We don’t do snowy winters in Melbourne. Its more like, windy, grey and maybe a low of 7 degrees celsius. Nothing so serious as a snowy Austrian winter. Although Vienna has been remarkably warm this year, its still a lot bloody colder than Australia. So, when my family came across for their first Austrian winter, I offered them the following survival tips:
1. Invest in a decent jacket
Critical decision at the start of winter – what will be your jacket of choice through these long, dark, icy months? My heart always wants to get something fashionable but my thin cold skin needs the most effective gear in the business. Last year S got me an unbeatable Dynafit jacket and I haven’t been cold since. Seriously I can ski in this thing, walk to work, wear only a t-shirt underneath and it still keeps me warm. I love it – but its not exactly high fashion. My family took the same approach – warmth was #1 priority over look!
I’m so cosy, I can frolic at the Gloriette!
2. Shoes will save you
A decent pair of warm boots will make or break your winter. You spend so much time trudging through slush, trying not to slip on ice or simply standing outside in the cold when you’re drinking Glüwein at the Christmas Markets, that a decent pair of shoes is essential. Ideally a warm, comfy, fur lined pair of knee-high boots will do the trick. Otherwise you’ll be wearing thick socks a lot, paired with soggy runners and probably be in a really really bad mood the whole winter!
3. Protect yourself
In the snow you need to protect your skin from the sun on those beautiful clear days. Sounds unlikely but trust me on this – sunburn from snow can be a surprise horror as the reflected glare from the white snowy ground hits your unprotected skin as much as the rays from above. Save yourself from the panda-eyes effect by using sunscreen on those gorgeous blue bird days.
4. Accessorize darling…
In Australia I thought winter was all about wearing lots of cozy layers and big thick jumpers and coats. Here, I’ve learnt that its the little things that make a huuuuge difference. Winter accessories are a must – you 100% cannot leave the house without a scarf, hat and gloves or you will freeze. The icy winter wind will sneak down your neck, your fingertips may turn purple and without a hat you can forget about ever feeling your earlobes again. The most shocking thing I saw over our Christmas break was an Irish lad skiing without gloves….I don’t know how his hands survived. Accessorize every day!
Mum and Dad luvin’ their hat investments…
5. Use the right products
S managed to terrify my mum into thinking her lips were going to freeze and fall off completely when he shared this particular tip, but it is an important one. In winter you need to use different moisturizers and lip balms than you would in summer. A lot of beauty products have water based ingredients, so if you use them in winter weather you will only dry out your skin/lips, causing more pain than you had in the first place. Apothekes here in Austria sell winter lip balm for about €4 so treat yourself to the right products. I promise your lips won’t fall off!
6. Get into the Spirit
Winter can be cold, grey and wet. Or, if you have the right attitude it can also be beautifully white, magical and the perfect time to develop new skills. This is my third winter in Austria and there’s at least 3 new skills I’ve developed in that time. My skiing has improved massively – only possible in winter. I’ve gained an excellent ability for choosing delicious Glüwein – only possible in winter. I’ve ice-skated outside a hilltop palace – only possible winter.
Ice-skating very carefully at Schloss Wilhemenberg
Overall a cold winter is what you make it – so embrace the many wonderful opportunities winter brings and enjoy it- no one ever had fun spending 3 months inside whining!
What’s your best survival tip for winter? I’m sure I’ve missed a few crucial ones so let me know your strategies in the comments.
Austria is not renown for Thanksgiving or patriotic fanfare, but they sure as hell know how to thank the people that make their country great. I was lucky enough to see this first hand at a special President’s event: ‘Austria Says Thank-You’ or ‘Österreich sagt Danke’.
The event was put on by the Federal Ministry of Labour last weekend as a thank you for all the volunteers who helped during the horrific Hochwasser (high water flooding) that hit Austria earlier this year. The Hochwasser floods were extremely catastrophic for large parts of Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Any country placed along the Danube was at risk from flood waters that reached over 8m high and smashed all previous records for flood levels. Homes were destroyed, lives were lost and the summer of 2013 started with a wet and rainy disaster. To get a scope of the damage and impact, you really have to see the photos:
We were very lucky, living in Vienna, away from the worst-hit parts of the Danube and our families were in safe areas. Understandably, after the peak of the flooding there was a hell of a lot of clean-up to do. That’s where the amazing Austrian spirit comes in.
