travel

I said YES!

It was one of the biggest and easiest decisions that I’ve had to make. The day started relatively normal for us. We were crashing at a friend’s house in Paris (yes that normal) and we had a lazy start. Alex left us a lots of breakfast so we ate in and after the usual extensive conversation of what we were going to do for the day, we settled on Montmartre as a starting point, and walking through Paris for the rest of the day. I was explicitly told to put everything I needed for the day on the bed and he would pack it in the day pack himself. The reason being that I’m a “disaster” and it would avoid stuff being haphazardly thrown everything not really new behavior in our relationship. The day was gorgeous – for Europe – I could even see the sun.

We meandered through Montmartre, visited Sacre Coeur, hung out at the steps in true tourist fashion before making the walk down to the city. I was “allowed” to look at shops and do some casual shopping without Matteo getting suffering from shopping-induced anaphylaxis. I should’ve figured it out  then…. However, our little road took us to Gallerie Lafayette where we admired the ceiling (it is that what you would call gorgeousness) and spent some time basking in the sun on the rooftop. At some point I pulled him to a jewelry store and pointed to some ring that was 72K euros and I was like – holy crap – what the hell?! So he started explaining the possible reasons like clarity and whatever other reason that could cause a diamond to cost 72K. Even then I thought maybe he just knows stuff (as usual). For someone that was suggesting he should buy me a ring – I knew very little about them…apparently.

We lunched at some cafe that re-inforced my ambivalence for French food. I heard that they feed fat to duck/geese whatever poor creature through the beak with a tube so that they have a fatty liver so they can flaunt the Foie gras they are so famous for. Really?

Marseille_Paris2015 6890We meandered towards the Eiffel Tower and dined at a French restaurant in a less touristy area close to the tower. At 10pm we walked out the restaurant to catch the hourly bling bling of the Tower lights. We missed it by a few minutes…and since I had seen this before, I thought we could just go home. He managed to convince me to stay for the 11 pm bling. Of course – awesome girlfriend that I was – I agreed to hang around in sub-optimal temperature (22 Celcius) and watch crazy people hanging out in the park.

At 11pm I got my camera out and started taking pictures when he said – “I need to ask you something, look at me”. I think that’s the first time I suspected….

“Voui sposarmi?” he asked.

I understood what that mean since I knew “sposare” is  “to marry”. But I said – “are you serious?” and then can you say that in English so I know what Im saying yes to….

Now the hard part. The wedding is in Zimbabwe.

Venice and home made sandwiches – A year ago

Before I came to Vienna, I had a list of places I wanted to visit – crafted on a week by week and holiday by holiday basis. This weekend, I was invited to Italy for the weekend with the promise that we would spend a day in Venice. Sunday was reserved for a Christening and in true Italian style, the whole family was going to be there. It was also initially advertised as an opportunity to meet everyone at the same time. Which I declined.

It was a 12 hour (half) day in Venice. From Udine to Venice, it was an easy 90 minutes by train (~ €22 return ticket). There was no plan. It was close to end of April but the weather was the best it could possibly be. Quirky things I learned from a one day trip in Venice.

Love Locks Venice. Apparently they have these everywhere in the world. Great place to put one though!

Love Locks Venice. Apparently they have these everywhere in the world. Great place to put one though!

Why spend money buying lunch in Venice when you can pack it from left over food you took from Vienna?

Yes, we are in the middle (ish) of food culture (Italy) and for lunch, we ate a wurst sandwich and apples under a bridge. His excuse is that most places in Venice can be considered under a bridge. Sometimes it takes a long time to find a decent place to eat if you are in a place you are not familiar with. However, in certain parts of the world like Italy, France, India, Thailand..I don’t know – places with really awesome food – packed lunches should be out of the question.

My red umbrella pictures would need additional creativity

For those that don’t know – I had a red umbrella theme for my photographs. So everywhere I went, I tried to put a red umbrella in at least one picture. Usually I was the one taking the picture. In this case, I was met with resistance because it would be too embarrassing to be seen with a red umbrella in a place where you don’t know anyone for a couple of minutes. Apparently the other reason was that there was full-blown sun and Italians don’t use umbrellas unless it’s raining. The compromise was that I hold the umbrella and hope that he takes the right picture.

