kaffe & Kuche. The greatest Austrian habit of all – mid afternoon coffee and cake. Any & every day around 3pm is Kaffe & Kuche time. You need no justification to stop your day, get yourself a coffee and slice of Cake – Sacher Torte, Apfel, Marillen, Shokolade, whichever – then sit and enjoy 20 minutes of pure bliss.
15. Coffee must always come with a glass of water on the side. This is genius to the perpetually thirsty, like myself. I adore it so much and notice the lack in other countries now. The Austrians literally invented the idea of modern coffee in the 1500’s – when the fleeing Turkish Army left behind bags of coffee beans, the Viennese added milk, sugar and deliciousness – and have been perfecting coffee ever since.
Note all the Dairy heaped on top!!
16. Dance Like no one is Watching. Dancing here is less of an art, and more of a group activity in clapping, hopping, jumping, flapping your hands and cheering along to lyrics. They may be famous for the Vienna Waltz season, but thorough research in many bars has revealed Austrians are much more partial to Macarena-like sing alongs to folksy music, with corresponding dance moves that an entire dancefloor will bust out. Its a thing of beauty to witness!
17. Grow a Moustache. The moustache ratio here is definitely above average, the most magnificent ones are tended to like 1940’s masterpieces. Its inspiring & hilarious to see them in the wild. My favourite moustache of note was spotted in the gym, on a be-muscled man who was sporting the very traditonal ‘handlebar with a twirl’ look. I wasn’t stalky enough to take a picture, but trust me when I say it was definitely a descendant of this guy:
Sadly, he was not wearing a leopard print onesie that Tuesday.
18. Hide your Office. Most offices are hidden in converted grand homes. Any Doctor, Dentist, or everyday appointment can occur in a gorgeous old apartment building, rather than purpose built, soulless concrete block. The buildings here are incredible, and finding the re-appropriated Optician’s office hidden in an apartment building from the 1890’s is an everyday architectural adventure!
19. Avoid the Viennese Attitude. Ah the Viennese reputation for gloom. Renowed for being grumpy, unhelpful and all round sad sacks, I can say this is only half-true. The true Viennese outlook on life tends to be more ‘its not so bad’ rather than ‘life is great!’ but you can find friendly people, and if you attempt a bit of Deutsch, they open up more.
20. Get used to Churches & Catholicism. Though changing with the new multicultural population, Austria is still very much a traditionally Catholic country. Most of the public holidays are on Catholic religious holidays, festivities are built around Catholic traditions and every second village in the countryside has a Catholic Kirche as its architectural focal point. Not such a bad thing when the Churches are as pretty as this:
21. Classify Water. Water is more than just wet stuff from a tap. Here, it has a number of classifications – prickelnd, mild & ohne. And there’s allegedly a difference in taste between tap water depending on what side of the Danube you live. This, more than anything tells you how much Austrians love a good classification process! Water is very sacred here as they treasure the good, clear product fresh from the mountains.
22. Love The Hoff. Yes, they are as mad for him as the Germans. No one is entirely sure why he’s so successful here. He came through Vienna in March and was still given VIP treatment at Volkgarten club and the Austrians (including S) went mad for seeing the original Knight Rider vehicle. They even nominated him to be a Governor for Styria! Check the article here http://www.artofeurope.com/news/hasselhoff.htm allegedly the photo to go along with his nomination was something like this…
There are no words for this….
23. Enjoy Explicit Radio. Like anywhere, commercial radio in Austria is pretty repeptitive. Unlike anywere else, there isn’t a lot of censorship going on. You will hear full, explicit versions of everything. In the middle of the workday there’s Old school, full length Eminiem alongside tracks like ‘What’s my Motherf**in Name’. I’m no prude so it doesn’t really bother me but for those sensitive to swearing, beware!
24. Sunday Funday!! There’s no shops open on a Sunday here. So adapt your grocery habits accordingly, or you end up starving on a Sunday evening. Sunday is traditionally a ‘family day’ used to socialise doing non-capitalist activities, like long lunches at Grannies and playing in a park. Its a delightful way to force you to find something outdoorsy to do on a weekend. Number one choice of activitiy is to…
25. Wash your Car on a Sunday. The neat and tidy thing extends to vehicle maintenance, specifically spending your Sunday’s vigorously cleaning your car. This is regardless of weather or if the car actually needs cleaning. The gigantic queues at Carwash outlets can attest to the popularity of this pastime. The secondary church on a Sunday is the carwash.