Thousands of people offered to help – of course because this is Austria, everything was extremely well organised by some incredible volunteer organisations. The one that S and I are closest with is Team Österreich, a volunteer offshoot of the Red Cross. What they do is very simple – you register your details with them, and they send a text or email when they need help. No obligations, just a straightforward way to help those who need it. S had his first experience with them in the aftermath of Hochwasser.
The weekend after the worst of the flood, hundreds and hundreds of people met at 6:30am on a Saturday morning, offering their manpower to clean the cities and areas destroyed by the flood. Team Österreich co-ordinated everyone into organised groups, assigned them to the necessary areas and provided food for the day. The volunteers were sent where they were needed most – to buildings that had flooded, and streets where mud and debris had collected:
(All images of volunteers taken from Team Österreich’s Facebook page, you can ‘like’ them here)
Clearing mud from….everything.
It was a mammoth effort – made possible by organisations like Team Österreich, Caritas, the Rotes Kreuz and many many more. Their efforts, organisation and co-operation with the authorities made it possible for people to make a real difference, and do so safely. Without them, the Emergency Services would have been hampered in securing the safety of affected areas, and individuals would have endangered themselves by trying to access flood affected areas individually.
This was impressive enough in itself, then, last weekend, we got to be a part of the best thank-you event I’ve ever seen. The Federal Ministry for Labour & Social Affairs hosted a rock star event to award the volunteer organisations. Complete with the Austrian President, full scale stage lighting and giant TV screens, a celebrity host, catering, an über-cool warehouse venue and kickass award trophies for each volunteer organisation. Every volunteer was invited up on stage to have a group photo with the President when their organisation was given an award. Yep, we met the Austrian President on a casual Saturday morning – I was beyond impressed. Look how cool it was:
Huge Warehouse Venue at Marx Halle
A very spunky volunteer who you may recognise…
Delicious catering put on for the volunteers
General Secretary of Rotes Kreuz, Dr Werner Kerschbaum, with the Presidents Thank-You trophy
S up-close to the Prez and Barbara Stöckl (Austrias Oprah!)
It was an unbelievable and unexpectedly awesome event – free food, drinks, beer, coffee and some wonderful speeches from the President and hosts, who revealed that over 3.3 million Austrians are volunteers. In a country of just 8 million that’s pretty damn impressive. They proved that even if Austria has nothing to do with Thanksgiving as a holiday, they can definitely put on a feast and spread the loving and thankful spirit for people who deserve it most.
If you’re keen to get involved with Team Österreich, check out their website here http://apps.teamoesterreich.at/. They always need volunteers, particularly in Vienna to help run their donation ‘supermarkets’ every Saturday night. Food is donated by supermarkets weekly and needs to be collected in vans and setup for distribution to the less-fortunate every week. Team Österreich does the orgnanising, they just need your hands and help. Particularly during the holiday season this is a worthwhile way to spend a few hours of your Saturday. Who knows, you might even spot S or myself down there!
It may be fleeting, but Autumn is here and it is spectacular. We spent the last two weekends wandering around the city centre, re-acquainting ourselves with Viennese life and enjoying the slightly less crowded tourist hot spots. This is just a short photo post for you, to get a feel of Vienna right now, we’ll get on to the juicy stuff later this week!
Behind Hofburg Palace
Families relaxing in Burggarten
Apartments that look like castles in Am Hof square
The Austro-Hungarian two headed Eagle – seen above entrance gates at Palmenhaus
Autumn means one delicious thing – Pumpkin time! Americans may hangout for their Pumpkin Spice lattes from Starbucks, but here in Austria its a little more traditional. Kürbis festivals (pumpkin festivals) are everywhere, celebrating that mighty vegetable the pumpkin. Most importantly, the festivals provide an excuse to sit, talk with friends and drink good wine while enjoying local products.
Herbsfest at Freyung Platz
It’s not a festival unless wine is involved!
Of course it wouldn’t be a Viennese weekend without coffee and cake. We went to the historic Cafe Leopold Hawelka to indulge my coffee addiction. Apparently it used to be a hot spot for artists and intellectuals, with big names of post-war Austria like Hundertwasser, Enest Fuchs & Oskar Werner. visting often. The place even lured English speaking legends like Arthur Miller and Andy Warhol into its smoke-filled writers corners. Once the famous song about the Cafe was released in 1975, it became a known tourist spot and the appeal for ‘real’ artists diminished. They still serve damn fine coffee though, just beware the very Viennese waiters who will ignore you for a while!