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First attempt needed some refocusing

Red Umbrella Venice

We got it right the second time

Venice is as unique and as beautiful as they say and write about

The weather was perfect and with that, the colors of the boats and houses along the waterways, the energy of people moving about, the on and off a boat way of living. You can see masks in many stores in preparation for the carnival. I put that on the list of must do’s. I don’t know if I could conceptualize living in an area where you get around by boat and not by car. I would love to try it one day. I expect significant resistance to this idea though.

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Driving under the influence is allowed (?) on water, or maybe just Italy.

You can avoid the large offloads of Cruise ships

For good reason, I expect many cruise ships will stop in Venice. There are a lot of tine little roads if you care to explore the city away from the main drag.

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco

One of the Cruise Ships

One of the Cruise Ships

Off the beaten track

Off the beaten track

You can’t drink Apperol Spritz like orange juice

We took a break from walking around the city at around 4pm and sat at a small cafe for a late afternoon apperitivo. It was hot (I like hot) and a cool drink was just what I needed. By the time we finished dinner we had added a few more. The best thing about traveling with someone else who feels responsible for you is that if you pass out on the train back, someone will know which stop to get off.

Apparently “we invented it” says the Italian

 

 

Korean Food and an Italian Pornstar

These two things typically should not have anything in common, but in this post, they do. We were out at a Korean restaurant with a group of workmates. Just for background – the group is mostly made up of hardcore scientists. Not that this will explain anything.

It started with Bambi who apparently dies at the beginning of the book. In the US, someone heard that a Parent Teacher Association wanted to change the story so that Bambi’s grandmother dies at the end. Talking about sad children’s movies, Lion King was also sad. But apparently this is not relevant because it was only copied from the Jungle Book. Even though the kid in the Jungle Book is human and Simba is a lion, the premise of an orphaned boy is the same, just different species. Like Oliver Twist who came before the Jungle Book. So the Jungle Book copied Oliver Twist. In the end, there are only seven stories that can be told. Some disagreed and said there was only one – the circle of life. Take Cicciolina. She went from extreme pornstar to extreme politician. But that’s Italy. What does one expect?

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Cicciolina (Illona Staller)

In the group there was an Austrian guy who decided that his GI tract went straight from esophagus to colon. Skipped all 10 meters in the middle. Maybe it’s an Austrian/Viennese thing, that’s why the don’t get fat from eating Wiener Schnitzel. This guy also said his cholesterol went down since he left the U.S. and returned to Austria, and he didn’t remember eating different. The group deduced he was missing parts of his intestine so food was not digested, which doesn’t actually explain the high cholesterol from American food.

We moved to pick-up lines. The classic and non classic ones:

Would you like some chips?
I’ve lost my number can I borrow yours?
Your father must’ve been a thief, he stole the stars from the heavens and put them in your eyes
I have two irons at home, can I show you how to use them?

We skipped many topics of course. From laws of attraction to how to lose a wedding ring, inscriptions  on wedding rings, Lord of the Rings (one ring to rule them all) and ended with Antonio Banderas.

While all this was happening, we ate Korean Food.

Grocery Shopping in Vienna – Big city with village mentality.

If you’re coming to live in Vienna from other countries like…..anywhere else, the grocery shopping experience will take some getting used to. Maybe some decades, but eventually it MIGHT happen. I was here for a year, and it didn’t happen. Below are the top things you need to keep in mind. This post applies to people who have a full time 9-5 job.

Grocery stores are not usually open when you need them

Most grocery stores open maybe at 8-7pm (if you are lucky). By 7pm, it really means the store closes at 6:50pm and likely doors lock at 6:45pm. Cheeky, but they do it.

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If your job is like mine and ends at 6:30pm and you have some distance to walk before you get to the nearest BILLA or SPAR, then shopping during the week is not an easy option. This leaves weekends. Stores close at 6pm. And thats pretty much it until Monday. The consolation is that major train stations like Franz-Josef Banhof, Westbanhof, Hauptbanhof, Wien Mitte have supermarkets that open till late (10pm) and on Sunday. There are a couple of theories about this ridiculousness. One is that its a working male dominated society and so women who do the shopping are home anyway. The other is that its a very religious country and so Sunday should be a day of rest for everyone. Either way, I am a working woman and I do enough praying every time I walk into a grocery store “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

There is nothing cute about the European small grocery store at the corner

This is also known as Aldi's in other parts of the world

This is also known as Aldi’s in other parts of the world

If you don’t eat schnitzel 7-days a week, you will have a difficult time buying ingredients for meals you do eat. I had these romantic views of grabbing a bottle of wine, cheese and bread (for example) on my way home from work. Well you can do that, but is more like running to this tiny supermarket for the wine or cheese and then to the bakery and then another supermarket to get what you couldn’t in the first one. One of these places is likely closed when you get there. I have about 7 supermarkets around me and the variety is still not very great. The best one to go to is Merkur on Mariahilfestrasse. But even here you may want to supplement with a market. If you have more money than God, you could go to Julius Meinl in the first district. It’s like Whole Foods on steroids. But you can find food from all over the world there in all their 3 or 4 stories of groceries. Ka-ching, ka-ching.