26. Sit Down Boys. I’m talking about boys bathroom etiquette. They pee sitting down. Legitimately, taught from a young age to pee sitting down. I only realised this when I never had to put the seat down in our apartment, and upon some delicate quizzing established that its a non-issue here. Boys pee sitting down. Hallelujah!
27. Fashion Rules. Fashion here is…..classic? I’m still a bit bemused by Vienna’s fashion choices. I say ‘classic’ when what I mostly mean is a teensy bit boring. Classic cuts, nothing too zany, nothing too colourful (unless its fluro which, ick) and not a lot of risky choices. Wearing my Black Milk tights feel positively rebellious! (see my heaven here http://blackmilkclothing.com/) However, Vienna fashion week is in September so I’ll withhold complete judgement until then. There’s also an adorable blog at http://www.sissisecrets.com/ that’s helping uncover the inner fashionista’s of Wien!
28. Learn to drink Beer. Austria is hovering up in the top 3 for biggest beer drinkers in the world. They knocked Germany off the perch recently and have some delicious varities of beer to back up the claim. My personal favourite is Weißbier, but the variety and cheap prices mean you can discover your personal favourite. Proßt!!
Some extremely Austrian things here – Weißbeer, cigarettes, mountains & a lake. Oh and the human too.
So how Austrian are you??? I think I’ve still got a long way to go, so any other Austrian traits you can think of, let me know!!
Its not how it sounds, really, I swear! Ladies and Gents, its been a blissful, busy, bright and brilliant three weeks off. I got my itchy feet out of Vienna and returned to an old love – the Road. That enticing mistress of adventure, uncertainty and joy that I thrive on.
Officially I gave up my Topdeck job last year, after two incredible seasons – moving on to my new life in Vienna and consequently a new, grown-up, real life job. Topdeck was my employment-ex. The much beloved, always wistfully mentioned, ‘dream job’. So when the email came through three months ago, asking if I wanted to do just one cheeky trip…well what’s a restless girl to do?? Topdeck & Trip Leading have been the ‘what if’ spectre hanging about in the back of my brain and secret chamber of my heart for months and I had to find a way to get it out of my system. Not only for my own sanity, but to really and truly start my life here in Vienna, I needed to shake the feeling that I was ‘missing out’. Essentially banish my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those who don’t speak the slang of Youths these days!).
A short and sharp 11 day trip was the answer – not so long as to cut into my annual leave, and just long enough to hit all the high points of a good solid lap around Europe. The itinerary? Paris – Lauterbrunnen-Venice-Munich-Rhine Valley-Amsterdam. Two nights everywhere except Munich and Rhine Valley where we had one night each. Stunning.
A small visual guide to what I got up to in my spare time. As in, when not managing 46 mostly drunk/hungover hilarious and fun loving passengers that had a fairly tight itinerary to see 9 countries in 11 days!!
Paris – I hired a bike and rode around the sights, stopping in at Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop for a few treats – hipster bliss!
View over the Trocadero Gardens and some old, iconic structure
This is the Eglise Dom where Napoleon is buried, he’s a subtle kinda guy.
Switzerland. Got my inner Austrian on for a hike up the Grunnenwald, I must be integrating better than I thought because I actually enjoyed this kind of excercise!
Up close with some local cows, not as friendly as expected
View of Jungfraujoch Mountain from little Cafe Hut
Italy – Skipped the hot, sweaty crowds wandering the sunny streets of Venice and caught up with some old friends beside the pool. Heaven.
The coolest place to be in Venice – on water. View is from Accademia Bridge
Munich – Beers in Hofbraühaus. Apparently we were having an excellent time ‘cos I have no photographic evidence of this!!
Rhine Valley – managed to take the optional River Cruise down the Rhine River, sipping beers in the sun with some of my favourite passengers. Incredible countryside!
Oh, this was the view from our Hostel room in St Goar, which was, ahem, a Castle.
Amsterdam – Got into the facepainting spirit and night then enjoyed my free day bike riding, visting the newly opened Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandts Night Watch AND got some gifts in the Heinekin Museum. Winner!
National monument – Dam square, Amsters
Brugges – always the final day slog, but this time around, we were on time, relaxed and oh so happy to have such a wonderful last day together.