Modern day visitors soaking up the atmosphere
The main attraction -Kaffee & Kuchen
All round, I have to say Autumn is close to becoming my favourite season in Vienna, if only for the amazing colours everywhere in the city. I hope you’re enjoying your Autumn just as much!!
Yes YOU! To any and every one who shared, liked, commented, followed, showed their friends, posted on Facebook or generally got excited about my post 28 Ways to be Austrian. I am so completely overwhelmed with the incredible response it got and especially pleased that so many Austrians enjoyed it! With over 200,000+ views and a brilliant comment thread to say I’m grateful would be a massive understatement. So THANK YOU ALL!!
I’m also very happy to announce that the post led to me landing a dream job with a wonderful company – Tour Radar. Unbelievable. Thank you, all you delightful blog readers out there, for being an integral part of this exciting change! I will keep you updated as the new challenges and delights of the job unfold.
For now, I’m in Melbourne reconnecting with my hometown for 10 days – so stay tuned for some Australian- based posts and photos…. until then have a Happy Monday!!
Some friends of mine were asking me about the best way to see Vienna as a tourist. How to find something ‘other than classical music and Schnitzel’. Slightly outraged on my adopted city’s behalf, I replied that there is a huge variety to Vienna, you just need to know where to look! So, to prove the many wonders of this incredible city, I devised a plan for a Weekend in Wien….
Right, it’s summer, you’ve had a long overnight journey and the last remaining days of sunshine are calling you to the water – but you’re traveling, you need see the city too! The perfect solution to this dilemma? Krapfenwaldbad:
Beautiful people guaranteed to be in attendance
Krapfenwaldbad has incredible views over the city of Vienna, being perfectly placed near the top of the Kahlenberg Mountain. There are multiple swimming pools, the main one being nicely deep & cold for swimming . Don’t expect anyone to be doing laps though, this is serious ‘see and be seen’ territory for the young trendy locals. It’s also relaxed enough that you can while away the day in relative peace. There’s an on-site cafe & bar too, so any and all your chill out needs are attended to. Plus, did I mention the crazy awesome views?
That’s all of Vienna at your feet!
Ok, now that you’re relaxed after a day spent poolside, let the tourist activities begin! First, there’s some really excellent gardens to spend a morning roaming around….
That little building up top is a Gloriette, where Emperor’s have breakfast – ‘cos being an Emperor is kickarse!
…which are conveniently attached to the glorious Schönbrunn Palace. Schönbrunn was the Habsburg’s Summer Palace, which, when you see the size of it, tells you just how awesome it was to be Royalty in the Golden Age. The best Apple Strudel & Iced coffee in Vienna can be had in the cafe to the left of the entrance – trust me I have done thorough research on this.
Once Schönbrunn has been conquered, you may find yourself in need of a drink, or just a change of location for further drinks- based activities. The über cool Donaukanal is the perfect location. Wander down the canal steps from the city centre and you’ll find brilliant street art, a huge choice of bars, pop-up shacks selling different food & drink, all nestled beside the gorgeous Danube Canal.
‘Beach’ Bars – bit different to beaches back home!!
Wicked street art along the Kanal paths
Once you’ve satisfied your inner hipster with a few riverside drinks, I’d round out the day at the the historic Prater Park. Prater is a huge nature reserve and set amongst this leafy gloriousness is Vienna’s famous amusement park, home to the worlds oldest Ferris Wheel, built in 1897:
With some slightly younger specimens in front of it.
The park itself has been set up with adults in mind as much as children. Along with loads of awesome rides, there’s gigantic Beer Gardens to meet all your Beer & Pork Knuckle desires. There’s also adult games like Bowling, Mini-Golf, Clubs if you’re very keen and terrifying rides for thrill seekers:
Fear. Pure and simple.
That up there is the Prater Turm, which I absolutely refused to go on, right up until I was strapped in. It was at once terrifying and beautiful – at 117m, this is the world’s highest flying swing. The pay-off you get for braving it is stunning views over all of Vienna. It only gets nauseating on the way down, when, near the bottom, they speed up the pace of the chairs swinging in circles. But if you can stand that for 2 minutes, the view is well worth it!
Super cute old fashioned token to ride!
After all that adrenelin, rounding out the day with a sugar hit is highly reccommended.
Fairy floss and chocolate fruit on a stick = heaven.
Exhausted yet?? Well stay tuned…part two of your awesome Weekend in Wien will be posted next!
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!!