Don’t leave your grocery shopping bag at home

Unless all you’re only buying is a bottle of wine, you need to have your grocery bags when you go grocery shopping. You can buy plastic bags at the store, but after a while, buying a plastic bag and having to walk several blocks to a train station and back home, you will always prefer your shopper bags.

Avoid Saturday afternoon at all costs

I know people in the Northeast always comment about the Supermarket flashmob before an impending snow storm. Well, imagine that happening every Saturday minus the snowstorm. A colleague told a story about one day, late Saturday afternoon, supermarket was mobbed and a woman snatched her price tag of my colleagues banana’s and slapped them on her own because she was not going to leave her spot in the check-out line and fight the mob to the veggie scale. So moral of the story – pay attention to evolution. Survival of the fittest out there.

Use credit cards, bankomat card

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This space at the end of the counter is only enough to fit some of your stuff. Once you’ve paid, you have to deal with the next person’s grocery piling on top of yours.

OK – the reason has nothing to do with source of money and everything to do with delaying tactics. The amount of space between the cashiers scanner and the end of the till is about 60 cm /2 feet for most stores. Whatever it is, you need to load your bag as fast as the cashier is cashing out and before the next customer’s goods start mingling with yours. bankomat cards slow things down. You swipe, pack, punch in code, pack, prepunch in because there was a mistake, pack, forget to pull out card while you pack then once all done, you pull your card out, receipt prints outré and you are ready to go.

Don’t forget to weigh your vegetables!

If you want to piss off a bunch of Viennese people, do the “I don’t really understand English trick and you didn’t weigh your vegetables” because the scale looks like it was decommissioned in the 70’s and…who does that anyway? Often, the cashier got up and went and weighed them for me. I won’t mention the hate stares I received from the other patrons impatiently waiting in line.

 

Barcelona – where is my paella?

The next city in line in my crash tour was Barcelona. This has been an ongoing negotiation for about 6 months. We ended up everywhere in the world (almost – Arab Emirates, US, Zimbabwe…) before I got my Barcelona trip. Yes, those blogs will eventually make it here. Air China flies from Beijing to Barcelona via Vienna. Cheap flight though leaving Vienna at 7am meant grumpy face a good few hours into the trip. One tip to share with you, buy tickets for anything you really know you are going to see online, especially Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, tours in the Palau de la Música Catalana.

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Lobby of Palau de la Música Catalana

I love Barcelona.

Lets start with the most important. I loved Barcelona. Airport is easy. We were off the plan, through the airport and onto a bus. About €6 euros later (12 for two) we were at Plaça de Catalunya, a short walk to La Rambla.

This city is happening. There are people around. Walking up and down La Rambla, by the water, everywhere. Not just rushing around the city to complete errands, actually I have no idea where people were going, but they were going there all night as well. I always felt that each city had a different energy. That was after I’d been to cities like London, New York, Paris, CapeTown etc. Then you go to the rather subdued cities like Vienna. Barcelona is alive. The architecture is unique. European in its own way but with something different.

There is no good paella in Barcelona.

I have a Spanish colleague I love teasing about how much I love Spanish food like burritos, tacos, guacamole and enchiladas. All the Spanish words I picked up while living in the US. Last time I heard, burritos might not even be Mexican. I naively thought that paella was a staple of Barcelona and that it would be difficult for them to screw up their national food. Take New York, it takes effort to screw up a burger. I know McDonalds managed, but in a random restaurant, you can order a burger and it would be at least a decent burger. In Vienna, personally, I have not found a schnitzel that I liked or hated more than another. They are all the same. I’ve had A LOT of schnitzel, even in our work cantine. In Zimbabwe, sadza is sadza, I’m sure it can be screwed up but if it was served it would just taste like Sadza. I was looking forward to some Spanish food, trust me, I needed food with pizzaz. I tried different paella in Barcelona. They were all horrible. One was salty. Another seafood paella was missing seafood. The best advice I can give regarding food is that before you visit, do some research and figure out where to eat to get a decent meal.