Final city stop, treated myself to a lunch in the main square. Job well done.
The result? A perfect trip. I honestly could not have asked for a better group, easier itinerary, nicer driver or happier experience. It was the universe gifting me one last hurrah. What I came to realise though, was that as great as the job is – I’ve moved beyond that lifestyle. The thing I love most about it is sharing the excitement of travel with young people who are equally interested and keen to learn more, see more and enjoy everything about their journey. That includes the partying nightlife alongside the historical stories and architectural marvels. I love getting people excited about travelling, sharing their experience the first time they see the Eiffel Tower, or taste Italian Gelato, or try and lift an authentic Stein. Its other traveller’s enthusiasm and joy that I love, above and beyond the job itself. Which means, I’m finally ok with leaving that Job and that life behind.
I have one delightful group of people to thank for this…these guys:
Adorable group shot in the Netherlands
That madcap bunch of people made my trip unforgettable. I am so greatful to have such enthusiastic, excited passengers who were up for any-and-everything! Calling any one trip a favourite is impossible, because each and every single one is special, but this will, I think, be memorable as the final fun one!
Like any good relationship, Topdeck made me grow as a person, figure out who I really am and what I really want. It challenged me, made me happier than I’ve ever been and more exhausted than I ever could have imagined. It was at once uplifting, traumatic and hugely satisfying -sometimes all in one day. To anyone even considering a change of lifestyle or career I can only say DO IT if you have the strength. Its not easy, and its not always fun, but it will change you for the better. It taught me to be selfless, to savour the small moments you get for yourself, to be more helpful, to be thankful everyday for every opportunity. It will always be the most significant ex for me, because it changed my life so completely. I left Australia with a one way ticket, on the hope of getting a job – I really had no idea of what I was in for. Three seasons later, I’m living in Austria with the love of my life, I’ve experienced the best Europe has to offer – counting Rome, Florence, Berlin and Paris as my office – and made friends with the most incredible people along the way. Lucky? No, I worked damn hard for it. Grateful?Hell yes, and always will be.
For now though, I can say (with 98.99% certianty)that my Trip Leading days are done. I’m putting down my roots here in Wien, starting new challenges, and finding a new way to share my love of travel – online here with you guys, and soon, out in the real world with a new venture that’s shaping up to be pretty exciting! Mostly though, this is for myself and S, to banish all talk of ex-loves and truly begin our new life here, together.
The new beginning…
It was mini-adventure time this weekend, so despite the weather being less than summery, we set out on a daytrip to explore the Wachau. What is Wachau I hear you cry? Well for starters, its this….
Only a big glorious beautiful area about an hour’s drive out of busy Vienna, completely hidden a little further down the Danube from the more famous Melk Abbey & Krems. I was gobsmacked. I know Austria is beautiful, but the countryside keeps hitting me in the face with just how stunning it is, right when I start taking it for granted…
Countryside in background, badly done selfie in foreground
We had a pretty little drive to get out there, through lots of cute little villages, even saw a few weddings en route – but the effects of recent flooding were still evident along the sides of the road. The spot where we took the photo above would have been completely unerwater a few weeks ago. So to revive local tourism, S had a surprise in store for me, in the form of a Giant Castle!! I love castles! On top of A Mountain! Beside the Danube! Glorious!
Lost the pointy bit on top, but you get the idea, no? CASTLE!!
Aggstein Castle is a big, reconstructed Fortress that was first built in 1350. Most of the roof has gone but a whole heap of the original rooms and castle walls remain. Its been really well restored and you can roam about freely to get a good feel of the place as it would have been in its heyday. Battlements, wells, cellar’s and original kitchen elements are all still there.
Huge stretch of castle to frolic in!
And if geeking out over historic details isn’t your thing, then the views alone are worth it!
Note adventuring Austrian’s paragliding in background
Peeking through a lookout point
We spent a good two hours here, wandering about, enjoying the views, pretending to be from Medieval times and, of course, snacking. Austrian style snacking which is…large:
Blurred photo and half demolished plate due to marauding hungry Austrian & Australian
The cafe restaurant is very traditional style Austrian, super homely and lots of wood. Because the weather was a bit scheisse we headed for a table indoors, where they had dellightful bay window seats and kitschy posters.
The manager/waitress revealed the upstairs area had been a hostel in the ’70’s. Can you imagine staying here as a backpacker for about ten bucks a night??!! Luxury!! I was tempted to request an overnight but S is yet to stay in a hostel (travel princess much??) so I thought this was maybe not the best induction one could ask for.
After conquering the castle our next mission was to cross to the other side of the Danube to the adorable village of Spitz. This proved harder than expected as the regular ferry was non operational after flooding. We had to loop around a bit but this took us past a few different kinds of street vendors selling fresh peaches, cherries and natürlich, schnapps. I got to taste my first Steckerlfish, which was, hand on heart as a seafood lover, one of the freshest, tastiest best spiced fish I’ve had:
Taste’s better than it looks, I swear!!
We rounded out the day at a local Heuringer, which is like a winery but on a smaller scale, where you sit in someone’s home. Basically, for different periods of the wine season, local winemaker’s open up their backyards or courtyards as a place to drink and eat while tasting their produce. They only have a licence to selll their wine, no beer, spirits etc, and only cold food. Which, as you may have gathered by now is more than sufficient when Austrian Granny’s are making the snack plates!! We went to one owned by a friend’s family, and it felt like we were in Italian Wine country – stunning views, sunset, delicious cheap wine, and good chats with the locals
I can never go back to Australian prices for wine….
Spitz Kirche from Heuringer terrace
After whiling away 3 hours ‘tasting’ the beautiful wine the weather came in on us, but it had definitely been well worth braving it all day!
For those who want a visual on where we were, try this handy dandy map:
If that doesn’t help you, stay tuned, because I think we’ll be headed back here soon, hopefully with friends in tow!!
Its been a really long time since I wrote here. For some reason I have it in my head that my posts need to be always uplifting, or about fun or exciting activities – but surely that’s more what Facebook and twitter are for, amirite? (Queue canned laughter).
If I’m being honest I haven”t written because I’ve been struggling the last few weeks. Not in a massive OH DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE dramatic way, just in an everyday, average adjustment period way.
The thing is, I haven”t lived a normal life for 2 years. I haven’t worked an office job for a long time, and when I did, I certainly didn’t love it. I’m also facing up to the reality that I maaaayy not have considered that there are sacrifices for the decision I made to stay here and be with S.
Firstly, the job. It is, for what I need in Vienna now, great. Lovely people, great company, decent pay and (once I learn German) opportunity to develop I’m sure. Its just not THE job. The job that gets your brain zinging and your inspiration flowing and energy levels up. Its a desk job, and while each day has its own challenges it essentially comprises the same thing. Get email, research flights, meet criteria, book flights, repeat. I feel like i’ve seen the possibility beyond boring jobs. I know how good it is to work a job that means something, that invigorates you, that you enjoy doing every damn day even when its exhausting to the point of delirium. And now, having less than that feels twice as empty. Maybe this is just a natural dip in career progression, or maybe this time in my life is when my job has to take back seat to say, learning German, travelling on weekends and putting my energy into building my own life here. But still, it niggles at me every day. Until I nut out what work I can do that I will love as much as trip leading, that will get me up and active and excited, and that won”t drag me away from S and a happy home to come to at the end of the day then I’m going to feel conflicted.
Secondly, sacrifice. I haven’t touched on my trip home here because it threw up a lot of emotional reactions. I’m sure any homecoming after 2 years will do that. What has stuck with me most of all though, is the feeling that I’ve betrayed some people back home by choosing to stay here. ‘Choosing’ to fall in love with a foreigner and ‘choosing’ to live here for the next year or so at least. At the time, it didn’t seem like a choice, it felt like an inevitability – call it fate, call it blind stubbornness, naivety or youthful hope but whatever drove S and I together was something I never had any doubt over. Explaining that to the people and family members you’ve ‘left behind’ at home is a little harder.
Logic tells me there’s a natural growing apart that happens to all families when the kids get to their mid-twenties and ‘real life’ creeps up. Careers, serious relationships and the process of becoming an adult all drive us out into our own worlds to create an independant existence. The trouble is, in creating that existence on the other side of the world, there’s a hard line drawn under just how far apart I am.