The architecture, especially La Sagrada Familia is amazing.

I am not a big fan of going into churches. Well, lets put in another way – as a tourist of religion, I quite often find myself in churches, mosques and synagogues. So after a while, having been in some impressive churches, I was vaguely interested in seeing La Sagrada Familia. I didn’t get a chance to do homework since the tickets were booked the day before. I also never thought I could spend more than 30 minutes looking at a church. This was a true exception. I was quite happy to pay the €24 when usually our going rate for seeing something touristy is maximum €15.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia: Ceiling designed to look like a forest

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La Sagrada Familia as seen from the rooftop of Casa Mila(Gaudi)

The second shot is taken from Casa Mila, a house designed by Gaudi. It cost €21 to get in. Huge disappointment. I would recommend you reconsider if you are not sure. Besides a fancy rooftop that was designed in a way to cover up the chimneys, there really isn’t much to it. The living areas are a total snore.

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Casa Mila from across the road – something of a rip-off

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Casa Mila rooftop.

Casa Batlló, across the road also has the colorful and daring design of Gaudi. Unfortunately the line was too long, and after the disappointment of Casa Mila, we didn’t want to risk it. However, the fact that there was a line should’ve been a clue. Mila was line-less.

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The other Gaudi house in the same area – Casa Batlló

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Park Güell – Another Gaudi institution. Get tickets in advance. Its a hassle to get to and they will only let in a maximum number of people at a time.

The Park was OK. Definitely get your tickets online or wherever, before you go. The lizard was not a cool as it looked in picture. However, I would recommend visiting the park if you have the time.

Shopping is great in Barcelona

For those that like shopping, the Old Town has these cute little streets filled with stores with names I had never seen in addition to the usual – Benetton, Esprit, Sisley, H&M…. I was also allowed some time to do some serious shopping.

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Some of us take shopping quite seriously

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But not all of us can power shop. My shopping caddy got tired.

All in all – I could live here.

12 week Crash Tour – Cesky Krumlov

My days are numbered in Vienna. All of a sudden, I realize that there are a lot of places that I would like to visit. So here begins the 12 week Europe crash tour.

1 March is a special day in my life and I decided to celebrate outside of Vienna. The location was a well selected town/village (I never know in this place) in Czech Republic. The original idea was to go to Prague and I was outvoted on that one because the only reason I picked Prague was there is a clothing store there I like that doesn’t exist in most European countries or the US. Apparently shopping is not a good reason to select a destination.

Cesky Krumlov is in southern Bohemia. I can now say that I have actually been to Bohemia. I didn’t realize this until I got there. I was expecting Bohemia to have “gipsies”. Can I say this? I learned that I was in the home of amazing beer. Unfortunately, I don’t drink beer. Totally bad luck since it only cost about $1 for half a litre (16oz). Taste x price makes it “amazing”.

I was somewhat disappointed by the food. It lacked some imagination and definitely color. There was no red or orange or even green on any plate. Well red cabbage. But I stop there. Cabbage, stewed meat and dumplings. I had pizza the first night. But if beef stews is what you’re into, then most of Europe is where you need to be. Ok. The US has burgers, but there are a thousand ways you can do a burger. With goulash – I haven’t seen a goulash menu with variations. I was alone with this opinion though since boyfriend ate Bohemian with great pleasure all weekend.

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Vienna – a day on the U-Bahn

As my days in Vienna are winding down, I decided that it may be a good idea to see the city. That basically meant I flew into a panic phase and started the last-minute “Oh My God there are still so many things I needed to do and I will do them today.” It turns out that I’ve been here for 10 months or so but spend most of my weekends in other countries (yes…I haven’t updated as well as i would have liked). I started on the U3 line that runs from Ottakring, going direction Simmering. The idea was to stop at every train station and take a picture. So a long detour on Mariahilferstrasse (HUGE shopping street) only meant that I didn’t go back on train as scheduled, so I will have to continue another time! The evening ended with fish and chips with friends in the 9th District.

 

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Albertgasse, waiting for #2 train going to Ottakring

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Designated starting point. Beginning of U3 line.