Recently, I’ve been beating myself up a bit, feeling guilty at ‘betraying’ some of my friends & family by being here. Like i’m being a shit friend or sibling by choosing to stay away. But would I be just as unhappy in betraying myself by going back to Australia for their sake? Damn right. When I was just here working for Topdeck, it was, for them, all very up in the air and temporary. For me, I was just getting started. Now, the reality that I have an apartment, a job, a residency and my own life over here is looking a lot more permanent. I think that was a huge shock for them, where for me it was an almost natural progression.
So is this guilt about those at home just the price I pay in choosing my expat life? Can you ever really be sure that you’re living in the ‘right’ country if its the one that takes you away from your family? Will time make it better or worse??
These are the thoughts I drive myself mad with. Not all the time, and not loudly, but they spring up. And with the weather of Spring being so very delightful (there is STILL SNOW ON CARS!!) they sometimes get the better of my mood.
So apologies folks, my own madness made me unable to write. But to shake off this attitude and to keep me honest I’m going to make Sunday my blog post day from here on out! Thanks to all the other blogs I follow for keeping me inspired to do so.
I had a moment just now where I realised the things I’m taking as a given are quite strange if looked at objectively. I spent the last hour doing online Pilates classes from youtube with snow falling outside my window at the start of December. Living in an apartment that I couldn’t have imagined even if I tried to a year ago. December 5th marks my one year anniversary arrival into Austria. Obviously I’d travelled through here with Topdeck in 2011 on tours but December 5th was my arrival date in Munich, the start of my job with directski.com and the beginning of my winter in Soll and all the adventures that it bought me. The beginning of the rest of my Austrian influenced life if you want to be dramatic about it.
This is pretty much how Austrian I am now!
So much has changed since then that summarising it sounds like a movie script. I met S, got kicked out of Austria, travelled through 20-odd countries in Europe while struggling with the long distance relationship and missing him, quit my job, moved to Vienna, applied for my Visa, freaked out my parents and now live like a real live grown up in an apartment in central Europe. What the what. None of that was in my life plan. What’s interesting now, is that I can take this ridiculous life i’m living – exercising in a Viennese apartment, wearing a singlet from the 2011 Sziget festival in Hungary while watching snow fall and compiling xmas shopping lists for Australia – and its relatively normal. Does that make me strange or life crazy wonderful??
On Friday I went to the Girls Gone International Meetup and chatted with quite a few lovely women about their lives in Vienna without the meat-market feel of other Internations get-togethers. Ran into a friend again and am catching up tomorrow night for an English Book Swap. The beginnings of my own social circle. I have the capability to deal with the snowy weather now and, if this job I interviewed for on Friday comes through, I may be on the path to a ‘regular’ life and job.
This is both awesome and concerning. Awesome because god knows we need the income, even if I earn at the lower end of the pay-scale and pay 50% tax here, it will be a much needed supplement. Concerning because I left Melbourne and office work because it drove me mad. I’ve worked active jobs for the past two years and am used to a near-constantly changing environment. What i’m worried about is slipping into an unhealthy (i.e sedentary desk job) environment, and getting too comfortable within my relationship (i.e enjoying S cooking me delicious dinners nightly) to push myself into an active lifestyle. Now the good flipside of this is – I live in freakin’ Austria.
This place is like heaven to ‘active people’. I’ve never been one of those go get ’em hikers, trail walkers, outdoorsy types but this country is FULL of that attitude. If they’re not flinging themselves off mountains with off-piste skiing or Redbull challenges, they’re spending their summer days hiking in the woods, Nordic Walking around their neighbourhood parks or going for a family ‘walk’ that takes 4 hours and will probably involve a mountain. I am hoping by sheer association this healthy attitude will rub off on me. To offset the effects of schnitzels, strudels, schnapps and Christmas silliness I need to make 2013 the year I adapt the Austrian attitude to exercise!
Nordic walking is NOT this much fun
Enough of premature NYE pledges though, right now I’m happy to know that what is objectively bizarre to me – snow, in December, nice apartment, happy committed relationship- is becoming my normal. I guess normalising this bizarre stuff is all part of my expat experience and if the chats I had on Friday were anything to go by, it all gets better and better the longer you stay. To which I can only think – bring it on Vienna, I’m ready!
With my impending trip home I’m anticipating the many many conversations about ‘what I’ve been up to’. Given the impossibility of describing two years of travel, growth, adventure, terror and joy i’m thinking in snazzy screen-grab terms. Summing everything up in a few short sentances. Because, on paper, my life sounds amazing (don’t get me wrong I know it is). Paid to see Europe with Topdeck, met amazing fellow travellers and lifelong friends, worked a ski season and met an amazing man on a bar crawl, travelled a little more and now establishing my life in Vienna. Rosy, right?
The gap between the snazzy summary you tell people and the mundanity of everyday existence is huge. I’m sure everyone does it – Facebook and social media were basically invented to advertise how awesome your life is to everyone you know. The thing is, in my instance, how do you possibly explain to someone the excruciating stress of waiting for Visa approval for months? How do you express the daily feeling of being a failed feminist because of your current dependancy and lack of employment? I ‘have it all’ on paper but no career or gainful employment to speak of. Which, for this modern 20 something woman is a huge huge issue. Unavoidable but grating just the same. (More on that in another post). How do you tell people that the life of the eternal traveller is as exhausting as it is rewarding? You can’t avoid people reducing the responsibilities and work of the job down to flippant comments and misunderstanding.
Expat life is hard. There’s reams of blogs, books, stories and writings dedicated to it. What’s harder is trying to explain why this is so to those who only see your life through the rosy shades of Facebook, or occasional conversations. For the most part, and for my own sanity I like to play up the positives, tell people i’m keeping busy, trying to get fit, writing and reading lots and engaging with the expat community. Which I am. What I don’t tell them is the reality – that not speaking the language is a constant struggle, that lacking a job burns my sense of self and independance daily and that ‘expat life’ isn’t as glamourous as it sounds.
The main point though, is that I don’t regret any of this struggle. I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t move back to Australia, and I don’t feel lonely (yet). I’m lacking in some things but the gut sense that I’m doing the right thing by being here, that my European adventure isn’t done yet is what drives me though these endless, mindless, repetitive days of nothingness in the apartment.
There is a job interview on Friday. If the Universe sees fit to grant me gainful employment before we leave for Oz I think I may weep with the relief of it. I can’t face January treading water (snow?) day after day. Vienna is enchanting, I’m genuinely happy with my life right now but I fear if this stagnation continues it might just drive me bonkers. So, fingers crossed. I have a fabulous new pair of boots to get me through (courtesy early 6th December present from S) so surely the odds will be in my favour! Here’s hoping!
Technically its only November, which means that any excitement about the impending holidays need to be kept at a minimum – but really, there’s Christmas markets already!! And decorations!! And everything is looking sparkly!!
Being on this side of the world for the leadup to Christmas is a bit like being taken to the authentic version of a Christmas Wonderland – with some added extras. There’s a LOAD more characters in an Austrian Christmas. The devil for one. Instead of our English tradition of naughty kids just getting coal in their Santa sacks, these guys go all out and threaten children with the DEVIL COMING no doubt to POSSESS YOUR SOUL if you are bad. There’s nothing quite so alarming as seeing cartoon devils plastered all over christmas chocolates, side by side with smiling snowmen. The obvious difference here is that Santa is not a thing – they have a nicer lady know as Kriskindle who visits and takes the place of Santa in most ways – sitting in public spaces for kids to come and spill their wishes to. Weirdly, she kinda has my hair and stole my look…were I to wear crowns and gowns daily….
“Come at me tiny ones, these sleeves will swallow you!!”
This may explain why small children tend to stare at me on trams, in the street and in Cafe’s. Obviously, they think I am about to shower them with love, gifts and glory. Disappointing for both of us really.
The other more sinister/fun thing they do here for Christmas is the Tyrolian tradition of Krampus and Perchten. Its the reigonal variety of the Devil coming beside St Nicholas (not the happy smiley fat guy you know, but the actual Saint) to punish small children while St Nick doles gifts to the good ones. Check out how goddamn terrifying this Krampus guy is in this heartwarming christmas card:
You can see the terror in that kids face!! Traditionally on the 6th of December to chase away the evil winter spirits there are street parades in villages where young men dress in these huge heavy Krampus costumes with belts of drums and bells and perform LOUDLY in the streets. You have to see it to believe it. Noise, chanting, black charcoal dust being thrown in people’s faces – its unbelievable. Pagan, exciting and crazy. My first week in Soll last year coincided with Krampus and I had no clue what was going on, except that Austrians were in equal measures crazy and fun. Nothing has changed my view since!!