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U-Bahn sign

Station

A Photo mural at one of the stations

Market

Meiselmarkt

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Photo mural at one of the stations

Hofburg Palace, at some point was Hitlers Headquarters during the war

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Statue at Hofburg

Horses

Cart horses waiting for next ride

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Statue commemorating the plague

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Roof of Stephansdom

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Lamp in a random courtyard we stumbled upon

 

26 January – Shoeology

COUNTDOWN: 8 weeks till I leave US; 5 weeks until the movers arrive.

Anybody wondering why I am writing this blog and not doing something else? But this was packing weekend and I realized that I have a LOT of stuff for one person. Maybe it seems this way because the task is rather daunting for one person. I started by categorizing into:

  1. Cant live without (such as my bikes, shoes – most of them, camera and some recipe books)
  2. Give away to my family
  3. Give away to charity
  4. Give away to friends
  5. Sell
  6. Throw away

Then I realized that I have a lot of shoes. The problem, or reason being that I am into waaaaay too many things. I end up with a number of activity-specific shoes.

For example, when you absolutely don’t have or want to do anything. This is the stay at home, light a fire, read a book, write a book, please-don’t-ask-me-to-do-or-go-anywhere-today-because-I’ll-say-I’m-busy. Maybe also known as my “me time” shoes. I can lounge, procrastinate on procrastinating, catch up on TV, think about stories I want to write. Texts my friends and catch-up. FYI – if never-ending texting irritates you, a quick way to get people off text is to say – let me just call you and…wait for it….the string of excuses of why they can only call maybe next Friday (i.e. not anytime soon)…followed by me pumping fist into the air “Yes!” and tossing my phone somewhere out of reach but still enjoying comfy shoes.

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Then there are the shoes you wear when you absolutely “have to be out”. This is what I consider the exercise category. I should use them more often. I was a runner at school. I did both long and short but I think I am genetically a long distance runner. I would run cross-country so fast just so I could get it over and done with as quickly as possible. I found it unbelievably boring. I also had to win because if I didn’t, I would need to explain to way too many people “why, what happened?” so winning avoided unnecessary and undesirable explanations. In my “old age” I’ve taken a little to running – weather permitting. I’m looking forward to running the Vienna (Austria, not Virginia) marathon. But – curb your enthusiasm, it’s only the relay. I was given the 6 km slot. Probably can’t do much damage. Last year I ran a half marathon without training and yes…I was in a lot of pain  for a lot of weeks. So I think I can do 6km. It’s also currently 6 degrees fahrenheit so hanging out outside – No bueno. I could go to the gym, but I don’t go to the gym in January because I may be mistaken for a New Year’s Resolutioner – that’s soo lame. My pink trail runners took me to Machu Picchu on the Inca trail. I should probably use them more. Or maybe I frame them in memory of my epic journey in the valley of the Incas. Then there are my bike shoes. Thanks to Lisa B, she got me into biking last year. Yes, and she also got me walking the Inca trail. I blame a lot of my sporty entertainment on her. I’ve cycled over 700 miles in those. No, not at the same time! I did 100 miles without much training. Ha – never thought anyone could sit on a bike for so long. In case anyone is wondering, they match the bike (and helmet and pink biking jersey). I have not included the court shoes (racquetball, tennis, squash), field hockey cleats, football/soccer cleats – because I can’t find them. No, I haven’t empties all shoe portals yet. Sigh…

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Then there are the shoes I would be wearing  if I didn’t have a job. Ok, let’s say I didn’t need one. Maybe I need to find a job that lets me wear these every day without too much drama. Currently the dress code at work is “dress for your day”. Clearly subject to interpretation.

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For those that are wondering – they are not even close to being the same shoe!

Last but not least – I have fun sometimes. Now, living about an hour from Manhattan, 45 minutes from Gun Wavin’ New Haven, 50 minutes from Hartford, 50 minutes from Stamford, I choose Manhattan. I think there is more to do there. I’m now a good tourist guide for my usually European friends…depending on what they are interested in. I’ll do anything you can walk to, eat at, hangout at. Museums, I’m not sure. It’s hard to pace people in a museum. In my polka dots, my car was towed somewhere on 23rd and its not fun to try and figure out whether your car has been towed or stolen. New York’s ludicrous alternate parking rules where you have to guess where to park without being towed. Mechealle – another adventure for us, though not fun in 4 inch (10cm)  brand NEW heels. Genius.

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