Besides all this new found fun in Christmas tradition, I’m only just now realising how hilarious an Aussie christmas is in comparison to how ‘authentic’ these guys make it. We saw handmade wreaths, with fresh flowers and actual plants at the farmers markets in Graz on the weekend and I was gobsmacked – it’d never before occurred to me for wreaths to be anything but plastic. Same for trees, snow, mistletoe all the ‘symbols of Christmas’ that we replicate back home are actually real here! It sounds simple but has been a real eye-opener for me. However, I wouldn’t trade a Santa in boardies or a seaside pub meal on Christmas day for anything. Can’t actually wait for S to experience his first Aussie chrissie, in all its simulated, plastic, non-traditional glory. We get the best of both worlds this year – 4 weeks in Vienna enjoying stunning Christmas markets, gluwein, snow and Krampus celebrations then jetting back into the sunshine to rooftop bars, Framily BBQ’s and Christmas day on the beach. Perfect.
I am spending an inordinate amount of time on the internet. More than I ever have. I can justify a lot of it – English language newspapers and news sources can suck up my morning if I follow the rabbit warren of links that I get from Twitter, Zite and good ole Facey. This is, somehow in my brain ‘justifiable’ as its reading solid news stories and opinion pieces. Still… HOURS PEOPLE.
Then there’s the time I spend somewhat more aimlessly – Pintrest. Dear God it is genius. So pretty, so distracting, so mindless. Facebook as ever has an ongoing update of everyone’s lives back home and is in most cases the best way I can keep in touch with people because lets be honest, who the hell emails anymore? Twitter I still don’t know if I use correctly but its there and its just another way to keep distracting myself. From there I can take my ‘high road’ of checking in with other blogs and looking into writing tips and techniques while searching for English speaking jobs on various job-search websites.The ‘low road’ alternative being wasting away time on some silly favourites – Gofugyourself, Textsfromlastnight, Cracked, it goes on.
What I’m worried about is how much time is too much time. I make sure to leave the house each day, go for what I am very generously calling a ‘run’ when it is in fact just a light jog followed by 20 mins of brisk walking. Do the food shopping, clear my head with some reading, but the problem is the internet is always RIGHT THERE with its endless endless ways to kill time. I can turn off the laptop, but the ipad is handy. I am a real human losing hours of time to…nothing. Nothing tangible, not all that enriching and certainly not impressive to explain the few months blank on my resume. Funnily enough this blog is one of the great reasons to stay on the internet, plus its forcing me to write more, which can only be a good thing.
So, whats the alternative?? Is this a big deal? I can’t keep spending ten bucks a pop everytime I finish another novel in English and there’s only so much cleaning a girl can do without feeling like a housewife. I cannot find a job soon enough. Or, do I just enjoy this time? Revel in having time to myself? I could almost do that if the damn voice in my head (otherwise known as my conscience) didn’t have such a damn good sense of what a work ethic is.
Eight months ago I was kicked out of Europe. Told in no uncertain terms that I had to leave and my continued presence in Austria was illegal. This was all told in Deutsch so the only things I took away from an intimidating meeting in a 1970’s era building was the words ‘nein’ ‘no’ and ‘illegal’. There is nothing worse than being completely helpless to control your own life.
Since then it has been a long, frustrating, confusing, emotional and stressful series of efforts to get me back here and able to live in Vienna. First I had to clear 3 months outside of the schengen zone, kicking around in London, working the UK & Ireland tour route 3 TIMES to wait out the allotted 3 months. Once we did get into the nitty gritty of getting my paperwork together and trying to figure out the contradictory information given by the Austrian government and Australian embassy it was a constant battle against misinformation and racing against time. Aussies are only allowed 90 days in the schengen reigon. Not a lot of time to meet all the requirements. The deadline provided a constant ticking clock of doom everytime we experienced a setback; My documents were originals, but not official enough. Our appointment was booked 2 weeks ago but not locked in. S had his passport as proof of citizenship but not his birth certificate. An endless round of roadblocks not outlined in any dot-point guide of how to apply to stay here.
To say it was stressful was an understatement. The process and chance of failure, the vision of being denied again, to be sent home and seperated haunted us both.I don’t think either of us had cried as much as we did in March when we realised there was absoloutely nothing we could do about my needing to leave.
The worst was the complete lack of concrete information, the feeling of helplessness, the sheer blindness with which we negotiated this process. We’re Gen Y kids, used to being in control, presumptive of our own importance in the world and right to a Happy Ending. The kicker was, we weren’t doing anything wrong, but at every turn it felt like we were in the wrong for proceeding to apply. Maybe it was my not understanding German, the intimidating buildings and endless forms that created this but it felt like we’d fallen down the rabbit-hole of Beauracracy, with no one to tell us whether what we were doing was wrong or right. Or crucially, whether it would work.
8 tortuous months. Days upon days of uncertainty, and limitation on the things I could progress with here – being unable to work sentanced me to days at home, researching jobs I can’t apply for.
Finally, today, I got the phone call. 11:09am. Requested to return to the magistraat office with passport and money. Building shuts at 12pm. Fastest shower of my life. S was at work in a meeting but this was too big to restrain from calling him. I gathered our coin collection – not knowing how much they wanted me to pay, and S having all our credit cards. Literally last person to enter the building at 11:47. The same blonde young woman who had collected my documents and created my file with all its difficult requests sat me down and (in German) explained the forms I was signing, checked my passport and finally, thankfully, miraculously, handed me my Red-White-Red card.
I thought I was relieved when Obama won. This was a different kind of relief. The months of stress, hard work, worry and endless unanswerable questions had led to this moment. Finally, finally I was free. Free to work, free to stay, free to start my integration meetings, free to travel, free to learn German, free to celebrate this with the man I love and did it all for. I still can’t quite believe it. To top it off, Vienna is shining today, the winter fog has lifted and the sun has been out for the last few hours.
I left the building after thanking this nameless woman for the mercy of letting me stay, and was last out as they locked up for the weekend. 12:03pm. In less than an hour my life had turned round. The despair I felt this morning about what the hell to do with another empty day had gone, to be replaced with endless opportunity and thankfulness at this chance. To learn, to be a resident of two great countries, to grow, to work, to change and embrace all the challenges coming my way.
But for this weekend, before the stress of finding work and learning German begins, I’m only going to enjoy the sheer relief of it all, and revel in the hope that it has given me. Aaaahhhhhhhh…….
There is nothing more frustrating than being unable to express yourself. At least, for someone like me there’s not. I’m a talker, a social creature, slightly performative (some would say a little more than slightly) and enjoy the banter of conversation with people of similiar interests, sense of humour and intelligence. In short, I love a dinner with friends, I love a picnic in the park talking rubbish and making inside jokes on wordplay. I love words. Reading them, writing them, analysing them, tattooing them on my body, i’m all about language, Words, speaking, communicating and creating meaning from that communication.
So being unable to express all that, to enjoy all of that, is infuriating.
The hardest part is, I only have myself to blame. Well not blame, I am starting my German course next month when we can afford it but it kills me that language is my barrier. The one thing I have always adored, revelled in, studied, explored, analysed, pulled apart and enjoyed – is holding me back. I’m suddenly a wallflower through necessity at the pub. I’m sitting quietly on dinner tables, responding when directly spoken to, addressing direct questions but not contributing in any meaningful way to conversations. I’m having myself spoken about, not to, when meeting new people. That’s part of the deal, I understand it, and people here have been lovely in adjusting conversations to English but for the most part, its like there’s a tiny trapped me inside the girl sitting at the table dying for expression. I can’t be myself without words. I can’t express who I am fully without understanding the conversation flowing around me. And its exhausting. Concentrating on interpreting conversation beyond the words, in catching the few words you do know and piecing them together with the gestures, laughs and reactions around you is do-able, but over the course of an afternoon or evening, difficult. But you don’t want to sit there like a moron staring off into the middle distance for hours. So you concentrate, you put the effort into interpretation and your best ‘interested’ or appropriate to the story (you think) face on. But its exhausting. I want to fast forward the part where I don’t understand and get to the middle where there’s at least a crack of recognition in conversations for me. I know it doesn’t work like that. But it feels like there’s a huge chunk of me trapped behind the language barrier. I’m not the quiet mousey type who lets her partner speak for her. But here I have to be. Not forever, but for now, and its infurating. Unfortunately the only cure is time and patience while I learn. Which has never been my strong point.
Despite the frustration, we did have a stunning weekend hike, and beyond all my expectations I enjoyed it. Weekend one of Sober October and i’m hiking in the freakin mountains, who knows what a whole month will do to me!!